There's an old adage about bridal showers -- they seldom come in drizzles, always cloudbursts. You can go 25 years without attending or giving one, but then when it rains, it pours -- everyone gets married at the same time.
For me, the last two years have been a deluge. Between my children, nieces, nephews and friend's children, I've given six showers and two weddings. (This doesn't include the showers I've orchestrated behind the scenes; according to Emily Post, it's improper for immediate members of the bride's family to sponsor a shower.)
There haven't been many changes in showers since I got married, over a quarter of a century ago. Luncheons with all women guests are still the most common, but brunches, afternoon teas, dinners, dessert and couples parties are also popular.
Besides the built-in motif of love and romance, it's fun to plan a shower around a theme that can be carried out with colorful decorations, centerpieces and favors. (For theme and decoration ideas, see below.) To add to the merriment, be sure to include two or three games. (For game ideas, see below.)
Fortunately, with all the wedding excitement, decorations, opening gifts and game playing, the food need not be expensive or elaborate. In planning a luncheon menu, I strive for variety and simplicity, choosing dishes that offer a pleasing array of colors and a tempting assortment of flavors and textures.
The trio of salads -- seafood tortelloni with lime vinaigrette, jade chicken salad with peanut dressing, and wild rice salad with asparagus and leeks -- meet all these criteria. Additionally, they easily expand for any size crowd, can be prepared ahead, and are low in fat and economical. Each is substantial enough to be a complete meal with rolls and butter to round out the menu.
For a small gathering of eight to 10 guests, you may wish to choose one or two of the salads and dish up the plates in the kitchen. For larger groups, it's simpler to set up a buffet and let guests sit around tables or hold plates in their laps. If you have more than one hostess, divide up the recipes and let each one make a salad.
When served alone, each salad is enough for eight to 10 persons. But, when the three are served together, they will feed 24 to 30. Each of the recipes can be doubled or tripled, if desired.
Fresh tortelloni, large-size stuffed pasta (note it's spelled with an "O"; the smaller size tortellini is spelled with an "I"), can be found in the refrigerator section of most supermarkets, but tortellini will also work well. To reduce the fat, I've replaced some of the oil in the dressing with the seafood poaching liquid -- and liked it even better. The completed salad is best made a day ahead and refrigerated overnight; even the shrimp and scallops taste better when marinated in the vinaigrette.
Part of the dressing in the jade chicken salad is used to marinate chicken breasts, which are then grilled or broiled. For small gatherings, you can serve the sliced chicken hot over chilled greens. However, for large parties, it's easier to refrigerate it overnight and serve at room temperature. If you're really short on time, purchase cooked chicken and shred it, but don't marinate it. Reserve the 1/2 cup marinade for another use. You may be surprised to see packaged ramen noodles sprinkled atop the salad. Baked until crisp and golden, you'll find they add marvelous crunch to any Oriental dish.
Wild rice salad, the lightest of the three with no meat or fish, is chock-full of asparagus, leeks, sugar snap peas and sweet tangerines or oranges. To retain the bright green color and crunch of frozen sugar snap peas, defrost them at room temperature for several hours or in the refrigerator overnight rather than in the microwave. They will taste every bit as good as fresh without having the work of trimming and blanching them.
A frozen bombe, contrasting colors of ice cream, yogurt or sherbet, layered in a plastic-wrap lined bowl and served with a selection of fruit and fudge sauces, makes an easy and impressive grand finale.
Even if you don't know anyone getting married now, save this column. Chances are you will give several bridal showers in the next 25 years.
And then, one thing leads to another. Next month I will be cooking for my oldest daughter's baby shower. But that's another story.
Jade chicken salad with peanut dressing
Makes 8 to 10 main dish servings.
THE CHICKEN SALAD:
6 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
1 package (3 ounces) ramen noodles, crumbled with fingers (reserve seasoning packet for another use)
1 head romaine lettuce, cut into bite-size pieces (about 8 cups)
1/2 head Napa cabbage, cut into bite-size pieces (about 4 cups)
6 green onions, sliced (about 3/4 cup)
1 can (8 ounces) water chestnuts, drained and coarsely chopped
4 plum tomatoes, chopped into 1/2 -inch pieces
1 small hothouse cucumber, chopped into 1/2 -inch pieces (about 1 1/2 cups)
THE PEANUT DRESSING:
1 1/2 tablespoons finely minced fresh ginger
3/4 cup soy sauce
6 tablespoons sugar