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DAZZLING DINNERS: Recipes, Decor and More
You are inviting people to dinner. You want them to adore the food, have great conversation and lots of fun. You want to excite their minds as well as their palates. After they leave, you want them to rave about the party to everyone they know. You need a dazzling dinner.
Dazzling dinner are not necessarily formal or elegant, and they certainly are not conventional. Dazzling dinners are distinctive and exceptional. They have themes that capture the imagination and are played out in delightful decor and fabulous food. Dazzling dinners are fun to think about, fun to carry out, and great fun for your guests. If you like food, or entertaining, or stepping out of the box, you will adore doing a dazzling dinner. It will be entertainment for your guests and recreation for you. Twelve chapters set out the Dazzling Dinner Plans, one inspired by each month of the year. Everything you need to know and do for a super-special evening is detailed in each Plan.
"Spring Into Summer Dinner"
Roasted Duck Breast
"Presents A'Plenty Dinner
Berry Harlequin Dessert
"A Fat Tuesday Celebration"
SEAFOOD and CITRUS
Inspiration: Hot August Days
Fishing for a feast that’s cool and cooling? The classic culinary combination of seafood and citrus is cast in new guises guaranteed to hook your guests.
“Summertime and the livin’ is easy. Fish are jumpin’…” This lovely song from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess captures the essence of summer, so perhaps the song was the unconscious inspiration for this dinner plan. Summer makes us think of rest and vacations, outdoor pleasures, sunshine and warmth. Summer draws us to all that is relaxing and refreshing: to informality, to lounging about, to carefree fun, to sojourns at lakes and streams and shore, to cooling drinks and food that is light but enlivening.
A dinner that makes the most of seafood is as suitable to summer as fish to water and citrus to fish. Seafood is light, sweet and flavorsome. Citrus tastes are bright, tart and refreshing. When combined, the acidity of citrus beautifully balances the sweetness of seafood, providing for dishes of depth and elegance.
Each fish is paired with a different citrus fruit, but not every dish contains seafood. While low in calories, seafood is high in protein and digesting protein generates more body heat than digesting carbohydrates. To keep things cool while complying with the theme, fanciful renditions of sea creatures appear in an appetizer, the soup, salad and desserts. These amusing sea creatures contain no seafood, but they do include those refreshing citrus flavors. To stimulate guests’ interest in citrus flavors, several dishes use not citrus fruit, but plants with citrus tastes. Typically, herbal and floral notes augment the primary citrus taste of these plants and distinguish them from the fruit for which they are named.
In short, the recipe for a perfectly pleasurable, entirely enjoyable summer dinner is to add to seafood and citrus a drop of wit, a spray of whimsy, a splash of fun and a sprinkling of surprise.
Appropriate for: Any summer evening, when entertaining people who fish or sail or otherwise play in the ocean, or those who love to eat fish or to celebrate the birthday or special achievement of such individuals.
SEAFOOD and CITRUS
We’re angling to hook you
with this fishy feast
that casts anew
of citrus and seafood.
Lobster and Grapefruit in Drunken Mayonnaise
Lemon/Anchovy Stuffed Olives
Sweet Potato “GoldFish” with Lime
Humanitarian “Shark-Fin” Soup with Kiwi and Lemon Thyme
Grilled Swordfish with Orange Marinade
Basmati Rice with Kaffir Lime and Saffron
“Seahorse” Salad with Eggplant and Purslane
Lemon-Verbena Panna Cotta with Floating “Fish”
“Scallops” with Orange Glaze
BACKING UP THE THEME
Basic: Print the menu shown on the previous page. A lemony yellow paper will fit the theme and contrast with the aqua print.
Ornamental: Print on lemon yellow card stock. On one side print the title, an appropriate photo of an icon such as a fish and the poem. On the other side of the same sheet print the title, the same or a different photo and the menu items. Outline in pencil the shape of a lemon, enclosing all the print. Cut out the lemon.
Symbols. To emphasize the unusual theme, it is probably best to stick to fish or other forms of seafood (clams, jellyfish, etc.) and citrus fruits themselves. However, you might incorporate related symbols such as sun, sand, fishing poles, boats, etc.
Color. There are two major choices for color scheme, colors that suggest the sea and seashore or the colors of citrus fruits. To evoke the sea, use blues, greens or turquoise or the cool-feeling combination of bright blue with white, perhaps with sand color as well. No particular color evokes the idea of seafood for fish come in all colors. However, the bright primary colors of coral-reef fish are in keeping with the season and theme. Citrus fruits are yellow, green and orange, colors as bright and warm as a summer’s day. Citrus colors can be overpowering, so use them with caution. We prefer the cool colors of the sea as the primary color scheme combined with citrus accents.
Table décor. Keep it casual, in keeping with the idea of relaxed summer living. If you have a white dinner service, use blue table linens. A beige or sand-colored service could be set against blue table linens or linens in a citrus color.
We favor a centerpiece featuring citrus. Make an arrangement of citrus fruits set off with a few sprays of lemon leaf (a common “filler” carried by florists) or fronds of fennel or dill which resemble seaweed. Scatter shells, pearls and/or small plastic or glass fish around the rest of the table. (See cover photo.)
Other décor. Tune your guests into the theme of seafood and citrus as they enter. At the door, place a fishing pole or net alongside a basket fragrant with citrus. Use bunches of lemon thyme or lemon verbena and encourage your guests to smell them. Alternatively, use citrus rinds or citrus potpourri. Display plates of citrus fruits and fishing gear or artificial fish in your living room and dining area. A few nets decorated with shells or starfish would be delightful.
It should be easy to match your clothing to the theme. For example, wear blue and white with shell jewelry or yellow with orange.
Music. The song Summertime will set the mood perfectly when played as guests arrive or when everyone is assembled. From there, depending on your taste, you might play CDs of sea shanties, sounds of the seashore or popular songs with a seashore theme, e.g., Down By the Boardwalk.
Favor. Purchase a box of chocolates in the form of seashells and candy in the shape of citrus fruit (marzipan or jellies are common). Wrap a selection of each in blue paper and tie with white ribbon.
Note for favor: Dive into this packet for a sweet treat.
Opening Cocktail. Place a small seashell in the bottom of a champagne glass. Add 1 ounce Grand Marnier or other orange liqueur. Fill glass with 4-5 ounces Champagne.
Soup. Serve the same Sauvignon Blanc used to make the soup.
Entrée. A good Sangria is perfect for the citrus flavors and looks just right in a big glass pitcher with lots of floating citrus slices.
After Dinner. The orange liqueur used for the opening cocktail will make a fine finish. Limoncello will do the same.
SWEET POTATO “GOLDFISH” WITH LIME
A sweet potato is just the color of the classic goldfish and its sweetness harmonizes with the tart lime. Formed into the shape of a goldfish, your guests will be guessing what this flavorsome, fantasy fish might be. Serves 8.
Up to 8 hours in advance: Complete dish; cover and refrigerate.
1 large (about 1 pound) sweet potato, peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks
6 tablespoons (more if necessary) heavy cream
1 tablespoon peeled, finely grated ginger
2 teaspoons lime zest
1 tablespoon lime juice
½ teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
One thin slice from the light green part of a scallion
Curly green lettuce or parsley
A few small seashells
Steam or boil the sweet potato until quite soft, 25–30 minutes. Drain. Put through a ricer or mash until smooth. Add remaining ingredients and mix. Serve slightly cool.
Use a light green or blue serving plate. Mold the sweet potato mixture into the shape of a goldfish, leaving space for the “seaweed” below the fish. Place the scallion slice as the eye. Put the lettuce or parsley at the bottom of the plate, with a few overlapping the fish’s belly. Place a few seashells in the “seaweed.”
LOBSTER AND GRAPEFRUIT IN DRUNKEN MAYONNAISE
Lobster and grapefruit is an unlikely combination but one full of interesting contrasts. The flesh of lobster is sweet, firm and chewy while grapefruit is bitter, yielding and pulpy. The mayonnaise binds the two together with harmonizing savory, sweet and spicy notes. This dish is unusually flavorsome when made with a good commercial mayonnaise and ordinary cognac. With homemade mayonnaise and a fine cognac the result is awesome. Serves 8.
Up to 1 day in advance: Cook lobster; cool; cut up; wrap tightly and refrigerate.
Prepare grapefruit sections; wrap tightly and refrigerate.
Up to 8 hours in advance: Prepare mayonnaise sauce.
2½ pounds lobster, approximately (1 large or 2 small)
4 medium grapefruit
1 cup mayonnaise, preferably homemade
¼ cup heavy cream
¼ cup ketchup
¼ cup cognac
2 tablespoons dry sherry
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
Parsley or other green leaves
Prepare lobster. In a large pot, bring 2 inches of water to a boil. Plunge lobsters head down into the water. Cover the pot and cook, depending on size: 12-15 minutes if the lobsters are small, 18-20 minutes for larger lobsters up to 2¾ pounds. Immediately plunge into cold water to stop the cooking. After the lobster is cool, remove the shell and cut meat into ½-inch chunks.
Prepare grapefruit. Cut grapefruit in half (but see Presentation). Using a thin, sharp knife, carefully cut along the membranes to remove the fruit sections. Cut off any of the bitter membrane that adheres to a section. Cut the sections into bite-sized chunks, place in sieve and drain thoroughly.
Make mayonnaise sauce. Whisk together all ingredients.
Just before serving, use paper towels to blot the grapefruit sections and, if moist, the lobster chunks. Gently mix the lobster and grapefruit into the sauce.
Serve either in grapefruit shells or 6–8 inch scallop shells. To serve in grapefruit shells, use a sharp knife to make scalloped cuts along the circumference of the fruit. Remove all traces of membrane. Place the grapefruit shell on a small plate and fill the shell with the lobster/grapefruit mixture. Otherwise, use scallop shells. Place a few of the parsley or other green leaves in the center.
LEMON/ANCHOVY STUFFED OLIVES
Lemon almost always accompanies anchovies in Mediterranean cuisines. Here, the two are added to another Mediterranean favorite, the olive. Serves 8.
Up to 8 hours in advance: Complete the dish; cover and refrigerate.
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon lemon juice
24 small anchovies packed in olive oil
24 large or 32 small green olives, pitted
Very thin lemon slices
Process lemon zest, juice and anchovies to a smooth paste. Pack the paste into the olives.
A scallop shell (6–8 inches) or other small white plate will set off the green olives beautifully. Line the circumference of the plate with thin slices of lemon and pile the olives in the center.
HUMANITARIAN “SHARK-FIN” SOUP WITH KIWI AND LEMON THYME
The “shark-fin” presentation is a joke (see cover photo) but the soup is not - simple in conception, simple to make, but intricate in taste and refreshing to the palate. The major ingredients, kiwi fruit and lemon thyme, both have sweet and tart elements that are nevertheless distinct. Kiwi reminds many people of strawberries while lemon thyme is definitely lemon in flavor, but short on tartness with an herbal character. The wine adds depth with a layer of vegetal and citrus flavors typical of Sauvignon Blanc. Slowly savor this soup and you will experience the tastes as sometimes distinct, sometimes blending. Serves 8.
Up to 8 hours in advance: Peel and process the kiwis until smooth; refrigerate.
Prepare the garnish.
At least 1, but no more than 2 hours in advance: Chop the lemon thyme and finish the soup, excluding the garnish; refrigerate.
2 cups Sauvignon Blanc
12 large ripe kiwis, peeled
¼ cup tightly packed lemon-thyme leaves
½ teaspoon salt
Dark flat bread, cut into 8 right triangles
40 goldfish crackers
Slowly simmer the wine for 2 minutes to release alcohol.
Process the kiwis, lemon thyme and salt until smooth. Stir in the wine. Cover and refrigerate. Serve cold.
Divide soup among eight wide, shallow bowls. To mimic the fin of a shark swimming in the soup, hold the bread triangle with a short side) down. Partially submerge that edge. Float 5 goldfish at the other end, as if they were swimming away from the “shark.”
GRILLED SWORDFISH WITH ORANGE MARINADE
Swordfish is sweet, very rich and distinctly savory, especially if grilled. The sour components of the marinade modulate the fish’s richness for a nice balance of sweet, sour and savory. Serves 8.
Up to 1 day in advance: Make marinade; put in glass or ceramic container; cover and refrigerate.
1 hour before grilling: Marinate swordfish.
¼ cup frozen orange juice
½ cup soy sauce
¼ cup sweet soy sauce
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons minced ginger
8 center-cut swordfish steaks, each 1-1¼ inches thick, weighing about 8 ounces each
2 or 3 small bunches of green leaves such as parsley or basil
Make marinade. Mix all ingredients together.
About 1 hour before grilling, place fish in glass or ceramic dish and cover with the marinade. Cover and refrigerate.
Place oiled rack 5-6 inches over glowing coals, or use a well-seasoned grill pan. Shake excess marinade from fish and grill until nicely browned and cooked through, about 3-4 minutes per side.
A white platter will set off the mahogany-colored swordfish. A few clusters of green leaves will provide attractive contrasting color.
Just what it should be: colorful, zesty and refreshing, playing in tasteful harmony with the sweet swordfish and counterpoint to the soft tastes of the kaffir-lime rice. The colors underscore these harmonious contrasts (see Entrée Plating). Serves 8.
Up to 1 day and at least 2 hours in advance: Prepare the salsa except for the basil; place in glass or ceramic container; cover and refrigerate.
4 large naval or other eating oranges
1 medium red onion, peeled, sliced thin, then halved
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 small green chili pepper, more to taste, seeded if desired
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 cup packed, roughly chopped basil leaves
Combine all ingredients, except basil, using a glass or ceramic bowl. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
Just before serving, stir in the chopped basil leaves.
Use an attractive bowl in white or any bright color.
BASMATI RICE WITH KAFFIR LIME AND SAFFRON
The tang of citrus fruits can overpower the mild flavor of most rice varieties. However, plants that have citrus flavor without the acidity of the fruit work very well with rice. That is certainly true of the leaves of the kaffir lime, a tree that produces a lime-like fruit. The leaves are wonderfully fragrant, imparting to the rice a soft lime taste with floral overtones. Saffron adds another dimension of flavor and a gorgeous yellow color. Serves 8.
Up to 4 hours in advance: Prepare rice; keep at room temperature; gently reheat.
¼ teaspoon saffron threads
¼ cup hot water
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cups basmati rice
3 cups water
4 large or 6 small kaffir lime leaves
1 teaspoon salt
4 large or 8 small kaffir lime leaves
Soak saffron threads in ¼ cup hot water for 10 minutes.
Prepare rice. Melt butter in 5-6 quart pot over medium-low heat. Add rice and stir often until rice is colored, about 4-5 minutes. Meanwhile, bring 3 cups water to boil. Pour over rice, add salt and saffron with its water, cover tightly, reduce heat to low and cook for 17 minutes. Turn off heat and let pot stand, covered, for 10 minutes.
A white or colored bowl will set off the golden rice. Have the lime leaves on a separate plate, for topping the individual portions.
In composing this dish, highlight the colors: the mahogany of the fish, the bright orange and green of the salsa and the golden yellow rice with its green topping. Place the swordfish slightly above where it would be if centered on the plate. Spoon some salsa over the middle of the fish and down onto the plate on one side. Scoop a mound of rice on the other side of the fish. Top the mound with the lime leaves (or a substitute).
“SEAHORSE” SALAD WITH EGGPLANT AND PURSLANE
The major feature of this dish is the visually stunning seahorse scene. An eggplant mixture is sculpted to form a seahorse that rests in a bed of what looks like sea grasses. The scene is easy to make since the seahorse is just a modified S-shape under and around which you place some greens. One green is purslane, chosen because its thick rounded leaves resemble some sea grasses and for its mild lemony taste. The dish lets guests compare purslane’s taste with the taste of real lemon in the “seahorse.” Serves 8.
Up to 1 day in advance, but preferably 4-6 hours in advance: Make salad and, if desired, form seahorse scene (without the dressing) on individual plates; cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate.
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1-2 (to taste) medium-hot chili peppers, minced, seeded if desired
3 cloves garlic, minced
¾ pound baby eggplant, ends removed, cut into ½-inch chunks
¼ pound baby zucchini, ends removed, cut into ½-inch chunks
3 tablespoons chopped, sweet salad onion
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
½ teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste
8 red peppercorns or small circles of red pepper
1 large bunch purslane, leaves separated from stem
40 fennel fronds, 2-3 inches in length (1-2 fennel bulbs)
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 small clove garlic, minced
Make salad. In a nonstick pan on low, heat oil, chilies and garlic until the garlic is soft and golden. Turn heat to medium and sauté eggplant, stirring occasionally, until eggplant begins to soften, about 5-7 minutes. Add zucchini and cook until it begins to soften, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and cool. Process eggplant mixture with onion, lemon juice, salt and pepper until ingredients are well combined but not entirely smooth. The appearance and texture should be slightly coarse with slight variations in color.
Make the seahorse scene. Set out 8 small (6-8 inch diameter) plates. The plate is the background of the scene, so color is important. In order of preference, use blue, green, clear glass, sand or brown plates. Divide eggplant salad mixture into 8 portions. Place about ¾ of one portion onto the upper half of a plate and form a rough “C” with fingers (photo shows a backward “C”). Use the remaining ¼ to form a curving tail. Continue shaping into a seahorse, using the photo as a guide. Enlarge the upper curve of the “C” into a head shape with a long snout. Enlarge the rest into a protruding “stomach” that narrows to join the curling tail. Use a knife to sharpen the outline and clean stray bits from the plate. Place one red peppercorn (or red pepper circle) on the head for an eye. For the “sea grass,” place purslane leaves below seahorse with round ends up. Arrange fennel fronds on top of the purslane, their tops jutting alongside and over the bottom part of the seahorse.
Make salad dressing. Whisk all ingredients together. Just before serving, drizzle dressing over the “sea grass.”
If possible, bring plates to the dining area on a large tray and then distribute to guests.
LEMON-VERBENA PANNA COTTA WITH FLOATING “FISH”
The pretty green leaves of lemon verbena are wonderfully fragrant and lemony, with highlights of floral notes found in the best lemons. Its intense perfume is released with the slightest touch, so it is a great plant to have around. In this dessert, an infusion of the leaves flavors the panna cotta and the candied leaves form a tasty and crunchy fish-shaped garnish. Panna cotta is an Italian cooked cream concoction of impressive taste, very easy to make and just about totally foolproof. Serves 8.
Up to 1 month in advance (but see footnote 2): Make the candied leaves; store in airtight container.
Up to 2 days in advance: Make the panna cotta; cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.
Up to 1 day in advance: Place the “fish” garnish in the center of each serving.
3 cups heavy cream
9 4-inch sprigs lemon verbena
1½ teaspoons gelatin
2 tablespoons cold water
½ cup sugar
1 cup sour cream
24 lemon verbena leaves
1 large egg white
1 tablespoon cold water
1 cup superfine sugar
Infuse cream. Bring cream to boil in heavy pot. Rub, then plunge the lemon verbena sprigs into the cream, take it off the heat and cover tightly for 30 minutes. Strain the cream, pressing down hard until all moisture is gone from the lemon verbena.
Thoroughly dissolve the gelatin in the cold water. Add it to the warm cream along with the sugar. Cook over low heat until thoroughly dissolved. Allow to cool slightly, then stir in the sour cream.
Pour equal amounts into 8 stemmed glasses with a wide shallow bowl (e.g., martini glasses or the old-style, “Marie Antoinette” champagne glasses or use small dessert bowls.
Candy the verbena leaves.
Make sure the leaves are thoroughly dry.
Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper.
Put the sugar into a small bowl.
Mix the egg white with water in a small bowl. Put the mixture through a fine sieve into another small bowl.
With tweezers, pick up one leaf at its tip. Keep the leaf in the tweezers through the remaining steps. Rest the leaf on the rim of a small plate and, using a small paintbrush, lightly brush the top with the egg-white mixture. Turn the leaf, lay it on the plate and brush the other side with the egg white.
Place the leaf on top of the sugar. Spoon the sugar over the leaf. Lift it and, if necessary, turn it and spoon sugar onto the other side.
Place the leaf onto one parchment paper and let it dry for 2–3 hours. Pick it up, turn it over and allow the other side to dry, about 1 hour. Continue until you have at least 24 leaves.
Form the “fish” garnish. One medium-sized verbena leaf serves as the “fish” body. Cut somewhat smaller leaves in half for the “fish” tail. Place the body somewhat off-center of each serving glass or bowl. Place the long side of one half leaf at one end of the body so that the pointed end sticks out at an angle to one side of the body. Place the other half of the leaf at the opposite angle to form the other half of the tail.
Place the glasses (or bowls) on a tray. Show the tray to your guests, then place each glass or bowl onto a small plate and serve.
“SCALLOPS” WITH ORANGE GLAZE
Stir up your guests’ sense of humor with this droll take on a beloved bivalve. The tops and bottoms of sponge or angel food cakes are light brown; the interior is off-white. Cut into scallop size and voila! It’s a sautéed scallop! With a sweet and spicy orange-flavored glaze and hot sauce for zing, this dessert is light, delectable and ever so thematic. There will be extra glaze because the jelly usually comes in 12-ounce jars. Use the extra as a dessert topping. Serves 8.
Up to 1 week if freezing or up to 3 days in advance: Make glaze; cover tightly and refrigerate or freeze.
Up to 2 hours in advance: Complete the scallops.
To toast spices, put in hot skillet for about 1 minute, until spice releases its fragrance.
12-ounce jar of red currant jelly
¾ cup frozen orange juice
¾ cup ruby port
3 slices ginger, ½-inch thick
3 cloves, ground
4 whole allspice berries, toasted and ground
1 teaspoon coriander seeds, toasted and ground
½ teaspoon dry mustard
½ teaspoon hot sauce, such as Tabasco
1 sponge or angel food cake, purchased or made from your favorite recipe
Small seashells (optional)
Under medium heat and stirring often, combine all ingredients for the glaze until completely blended.
Make the “scallops.” They should be round with a diameter of about 1½ inches and a depth of about 2 inches. If necessary, trim the cake to the proper depth. If it is an angel food cake or tube-pan sponge cake you will probably be able to cut the cake in half horizontally and use both halves. Use a small cookie cutter or demitasse cup or liqueur glass to form the “scallops.” With a slow twisting motion, cut through the cake. Make 16 “scallops.”
Glaze the cake. With a thin skewer or similar instrument poke 3-4 holes in each “scallop.” Cover the surface with the glaze.
Surround the rim of a flat circular plate with orange slices. If available, place a small seashell in the center of each orange slice. Put the “scallops” in the center.