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.
Prickly Pear Appetizer
"Election Day Dinner"
Grilled Pork Chop with Orange Blossom Honey & Sage
"Spring into Summer Dinner"
Panna Cotta and "Scallops"
"Seafood and Citrus Dinner"
MEXICO’S VICTORY OVER FRANCE
Inspiration: Cinco de Mayo
Can Mexican flavors conquer French cuisine?
Did you know that Cinco de Mayo celebrates a David and Goliath story? In 1861, French forces landed at Veracruz in order to establish an empire in Mexico – for France’s good, of course. On May 5, 1862, the poorly equipped Mexican army, numbering just a bit over half the French forces, defeated the French army at the Battle of Puebla. Subsequently, the French succeeded in their ambition, but only for three years. Thus, Cinco de Mayo celebrates, not Mexican independence, but Mexican pride and the struggle for freedom from an oppressor.
The story suggests an unusual take on a dinner to celebrate the day. Surprise your guests with classic French dishes conquered by Mexican ingredients and flavors. To maximize the fun, make the dishes look as elegantly “French” as possible while using flavoring that is distinctly Mexican. In line with this idea, the menu uses the French names for each dish. For example, a traditional French canapé is a slice of good French bread topped with tarragon butter and poached filet of sole; with Mexican flavors it becomes toasted tortilla topped with a coriander-flavored butter and a whitefish ceviche.
In all other ways, celebrate Mexico and its heritage with bright colors and bold décor so all may savor the taste of
Appropriate for: Besides the 5th of May or dates nearby, whenever you‘d like to celebrate the idea of an underdog’s success.
CINCO DE MAYO
Celebrating Mexico’s Victory over France at Puebla in 1862
Tequila, Lime and Dos Equis
Buerre á l’Estragon avec Filet de Sole
Coriander Butter with White-Fish Ceviche
Mayonnaise avec Concombre et Oeufs
Chipotle-Flavored Mayonnaise with Cucumber, Egg Yolk and Chipotle Sauce
Pâté de Campagne
Sausage and Refried Pinto Beans
SOUPE AUX OIGNONS
Sopa de lima with Mexican Manchego on Tortilla
CANARD À L’ORANGE
Duck with Lemon/Orange/Tabasco Sauce
Potatoes Baked in Butter with Chili
HARICOTS VERTS, BEURRE HERBE
Green Beans with Lime/Coriander Butter
Green Salad with Avocado/Lime Vinaigrette
MOUSSE AU CHOCOLAT
FRAISES À LA CRÈME FOUETTÉE
Strawberries with Tequila Cream
DETAILS OF DAZZLE
Invitation. Prepare your guests for the occasion with an invitation embellished with a Mexican symbol such as a sombrero, mariachis or the Mexican flag. However, do not mention the theme of Mexico conquering France. You will want to keep the element of surprise for the evening festivities.
Text for invitation. Join the fiesta! We’re celebrating Cinco de Mayo.
Entrance décor. Tune your guests in to the theme right away. Inside your door place a replica of the Eiffel tower topped by a Mexican sombrero. Use images from the Internet to draw the outlines on a large piece of poster board. A one-dimensional cutout would be cool and, if you make 4 cutouts glued together for a 3-dimensional figure, spectacular! You will find sombreros in party stores. Top the sombrero with a colorful sign that reads “Vive Méjico.”
Greeting guests. If possible, dress in costume, even if it is just a sombrero.
Once all guests are assembled, introduce the theme by playing the French national anthem, La Marseillaise, that is abruptly cut off after the first few bars by the Mexican national anthem, Himno Nacional Mexicano. Its first line translates: “Mexicans, at the cry of war.” Then, explain the origins of Cinco de Mayo because many are unaware and believe it is about Mexican independence.
Souvenir menu. The menu contrasts elegant script for the French names for the dishes with bold and colorful but unpretentious font for the English description of the Mexican ingredients. Print the above menu on white card stock or, for a more elaborate menu, print the French names in an elegant script on card stock and then cut it into the shape of the Eiffel Tower. Attach on top the English names printed on card stock cut into the shape of a sombrero.
Room décor. In living and dining rooms place whatever Mexican props you have, such as sombreros, maracas, guitar, a piñata, etc. You might feature a replica of the French flag partially covered by one of the Mexican flag.
Table décor. Your table will playfully back up the theme when it, too, contrasts the elegant with the unpretentious. Dress it with your most elegant linens, flatware and glasses along with colorful earthenware plates such as Fiestaware. To emphasize the theme, use a plate of your best china topped by a colorful stoneware soup bowl.
Mood music. As suggested above, start the evening by playing the French national anthem, La Marseillaise cut off after the first few bars by the Mexican national anthem, Himno Nacional Mexicano. After, switch to a mix of French and Mexican ballads. Underscore the theme by playing the French music quietly, the Mexican more forcefully. Bid guests adieu while playing “Adios muchachos,” which translates as “Goodbye, guys.”
Favor. Reprise the desserts by baking small creampuffs filled with custard flavored with Tequila Cream. More simply, give each guest a chili chocolate bar wrapped elegantly with lace ribbon.
Note for favor. Enjoy along with thoughts of appreciation for the struggle for freedom.
With suggestions for plating and complementary beverages
The French often begin a special evening with a glass of champagne mixed with a cordial.
Preparation. Into a champagne glass pour about 1 ounce tequila and ½ ounce fresh lime juice. For some fizz, fill with a light colored Mexican beer such as Dos Equis.
Canapes are the classic French appetizer. Typically, along with a champagne cocktail, a French restaurant presents an assortment of beautiful canapes. Thin slices of day-old bread are cut into small geometric forms and covered with savory spreads, often flavored butters or mayonnaise. Next is a topping with another element finished with a decorative garnish. For the canapes here, use toasted tortillas for the bread.
BUERRE á L’ESTRAGON avec FILET de SOLE
Tarragon Butter with Fillet of Sole
Preparation. Mix butter with chopped coriander and a small amount of finely chopped green chilis. Spread on a rectangular toasted tortilla. Top with a spicy white fish ceviche. Garnish with a sprig of coriander.
MAYONNAISE avec CONCOMBRE et OEUFS
Mayonnaise with Cucumber and Egg
Preparation. Spread a chipotle-flavored mayonnaise on a round toasted tortilla. Top with a slice of cucumber and garnish with chopped egg yolk mixed with a bit of chipotle sauce.
PÂTÉ de CAMPAGNE
Preparation. Mix finely chopped, fried, bulk sausage meat and refried pinto beans. Cut toasted tortillas into diamond shapes, top with the sausage/bean mixture. Garnish with roasted red pepper in very thin strips.
Plating the appetizers
Assemble an awesome array of these beautiful appetizers. In the French way, present all three, artfully arranged, on one tray.
SOUPE À L’OIGNON
All your guests know about French onion soup.
Preparation. Use a recipe for Sopa de Lima, a classic soup of the Yucatan with a distinct lime flavor that is topped with strips of toasted tortilla. To resemble the onion in the French soup, make the strips very thin. Sopa de Lima often includes strips of chicken and pork, but they are optional. Add a crouton of toasted tortilla covered with a melted cheese such as Mexican manchego.
Plating the soup. As onion soup is a humble country French dish, earthenware is appropriate whether served in France or on this occasion.
Complementary beverage. Serve either a light Mexican beer or a glass of water flavored with lime.
CANARD À L’ORANGE
Duck with orange sauce
A classic French dish which lends itself quite well to Mexican flavors. Duck is especially appropriate because it is a common and native game bird to Mexico.
Preparation. Ready a whole duck or duck breasts for roasting, using cumin, oregano, garlic, salt and pepper for seasoning. Make a sauce to coat the duck, flavoring it with lemon, orange, Tabasco sauce, toasted cumin, oregano, garlic, salt and pepper.
Potatoes baked in butter
Pommes Anna is a delightful accompaniment to rich meats. Spice the dish up a bit and it will be the perfect compañero to the duck.
Preparation. To the butter in a recipe for this dish add a moderate amount of a chili powder, just enough to add a bit of flavor and zing.
HARICOTS VERTS, BEURRE HERBE
Green beans with herb butter
The French rightly treasure these thin, sweet green beans.
Preparation. Make an herb butter with fresh coriander and a touch of lime juice. Pour over steamed haricots verts.
Plating the entrée
Decorate the perimeter of the dinner plate with dots of the sauce used to glaze the duck. Place the green beans centrally so they contrast with the dark colors of the duck and potato.
Mexican beer served in an elegant, footed wine glass is a good fit. If you prefer wine, try to find a red wine from Mexico (there are a few) or use one from Chile or Argentina.
SALADE VERTE (Green salad)
In some parts of France, as in much of Italy, a light green salad is served at this point in the meal. It makes a refreshing break between the substantial entrée and the rich desserts.
Preparation. Top plates of curly endive (frisée) with a vinaigrette of avocado oil, garlic and fresh lime juice.
Plating the salad. What could be more fun and theme-related if you can serve the salad in the old-style “Marie Antoinette” wide-diameter champagne glasses? Other footed glasses such as a Martini glass will also do the trick.
MOUSSE AU CHOCOLAT
How very French to end the evening with chocolate mousse. Given the popularity of chocolate fired up with chili, the suggestion below is a no brainer.
Preparation. Make your favorite chocolate mousse with a chocolate chili. Lindt’s Excellence Chili Bar is a good choice. Garnish the chocolate mousse with whole chili peppers, fresh or dried.
FRAISES À LA CRÈME FOUETTÉE (Strawberries with whipped cream)
Strawberries and whipped cream, sometimes flavored with a liqueur, is as popular in France as it is here.
Preparation. Flavor whipped cream with Tequila Cream, a Mexican liqueur. It’s available at Amazon.com if your liquor store does not carry it. Your guests will appreciate a glass of this interesting liqueur. Alternatively, add Kahlua, a Mexican coffee liqueur to the strawberries and top with whipped cream.
Plating the desserts
Serve separately in your most elegant crystal or china.
The liqueur you used for the strawberry dessert, Tequila Cream or Kahlua.
EASY DAZZLE RECIPE GUIDELINES
Cocktail. The “champagne” cocktail is easy enough to make but even simpler would be a Mexican beer presented in a champagne glass.
Appetizers. The first two above are easy to make. They involve only mixing and chopping a few ingredients.
Soup or Salad. The salad is much simpler.
Entrée. Of the two sides, the green beans will be a breeze to make.
Desserts. Strawberries topped with Kahlua and whipped cream - easy as pie.
Favor. In advance, wrap a chocolate-chili bar with lace or elegant ribbon.
CELEBRATING THE ARMED FORCES OF THE U.S.A.
Inspiration: Memorial Day
Make Memorial Day Memorable with MRE, aka Military Rations Extraordinaire
Memorial Day – commemoration or celebration? Armed Services Day, also in May – to honor those who serve, but how? Especially on Memorial Day, we have an obligation to pay homage to those who lost their lives in the service of their country. And yet, this three-day weekend holiday is situated as Spring ends and Summer begins, the time of year when growth and new life buoy our spirits. It’s no surprise that the season calls us to the beach, the ballpark and the backyard barbecue.
Commemorate or celebrate? This dinner resolves the dilemma with a menu of MRE, not Meals Ready to Eat but Military Rations Extraordinaire. It honors the armed forces and, at the same time, is entertaining, delicious and distinctive. The different courses represent the different armed services. Each dish within each course is constructed to characterize, in appearance and culinary composition, the mission of the armed service designated in that course.
Sailors sardonically term the ocean the “drink,” so we symbolize the Navy in the liquid courses, a Torpedo cocktail and navy bean soup. The Marines’ Hymn says they are the “first to fight for right and freedom,” so the appetizers belong to the Marine Corps. They reflect the Marine’s spirit with robust tastes and attention-grabbing forms in dishes designed to echo their famous exploits. The main course belongs to the Army for its fundamental role in combat. It’s the brawny Army that supplies the “meat and potatoes” of warfare.
The next course, salad, often does not receive the attention it deserves, much as the Coast Guard seems a minor player to domestic security. Yet the Coast Guard is as critical a guardian of our shores as salad is a guardian of our health. The last course, dessert, goes to the last branch of the military to be established, the Air Force. The Air Force has an aura of glamour and excitement, as does the blueberry pie in a sky of whipped cream clouds through which soars a chocolate wing.
The favor, a scrumptious cookie decorated with the peace symbol expresses the ultimate aim of our armed services.
Appropriate for: Any date from the middle of May (Armed Forces Day is the third Saturday in May) to Memorial Day at month’s end, or any occasion that honors a member of the armed services.
CELEBRATING THE ARMED FORCES OF THE U.S.A.
Featuring MRE aka MILITARY RATIONS EXTRAORDINAIRE
Up Periscope! FIRE!
Halls of Montezuma
(Refried Beans with Nachos)
Shores of Tripoli
(Pasta Shells Stuffed with Feta, Apricot and Mint)
In the Air, On Land, and Sea
(Roast Duck, Snap Pea and Scallop Kabob)
(Navy Bean Soup)
Johnny Comes Marching Home
(Beef Medallions with Mushrooms)
(Gratin of Potatoes and Greens)
(Cucumber and Herbs in Endive Leaf)
Off We Go
(Bittersweet Chocolate Wing)
Wild Blue Yonder
DETAILS OF DAZZLE
Invitation. If using regular mail, buy cards for Memorial Day. If using email, incorporate an image for Memorial Day or emblems for the Armed Forces.
Text for invitation. We wish to enlist you in a dinner celebrating the Armed Forces of the U.S.A.
Entrance décor. If you have a flagpole, fly a flag. If it is Memorial Day or that weekend, fly it at half mast. On the door, place patriotic swags, available at party stores.
Greeting guests. Dress patriotically. Play patriotic marching songs. When all guests are assembled, you might ask them to pledge allegiance.
Souvenir menu. Print the menu on white card stock, adding the logo or an emblem for each of the Armed Forces at the top. For an extra special touch, make it resemble a flag. Print it landscape style and glue a bamboo skewer to the left back.
Room décor. Display mementoes from servicemen or the wars they fought and other patriotic memorabilia.
Table décor. Red, white and blue, of course. A centerpiece of the VFW’s flower of remembrance, a bowl of red poppies, will be perfect. We found a tablecloth covered with American flags - a super patriotic touch.
Mood music. Hit the perfect note by playing the official song for each of the armed services as you serve its course. In between, play a mix of rousing marches and melodic patriotic songs.
Favor. Prepare cookies displaying the peace symbol. Cover large, flat cookies with red and/or blue icing or sprinkles. On top, make a white peace sign of frosting. Place three or four cookies in the center of a navy blue napkin or tissue paper cut to the size of a dinner napkin. Tie with red, white and blue ribbons.
Note for favor: Enjoy the sweet taste of peace. These cookies, iced with a peace sign, represent the ultimate goal of the Armed Services, peace.
Up Periscope! FIRE!
A Torpedo cocktail makes an explosive start. The classic Torpedo uses equal parts of rum, cognac, vodka and white crème de menthe. Turn the cocktail Navy blue by using Blue Curacao in place of the crème de menthe. The drink is, indeed, a torpedo so you may want to defuse it a bit with seltzer water.
The three appetizers well represent the Marines’ calling as given in The Marine’s Hymn. The Marines are the first “to fight for right and freedom” on “land and sea and air.”
HALLS OF MONTEZUMA
Pinto Bean Paté
The Marine’s Hymn starts, “From the halls of Montezuma,” referring to the Marine assault on Chapultepec Castle in Mexico City during the Mexican-American war in 1847. The dramatic culinary portrayal of this land engagement: pinto beans with Mexican flavors shaped like an Aztec temple.
Preparation. Process cooked pinto beans with flavoring ingredients to give them heft: sauteéd onion, garlic, green pepper, chili pepper, bacon and a bit of vinegar. Make the paté look like an Aztec temple. The main features are simple to make: a 3- or 4-tier pyramid with a staircase in the middle. For the staircase, draw the outline of the sides with a blunt edge, then use a thin knife to make lines for the steps. Serve with tortilla chips.
THE SHORES OF TRIPOLI
Pasta Shells Stuffed with Feta, Apricots and Mint
The Marine’s Hymn honors the sea battles in the Barbary War (1801-1805) against the pirates of the North African Barbary States, which included Tripoli, now the capital of Libya. The Marines surely found the shores of Tripoli strewn with shells so an apt portrayal would be pasta shells filled with a distinctly North African/Mediterranean mixture.
Preparation. Fill chewy pasta shells with a soft filling for texture contrast. Cheese is always a suitable companion to pasta; choose a distinctly Mediterranean one such as feta. Thin it with yogurt, lemon zest and a touch of grated garlic. The combination will deliver four of the five basic tastes: saltiness, fatty goodness, umami and sour. Add the fifth taste, sweet, with the iconic fruit of the area, apricot. Mint, so crucial to Mediterranean cuisine, will charge up the dish with brightness to ensure gastronomic victory.
IN THE AIR, ON LAND, AND SEA
Roast Duck, Snow Pea and Scallop Kabob
Plating the appetizers
Present the three on separate platters. For symbolic and visual appeal, use a dark one for the pinto bean paté, a sand-colored one for the shells and a blue one for the kabobs.
“We fight our country’s battles in the air, on land, and sea,” says The Marines’ Hymn. The culinary rendering: a creative kabob of duck (active in the air, on land and sea), snow peas (from the land) and scallops (of the sea). Guests will be gung ho!
Preparation. Cut duck breast, smoked or roasted, into 1 x 1/2 inch pieces. Briefly steam unzipped snow peas. Sauté scallops. Skewer the three on frilly toothpicks.
Navy Bean Soup
Aptly, the soup is navy bean, but with flavors as intriguing as a sailor’s voyage to the Far East. For emphasis and fun, top the soup with a few goldfish crackers. Taste is, of course, a serious matter. Ham is traditional in bean soups for the richness it imparts. Make it exceptional, with a nod to the Navy’s importance to our interests in the East, by adding Asian spices.
Preparation. Prepare a navy bean soup with ham, adding spices such as anise, clove and coriander seeds.
Plating the soup. Spoon soup into wide bowls, blue if possible. Float two or three goldfish crackers on top.
Complementary Beverage. A glass of Chinese beer such as Tsingtao is a good fit for the soup’s flavors. Alternatively, a Sauvignon Blanc or other dry white wine will be fine.
JOHNNY COMES MARCHING HOME
Beef Medallions with Mushrooms
You’re not in the army now! No hash here with tender medallions made rich and savory with butter, herbs and wine. Worthy of a medal!
Preparation. For a succulent, sumptuous beef tenderloin, marinate it for a few hours with butter, garlic and herbs. Baste it while roasting with a mixture of red wine and butter. Prepare a rich mushroom sauce.
Plating the entree
Slice roast into medallions, about ½-inch thick, two for each person. Invert a gratin dish over the dinner plate, its center somewhat above the plate’s center. Remove the gratin dish. Place the two medallions below the camouflage gratin, overlapping each other. Spoon the mushroom sauce over the medallions.
Suggest the character and strength of the ordinary foot soldier with medallions, to represent medals, of a fine beef tenderloin, sauced with earthy mushrooms. Heftily flavored potatoes and greens resemble a soldier’s camouflage uniform.
Gratin of Potatoes and Greens
A full-bodied, muscular Cabernet Sauvignon suits the richness of this course.
Shaped like a Coast Guard cutter, the salad’s appearance is arresting, its taste refreshing, and its ingredients healthfully satisfying.
Cucumber and Daikon Radish Salad
As light and refreshing as an ocean breeze, the salad simulates a Coast Guard cutter, complete with Coast Guard stripes and a life preserver at the boat’s stern. The salad itself is easy to make; preparing the boat parts takes a little time, but is easy and can be done in advance. Assembling the salad just before serving will also take a few minutes, giving your guests a pleasant break to chat and relax. When you present the completed cutters, expect waves of raves.
Preparation. Coast guard ships are white, have a cabin midship and display a broad red stripe and a narrow blue stripe toward the bow (front). (1) For each cutter, select a medium-size cucumber, ideally one with a slight concave form to resemble the bow of a ship. Peel and cut in half. So the cutter will stand on its own, cut a thin slice from the bottom. (2) You can use this slice to make the stripes, soaking them in red and blue food coloring. (3) Scoop out most of the seeds and flesh. Grate cucumber, daikon radish and pecorino cheese. Mix with sour cream and fill the cucumbers. (4) Hard boil eggs, cut in half, scoop out the yolk and fill with the same mixture. Invert the egg half and place in the center of the cutter for the cabin. (5) Add a thin slice of daikon to serve as an antenna. (6) Position the red and blue strips on one side of the cutter just forward of the cabin. If they do not hold use a small bit of flour on the back as glue. (7) If you like, add a “life preserver” toward the stern. Cut a thin slice from a roasted red pepper and form a circle.
The flyboys of the Air Force strike a pose of excitement and enchantment. In your guests’ eyes, you’ll fly high with a chocolate wing soaring through a silky, creamy concoction of blueberry pie in a sky of whipped cream clouds.
OFF WE GO…
These little wings will make spirits soar straight into the wild blue yonder.
Preparation. Cover a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Melt a good chocolate - your choice, bittersweet or milk. With a teaspoon, drizzle the melted chocolate onto the paper in the shape of a wide “V” to represent airplane wings. Refrigerate until use. Or, order chocolate airplanes from the Internet. They are surprisingly inexpensive.
WILD BLUE YONDER
Blueberry Cream “Pie”
Earth, sky and clouds – the domain of the Air Force is represented by a circle of crunchy crust topped with a zesty blueberry cream covered with white whipped cream. The dessert melds two summer favorites, berry pie and berries with cream.
Preparation. Make or buy individual, flaky dessert cups. Fill with a blueberry pie filling mixed with cream cheese and a touch of lemon for zestiness. Prepare whipped cream flavored with amaretto. Spoon over the pie to resemble clouds.
Plating the desserts
Place the blueberry cream pie on a dessert plate. Position the chocolate wings on the top.
A brawny American brandy will provide the right stuff.
EASY DAZZLE RECIPE GUIDELINES
Cocktail. A simple substitute is Blue Curacao on the rocks or combined with sparkling wine or seltzer.
Appetizers. The pinto bean paté can be made a day ahead. Even simpler, or as a second appetizer, purchase a duck or goose paté to serve with a crusty bread. It will be a delicious representative for the Marines because, as Marines operate on land, sea and air, so do ducks and geese.
Soup or Salad. The soup can be made well in advance and frozen. The salad may be preferable because it will refresh, being lighter than the rest of the meal. Make the cutter and filling separately, a day ahead, refrigerate and assemble just before serving.
Entrée. The beef filet with your favorite potatoes is a simple representation for the Army.
Dessert. The components of the blueberry cream pie can all be purchased, and so can chocolate airplanes.
Favor. Buy large, flat cookies. Cover with red and blue sprinkles. Mix whipped cream cheese with powdered sugar and pipe a peace sign on top. Or simply make a peace sign with drizzled melted chocolate on top of the cookies.