THE REALLY smart housekeeper is efficiency expert number one; not even Mr. Gwindell has anything on her. Somehow or other she manages to do her housework, look after the children, attend to the marketing and the mending, answer the door and the telephone, and serve her family well-cooked and delicious meals. All, mind you, without working from sun to sun, for somewhere in between those hundred and one things she finds time for rest, recreation or other interests. And if you don’t think that’s something, just try it.
Of course, some women muddle along without any plan or system, and complain bitterly that their work is never done. But these are the exception nowadays; at least among readers of Maclean s Magazine. So this article is written for the good manager or the would-be one, to offer some suggestions for time-saving meals and simplified service—and who wouldn’t appreciate them on a busy day at least?
Smart restaurants started the scheme of plate dinners for this very reason. If you notice, there is no doubt of their popularity with folks who haven’t all day to spend over a meal. They appeal also to many others who are in no particular hurry, for the food looks its appetizing best and comes to the table piping hot. Moreover, you are apt to find an even better selection than you might make—good flavor combination, pleasing contrast of texture and attractive color arrangement. And these are the little things that make such a big difference.
People like plate dinners, if we can believe our eyes and our ears when we lunch downtown. So why not try them sometimes at home? They are really no different from any other dinner except in their simplified form of service, which appeals to the whole family, at least on occasion. For one thing they save dish washing, as platters, vegetable dishes and serving cutlery are dispensed with. The main course is served in the kitchen direct from the stove to well-warmed plates, garnished with a deft touch and brought to the dining room steaming hot and ready to eat. Or. it may come crisp and cool from the refrigerator if it is that kind of a meal—good to taste and good to look at.
Don’t think either that you are the only one to appreciate this easy plan. What about the youngsters who help with the dishes? What about the tired business man at the head of your table? I’ll wager he is thankful to be relieved of carving and serving after a particularly trying day when the boss has been out of sorts or his clients cantankerous.
Then, besides saving time, the plate dinner saves space on the table, which is quite an advantage it the dining table is small. There is less clutter and less confusion, without sacrificing any of the real enjoyment of a meal at home.
BUT LIKE any other good idea, this can be spoiled in carrying it out. An ill-assorted, carelessly arranged plate is anything but a joy to behold and pleasure to eat. In planning this sort of a meal, think first of its dietetic value, for in these days we eat wisely to live well. Then consider what goes well with what, in order to make the most of harmonizing flavors and avoid those which cannot get along together. Texture is another important consideration, and from this standpoint look for contrast rather than similarity. For
instance, a combination of, say, stewed tomatoes, creamed onions, scalloped potatoes, with meat and gravy, would not be our idea of a good choice. It would be too “runny” and a bit sloppy on the
plate. But if you bake the potato, scallop the tomatoes, boil the onions whole and serve with a smooth cream sauce, you would have something much more interesting both in texture and appearance. And appearance is something to think of, for you have a whole range of shapes and colors to make the plate a perfect picture.
There are, of course, dozens of possible groupings and each season brings its own offerings and suggestions. Different methods of cooking will help to give variety, too, though the oven meal or one prepared on top of the stove is quite satisfactory for this form of service if the foods are carefully chosen with that in mind.
Most meats and fish lend themselves to arrangement in the kitchen, while many egg and cheese dishes may be used in this type of meal, with their appropriate accompaniments. Occasionally you might omit them, however, and go vegetarian for the time at least. Quite a good idea for a spring or summer evening, if you make a careful selection and pay special attention to the seasoning of each. The salad plate is another thing to help you get variety, and you may have it as substantial as you like by using cold cuts, canned fish, hard-cooked eggs in combination with any fresh green thing, or colorful offering from the garden or the can.
But, as I’ve intimated, success depends on planning— good selection of flavors which blend nicely, textures that contrast, and foods which look well together on the plate. Then this simple meal is second to none.
The platter can also be a time, effort and space saver if you use it to good advantage. It is my own favorite for informal entertaining, as a two-by-four kitchen does not provide many places to put things down and there is no room to spread out plates for “fixing up.” So, instead, I use a deep generous Willow platter which came down to me from my ancestors, and put the whole course for six or eight on it. Usually the roast, or whatever it may be, takes its position in the centre, surrounded by accompaniments selected for flavor, form and color, and with the thought of something good to eat and look at. Sometimes the vegetables are arranged in a pattern down the middle, with chops as a border. Or a great mound of salad has cold cuts or devilled eggs at each end and tomato wedges or radish roses along the side, with lettuce for crisp lacy frills wherever they do the most good from a decorative angle. Then, on a small table there is a sense of space which is impossible if each food has its own dish and server. Even when they can be accommodated, you know what it is to have no room for the covers without disarranging everything, dripping water on the cloth and spoiling the nice effect of your table. The platter scheme does away with that, for all you need is a big one and an artistic touch with it.
A Plank Dinner
NCW ANOTHER suggestion is a plank dinner in which the foods are grouped and cooked together on a hardwood plank designed for this purpose. You can buy them in individual sizes or large enough for an average family, and your simple meal will rival many an expensive chef’s creation. Steak and appropriate trimmings, fish with peas and potato garnish, fillet of beef with new potatoes and string beans, even hash with tomato halves and any other vegetable you like, can be arranged for convenient service and cooked on the board in the oven. Of course you will have to choose foods that cook in about the same length of time, or plan to do your fixing up with prepared vegetables when the meat is partly cooked. Then, after a bit of last-minute garnishing, the plank with its attractive “load” can be set on a platter and brought to the table with a real flourish. The plank dinner takes kindly to the use of left-overs, as odds and ends of colorful food can be used to dress up the dish; a few green peas, string beans, diced carrots or sliced beets in just the right place gives it color and distinction.
Modern designs in china, heat-proof glass and ovenware, are well adapted for plate and platter meal service. Plates with divided sections to hold the individual courses of meat and vegetables are seen in the shops and, though not really necessary, are quite a smart idea. Little glass baking dishes with or without covers are useful for cooking and serving creamed mixtures, individual soufflés and the like. Place them on the plate with accompanying food, to fulfill a practical as well as a decorative purpose. Ramekins, little covered pots and bowls may also be used in this way and help to give variety of arrangement and many possibilities in your choice of a menu. Those of the right shape and size also come in handy for setting aspics, jellied salad mixtures and relishes which are a popular addition to the cold or hot meal.
So far I have mentioned only the main course, but it is necessary to give attention to what comes before and after. The best way is to think of the dinner as an ensemble rather than as a mere succession of dishes, and round out your plate or platter course with suitable appetizer and dessert.
Good planning, good cooking and good timing are all important in serving a successful meal. Then, no matter how simple the fare or the service, there is real pleasure for the eye and the palate at your table. To prove that point, we are suggesting menus with foods which taste and look well together.
Continued on page 64
Continued from page 62
Cold Plates With Meat or Fish
Summer Sausage or Salami Dill Pickles
Macaroni Salad Lettuce and Tomatoes
Cold Roast Beef Mustard Pickles
Potato Salad with Chopped Green Onions Endive Radishes
l/f Cupful of chopped pimiento y2 Cupful of chopped ripe olives
1 Cupful of chopped celery Mayonnaise Crisp lettuce
Cook the macaroni in boiling salted water until tender, drain and chill thoroughly. Combine with the. chopped hard-cooked eggs, pimiento, ripe olives and celery. Mix lightly with enough mayonnaise to moisten and serve on crisp lettuce leaves. Six servings.
1 Thin slice of onion y2 Teaspoonful of celery seed y2 Teaspoonful of minced green pepper
1 Small bay leaf Dash of mace
y2 Tablespoonful of lemon juice
y Teaspoonful of paprika Gelatine Cold water Green coloring
Peel the cucumber, slice and place in a saucepan. Add the onion, celery seed, green pepper, bay leaf and mace and enough cold water to cover. Simmer until tender and season to taste with salt. Press through a sieve, add lemon juice and paprika and for each cupful of the hot mixture, add threequarters of a tablespoonful of gelatine softened in three tablespoonfuls of cold water. Stir until the gelatine is dissolved, add green coloring to color a delicate shade, and turn into very small individual molds. Chill until firm.
3 Cupfuls of well-chilled
9 or 10 Olives, cut in small pieces
2 Hard-cooked eggs, coarsely
Finely chopped pimiento
4 Tablespoonfuls of salad oil
or mayonnaise Crisp lettuce leaves
Mix all the ingredients together and serve well chilled on crisp lettuce leaves. If desired, one of the eggs may be reserved for garnishing. Six to eight servings.
Corn a la Southern
1 Can of com (No. 2)
1 Teaspoonful of salt Pepper
1 y2 Tablespoonfuls of melted butter
2 Cupfuls of scalded milk
Beat the eggs slightly and add with the other ingredients to the com. Turn into a buttered baking dish or into individual buttered ramekins and bake in a moderate oven—350 degrees Fahr.—until firm. Six servings.
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