The Dish on Dazzling Dinners

 

Staging Fun-Filled, Impressive, Themed Dinners From Invitations to Favors

With Guidelines for Recipes and Suggestions for Simplification 

 

Whether you wish to mark a special occasion or please cherished guests, or when you need to impress or just for personal pleasure, THE DISH ON DAZZLING DINNERS is your guide.

There are 24 dinner plans that dazzle, two for each month, each with an intriguing theme carried throughout all elements of the dinner. Specific instructions cover the major features of a dinner party: clever invitations, informative Host’s Introduction, beguiling ways to greet guests, a visually striking souvenir menu, room and table décor, mood music, and charming take-home favors. Instead of recipes, THE DISH makes theme related suggestions for each dish so that you can use the Internet or your own expertise to tailor the tastes to your liking. In short, here is your guide to superlative dinner entertainment.

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APPETIZER

Sweet Potato "Goldfish" with Lime

"Seafood and Citrus" Dinner

ENTREE

Pork charred and Mushrooms gorgeously garbed

"All Wrapped Up" Dinner

DESSERT

Sunflower Tart

"Gifts from the Garden" Dinner

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OCTOBER

TRICKS AND TREATS

Inspiration: Halloween Horrors Featuring Summer’s Remains and Fall’s Fallen

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They’ll bolt down the bats, gobble up the ghouls and goblins, and purely pig out on the pumpkins. 

HOST’S INTRODUCTION

October brings clear skies and bracing air that rouse our spirits and life force. But its shorter days and cool temperatures warn of dread winter, the time when plants and animals alike hunker down in grim endurance while life’s end never seems nearer. Could Halloween, that gala celebration of ghosts and goblins, happen in any other season? Halloween lets us fend off our fears and laugh at death. Children dress up as ghost or goblin, devil or witch. Symbolically, they become these dread creatures and, therefore, need fear neither them nor the netherworld from which they come.  

 

Halloween is not just for kids. It’s popular for adult parties with an emphasis on FUN. “Tricks and Treats” captures the spirit. All the dishes are visual representations of Halloween’s creatures and symbols. The menu subtitle, “Halloween Horrors Featuring Summer’s Remains and Fall’s Fallen,” alludes both to the Halloween icons depicted in the dishes and to their ingredients. Symbolically and seasonally appropriate, they showcase the remains of the summer harvest and autumn’s fall of fruits and nuts. The party starts with a “Bloody Brew” featuring a quintessential fall fruit, the pomegranate, and a ferocious looking appetizer bat based on a prominent remain of summer, the dried bean. Root vegetables (that were buried in the ground) populate the middle courses. Dinner ends with a duo of Fall’s fallen in two nutty (literally and figuratively) desserts, Charlie Brown’s “Great Pumpkin” and lovable little “Poltergeist Pears.”

 

At one level, the dinner is a simple spoof of Halloween, a way to dress up your dishes to engage your guests and conjure up laughter. But don’t think these edible monsters are merely amusing. Think Freud! Halloween stirs up the unconscious mind with its primal fears of ghosts and goblins and bats that fly in the night. Fear these fiends - NOT! With the magic of metaphor, this dinner dispels our dread. We can laugh at the powerlessness of these creatures, served up to us on plates! Better, we can eat them right up, consume them in a supreme act of power and conquest! So giggle and laugh and gobble it all up – your id will be glad you did. 

 

Put on your spookiest, creepiest costume to set the stage for all to thrill to 

Tricks and Treats

Appropriate for: Of course, Halloween is the perfect time, but anytime in October or if there is some occasion that calls for scary stuff.

DETAILS OF DAZZLE

Invitations. Send a Halloween card or an email decorated with Halloween icons.

Note for invitation. Tricks and treats, dreadful drinks and frightful foods are the recipe for Halloween dinner. Please join us. Get out your get-up of witch or wizard, ghost or goblin (well, ok, optional), unpark your best broomstick and fly on over.

Tryst here: (give address)

On: All Hallows’ Eve

Witching hour: 7 PM

Entrance décor. As so many people do these days, go all out with yard and door decorations, the “scarier” the better. Make a curtain for the entrance to your home from strings of plastic bats or spiders so that guests must push these creatures aside to enter.

 

Greeting guests. Greet your guests in costume, if at all possible. If you are not doing full costume, don dark or orange clothing. Ghosts or other Halloween creatures that groan or moan or howl will welcome your guests appropriately.

 

Souvenir menus. Hand your guests menus printed in black on orange paper and cut in the shape of a pumpkin with stem. Add to the menu’s pizzazz by attaching some small Halloween stickers of ghosts, bats, etc. You might want to print the title and subtitle on one side and the menu items on the other.

 

Room décor. Decorate with Halloween paraphernalia, of course. Dim lighting and Halloween-themed candles will do the trick for atmosphere. Visit your local party store or go online for items that suit your style. Add surprise with some items that pop up suddenly or make blood-curdling noises from time to time.

 

Table décor. In dinnerware and table linens, evoke the spirit of Halloween with colors deep and dark. Avoid white if possible, but if white is what you have in dinnerware, use white table linens and set a small white ghost beside each place setting. Dark or white, set it off with a Halloween-themed centerpiece bright with orange. Sprinkle sparkling orange and black confetti on the table.  

Mood music. For background music, “Monster Mash” and the theme from the Alfred Hitchcock Hour (Funeral March of a Marionette by Gounod) are two that spring to mind. In addition, you can use sound tracks from The Addams Family, Halloween and horror movies and those for a haunted house.

 

Favor. Of course you must end the evening with a treat. Halloween-themed cookies will do the trick. Put several in a child’s “Trick or Treat” bag.

Note for favor: No trick, just a treat.  

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MENU

 

TRICKS AND TREATS

PLEASE – feel free to bolt down the bats, gobble up the goblins and pig out on the pumpkins. 

Cocktail

Bloody Brew (Champagne with Spiced Pomegranate Juice)

 

Appetizers

Batty Beans (Black Bean Pate)

Pumpkin Puss (Baked Gouda Cheese Circles)

Gory Goblins (Shrimp with Cognac Sauce)

 

Soup

Pumpkin-Persimmon Potage (Persimmon and Leek)

 

Main

Ghoulish Goulash (Goulash with Tri-Color Potatoes)

Candy Corn (Carrots and Parsnips with Sambuca Glaze)

 

Salad

Cemetery Salad with Deadly Drizzle

(Broccoli Sprouts with Apple/Sherry Vinaigrette)

 

Desserts

Poltergeist Pears (Poached Pears with Almond Syrup)

The Great Pumpkin (Pumpkin Cheesecake)

RECIPE GUIDELINES

With suggestions for plating and complementary beverages

 

COCKTAIL

BLOODY BREW

Champagne with Spiced Pomegranate Juice

Suitably colored and seasonally spiced, any witch would be proud of this brew. 

Preparation. Infuse pomegranate juice with mulling spices (1 tablespoon of spices to 12-14 ounces juice). Place a few pomegranate seeds in the bottom of a Champagne glass, add about ¼ cup of a spiced pomegranate mixture (or use pomegranate liqueur) and fill with Champagne.

 

APPETIZERS

BATTY BEANS

Black Bean Pâté

What better companion to a bloody brew than a vampire bat? 

Preparation. A highly flavored mixture of black beans with chili peppers is appropriate for this trick. The common vampire bat is native to Central and South America where spicy black beans are a staple.

Plating. Form a bat shape with frightful features from a black bean pâté with red radish fangs (the outer edges will be red, the inside white) and pomegranate-seed eyes. 

 

GORY GOBLINS

Shrimp with Cognac Sauce

Here’s a goblin well worth gobblin’. Shrimp are goblin-like in shape and cocktail sauce is gory in color.

Preparation. Cook, cool and peel large shrimp. To a bright red cocktail sauce add some cream and cognac or brandy for a full, rich, savory flavor. To make a goblin face on the head end of shrimp: Use a knife point to make small holes, 2 for the eyes and 3 for the mouth. Insert green peppercorns into eye holes and pink or black peppercorns into the mouth holes.

Plating. Arrange shrimp, face side out, around a platter with elevated rim. Place a bowl of cognac sauce in the center.

 

PUMPKIN PUSS

Baked Gouda Cheese Circles

A nice contrast to its fearsome fellow appetizers, this pumpkin face is crunchy and ever so cute.

Preparation. An extra-aged Gouda from Holland is the ideal cheese. Its orange color does the trick for a perfect pumpkin face and its nutty, full flavor is definitely a treat. Use 2 tablespoons of grated Gouda or other aged hard cheese for each pumpkin face. On a plain baking sheet, form into circles about 3 inches in diameter and 1 inch apart. Don’t worry if the edges are a little uneven. Lightly flatten the center of the circle. Add thin slices of stuffed olives for eyes and a slice of roasted red pepper for a mouth. Bake in 350 F oven for about 6 minutes, until cheese has melted and begins to crisp. Remove with thin spatula and place on paper towel to blot excess fat. Be sure the cheese circles have cooled before plating them.

Plating. After cooling, use a spatula to lift pumpkin faces onto a flat, preferably dark, platter, making one layer. Gently place another layer of faces with edges overlapping the first layer. Continue until all pumpkin faces are in place.

SOUP

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PUMPKIN-PERSIMMON POTAGE

Persimmon and Leek Soup

Purely treat, this soup will enchant the eyes when presented in small pumpkin bowls with stems painted gold and it will charm the nose and mouth with its fragrance and sweet and savory taste. 

Preparation. (1) Soup: Sauté leeks and mixed herbs (thyme, rosemary, sage) in butter. Simmer with homemade chicken stock until leeks are soft. Add ripe Fuyu persimmons (1 persimmon to each cup of stock) and simmer for no more than 5 minutes. Process until smooth. Make the soup a few hours before serving and the sweetness of the persimmons will stand out. Make it 1 day in advance and the different flavors will meld to a savory symphony. Either way, the soup has warmth and depth of color and taste, perfect for the season.  

(2) Pumpkin bowls: Select sugar pumpkins of about the same size. Scrub them thoroughly. With a clean saw, slice off the top, about 1/3 of the way. Scrape out seeds and fiber, but leave the flesh. Paint the stems with gold paint, at least 2 days in advance to allow the paint odor to dissipate. Be sure to keep track of which top belongs to which pumpkin by numbering the pairs with washable markers. Keep cool until ready to use.

Plating. Pour soup into pumpkin bowls and put all bowls onto a large platter. Show it off to guests before serving individuals.

Complementary beverage. Prepare a pitcher of sparkling or plain water mixed with a small amount of cranberry juice for color and a bit of taste.

ENTRÉE

GHOULISH GOULASH

Goulash with Tri-Color Potatoes

Make your goulash ghoulish with a funnily fearsome face made from mashed potatoes of different colors. 

Preparation. There are many recipes for Hungarian goulash, best defined as a meat stew flavored with paprika. For full-bodied flavor, we favor one made with beef and “beefed up” with red wine, veal demi-glace, herbs and hot, rather than sweet, paprika.

Plating. Put goulash into a large circular ovenproof dish, preferably white or bisque in color. Smooth the top and completely cover with mashed white potatoes. Using your hands or a pastry bag, use mashed sweet potatoes to form the lips of an open mouth. Cut red pepper to form 3 triangular-shaped teeth. Place 2 teeth into the upper “lip” and 1 tooth into the lower “lip,” centered between the upper teeth. Form mashed purple potatoes into 2 circular eye rings. Cut 2 small “pupils” from red pepper and place in center of the sweet potato ring. Show off your ghoulish goulash before serving individuals.

 

 CANDY CORN

Carrots and Parsnips with Sambuca Glaze

Can a Halloween party be complete without candy corn?

Preparation. (1) Peel, then slice very wide carrots to about a 5-inch length from top. Cut lengthwise in half. Trim the bottom of each piece to a triangular, carrot-like shape. Peel, then slice large parsnips crosswise to form circles for the top of the “candy corn.” (2) Steam or gently boil the carrots and parsnips until barely tender. Do not overcook or vegetables may break in the next steps. (3) Sauté some shallots in butter. Add carrots and parsnips and stir gently. Add a small amount of sugar and some Sambuca or other licorice-flavored liqueur. Cook until vegetables are nicely glazed. (4) After cooking, match each carrot piece to a parsnip circle. Trim as necessary so that the parsnip slice fits snugly against the carrot slice. To attach the carrot and parsnip slices together, insert one end of a toothpick into the middle of the top of a carrot slice.  Insert the other end of the toothpick into the middle of the matching parsnip slice. Slide the two slices together. 

Plating the entrée

In plating the main course, place two of the candy corn pieces at the top of each plate, angled away from each other. Spoon the goulash between the candy corn pieces and onto the bottom of the plate.

Complementary beverage

A Shiraz from Australia will do the trick for this course.

SALAD

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CEMETERY SALAD WITH DEADLY DRIZZLE

Sprouts with Apple/Sherry Vinaigrette

Here’s a tricky treat - a grassy expanse dotted with gravestones, definitely deadly in appearance. But dig in – for flavor that’s spirited, lively and just right for fall.

Preparation. (1) Choose green sprouts that will resemble grass. (2) Peel tart apples and cut into slices about 1/8-inch thick. Cut these slices to look like gravestones, making rectangles or truncated ovals. Using the point of a sharp knife, carefully carve into some of the “gravestones” the initials R.I.P. On others, carve a year, a cross, a crescent moon or a star of David. Set aside for a few hours so that the fruit will darken and give the “gravestones” an appearance of age. (3) Boil apple juice down to about ¼ its original volume. Combine with sherry vinegar and walnut oil.

Plating. On a large, flat serving dish, fit together beds of sprouts in a rectangular shape to resemble a section of a cemetery. Cut through the beds to form one “grave plot” for each guest. Loosen each “plot” to enlarge it a little and make it easier to insert the “gravestones.” Insert one “gravestone” into each individual “plot,” about one-quarter inch from the top. Show off your little cemetery before serving each guest with one “plot.” Just before serving, drizzle the dressing over the “cemetery.”

DESSERTS

POLTERGEIST PEARS

Poached Pears with Almond Syrup

Even macho men exclaim, “Adorable!” when they see these poached pears nestled together on a serving plate. The poaching liquid, pear nectar, deepens the “peariness” of the fruit; almond extract and liqueur add a touch of nuttiness. The fruit and nut flavors complement the spicy cheesecake.  

Preparation. (1) Use small Bartlett or Anjou pears that are firm but ripe. Peel pears and rub with lemon juice. Cut a slice from the bottom of each pear so that they will stand upright. (2) Poaching liquid. You will need several cups, enough to cover the pears about halfway up. In a large saucepan combine pear nectar, water and sugar (4:4:1). Boil, add almond extract (1-2 tablespoons for each cup of pear nectar). (3) Place  pears in bottom of pan and simmer about 10-15 minutes, until pears are barely tender, occasionally spooning the poaching liquid over the pears. (4) Cool pears in syrup. Remove pears from pan. Boil syrup down until thick enough to coat a spoon. When cool, add a generous amount of Amaretto or other almond-flavored liqueur. (5) The “poltergeist” has a head and a body, both made from poached pears. For the “head,” use the small end of a melon baller to scoop out a small ball. For the “body,” use a complete pear after cutting and discarding a thin horizontal slice from the top of the pear.  To join “head” to “body,” insert one end of a toothpick into the middle of the “head” and the other end into the middle of the top of the “body.” Slide the “head” down until it rests on the “body.” Make a “face” on the “head.” For eyes, use the point of a sharp knife to make 2 small holes. Insert two currants or small pieces of raisins. For a mouth, make a small line with the knifepoint and insert a thin strip of dried cherry or cranberry.

Plating. Arrange the pears on a serving platter so that all are facing in the same direction. Have the syrup in separate bowl. After showing the platter to your guests, spoon a generous amount of syrup on an individual serving plate and place one “poltergeist” on top.

THE GREAT PUMPKIN

Pumpkin Cheesecake

Charlie Brown would love this nutty dessert. Note that, unlike the other dishes with pumpkin in the title, this one tastes of pumpkin. 

Preparation. Make a thick crust for a pumpkin cheesecake using hazelnuts or pecans. Bake a pumpkin cheesecake. Whip a large amount of cream until soft peaks form. Add hazelnut liqueur and enough food coloring for a distinctly orange hue. Whip until stiff. 

Plating. Cover the cheesecake with the whipped cream. Mound the cream high over the top and sides and then round out the sides to resemble a pumpkin.

A tip on cutting cheesecake: Use a long, thin, sharp knife dipped into a tall glass of hot water.

Complementary beverage. Serve Amaretto or coffee spiked with Amaretto.

EASY DAZZLE RECIPE GUIDELINES

 

Cocktail. Serve sparkling wine with a red liqueur, either pomegranate or cranberry, or with cranberry juice.

 

Appetizers. The vampire bat will be easy to make from canned black beans and can be made a day early. As well, gory goblins will take little time if you buy cooked shrimp, make the goblin faces and add some cognac or brandy to a bottled cocktail sauce.

 

Soup or Salad. The soup can be made in advance and frozen.

 

Entrée. Make the goulash a day ahead. You may make the mashed white potatoes a day ahead if you use a good amount of butter and milk or cream. Make sweet potatoes a day ahead and use for both eyes and mouth. The “candy corn” does take time to put together so substitute another vegetable of your choice or skip.

 

Desserts. Buy a pumpkin cheesecake and cover with orange whipped cream as described.

 

Favor. Halloween cookies or candy in a “trick or treat” bag will be the treat to do the trick.

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A CARIBBEAN COLUMBUS DAY

Inspiration: Columbus Day

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Set sail on a voyage of discovery

where Italian cuisine meets Caribbean flavor.

HOST’S INTRODUCTION 

Oh, the glory of a Caribbean vacation – a beautiful white sand beach, balmy breezes, the heady scent of flowers, gorgeous color everywhere and vibrant tastes in all you eat. For his “discovery” of this New World, Christopher Columbus deserves our thanks. It’s a sure bet that he was thankful, too. Imagine the rigors of crossing the cold, gray Atlantic and finally reaching the beautiful Caribbean shore, a warm, tropical land with everywhere green growth and brightly colored fruits and flowers.

 

This October, as the air turns chill and we prepare for the rigors of winter, commemorate Columbus and his discovery in your dinner party. Transport your guests to tropical shores. Capture Caribbean charm with warmth and color, aromas and tastes, and give credit to Columbus by allusions to Italy.  

 

With perfumed flowers and some tropical plants, evoke the Caribbean as guests enter. Then have them set sail on a culinary crossing of Italian preparations with island flavors. Most look like the traditional Italian dishes – but each bite bares big, brash, Caribbean flavors. The Caribbean ingredients are not those of Columbus’ day. Rather, Caribbean cuisine is the result of immigrants from many parts of the world who brought their foodstuffs and cooking to the area. There is no single Caribbean “taste;” different islands have different cuisines. Ironically, considering that Columbus thought he had found a route to the Indies, many “typical” Caribbean foods and flavors, from fruits like the mango to curries and other spicy preparations, have Indian heritage. Other staples and seasonings such as plantain and Jamaican “jerk” dishes hail from Africa and yet others from China, the South Pacific, and the Mediterranean. Here is creative cuisine that will transport all who partake to a new world of glorious flavor. Your guests will surely savor the surprises in this feast of fusion food - New World tastes in Old World dishes.

 

Let Columbus Day symbolize voyages of discovery and this dinner a celebration of the joy of discovery.

BON VOYAGE!

 

Appropriate for: Any day in October, or any time you want to bring some warmth, surprise and fun to your party.

MENU

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A CARIBBEAN COLUMBUS DAY

Set sail on a voyage of discovery where Italian cuisine meets Caribbean flavors.

 

Cocktail

Prosecco

With Mango Spear

 

Appetizers

Frutti di Mare

With Curry Marinade

Rice Balls

With Mango Dipping Sauce

Caponata

With Plantain and Tomatillo

Soup

 Minestrone

With Root Vegetables and Mojo 

 

Entrée

Lasagna

With Kid and Jerk Seasoning

Escarole

With Orange and Spices

 

Salad

Caesar Salad

 With Avocado Oil and Bitter Orange

 

Dessert

Tiramisu

With Rum, Lime and Banana

Fruit

A Tropical Assortment

DETAILS OF DAZZLE

With suggestions for plating and complementary beverages

 

Invitations. Send cards or email with iconic images of Columbus’s ships. 

Text for invitation. Set sail for a dinner of culinary discovery where Italian cuisine meets Caribbean flavors. Come celebrate Columbus Day with us.

 

Entrance décor. Set a Caribbean mood at the entrance to your home with large, colorful tropical flowers in a big, colorful vase. They may be either real or artificial. Perfume them with a tropical scent such as gardenia. Its aroma is heady, sweet and spicy, and it’s readily available in potpourri and perfume. But don’t forget Columbus; include signs of Italy. Place an Italian flag in the middle of the flowers, or display a glass holding a bouquet of small Italian flags or tape to your door streamers in Italy’s colors of red, white and green.

 

Greeting guests. Wear colorful clothing with island or Italian motifs. You may want to ask your guests to do the same. Welcome guests as a ship captain might, saying you hope they will enjoy the voyage and that they have seats at the captain’s table. Hand them the menu.

 

Souvenir menus. For a simple but handsome menu, use white paper, preferably card stock. Print the menu in bright colors to evoke the Caribbean. Use different colors for the different courses. Embellish it with Italian images of Columbus or his ships. 

 

Room décor. Evoke the Caribbean with seashells, coral, sand, boats, sunglasses, beach towels, tropical drinks, flowers and fruits. Intersperse whatever you have that will invoke Italy or Columbus. Party stores can be helpful for such items.

 

Table décor. Be informal. Use linens made of woven, natural materials. Choose a brightly colored tablecloth or placemats. Catch your guests’ eyes with napkin rings made of beads or shells or tied raffia. For the centerpiece, create a tableau made of items that suggest the islands.  For example, purchase a yard of natural woven material or a fishnet. Bunch it up in the center of the table. Make sure to puff it up at intervals of 6-8 inches, giving it an uneven, natural look. Add to it some seashells, little wooden boats, etc. Insert several fresh orchids or other tropical flowers (stems removed). Make a small mound and insert a small Italian flag in the middle.   

 

Music. Download well-known Caribbean songs, such as Harry Belafonte’s calypso music - “Banana Boat Song” (Day-O), “Jamaica Farewell,” “Man Smart (Woman Smarter),” and “Brown Skin Girl.” Reggae is right, too. More current selections include Madonna’s “La Isla Bonita” and the Beach Boys’ “Cocomo.” Intersperse the Caribbean songs with some Italian songs such as “That’s Amore” or lively Italian folk music such as the tarantella.

 

Favor. Biscotti with tropical flavors make a great favor, to savor with coffee or rum or on their own. The biscotti will ring an Italian bell, so let the wrappings strike a Caribbean chord. Use tissue paper and ribbon in at least three of the bright colors of the Caribbean.

Note for Favor: Discover an Italian treasure inside this Caribbean cover.

RECIPE GUIDELINES

 

COCKTAIL

The suitable sendoff for this dinner voyage: Italian Prosecco with a tropical fruit.

Preparation. Cut a spear of mango or pineapple. Place it in a flute-type glass for sparkling wines and fill with Prosecco.

 

APPETIZERS

FRUTTI DI MARE

With Curry Marinade

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An essential dish on Christmas Eve for the many Italian families who follow the tradition of a dinner of seven different fishes. Marinated “fruits of the sea” make a light and bright appetizer at any time and seem perfectly appropriate for this occasion. Sweet and hot peppers will confer on the cool, white seafood a Caribbean accent of color and spice.

Preparation. Cook separately (because they take different amounts of time) seafood such as shrimp, scallops, mussels, squid and octopus. Prepare a marinade of diced sweet bell peppers of different colors and hot peppers to suit your taste, onion, garlic, ginger, Indian spices, rice vinegar, lime juice and avocado oil. Marinate the seafood for about 8 hours.

Plating. Serve from a colorful bowl onto individual plates, scallop shells if you have them.

RICE BALLS

With Mango Dipping Sauce

Savory Italian rice balls are dipped, not in the traditional tangy tomato sauce, but in a Caribbean take on the flavoring principle of sweet and sour.

Preparation. Make or buy Italian rice balls. For the dipping sauce, heat mango jelly with lemon juice. Coarsely chop parsley for color contrast on the platter.

Plating. Put sauce in a dipping bowl and place in center of a large, colorful platter.  Arrange the rice balls and parsley around the bowl.

 

CAPONATA

With Plantain and Tomatillo

Caponata is a sweet/sour Italian vegetable stew featuring eggplant and tomato with a bit of vinegar. This recipe preserves the elements of caponata’s composition. Eggplant is a fruit much used in southern Italian cooking; plantain is a fruit commonly used in Caribbean cooking. Tomatillos substitute for tomatoes while rice vinegar and lime provide the acid. Both versions are rich with flavor and brightly tart, but the Caribbean style accents spice and color.  

Preparation. Make a series of substitutions: peanut oil for olive oil, rice vinegar rather than wine vinegar, plantain and, perhaps, sweet batata rather than eggplant, tomatillos for tomatoes. Include onions, bell peppers, garlic, ginger and Indian spices such as cumin, coriander seeds, etc. Simmer it all for about an hour. Just before serving, stir in some lime juice and chopped fresh coriander leaves.

Plating. Mound the caponata in the center of a bright platter. Place a sprig of coriander in the center of the mound. Surround the mound with bread or crackers.

SOUP

MINESTRONE

With Root Vegetables and Mojo

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For a terrific take on the traditional Italian vegetable soup, incorporate mojo, a flavorful Cuban sauce, and some distinctly Caribbean vegetables. The result will be an exotic-tasting soup chock full of bold island flavors and color.

Preparation. Make a mojo. For the soup, we sautéd onions, carrots, okra, and garlic, and then added chunks of calabaza, plantains, and celery. We added vegetable stock, a bit of vinegar and chopped tomatoes and simmered until plantains were almost tender. Next, we added spinach, cooked black beans, and the mojo and continued to simmer until spinach was tender and the beans hot.

Plating. Serve in a colorful, large tureen or bowl. At the table, ladle into individual bowls, preferably ones that will emphasize the beautiful colors of the soup. Pass a small bowl with grated Parmesan to sprinkle on top.  

Complementary beverage. Beer is popular in the Caribbean and is a good match to the complex flavors of the soup. An IPA is a good choice.

ENTREE

LASAGNA

With Kid and Jerk Seasoning

A classic Italian dish gets a classic Caribbean taste with Jamaican jerk seasoning. Kid is our first choice for the meat in this dish, although you could use beef, pork or chicken thighs. Kid is popular around the Mediterranean, including Italy, as well as the Caribbean. Kid is lean but tender with its own delicious flavor.

Preparation. Lasagna is a complex dish best made a day in advance. Here are our suggestions for the components.

(1) Marinated meat: Cut meat into small cubes and marinate for at least 8 hours in Jamaican jerk seasoning and yogurt, preferably from goat’s milk. Shred.

(2) Tomato sauce: Make one with plum tomatoes, onions, garlic, and sweet spices such as cloves, coriander seeds, cinnamon, and allspice.

(3) Béchamel: Follow a standard recipe, adding toasted, ground cumin seeds and chopped coriander leaves. Stir in ricotta cheese.

(4) Cheeses: Shredded Monterrey Jack cheese with hot peppers and grated Parmesan.

Cook lasagna noodles and make layers of the noodles, shredded meat, tomato sauce, Béchamel and cheeses, ending with cheeses on top of the final layer. Bake until the cheeses on top are nicely browned. Allow to cool for 7-8 minutes before serving.

ESCAROLE

  With Orange and Spices

Steer a new course from the savory Italian style of escarole, voyaging to the sweet-curry flavors of the Caribbean. 

Preparation. Sauté escarole in olive oil until wilted. Add some orange juice, orange zest and a mild curry powder. Simmer until escarole is tender. 

Entrée Plating

Cut lasagna into portion-size squares. Place one portion in center of dinner plate. Place a large sprig of coriander on the lasagna. Arrange escarole below the lasagna portion. Above the lasagna, scatter sautéed diced red, green and yellow peppers.

Complementary beverage

We like the idea of a Zinfandel. The wine is made from a grape transported from Southern Europe to the New World and so it embodies the dinner’s concept. Its bold flavors will stand up to the richness of the lasagna.

SALAD

Caesar With Avocado Oil and Bitter Orange

This is a salad that both Caesar and Columbus would adore.

Preparation. For the dressing use Parmesan cheese, anchovies, garlic, avocado oil and bitter orange (available in Caribbean groceries or substitute a 1:1 mixture of orange and lemon juice). For the salad use Romaine lettuce and croutons made from corn bread.

Plating. Place individual portions into wooden bowls or salad plates. Sprinkle the croutons over the top.

DESSERTS

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TIRAMISU

With Rum, Lime and Banana

Perhaps Italy’s most famous dessert, tiramisu has lavish looks and fabulous flavor, yet is light, a cinch to make, and better if made a day ahead. Just add Caribbean touches to the traditional tiramisu, already tropical in pedigree thanks to its major flavors, chocolate and coffee.

Preparation. Make a tiramisu in the traditional way but add lime zest to the mascarpone cheese and rum to the dark coffee into which the lady fingers are dipped. Add thinly sliced bananas to each layer of the tiramisu. Cover the top with grated dark chocolate. Around the perimeter place thin slices of banana, each slice topped with an espresso coffee bean. Add a few banana slices to the center.

Plating. Place the tiramisu on a colorful platter.

 

FRUIT

Tropical Mix with Island Dressing

Dinner must end with a splash of Caribbean color. A carefully arranged platter of colorful tropical fruits will enchant and refresh. Buy several kinds with different colors such as mango, papaya, pineapple, red and green melon. Try to include some less familiar fruits such as passion fruit, guava or star fruit.  

Preparation. Peel, section or slice the fruits as necessary. Just before serving, spoon a dressing of honey, lime juice and grated ginger over the fruit.

Plating. Arrange a colorful platter of different fruits to enhance color contrasts (slices of red melon next to yellow pineapple next to orange papaya, etc.) and contrasts in shape. Use a few whole fruits to garnish the platter. 

Complementary beverage. Serve a coffee from a Caribbean country and spike it with a shot of Sambuca Romana or other licorice-flavored Italian liqueur.

EASY DAZZLE RECIPE GUIDELINES

 

Cocktail. No problem. It’s a simple one.

 

Appetizers. Buy rice balls. The mango dipping sauce will take only a few minutes and can be done hours ahead.

 

Soup or Salad. The salad will be much simpler.

 

Entrée. The lasagna is definitely labor intensive, but should be made a day in advance (or two) and can be frozen. For a possible substitute, prepare pasta with a sauce featuring jerk seasoning. The escarole is a breeze to make.

Desserts. Buy a tiramisu and follow the directions for the top.

 

Favor. Buy biscotti. Package a few with a bag of coffee from the Caribbean.