The real beauty of this type of entertaining is that it truly is a do-ahead project. The soups must be made in advance in order to chill properly. and the serving will involve no last-minute pressure.
I'm a firm believer in doing things the easy way. And that's particularly true when it comes to entertaining. To my mind, there's no excuse for a host to be slaving away in the kitchen while everyone else sits around and enjoys good company. If you do all the work, certainly you're entitled to be very much a part of the fun.
So--given that premise as a requirement for entertaining--how does one have the best of all worlds when having a party at home?
A buffet, of course, is the easiest way to serve a group. And if you can figure out a good way to make it a do-it-yourself buffet, so much the better. The more you can rely on your guests to look after themselves, the better off everyone will be.
There are numerous do-it-yourself parties that are easy to manage. One that is especially effective in warm weather is built around cold soups. Choose soups that are delicious as is, or that can be enhanced by adding other ingredients at the table.
A tangy cucumber-yogurt soup is wonderful when cold shredded chicken or shrimp or chopped tomatoes are stirred in. It makes a wonderfully hearty, but light, summer meal and when served with some warm, crusty bread is remarkably satisfying. For dessert, serve cookies, fruit and cheese.
If serving a large crowd, one way to expand on such a menu is to serve more than one type of soup. A favorite with my household is a curried apple soup that is accompanied by a group of traditional curry condiments--chopped chutney, coconut, chopped egg, chopped bacon, shredded chicken and chopped nuts. It can be placed at one end of a buffet table with all of the appropriate accompaniments around it, while a beautiful fresh gazpacho with an assortment of chopped fresh vegetables for toppings can be placed at the other end. In between, provide assorted breads and the dessert items of your choice. That way, your guests can eat what they want whenever it suits them. And it will take only an occasional check on your part to be sure supplies are adequate to maintain a stunning presentation.
The real beauty of this type of entertaining is that it truly is a do-ahead project. The soups must be made in advance in order to chill properly. And the serving will involve no last-minute pressure for they can be put out at your convenience. Just nestle the serving tureens, and any perishable accompaniments, in larger bowls filled with crushed ice and they'll keep beautifully--at least until hunger pangs strike those present and they're ready to dine.
Sound almost too simple to work? Quite the contrary. It's so simple, it does work. Give it a try this Labor Day weekend and find out how much fun it is to enjoy your own party.
COLD YOGURT AND
3 medium cucumbers
6 cups yogurt
2 tablespoons white vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon finely chopped mint
1 1/2 teaspoons finely chopped dill
Ice cubes, optional
Assorted condiments: Cooked and chilled shredded chicken, bay shrimp, chopped crisp cooked bacon, sunflower seeds, diced tomatoes, green pepper strips.
Peel cucumbers and slice lengthwise into halves. Scoop out seeds by running tip of teaspoon down center of each half. Discard seeds. Grate cucumbers coarsely. There should be about 3 cups.
Place yogurt in deep bowl and whisk or stir until completely smooth. Gently but thoroughly beat in grated cucumbers, vinegar, oil, garlic, mint and dill. Season to taste with salt. Do not overbeat.
Refrigerate soup for 2 hours or until thoroughly chilled. Place ice cube in each serving. Top with desired condiments. Makes 2 to 2 1/2 quarts.
SOLID GOLD SOUP
1/2 cup minced onion
1 strip orange peel, 2x1/2 inches
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
1 tablespoon flour
2 cups sliced, scraped carrots
2 1/2 cups water
2 teaspoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 1/2 cups orange juice
1/4 cup sour cream, whipping cream or yogurt
Finely chopped mint or chives
Saute onion and orange peel slowly in butter until onion is tender but not brown. Stir in flour, then carrots, water, sugar, ginger and cloves. Cover and cook gently until tender enough to puree, 10 to 15 minutes.
Whirl in blender until smoothly pureed. Blend in orange juice and 1 tablespoon lemon juice. Season to taste with salt and white pepper and additional lemon juice, if desired. Cover and chill several hours.
Serve garnished with dollop of sour cream sprinkled with mint. Makes about 1 quart.
COLD VEGETABLE SOUP
6 cups buttermilk
4 hard-cooked eggs, chopped
2 medium zucchini, diced
2 to 3 small pickles, diced
1 (1-pound) can diced beets, drained
2 green onions, chopped
1 teaspoon creamed horseradish