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
"Go Green! Dinner"
A Smoking Hot and Cool Entree
"Ice Cream Dinner"
"Gifts from the Garden Dinner"
GRADUATION TO GOURMET
Inspiration: Graduation Day
Childhood Favorites in Cross-Cultural Translation
Graduation, associated with June, suggests a fun theme for the month: food that has been graduated. The idea is to transform the favorite foods of childhood into stylish and sophisticated adult versions: to create look-alikes that are variations on the basic ingredients of kid food. For a theme within the theme, you might choose either to create chic, upscale variations of food American kids love or to craft cross-cultural versions, the route we take in this guide.
Imagine the lucky graduate gifted with a trip around the world. Wherever she goes, she samples the food, eager to explore exotic tastes and unfamiliar ingredients. Much of it she finds both intriguing and deliciously satisfying. As she explores the world of food, she is struck by both the similarities and differences between American and foreign food. For instance, at her very first stop in Korea, she samples barbecued meat. Its distinctive taste is due to soy sauce and other local ingredients, but like our Southern BBQ, the savory marinade is sweet and sour and hot. Indeed, wherever she goes, she finds familiar combinations such as sweet and sour dishes, fruit and nuts combined, and pungent garlic paired with savory and fatty foods.
Thinking that these combinations must have great appeal to the human tongue, she wonders about the favorite foods of childhood. Might they be favorites for good reason – because they employ such basic combinations? If so, then one could “translate” foreign flavors into American kid food.
She wishes her foodie friends were with her to share her experiences. The next best thing, she thinks, is to bring those tastes home. So, upon her return, she prepares a very special, fun dinner for her friends. Each dish uses ingredients and flavorings that characterize one of her stops on the trip and each is based on an American childhood favorite. She makes each dish look like the childhood favorite and keeps the basic combination of foods, but uses the flavors from her travels. To cleverly emphasize the theme, she uses that quintessential kid food, the lollipop, in three ways: as an appetizer to start the dinner, a dessert to end the dinner, and a take-home favor for her guests to enjoy the following day. Her menu items trace her trip, including several stops in Asia, then on to Africa, Europe and a final stop in the Caribbean.
Our graduate loves this theme because it is versatile and layered with meaning. At one level, the idea is just a simple, if playful, take on the notion of graduation. At another level, creating adult versions of kid food smacks of a culinary graduation. The process requires culinary knowledge and experience, the ability to analyze a tasty whole into its essential parts, and sufficient taste imagination to fashion an artful counterpart. At yet another level, the process suggests our graduation from kid to adult. Changed though we are, we see the essentials of our personalities in all stages of life. The changes may reflect knowledge, wisdom and experience, but they are just elaborations of the basic components that define us.
Our graduate wows her guests, not only with the uncommon and uncommonly delicious food, but also by relating to her guests intriguing facts about the food such as that Japanese pickles do not typically use vinegar, that mulligatawny soup means “pepper water” and that it appeared in the famous Seinfeld episode of the Soup Nazi, that ostrich meat is definitely red but low in fat and cholesterol, etc.
All agree that, as host, chef and gourmet, she has graduated
Summa Cum Laude!
Appropriate for: Any celebration for anyone who graduates, is promoted or accomplishes some special project. Or just for fun.
Graduation Table Centerpiece
CHILDHOOD FAVORITES IN CROSS-CULTURAL TRANSLATION
ASIA: Champagne with Ginger Liqueur
KOREA: Sesame Duck
JAPAN: Assorted Japanese pickles
Peanut Butter and Jelly on Ritz Cracker
INDONESIA: Spiced Peanut Sauce with Durian Jelly on Rice Cracker
Cream of Chicken Soup
INDIA: Mulligatawny Soup
Hamburger with Onions, Ketchup and Relish
SOUTH AFRICA: Ostrich Burger with Caramelized Onions, Tamarind Ketchup and Peppadew Peppers
MEDITERRANEAN: Fava Beans
RUSSIA: Cabbage and Onion Salad with Sour Cream and Toasted Caraway
Chocolate Lollipop with Sprinkles
FRANCE: Mini Cream Puffs with Lavender/Thyme Filling and Gold Sprinkles
Canned Fruit Salad in Sugar Syrup
CARIBBEAN: Tropical Fruits with Rum/Ginger Syrup
DETAILS OF DAZZLE
Invitations. Find invitations or cards in a store that will be appropriate for this graduation occasion. If not, embellish your invitation with the image of a mortarboard. The theme of kid-to-adult food should be a surprise, but you will intrigue your guests if you merely allude to graduation.
Text for invitation. Please come to our dinner party in honor of graduation. (If you are feting a graduate, use the graduate’s name.)
Entrance decor. Place a large world globe topped with a mortarboard where guests will see it as they enter. Inexpensive mortarboards are available at party stores as are congratulatory signs for graduates that you can place as appropriate to your home.
Greeting guests. Wear a mortarboard and, if you have one, a robe. Hand a mortarboard to each guest along with a souvenir menu that looks like a diploma.
Souvenir menu. Print the menu on cream-colored card stock, roll and tie it. As you hand it to each guest, congratulate them in grand style.
Room decor. Use your school colors for the color scheme and display school memorabilia such as a yearbook, cups or sweatshirts with the school emblem, etc.
Table decor. The theme lends itself to casual or formal place settings – your choice. For the centerpiece, use icons of graduation: a mortarboard, diploma rolled and tied, or a sign with the year of graduation. To highlight the international theme, a few mementos from around the world or a small globe are possibilities. Alternatively, a centerpiece of flowers with a large congratulatory card will work well.
Mood music. As guests arrive, play the classic graduation piece, "Pomp and Circumstance," by Sir Edward Elgar. Thereafter, you could play school songs or any music of your choice.
Favor. Lollipops, every child’s favorite, but in adult flavors. You can make your own incorporating liqueurs, herbal flavors or combinations such as chili/lime. You will find interesting possibilities for sale on the Internet.
Note for favor. Lollipops are not just for kids.
With Suggestions for Plating and Complementary Beverages
ASIA: CHAMPAGNE COCKTAIL
As early as age five, our graduate loved anything ginger, but especially ginger ale and ginger beer. It sparkled and fizzed and made her taste buds dance. She sees the perfect start for her themed dinner – a Champagne cocktail with ginger liqueur. It’s sophisticated, a good match for the Asian flavors of the appetizers, and guaranteed to sparkle, fizz and stir up her guests’ taste buds.
Preparation. She pours one ounce of ginger liqueur into a Champagne glass and then fills it with Champagne or a sparkling wine.
KOREA: SESAME DUCK
She quickly became addicted when her parents first introduced her to chicken nuggets. Even as an adult, she often made flavorful versions of chicken nuggets for an appetizer. A Korean version intrigued her because, if she used a common flavor combination from Korea - garlic, soy and sesame – it would be quite distinctive from the more familiar flavors of China and Japan. She substitutes duck for chicken for its rich flavor that works so well with the savory Korean flavors and because duck is a popular but special treat in most of Asia.
Preparation. Our graduate marinates nugget-shaped pieces of duck breast for several hours in a combination of a lots of garlic, soy sauce and peanut oil combined with a small amount of sesame oil. Next, she drenches the duck in a batter of flour, egg, soy sauce, sesame oil, grated garlic and then rolls them in toasted sesame seeds before deep frying them. Just for fun, she skewers each nugget on a stick, presenting them to guests as lollipops.
Pickles were a favorite, too. Some made her shiver deliciously as her mouth puckered up; others were sticky with sweetness and still others were pleasantly pungent with garlic or dill. Despite such variety, Japan amazes her with the assortment of pickles served at every meal. The Japanese use a variety of vegetables and pickling agents, including rice vinegar, soy, sake and miso, sometimes combined with salt, sugar or other ingredients.
Preparation. As Japanese pickles are very easy to make, she made some from her favorite vegetables, kohlrabi and celery root. From Asian grocery and online stores, she chose several other pickles to emphasize the variety with contrasts of taste and color.
SPICED PEANUT SAUCE with DURIAN on RICE CRACKER
Peanut Butter and Banana on Ritz Crackers
She absolutely adored eating two things in Indonesia – peanut sauce and durian. She thinks combining them will be appropriately exotic and quite delicious, and like her beloved peanut butter and banana on Ritz crackers - just another example of the appeal of pairing sweet fruit and savory nuts in a preparation that emphasizes contrasts in texture. Crackers add salt and crunch to make the dish irresistible.
Most of her guests were familiar with the spicy Indonesian peanut sauce often served with satays in the U.S. But they were familiar with durian only as the funky fruit banned on Singapore’s subways. Despite such discrimination, its fans are many, typically the same people who thrill to the taste of ripe cheeses. Here is part of the description penned by a famous fan, Alfred Russel Wallace, the co-discoverer with Charles Darwin of natural selection, as he traveled through what we now call Indonesia: He lauds durian: “… as producing a food of the most exquisite flavor; it is unsurpassed.” “A rich butter-like custard highly flavored with almonds gives the best general idea of it, but intermingled with it come wafts of flavor that call to mind cream cheese, onion sauce, brown sherry and other incongruities.”
Preparation. (1) Durian: She obtains fresh durian from a local Asian market, scoops out the flesh and places it in an attractive bowl alongside a bowl of peanut sauce and a plate of rice crackers. She urges her guests to (YES!) smell it. Not to worry, she tells them – probably all durian that arrives in the U.S. mainland is frozen, its odor and taste much diluted, but still intriguingly distinct. She spoons some thick peanut sauce on a rice cracker and tops it with a bit of durian. (2) She finds many recipes for Indonesian/Malaysian peanut sauce. She thinks it is best to make a paste rather than a runny sauce and to keep the number of ingredients to a minimum (freshly ground roasted peanuts, soy sauce, kecap manis (sweet soy) or dark brown sugar, garlic, chili pepper, lime or lemon juice). (3) Had she not been able to get fresh durian, she would have used durian jelly or, if that was not available, nutmeg or guava jelly. Nutmeg jelly, which one can make or buy, is especially appropriate. The Dutch traded Manhattan Island (New Amsterdam) to the British in exchange for a small Indonesian island called Run. Nutmeg, an extremely valuable spice at the time, grew only in the small group of islands that included Run and, with control of Run, the Dutch had, for a while, a monopoly over the nutmeg trade.
Plating the appetizers
Present the three appetizers separately. Place the duck nuggets in a lollipop holder or a thick piece of white styrofoam or floral foam. Arrange the pickles on a small plate and use a pair of chopsticks to place them on each guest’s plate. Use a colorful larger plate to present the rice crackers. For individual appetizer plates, an Asian style with raised edges would be perfect.
INDIA: MULLIGATAWNY SOUP
Cream of Chicken Soup
Chicken soup, especially if Grandma made it, was wonderful, but on special occasions, our graduate’s mother added rich, heavy cream for a luxurious taste and velvety texture. Our graduate could not but think of that soup when she tasted mulligatawny soup in India, spicy and hot but rich with chicken flavor and thick with coconut milk.
Preparation. She finds a million recipes for mulligatawny soup, so decides to indulge her own tastes in choosing one. However, she makes sure that the soup lives up to its Indian name, which means pepper water and that her guests know that it appeared in the famous Seinfeld episode of the Soup Nazi. She includes chicken and coconut milk, of course, but does not use turmeric, found in most recipes for mulligatawny soup, because it would make the “cream of chicken” soup more yellow than it should be to resemble Grandma’s soup.
Plating the soup. Colorful soup bowls would be best. For garnish, a small amount of toasted, unsweetened coconut would look great.
Complementary beverage. Indian beers are light but have plenty of flavor, making them quite a nice accompaniment to the soup.
SOUTH AFRICA: OSTRICH BURGER with CARAMELIZED ONIONS, TAMARIND KETCHUP and PEPPADEW PEPPERS
Hamburger with Onions, Ketchup and Relish
An absolute favorite in all of the Mediterranean, fava beans, just like peas, are green and a member of the legume family, but their taste, our graduate found, is several notches above that of the common pea. At different stops in North Africa and the Middle East, she ate them freshly shelled or dried, roasted and toasted, simmered and stewed, whole, chopped or pounded to paste. Best of all were lightly cooked fresh beans, because their garden-fresh taste and crunchiness reminded her of freshly picked spring peas. For her dinner, she dresses them Mediterranean style.
Preparation. She is glad that she is able to buy fresh fava beans and does not have to use frozen ones. However, not being familiar with fava beans, she checks the Internet to be sure that she buys the proper amount and uses the best technique to remove both shells of the beans. After blanching the beans and removing the inner shell, she sautés them in olive oil flavored with lemon zest and fresh mint.
Plating the entree.
Place the burger so that its center is just above the center of the plate. With the tamarind ketchup, place dots in an arc above the burger. Arrange the beans in an arc below the burger.
She serves South Africa’s signature wine, a pinotage. This earthy red wine is a good match to the burger flavors.
What child has not loved the classic American burger? Indeed, made with good ingredients, it supplies an utterly satisfying blend of umami, fat, salt, sweet and sour and a gratifying mix of textures. Our graduate decides that South Africa offers counterpart ingredients for a version that will fascinate as well as satisfy. Ostrich has a rich, red-meat taste but is low in fat and cholesterol. Caramelizing onions brings out their sweetness while adding a wealth of complex flavors. Tamarind, used in much of Asia and Africa, provides sour notes with earthy tones, perfect for a ketchup counterpart. She knows that tamarind is a major ingredient of Worcestershire Sauce, much loved as a red meat sauce. Pickled peppadew peppers, brilliantly red, supply the sweet and sour components of hamburger relish.
Preparation. She grills the burgers, being careful not to overcook. Ostrich tastes best when rare and can quickly become dry. She caramelizes the onions with a small amount of sugar and a fair amount of thyme. She uses a simple recipe for tamarind ketchup: 2 parts tamarind paste to 3 parts Heinz ketchup to 2 parts sweet soy sauce. She chops the peppadew peppers, and, as a nod to the British influence on South African food, serves the burger on a thick roll of country-style bread.
MEDITERRANEAN: FAVA BEANS
RUSSIA: CABBAGE and ONION SALAD with SOUR CREAM and TOASTED
Our graduate puts to good use the distinctive Northern European flavoring of tangy cultured milk combined with aromatic, pungent, caraway. It seems perfect for a dressing for her old favorite, coleslaw. To highlight the dressing and to emphasize the salad’s Northern European roots, she uses only two vegetables, cabbage and onions. The result is pleasantly crunchy and, despite the calories in the dressing, feels light and refreshing.
Preparation. She chops the cabbage and onion as for coleslaw. She prepares a dressing with sour cream and mayonnaise in equal parts and mixes in toasted caraway seeds and a bit of lemon juice, salt and pepper.
Plating the salad. A colorful bowl or salad plate will contrast with the pale colors of the salad. For a nice touch, place an extra dollop of dressing in the center of the salad and sprinkle some toasted caraway seeds on top.
FRANCE: MINI CREAM PUFFS with LAVENDER/THYME FILLING and GOLD SPRINKLES
Chocolate Lollipop with Sprinkles
France is famous for its luscious desserts and southern France for herbes de Provence. Our graduate imagines the perfect dessert for her theme – an outrageously opulent lollipop showing off French cuisine - a gorgeously decorated tiny cream puff on a stick with a filling fragrant with lavender and thyme to evoke Provence.
Preparation. She makes miniature cream puffs and fills them with pastry cream flavored with lavender and thyme. To make the pastry cream, she infuses each cup of milk (or cream) with about five 3-inch sprigs of thyme and 1 tablespoon of fresh, edible lavender buds (or 1½ teaspoons dried buds). She then coats the cream puffs in semisweet chocolate and, for an utterly opulent touch, sprinkles them with specks of edible gold. She might have used other sprinkles but discovered that edible gold is not very expensive and even comes in shakers for easy decorating. She carefully skewers each cream puff on a stick to suggest a lollipop.
CARIBBEAN: TROPICAL FRUITS with RUM/GINGER SYRUP
Canned Fruit Salad in Sugar Syrup
To wind down from her exciting but exhausting trip, our graduate decides to chill out on the beach of a Caribbean island. There, she delights in the variety of fresh tropical fruits. A far cry, she thinks, from her childhood favorite of canned fruit salad. Still, she remembers the canned fruit as cool and refreshing, its thick syrup satisfyingly sweet, a colorful pick-me-up to end a winter’s meal.
Preparation. So, for an exciting and refreshing end to her dinner party, she prepares a mixture of fresh tropical fruit, some exotic and some familiar. Her trip to a Caribbean market yielded papaya and mango and a selection of less well known fruits including cherimoya and sapodilla. The syrup, she thinks, must be spicy to contrast with the cloying sweetness of the canned syrup, but should have the same mouth feel. A boiled down mixture of dark rum, ginger, sugar and water proved just right.
Plating the desserts.
Serve the two separately. As with the duck nugget appetizer, present the “lollipops” in a lollipop holder or a thick piece of styrofoam or floral foam. A glass or colorful bowl will work for the fruit salad.
Use a coffee or fruit liqueur from a Caribbean country.
EASY DAZZLE RECIPE GUIDELINES
Cocktail. If a ginger liqueur is not easily available, just serve Champagne or a sparkling wine. It is a most appropriate sendoff for a trip around the world.
Appetizers. Internet or Asian grocery stores can supply Japanese pickles and durian or nutmeg jelly and prepared Indonesian peanut sauce for the rice cracker appetizer.
Soup or Salad. You can freeze the soup ahead of time. The salad is simple to prepare. Your preference.
Entree. You can caramelize the onions as much as two days ahead or freeze. A quick substitute for the tamarind ketchup is a mixture of Heinz ketchup and Worcestershire sauce. Use frozen fava beans and dress as described.
Desserts. By far, the melange of tropical fruits is easier to prepare than the creampuffs. Rather than creampuffs, you can purchase tropical-fruit flavored lollipops, some with rum or liqueurs.
Favor. Lollipops as described - make in advance or buy.
SPRING INTO SUMMER
Inspiration: Summer Solstice, around June 21
Good cooks eagerly await the arrival of the fresh foods of late spring and early summer. Your guests will understand why.
Filled with clear air, sunshine and soft warmth, June brings the summer solstice, the longest day of the year. We celebrate the season as a time of blossoming and growth, romance and roses, weddings and honeymoons. For lovers of good food, this time is heaven. The first harvest of young herbs, baby vegetables and sweet berries is in. Tender in the mouth, sweet and gentle in flavor, these first, fresh foods perfectly distill the essence of the summer solstice, the end of spring’s beginnings and the start of summer’s fulfillment.
The menu takes full advantage of the season by featuring baby vegetables and early fruits, each dish highlighting one young herb. To bring out the glory of herbs and deepen your guests’ appreciation of them, serve each guest a sprig of each herb with its dish. Urge them to smell and taste it and compare it to the flavor of the herb in the finished dish. Your guests will love the experience, especially with less familiar herbs such as sorrel, marjoram, chocolate mint and rose geranium. The eleven herbs in the menu provide a range of tastes from the astringent, piney flavor of rosemary to the zippy sourness of sorrel to the sweetness of chocolate mint. Each recipe describes the characteristics of its herb. All will be available at a good farm market or nursery.
In using herbs, cut or chop them just before use. Especially when young, herbs are delicate and lose flavor rapidly. To obtain sprigs for your guests to sample, leave the top portion for the guest’s sprig and strip the remaining leaves from the stem to use in the prepared dish. You can put each set of guest sprigs on a separate dish and pass them or place a sprig on the dish served to each guest.
For this most romantic of months, the conception behind each dish is like that of the ideal marriage, vitality and joy from a union of two distinctive but complementary partners. The herb is not meant to blend with or alter the taste of the main ingredient. Rather, as in pairing wine with cheese, each main ingredient is matched to an herb so that each enhances the taste of the other.
To highlight the character of both the herb and its partner, use very simple preparations. All components should be very fresh, cooking times minimal and the herb added at the end of cooking. In the herbal infusions used for the dessert sauces, the herbs stay in hot liquid for a relatively long period but the cook takes the liquid from the heat the instant the herb is immersed and the herb should be freshly cut just before immersion.
Fresh herbs are so flavorful that many lovers of good food keep pots of herbs indoors for year-round pleasure. With the exception of sorrel, all herbs used in this menu are easily cultivated indoors in a sunny place. If you haven’t one already, start your own indoor herb garden and encourage your guests to do the same by giving them pots of herbs as a favor.
The menu also features honey, in an appetizer, the entrée and dessert, because of its symbolic value and relation to the solstice. For Pagans, the most propitious time to marry was in June, ideally on the day of the summer solstice. Honey symbolized the sweetness of love and marriage. For centuries, the favored drink at weddings was mead, an alcoholic concoction made from fermented honey. After the festivities, happy couples departed on their honeymoon, named for the honey moon, the first full moon in June. That date was said to be the best time to gather honey because, at that time, honey is young and fresh, like new growth and newlyweds.
Like people everywhere in any time, dine on the first fruits of the earth and
CELEBRATE THE SEASON!
Appropriate for: Anytime from late spring to midsummer, when you wish to charm your guests with the best from the farms.
SPRING INTO SUMMER
Celebrating the Solstice and First Harvest
With the summer solstice comes the first harvest of young herbs, baby vegetables and ripe berries. These first fresh foods perfectly distill the essence of the summer solstice, the end of spring’s beginnings and the start of summer’s fulfillment. In celebration, each dish features one early harvest food paired with one spring herb in a simple preparation to make the most of their tender sweetness.
Passion Fruit Juice with Rosemary
Fresh Litchi Wrapped in Prosciutto with Basil Leaf
Baby Beets to Dip in Crème Fraîche with Chives and Sorrel
Triple Crème Cheese on Grilled Baguette with Thyme Honey and Thyme
Baby Garlic and Shallot Soup with Oregano
Grilled Pork Chops with Orange Blossom Honey and Sage
Baby Red-Skinned Potatoes with Marjoram
Sugar Snap Peas with Spring Onion and Mint
Radishes with Sweet Lettuce and Tarragon
Shortcake Two Ways
With Strawberries and Chocolate-Mint Whipped Cream
With Cherries and Rose Geranium/Honey Yogurt
DETAILS OF DAZZLE
Invitation. Buy cards that reflect the season or send an email with images of herbs.
Text for invitation. It’s June. Let’s celebrate with the young, fresh foods of the early harvest that represent the end of spring’s beginnings and the start of summer’s fulfillment.
Entrance decor. A colorful swag of flowers on your door and pots of flowers or ornamental grasses will bring to mind the beauty and promise of the season.
Greeting guests. Inside, place a pot of a fragrant herb such as rosemary or basil. When guests arrive, shake or stroke the leaves for a burst of herbal perfume to grab your guests’ attention and focus them on the evening’s theme. Wear clothes that suggest the season with lightweight, pastel-colored fabrics, perhaps with leaf or flower designs.
Souvenir menus. Print the menu in green on pale yellow paper or card stock. Roll and tie with green ribbon.
Room decor. Move pretty potted plants from other rooms to the living and dining areas. Bud vases with single roses can be placed strategically to occasionally capture a guest’s attention and reinforce the theme.
Table decor. Express the season with informal place settings and pastel colors. Use roses or other flowers lavishly. Remember to choose flowers without a strong fragrance that might interfere with tasting the food. Most commercially grown flowers will qualify. Tie a colorful ribbon around each napkin and affix a small, fresh flower. Set each place with one or more blossoms in water in a small bowl. A sake cup would be ideal, or use a demitasse, liqueur glass or shot glass. Over the rest of the table, scatter more blossoms or petals, little birds or bees or anything that speaks to you of spring and the promise of summer.
Mood music. There are songs for every season and plenty of compositions meant to evoke spring and summer. A set ranging from classical (e.g., "Spring and Summer" from Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons) to show tunes (e.g., "Summertime" from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess; "Summer Lovin’ " from Grease) to popular music ("Roll Out Those Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of Summer" by Nat King Cole; "Summer in the City" by The Lovin’ Spoonfuls; "In the Summertime" by Mungo Jerry) could be interesting or try a set of songs for lovers.
Favor. You will certainly do your guests a favor if you give them small pots of herbs that they can keep indoors at a sunny window. Then, all year round they can snip small amounts to perk up their cooking. Alternatives include a beautifully wrapped chocolate rose or a jar of special honey.
Note for favor: (1) Pot of herb: If you enjoyed the taste of fresh herbs at dinner, you may want to enjoy them year round. These will grow nicely in a sunny window. Enjoy their fragrance whenever you want by brushing or shaking their leaves. To enjoy their taste, clip the tops of the stems, being careful to leave enough leaves below to allow continued growth. (2) Chocolate rose: We hope your evening was as sweet and romantic as this chocolate rose, a symbol of June and love. (3) Jar of honey: We hope you found the evening as sweet as this honey.
Recipes for herbal and floral cocktails are many. Mojitos and mint juleps are especially popular at this time of year. For something exceptional that reprises the desserts, try this. For each cocktail, muddle 4 or 5 rose geranium or mint leaves with 2 sugar cubes or 1/2 ounce of simple syrup and 1 strawberry. Add 3 ounces of gin. Fill glass with crushed ice. Garnish with a sprig of the herb used. Alternatively, put 1 ounce of strawberry liqueur into a glass, fill with a sparkling rosé and garnish with a mint sprig.
BABY BEETS TO DIP IN CRÈME FRAÎCHE WITH SORREL AND CHIVES
Sweet beets and sour sorrel are a winning combination with onion-y chives. Baby beets are sweeter and more delicate in flavor compared to mature beets, with no bitter or woody undertones. Sorrel, sometimes called sour grass, is a rarely used but interesting herb. It has a sour, sprightly taste with added grassy notes that is quite distinct from either lemon or vinegar. If sorrel is not available, replace it with lemon thyme and grated lemon zest.
Preparation. Roast beets. Cut into bitesize pieces. Prepare the dip. We mixed together 4 ounces crème fraîche, 4 teaspoons finely chopped, small, young sorrel leaves, 4 teaspoons chopped chives, salt and pepper. If young leaves are not available, use larger leaves but chop finely and use less.
FRESH LITCHI WRAPPED IN PROSCIUTTO WITH BASIL
Devotees of Asian markets eagerly await the arrival of fresh litchi in May and await even more eagerly the peak season in June. Litchis are quite sweet with floral notes, complexity and sprightliness that are lost when the fruit is canned. The common combination of prosciutto with fruit gets a new twist with fragrant litchi and a hint of licorice and spice from the basil leaf.
Preparation. Peel the litchis and remove the pit. Blot the fruit with a paper towel. Depending on size, use half a litchi or the whole fruit. Wrap a slice of prosciutto around the litchi and a small basil leaf. Secure with a toothpick.
TRIPLE-CRÈME CHEESE ON TOASTED BAGUETTE WITH THYME HONEY AND THYME
Triple-crème cheeses have at least 75% milk fat. Smooth and rich, slightly sweet and meltingly creamy, these cheeses are often paired with sweet fruit for dessert. Here, honey supplies sweetness while the herbal taste of thyme supplies balance.
Preparation. Brush one side of baguette slices with olive oil and very lightly toast under the broiler. Drizzle warm thyme honey over the un-toasted side. Sprinkle a small amount of thyme leaves on top and spread with a thin layer of cheese. Place under broiler briefly, just until cheese begins to melt.
Plating the appetizers
Plate and serve each separately. For each herb, prepare a small plate or glass with its sprigs so they can be passed with its appetizer.
BABY GARLIC AND SHALLOT SOUP WITH OREGANO
Use the youngest garlic and shallots you can find for a sweet, delicate flavor a world removed from that of tough, harsh winter garlic. Oregano adds a distinctly pungent, herbal note complemented by the grassiness of the Sauvignon Blanc. Many recipes for a similar soup roast the garlic and shallots and often incorporate cream.The result is a soup with hearty taste appropriate for winter. This soup is designed for the light, fresh tastes of early harvest. Because this soup is unusual, we provide the details of preparation.
Preparation. Simmer 6 ounces unpeeled garlic cloves in water for about 10 minutes. Sauté 1/2 cup chopped shallots in 3 tablespoons butter. Add 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock, 1 cup of a crisp Sauvignon Blanc, 2 tablespoons fresh oregano leaves and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for 10 minutes. Process until smooth.
Plating the soup. Place soup into bowls and garnish with a dollop of mascarpone topped with a sprig of oregano.
Complementary Beverage. Use the same wine that is in the soup.
GRILLED PORK CHOPS WITH ORANGE-BLOSSOM HONEY AND SAGE
Pungent sage is the perfect foil for sweet honey. Chili peppers provide spark. Make the chops smoky and juicy by grilling. Charcoal is best.
Preparation. Marinate thick pork chops in a fruity olive oil, orange-blossom honey, some white wine vinegar, grated garlic, minced jalapeño peppers and lots of chopped sage leaves. Grill, basting with the marinade.
BABY RED-SKINNED POTATOES WITH MARJORAM
Drizzled with butter and sprinkled with fresh chives, dill or parsley, new potatoes make a classic summer dish. Here, we use marjoram. It resembles its close cousin oregano in appearance, texture and flavor but is a bit sweet and a bit spicy, pairing perfectly with potatoes and butter. Its delicate flavor rapidly dissipates with heat, so add it to the cooked potatoes. The red, white and green of the dish make a colorful combo.
Preparation. Steam whole baby red-skinned potatoes until tender. Cut in half. Pour melted butter over and sprinkle with chopped marjoram leaves and salt. Gently stir to coat. Serve immediately.
SUGAR-SNAP PEAS WITH SPRING ONIONS AND MINT
Fresh peas certainly signal the onset of summer. Their spring-green casings open to reveal a row of miniature orbs colored in summer’s emerald green. Very sweet with impressive crunch, sugar snaps are the jewel in the crown of the pea family. We cannot achieve a better combination for them than the traditional onion and mint. If all ingredients are very fresh and young, the tastes are transporting. If possible, get pea shoots and flowers for a colorful garnish.
Preparation. Bring water to boil over high heat. Add a few drops of vinegar and unzipped sugar-snap peas and boil for 1 minute. Drain peas and plunge into ice water. Sauté spring onions in a generous amount of butter for one minute. Add peas and sauté another minute. Take off heat. Add chopped mint leaves, stir gently and serve.
Place 1 chop on the upper portion of the plate. Top with 2 sprigs of sage. Below, arrange the potatoes and peas to resemble eggs in a nest. Place peas in a hollow circle and fill with potatoes. Lay 2 sprigs of marjoram beside the potatoes near the rim of the plate. Place 1 or 2 mint sprigs to the side of the peas, near the rim. If using pea shoots/flowers, place in the middle of the plate.
Serve a chilled, crisp French rosé. These wines are perfect for summer and their color is delightful.
RADISHES WITH SWEET LETTUCE AND TARRAGON
Radishes usually add a peppery note to salads. When late spring brings radishes with not a hint of harshness, underscore their refined taste by showcasing them in flower-like cups of sweet lettuce. A sprinkling of sprouts adds color and an additional dimension to taste and texture. Fine-tune this culinary composition with tarragon leaves for a note of licorice and with raspberry vinegar for a sweet-sour harmony that hints of summer fruit. An adorable radish mouse accents the dish’s concept. The mouse is not difficult to make but will take a bit of your time so it is optional. You can make them a day ahead and store in plastic in the refrigerator.
Preparation. Tear leaves from Boston, butter or other sweet lettuce. Slice small, young radishes, preferably of different color. Obtain radish or other sprouts and a generous amount of tarragon leaves. Make a raspberry vinaigrette.
To make a radish mouse:
(1) Position each radish so that the root end and root goes upward to suggest the mouse’s tail. Trim the leafy stem at the front of the radish to resemble a mouse’s pointed nose.
(2) For eyes, make 2 small holes with a knife where the eyes would be; insert 2 cloves, stem side in.
(3) Cut a slice, about 1/8-inch thick, from the bottom of the radish. This will stabilize the “mouse” on the plate and serve as “ears.” Cut the slice in half; trim the straight, cut end as needed to get the right size “ears.” Make two small slits with a sharp knife on the top front of the radish where ears would be. Insert the “ears” into the slits, with the white side to the front.
Plating the salad. On each salad plate, make a circle of the lettuce leaves. Scatter the sliced radishes in the center and top with a mound of sprouts. Drizzle the raspberry vinaigrette over. Place a tarragon sprig upright in the middle of the sprouts. If you opted to make the mouse, position it to one side on the dish.
SHORTCAKE TWO WAYS
For a splendid end, serve that staple of June menus, shortcake with fruit. Deliver dazzle and difference with shortcake made in two ways: with two different fruits matched to two different toppings, each involving an infusion of a “dessert” herb. For the shortcake, make or buy good biscuits, or, if you prefer, a sponge cake.
With Strawberries and Chocolate-Mint Whipped Cream
How do you like your strawberries? Popular answers are: “With shortcake and whipped cream.” “With sugar and fresh mint.” “Chocolate-covered.” This is a recipe to satisfy one and all, using cream infused with chocolate mint, a type of spearmint that tastes and smells of chocolate along with its mint taste. The combination is guaranteed to intrigue and delight your guests.
Preparation. Infuse heavy cream with chocolate mint leaves. Drain and press hard on the leaves to release all the liquid. Chill. Mix small whole or large strawberries cut in half in some sugar about an hour ahead of serving. Whip the cream with a small amount of sugar shortly before serving.
With Cherries and Rose Geranium/Honey Yogurt
The combination of honey and yogurt is common in Near Eastern desserts. Here, rose geranium adds interest, flavor and complexity to the honey. Rose geranium is one of many scented geraniums. Of course, it smells like a rose. It is a delightful and rewarding herb that, like other geraniums, takes nicely to indoor living. It produces pretty purple flowers intermittently in spring and summer and even occasionally in the winter. Brush its leaves as you pass by to savor its rich perfume. It’s like having a rose bush in your home.
Preparation. Infuse a flower honey with rose geranium leaves. Drain and press hard on the leaves to extract maximum liquid. Mix with an equal amount of full-fat yogurt. Chill. Cut cherries, preferably Queen Anne, in half, sprinkle with turbinado or light brown sugar. Chill.
Plating the Desserts
On each individual plate, place two biscuit halves. Spoon strawberries and their juice over one biscuit half and top with a generous portion of chocolate-mint whipped cream. Garnish with chocolate-mint sprig. Spoon cherries and their juice over the other biscuit half and top with a generous portion of honey yogurt. Garnish with sprig of rose geranium.
The complex tones of a German, late harvest Reisling (labeled auslese, beerenauslese, or trockenbeerenauslese) will echo the sweet and tart, spicy and floral notes of the desserts. Or, try a tisane, an herbal tea made by infusing an herb (use what appeals to you) in water. Bring water to a boil, immerse a good amount of the herb in the water, take off heat and let steep for about 5 minutes. Serve chilled.
EASY DAZZLE RECIPE GUIDELINES
Cocktail. Put strawberry liqueur and/or a strawberry in a champagne glass. Fill with sparkling rosé.
Appetizers. The easiest, both in terms of obtaining ingredients and assembly, is the baguette with cheese, thyme and honey.
Soup or Salad. Do the salad. It’s quite attractive, has great texture and taste and is simple to plate. The soup is delightful but not your choice if your time is limited. Unlike most soups, this one cannot be prepared a day before or frozen.
Entree. Both sides are easy to do. If you must choose one, make it the sugar snap peas for their brilliant color and great crunch.
Desserts. Choose one of the two.
Favor. Choose one of those suggested.