More and more, I tend toward trouble-free family parties -- and the annual Memorial Day ritual, for which I am a devout stayer-at-home, seems ideally suited for make-ahead buffets . . . with a patriotic accent.
Since everyone's mind has been on welcoming the boys and girls back from the desert, this Memorial Day has some patriotic bounce and joyous relief that it hasn't had in a few years.
A make-it-ahead routine will allow time for savoring the weekend. Simple, made-in-America cuisine may well be in order.
This menu is designed to be served indoors, or at least under the patio or porch roof, to accommodate the delightfully varied Chesapeake Bay climate -- including moments such as when the broiler is sizzling at the cookout, not because the steaks are searing, but because it's raining like crazy.
The first rule is make it simple. This is strictly a warm-it-up-when-they're-ready type meal, with no need for anything but last-minute carrying from refrigerator or stove to table.
For openers, you salute the returning troops by serving a rich, yellow squash soup of bisque type.
For the main event, we ennoble the holidays with the legendary "country captain" -- Georgia's greatest contribution to elegant mass feeds. For closers, there's a red, white and blue, star-spangled blueberry-and-cream dessert, to be served, if you please, on a white or a red plate for the real fireworks effect.
A red or blue tablecloth, with or without stripes or checks, and white china to highlight dishes, especially the patriotic finale, can give a homey touch to this all-American spread.
Squash bisque Serves six.
This elegant creamed puree is an adaptation of one detailed in Jeanette Ferrar and Louise Fiszer's "Season to Taste" (Simon & Schuster, 1988, $19.88). The lemon juice and sage will give it body and the turmeric will give it color.
3 tablespoons butter
1 leek (white part only), chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
2 pounds yellow squash
3 cups chicken stock or water
1 cup milk
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 cup cream
2 teaspoons chopped fresh sage or 1 teaspoon crumbled dried sage
1/8 teaspoon powdered turmeric, or more as needed
In a medium saucepan, heat butter. Saute leek and celery until tender. Add squash, stock and milk and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover and cook about 25 minutes or less, until squash is tender. Puree mixture in blender or food processor and return to pot. Add sage, cream and lemon juice and heat through. Sprinkle in turmeric until desired yellow tone is achieved. Taste and add salt and pepper and serve.
Country captain chicken
Serves eight to 10.
This main course, a gorgeous, antebellum Georgia specialty from way back, is what Scarlett and Rhett thrived on -- and maybe even Ashley Wilkes, when he got his dander up. You can make it up to the very last stage and store it overnight, then reheat when you add the garnishes. Use large, deep ceramic or glass crocks, or enamel-lined Dutch ovens in the last stage and through the heating-up stage. What makes the dish unique is the almonds. The traditional escort for country captain is boiled, long-grain white rice, but any rice mixture (like white and wild) or even a box or two of Rice-A-Roni will serve as a side dish. Frankly, my dear, you'll love it.
1 1/2 cups golden raisins
12 strips thin bacon, microwaved 2 to 3 minutes and drainecrisp
2 frying chickens, cut up, or 8 to 10 chicken breasts, skinned.
4 stalks celery, strings removed.
3 medium onions
2 bell peppers
3 cloves garlic
4 cups canned or fresh tomatoes, peeled, cored and chopped
2 tablespoons curry powder
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
3/4 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 1/2 cups whole, skinned almonds
1/4 cup brandy or cognac
3/4 cup water
1 teaspoon freshly chopped parsley
Skin chicken pieces and/or breasts, if desired, and cut into serving-size pieces. Brown in oil, margarine or fat, adding 1 to 2 tablespoons of bacon grease if desired. Set aside and lightly sprinkle with salt and pepper. Mince celery stalks, onions and bell peppers and chop garlic finely. Add along with tomatoes to oiled skillet over a low heat and sprinkle with curry powder, peppers and thyme. Simmer on low for 10 or 12 minutes. Place chicken pieces in a large baking dish, non-metallic pot or crock and pour over it the simmered mixture. Bake in a moderate (325 degrees) oven for about 35 to 40 minutes. Cool and refrigerate with a top on overnight if desired. Pour brandy and water over raisins and marinate overnight. Still in original container, let dish come to room temperature, then add brandy, water, raisins, parsley and crumbled bacon strips. Reheat for 20 to 25 minutes in a preheated 350-degree oven.
Serves six to eight.