THE IDEA OF HOSTING a party sends some cooks merrily into the kitchen, and others to their analyst. There appears to be little middle ground. Either you relish the idea of feeding 50 of your dearest acquaintances, or it is tantamount to the onslaught of a hostile force.
"The Loaves and Fishes Party Cookbook," by Anna and Sybille Pump (Harper & Row, 1990) is a book for both kinds of people. The recipes are chic enough to entertain the "Silver Palate" types. Many are also easy enough for beginners.
The anti-party types won't fret as much over planning because recipes are pre-arranged to fit the season, occasion and size of your party. Extra tips for serving and timing the meal also keep most worries at bay.
"What could be better than a feeling of absolute confidence when throwing a party for 10, 20 or 40 people, knowing you will be able to plan, prepare and present the meal on your own, without tying yourself to the kitchen and better still, treating yourself as one of the guests?" asks Anna Pump in her introduction.
This is especially true if your parties are as diverse as children's birthday fetes, winter wedding receptions, elegant weekend dinners for 12 or beach barbecues. Recipes follow nouvelle and international themes ranging from holiday breads from the Pumps' native Denmark to middle eastern falafel.
Seafood such as salmon and shrimp, poultry and meats such as lamb and veal are grilled, roasted or sauteed with fresh herbs and vegetables. That's not to say all is ethereal, health food. There is plenty of cream, mayonnaise and eggs in some recipes. Dishes may be as hearty as roast loin of pork with hot black mustard and cabbage rolls in tomato sauce or hedonistically sweet as chocolate madeleines and whipped cream and berries cake.
The recipes chosen for each menu balance each other out nicely in terms of color, richness and contrasting tastes. A buffet dinner in the backyard includes roasted, marinated turkey breast with coriander-lime sauce; mozzarella, tomatoes and onions; black bean salad; peach pie and vanilla ice cream. Almost all the foods may be prepared days or hours ahead of time.
Recipes feed groups ranging in size from 8 to 40. Some recipes may be halved easily, others cannot. This is not a book that offers any help for a small dinner. More hints on reducing recipes to feed small groups would be welcome. After all, it's the atmosphere that makes a party, not the numbers.
Lemon-Basil Chicken Salad Yield: 8 to 10 servings
If basil is not available, fresh tarragon is a good substitute.
5 pounds chicken breasts, skinned and boned
1 cup thinly sliced red onions, cut in half moons
1/2 cup green or red seedless grapes, cut in half
2 cups snow peas, or sugar snap peas, cut in half
1 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
Dressing 3 1/2 cups mayonnaise
1/3 cup lemon juice
2 tablespoons grated lemon peel
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons white wine
3 sprigs fresh basil
In a medium saucepan three-quarters full of boiling water, poach the chicken breasts for 10 minutes or until done. Remove the cooked chicken from the liquid, and let cool until comfortable enough to handle. Discard the water.
Cut the cooked chicken into 1-inch cubes and place in a large mixing bowl. Add the red onions, grapes, snow peas and basil leaves.
Combine the dressing ingredients, and stir to blend. Pour over the chicken salad. Mix gently but thoroughly with your hands. Transfer to a serving platter and garnish with sprigs of fresh basil.