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.
Prickly Pear Appetizer
"Election Day Dinner"
Everything Wrapped & Tied as a Present
"Presents A'Plenty Dinner"
German Chocolate Torte
"Academy Award Dinner"
On the first of each month we post the Dazzling Dinner for that month.
A FAT TUESDAY CELEBRATION
Inspiration: Mardi Gras, March
With festive surroundings and platters of Cajun and Creole delights, each guest will feel like Mardi Gras’s “King for the Day.”
“Mardi Gras” means Fat Tuesday. It’s a day for fun and gratification, the last day before the long weeks of Lenten abstention that start with Ash Wednesday. The spirit of Mardi Gras is over-the-top indulgence, especially in New Orleans. The atmosphere is charged. Celebrations go on for days with grand parades where performers and spectators alike dress in outlandish and colorful costumes highlighted with strings of beads and masks. Vivid purples, greens and golds are everywhere. Everywhere there is music, dancing in the street and partying. And everywhere there is feasting on glorious Cajun and Creole cooking. The food alone is cause for celebration.
Mardi Gras is a perfect theme for a dazzling dinner. Pull out all the stops in décor and astound your guests with this menu of Cajun and Creole fare. The dishes are rich in taste, colorful and sumptuous in appearance. A sparkling example that your guests will talk about for months is the platter of balloons made from purple potatoes sprinkled with edible gold flakes. Absolutely gorgeous and totally Mardi Gras! Course after course, your dinner guests will be delightfully dazzled, not least by the dinner’s witty and whimsical dessert, an edible mask of delectable pastry.
Ready, get set…
Appropriate for: Pre-Lenten celebrations, any occasion related to New Orleans, any time you wish to evoke the spirit of New Orleans.
A FAT TUESDAY CELEBRATION
The Feast Before the Fast
Featuring Louisiana’s Cajun and Creole Cuisines
Monkfish with Bourbon Cream in Pastry Shell
Cajun Kabobs with Shrimp and Kiwi
Olives Stuffed with Andouille Sausage
Salmon and Potato Chowder
Steak au Noir
Mardi Gras Potatoes
Carrot Coins with Fresh Herbs
Mesclun with Tangerines and Cointreau Vinaigrette
BACKING UP THE THEME
Basic: Print the menu above in purple or green ink on gold or cream-colored paper to show off the Mardi Gras colors.
Ornamental: For an absolutely stunning menu, paste a feathered Mardi Gras mask on the front. Purchase one mask for each guest. These are quite inexpensive and available online. Print the menu on paper in a color that complements the masks you purchased. Fold the paper in half like a tent with the printed side in. Glue or tape a feathered mask to the front of the tent.
Symbols. Multicolored beads, gold coins, confetti, feathers and masks.
Color. Create the exuberance of Mardi Gras with lavish use of glittering purple, green and gold, the “official” colors of Mardi Gras. Use in all your décor.
Table décor. For a fabulous and festive look, pair a purple tablecloth or purple place mats with gold napkins. Use green beads as a napkin ring. For a centerpiece, use an arrangement bursting with feathers or flowers or both - in purple, green and gold, of course. Scatter gold coins, colorful confetti and beads on the table.
Other décor. On the pathway leading to your front door, strew fake gold coins and beads, but don’t place them directly in the walkway. Decorate your coffee/cocktail table with confetti, gold coins and beads. Arrange balloons around dining areas. Be extravagant in decorating yourself and don’t leave your guests out – be generous in giving them beads, feathers, masks and noisemakers.
Music. The selections are countless. Rhythm and Blues, Jazz, Cajun, Zydeco and Ragtime. A song that always evokes New Orleans is When the Saints Go Marching In. You can download a version by its most famous musician, Louis Armstrong.
Favor. Pralines are a typical New Orleans sweet. Purchase them at your local bakery or through the Internet, or bake them yourself. Wrap them in gold foil and tie with purple and green ribbon.
Note for favor: A last indulgence – pralines, a classic sweet treat in New Orleans.
Opening Cocktail. There is nothing more festive than Champagne. Trim the glass using a purple pansy with gold center and green stem.
Soup. The richness of the chowder calls for a full-bodied Chardonnay.
Entrée. A spicy, chewy Zinfandel will pair nicely with the Steak au Noir.
After Dinner. Serve the licorice-flavored liqueur used to macerate the fruit. Serve on its own or add it to espresso coffee
MONKFISH WITH BOURBON CREAM IN PASTRY SHELL
Often compared to lobster, monkfish is sweet in taste and firm in texture. With a rich sauce and nestled in a crisp pastry shell, opulent is the word for this dish. Serves 8.
Yield: 16 shells
Up to 2 hours in advance: Prepare the dish through Step 4; cover and refrigerate; very gently reheat before spooning into pastry shells.
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon finely chopped shallots
1½ teaspoons finely chopped fresh tarragon
¾ pound monkfish, cut into ½-inch pieces
¼ cup bourbon
1 cup heavy cream
Salt and white pepper to taste
16 pre-cooked small pastry shells
1 large bunch chives
In a pan over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter. Add shallots and tarragon and sauté for 2 minutes. Add monkfish and sauté for an additional minute.
Remove pan from heat, add the bourbon and stir. Return pan to high heat and cook until the liquid has reduced by half. Carefully remove the monkfish and set aside.
Add the heavy cream to the pan and bring to a boil. Over medium heat simmer until reduced by half.
Turn heat off. Stir into the cream, 1 tablespoon at a time, the 2 remaining tablespoons of butter. Return monkfish to sauce pan, add salt and white pepper to taste.
With heat at very low, warm up the mixture, being careful not to bring it to a boil or it will separate and spoil.
Remove pastry shells from package and fill each with a tablespoon of monkfish mixture.
Place a line of chives along the perimeter of a serving plate. Sprinkle the center section of the plate with chopped chives and place the shells on top.
CAJUN KABOBS WITH SHRIMP AND KIWI
Use toothpicks with gold frills to skewer cool, green slices of kiwi and spicy, sizzling shrimp. Stick the toothpicks in a shiny, purple eggplant and voila! Perfect Mardi Gras color and taste! Serves 8.
Yield: 24 kabobs
Up to 8 hours in advance: Prepare marinade. Cut kiwi; cover tightly and refrigerate.
Up to 2 but at least 1 hour in advance: Marinate shrimp; cover tightly and refrigerate.
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Juice from 1 lemon
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/8 teaspoon Cajun seasoning
Dash hot pepper flakes
24 large (16-20 per pound) shrimp, peeled, de-veined and tails removed
1 large eggplant
16-20 toothpicks with frilly gold ends
1 bunch curly parsley, chopped
Make marinade. Whisk together ¼ cup of extra virgin olive oil with lemon juice, garlic, cayenne, Cajun seasoning and hot pepper flakes.
Add shrimp, cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour but no more than 2 hours.
Peel kiwi and cut each crosswise into 6 circular slices, about ¼ inch thick. Set asid
Brush grill or grilling skillet with some of the remaining olive oil and heat. When very hot, place enough shrimp on grill to allow for easy turning. Cook for two minutes on each side. Remove to a warm plate. Repeat until all shrimp are cooked.
Lay eggplant on its side. If it is not stable, cut a small slice from one side and place cut-side down. Skewer a slice of kiwi and one shrimp with a toothpick. Insert toothpick into eggplant. Continue placing shrimp/kiwi kabobs into eggplant until the top and sides are covered. Cover a platter with curly parsley. Set eggplant on top.
OLIVES STUFFED WITH ANDOUILLE SAUSAGE
These extravagant little treats are salty and spicy with a surprise in the center.
Up to 2 hours in advance: Complete through Presentation; cover with plastic wrap; keep at room temperature.
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 small link of Andouille sausage, casing removed and finely chopped
¼ cup panko crumbs
1/8 teaspoon hot pepper flakes
16 jumbo green olives, pitted
Yellow pepper, finely chopped
In small frying pan, heat olive oil. Add sausage and heat thoroughly. Add panko and hot pepper flakes, stir and remove from heat.
Place about ¼-½ teaspoon of sausage mixture into each olive.
Skewer olives with toothpicks. Place olives upright in an olive tray or other serving platter. Sprinkle with chopped yellow pepper. If serving on a platter, trim the bottom of olives prior to stuffing to form a flat base so it can stand upright.
SALMON AND POTATO CHOWDER
Colorful, hearty and full of rich flavors, here is a soup appropriate to any festive occasion. Serves 8.
Up to 8 hours in advance: Prepare chowder up through Step 2; refrigerate; bring to simmer again before adding remaining ingredients.
4 teaspoons butter
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and finely chopped
6 small red bliss potatoes, scrubbed and cut into 8 sections
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper
8 cups chicken broth, preferably home-made
1 pound salmon fillet, cut into bite-size pieces
1 tablespoon fresh dill weed, finely chopped
1½ cups heavy cream, at room temperature
8 sprigs of fresh dill
Melt butter in a large pot over medium heat. Sweat onions until they turn color and are soft. Do not allow them to brown.
Add potatoes, bay leaf, nutmeg, salt, pepper and chicken broth. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce to a simmer.Cook until potatoes are tender, approximately 15 minutes.
Stir in salmon and dill, cover and simmer for 10 minutes.
Add cream and stir until thoroughly heated. Serve immediately.
Ladle into bowls and garnish with sprig of fresh dill.
STEAK AU NOIR
This preparation gives great meaning to the term “shell steak.” Each bite delivers an explosion of gustatory joy, thanks to the crisp, spicy crust and tender, juicy interior. Serves 8.
Up to 1 day ahead: Mix dry ingredients; store in airtight container in refrigerator.
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon garlic powder
2 teaspoons salt
8 shell steaks, approximately 8-10 ounces each, 1-inch thick
4 teaspoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon of paprika
1 bunch chives, chopped
Mix all dry ingredients well. Rub about ¼ teaspoon on both sides of each steak.
Place a large grilling pan over very high heat. Once pan is hot, melt 1 teaspoon of butter, then add 2 steaks. Cook for four minutes on the first side. Turn and cook other side (approximately 2-4 additional minutes for medium rare to medium). Remove to serving platter and keep warm. Continue melting teaspoons of butter and grilling remaining steaks.
Place steaks on platter and garnish rim of platter with paprika and chopped chives.
MARDI GRAS POTATOES
Gorgeous to see and wonderful to taste, this dish is a brilliant take on the Mardi Gras theme: purple potatoes are mashed, shaped like balloons with a green chive string and sprinkled with edible gold flakes. Purple potatoes are officially called “blue potatoes.” They vary in color from deep purple to bluish purple and in size from fingerlings to a large variety called “Purple Majesty.” They are richer in taste than an ordinary potato, but also, like other blue foods (e.g., blueberries), their high anti-oxidant content makes them a very healthy choice. Placing shallots into the steaming water will infuse a harmonizing, subtle note of oniony goodness to the potatoes. Serves 8.
Up to 4 hours in advance: Prepare potatoes through Step 3 and place on platter (don’t add gold flakes or chive strings); cover with foil and keep at room temperature; gently reheat before serving.
4 medium shallots, peeled and sliced in half
1½ pounds purple potatoes, peeled and sliced lengthwise (if fingerlings) or into ½-inch cubes
6 tablespoons butter
Salt and pepper to taste
Edible gold flakes
8 chives, cut into 3-inch lengths
Place shallots in about 1 inch of water. Bring to boil. Place potatoes in a steaming basket over the water. Cover and cook until potatoes are tender, about 20-25 minutes.
Put potatoes through a food mill or mash. Stir in butter, salt and pepper.
Shape potatoes into 8 flat circles to resemble a balloon.
Place potato rounds on your most elegant white elongated platter. Just before serving, sprinkle the potato circles with edible gold flakes and insert chive lengths into each potato round to look like a balloon string.
CARROT COINS WITH FRESH HERBS
If possible, use golden (yellow) carrots to reinforce the Mardi Gras theme. When sliced, golden carrots will resemble the “gold” coins tossed to the crowds. Fresh green herbs add color to yellow or orange carrots. Honey contributes sweetness, fragrance and a touch of gloss. Serves 8.
Up to 4 hours in advance: Cook carrots through Step 2; prior to serving, gently reheat and finish the preparation.
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1½ pounds fresh, preferably yellow, carrots, peeled and sliced into ¼-inch circles
½ cup water
1 tablespoon orange blossom or other mild honey
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon finely chopped flat (Italian) parsley
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh thyme
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
Salt and pepper
Several sprigs of flat Italian parsley
Melt butter in pan over medium heat. Add carrots and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add water, honey and rosemary and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer until tender. Drain.
Toss carrots in parsley and thyme. Add salt and pepper.
Mound carrots in the center of a flat plate. Decorate the carrots and the border of the plate with sprigs of parsley.
With a spatula, carefully lift one potato “balloon” from the serving platter and place on plate so that the chive string runs down the center of the plate. Place 1 steak to the side and a mound of carrots to the other side.
MESCLUN WITH TANGERINES AND COINTREAU VINAIGRETTE
Zesty, refreshing and colorful describes this light and easy-to-make salad. Present it in stemmed glasses for an elegant touch. Serves 8.
Up to 4 hours in advance: Chop fennel, prepare tangerines; cover separately and store in refrigerator.
Up to 2 hours in advance: Prepare vinaigrette; cover and refrigerate.
8 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons Cointreau or other orange liqueur
Salt and pepper
1 cup finely chopped fennel
4 tangerines, peeled, veins and seeds removed
4 cups mesclun
Make vinaigrette. In large bowl, whisk together oil, vinegar and Cointreau with salt and pepper to taste.
Toss in fennel and tangerines and stir to coat. Add mesclun and mix.
Put salad into eight martini or other stemmed glasses with wide diameter.
Cajun kabobs started your party with perfect Mardi Gras color and taste, and so your party will end. Here, a simple mask is used as the pattern to make a mask of pastry dough. Add green kiwis, purplish blackberries and golden mango for a stunning and refreshing finish to your Mardi Gras evening. Serves 8.
Yield: 8 pastry masks
Up to 1 day in advance: With small end of melon baller, scoop out mango and kiwi balls; separately, cover tightly and refrigerate.
Up to 8 hours in advance: Bake masks; store in airtight container at room temperature.
For the mask
6- or 8-inch cloth mask that is made to cover just the eyes
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup confectioner’s sugar
4 egg whites
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon almond extract
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1½ teaspoons cocoa powder
Vegetable oil spray
1 large mango, cut in small balls
3 kiwis, cut in small balls
1 pint blackberries
1 tablespoon of Sambuca or other licorice-flavored liqueur
½ cup confectioner’s sugar
Preheat oven to 350ºF. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Spray vegetable oil under the 4 corners of the parchment. Starting at the top of the baking sheet, place the cloth mask down and trace its shape onto the parchment. Trace another below and, if space permits, a third tracing. Prepare additional baking sheets with parchment and trace masks until you have 1 mask for each guest.
Sift flour and sugar into large mixing bowl, add butter. Using an electric mixer, add one egg white at a time and beat until the mixture forms a smooth paste. Stir in the nutmeg and almond extract. Remove 2 tablespoons of the batter to a small mixing bowl. Cover remaining plain batter and let rest at room temperature for 20 minutes.
Add the cocoa to the batter in the small bowl. Transfer to a pastry bag with a thin tip. Set aside.
Mask. Working quickly, spread a thin layer of plain batter into the mask outlines. Do not fill in eyes. Pipe some of the cocoa-colored batter and outline the eyes or make brows. Using a toothpick, you may feather out lashes. Repeat with remaining mask outlines.
Bake the the masks until golden, about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, place 8 saucers upside-down on a flat surface.
Remove masks from oven and, while hot, peel each mask from parchment paper and place each over an upside down saucer to give it a slight oval shape. Keep mask on saucer until cool. Remove and store in an airtight container for up to 8 hours. Continue until all masks are completed.
In a small mixing bowl, toss mango and kiwi balls with the berries and liqueur.
Sift confectioner’s sugar over 8 large dinner plates. Place one mask in the middle of each plate, then scatter fruit around the mask.
This is a quick version of the traditional Mardi Gras cake served in New Orleans. Legend states that the person whose slice contains the buried doll shall be rewarded with good luck and, as tradition dictates, shall be responsible for bringing the King Cake to the next party! Serves 8.
Up to 8 hours in advance: Prepare cake through Step 3; cover with foil and keep at room temperature.
1 1-inch plastic doll
8 cinnamon rolls with icing
Purple, green and yellow (or gold) sugar sprinkles
Wrap doll in foil and insert into one of the rolls from the bottom.
Place cinnamon rolls in a circle, so that each roll is pressed against the other.
Cover rolls with the colored sprinkles in an alternating pattern of purple, green and yellow (gold).
Before serving, warm the cake in a 250ºF oven for about 10 minutes.
Use an elegant cake stand and present the cake in grand style! Be sure to alert your guests to finding the “good luck” doll inserted into the cake.