Urban dwellers tucked into tiny apartments and suburbanites glued to family rooms burst outside in spring like a pack of race horses let loose at a starting line. Outdoor cafes compete with souvenir stands for sidewalk space, park greens turn into lunchtime tablecloths, and the crusty smell of grilled chicken starts wafting between back yards.
Just about the time that the patio furniture comes out of the basement or the chaise longue comes out of the closet, socializing goes from the dining room to the porch, the terrace, the courtyard or the park.
This quartet of menus for outdoor entertaining includes a range of outdoor environments, as well as a range of cuisines, that can be mixed and matched, depending on your taste and exterior accommodations. It does not, however, include a weather report, but rather a warning to be patient should April showers interfere with your plans.
The first menu, a porch brunch, gets its inspiration from the Russian Tea Room, the colorful Manhattan restaurant that has become a haven for stars and artists.
When the guests arrive, have them nibble on the smoked salmon spread and herring (the latter purchased from a deli case with high-quality goods) and serve the lemon-garlic bagel chips and pumpernickel for both.
Offer the hard-core guests Nureyevs, named after Russian Tea Room regular Rudolf Nureyev, which are drinks made from two ounces of vodka and 1 1/2 ounces of white cre me de cacao, served over ice. Light drinkers can have grapefruit mimosas and nondrinkers can have their grapefruit juice straight up.
The main course is blinchiki, the Russian version of blintzes, served at the restaurant filled with cheese, apples or cherries. The "Russian Tea Room Cookbook" boasts that its patrons like to take sides with the filling flavors -- Van Cliburn likes only apple, Mikhail Baryshnikov likes them assorted. Personally, we liked the cheese. Serve them for brunch along with a fresh fruit salad; strawberries, cantaloupe, bananas and melon are nice.
The second outdoor menu is for those who don't have the luxury of a porch, but who have the advantage of outdoor eating with a view: a terrace or accessible rooftop.
The critical task here is serving a meal at room temperature; a hot dish risks the possibility of losing warmth on its way up the elevator or while it sits in the cool night air. Robert Wemischner, a Baltimore cooking teacher and chef, has created this menu of Franco-Chinois dishes -- the culinary hybrid of French and Chinese cooking. The entire meal can be prepared the day before, refrigerated and brought to room temperature before serving. It is an exciting interplay of tastes and textures, whether eaten indoors or out.
Wemischner, who previously owned a fancy food carryout in Beverly Hills, Calif., advised that foods served at room temperature should be more highly seasoned. And since formal dining tables and Limoges china are not often staples of eighth-floor balconies, Wemischner suggests precutting foods into smaller pieces for easier eating. The chicken breasts in the Chicken en Papillote with Tangerine-Hoisin Glaze, for instance, can be sliced into fans.
Park lunchers (or those who have neither a terrace nor a patio) can vary their brown-bag fare with menu number three. The only dish that involves any cooking is the pita sandwich, its filling packed with a pretty collection of crunchy vegetables and coated with a tangy chutney dressing.
The sandwich and sliced cheese can be easily packed in foil or plastic wrap and the melon balls (or chunks) can be transported in a plastic container.
A champagne cocktail party in the courtyard completes the oudoor scene. All the hors d'oeuvres can be prepared a day in advance, refrigerated overnight and set out on attractive serving platters when the guests arrive.
Serve the champagne three ways: as bellinis, the drink that combines champagne with peach juice; with a fresh strawberry sunk in the bottom of the glass; or for the purists, as just plain bubbly.
Three of the dishes require little attention -- the green and red grapes are simply sprinkled with a generous grinding of fresh black pepper, and the new potatoes are baked and halved, their pulp scooped out and mixed with a bit of sour cream, then replaced in the halves and topped with any variety of caviar. And the asparagus with red pepper mayonnaise looks as if it should have taken more work for its unusual presentation. The Porch Brunch
Nureyevs or Grapefruit Mimosas
Smoked Salmon Spread with Fresh Dill
Herring in Wine Sauce
Lemon-Garlic Bagel Chips and/or Party Pumpernickel
heese Blinchiki With Fresh Fruit Salad SMOKED SALMON SPREAD WITH FRESH DILL (Makes about 1 1/2 cups)
8 ounces soft cream cheese
4 to 6 ounces smoked salmon, cut into strips
Dash hot pepper sauce
3 scallions, chopped, green tops included
4 sprigs fresh dill
Combine cream cheese, smoked salmon and hot pepper sauce in the base of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Process until smooth. Add 2 of the scallions and dill and process for another minute, or until pieces of scallion and dill are minced. Serve garnished with remaining chopped scallion. LEMON-GARLIC BAGEL CHIPS (6 to 8 servings)
3 plain bagels
1/4 cup ( 1/2 stick) butter
3 large cloves garlic, finely minced
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
Slice bagels crosswise into fourths or fifths. In a small saucepan, melt butter with garlic. Add lemon juice and stir. Place a layer of bagel chips on broiler pan and brush with lemon-garlic mixture. Broil for 1 minute, or until golden. Turn chips and brush other side with mixture. Broil for another minute. Remove and transfer to a bread basket with party pumpernickel. BLINCHIKI (Thin Crepes Filled with Cheese) (Makes 18 to 12 crepes, serving 6)
FOR THE CREPES:
2 1/2 1/4 cups sifted flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups milk
2 tablespoons butter, melted, plus extra for brushing
FOR THE CHEESE FILLING:
1 pound farmer's cheese
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 to 2 cups sour cream
To make crepes, sift flour, sugar and salt together in a large bowl. Beat together eggs, milk and butter. Stir slowly into flour mixture. With a wire whisk, a rotary beater or an electric beater at low speed, beat until well blended and smooth. Or place flour, sugar, salt, eggs and melted butter into a food processor. Start machine and add milk gradually. Scrape down sides. Continue processing until batter is smooth. If time permits, cover batter and let stand at room temperature for 1 to 2 hours. Have ready a small container of melted butter and a small brush. Slowly heat a 6- or 7-inch crepe pan or frying pan until a drop of water dances when dropped on the surface. Brush pan lightly and quickly rotate the pan to spread the batter evenly. Cook over medium heat until bottom is lightly browned and the top is set. Turn out, browned side up, on a clean kitchen towel or paper towel. Repeat with the remaining batter; if needed, butter the pan lightly between crepes. If you want crisper crepes, brown them on both sides. In that case, stack cooled crepes with waxed paper between each until ready to use.
To make cheese filling, combine farmer's cheese with sugar, egg and vanilla; beat until thoroughly blended. This will fill 18 blinchiki; freeze remaining crepes for later use.
In the middle of the unbrowned side of each crepe, place about 2 tablespoons of cheese filling. Roll up, jelly-roll fashion, tucking in the ends to cover filling. Heat 1 tablespoon of the butter in a 10-inch heavy frying pan. Add 6 filled crepes, in one layer. Heat crepes over moderate heat for about 5 minutes or until the filling is heated through. Turn crepes frequently and carefully to ensure even heating, reducing heat if necessary. Transfer cooked crepes to a warmed serving dish and keep hot in a low oven (150 to 175 degrees). Repeat twice with remaining butter and crepes. Sift confectioners' sugar over blinchiki. Use 3 blinchiki and 1/4 cup sour cream for each serving.
From "The Russian Tea Room Cookbook," by Faith Stewart-Gordon & Nika Hazelton (Richard Marek Publishers, $14.95) Terrace/Rooftop Dinner
Four-Flavored Steamed Fish Stuffed with Salmon Mousse
Chicken en Papillote with Tangerine-Hoisin Glaze
Stir-Fried Broccoli with Sesame-Mustard Vinaigrette
Rice Custard Tart with Kumquat Creme Anglaise FOUR-FLAVOR STEAMED FISH STUFFED WITH SALMON MOUSSE (4 servings) FOR THE FISH AND MOUSSE:
1/2 pound skinless salmon fillet, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 tablespoons shallots, finely choppped
1 egg white
1/2 cup whipping cream
Salt and white pepper to taste
2 haddock fillets or other firm-textured white fish such as cod, weighing about 1 1/2 pounds combined
2 tablespoons chopped fresh coriander
FOR THE MAYONNAISE:
2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
1/4 cup vinegar
2 egg yolks
1 tablespoon Chinese mustard
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 cup peanut oil
2 tablespoons chopped coriander
Sesame oil to taste
Coriander leaves and chopped scallions for serving
Pure'e salmon and shallots together in a food processor or blender and add egg white, processing to combine. Add cream gradually in a stream and process only until cream disappears. Swirl in salt and pepper to taste.
Lightly salt and pepper the fillets of haddock. On an 18-inch-long, 10-inch-wide piece of cheesecloth, set one fillet of haddock. Spread all salmon mousse on top of fish. Lay other fillet on top of the mousse. Scatter chopped coriander leaves on top. Enclose fish tightly in cheesecloth. Place in a steamer basket, cover and cook over simmering water for 30 to 40 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool in the steamer.
While fish is cooking, prepare the mayonnaise. Steep ginger in vinegar for at least 30 minutes. Sieve ginger and set aside flavored vinegar.
In the base of a food processor fitted with a steel blade, combine 2 tablespoons of the vinegar, the egg yolks, mustard, sugar and soy sauce. Process to combine and then add oil gradually, processing continually, until an emulsion forms. Add coriander and process for 30 seconds more. Add sesame oil and process until smooth and thick. Taste for seasoning, adding more sugar if necessary.
Set cooled fish on a serving platter. Garnish with coriander leaves and chopped scallions and serve mayonnaise on the side. CHICKEN EN PAPILLOTE WITH TANGERINE-HOISIN GLAZE (4 servings)
* 2 whole chicken breasts, bone in and skin on
FOR THE STOCK:
1 quart water
Aromatic vegetables and spices such as carrots, onions, celery, parsley, bouquet garni (3 to 4 sprigs parsley, 2 sprigs fresh thyme, 1 bay leaf) and leeks
Bones from 2 whole chicken breasts
FOR THE SAUCE:
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chilies
1 tablespoon minced tangerine skin
Juice of 2 tangerines (about 1/2 cup)
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
3 tablespoons dry sherry
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon ground sichuan peppercorns
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/3 cups defatted, reduced chicken stock
Skin and bone chicken breasts. Discard skin and remove any visible fat from the bones. Place bones in a large saucepan with water, aromatic vegetables and spices. Bring to a boil and simmer until reduced to 1 1/3 cups of liquid, skimming fat from surface as it cooks. Strain vegetables, reserving reduced stock.
Mix all sauce ingredients in a bowl and blend in reduced chicken stock.
Cut four pieces of parchment paper into hearts large enough to accommodate each chicken breast when the paper is folded in half. Place one chicken breast on each parchment heart half and moisten with a tablespoon or two of the sauce. Refrigerate remaining sauce. Fold over and crimp paper along the edges until parchment heart is sealed. Place parchment hearts on a baking sheet and bake at 400 degrees for about 12 to 15 minutes. Remove from oven, cut open the parchment hearts, remove chicken and refrigerate, covered.
To serve, stir tangerine-hoisin glaze. Place a light coating of the glaze on a serving platter or individual serving plates. Top with chicken breasts. Bring to room temperature and serve. STIR-FRIED BROCCOLI WITH SESAME-MUSTARD VINAIGRETTE (4 to 6 servings)
FOR THE VINAIGRETTE:
1 tablespoon Chinese mustard
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1/2 cup peanut oil
2 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted lightly
FOR THE STIR-FRY:
1 large bunch broccoli, florets separated from stalks
Peanut oil for coating wok
1 cup sliced water chestnuts (fresh if possible) or sliced jicama
*Whisk together the mustard and lemon juice with the sugar. Gradually whisk in sesame oil and peanut oil until an emulsion is achieved. Adjust to taste. Add 1 1/2 tablespoons sesame seeds, reserving the remaining seeds for garnish.
Cut broccoli into florets and stems. Peel stalks and cut diagonally into 3/4-inch chunks. Coat a heavy skillet or wok with peanut oil and heat until hot. Saute' the broccoli quickly, stirring constantly. Cook until broccoli turns a bright green and loses its rawness. Stir in water chestnuts or jicama, remove from wok and mix with dressing. Refrigerate. Bring to room temperature, sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve. RICE CUSTARD TART WITH KUMQUAT CREME ANGLAISE (6 to 8 servings)
FOR THE CRUST:
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup plus 6 tablespoons (1 3/4 sticks) sweet butter, slightly softened
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon lemon juice
FOR THE RICE CUSTARD:
3 cups milk
1 1/4 cups water
1/2 cup sugar
2 strips orange peel
1 cup uncooked long-grain white rice
2 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla
5 tablespoons sweet butter, softened
FOR THE CREME ANGLAISE:
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 cup glazed kumquats, finely chopped
To make the tart crust, mix flour, sugar and salt together in a large bowl. Cut in butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add egg, egg yolk, vanilla and lemon juice and mix until the dough masses into a rough ball, adding cold water if necessary. Press into a flat circle, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until cool to the touch. Roll the chilled dough into a large thin circle to line the bottom and sides of a 10-inch tart pan. Chill pastry until firm, while making the rice custard filling.
To make rice custard filling, bring milk, water, sugar, orange peel and salt to a boil in a large saucepan. When the mixture has come to a boil, add the rice, stirring a minute or so. Cook at a simmer, covered, until the rice is tender and all the liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat and pour out mixture onto a flat baking sheet to cool in a single layer. Remove and discard orange peel.
Mix egg yolks and vanilla in a small bowl. Add to rice mixture along with butter and mix to incorporate. Pour into the chilled tart shell and bake on a heavy baking sheet on the lowest rack of the oven for 30 to 35 minutes at 375 degrees, or until the crust is golden brown and the rice is lightly browned.
To prepare kumquat creme anglaise, mix egg yolks and sugar in a small bowl until blended. Scald milk and add a bit of it to the egg yolk mixture. Then add the warmed egg mixture to the remaining milk in the saucepan and cook over moderate heat, whisking constantly until the sauce is slightly thickened, making sure the mixture does not come to a boil. Remove from heat, add the extracts and sieve the mixture. Add chopped kumquats and serve alongside or on top of tart slices. If you have refrigerated the tart, it is best to bring it to room temperature before serving. The sauce can be served cold, warm or at room temperature. Brown Bag Lunch In the Park
Couscous and Vegetable Salad Stuffed into Pita Pockets
Assorted Cheese Slices
Fruit Juice COUSCOUS AND VEGETABLE SALAD STUFFED INTO PITA POCKETS (4 servings)
1 cup cooked couscous (substitute cooked brown rice or bulgur)
1 small yellow squash, cubed and blanched
1/2 cup cooked peas or lima beans
1/4 cup chopped red onion
1/4 cup chopped red pepper
1/4 cup chopped cucumber
FOR THE CHUTNEY DRESSING:
2 1/2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons mango chutney, finely chopped
Freshly grated black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon curry powder or more to taste
2 whole-wheat pita rounds, halved
In a small bowl, combine couscous with vegetables. Mix together chutney dressing ingredients and shake well. Pour enough dressing over couscous and vegetables to moisten, refrigerating remaining dressing. Refrigerate couscous mixture overnight. In the morning, stuff dressed salad into pita rounds and pack in plastic wrap or foil. Courtyard Cocktail Party
Champagne Three Ways
Snow Peas Stuffed with Scallops and Boursin
Green and Red Grapes with Freshly Ground Black Pepper
New Potatoes Stuffed with Caviar
Spicy Lemon Shrimp
Asparagus Bouquet with Red Pepper Mayonnaise
Homemade Sesame Bread Sticks SNOW PEAS STUFFED WITH SCALLOPS AND BOURSIN (20 servings)
1 cup white wine
3 black peppercorns
1/2 pound bay scallops
1/2 pound snow peas
4 ounces boursin at room temperature
Lemon wedges for garnish
Place white wine and peppercorns in a saucepan. Poach scallops for about 4 minutes. Set aside to cool. Halve them when cool.
Steam snow peas until crunchy tender, about 4 minutes. When cool, take a sharp knife and run it along the curved side of the snow pea. Spread a thin layer of boursin on the inside of the pea and fill with 2 or 3 halved bay scallops. Set on a serving platter and garnish with lemon wedges. SPICY LEMON SHRIMP (20 servings)
3 pounds large or medium raw shrimp
3 cups water
3 cups dry white wine
3 bay leaves
3 small red bell peppers, seeded and thinly sliced
3 small red onions, thinly sliced
1 1/2 cups pitted black olives, halved
3 medium lemons, peeled and thinly sliced
FOR THE MARINADE:
1 1/2 cups lemon juice
1 1/2 cups olive oil
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
3 medium garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons dry mustard
3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon each salt and coarsely cracked black pepper
3 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
Red leaf lettuce for serving
Shell and devein shrimp, but leave tips of tail shells on. Combine water, wine and bay leaves in a 2-quart saucepan and bring to a boil. Add shrimp. Reduce heat and cook for 3 to 5 minutes or until shrimp are pink on the outside and just cooked in the center. Remove with slotted spoon to a bowl.
Immerse red pepper in shrimp-cooking liquid and simmer for 1 minute over medium heat. Remove with slotted spoon and drain. Add to bowl of shrimp. Add onion, olives and sliced lemon.
In separate bowl combine marinade ingredients and pour over shrimp mixture. Refrigerate at least 4 hours. Drain marinade, reserving, from shrimp and serve on red leaf lettuce. Pour some of marinade over shrimp. This may be kept up to 1 day in the refrigerator. Place shrimp on bed of lettuce just before serving.
From "The Cuisine of California," by Diane Rossen Worthington (Houghton Mufflin, Co., $10.95) ASPARAGUS BOUQUET WITH RED PEPPER MAYONNAISE (20 servings) 3 red peppers, skinned
1 1/2 cups homemade or good-quality commercial mayonnaise
Dash hot pepper sauce
White pepper to taste
2 pounds fresh asparagus
Place red peppers under a broiler; blacken skins and remove them. Cool and cut into strips. Place mayonnaise in a food processor or blender. Add red peppers and process until smooth. Add hot pepper sauce and white pepper to taste.
Trim tough woody ends from asparagus and steam until crunchy tender, about 8 minutes. Refrigerate.
To serve, place asparagus stalks in a pretty vase. Serve mayonnaise in a dish alongside. SESAME BREAD STICKS (Makes about 24 large sticks)
2 2/3 to 3 1/2 cups all-purpose white or unbleached flour
3 tablespoons sugar
2 ( 1/4-ounce) packets fast-rising dry yeast
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/3 cups buttermilk
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon butter or margarine
1 1/3 cups whole-wheat flour
3 tablespoons sesame seeds, plus additional sesame seeds for sprinkling on baking sheet and bread sticks
2 eggs, beaten with 2 tablespoons water for brushing over sticks
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt (or table salt, if necessary) for sprinkling over sticks
Stir together 2 cups of the flour, sugar, yeast and salt in a large mixer bowl. Combine buttermilk, water and butter in a small saucepan, and heat until butter melts and mixture reaches 125 to 130 degrees. With mixer on low speed, beat liquid into flour-yeast mixture until blended. Raise speed to high and beat for 2 1/2 minutes. With a large spoon, vigorously stir in whole-wheat flour until well blended. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and set aside in a very warm spot (80 to 90 degrees) for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, spread 3 tablespoons sesame seeds in an ungreased skillet over high heat. Toast seeds, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes, or until skillet is very hot. Reduce heat to medium and, continuing to stir, heat for 1 to 2 minutes, or until seeds are fragrant and just barely tinged with brown. (Be careful not to burn.) Immediately remove pan from heat and transfer seeds to a small bowl; set aside. Lightly grease 2 large baking sheets. Sprinkle about 2 tablespoons untoasted sesame seeds evenly on baking sheet.
Stir toasted sesame seeds into dough. Working in the bowl, stir and then knead in enough more white flour to yield a smooth, malleable and fairly stiff dough. With lightly greased hands, divide dough into 22 or 24 portions the size of golf balls. One at a time, roll portions back and forth with lightly greased hands on a clean work surface to form evenly thick sticks about 11 inches long. Space sticks about 1/2 inch apart on baking sheet. One or two at a time, brush tops and sides of sticks lightly with egg-water mixture, using a pastry brush or paper towel; immediately sprinkle lightly with sesame seeds, then with salt crystals.
Bake bread sticks at 375 degrees for 15 minutes or until tops are tinged with brown and sound hollow when tapped. Transfer pan to rack. Loosen sticks from pan with a spatula. Bread sticks may be served warm from the oven or at room temperature. If desired, they may also be frozen and then thawed before serving.
Adapted from "The 60-Minute Bread Book," by Nancy Baggett (Putnam, $16.95)