No wonder school administrators arrange to have school under way as fall begins, when an autumn mentality takes over and summer frivolity is left behind. I find that even though my children are out of school, I still run my life around the academic calendar. September is the month that committees, charities, PTAs and social groups reconvene.
Each year my favorite charity group looks for someone to host its opening luncheon meeting, and for the past few years it's been me.
My last year's luncheon was such an enormous success I thought you might enjoy the recipes. I was able to make all the dishes ahead and serve them either chilled or at room temperature. Since I am never sure of the exact number of guests until they arrive, I choose food which is relatively inexpensive to prepare, easy to make in large quantities and recycles well if I am lucky enough to have leftovers.
Chinese chicken noodle salad is a terrific dish for a crowd. To make it easier to serve, break the spaghetti into 2- to 3-inch
pieces with your hands before dropping it into the boiling water.
The chilled zucchini and red pepper soup comes from my good friend Sharon Clausen. Its vibrant pinkish-orange hue and the zing of cumin and balsamic vinegar make it a real winner.
For this type of casual, help-yourself luncheon, I like to conclude with a bundt-style cake and fresh fruit. The poundcakelike texture and buttery orange flavor of the Grand Marnier nut cake always gets raves.
Chinese chicken noodle salad
Makes 8 main dish servings.
1 pound spaghetti
2 tablespoons sesame oil
3 to 4 cups cooked chicken, cut into 1/2 -inch cubes
1 bunch green onions with tops, sliced
1 medium cucumber, unpeeled and cut into thin strips
4 ounces sliced water chestnuts ( 1/2 of an 8-ounce can)
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 cup fresh bean sprouts, rinsed
1/4 pound fresh snow peas, trimmed
=1 1 small red or yellow pepper, cut into strips
2 tablespoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons salad oil
3 tablespoons Chinese rice vinegar
1/2 teaspoon hot chili oil
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh ginger
2 tablespoons sugar
1/3 cup dry sherry
1 teaspoon salt
Bring large pot of water to a boil. Add spaghetti and cook according to package directions. Pour into a colander, drain and rinse with cold water, separating strands with hands while rinsing. Drain well, place in large bowl and toss with 2 tablespoons sesame oil. Stir in chicken, green onions, cucumber, water chestnuts, cilantro, bean sprouts and snow peas.
To make dressing, whisk all ingredients in a small bowl. Pour over pasta and toss well. Cover and refrigerate for several hours. Bring to room temperature before serving.
Zucchini and roasted red bell pepper soup
Makes 5 cups; serves eight.
4 red bell peppers
3 cups finely chopped zucchini
4 cups chicken broth
1 cup plain yogurt
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Yogurt and cumin seed for garnish, optional
To roast the peppers, line a shallow baking sheet with heavy foil. Broil peppers 4 inches from the flame, turning with tongs until the outsides are black and charred and the insides are soft, 25 to 30 minutes. Place in a paper bag or wrap in a dish towel and set aside for 20 minutes. Scrape off peel under running tap water. Cut out core and rinse out all seeds.
In a large saucepan combine the zucchini and the broth. Bring to a boil and simmer the mixture for 10 minutes. Add 2 cups water and boil the mixture uncovered for 15 minutes; cool.
In a blender or food processor with the metal knife, puree the zucchini mixture, roasted peppers, yogurt, ground cumin and vinegar until smooth. Transfer to a bowl and refrigerate, covered, for 1 hour or up to 8 hours. Adjust seasonings with pepper, cumin and vinegar, if needed. Garnish with yogurt and cumin seeds, if desired.
Lemon yogurt muffins
Makes 12 muffins.
1 carton (8 ounces) lemon yogurt
1/4 pound (1 stick) butter or margarine
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup sugar
.` 1 tablespoon grated lemon peel
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons grated lemon peel
1/3 cup lemon juice
lemon honey butter (recipe below)
Heat oven to 375 degrees. Grease 12 2 1/2 -inch muffin cups. In a large bowl, whisk egg. Whisk in yogurt, melted butter or margarine and lemon juice. Stir in flour, baking powder, soda, salt, sugar and lemon peel. Fill muffin cups 3/4 full. Bake for 17 to 20 minutes or until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean.
To make glaze, stir all ingredients in a small saucepan. Cook over moderate heat, stirring, until sugar dissolves.
Remove muffins from oven and cool 5 minutes. Remove to racks, prick tops with a toothpick and pour glaze over. Serve warm. (Muffins may be frozen and reheated.)
Lemon honey butter
Makes 1/2 cup.
1/4 pound (1 stick) butter, at room temperature
2 tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons finely grated lemon rind