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FOOD : PARTY CHOREOGRAPHY : Quality is the Key to a Nearly Effortless Buffet

December 17, 1989|Barbara Thornburg

CATERER COLIN COWIE does it all. Not only does he cook, but he also arranges the host's make-up and clothes, decorates the house, and furnishes entertainment. "Putting on today's parties has more to do with being a choreographer than a cook," says Cowie, whose last big event was Hugh Hefner's wedding. "To get organized is the challenge."

Tan, curly-haired Cowie, a 27-year-old former model who was born and raised in Zambia, is noted for his air of elegance and laid-back attitude. He can make a buffet for 18 seem effortless. "Quality is the key" emphasizes the president of Colin Cowie Lifestyle. "If you start with something good, you're more likely to end up with something delicious."

For a light and easy, mostly do-ahead buffet, Cowie prepares a Tarragon Baked Salmon that is loaded with fresh sprigs of tarragon and laced inside and out with mayonnaise. (The taste of mayonnaise is undetectable in the finished dish, Cowie says. The mayonnaise serves only as a moistener, and most of it cooks away.)

Next comes a salad. He favors a mixture of baby lettuces-- frisee , arugula, mache , watercress and radicchio --dressed with a simple vinaigrette. "Most dressings today are too overpowering," he says. "The acidity of the vinegar keeps you from tasting all the wonderful greens." To avoid camouflaging the flavor of the lettuces, Cowie uses a 4-to-1 ratio of extra-virgin olive oil and Bordeaux red-wine vinegar, rather than the standard 3-to-1. He adds a teaspoon of Dijon mustard and whips the mixture for a few seconds in a Cuisinart. As a variation, he suggests sprinkling the salad with freshly chopped chives, Italian parsley and chervil. "Chervil," he rhapsodizes, "is absolutely divine."

Whole red potatoes that are simply boiled in their jackets, "couldn't be easier," he says. "The key is to select potatoes the same size, so some don't get done before the others." When the potatoes are tender, he tosses them with melted butter and fresh-chopped Italian parsley. "Be sure to use Italian parsley," he advises. "It's prettier and tastes better as well."

A fruit dessert--Marinated Bananas With Lime and Orange Zests and Caramelized Kiwis With Passion Fruit served with lemon sorbet-- completes his no-work buffet. "The most successful party is when the host and hostess have a good time and the guests enjoy themselves," Cowie says.

LIGHT AND EASY BUFFET FOR 18

TARRAGON BAKED SALMON *

BOILED RED POTATOES

MIXED BABY LETTUCES

VINAIGRETTE DRESSING

LEMON SORBET WITH MARINATED BANANAS, LIME AND ORANGE ZESTS *

CARAMELIZED KIWIS WITH PASSION FRUIT *

TARRAGON BAKED NORWEGIAN SALMON 1 10-pound fresh whole Norwegian salmon, room temperature

Coarse sea salt

White and black pepper, freshly ground

2 cups mayonnaise

20 sprigs fresh tarragon

3 lemons, thinly sliced for garnish

Place fish on foil-lined baking sheet. Generously salt and pepper top, bottom and inside of fish. (Fish must be room temperature before broiling.) Divide mayonnaise into thirds. Spread 1/3 mayonnaise in fish cavity. Fill with tarragon sprigs. Spread another 1/3 mayonnaise on top of fish. Cover head and tail with foil. Place fish 8 to 10 inches from broiler unit. Broil 15 to 20 minutes. (Mayonnaise will darken.) Remove fish and carefully turn over. Spread remaining mayonnaise on top of fish, keeping head and tail wrapped in foil. Broil 15 to 20 minutes.

Place fish on serving platter. Garnish with sliced lemons. Makes 18 servings.

MARINATED BANANAS WITH LIME AND ORANGE ZESTS 1 1/4 cups sugar

1 orange

2 limes

8 bananas

Heat sugar in saucepan until it caramelizes and turns golden brown in color. Remove zest from 1 orange and 1 lime and cut into fine julienne. Place zest in boiling water for a few seconds; drain.

Squeeze juice from orange and limes, and add slowly to caramelized sugar while still on burner. Cut bananas on diagonal into 1/2-inch slices. Add citrus zest to caramelized mixture, and pour over bananas.

Macerate overnight (or at least 3 hours) in a cool place. Serve with scoops of lemon sorbet . Serves 18.

CARAMELIZED KIWIS WITH PASSION FRUIT 1 1/4 cups sugar

4 passion fruit

12 kiwis

1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice

Heat sugar in saucepan until it caramelizes and turns golden brown in color. Slowly add orange juice, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Remove pulp from passion fruit and add to caramel mixture.

Peel and slice kiwis. Pour caramel mixture over fruit. Macerate overnight (or at least 3 hours) in a cool place. Serve with scoops of lemon sorbet . Serves 18.

Food styled by Alice M. Hart/ Food for Film

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