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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.

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APPETIZERS

Snowmen (Scallop Cerviche) & Snowballs (Teleggio Cheese with Prosciutto and Fig)

"A Cool Menu For A Hot Summer" Dinner

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ENTREE

Grilled Pork Chops with Orange Blossom Honey & Sage

"Spring into Summer" Dinner

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SALAD

Moroccan Salad

in Citrus Tagine

"An Academy Award" Dinner

DECEMBER

PRESENTS A’PLENTY

Inspiration: December Holidays

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Christmas! Hanukkah! Kwanzaa! It’s the holiday season! This festive feast features elegant foods, some presented as symbols of the three holidays, others as presents, deliciously wrapped and tied.

COOK’S INTRODUCTION

Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanzaa! It’s the time for parties and gifts and giving. To distill the spirit of the season, offer your guests Presents A’Plenty, a menu of foods garbed as gifts that salute all three holidays. An ecumenical holiday celebration is especially appropriate for us in the United States because of our varied backgrounds and our country’s commitment to equality. Christmas, Hanukah and Kwanzaa share more than the season. All three are celebrations: Christmas, of the birth of Christ; Hanukah, of the rededication of the second Temple in Jerusalem; and Kwanzaa, of African heritage. All three holidays bring the community together in praise, gratitude and the wish for peace.  All three involve gifts, especially for children.  

 

It’s a glorious time of year and your Presents A’Plenty dinner party is the perfect fit. The dishes showcase dazzling depictions of the holiday theme with captivating color and terrific tastes. The tri-holiday theme allows for distinctive dishes that tweak and transcend traditional December holiday fare.  

 

The trio of appetizers reflects the three holidays in symbolic forms and suitable ingredients. With arresting appearance and marvelous taste, they are a fabulous and festive start to the evening. Little Christmas trees, made from ground lamb spiced Mid-Eastern style, shine with green apple jelly and serenade the mouth with sweet and savory notes. Mushrooms and cheeses provide rich, earthy taste tones in a paté shaped like a traditional Hanukah toy. For Kwanzaa, red peppadew peppers from South Africa look like gorgeous little gift baskets. Stuffed with peppermint cream cheese, they are culinary firecrackers, exploding in the mouth with hot and cool, sweet and sour tastes.  

 

The two desserts and the favor reprise the tri-holiday theme, each representing a traditional gift for its holiday. A beautifully decorated, moist and rich blondie looks like a Christmas stocking stuffed with goodies. It’s paired with a Kwanzaa gift, a lovely, light fruit salad of seven fruits in red, green and black, the colors of Kwanzaa. The take-home favor, stunningly wrapped in blue and silver, is the traditional gift of Hanukah gelt (money), which, nowadays, is a set of gold-covered chocolate coins.

 

The dishes in between are all dressed up as colorful gifts. Unusual, striking and beautiful, these presents a’plenty are sure to spark the admiration of your guests, stir up conversation and ensure the success of your party. Warm and bright flavors predominate, to complement the theme and kindle good cheer.

 

For all the delights of the holiday season, many think of it as the hectic season. We know. So here is a gift for you, the cook. Some dishes can be prepared one or two days in advance or frozen. Those that must wait for the day of the party are simple preparations that do not consume a lot of time. Most of the work can be completed several hours in advance. Fill your dinner party with laughter and love. 

HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

Appropriate for: Besides the December holiday season, this dinner will delight on any occasion that occasions gift giving. Use it for a birthday, “thank-you,” anniversary or graduation party, but make a few appropriate changes in appetizers and desserts to suit your occasion. For a birthday, form the appetizer lamb into the numbers of the person’s age and the paté into the shape of a cake and place some candles on top. For fun, you could make candles from sweet peppers, using red and green for the candles and yellow for the flame. The peppadew peppers need no change. Rather than a Christmas stocking, present the blondie as a cake. For the accompanying fruit, use the Kwanzaa fruit for its striking color or whatever fruit is in season or appropriate.

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MENU

PRESENTS A’PLENTY

Christmas! Hanukkah! Kwanzaa!

It’s the holiday season, the season for gifts and gifting, feasts and festivities. Your festive feast features elegant foods, 

some presented as symbols of the three holidays, others as presents, deliciously wrapped and tied.

 

Cocktail

Champagne

 

Appetizers

Hanukkah Dreidel

Mushroom Pâté 

Christmas Trees

Ground Lamb with Bethlehem Seasoning

Kwanzaa Gift Baskets 

Peppadew Peppers with Peppermint Cream Cheese

 

Soup

Colors of Season Soup 

Swiss Chard with Crème Fraîche and Pomegranate Seeds

 

Entree 

Cadeau de Canard (Fr: Gift of Duck)

Roast Duck Breasts with Fennel-Flavored Cranberry Sauce

Box of Gold

Yukon Gold and Sweet Potatoes

Emerald Sachet

Green Chard Sack Holds Greens, Raisins and Duck Bacon

 

Salad

Pistachio Package 

Radicchio Cup Filled with Mesclun and Pistachio Nuts, Pistachio Vinaigrette

 

Desserts

Christmas Stocking 

Blondie Stuffed with Coconut, Pecans and Candied Fruits

Kwanzaa Gift

Salad of Seven Fruits

BACKING UP THE THEME

Souvenir Menus

Basic: Print the menu on festive, colorful paper and then roll and tie with sparkling ribbon.

Ornamental: Simple and striking, present the menu as the gift tab to a gorgeously wrapped box or sachet that contains the guest’s take-home favor (see Favor below). Use silver or glittery white paper. One sheet of 8½x11 paper should yield 2-3 tags. Print the menu on the space for each gift tab. After printing, for each menu, cut a V-shaped notch in one end of the paper to resemble the end of a cut ribbon. With a sharp point, poke a small hole through the other end of the tag, pull a blue ribbon through it and tie in a bow to the sachet.  

 

Present the menu to guests as they enter and don’t be bashful. Let them know that this is an evening of presents a’plenty and gifts galore.  

 

Symbols. General seasonal: Gorgeously wrapped presents, evergreens, especially pine and holly; snow, snowflakes and whatever strikes winter’s chords.

Christmas: Santa Claus and reindeer, decorated stockings, Christmas trees and colorful balls, Yule log, candles.

Hanukkah: The Menorah, a candelabrum of 9 candles; the dreidel, a four-sided top used in a game of chance with religious significance; Hanukkah gelt, the coins given to children.

Kwanzaa: Seven is a major symbol. Kwanzaa’s purpose is to promote the “Seven Principles” that express the basic values of African culture. Kwanzaa lasts seven days and is celebrated with seven symbols. They are crops, a mat, candelabrum for 7 candles, the 7 candles, corn, the unity cup and gifts.

Color.

Christmas: Bright green, red, white, sparkling gold and silver.

Hanukkah: Blue and white

Kwanzaa: Red, green and black.

 

Table decor. Dress the table as a present. Cover the table in a gold, silver or white cloth and “tie” it with a wide, glittering ribbon. Rather than flowers as a centerpiece, use a beautiful present topper or a box gorgeously wrapped as a present or a showy cornucopia. You may scatter some small boxes clad in glittering paper and festooned with ribbons, or use glittering confetti or snowflakes. Tall candles in crystal holders will provide elegance and warmth.  

 

Use napkins that will set off the table’s cloth and decorative items. Serve up the napkins as presents, tying them with glittering wide ribbons in an appropriate pattern. If you wish, sew a gold or silver bell to the bow so that your guests will hear a pleasant tinkle as they ready their napkins for the feast.

 

You will want to use your best china, but only if it is plain or its pattern does not contrast with the rest of the table decor. Crystal and stemmed glasses are perfect. 

 

An extremely elegant and seasonal combination is a gold tablecloth “tied” with broad silver ribbon in a snowflake design, the center “bow” a present topper in the shape of a large glittery snowflake, white china on red chargers, white napkin tied with red and gold ribbon, two tall red candles and snowflake confetti.

 

Other decor. Fill an urn with fragrant pine or holly boughs and place it at the entrance. Suggest the season (especially if you are experiencing a warm December) by lining the windows in your dining and living rooms with artificial snow. Place the “snow” along the sills and up the sides for a few inches. If you can find small, glittering snowflakes, scatter them randomly on top of the “snow.” And candles, candles, candles!  They not only are symbols of all three holidays, but also convey good cheer, coziness and celebration.

 

Music. Download songs for Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. Present them randomly.

 

Favor. Cover a box with gorgeous paper meant for Hanukah or make a sachet from shimmery blue cloth, mesh or paper. Fill with Hanukkah gelt (chocolate coins wrapped in gold foil) and a small dreidel. Tie it with the ribbon attached to the menu tag (see Ornamental Menu above). To use for occasions other than the December holidays, change the favor contained in the box (see Favor below) and the colors.

Note for favor: Your presents a’plenty feast finished with sweets representing Christmas and Kwanzaa. Your favor salutes Hanukkah: the traditional Hanukkah gelt (money) that in modern times are gold-covered chocolate coins and a dreidel, a four-sided top used in a game often played at Hanukkah. Each side of the dreidel is inscribed with a Hebrew letter, the four letters forming the acronym for “a great miracle happened there,” referring to Jerusalem. Give it a spin. Happy Holidays!

BEVERAGE RECOMMENDATIONS

 

Opening cocktail. Excellent champagne is a gift nonpareil. Buy the best you can afford and present it as a present. Use champagne flutes and tie a bow with beautiful, seasonal ribbon around each stem. Attach a small gold bell to the bow.

 

Soup. Serve a buttery Chardonnay and use the same wine in making the soup.  

 

Entree. A Cabernet Sauvignon or Pinot Noir with good structure will demarcate and enhance the sweetness of the roast duck and play well to the richness of the side dishes.

 

After dinner. Fine cognac or brandy will add a final note of warmth and celebration.

APPETIZERS

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HANUKKAH DREIDEL

Mushroom Paté

A dreidel is a four-sided top used in a game often played at Hanukkah. Each side of the dreidel is inscribed with a Hebrew letter, the four letters forming the acronym for “a great miracle happened there,” referring to Jerusalem. It is easy to form this savory pâté into the simple form of a dreidel. Serves 8.

 

Note

Up to 1 day in advance: Complete the pâté; cover with plastic wrap; refrigerate.

 

Ingredients

Pâté

1½ tablespoons extra virgin olive oil 

¼ large sweet onion, chopped fine

¾ pounds white mushrooms, cleaned and chopped fine

¼ pound oyster mushrooms, cleaned, stemmed and chopped fine

4 ounces Neufchâtel cream cheese, at room temperature

3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese, preferably Parmigiano Reggiano

1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon juice

½ tablespoon parsley, chopped fine

Salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste

 

Garnish

One sun-dried tomato in oil, drained on paper towel, cut vertically in 1/8-inch strips

 

Preparation

  1. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Sauté onions until soft, about 10 minutes. Do not allow to brown. Over medium heat, add mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes, until mushrooms are almost completely dry.

  2. Place mushrooms in bowl with remaining ingredients and mix thoroughly.  

 

Presentation

Use a blue platter, if possible. Form the pâté into the shape of a dreidel. Use the sun-dried tomato strips to form one of the following Hebrew letters: Nun – נ, Gimmel - ג, He – ה, or Shin – ש. Serve at room temperature.

CHRISTMAS TREES

Ground Lamb with Bethlehem Seasoning

Savory Middle Eastern spices and lamb are particularly appropriate for a dish symbolizing Christmas. The “trees” are topped with green apple jelly for color and complementary taste. Serves 8.

Notes

Yield: Makes about 20 trees.

Up to 1 week if freezing or up to 1 day in advance: Make lamb mixture through Step 2; cover and refrigerate.

Up to 8 hours in advance: Complete Step 3; cover and refrigerate; bring to room temperature before broiling.

To toast spices, put in hot skillet for about 1 minute, until spice releases its fragrance.

 

Ingredients

Lamb

1 pound of ground lamb

1/3 cup of chopped parsley

1 teaspoon toasted and ground cumin seeds

1 teaspoon toasted and ground coriander seeds

1 tablespoon finely chopped, sun-dried tomato

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/3 cup grated onion

Salt and pepper

 

Topping

½ cup green apply jelly   

Preparation

  1. Preheat broiler on high setting.  

  2. In medium mixing bowl add all ingredients for the lamb. Mix well.

  3. On a large cutting board, spread mixture to form a large rectangle about ½ inch thick. Using a 2-inch Christmas-tree cookie cutter, cut out lamb trees and place on large baking sheet. If lamb is very lean, lightly oil the baking sheet.

  4. Broil for 3 minutes.

  5. Remove from oven and cover each tree with ½ teaspoon of apple jelly. Serve immediately.

 

Presentation

Use a white platter and decorate with Christmas ornaments or ribbon.  Place lamb trees on platter in the shape of a triangle or a design of your choice.

KWANZAA GIFT BASKETS

Peppadew Peppers with Peppermint Cream Cheese

Simple preparation, unusual flavors and stunning presentation make a gift for host and guest alike. From South Africa, peppadew pickled peppers are bite-size, short and squat, looking like little crimson baskets. Fill them with peppermint-flavored cream cheese to complement their unique sweet and spicy flavor. The colors of Kwanzaa, red, green and black, appear in the baskets and presentation. Serves 8.

 

Notes

Yield: About 16-24 “baskets,” depending on size of peppers

Up to 1 day in advance: Prepare the peppers (Step 1) and chive lengths (Step 2); cover tightly and refrigerate.

Up to 4 hours in advance: Complete the dish. Cover lightly with plastic wrap, being careful not to disturb the “handles”; refrigerate; serve cool or at room temperature.

 

Ingredients

½ pound peppadew peppers

1 bunch chives

½ pound whipped cream cheese

½ teaspoon peppermint extract

1 tablespoon finely chopped, fresh peppermint (optional)

Preparation

  1. Trim the the top of each pepper to form an open “basket” and scrape out any seeds or membranes. If necessary, cut a small slice from the bottom so that the “basket” will stand on its own. Pat the peppers dry.

  2. Set aside 16–24 long chives and cut into 3-inch lengths. Finely chop enough of the remainder for 4 tablespoons.

  3. Mix together the cream cheese, peppermint extract and, if using, the peppermint.

  4. Stuff each pepper with about 1 teaspoon cream cheese. Cover the cheese with a layer of chopped chives so that the top is uniformly green. Insert one chive strand into the sides of each “basket” for a “handle.”

 

Presentation

To complete the colors of Kwanzaa, use a black platter, preferably oblong. Cut out on green paper a (rough) silhouette of Africa, sized to cover most of the platter. Lightly sponge it clean. Place it on the platter and distribute the “baskets” over the “continent” of Africa.  

SOUP

COLORS OF THE SEASON SOUP

Swiss Chard Soup with Creme Fraiche and Pomegranate Seeds

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Similar to spinach but with brighter color and taste, green Swiss chard adds the right taste dimension to the deep, rounded flavors of the soup base. Complete the soup’s colors with a dollop of white crème fraîche and a few jewel-like red pomegranate seeds.  Brilliant! Serves 8.

 

Notes

Up to 2 weeks if freezing or up to 4 days in advance: Roast garlic; wrap tightly in plastic wrap; refrigerate or freeze.

Up to 1 week if freezing or up to 2 days in advance: Prepare soup through Step 2.

Up to 2 hours in advance: Complete soup; keep at room temperature.  

 

Ingredients

1 head garlic

1 teaspoon plus 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

10 shallots, about 6–7 ounces, peeled and diced

6 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade

1 cup dry white wine, preferably a Chardonnay

5 sage leaves, roughly chopped

3 ounces Parmesan cheese rinds

1 teaspoon salt 

2 bunches green Swiss chard, about 1½ pounds, stems removed, roughly chopped

Freshly ground black pepper and salt to taste

 

Garnish

6 ounces crème fraîche 

4 teaspoons pomegranate seeds

 

Preparation

  1. Roast garlic. Preheat oven to 400ºF. Slice off the top of the garlic head so that the tops of the garlic cloves are visible. Place on a sheet of aluminum foil and drizzle with 1 teaspoon of the olive oil. Fold the sides of the foil up around the garlic head, leaving a small space at top. Bake until tops are medium brown and cloves are tender, about 1 hour. Cool and mash into a paste.

  2. Melt butter and 3 tablespoons olive oil in large pot over medium low heat. Add shallots and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 5-6 minutes. Add stock, wine, roast garlic, sage, Parmesan rinds and salt. Bring to boil over high heat. Lower heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes.  Remove rinds.

  3. Add chard and keep at slow simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat.  Process or blend the soup. Add salt and pepper to taste. Gently reheat. Do not boil or you will lose the vivid color and flavor.

 

Presentation

Serve the soup in wide, shallow bowls for the best visual effect. Put a generous tablespoon of crème fraîche in center of soup and top with about ½ teaspoon pomegranate seeds. To make a nice, even circle of crème fraîche, put it into a round tablespoon and smooth the top. Holding the tablespoon over the soup, run a thin knife along the edge of the spoon and lift the crème fraîche out of the tablespoon and carefully place it in the center of the soup. Carefully position the pomegranate seeds on top.  

ENTREE

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CADEAU DE CANARD (Fr: Gift of Duck)

Roast Duck Breasts with Fennel-Flavored Cranberry Sauce

The sweet meat of duck takes nicely to the sweet/sour cranberry sauce that covers it with radiant ruby color. Hints of licorice and citrus from fennel and coriander make the sauce distinctive. Serves 8.  

 

Notes

Up to 2 days in advance: Make cranberry sauce; refrigerate.

Up to 1 day in advance: Sauté pepper strips and diced pepper; cover separately with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

Up to 2 hours in advance: Sauté duck breasts (Step 5 only); place on ovenproof platter, fat side down, and keep at room temperature.

To toast spices, put in hot skillet for about 1 minute, until spice releases its fragrance.

 

Ingredients

Cranberry Sauce

½ cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar

1 cup water

1¼ tablespoons toasted and ground fennel seeds

1¼ tablespoons toasted and ground coriander seeds

1 tablespoon finely grated orange zest

12 ounces fresh cranberries

 

Garnish

8 partially-cooked cranberries

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 yellow pepper, cut into strips about ¼-inch thick

1½ cups mixed, finely diced, red, yellow and green peppers

 

Duck

8 duck breasts, about ½ pound each

2 or 3 teaspoons olive oil

Salt and pepper

 

Preparation

  1. Make cranberry sauce. Bring sugar and water to a boil. Add spices, orange zest and cranberries. After 5 minutes, remove 8 whole cranberries that are split no more than a little; set aside for garnish. Simmer the rest, stirring occasionally, until berries have softened, about 10 minutes more. Process or blend until very smooth. Serve at room temperature.

  2. Over medium heat, sauté the pepper strips in 1 tablespoon olive oil just until soft and bendable, about 5–7 minutes. Set aside or cover and refrigerate.

  3. Add the second tablespoon of oil to the pan. Sauté the diced peppers just until soft, about 5 minutes. Set aside or cover and refrigerate.

  4. Score in a diamond pattern the skin and fat on each duck breast, being careful not to cut into the meat. Rub lightly with salt and pepper.

  5. Coat a large heavy skillet, preferably cast iron, with a teaspoon of oil. When quite hot, put in 3 or 4 duck breasts, skin side down. Lower heat to medium high and sauté for 5 minutes. Regulate the heat so that the breasts do not char. Sauté on the other side for 3 minutes. Place breasts on an ovenproof platter skin-side down so the juices remain in the meat. Wipe out the skillet, coat with more oil and continue until all breasts are sautéed. Unless roasting immediately, put aluminum foil loosely over breasts and hold at room temperature.

  6. Preheat oven to 425ºF. Roast duck breasts for 6 minutes for rare, 8 minutes for medium.

 

Presentation

If not plating in kitchen (see Entrée Plating below), place duck breasts on a large platter. Follow the instructions in Entrée Plating for adding cranberry sauce and garnish.  

BOX OF GOLD

Yukon Gold and Sweet Potatoes

This elegant golden box, with tie of chive, owes its striking gold color to the combination of orange and yellow potatoes; its rich taste and silky feel to that triumvirate of fatty deliciousness, cream, butter and cheese. Serves 8.

 

Notes

Up to 8 hours in advance: Prepare potatoes through Step 4; refrigerate; bring to room temperature before baking. Prepare the chives; cover with plastic wrap.

 

Ingredients

Potatoes

1 large sweet potato, peeled, in 1-inch cubes 

3 pounds Yukon gold potatoes (about 6 medium), peeled, in 1-inch cubes 

3 tablespoons butter, melted

¼ cup heavy cream

½ cup sour cream

½ cup grated Gruyère cheese

1 tablespoon orange zest

1 teaspoon salt 

¼ teaspoon white pepper 

 

Garnish

16 strands of chives, 6-8 inches in length, plunged into boiling water for 10 seconds, cooled in ice water, drained and patted dry on a paper towel.

 

Preparation

  1. Butter a casserole that measures approximately 8x12 inches. Line the bottom with parchment paper.

  2. Place all potato cubes in a large pot. Cover with cold water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce flame to medium. Cover and simmer about 15-17 minutes, until easily pierced with a fork. Drain. Return to the pot, heat for another minute to remove excess moisture.   

  3. Put through a ricer or mash. Add the butter, cream, sour cream, Gruyère, orange zest, salt and pepper. Mix well with a wooden spoon to get a consistent color.

  4. Spread in the prepared casserole. Cover with foil.

  5. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and rest, covered, for 5 minutes.

  6. Using a knife, divide into eight rectangles. Carefully remove each rectangle with a spatula.

 

Presentation

If not plating in kitchen (see Entrée Plating below), serve from casserole onto individual plate. Follow the instructions in Entrée Plating for adding the chive garnish.  

EMERALD SACHET

Green Chard Sack with Collard Greens, Raisins and Duck Bacon

Smoky bacon greatly enhances the flavor of tough, leafy greens such as collards. Use duck rather than ordinary pork bacon, an ecumenical gesture in accord with Hebrew dietary laws. It adds critical smokiness and its own unique and intriguing flavor. Serves 8.

 

Notes

Up to 1 day in advance: Prepare greens through Step 2; cover and refrigerate; bring to room temperature.

Up to 4 hours in advance: Cook chard leaves and stuff with collard greens mixture; keep at room temperature; gently reheat before serving; cook spaghetti.

 

Ingredients

2 ounces duck bacon

1 large shallot, peeled and chopped

1/3 cup golden raisins 

6 cups deveined, roughly chopped collard greens

1 cup white wine, preferably Chardonnay

½ cup vegetable or chicken stock

8–10 large Swiss chard leaves

1 cup of water

2 tablespoons of unsalted butter

½ teaspoon salt

 

Tie

¼ pound thin spaghetti

1 teaspoon olive oil

 

Preparation

  1. In a large Dutch oven, cook bacon until browned. Drain on paper towels. When cool, chop into small pieces and set aside.

  2. Add shallot and raisins to bacon fat and sauté over medium heat for 2 minutes.  Add chopped greens. Stir until wilted, about 3 minutes, then add wine and stock and bring to boil. Toss in bacon, cover, reduce heat and simmer for ½ hour or more, until greens are quite soft and almost buttery in consistency.  

  3. Place chard leaves, water, butter and salt into a large skillet. Bring to boil, lower heat and cover. Gently simmer just to the point of tenderness, about 5 minutes.  Drain and pat dry.  

  4. Cook spaghetti al dente according to package directions. Drain and toss with 1 teaspoon olive oil.

  5. Remove thick part of center vein from each chard leaf, leaving in the upper, thin part of the vein. Overlap the two leaf halves and fill with 2 tablespoons of the greens mixture. Bring up the sides of the leaf and tie with spaghetti.

 

Presentation

If not plating in kitchen (see Entrée Plating below), place sachets on a platter in a circular design.  

 

Entree Plating

It is best to plate in the kitchen and to have everything at the ready before plating. Make space on the kitchen counter so that all plates can be laid out separately. Have all garnishes at hand so that they can be quickly placed. To have the food warm when served, you must work quickly and pay attention to timing. Have the chard sachets ready and kept warm on top of the stove or in a second oven. Finish the potatoes, take them from the oven and immediately turn the oven up for the duck. Roast the duck while you plate the potatoes and chard sachets. We recommend this sequence: 

  1. Before the potatoes leave the oven, place the chive ties for the potato box to one side of the plate: place two chives at right angles to each other, intersecting at their centers.

  2. While the potatoes rest after being taken from the oven and the duck is roasting, place the warm sachet of greens next to the chive ties.

  3. With a wide spatula, carefully lift a potato portion from the pan and center it over the chives. As if tying a package with ribbon, gather the chive ends up and tie a bow in the center of the package.

  4. Position the duck and cover with a light layer of cranberry sauce so that the duck is uniformly red. Clean the plate of any spill over. Place the yellow pepper strips over the breast to cross on center top. Place a reserved, partially cooked cranberry at the cross point.

  5. Scatter the mixed red, yellow and green peppers: just a few between the three “presents” and a bit more over the plate’s rim.

SALAD

PISTACHIO PACKAGE

Radicchio Cup Filled with Mesclun and Pistachio Nuts, Pistachio Vinaigrette

Simple and chic, pistachio oil makes this salad a special treat. Costly it is, but well worth it. The oil is richly luscious in a vinaigrette or sumptuously scrumptious over cooked greens. Serves 8.

 

Notes

Up to 4 hours in advance: Prepare lettuce cups (Step 1); place on serving plate; cover lightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

Up to 2 hours in advance, but preferably prepared just before use: Make vinaigrette.

 

Ingredients

1-2 heads of radicchio lettuce, depending on size

¼ pound mesclun

8 tablespoons pistachio nuts, shelled with skins removed

8 heads of mâche (about 3 inches across) or 16, 3-inch strips of green pepper

6 tablespoons pistachio oil

3 tablespoons white wine vinegar, preferably a Chardonnay

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

 

Preparation

  1. Remove any tough, outer leaves from the radicchio. Carefully peel away 8 full-size leaves and trim out their tough cores. Their rounded shape will form a cup.  Fill each cup with mesclun and top with 1 tablespoon of pistachios. Place one head of mâche or 2 criss-crossed strips of green pepper over the nuts.

  2. Make vinaigrette. Combine oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. Mix well.

  3. Just before serving, spoon about 1 tablespoon of vinaigrette over the mesclun in each cup.

 

Presentation

Make it look like a flower. Use a circular platter, green if possible. Place one lettuce cup in the center and make a circle of the others around it. After showing off the flower design of the lettuce cups on the platter, transfer one cup to each guest’s individual plate.

DESSERTS

CHRISTMAS STOCKING

Blondie Stuffed with Coconut, Pecans and Candied Fruits

Colorful and moist, this blondie is stuffed with goodies, as every Christmas stocking should be. The nuts and dried fruit in the batter hark back to the traditional stocking stuffers of pre-refrigeration days. The presentation is stunning and the taste addicting.  Serve it in small pieces, for it is very, very rich. Serves 8.

 

Notes

Up to 1 week if freezing or up to 2 days in advance: Bake the blondie batter; cool; cover tightly with plastic wrap; refrigerate or freeze. Make the ganache, cover tightly and refrigerate.

Up to 4 hours in advance: Complete stocking with Santa Claus face; refrigerate; remove from refrigerator about ½ hour before serving.

 

Ingredients

Blondie batter

12 ounces butter

6 ounces good quality white chocolate, coarsely chopped

1¼ cups sugar

1½ teaspoons vanilla extract

3 large eggs

¾ cup flour

½ teaspoon salt

½ cup coconut

½ cup candied, mixed fruit (cherry, orange, citron, lemon), in small pieces

½ cup pecan pieces

 

Ganache topping

4 ounces good quality white chocolate, coarsely chopped

¼ cup heavy cream

 

Decorative topping

White and green edible glitter

 

Santa’s face

10 tablespoons heavy cream

Red food coloring

2 small brown raisins

 

Preparation

Blondies

  1. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Butter and flour a 9x9-inch square baking pan.

  2. In a small pan, melt butter and chocolate together, stirring frequently until smooth. Pour into a glass or ceramic mixing bowl and allow to cool to room temperature. Stir in sugar and vanilla. Beat in eggs, one at a time.  

  3. Mix together the flour and salt. Stir into the batter. Fold in the coconut, candied fruit and pecan pieces. Pour into prepared pan.

  4. Bake on rack in middle of oven, about 40 minutes. It is done when an inserted toothpick retains just a few crumbs. Cool completely.

 

Ganache

Put chocolate in a small or medium-size bowl. Heat heavy cream just to a boil. Pour over chocolate and stir until smooth. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, until ganache has stiffened.

 

The Stocking

  1. From wax or parchment paper, make separate stencils for a stocking and its cuff.  The stocking stencil should be 9 inches long and about 5 inches wide; the cuff stencil slightly wider than the stocking top and about 1½-inches long. Lay the stocking stencil on the blondie. With a sharp, serrated blade, cut out the stocking and place on serving plate. Cut the cuff from the unused sides and place it to abut the top of the stocking. Press to keep together.

  2. Spread ganache over cuff, top and sides of stocking. Sprinkle the cuff with white glitter and the stocking with red glitter. Clean the serving plate of any spill.

  3. Add Santa Claus face. You may want to look at an image as a guide. Divide heavy cream in half. Whip stiff each half in separate bowls. Add a small amount of red food coloring to one bowl, stirring, until the cream is light pink. For Santa’s face, scoop about 2/3 of the pink mixture into a pastry bag and pipe an oval near the top of the stocking. Add food coloring to the remaining 1/3 to turn the cream a bright red. In a clean pastry bag, pipe a red Santa cap across the top of the oval with the tip of the cap slanting down. Pipe a small red mouth about 1/3 of the way from the oval’s bottom. Use the white whipped cream to pipe a large beard from the bottom of the oval. Add a white ball to the tip of Santa’s cap. Use two small raisins for eyes.

 

Presentation

A red serving platter will best set off the colors used in the Santa face.

 

KWANZAA GIFT

Salad of Seven Fruits

In color (red, green and black) and number (seven), these fruits, with their refreshing dressing, make a perfect Kwanzaa gift.

 

Notes

Up to 4 hours in advance: Prepare the dressing and add the avocado; cover and refrigerate.

Up to 2 hours in advance: Combine the watermelon, kiwi and grapes in a bowl; cover and refrigerate.

 

Ingredients

Dressing

1/3 cup fresh-squeezed orange juice

1 tablespoon fresh-squeezed lime juice

¼ teaspoon honey

1 teaspoon lime zest

1 tablespoon Greek yogurt

 

Fruit 

1 ripe, but firm, avocado, peeled and cut in ¾-inch dice 

20 red watermelon balls, about ¾ inch-diameter

3 green kiwis, peeled and cut in ¾-inch dice

½ pound seedless green grapes

½ pound seedless red grapes

½ pint blackberries

½ pint raspberries

 

Preparation

Make dressing. Whisk both juices with the honey in a small bowl. Whisk in lime zest and yogurt. Dice and add avocado, stirring to coat. Add other fruits.

 

Presentation

Present in a large crystal or glass bowl to show off the colorful fruit. Spoon into individual crystal or glass serving bowls.