THE DISH ON DAZZLING DINNERS
Staging Fun-Filled, Impressive, Themed Dinners
From Invitations to Favors
With Guidelines for Recipes and Suggestions for Simplification
Entertaining at dinner? Here’s how to ENTERTAIN! Stage a fun-filled dazzling dinner. Pick a theme that captures the imagination. With pizzazz, apply that theme throughout, from an intriguing invitation to a fabulous favor, with delightful décor, distinctive dishes and entrancing touches. Sounds perfect but tough to plan. So you won’t have to work out all the clever details, THE DISH ON DAZZLING DINNERS gives them to you in 24 dazzling dinner plans, two for each month of the year. Except for recipes, specific instructions cover all 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. If you are a novice at cooking, you will gain considerable competence as you check out different versions of a suggested dish. For example, chocolate mousse can vary in type of chocolate, sweetness, or preparation technique; blackened chicken recipes may use different spices and herbs and different amounts of saltiness or sweetness. As an experienced cook, you probably tweak or even appreciably alter most recipes.
Each dinner plan covers five courses so that you can put on an extravagant, exceptional dinner when the occasion calls for it. Each plan also includes a simplified version called Easy Dazzle. The dinner plans are designed to knock out the guests, not the cook. Relevant recipes will be easy to medium in difficulty and complexity. Suggestions for table and room décor, while definitely dazzling, are modest in price and energy expenditure. With the emphasis on fun and the uncommon, most of the dishes and décor are eye-catching and photogenic. Many dishes have fanciful forms; much of the décor is appealingly atypical.
Dazzling dinners are fun to think about, fun to carry out, and fun for your guests. If you like food and entertaining, the clever and the distinctive, a dazzling dinner is for you. You will adore doing it and your guests will love it - and you for doing it.
When you want to host an exceptional dinner party, whether to please cherished guests, to mark a special occasion, when you need to impress or just for personal pleasure, THE DISH ON DAZZLING DINNERS is your guide.
THE PLANS BEHIND THE DINNER PLANS
Is this an outrageous claim - or right on? Great dinners are the only art (yes - art) that can gratify all the senses and evoke fundamental social emotions. Great food has intoxicating smells that draw you to it followed by exciting tastes. Texture and temperature activate the sense of touch to augment the gustatory gestalt. Provocative room décor and appealing food presentations provide visual pleasures. A great dinner plays to the ears through background music and interesting conversation generated by the fabulous food and setting. A great dinner plays on our emotions - friendship, affection, love. Nothing brings people together more than sharing food. When we want to celebrate someone’s achievement - a graduation or an award - or mark a special day - birthday or wedding - we do so with a feast. In short, food is love. Surely, then, great food expresses great love and there is no better way to show it than with a dazzling dinner.
The following sections describe the elements of a dazzling dinner and why each is important.
Great dinners, like great books or music, entertain by means of captivating themes that surprise and delight. Each dinner plan elaborates a theme that is either unique or, if familiar, uniquely developed. Each feature of the dinner, from invitation to favor, reflects the theme. To surprise the mind, each feature is uncommon. To delight the senses, each is uncommonly good. A focus on fun, as you can see from the dinner titles in the Table of Contents, is the final touch to guarantee your guests a great experience.
The focus on fun through food is key to ENTERTAINMENT. Guests exclaim with admiration and joy when you present a dish arranged like a flower (Gifts From The Garden), when you show snowy appetizers in July (A Cool Menu For A Hot Summer), when you roll out a sinfully suggestive appetizer on Valentine’s Day (KISS: Keep It Sweet and Sensual). Fun is the key top surprise and delight.
Each theme is keyed to one month of the year or special days in that month, but all lend themselves to other occasions as well. Dinner Plans include specific suggestions for when to use them. Regardless of theme, the dishes in the dinner plans complement the season, with suggestions for seasonal ingredients and seasonal preparations.
DAZZLING NONFOOD COMPONENTS
Do you remember the last time you celebrated a special occasion in a special restaurant - and it was WONDERFUL? The maître de welcomed you cordially, showed you to your table which was set beautifully with attractive dinnerware and an intriguing centerpiece. The service was gracious, the food was delightful to see, its taste heavenly. Little touches made for big pleasure - from the amuse bouche at the start to the complementary chocolates and liqueur at the finish. You loved, not just the fine food but also the extravagance and the sense of being fully indulged. If you would like your guests to feel that way, a dazzling dinner will do it, with intrigue and pleasure from start to finish, from invitation to favor.
Invitation. For an impressive first impression, send a clever invitation. Use the inventive text provided in each dinner plan. If possible, embellish with an appropriate photo or icon. A mailed card is more impressive, but email is fine.
Entrance decor. Guests arrive. It’s another first impression. Dazzle them. Decorate your door or entrance space with an amusing take on the dinner’s theme and greet them with pizzazz.
Greeting guests. Dress up - in keeping with the theme, of course, with touches that tell your guests - this is special. Surprise and delight them by immediately handing them their colorful souvenir menu and the handsome opening cocktail. Depending on the theme, some stirring music will amplify the impact.
Souvenir menu. The take-home menu marks your dinner as super special. It’s a surprise that establishes a mood of excitement and celebration. Because it uses clever and amusing descriptions of the forthcoming fare, it intrigues. Throughout the evening, it generates discussion of the food, a feature quite gratifying to hosts.
Room decor. Unusual details enhance the evening and spark conversation. Especially effective are touches that prompt memories, yours and those of the guests. Theme-related color is crucial.
Table decor. A lovely table is a delight but an unconventional and gorgeous table is dynamite. The centerpiece is the focus. Flower arrangements are traditional and we love flowers, but to dazzle your guests, go for theme-related objects cunningly arranged or uncommon flower arrangements. Be careful that your arrangement does not interfere with guests’ view of each other. Go low or go high. Place settings will enhance the theme via color and touches such as cute napkin rings.
Favor. A favor is the host’s gracious way of saying thank you for coming, so it ends the evening with warmth and goodwill. The next day it will bring to mind memories of their absolutely awesome evening. An amusing note strikes the right note.
For maximum impact, dazzling dinners start sensationally, end exceptionally, have a marvelous middle but insert two simpler courses in between. The sequence is: awesome appetizers; interesting but light soup; impressive, three-part entrée; refreshing, simple salad; stupendous dessert. Why? Psychologically, first and last things have greatest force and are best remembered. Middles impress less, unless outstanding. But, a bit of respite from high impacts is welcome.
Start Sensationally. First impressions again. Appetizers create a climate of excitement or triteness, a mood of enthusiasm or boredom. Serve, with fanfare, not one, not two, but three visually stunning and terrific tasting appetizers.
End Exceptionally. The finale has great influence on how the whole is perceived and remembered. So, end your dazzling dinner as it began, with a BANG! Serve one spectacular dessert with gorgeous appearance and transcending taste and a second, complementary, dessert that is light and refreshing.
Make the Middle Marvelous. The entrée must be a stand-out, both because people expect it to be the star player and it’s in the middle. So, make it conspicuously different. The Dinner Plans use uncommon meat or seafood (e.g., an American bison roast for “The Course of an Election”) or sensational seasoning of more common fare (e.g., the meatloaf in “Grandma’s Food – NOT!”) or unusual presentations (e.g., “Back to School").
Tone It Down In-Between. Rests are restorative. Too much stimulation can be off-putting and even lessen the impact of additional stimulation. Incorporate rests and simple dishes, light soup and refreshing salad, between the high impact courses. Take time between courses for conversation. Guests, who are beginning to feel full, will be grateful. So will you, because you need a break.
Why So Many Courses? For special occasions, there is no better way to make your guests feel valued and indulged. The many dishes and courses in a full Dinner Plan make a lavish feast that will spark your guests’ admiration and give you the joy of achieving the extraordinary. For less special occasions or if you are pressed for time, follow the suggestions below for EASY DAZZLE.
THE DAZZLING DISHES
Food is center-stage at a dinner party, so it must elicit “oohs” and “aahs” when you present the dishes and “bravos” as guests eat. Don’t be bashful. Present your dishes with a flourish for they are the stars of your show. Show them off. Get your guests to take in the aroma by cupping your hand and “pushing” the aroma toward your nose. Say, “Mmmmm.” Point out the uncommon or interesting aspects of dishes. E.g., if a dish uses lavender, an herb Americans are not very familiar with, talk about its use in French cuisine and how it works in both savory and sweet concoctions. If you are doing the Valentine’s Day dinner; your guests will be excited to hear why aphrodisiacs really are sexy. The Host’s Introduction to each dinner plan gives you the information to enthrall and educate your guests. It discusses background to the theme and noteworthy aspects of the food.
Appearance. A picture is worth a thousand words. Some chefs will say that presentation is 90% of guests’ satisfaction. While we don’t supply specific recipes, we do provide specific suggestions on presentation of each dish and course.
Dishes in fanciful form will always enchant so most dinner plans incorporate them. E.g., the August dinner, “Seafood and Citrus” has a number of amusing forms, including a “goldfish” appetizer, a “shark-fin” soup and a “seahorse” salad. While super to see, most are easy to make. E.g., the “shark fin” soup is a light fruit soup with a triangle of brown bread for the shark fin which appears to chase goldfish crackers.
In plating, it is important to introduce variation in the components. Differences in height and texture add to interest and complexity. Color is important for beauty, symbolism and ambiance. Red, white and blue is striking and suggests patriotism and celebration. A fall dinner calls for darker, deep colors to suggest falling leaves and warmth.
Tastes. A dazzling dinner makes every dish distinctive and delectable. New and great tastes are the hallmark. They please our tongues, excite our imaginations, and create conversation. There are four ways to achieve such tastes: employ uncommonly good ingredients, use uncommon ingredients, make uncommon use of common ingredients, or use uncommon combinations.
Uncommonly good ingredients. Great ingredients make a difference that guests get. They fill your mouth with rich, bright and satisfying flavor. Happily, top-quality ingredients are often the healthy choice and not necessarily more expensive if you shop wisely.
Produce. Fresh is best. Many vegetables, fruit and herbs lose flavor and vitamins after harvest. Buy them at farm markets or specialty groceries, which usually have fresher, higher-quality produce at a better price than supermarkets where “fresh” can mean a week or even a month old.
Spices. They’ll make dishes sing or fall flat. Freshness is again key. Buy whole seeds (anise, cardamom, etc.) in small amounts and replace annually. To develop full flavor and eliminate the harsh notes of raw spices, toast and then grind the spice. Usually, Asian groceries and on-line stores have better prices than supermarkets.
Meat and fish. The tastiest meat, sad to say, is neither the cheap nor the healthy choice. Prime cuts are tastier, costlier and have more fat. Free range animals have better flavor. Beef that is dry-aged, rather than wet-aged in plastic, is much, much richer and fuller in flavor and much more expensive. Heritage pork is superior to the mass-produced, tortured animals from huge hog farms. Wild-caught, rather than farmed, fish typically taste better, are healthier but more expensive. For grilling meat or fish, the best flavor is achieved with natural charcoal rather than processed charcoal or gas grilling.
Other ingredients. Homemade items such as soup stock or mayonnaise are superior to and less expensive than processed products. However, for many ingredients, as cost goes up, so does flavor. But, within reason, such ingredients make a special occasion special.
Uncommon ingredients. When a recipe calls for an unusual ingredient, it is because that ingredient will produce an unusual and delicious taste not attainable otherwise. For example, lavender (used in “Loof Lirpa!” and “Grandma’s Food – NOT!”) lends sweetness and a mild astringency to food as well as a bonus, its unique and delightful fragrance. Kaffir lime leaves (see “Seafood and Citrus” and “A Cool Menu for a Hot Summer”) are intensely fragrant with a lime flavor that borders on the ethereal. Such ingredients may not be in your neighborhood stores but can be found in a specialty food store, Near Eastern or Asian grocery or through the Internet.
Does it make sense to buy a special, expensive ingredient for just one occasion? Of course. Use special purchases to explore culinary possibilities, to develop your culinary talents, and to bring a little dazzle into everyday cooking. Ingredients such as lavender and kaffir lime are versatile, take well to freezing and will add interest and pizzazz to meats, vegetables and desserts. Use Internet recipes to guide your explorations.