Some of the most complex and interesting questions about entertaining problems come from a close friend whose husband is a foreign diplomat currently posted in Germany.
In addition to leading an active and hectic life that involves running a household with two small children, learning a foreign language, attending diplomatic functions and learning the ways of a foreign country, my friend is responsible for regularly giving dinner parties for 10 to 12.
Often, my friend has not met her guests before greeting them at the door. And since her dinners can reflect on her husband's career and her country's image, she must be sure that meals are served comfortably and correctly.
In Germany, it is customary to pass food on platters, but my friend prefers to serve restaurant-style by plating, or assembling food on plates in the kitchen, then simply placing a beautifully composed plate before each guest.
She has a point. Plating gives the cook greater control over the way food looks and eliminates awkward serving situations. In the case of a salad like this one, for example, plating also permits you to set up a first course hours in advance, then serve it with a minimum of last-minute work.
There are some considerations, however. Refrigerator shelves must be organized and cleared of bottles and jars to make space for six dinner plates. And you must be sure you have a sufficient number of plates so that dishes from the first course need not be washed and dried in order to serve the main course.
By planning ahead, this salad is colorful, delicious and nearly effortless to serve. While there is some degree of cutting up and slicing by hand to prepare salad ingredients, the food processor dispatches the vinaigrette dressing in less than one minute.
Garlic, pureed while vinegar is slowly poured into the machine, acts as a binder to keep this dressing from separating for several hours. Oil also should be added slowly so as not to break the emulsion. Both the salad and dressing may be prepared as long as half a day in advance. AVOCADO-GRAPEFRUIT-SEAFOOD SALAD WITH CHIVE VINAIGRETTE
1/2 pound sea scallops or raw peeled shrimp
2 large ruby red or pink grapefruit, peeled
2 medium avocados
Place scallops in vegetable steamer basket and place steamer in medium saucepan with enough water to fill space underneath. Cover and steam just until color turns, about 3 to 4 minutes. Do not overcook. Uncover and rinse with cold water to cool. Drain on paper towels and refrigerate to chill thoroughly. Slice scallops crosswise into 4 or 5 coins (if using shrimp, leave whole).
With sharp knife, trim grapefruit to remove all white outer membrane. Cut out grapefruit segments on each side of membrane ribs, taking care to keep sections whole. Cover and refrigerate grapefruit sections, discarding membrane.
Peel and halve avocados and remove pits. Rinse each avocado under cold water and pat dry. Make 24 half-moon slices, each about 1/4 inch thick. Carefully wrap in plastic wrap to avoid smashing and discoloration. Refrigerate until serving time, no longer than 4 hours.
To assemble salad, arrange each dinner plate as follows: Place 4 grapefruit segments on each dinner plate in pinwheel design. Place 4 avocado slices on each plate between grapefruit segments to form colorful pinwheel. Arrange 5 or 6 scallop slices or whole shrimp in center, covering points where grapefruit and avocado segments meet. Stir Chive Vinaigrette well and gently spoon 3 to 4 tablespoons into empty spaces on each plate, filling between segments. Serve immediately. Makes 6 servings. Chive Vinaigrette
1 clove garlic
2 1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon salt
Dash freshly ground pepper
1/3 cup white wine vinegar
2/3 cup mild extra virgin olive oil or vegetable oil
1 1/2 tablespoons minced chives
Fit processor with metal blade. Drop garlic into machine and chop. Add mustard, salt and pepper. With machine running, add vinegar in slow stream within 15 seconds. Add oil in thin stream within 30 seconds. Process 5 seconds longer. Add chives. Cover and set vinaigrette aside at room temperature, as long as 6 hours. Do not refrigerate.