Later, we graduated to potluck suppers, where everybody contributing a dish. Unless I delegated, we wound up with quite a mish-mash of items -- everything from soup to nuts -- but all was delicious and entertaining.
And when we had no further need of baby sitters, we hosted what we called "Safari Suppers." A group of friends, all within walking distance, moved between different houses for each part of the meal. One neighbor prepared appetizers, another the entree and sides, and a third neighbor served dessert and coffee.
In rural Britain, this is a popular fundraising activity, and is seen as a good way of meeting different people in the community.
Cutting back on expensive restaurant dining, I've recently revived the custom of our "Safari Suppers."
Not surprisingly, it's become so popular with our family and friends that we could almost schedule one every weekend. No one has to prepare an entire dinner, cleaning up after one course is minimal, and the empty casserole dishes go back to be washed at the home where the items were cooked. It's relaxing, and casual, and, of course, you can drink as you wish, as you're walking between houses, and after the evening's over, the outside air will clear your head.
Instead of starters to desserts, I've tended to focus on warming soups and quick breads. They're filling, satisfying and a chance to make good soups from scratch. Remember how real soups taste? And you can make six to eight hearty servings for the price of a couple cans.
Include a tossed salad, or tray of carrot and vegetable sticks. That's easy. The final host could offer a frozen dessert and a bowl of seasonal fruit, such as oranges or apples, along with a dessert wine like Muscat.
Here are some soups and accompanying quick breads for your own "Safari Supper." So easy and fun, this activity will probably start a trend in your neighborhood.
2 Tbsps. margarine
1 medium onion, chopped
1 large red apple, unpeeled, cored and chopped
2 cups vegetable broth
13/4 cups canned pumpkin
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
1/8 tsp. cloves
11/4 to 11/2 cups apple cider
salt and white pepper to taste
Heat the margarine in a large saucepan over medium heat.
Add the onion and apple. Sauté to soften, about 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add the broth, pumpkin, spices and enough cider to make a semi thick soup. Whisk to blend.
Reduce heat to low. Bring to simmer. Cook for 10 minutes.
Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Serve hot with Crystal Gingerbread.
Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 102; protein, 2 g; carbohydrates, 16 g; fat, 4 g; cholesterol, 0 mg; sodium, 339 mg.
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 Tbsp. ginger
11/2 tsps. allspice
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 cup molasses
1 cup buttermilk
1 stick butter, melted
2 Tbsps. finely chopped crystallized ginger
Preheat oven to 350°.
Spray a 9-inch square baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.
In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, spices and baking soda.
In a separate bowl, beat the eggs until thick and foamy.
Add the molasses in a steady stream, beating constantly. Gradually beat in the buttermilk.
Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients. Add half of the molasses mixture, beating until blended. Beat in the remaining molasses mixture and the melted butter to blend. Pour into the prepared baking dish. Scatter the chopped crystallized ginger over top.
Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool slightly before cutting into squares.
Serve with Pumpkin-Cider Soup.
Makes 12 pieces.
Approximate nutrients per piece: calories, 247; protein, 4 g; carbohydrates, 37; fat, 9 g; cholesterol, 75 mg; sodium, 149 mg.
3 Tbsps. butter
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 rib celery with leaves, thinly sliced
1/2 cup diced red or yellow bell pepper
1 small potato, grated
1/2 cup grated carrot
3 Tbsps. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. lemon-pepper seasoning or to taste
31/2 cups milk
1/2 cup half-and-half
1 can (7.75 oz.) salmon, well-drained and flaked with a fork
1/4 cup snipped fresh parsley
Heat the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat.
Add the onion, celery, pepper and potato. Sauté until vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes.
Add the flour and lemon-pepper seasoning, mixing to a smooth paste. Stir and cook for 1 minute. Remove from heat.
Add about half of the milk, whisking until blended and smooth. Return to heat. Stir constantly until mixture begins to thicken.
Add the remaining milk and cream. Bring to simmer. Cook for 5 to 7 minutes.
Add the salmon and parsley.
Heat through and serve with Mile-High Popovers.
Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 230; protein, 8 g; carbohydrates, 13 g; fat, 14 g; cholesterol, 55 mg; sodium, 297 mg.
1 cup whole milk
2 Tbsps. vegetable oil
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. salt
Preheat oven to 425°.
Spray a tray of 12 muffin pans with nonstick cooking spray.
Place all ingredients in blender, wet items first. Whirl at high speed for 15 seconds. Scrape the sides to remove any unmixed flour. Whirl again for 25 to 30 seconds. Pour into prepared muffin pans.
Bake for 15 minutes.
Reduce heat to 350°, and bake 15 to 20 minutes longer, until puffed and golden-brown.
Wrap in a clean towel.
Serve hot or warm with Salmon Chowder.
Approximate nutrients per popover: calories, 83; protein, 3 g; carbohydrates, 9 g; fat, 4 g; cholesterol, 38 mg; sodium, 69 mg.
Hot Bull's-Eye Soup
This is a hot version of a Bloody Mary. Chop the onion and celery coarsely in the food processor.
2 Tbsps. vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
3 ribs celery with leaves, chopped
2 Tbsps. tomato purée
1 Tbsp. sugar or to taste
5 cups vegetable juice
1 Tbsp. soy sauce
2 Tbsps. fresh lemon juice
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1/2 cup vodka
Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium low heat.
Add the onion and celery. Sauté until soft and golden, about 15 minutes.
Add the tomato purée, sugar, vegetable juice, soy sauce and lemon juice. Raise heat to medium and bring to simmer.
Season to taste with salt and pepper. Before serving, stir in the vodka.
Serve hot with Irish Soda Bread.
Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 137; protein, 1 g; carbohydrates, 11 g; fat, 5 g; cholesterol, 0 mg; sodium, 565 mg.
Irish Soda Bread
4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup plus 1 Tbsp. sugar, divided
11/4 tsps. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
2 Tbsps. caraway seeds (optional)
1/2 stick (4 Tbsps.) butter
11/2 cups raisins
1 Tbsp. grated lemon or orange rind
11/4 to 11/2 cups buttermilk
1 egg, lightly beaten
Preheat oven to 375°.
Spray a 2-quart ovenproof casserole with nonstick cooking spray.
In a large bowl, combine the flour, 1/4 cup sugar, baking powder, baking soda and caraway seeds, if using.
Cut in the butter until mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Stir in the raisins and grated lemon or orange rind.
Make a well in center. Add the egg and enough buttermilk to just moisten the dry ingredients.
Turn onto a floured board. Knead lightly until dough is smooth.
Shape into a ball and place in prepared casserole. Cut a 3- to 4-inch cross in center. Sprinkle with remaining sugar.
Bake for 1 hour, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Cool in casserole for 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack. Cool before slicing.
Serve at room temperature.
Makes 1 casserole loaf (10 to 12 slices).
Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 277; protein, 6 g; carbohydrates, 53 g; fat, 5 g; cholesterol, 29 mg; sodium, 196 mg.
Ethel G. Hofman is a past president of the International Association of Culinary Professionals.