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HOLIDAY ENTERTAINING : A STAND-UP AFFAIR : Three Caterers Put Southern California Punch Into Traditional Holiday Parties

December 06, 1987|KIM UPTON | U pton is editor of the FoodStyles feature service of the Los Angeles Times Syndicate.

In Southern California, we can toast the holidays while wearing swim suits, warmed by Santa Ana winds rather than bourbon. We can attend three or more gatherings a night without fear of snowdrifts blocking our way.

Today's holiday gathering strongly reflects California's current values and sense of personal well being. Pack up the cheese dip and chips, toss out the 7-and-7s and sugary-sweet drinks.

Collectively, the catering teams of Rococo, Along Came Mary! and Somerset have fed nearly every big name in Hollywood through major movie premieres, benefits and private parties. They say that the low-alcohol party fits in perfectly with our life styles.

"This is a fast-moving town filled with people who are health and weight conscious," says Mary Micucci of Along Came Mary!

Another reason parties have changed in Los Angeles: We're a sophisticated, multinational lot, the caterers contend, and the foods we favor reflect that. The new celebrations are a good stage for indulging our whims and our varied tastes broadened by travel, TV and our rich ethnic heritage.

Fruit juices are valued, both for their nutritional content and their lack of alcohol. Beyond juice, "Everything is white," says Phil Restaino of Somerset. White wine, champagne and sparkling waters are on the menu. But so is not-so-white beer--if it's Asian or Mexican, served with a wedge of lime, or has reduced calories, Rococo's Robert Ehrman reports.

As for the more traditional fare, wassail spiked with sherry and brandy is uncharacteristically high in alcohol content for a society that drives several miles just to reach a neighborhood party. Beyond calorie consciousness, strict drunk-driving laws and common sense have combined to make us more cautious about alcohol consumption, at least at parties.

The party plan is important and should include hors d'oeuvres that can be made in advance "so that you can be a guest at your own party," Micucci says. Plan on four to six hors d'oeuvre bites per person. Also plan to serve at least one hot drink that will perfume the air with cloves and cinnamon. Schedule waters and fruit juices for your friends who must drive home. Make a list so that you don't forget any of this. And invite only the proper amount of people.

The party should be "not too crowded, not too empty," Micucci said. "When you can't turn around, it's too crowded. When you have to put your glasses on to see the other guests," you need more guests. Numbers are dictated by the size of the space.

Guest numbers also dictate whether you should serve solo or try to find help. More than 25 would be easier if handled with assistance, whether it is hired or that of a kind and generous friend.

Make strong efforts to decorate lavishly, but that does not mean refinancing your home to free up cash.

Invest in flowers and greenery. Wholesale prices are available at the flower market in downtown Los Angeles. Buy a flat or two of poinsettias, and blanket the living room with color. Flood the house with candles.

And do not, even if it seems a bit too much at the time, rule out the opportunity for a spur-of-the moment party. That's why the gods of cooking invented mixed nuts. And carryout.

THAI SCALLOP KEBABS

(Along Came Mary!) 4 tablespoons vegetable oil3 cloves garlic, minced1 large stem fresh lemon grass, minced3 quarter-sized pieces fresh ginger root, peeled and minced1 jalapeno, seeded and mincedWater48 sea scallops1 large bunch cilantro4 scallions (some green included)5 tablespoons lime juiceSalt1 green apple1 red bell pepper1 yellow bell pepper3 bunches scallions, green part only Heat 1 tablespoon oil in large skillet. Add garlic, lemon grass, ginger and jalapeno, and saute, stirring frequently, until garlic is soft. Add 3 tablespoons water, bring to a simmer, add scallops and cook until scallops are opaque. Add more water if mixture becomes dry. Pour contents of pan into bowl and cool. In blender or food processor, mince cilantro and scallions. Add 4 tablespoons lime juice, remaining 3 tablespoons oil and salt to taste. Spoon over scallops.

Core apple, slice into 24 pieces and toss with remaining 1 tablespoon lime juice. Core bell peppers and cut into 24 square pieces each. Add apple and bell pepper to scallops, cover, refrigerate and marinate for 3 hours.

Thread a 6-inch skewer with a piece of red pepper, a scallop, an apple slice, a yellow pepper slice and another scallop. Repeat with remaining ingredients. Serve on bed of scallion greens. Makes 24 kebabs.

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