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

Irish Cheese

"A Lace Curtain Affair" Dinner

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ENTREE 

Bride (Lamb), Groom (Asparagus),

Marital Bed (Rice)

"KISS!  Keep it

Sweet and Sensual" Dinner

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DESSERT

Mousse Au Chocolat

"Mexico's Victory over France" Dinner

December

RICH AND FANCY

Inspiration: New Year’s Eve - CELEBRATION Time!

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HOST’S INTRODUCTION

Food, fun, fireworks! Have it all with a rich and fancy, fabulous feast. Open with a dramatic, eye-catching cocktail. Champagne, of course, but fancied up with edible gold flakes sprinkled on top and gold decorations on the glass. Serve a five-course meal of elegant dishes featuring the finest of foods, from an exquisite caviar roulade appetizer to dessert, a Yule log lavishly ornamented. Show them fireworks with a unique “firecracker” salad. Choose the best wines you can afford to go along with each course. At midnight, toast the New Year with more gold-gussied champagne and a light supper of good-luck foods.

 

For sure, your dinner will set the stage for a 

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Appropriate for: Any occasion that calls for a rich and fancy dinner.

DETAILS OF DAZZLE

Invitations. It will be easy to find elegant New Year’s cards that suggest an evening that is rich and fancy. Of course, you can make cards, for example, with glittery silver paper in the shape of a bell or champagne bottle. After placing the card in its envelope, add a small handful of glittering confetti. When your guests open their envelopes out will come a small shower of confetti. AWESOME! If you use email, gussy it up.

Text. FOOD! FUN! FIREWORKS! Join us on New Year’s Eve. 

 

Entrance decor. Buy a large styrofoam ball and spray paint it with gold or silver glitter. Use stick-on numbers to signify the New Year. Suspend it from the ceiling to suggest the iconic ball that drops at midnight in Times Square. Sparkling candles will also impress.  

 

Greeting guests. Have ready a colorful container filled with New Year’s paraphernalia – noisemakers, hats, etc. to hand your guests on arrival. Go for splendid elegance or fabulous funky.

 

Souvenir menus. Your guests will treasure a souvenir menu that epitomizes the rich and fancy theme. Make it a book style - a dazzling cover that opens as would a book to a page inside that is the menu. Choose as a cover the most spectacular paper you can find. Fold it in half lengthwise. Choose an appropriately gorgeous paper for the menu page. Print the menu only on the right side and cut off the left side. Glue the menu to the inside of the cover so that guests will see the menu when they open the cover. Embellish the outside cover with ribbons or flowers (real or not) or images or whatever your imagination says will be a stunning addition to the already glorious cover.

 

Room decor. Go all out. Make everything sparkle with gold and silver but add some contrasting color accents. Blue works especially well and red is always celebratory. Check out your local party store for other decorations, from balloons to glittering snowflakes to paste on your windows. 

 

Table decor. Use your best china, stemware and flatware. As for linens, use bright colors, red or gold or silver for tablecloth or placemats (inexpensive versions are readily available) along with contrasting napkins. Rather than ordinary napkin rings, tie napkins with sparkling, contrasting ribbon or, as shown below, tuck the napkin into a noisemaker. Sprinkle the table with sparkling confetti. Fill a large shallow bowl made of crystal, glass or clear plastic with glittering, colorful balls and/or silver bells for your centerpiece. If you prefer flowers, try something a bit different. For example, fill a bowl with small glass marbles and water; arrange 3 or 5 white roses or orchids in the bowl at one side. From the other side, anchor curling ribbons by tucking them under the marbles. Trail them across and over the edge of the bowl to extend a little onto the table. 

 

Mood music. Key the music to your guests’ likings. Lively music is apt for the appetizer course, but, during the rest of the meal, switch to quieter music. It will encourage conversation and appreciation of the very special food. Thereafter, it’s back to whatever will keep your guests humming. Just before midnight, “Auld Lang Syne” is a must.

 

Favor. Send your guests off into the New Year with a good luck favor. Round objects are considered good luck in many cultures so you might choose chocolates (truffles are a great choice – make or buy them) or spherical fruit such as oranges (especially sweet blood oranges), tangerines, pomegranates, grapes, blueberries or apples. Whatever you use, make the wrappings glittery and gorgeous.

Note. We wish you good luck and prosperity in the New Year with these round chocolates (fruits) that symbolize good fortune.

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MENU

RICH AND FANCY

It’s New Year’s Eve - - CELEBRATION Time!

 

Cocktail

Champagne with Edible Gold

 

Appetizers

Figs Poached in Port Wine with Brie

Foie Gras with Black Truffle on Toasted Brioche

 Caviar Roulade

 

Soup

Lobster Bisque with Saffron

 

Main

Dry-Aged Beef

Broccoli Rabe in Circle of Golden Grits

 

Salad

Firecracker Salad

 

Dessert

Yule Log

 

Midnight Supper

Champagne with Edible Gold

Lucky Salad with Champagne Vinaigrette

Bundt Cake

Frosted Grapes with Edible Gold

RECIPE GUIDELINES

With suggestions for plating and complementary beverages

 

COCKTAIL

Champagne with Edible Gold

Purchase edible gold, certainly an indulgence, but not as expensive as you might think because the gold is so thin. It is available in some party stores and from the Internet in very convenient shakers but also in less expensive sheets. You must pound the sheets to produce gold flecks, not an easy task because the bits of gold tend to fly into the air and stick to the sides of the container. We recommend the shaker.

Preparation. If possible, use the old-style, wide-bowl “Marie Antoinette” glasses or martini glasses to show off the gold. Decorate the glasses. Punch out small circles of gold from gold paper and glue to glass. Or tie each glass with wired gold ribbon. Or both. Pour the champagne into the glasses and sprinkle the flecks on top.

APPETIZERS

Figs Poached in Port Wine with Brie

Lovely and luscious is this take on the classic combination of fruit and cheese.

Preparation. Cut dried brown figs in half crosswise. Poach for about 20 minutes in ruby port wine with a cinnamon stick and orange peel tied into cheesecloth. Drain and cool. Make a hollow in each fig half with your thumb and fill with brie. Put under broiler until cheese melts. Top each with one dried currant, red or black.

Plating.  Use an interesting or attractive serving plate.

Foie Gras with Black Truffle on Toasted Brioche

Very simple, very elegant. 

Preparation. Purchase foie gras with black truffles and a loaf of brioche. If you would rather not serve foie gras, substitute a mushroom pâté with black truffles. Cut ½ inch slices from the brioche. Cut these slices diagonally to form small, diamond-shaped pieces. Melt butter in a skillet and brown both sides of the brioche pieces. Blot on paper towels. When ready to serve, top the toast with the foie gras and a sprig of parsley.

Plating. A colorful plate would be best for the occasion.

Caviar Roulade

Roulades always look beautiful and this one especially so. The pinwheel parades red or black caviar (your choice), white cheese and a bisque-colored sponge roll flecked with green. Stunning! So is the taste of this dish. Caviar’s key flavor components of salt and fat couple delightfully with the sour edge of the cheese.

Preparation. Blend goat cheese with just enough crème fraîche or sour cream for a spreadable, but not runny, consistency. Set aside. Bake a savory sponge cake in a rectangular pan. Add to the batter before baking enough fresh chopped dill to flavor and color it. When cool, spread the goat cheese mixture atop. Top with caviar. Roll, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for up to 6 hours. To serve, cut into ¼ inch slices.

Plating. Use an oblong serving plate for the roulade. Place a few fronds of dill along the plate. Cut 2 or 3 slices from the roll to show off their beauty when you present the dish to your guests. Place one slice on a small plate for each guest.

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SOUP

Lobster Bisque with Saffron

This dish epitomizes rich and fancy extravagance. The ingredients are costly, the preparation elaborate, and the result superb. White chunks of lobster, tinged with pink, float in a perfumed pool of reddish gold. The taste is just as opulent. The lobster is sweet, the bisque rich in complex flavors. Cream provides buttery lushness, shellfish stock delivers the sweet and salty scent of the sea and saffron adds depth with a tinge of bitter and the savory sweetness of honey.

Preparation. Lobster bisque, done properly, is, indeed, a joy but one that requires considerable time to make. You will find many recipes on the Internet. A few are listed as “easy” but the shortcuts such as using fish or vegetable stock instead of shellfish stock, definitely take away flavor. Whichever, be sure to include some saffron to enhance the color and flavor of the dish. You can order the bisque from some online emporiums.

Plating. If you have large martini glasses, they will look spectacular filled with this soup. To top the soup, a large, bright green, feathery frond of dill or fennel will provide pleasing, contrasting color. 

Complementary beverage. A New Zealand sauvignon blanc suits. To be quite indulgent, purchase an expensive bottle from France’s Loire Valley with the appellation Sancerre or Pouilly-Fumé.

MAIN

Dry-Aged Beef with Red-Wine Sauce

Dry-aged beef is superlative! It’s incredibly delicious and succulent, a far cry from ordinary beef. You will find it only at upscale steakhouses and butcher shops and it is expensive. For good reason. Ordinary beef is wet-aged, sealed in plastic bags for only a few days with little or no moisture loss. In contrast, dry aging involves hanging the meat on a rack in near freezing temperatures for several weeks or even months. Like ripening or fermentation, dry aging allows enzymes to break down and tenderize the raw food while creating complex, rich flavors. It also concentrates flavor through evaporation of the moisture in the meat, resulting in a weight loss of a third or more. Thus, dry aging takes much more time, requires larger storage facilities and involves a lot of weight loss. Of course, you must pay more and the full flavored result is well worth it.

Preparation. Choose the cut that best suits your occasion and the number of guests. A tenderloin is simple. All you need do is season the roast and pop it into the oven, although you can make more elaborate preparations such as Beef Wellington. If weather permits charcoal grilling, it’s hard to beat a Porterhouse steak. For a lavish appearance smacking of colossal indulgence, go for a hefty rib roast. Whichever, serve with a decadent red-wine sauce. The better the wine, the better the sauce. With a tenderloin, we suggest a sauce that includes heavy cream or Sauce Bernaise; for a grilled Porterhouse, a tangy sauce made with balsamic vinegar or mustard is a good choice; a sauce with thyme and shallots will be great for a rib roast.

 

Broccoli Rabe in Circle of Golden Grits

This handsome gold and green dish is picture-perfect on a plate with red meat. Corn grits provide texture contrasts with the soft broccoli rabe and the tender dry-aged beef. Add some cheese to the grits and the dish delivers a symphony of basic tastes. Cheesy grits impart salty, fatty and savory tastes while the rabe lends an edge of bitterness, all nicely balancing the rich beef.

Preparation. Use only the florets and very small leaves of broccoli rabe. Sauté in olive oil with a bit of garlic until soft. Use a basic recipe for corn grits with a good amount of butter and grated sharp cheddar cheese. 

Plating the main

Place the beef to one side of the dinner plate. Form the grits into a circle that slightly overlaps the beef. Make a hollow in the center of the grits and fill with the broccoli rabe.

Complementary beverage

Splurge on the best Cabernet Sauvignon your budget can take.

SALAD

Firecracker Salad

 

 

 

This cucumber “firecracker” visually explodes on the plate. The cucumber is hollowed out and filled with strips of white radish and red, orange and yellow peppers, like flames shooting upward. The “firecracker” is placed on red radicchio to imitate the fire that lights it all up. The metaphor continues with a gustatory explosion provided by a tangy red vinaigrette.

Preparation

  1. To make the “firecrackers” you will need wide cucumbers to hold the “flames”. Slice crosswise into sections 3” long. Carefully hollow out each section into a cup with a bottom of 1-1½ inches and walls 1/8 inch thick. You may need to trim the bottom ends so they will be flat to stand upright. 

  2. Fill each “firecracker” cup with long strips of daikon radish and red, yellow and green peppers. Taper the strips at the top to better resemble flames. 

  3. Drizzle all with a dressing of red wine vinegar, pomegranate juice, grape seed oil and a bit of crème fraîche.

Plating. Stand cups on plates. Make a little flag with a toothpick and a piece of construction paper that says “POW!” and place inside the cup. Surround the “firecracker” with torn radicchio leaves. 

DESSERT

Yule Log

A beautifully embellished Yule log cake is a classic for Christmas or New Year’s parties. We suggest it because, unlike other lavish desserts, the Yule log is only served at this time of the year. Our favorite is a chocolate sponge cake with mocha filling. Although not terribly difficult to make, making Yule logs does eat up a lot of time. If you are short of that precious resource, you will find them at many bakeries, typically with superb decoration. 

Plating. As Yule logs typically are frosted to look like a log, place a few chocolate leaves on each plate along with the slice of cake. 

Complementary beverage. To keep your guests wide awake to bring in the New Year at midnight, serve coffee along with a coffee liqueur such as Kahlúa.

MIDNIGHT SUPPER

 

FOR TOASTING THE NEW YEAR

Champagne, of course, sprinkled with edible gold flakes (optional) for that touch of elegance.

 

SALAD

Lucky Salad with Champagne Vinaigrette

Money is lucky, right? And money is green. Then, clear as the bells that ring in the New Year, green leaves signify good luck and prosperity because they resemble folded money. 

Preparation. Serve a simple salad of lettuce with a champagne vinaigrette. Use a large leaf of Romaine (to signify BIG money) and fill it with mesclun (to signify lots of money). If you wish to make it more elaborate, you might add round fruits because they, too, are considered good luck. Pomegranate seeds or mandarin orange sections fit the bill and will add great color to the dish. If you use such tart fruits, add a bit of honey to the champagne dressing. To make the salad more hefty, add some blue cheese.

Plating. Use plates that will accommodate the large leaf of Romaine. A large dinner plate could hold the lettuces and a border or partial border of pomegranate seeds and mandarin orange slices.

 

DESSERTS

Bundt Cake

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A sweet to welcome in a sweet New Year. After a heavy meal, make it a light one. A beautiful, glazed bundt cake is perfect and so, too, would be a comely coffee cake.

Preparation. Make or buy an appropriate cake. Our favorite is a bundt cake made with pears, whole cranberries and walnuts.

 

Frosted Grapes with Edible Gold

Very lucky, very gorgeous, very delicious. To bring in the New Year, Spaniards eat twelve grapes (a round fruit), one at each stroke of midnight. Frost them with sugar and sprinkle them with edible gold flakes for a spectacular start to the New Year.

Preparation. Choose large black seedless grapes. Trim off small clusters. Dip the clusters in an egg-white wash. To avoid the risk of salmonella from raw eggs, use pasteurized egg whites from your grocery. Sprinkle them with superfine sugar and place on rack to dry. Then sprinkle on the flakes of gold.

Plating. Show off the bundt cake and grapes on your most beautiful dessert plate. If you wish, you may add two or three chocolate leaves. 

EASY DAZZLE RECIPE GUIDELINES

Cocktail. Plain Champagne (or sparkling wine), if it is a really good one, is as rich and fancy as one can get.

 

Appetizers. Buy the foie gras or mushroom pâté. Add munchies in beautiful bowls.

 

Soup or Salad. Firecracker salad is sufficiently celebratory. However, especially if you will serve salad with midnight supper and prefer a soup for the main meal, substitute for the lobster bisque a wild mushroom soup with saffron that can be made in advance and frozen. Or purchase the lobster bisque or mushroom soup.

 

Main. Skip the grits. Use broccoli rabe or other greens such as asparagus.

 

Desserts. Buy a yule log.

 

Favor. It’s easy to buy some good luck candy or fruit for this favor.

PRESENTS A’PLENTY

Inspiration: December Holidays

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HOST’S INTRODUCTION

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Fill your dinner party with laughter and love for 

HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

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

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

MENU

PRESENTS A’PLENTY

Inspiration: Christmas! Hanukkah! Kwanzaa!

It’s the holiday season, the season for gifts and gifting, feasts and festivities.

 

Cocktail

Champagne

 

Appetizers

Christmas Trees

Ground Lamb with Bethlehem Seasoning

Hanukkah Dreidel

Mushroom Pâté 

Kwanzaa Gift Baskets 

Peppadew Peppers with Peppermint Cream Cheese

 

Soup

Colors of the Season Soup 

Swiss Chard with Crème Fraîche and Pomegranate Seeds

 

Main 

Cadeau de Canard (Fr: Gift of Duck)

Duck Breasts with Fennel-Flavored Cranberry Sauce

Box of Gold

Yukon Gold and Sweet Potatoes

Emerald Sachet

Green Chard Sack Holds Greens, Raisins and Duck Bacon

 

Salad

Pistachio Package 

Radicchio Cup Filled with Mesclun and Pistachio Nuts, Pistachio Vinaigrette

 

Desserts

Christmas Stocking 

Blondie Stuffed with Coconut, Pecans and Candied Fruits

Kwanzaa Gift

Salad of Seven Fruits

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DETAILS OF DAZZLE

 

Invitation. If you can hand deliver, a small gift box that opens with the printed text inside will intrigue and capture the spirit. Otherwise, choose a holiday card featuring presents and tuck the text inside, handwritten or printed. Or use email with images of presents.

Text. Christmas! Hanukkah! Kwanzaa! It’s the holiday season and we’re in the mood for giving. Please do us the honor of your presence for a dinner with presents a’plenty. 

 

Entrance decor. Fill an urn with fragrant pine or holly boughs and place it at the entrance. Hang mistletoe. Place a symbol of one or all of the December holidays (e.g., a Santa Claus, large dreidel or Kwanzaa banner or set of ribbons in red, green and black). Or use a snowman made from 3 white foam balls. Paint black eyes and buttons down the front, use a carrot for a nose and sticks for arms. Luci places beautifully wrapped, fake presents on each of the steps of her staircase at the back of her entrance hall.

 

Greeting guests. Festive dress, of course, and, if appropriate, a big hug and kiss as they pass under the mistletoe. 

 

Souvenir menus. Use colorful paper to print the menu, roll and tie with sparkling ribbon.

 

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

 

Here are some other suggestions for décor related to these holidays.

 

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

 

Colors for each holiday:

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

     Hanukkah:  Blue and white.

     Kwanzaa:  Red, green and black.

 

Symbols for each holiday:  

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

 

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

 

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

 

Table decor. Dress the table as a present. An extremely elegant and seasonal combination is a gold tablecloth “tied” with broad silver ribbon in a snowflake design, the center “bow” a present topper in the shape of a large glittery snowflake, white china on red chargers, white napkin tied with red and gold ribbon, two tall red candles and snowflake confetti. Alternatively, use a beautiful present topper or a box gorgeously wrapped as a present or a showy cornucopia. You may scatter some small boxes clad in glittering paper and festooned with ribbons, or use glittering confetti or snowflakes.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Favor. Cover a box with gorgeous paper meant for Hanukah or make a sachet from shimmery blue cloth, mesh or paper. Fill with Hanukkah gelt (chocolate coins wrapped in gold foil) and a small dreidel. To use for occasions other than the December holidays, change the favor contained in the box and the colors.

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

RECIPE GUIDELINES

With Suggestions for Plating and Complementary Beverages

 

COCKTAIL

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

 

APPETIZERS

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CHRISTMAS TREES

Ground Lamb with Bethlehem Seasoning

Savory Middle Eastern spices and lamb, formed into the shape of a Christmas tree, are particularly appropriate for a dish symbolizing Christmas. Top the “trees” with green apple jelly for color and complementary taste.

Preparation

  1. Make a mixture as you would for a meat loaf. Use ground lamb, whole egg, onion, parsley and spices common to Mediterranean cuisine such as cinnamon, ground cumin and ground coriander. Spread mixture to form a large rectangle about ½ inch thick. 

  2. Using a 2-inch Christmas-tree cookie cutter, cut out lamb trees and place on large baking sheet. If lamb is very lean, lightly oil the baking sheet. Broil for about 3 minutes. Remove from oven and cover each tree with ½ teaspoon of apple jelly. Serve warm.

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

 

HANUKKAH DREIDEL

Mushroom Pâté

A savory mushroom pâté will always be welcome at appetizer time. Form one into the shape of a dreidel. 

Preparation. Use your favorite recipe for a mushroom pâté. We like to combine several mushroom varieties with sweet onion, sour cream or cream cheese, some Parmesan cheese and a bit of lemon juice for a touch of tang. You could use sun-dried tomato strips to form one of the following Hebrew letters:  Nun – נ, Gimmel - ג, He – ה, or Shin – ש. 

Plating. Use a blue platter, if possible.

 

KWANZAA GIFT BASKETS

Peppadew Peppers with Peppermint Cream Cheese

Simple preparation, unusual flavors and stunning presentation make a gift for host and guest alike. From South Africa, peppadew pickled peppers are bite-size, short and squat, looking like little crimson baskets. Fill them with peppermint-flavored cream cheese to complement their unique sweet and spicy flavor.

Preparation

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

  2. For each ½ pound of whipped cream cheese, mix in ¼ teaspoon of peppermint extract and some chopped chives. Stuff each pepper with about 1 teaspoon cream cheese. Cover the top with chopped chives. Insert one long chive strand into the cream cheese at the sides of each “basket” for a “handle.”

Plating. The baskets are red and green. To complete the colors of Kwanzaa, use a black platter, preferably oblong. If you don’t have a black platter, you can cover a platter with black paper, taping the ends underneath. Lightly sponge the paper clean before using. For an absolutely awesome presentation, cut green paper into the shape of the continent of Africa, using a map of the appropriate size from an atlas or the Internet. Distribute the baskets over it.

SOUP

COLORS OF THE SEASON

Swiss Chard Soup with Creme Fraiche and Pomegranate Seeds

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Similar to spinach but with brighter color and taste, green Swiss chard is our choice for this colorful soup.  Top with a dollop of white crème fraîche and a few jewel-like red pomegranate seeds. Brilliant!

Preparation. We make a savory soup base with deep flavor, using roasted garlic, butter, shallots, chicken stock, chopped sage leaves, some white wine and Parmesan cheese rinds. Next, to keep a bright green color, blanch raw, chopped chard leaves for about 30 seconds in boiling water with a bit of vinegar. Run under cold water. Process the chard with the soup base and then simmer for about 5 minutes and no longer or the green color will fade.

Plating. Serve the soup in wide, shallow bowls for the best visual effect. Put a generous tablespoon of crème fraîche in center of soup and top with a few pomegranate seeds.

Complementary beverage. Serve the wine used in the soup.

MAIN

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Imagine being served three delicious, totally gorgeous dishes all dressed up as presents in holiday colors of red, gold and green. Definitely dazzling! Definitely worth the extra work to wrap and tie. But see Plating for instructions. To make the entrée even more stunning, scatter diced red, yellow and green pepper about the plate. 

 

CADEAU DE CANARD (Fr:  Gift of Duck)

Duck Breasts with Fennel-Flavored Cranberry Sauce

The sweet meat of duck will take nicely to the sweet/sour character of cranberry sauce. Hints of licorice from fennel and citrus notes from orange zest and coriander will make the sauce distinctive. It will cover the duck with radiant ruby color; shiny strips of yellow pepper tie it all together. Brilliant!

Preparation

  1. Sauté or roast duck breasts. To make plating the entire main easier you can sauté the breasts about 2 hours in advance without cooking completely, about 5 minutes with skin side down and 3 minutes on the other side. Finish them by roasting in a very hot oven for 6-8 minutes while you are plating the side dishes. 

  2. Prepare a fresh cranberry sauce as usual but with the addition of orange zest, fennel and coriander seeds – about 1 tablespoon of each of these ingredients for 12 ounces fresh cranberries. For garnish, remove some cranberries when only half-cooked and still intact.

  3. For the present ties, lightly sauté strips of yellow pepper. You will need 3 or 4 strips for each duck breast.

 

BOX OF GOLD

Yukon Gold and Sweet Potatoes

This elegant golden box, with tie of chive, owes its striking gold color to the combination of orange and yellow potatoes, its rich taste and silky feel to that triumvirate of fatty deliciousness - cream, butter and cheese. A criss-cross of chive strands topped with a sprig of curly parsley ties it together as a present. 

Preparation. Boil or steam sweet and Yukon Gold potatoes (1:3 by weight). Put through a ricer or mash, adding a generous amount of butter; some heavy cream, sour cream and Gruyère; and a small amount of orange zest. You may prepare to this point a few hours in advance. If so, place in buttered, rectangular baking pan for warming. Follow the plating instructions below for the decoration of chive strands and curly parsley sprig.

 

EMERALD SACHET

Green Chard Sack with Collard Greens, Raisins and Duck Bacon

Smoky bacon greatly enhances the flavor of tough, leafy greens such as collards. Use duck (or turkey) bacon rather than ordinary pork bacon for uncommon flavor and as an ecumenical gesture in accord with Hebrew dietary laws. Gift wrapped in gleaming green chard, this dish is a treasure.

Preparation

  1. Cook collard greens with a good vegetable or chicken stock, cooked bacon pieces, shallots (or onion) and golden raisins that have been sautéed in the bacon fat. 

  2. For the sacks’ ties, cook spaghetti al dente so that the strand will bend but not break. 

  3. You will need two large green chard leaves for each person. Place them in a skillet with water, butter and salt. Gently simmer until leaves just begin to soften. Drain and pat dry. Remove thick part of center vein from each chard leaf, leaving in the upper, thin part of the vein. Overlap the two leaf halves and fill with about 2 tablespoons of the collards mixture. Bring up the sides of the leaf and tie with one spaghetti strand.

Bell Pepper Garnish

Dice and briefly sauté red, yellow and green peppers in butter. The butter adds shine.

Main Plating

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

 

  1. Use a knife to divide the potatoes into rectangles, one for each guest. Carefully lift each rectangle onto one section of the plate. Place the chive strands across and down the rectangle to look like ties for a present. Place a large sprig of curly parsley in the center.

  2. Place the chard sacks on another section of the dinner plate. 

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

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

Complementary beverage

A sparkling red wine will be superb and super festive. Stay away from the sweet ones; choose a sparkling shiraz, sparkling burgundy or a really good Lambrusco. Alternatively, Pinot Noir always works well with duck as do other reds that are not on the heavy side.  

SALAD

PISTACHIO PACKAGE

Radicchio Cup Filled with Mesclun and Pistachio Nuts, Pistachio Vinaigrette

Simple and chic, pistachio oil makes this salad a special treat. So does the presentation.

Preparation

  1. Make a vinaigrette with pistachio oil and white wine vinegar (2:1). 

  2. You will need one large, outside leaf of radicchio for each guest. The rounded shape will form a cup. Fill each cup with mesclun and top with 1 tablespoon of shelled pistachios. Place one head of mâche or 2 criss-crossed strips of green pepper over the pistachios. Just before serving, spoon some vinaigrette over the mesclun in each cup.

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

 

DESSERTS

CHRISTMAS STOCKING

Blondie Stuffed with Coconut, Pecans and Candied Fruits

Do you remember? Christmas morning. You rushed to the living room and there it was – your handsome stocking, hanging from the mantel, stuffed full to the brim with goodies! Bring back those memories with a dessert that looks like a Christmas stocking, is chock full of goodies, tastes like heaven and is guaranteed to call up the delight of a child on Christmas morning.

Preparation

  1. Add to a blondie recipe coconut, pecans and a variety of small, candied fruit pieces. Make a white chocolate ganache, enough to cover the entire blondie. 

  2. Use a stencil to cut the blondie into the shape of a boot with cuff. Spread the ganache over the stocking including the sides. Cover the cuff with edible white glitter. Cover the rest of the boot with edible red glitter. If you wish, you can embellish the boot with additional designs using fondant or colored whipped cream.

Plating. Show off the stocking on a platter that sets off the colors in the stocking. Cut small portions and transfer to small dessert plates.

 

KWANZAA GIFT

Salad of Seven Fruits

To balance the richness of the blondie, serve mixed fruits with a refreshing dressing. You will have a gift perfectly symbolizing Kwanzaa if you select seven fruits that are red, green and black.

Preparation. Red fruits include strawberries, raspberries, watermelon; green ones include green melon, kiwi, avocado; blackberries or black grapes will complete the Kwanzaa colors. A dressing of yogurt combined with honey and lime and/or orange juice should refresh and complement your fruits.

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

Complementary beverage. Fine cognac or brandy will add a final note of warmth and celebration.

EASY DAZZLE RECIPE GUIDELINES

 

Cocktail. No problem.

 

Appetizers. Do one or two. Buy a spiced lamb sausage such as Marguez, cook if it is raw, and form into Christmas trees with a small cookie cutter. Or buy a mushroom pâté and form into a dreidel. Much preparation for the Kwanzaa baskets can be done in advance, preparing the peppadew baskets and the filling. Skip the chive tie. The season suggests a bountiful cocktail table so serve munchies in pretty bowls, whatever is to your taste and that of your guests.

 

Soup or Salad. Salad is simpler and will refresh nicely after the rather heavy dishes that precede it.

 

Main. Skip the emerald sachet of chard.

 

Desserts. Purchase a cake made to look like a present.

 

Favor. The gift of gelt is easy. 

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