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.
"Flowers" in a "Vase"
"Earth Day Dinner"
Bride (Lamb), Groom (Asparagus),
Marital Bed (Rice)
"KISS! Keep it
Sweet and Sensual Dinner"
Baked Pears with Pecan Stuffing
"Thanksgiving Transformed Dinner"
GIFTS FROM THE GARDEN
Inspiration: The peak of summer blossoms and produce
Showcase the gifts of the garden with fresh foods in floral presentations.
Summer is the beautiful season. Our gardens flourish with flowers and fresh foods. A perfect seasonal dinner (this one, of course) makes the most of both. Each dish is arranged to look like a flower or it is decorated with edible flowers, or both. Each dish also features fresh foods and herbs that are at their peak in August and so best obtained from your garden or a green market. The result is a colorful show of eye-catching dishes that further delight and gratify with full, fresh flavors that show off the power and subtleties of newly picked produce. Plus – there’s a bonus to keep the cook cool - minimal cooking.
Let eyes and mouth fill with
The Garden’s Gifts
Appropriate for: Any day in late summer.
GIFTS FROM THE GARDEN
Apricots Stuffed with Tarragon/Almond Pesto
Avocado and Radish in Mini Bell Peppers
Fish Paté with Salmon Roe
Chicken in Chipotle/Cilantro Cream
Heirloom Tomatoes with Balsamic Vinegar
Cinnamon ’N Sugar Basil Leaves
DETAILS OF DAZZLE
Invitation. Choose a card showing flowers with a blank inner page or send a flower-embellished email.
Note for invitation. Please join us for a dinner celebrating summer and its gifts from the garden.
Entrance decor. Decor, of course, must showcase flowers and/or garden produce. Your guests will get the message when, as they enter, they see a basket with a selection of colorful fruits and vegetables punctuated with showy flowers such as sprigs of lavender or vibrant blossoms.
Greeting guests. Drape a flower lei on each guest as they enter. Provide them with more flowers - a Grasshopper cocktail and a souvenir menu, both decorated with an edible blossom.
Souvenir menus. Print the menu on light green card stock in purple ink. Glue to one corner a rose, sprig of lavender or other flower.
Room decor. Lots and lots of flowers will impress and delight. Add amusement with photos or other memorabilia of the “Flower Power” movement of the ‘60’s, old boxes or hats decorated with flowers, iconic photos of farmers or their produce, etc.
Table decor. Use colorful table linens. Tie each napkin with a ribbon to which has been stapled a small flower. Scatter over the table fresh flowers or sprigs of herbs. Should you be able to find herbs in flower, they would perfectly represent the dinner concept. Or try an arrangement of some of the ingredients in the dinner, as shown in the photo, You might also plate sprigs of the herbs used to flavor the dishes so that guests can compare the taste and smell of the raw herb with its influence on the dish.
Mood music. Play music featuring farming and flowers. For farms, use anything from the familiar kid’s song Old McDonald Had a Farm to country music such as Big Green Tractor by Jason Aldean. You will have no trouble finding songs about flowers, from classic popular (e.g., Rambling Rose) to pop (“e.g., Dandelions by the Rolling Stones) to classical (e.g., the Flower Song from Carmen or its English version from Carmen Jones) to old-timers such as Tiptoe Through the Tulips or Red Roses for a Blue Lady.
Favor. Bake cookies in the shape of a flower. Give them more power with flower flavor such as edible lavender buds or rose water. Alternatively, make or buy chocolate flowers.
Note for favor. These cookies are flavored with lavender (or whatever flavor you used) and so they have the flower’s power to give pleasure.
With suggestions for plating and complementary beverages
Grasshoppers are common in gardens and, in cocktail form, at garden parties.
Preparation. Of the many versions, we favor the basic one: equal parts green crème de menthe, white crème de cacao and cream shaken with ice and strained into a chilled glass. For gorgeous color contrast to the green drink, decorate it with a sprig of edible* lavender. Sprigs of herbs in flower or other edible flowers will also look lovely.
*Lavender used for fragrance may contain toxic substances.
APRICOTS STUFFED WITH TARRAGON/ALMOND PESTO
This dish sings with color and flavor. Picture the vivid orange of an apricot half surrounding a center of pesto, deep green flecked with off white. Take a bite for a balanced blend of sweet and savory tastes. The apricot is slightly tart with a honey-like sweetness; tarragon tastes of sweet licorice with herbal notes; the nuts supply crunch and umami.
Preparation. Cut ripe apricots in half and remove the pits. Make a pesto with tarragon, almonds and a fruity olive oil. Carefully mound about ½ teaspoon of pesto into the center of the apricot half.
Plating. Present the dish in flower shape. Use one apricot half in the center of a serving platter. Arrange additional halves radiating out from the center.
AVOCADO AND RADISH IN MINI BELL PEPPERS
Peppery and zesty with colors to match. Your guests will see a plate of small, bright-red circular containers holding a striking mixture of white with bits of red and green.
Preparation. Remove the tops of red mini bell peppers. For their stuffing, make a smooth mixture of mashed avocado, minced chives, salt, pepper, and lime juice. Swirl in diced red radishes so that one sees all three colors, red green and white.
Plating. Arrange the peppers in a circle to resemble a flower with round petals. For the flower’s center, form a mound of colorful nasturtiums.
FISH PATÈ WITH SALMON ROE
Present another colorful flower, this one with edible butterflies.
Preparation. Make a pale white paté of fish or shellfish. Purchase salmon roe. To make a flower butterfly, position two nasturtium petals side by side, colored centers touching.
Plating. Form oval petals from the patè. Make a center of salmon roe. For a stem (optional), use a strip of green pepper or perhaps a chive. For over-the-top gorgeousness place a flower butterfly on one or two of the “petals.” Serve with butterfly-shaped crackers such as those from Pepperidge Farm.
This gazpacho is a lovely dark green. Pipe a white rosette of sour cream on the center and top that off with a red raspberry. Stunning! The flavors are just as arresting. Raspberry vinegar and mint supply a lively tanginess, peppery lettuces add some bounce while chives and garlic contribute pungency. These sprightly tastes are supported by a satisfying, substantial consistency, thanks to the sourdough bread.
Preparation. Soak day-old sourdough bread in water for a few minutes, then press out most of the water. Process the bread with raspberry vinegar, a fruity olive oil, watercress or arugula, cucumber, garlic, mint, chives, salt and, if desired, a touch of chili pepper. You can make the soup a day in advance. Serve cold.
Plating. Use individual soup bowls, white if possible. You can make a good show by plating in the dining area with guests looking on. Ladle the soup into the bowls. Then, with a flourish, pipe a large rosette of sour cream on top. Place a small raspberry in the middle. Finish the flower with mint. Use the mint stem for the flower stem and two small leaves for flowers.
Complementary beverage. Water flavored with a small amount of cranberry/raspberry juice will look appealing and will go well with the rest of the dinner.
Surprise and amuse your guests by presenting the main course in individual clay flower pots and saucers. The burnt orange of the clay serving pieces beautifully sets off the colors of the entrée and side: cream-colored chicken flecked with green and multi-colored succotash.
CHICKEN in CHIPOTLE/CILANTRO CREAM
Preparation. Saute chicken breasts in olive oil and butter. Place in clay saucer and keep warm. Deglaze pan with white wine. Simmer for a few minutes with lime zest and chipotle pepper in adobo sauce. Stir in heavy cream infused with cilantro leaves (1 part cream to ½ part tightly packed leaves). Pour over chicken. Sprinkle with some chopped cilantro and top each breast with a squash blossom.
Succotash is an indigenous American dish quickly adopted by the colonists. Its basic ingredients are corn and beans. Succotash is at its best when additional colorful ingredients are added.
Preparation. Make a succotash – your favorite or ours, a colorful combination of sweet yellow corn, red kidney beans, white squash, onion, fresh basil or other herbs and a bit of bacon. Spoon the succotash into flower pots. Top with squash blossom.
Plating the entree
At your local garden shop select clay saucers of a size to fit a serving of chicken breast and pots to fit a serving of succotash. If squash blossoms are not available, use another edible flower such as nasturtiums, yellow, orange or red.
Because of the cream in the chicken preparation, wine, rather than beer is better for this spicy dish. A fruity, light red wine will do the trick and an Italian Lambrusco would be perfect.
Very ripe fresh tomatoes, especially heirloom varieties, are one of the great joys of summer. They are so delicious on their own that we shun dressings for them, except perhaps a drop or two of a first-rate balsamic vinegar. With a very sweet tomato, the result is electrifying.
Preparation. Use small heirlooms of two different colors.
Plating. Form a five-petal flower. Use a slice of one color for the center and slices of the other color for petals. Particularly striking is the combination of a striped, green Zebra tomato for the center with petals of orange or gold. Pass a bottle of balsamic vinegar along with an eye dropper to “gild the lily.”
This tart makes an appropriately beautiful floral finish with a classic August fruit. Golden peaches form the petals of a sunflower and blackberries the flower’s center. You’ll get ooooh’s and aaaah’s when your guests see this exquisite dessert and more ooooh’s and aaaah’s as guests taste the flavored pastry cream that complements so well the lush sweetness of ripe peaches.
Preparation. Prepare a pâte sucrée to fit a 10-inch tart pan. Infuse the milk for a pastry cream with cinnamon and basil. For each cup of milk, use 1 cinnamon stick and four 4-inch sprigs of basil. Fill the pâte sucrée with the pastry cream and bake. When cool, place a 3-inch round cookie cutter in the middle. Fill the center with blackberries. Create “petals” around it by placing thin slices of yellow peach on the pastry cream, so that they radiate from the center and end in a point on the rim. Brush all over with warmed, strained apricot jam, remove cookie cutter and tart ring, and transfer to a platter to serve.
CINNAMON ‘N SUGAR BASIL LEAVES
An elegant and witty accompaniment for the tart are basil leaves that are candied with cinnamon and sugar. The flavors are the same in this crunchy treat and the soft pastry cream, yet their taste gestalts are definitely distinct.
Preparation. Follow instructions for candied flowers to prepare the basil leaves. Mix in with the sugar some finely ground cinnamon, just enough to produce a distinctive cinnamon taste.
Plating the desserts
Be sure to show off the gorgeous tart on your prettiest cake plate before cutting individual servings. With tongs, place 3 basil leaves to the side of each wedge of tart.
A peach schnapps or apricot liqueur will do well.
EASY DAZZLE RECIPE GUIDELINES
Cocktail. A glass of sparkling wine or Champagne decorated with a flower will say it nicely.
Appetizers. Both the stuffed apricots (make the pesto ahead) and stuffed mini peppers are easy to prepare and not very time consuming.
Soup or Salad. The salad will be easier to prepare and less time consuming.
Entree. Chopping the ingredients for the succotash will take time. Substitute grilled corn on the cob or frozen succotash to which you add some fresh herbs.
Desserts. Purchase a peach tart. If one is not available, any tart with a summer fruit will be fine. Use fresh fruit of the variety in the tart to make a flower design.
Favor. Make or buy cookies or chocolates in the shape of a flower.
SEAFOOD and CITRUS
Inspiration: Hot August Days
Fishing for a feast that’s cool and cooling? The classic culinary combination of seafood and citrus is cast in new guises guaranteed to hook your guests.
“Summertime and the livin’ is easy. Fish are jumpin’…” This lovely song from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess captures the essence of summer, so perhaps the song was the unconscious inspiration for this dinner plan. Summer makes us think of rest and vacations, outdoor pleasures, sunshine and warmth. Summer draws us to all that is relaxing and refreshing: to informality, to lounging about, to carefree fun, to sojourns at lakes and streams and shore, to cooling drinks and food that is light but enlivening.
A dinner that makes the most of seafood is as suitable to summer as fish to water and citrus to fish. Seafood is light, sweet and flavorsome. Citrus tastes are bright, tart and refreshing. When combined, the acidity of citrus beautifully balances the sweetness of seafood, providing for dishes of depth and elegance.
Each fish is paired with a different citrus fruit, but not every dish contains seafood. While low in calories, seafood is high in protein and digesting protein generates more body heat than carbohydrates. To keep things cool while complying with the theme, fanciful renditions of sea creatures appear in an appetizer, the soup, salad and desserts. These amusing sea creatures contain no seafood, but they do include those refreshing citrus flavors. To stimulate guests’ interest in citrus flavors, several dishes use not citrus fruit, but plants with citrus tastes. Typically, herbal and floral notes augment the primary citrus taste of these plants and distinguish them from the fruit for which they are named.
In short, the recipe for a perfectly pleasurable, entirely enjoyable summer dinner is to add to seafood and citrus a drop of wit, a spray of whimsy, a splash of fun and a sprinkling of surprise.
Appropriate for: Any summer evening, when entertaining people who fish or sail or otherwise play in the ocean, or those who love to eat fish.
SEAFOOD and CITRUS
We’re angling to hook you with this fishy feast
that casts anew that classic
culinary combination of citrus and seafood.
Lobster and Grapefruit in Drunken Mayonnaise
Sweet Potato “GoldFish” with Lime
Lemon/Anchovy Stuffed Olives
Humanitarian “Shark-Fin” Soup with Kiwi and Lemon Thyme
Grilled Swordfish with Orange Marinade
Basmati Rice with Kaffir Lime and Saffron
“Seahorse” Salad with Eggplant and Purslane
Lemon-Verbena Panna Cotta with Floating “Fish”
“Scallops” with Orange Glaze
DETAILS OF DAZZLE
Invitations. Buy a card meant for a fisherman. This time of year, that should be easy. Alternatively, print the text in aqua on pale yellow paper or card stock with images of seafood. Or email with images of seafood.
Text for invitation. GET HOOKED! Please cruise on over. We’ve got a fishy feast for you to dive into.
Entrance decor. Tune your guests into the theme of seafood and citrus as they enter. At the door, place a fishing pole or net alongside a basket fragrant with citrus or citrus potpourri. Include a bunch of lemon thyme or lemon verbena.
Greeting guests. Ask each guest to take a deep breath of the citrus perfume from the basket. Give them a sprig of the lemon thyme or lemon verbena to smell. If possible, wear clothing suitable for the sea, e.g., a sailor’s cap or blouse, a mask and snorkel, bathing suit and coverup. Or wear blue and white. Shell jewelry - perfect!
Souvenir menus. Use the colors you used for the invitation and print the menu -pale yellow paper or card stock, aqua for the text. Include the verse of doggerel.
Room decor. Display plates of citrus fruits, fishing gear or artificial fish in your living room and dining area. A few nets decorated with shells or starfish would be delightful.
Table decor. Keep it casual, in keeping with relaxed summer living. We favor a centerpiece featuring citrus. Make an arrangement of citrus fruits set off with a few sprays of lemon leaf (a common “filler” carried by florists) or fronds of fennel or dill which resemble seaweed. Scatter shells, pearls and/or small plastic or glass fish around the rest of the table.
Mood music. The song Summertime will set the mood perfectly when played as guests arrive or when everyone is assembled. From there, depending on your taste, you might play CDs of sea shanties, classical music such as Debussy’s La Mer, sounds of the sea shore or popular songs with a seashore theme, e.g., Down By the Boardwalk, Sailing, Sittin’ on the Deck of the Bay, Beyond the Sea, Surfin’ USA.
Favor. Purchase a box of chocolates in the form of sea shells and candy in the shape of citrus fruit (marzipan or jellies are common). Wrap a selection of each in blue paper and tie with white ribbon.
Note for favor: Dive into this packet for a sweet treat.
SWEET POTATO "GOLDFISH" WITH LIME
A sweet potato is just the color of the classic goldfish and its sweetness harmonizes with the tart lime. Formed into the shape of a goldfish, your guests will be guessing what this fetching, flavorsome, fantasy fish might be.
Preparation. Steam or boil sweet potatoes until quite soft. Put through a ricer or mash until smooth. Add a generous amount of heavy cream, some finely grated fresh ginger, lime zest and juice, salt and pepper. Mix. Mold the sweet potato mixture into the shape of a goldfish. Use a scallion slice for the eye.
Plating. Use a light green or blue serving plate. Put curly lettuce or curly parsley at the bottom of the plate to suggest seaweed. Allow a few pieces to overlap the fish's belly. Place a few small seashells in the lettuce.
LOBSTER AND GRAPEFRUIT IN DRUNKEN MAYONNAISE
Lobster and grapefruit is an unlikely combination but one full of interesting contrasts. The flesh of lobster is sweet, firm and chewy while grapefruit is bitter, yielding and pulpy. The spicy mayonnaise binds the two together with harmonizing savory, sweet and spicy notes. This dish is unusually flavorsome when made with a good commercial mayonnaise and ordinary cognac. With homemade mayonnaise and a fine cognac the result is awesome.
Preparation. Cook lobster, preferably by steaming, cool and then cut into bite-size pieces. Cut grapefruit sections into bite-size pieces; drain. Prepare a spicy mayonnaise with cognac or brandy. Blot lobster and grapefruit pieces with paper towels before gently mixing with the mayo.
Plating. Serve the lobster/grapefruit either in grapefruit shells or 6-8 inch scallop shells. To serve in grapefruit shells, use a sharp knife to make scalloped cuts along the circumference of the fruit. Remove all traces of membrane. Use a few parsley leaves for garnish
LEMON/ANCHOVY STUFFED OLIVES
Lemon almost always accompanies anchovies in Mediterranean cuisines. Here, the two are added to another Mediterranean favorite, the olive.
Preparation. Process a bit of lemon zest and lemon juice with oil-packed anchovies to a smooth paste. Pack the paste into large green, pitted olives such as Cerignola.
Plating. A scallop shell or other small white plate will set off the green olives beautifully. Line the circumference of the plate with thin slices of lemon and place the olives in the center.
HUMANITARIAN “SHARK-FIN” SOUP WITH KIWI AND LEMON THYME
Delightfully droll, entirely enchanting, flawlessly funny; the “shark-fin” presentation is a joke. Not the soup! Intricate tastes that refresh the palate and simplicity of preparation sum to a summer soup supreme. The major ingredients, kiwi fruit and lemon thyme, sport sweet and tart elements that are nevertheless distinct. Kiwi calls strawberries to mind while lemon thyme is certainly lemony but short on tartness with added herbal notes. A Sauvignon Blanc will add depth with a layer of vegetal and citrus flavors. Ask your guests to slowly savor this soup. They will find the tastes sometimes distinct, sometimes blending.
Preparation. Process ripe kiwis with a generous amount of lemon thyme leaves. Just before serving stir in chilled Sauvignon Blanc. Serve cold. For what we sardonically call “garnish” you will need small goldfish crackers and a dark rye bread cut into triangles to serve as the shark fins. The triangular “shark fin” should be somewhat larger than the goldfish.
Plating the soup. Divide soup among wide, shallow bowls. To mimic the fin of a shark swimming in the soup, hold the bread triangle with the hypotenuse (longest side) down. Partially submerge that edge. Float 5 goldfish at the other end, as if they were swimming away from the “shark.”
Complementary beverage. The soup’s Sauvignon Blanc.
GRILLED SWORDFISH WITH ORANGE MARINADE
Swordfish is sweet, very rich and distinctly savory, especially if grilled. Balance the richness of the fish with an orange, Oriental-style marinade.
Preparation. Marinate swordfish steaks for an hour or less in a mixture of orange juice, soy sauce, garlic and ginger. Grill inch-thick steaks for 3-4 minutes a side.
Top the fish with a colorful, zesty salsa.
Preparation. Use fresh orange sections, red onion cut in half-circle slices, garlic, chili and rice vinegar. Just before serving add a generous amount of fresh, green herb, either basil or cilantro.
BASMATI RICE WITH KAFFIR LIME AND SAFFRON
The tang of citrus fruits can overpower the mild flavor of most rice varieties. However, plants that have citrus flavor without the acidity of the fruit work very well with rice. That is certainly true of the leaves of kaffir lime, a tree which produces a lime-like fruit. The leaves are wonderfully fragrant, imparting to the rice a soft lime taste with floral overtones. Saffron adds another dimension of flavor and a gorgeous yellow color.
Preparation. It is best to gently sauté the basmati rice in butter (2 tablespoons per cup rice) before adding boiling water (1 3/4 cups per cup rice) along with saffron (1/8 teaspoon per cup rice) and 2 large or 3 small kaffir lime leaves per cup rice. Bring back to boil, turn heat to very low, cover, cook for 17 minutes, rest for 10 minutes, covered.
Note: If you cannot find kaffir lime leaves, substitute ½ tablespoon lime zest and 1 tablespoon lime juice. A substitute for the saffron is 1/3 tablespoon ground turmeric.
Plating the entree
Make the most of the vibrant colors of these dishes – mahogany swordfish, salsa that is bright orange and vivid green, and golden rice. Place a mound of rice slightly above the center of the plate. Position the swordfish to lean against the mound. Spoon some salsa over the middle of the fish and down onto the plate. Sprinkle chopped green herb (the one used for the salsa) in a few places on the dish and slip a kaffir lime leaf into the side of the rice.
A good Sangria will be a perfect match for the citrus flavors and will look just right in a big glass pitcher with lots of floating citrus slices.
“SEAHORSE” SALAD WITH EGGPLANT AND PURSLANE
Sculpt a seahorse with an eggplant mixture; rest it in a bed of what looks like sea grasses. Unique and delightful! The scene is easy to make since the seahorse is just a modified S-shape under and around which you place some greens. One green to use is purslane; it has a lemony taste and its thick rounded leaves resemble some sea grasses.
Preparation. Make a thick mixture of roasted or grilled eggplant, sweet onion, and lemon juice. Feel free to add additional ingredients to your taste, but, to resemble a seahorse, the final salad should be a mottled neutral color. Make a suitable dressing, e.g., a lemon/garlic/fennel seed vinaigrette, for the salad greens.
Plating the seahorse scene. Picture a seahorse in an ocean, floating just above green sea grasses, some rounded, some fern-like. Use individual salad plates, in order of preference for color: glass, blue, green, sand, brown.
(1) For the seahorse - divide eggplant salad mixture into individual portions. Place about ¾ of one portion onto the upper half of a plate and form a rough “S” with fingers. Use the remaining ¼ to form a curving tail. Continue shaping into a seahorse, using an image from the Internet. Enlarge the upper curve of the “S” into a head shape with a long snout. Enlarge the rest into a protruding “stomach” that narrows to join the curling tail. Use a knife to sharpen the outline and clean stray bits from the plate. Complete the seahorse with one red peppercorn (or use red pepper) on the head for an eye.
(2) For the sea grass - place purslane leaves below the seahorse with round ends up. Arrange fennel fronds on top of the purslane, their tops jutting alongside and over the bottom part of the seahorse. You may refrigerate several hours in advance. Drizzle dressing over the greens just before serving.
“SCALLOPS” WITH ORANGE GLAZE
Here’s a droll take on a beloved bivalve, a cake that looks like a sautéed scallop! The top and bottom of sponge or angel food cakes are light brown in color; the interior is off-white. Cut the cake into scallop size and voila! It’s a sautéed scallop! So good is the resemblance that many of our guests have believed that they really were going to eat sea scallops for dessert. We clue them in while serving the plates so that our guests will get another surprise. We drizzle the “scallops” with an orange glaze that is sweet and sour, spicy and hot, almost suitable for sautéed scallops.
1. The “scallops” should be round with a diameter of about 1½ inches and a depth of about 2 inches. If you use an angel food cake or tube-pan sponge cake you will probably be able to cut the cake in half crosswise and use both halves. Use a small cookie cutter or demitasse cup or liqueur glass to form the “scallops.” With a slow twisting motion, cut through the cake.
2. Make an orange glaze. We use orange juice and red currant jelly for sweet/sour components; sweet spices such as cloves, ginger, allspice, and cardamom; and just a bit of Tabasco sauce for zing.
3. Poke 3 or 4 holes in each “scallop” and cover the surface with glaze, allowing some to flow down the side.
Plating. To show off the scallops, surround the rim of a large flat circular plate with orange slices. If you have small seashells, place one in the center of each orange slice. Put the "scallops" in the center.
LEMON-VERBENA PANNA COTTA WITH FLOATING “FISH”
The pretty green leaves of lemon verbena are wonderfully fragrant and lemony, with highlights of floral notes found in the best lemons. Its intense perfume is released with the slightest touch, so it is a great plant to have around. In this dessert, an infusion of the leaves flavors the panna cotta and the candied leaves form a tasty and crunchy fish-shaped garnish. Panna cotta is an Italian cooked cream concoction of impressive taste, very easy to make, and just about totally foolproof.
Preparation. Infuse heavy cream with lemon verbena leaves before using it in your favorite panna cotta recipe (three 4-inch sprigs for each cup of cream). Chill the cooked panna cotta in individual dessert glasses or bowls. Candy lemon verbena leaves.
Plating. Form the fish" tail. One medium-sized verbena leaf serves as the "fish" body. Cut somewhat smaller leaves in half for the "fish" tail. Place the body somewhat off-center of each dessert glass or bowl. Place the long side of one-half leaf at one end of the body so that the pointed end sticks out at an angle to one side of the body. Place the other half of the leaf at the opposite angle to form the other half of the tail.
The orange liqueur used for the opening cocktail will make a fine finish. Limoncello will do the same.
EASY DAZZLE RECIPE GUIDELINES
Cocktail. Both suggestions are easy to make, so it’s your choice.
Appetizers. The most impressive is the lobster and grapefruit in drunken mayonnaise. It will be the easiest to prepare if you buy the major components: cooked lobster, sectioned grapefruit, spicy mayonnaise. Just add cognac or brandy to the mayo.
Soup or Salad. The soup is simple, just mixing a few cold ingredients together. The garnish of “shark fin” and goldfish involves only cutting bread.
Entree. Make the salsa as much as two days ahead and refrigerate. The rice can be made several hours ahead and gently reheated before serving.
Desserts. The “scallops” will be easy if you purchase the cake.
Favor. As you buy the chocolates and candy, the only time-consuming part is wrapping them nicely.