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.
"A Lace Curtain Affair Dinner"
Blackened Chicken, Grilled Veggies, Saffron Rice
"The Ice Cream Dinner"
"Gifts from the Garden Dinner"
NOVEMBER - THANKSGIVING TRANSFORMED
Inspiration: Tired of turkey?
The bird is no turkey; the stuffing is elsewhere. Your guests will be thankful.
Tired of turkey? Time for change from the conventional? This menu suits; it tweaks and twirls the traditional Thanksgiving dinner. With uncommonly interesting dishes that emphasize seasonal foods and warm, hearty flavors, it’s right for the season.
The traditional turkey is replaced with goose, a bird that too many Americans have never tasted. However, many have grandparents with fond memories of this flavorful fowl. In much of Europe, goose was and is common on fall and winter holiday menus. Roast goose is also a treasured treat in China and other parts of the East.
Geese fatten up as the weather turns cold, making their roasted flesh utterly and unctuously luscious. The downside - any stuffing becomes unpleasantly saturated with the fat released in cooking. So, lest your guests feel cheated of a main component of the holiday turkey, stuff EVERYTHING else on the menu and let them know it. Your guests will be amused and intrigued by dishes with surprise ingredients, from an appetizer of pastry shells stuffed with Sambuca-sauced scallops to a chocolate dessert with sage and chestnut filling.
Get ready for your guests and
Appropriate for: Any time from September through December or even beyond.
The bird is no turkey and the stuffing is elsewhere.
Pastry Shells Stuffed with Sambuca-Sauced Scallops
Bacon Stuffed with Maple-Caramelized Pear
Grapes Stuffed with Goat Cheese
Pumpkins Stuffed with Mushroom and Shallot Soup
Goose with Cumberland Sauce
Acorn Squash Rings Stuffed with Broccoli Rabe
Stuffed Baked Onions
Radicchio Cups Stuffed with Frisee and Almonds in Cinnamon Vinaigrette
Baked Pears with Pecan Stuffing
Chocolate Balls with Chestnut/Sage Stuffing
DETAILS OF DAZZLE
Invitation. Find some amusing cards or email stationery for Thanksgiving Day.
Text for invitation. Come join us for a Thanksgiving dinner where we’ll talk turkey but eat something else.
Entrance decor. To get your guests giggling and set for surprise, show a sign at your entrance with a picture of a turkey followed by “THE TURKEY HAS BEEN PARDONED.” Close by, place a large bowl filled with colorful gourds or a vase filled with cattails.
Greeting guests. Dress in fall colors. Of course, a Pilgrim costume would be entirely entertaining. Wish them “Happy Thanksgiving” and hand them the Wild Turkey bourbon cocktail while informing them that this is as close as they are going to get to turkey tonight.
Souvenir menus. Make the menu “stuffed” by using a book-style design. Construct the cover by folding a sturdy brown paper in half. Print the menu on a different paper in a bright color such as orange. Glue it to the inside of the cover. Decorate the front cover with a few sprigs of wheat and fall-motif ribbon. Tie the wheat stems with the ribbon and attach to the cover or glue a strip of ribbon across the cover and attach the wheat stems to it.
Room decor. Use any and everything symbolizing Thanksgiving and the fall harvest. We are especially fond of sticking colorful plastic fall leaves to dining room windows in a pattern simulating leaves falling from a tree on a windy day.
Table decor. Use earthenware and linens that look home spun in fall colors. One large rattan cornucopia makes a perfect centerpiece. Fill it to overflowing with acorns, chestnuts, a bunch of fresh sage or rosemary, some fruits such as Lady apples and persimmons, mini pumpkins, and sprigs of wheat. You may wish to scatter some fall confetti or use small candles in pumpkin or turkey shapes.
Mood music. The traditional “Over the Meadow and Through the Woods” always sets the right mood. Other works that suggest fall or the harvest such as “Harvest Moon” will be welcome but add current pop music if that suits your guests.
Favor. The perfect favor is a small rattan cornucopia filled with goodies of your choice. Put each into a small carry-home bag in a fall color.
Note for favor. With thanks for joining us tonight, this cornucopia is our wish for an abundance of goodness in your future.
With suggestions for plating and complementary beverages
WILD TURKEY COCKTAIL
So your guests will have SOME turkey, make your cocktail with Wild Turkey bourbon. Use it with eggnog or any bourbon-based drink such as a Manhattan or Old-Fashioned.
PASTRY SHELLS STUFFED WITH SAMBUCA-SAUCED SCALLOPS
Sauce Béarnaise, with its lovely licorice-like flavor, is always a delight. Although characteristically paired with filet mignon, it is equally delicious with shellfish.
Preparation. Tweak a recipe for Sauce Béarnaise by replacing tarragon with fennel and white wine vinegar with Sambuca and Dijon mustard. Sauté sweet scallops (bay scallops would be superb), cut them into small pieces, mix with the sauce and stuff into flaky pastry shells. Heat. Just before serving, sprinkle a few fennel fronds on top. Superb!
Plating. Mound fennel fronds in the middle of a plate, beige or brown if possible, and arrange the pastry shells around them.
BACON STUFFED WITH MAPLE-CARAMELIZED PEARS
Here is a variant of the classic theme of pork and fruit that is warm, sweet and savory, just right for a cold November day.
Preparation. Sauté small chunks of pear in butter for about 5 minutes. Add maple syrup and cook over medium-high heat until pears are caramelized. Cook bacon slices slowly over low heat until well browned but not crisp. Blot bacon, wrap around pears and secure with toothpick. Drizzle some more maple syrup over the bacon and warm in oven.
Plating. Place three seckel pears in the center of a light-colored plate and surround them with the bacon/pear pieces.
GRAPES STUFFED WITH GOAT CHEESE
These lovely little purple and white morsels explode in the mouth with textural and flavor contrasts. As you bite into the firm, sweet grape, it yields to the soft, tart cheese. A cool combination that’s a breeze to make.
Preparation. Use large, seedless, purple or black grapes. Slice them with a sharp, thin knife almost in half, leaving the bottom intact so that the two sides will not completely separate. Gently spread the two halves apart. Put a small amount of goat cheese in the opening. A small knife does the job better than a spoon. Gently squeeze together so that a band of white cheese shows between the two grape halves.
Plating. Border a bunch of grapes with the stuffed grapes. A plate in a light color or green will contrast nicely with the grapes.
PUMPKINS STUFFED WITH MUSHROOM AND SHALLOT SOUP
As stunning a soup presentation as you will ever see! The soup is the stuffing for bright orange sugar pumpkins with stems painted gold. It’s the same presentation we used for the Halloween dinner. The ingredients of this soup suit quite well the late fall season.
Preparation. Recipes for mushroom/shallot soups are often heavy with cream and light on shallots. Given the richness of this dinner we prefer a lighter soup made with lots of shallots, thyme, sautéed mushrooms, chicken stock and white wine. The soup fills the mouth with flavor but does not weigh down the stomach. The better the mushrooms, the better the flavor. A variety of wild and common mushrooms is best.
For the pumpkin bowls: Select small sugar pumpkins of about the same size. Scrub them thoroughly. With a clean saw or heavy knife, slice off the top, about 1/3 of the way. Scrape out seeds and fiber, but leave the flesh. Paint the stems with gold paint, at least 2 days in advance to allow the paint odor to dissipate. Be sure to keep track of which top belongs to which pumpkin by numbering the pairs with washable markers. Keep cool until ready to use.
Plating the soup. If you haven’t the time to prepare the pumpkins but still wish some stuffing, top the soup with a mushroom cap stuffed with sour cream.
Complementary beverage. Serve the wine used in the soup.
GOOSE WITH CUCUMBERLAND SAUCE
Don’t be afraid to try goose, even if you have never prepared it before and even if you have heard complaints (gamey taste, fatty, tough) about it. Farm-raised goose is not at all gamey in flavor, but sweet, rich and not fatty or tough if prepared properly. They are available in specialty meat markets and farm markets. Many prefer freshly slaughtered birds from a local farm but frozen birds are fine and may be more tender.
Preparation. Follow cooking instructions for roast goose. Do not overcook; goose is best on the rare side. Place a halved onion, two quarters of an orange and a few slices of ginger in the cavity. Cumberland sauce, piquant with red currant jelly, is a time-honored accompaniment for game that is delicious with pork or roast chicken as well. It is easy to make, can be made several days in advance and freezes well. Use a standard recipe.
ACORN SQUASH RINGS STUFFED WITH BROCCOLI RABE
Very pretty and full of contrasts, a ring of bright orange squash surrounds a mound of green broccoli rabe. The squash is soft and sweet; the rabe delivers crunch and punch with a bit of heat and a blend of bitter, sour and salty tastes. A garnish will garner extra praise so top it off with a thin slice of sautéed carrot. Leave it round or cut into a star or diamond shape.
Preparation. Cut acorn squash into rings about ¾ inch thick. Remove seeds. Season, brush with butter and bake in buttered pan for about 25 minutes. Sauté chopped broccoli rabe in olive oil with garlic, a small amount of red wine vinegar, red pepper flakes and salt. Stuff the squash with the broccoli rabe. Top with the carrot slice.
STUFFED BAKED ONIONS
Here is the place for a classic turkey stuffing such as bread cubes with sausage. Or make an opulent, creamy, cheesy, risotto-like rice mixture. Whichever, the onions will be soft and fragrant when finished in a wine and broth bath.
Preparation. To prepare the onions, peel and carefully trim root ends so that the onions can sit upright. From top, cut out core of onion, leaving an intact shell of at least three layers. Reserve the cuttings. Place cored onions in boiling water for 15 minutes. Drain. Prepare a stuffing mixture. Stuff the onions and place in baking dish. Drizzle with melted butter. Pour in a mixture of half broth and half white wine to cover the onions 1/3 of the way up. Bake uncovered in 375°F oven for about 1½ hours. Drizzle with pan juices and sprinkle the top with some chopped parsley.
Plating the main
Place the portion of goose at one corner of the plate and top with some Cumberland sauce by making lines of sauce below the goose. Place the squash and onion to the side. Decorate the plate with dots of Cumberland sauce and serve additional Cumberland sauce in a bowl.
The goose and Cumberland sauce provide sweet and savory flavors with a touch of tang. A medium-bodied red will match well. Try a Rhone.
RADICCHIO CUPS STUFFED WITH FRISEE and TOASTED ALMONDS, CINNAMON VINAIGRETTE
Frilly frisee is a favorite in salads for its crisp texture, bitter taste and lovely looks. It will be even more beautiful when ensconced in a cup of red radicchio. Cinnamon and nuts will add pizzazz and crunch.
Preparation. The large outer leaves of a head of radicchio have a perfect cup shape. Fill each leaf with a mixture of frisée (curly endive) and toasted almond slices. Drizzle with a vinaigrette of almond oil, white wine vinegar, salt, pepper and a pinch of cinnamon.
Plating the salad. Place each cup off center of a small plate. Sprinkle a few toasted almond slices in the empty space.
BAKED PEARS WITH PECAN STUFFING
An elegant, luscious fruit dessert is always welcome at a fall dinner. Pear halves with caramelized edges and a rich nut filling topped off with whipped cream makes a picture-perfect, delectable finale to your fall feast.
Preparation. Mix together melted butter, pear nectar and water: 1 tablespoon butter to ½ cup nectar to ½ cup water. Make enough to fill a baking dish to a height of about ½ inch. Peel, halve and scoop out the core of Bosc pears. Place cut side down in baking dish and pour mixture over pears. Bake in 400°F oven, basting occasionally, until the edges are caramelized, 30-60 minutes, depending on size and ripeness. Turn once. When done, fill the hollow of each half with chopped, candied pecans. Serve warm along with sweetened whipped cream, flavored with Pear William brandy if desired.
CHOCOLATE BALLS WITH CHESTNUT/SAGE STUFFING
Your guests would not be surprised if you served them a turkey stuffing flavored with sage and chestnuts. The combination in a chocolate-covered dessert is a different story. Not to worry. As they sample these sweet and savory balls, their first reaction will be surprise, followed by delight. To make this dessert absolutely gorgeous, sprinkle edible gold on the dark chocolate. Awesome!
Preparation. Sauté 4 tablespoons finely chopped sage leaves in 4 tablespoons butter for about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and combine with a 14-16 ounce jar unsweetened puréed chestnuts and 1 cup light brown sugar. Form into small balls. Refrigerate until firm, then double or triple coat with a bittersweet ganache. Sprinkle with edible gold flakes (optional).
Plating the desserts
You may serve the desserts separately, or place the pear halves to the side of a small plate and two chocolate/chestnut balls to the other side.
EASY DAZZLE RECIPE GUIDELINES
Cocktail. Wild Turkey bourbon with club soda, ginger ale or eggnog will make a nice start.
Appetizers. Bacon stuffed with maple caramelized pears can be, in major part, prepared ahead. Cook the bacon and the pears. Wrap separately and refrigerate overnight. Warm before serving.
Soup or Salad. The soup can be frozen. The salad is easy.
Main. Do the onions. They can be made a day ahead.
Desserts. Make the pears hours in advance. Wrap tightly and warm just before serving,
Favor. A cornucopia or just a colorful bag stuffed with goodies will find favor with your guests.
Inspiration: Election Day, Of Course
A culinary staging of an election’s stages; unlike elections, there is no baloney here!
Elections are serious business – but we can still have some fun with them. If you are entertaining around the time of an election, whether a primary or general election, you have a winner in this dinner. It is a spoof of the course a typical candidate takes, from declaring candidacy to election night. The humor is in matching the ingredients and the appearance of food to what goes on in an election. As elections highlight contrasts, all the courses feature culinary contrasts of color, texture and taste. The recipe guidelines discuss the contrasts.
Each stage in an election is depicted in the different courses of the dinner. For example, candidates first enter the primary race and so the appetizers portray different types of candidates, one with star power and two meatballs, one of whom is foul (fowl), the other, fishy. The candidates get their just desserts on election night and so the desserts represent sweet victory and bitter defeat.
Like politicians and political events everywhere, patriotism is on display. Red, white and blue predominate for stunning visual effects in appetizer, soup, entrée and dessert. Many dishes feature distinctively American ingredients. For example, the candidate with star power is certainly something to see, a star cut from a ruby red prickly pear from the Southwest, topped with Wisconsin blue cheese and a Maine blueberry. It’s an innovative and delicious variation on the classic combination of fruit and cheese.
More than patriotic, many dishes are replete with political import. The soup, representing a heated debate, will definitely give your guests a charge. The main, a culinary tableau representing a political party’s convention, brims with political correctness and bursts with sinfully rich flavor. Standing on a platform of broccoli spears enlivened with lemon and sea salt, we see the red-blooded American nominee. It’s a slice of hearty bison roast, uniquely American and very, very healthy. Blue potatoes (also very, very healthy) represent convention delegates, suitably smashed (mashed, that is). Red stars, sketched with a rich and savory red-wine sauce, encircle the political players, completing the tableau. The dinner ends with another red, white and blue stunner, a heavenly looking Pavlova that tastes of paradise.
It is important for your guests to “get it,” so you (or someone you choose) will clue them in. Before you serve each course, read the description of that course from the menu. These descriptions poke fun at features of an election while relating the food to the election stage. Be entertaining. Read out each description as if it were the kind of bombast associated with elections. Deliver the “speech” with dramatic flair and tongue in cheek. As appropriate, be droll, jovial, ironic or sarcastic. Your guests will grasp the gastronomic wit and your dinner will surge to success.
With colorful election paraphernalia as the backdrop to delicious food that is exciting and fun, there is no contest. Your guests are the winners and they will enthusiastically cast their votes in favor of …
Appropriate for: The time around any election or political convention, to celebrate the winner of any type of election, when your guests are devotees of politics.
A culinary staging of an election’s stages. Unlike elections, there is no baloney here!
Testing the Waters
Sparkling Wine with Berries Red and Blue
Before a run for office, potential candidates “test the waters.” Since many a campaign begins with Champagne, we offer you red and blue candidates to dip in sparkling American wine. See if they fizzle out.
The All-American Candidate: Prickly Pear Topped with Blue Cheese and Blueberry
The Fowl Candidate: Duck Meat Balls with Cherry Marmalade
The Fishy Candidate: Fish Balls with Fennel and Yogurt Sauce
Three candidates in the primary election show up as appetizers. The three are common to many primary contests – two meatballs and an all-American with star power. Our irresistible all-American features favorites from all America, cactus fruit from the West, cheese from the Heartland and blueberries from the East. But who wins the primary is anybody’s guess. The duck-meat ball is, of course, a fowl ball and a quack while the fish is (what else?) fishy.
Red-Hot Beet Soup and White-Hot Cauliflower Soup
Two of the primary candidates face off in the soup. Debates are a must for those vying for their party’s nomination. The more heated, the better. Our red-hot candidate gets fired up with Szechuan peppercorns! Will it win over the contender, white-hot with white peppercorns?
The Nominee: Bison Tenderloin with Red Wine Sauce
The Platform: Buttered Broccoli Spears
The Delegates: Potatoes with Horseradish
The main course at the convention presents the nominee and the party’s platform. A true, red-blooded, native American, the bison tenderloin stands firm on the party’s platform of politically correct, green broccoli planks. Saucy stars provide the surround. Completing the tableau are admiring potato delegates, smashed, of course.
Arugula and Radicchio in Sour Cream Dressing
The salad engages the nominees of the two parties in bitter debate. Opposite in color, assertively bitter and a tad peppery, radicchio and arugula are the perfect candidates to mix it up, and they do in this salad. But, don’t worry. The creamy dressing is as adept as a skilled moderator in cooling things down.
The Winning Candidate: Pavlova with Berries – The Sweet Thrill of Victory
The Losing Opponent: Mocha Sorbet – The Bitter Agony of Defeat
The results are in, bringing the sweet thrill of victory and the bitter agony of defeat. The winning candidate is on Cloud 9, a Pavlova filled with sweet cream and berries. The losing opponent sits in the shadows, a dark and bitter mocha sorbet.
DETAILS OF DAZZLE
Invitation. Use a card with patriotic theme or, if using e-mail, attach an image related to voting.
Text for Invitation. Declaration of Dinner Inpendence: When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary to dissolve hunger and to assume the power of satiety to which the Laws of Nature entitle us, it’s time for dinner.
You are elected as Valued Guest to cast your vote for the best culinary candidate.
Greeting guests. Display a banner flag with patriotic theme outside your home. Make a large sign that says, “Vote Here” and place it at the entrance. Use red and blue helium balloons with long white streamers in the foyer of your home. Five or six balloons will be festive and ten or more will be WOW! You, of course, will be decked out in your patriotic best.
Souvenir menu. The menu with its descriptions is too lengthy to fit on a single page. Print the text for the menu in booklet form, using theme-related paper, e.g., one decorated with stars or flags or a red border. Print each course from the menu, complete with its description, on a separate sheet of paper, but use only the top half. Add amusing patriotic images. Cut each sheet in half. Put the printed halves in the proper order of courses. Punch two holes in the side or top of the assembled sheets, depending on the design on the sheet. Through the holes insert a narrow ribbon, of red or blue or both, and tie.
Room decor. If there is a chandelier in your dining area, tie red, white and blue streamers of varying lengths from it. Place red and blue helium balloons in and around your dining area, enough for that festive look. Since platforms play important roles in elections, if possible, present the appetizers on cake stands (platforms) of different heights. Use cocktail plates and napkins in red and blue or ones with patriotic designs. Complete the election scene with political paraphernalia, such as old or current campaign buttons, banners, signs, hats, pompoms and images of elephants and donkeys. Use your imagination for patriotic fun. For example, Luci ties a red ribbon around her white cat with blue eyes.
Table decor. Set the table in red, white and blue. We like a red tablecloth, charger or placemat (which we also use for Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Fourth of July), white dinner plate with blue napkins tied with a star-studded ribbon. Prepare a simple centerpiece with a patriotic hat topped with a baby bear holding "Vote" sign. Trim the stems so that the roses are below eye level. Scatter confetti stars, perhaps glitzy gold or silver, on the table.
Mood music. A great opener is Stars and Stripes Forever by John Phillip Sousa. All patriotic songs are appropriate, such as "America the Beautiful", "Born in the USA" and "This Land Is Your Land". "God Bless America" is a great closing selection.
Favor. The winner of a presidential election or a gubernatorial election moves to an official residence. Make your guests winners with a scrumptious representation of the White House. Directions are in the recipe below.
Note for favor: You get the White House without having to run for President. Enjoy!
With Suggestions for Plating and Complementary Beverages
TESTING THE WATERS
Sparkling Wine with Berries Red and Blue
Salute our democratic process with a red, white and blue opener that spells celebration and success, with a toast to the guiding principle of our republic.
Preparation. Pour an American sparkling white wine over a raspberry and a blueberry in the bottom of a Champagne glass. The toast: United We Stand; Divided We Fall. Let us never forget that.
PRIMARY CANDIDATE: THE ALL-AMERICAN CANDIDATE
Prickly Pear, Blue Cheese and Blueberry
Perfectly patriotic and culinarily correct, the granular texture of the red, sweet cactus fruit reacts with the soft and savory cheese topped with the blue berry for looks and taste with star Pow!
Preparation. Peel the prickly pears (thick inner skin as well as thin outer skin) and slice each crosswise into 4 or 5 circles. Using a small star-shaped cookie cutter (ideally 1½ inches), make a star from each circle. Shape creamy blue cheese into balls of about ½-inch diameter. Place one ball at the center of each prickly pear star so that the star outline is clear. Top each cheese ball with a blueberry.
PRIMARY CANDIDATE: THE FOWL CANDIDATE
Duck Meat Balls with Cherry Marmalade
You want a delicious contender, not a foul ball. Duck breast is rich and savory, it loves fruit companions and the flavor is enhanced by spices such as cinnamon, cloves or ginger. Combine these elements and this candidate qualifies.
Preparation. Remove the skin and fat from the breast. Chop the meat and some of the skin. From there, treat it like any meatball. Sauté some garlic or onion, add some spice, the duck meat, and a small amount of finely chopped duck skin. Add egg and bread crumbs to the cooled mixture and bake in the oven. Warm some cherry marmalade.
PRIMARY CANDIDATE: THE FISHY CANDIDATE
Fish Balls with Fennel and Yogurt Sauce
Like a lot of fishy candidates with an October surprise, these fish balls conceal a sly surprise to distinguish them from all the ordinary ones.
Preparation. Use your favorite recipe for baked fish balls. For the center surprise, insert a small piece of smoked salmon wrapped around one caper. Depart from the typical yogurt/dill sauce for fish by using fennel instead of dill. The fennel is a good match to the flavors in the duck balls.
Plating the appetizers
For both the duck and fish balls use one plate, preferably blue but white will do. Divide the plate in half with a row of blueberries. Skewer each duck ball with a toothpick, preferably one with a curly red top. Put large dabs of cherry marmalade on one half of the plate. Place a duck ball on each dab of marmalade. On the other half of the plate, put dabs of the yogurt sauce and top with the fish balls.
Place prickly pears on a blue or white serving platter.
SOUP: HEATED DEBATE
Red-Hot Beet Soup and White-Hot Cauliflower Soup
This is a stunning representation of a debate. Two soups of contrasting color, taste and texture are ladled into the same bowl. One is red and one white. One is smooth and sweet, the other crunchy and rich. Both provide a jolt of heat but use different kinds of pepper. Make both thick by using small amounts of stock so that they do not run into each other in the soup bowl. To emphasize the idea of a debate, garnish one with a ”?” and one with an “!” made from sour cream with blue food coloring.
1. Beet soup: We like a soup made with roasted beets and onions for depth of flavor. Add chicken stock, freshly toasted and ground cumin seeds, a bit of sesame oil and, for heat, toasted and ground Szechuan peppercorns. These are berries, not true peppers. They are mildly hot and quite fragrant, as you will appreciate when you toast them. Process this soup so that it is very smooth. Beets will make the soup a brilliant red and distinctly sweet. Cumin will add a bitter undertone while the Szechuan peppercorns provide heat with a distinctive flavor and a touch of a tingling sensation.
2. Cauliflower soup: This soup must have a coarse texture with crunch to contrast with the smooth beet soup. We sauté a good amount of leeks, add chicken or vegetable stock, some white wine and cauliflower florets. When cauliflower is tender but NOT soft, remove from heat and process in brief pulses just until ingredients are combined. Return to pot, stir in cracked white peppercorns and salt. Just before serving, to add richness of flavor, reheat with some heavy cream and grated Parmesan cheese.
3. Blue sour cream garnish: Thin sour cream with a bit of water so that it will be easy to make the question marks and exclamation points. Add blue food coloring. Put into a pastry bag with a fine tip.
Plating. Fill half a soup bowl (blue if possible) with the beet soup and half with the cauliflower soup. Pipe a blue question mark on one and a blue exclamation point on the other.
Complementary beverage. The heat in both soups suggests beer, rather than wine. Choose one of medium body with a light taste. A patriotic choice is Samuel Adams or use any of the wonderful craft beers now available.
MAIN: THE PARTY CONVENTION
This is a visually striking plate that your guests will rave about. It represents the party’s nominee (roast bison) standing on a politically-correct green platform (broccoli spears). Delegates are blue potato balls. A few stars made with a red wine sauce complete the tableau.
Bison Tenderloin with Red Wine Sauce
An American icon signifying strength and freedom, bison is perfect to represent a great American candidate. Bison is a great food, too, with a flavor like that of beef. The meat itself is lean, quite red, very tender and exceptionally healthy. However, bison is expensive, as are the steps that ensure effective democracy.
Preparation. Rub a bison tenderloin with an herb and garlic paste and refrigerate for 4-24 hours. Roast and serve with your favorite red wine sauce. We suggest a Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot.
Buttered Broccoli Spears
Simply prepared, crisp broccoli stalks serve as a politically correct, green platform for Mr. Bison, the party’s nominee.
Preparation. Cut the broccoli florets off the stems and reserve for another use. Peel the fibrous outer layer from the broccoli stalks. Slice them in half lengthwise. Trim so that they each measure about 3 inches long. Cook until just tender but not soft. Pour over them butter warmed with a bit of lemon juice, salt and pepper.
Blue Potatoes with Horseradish
Horseradish and sour cream are a classic combination that will perk up just about anything. Here, their bright tastes in the potato contrast nicely with both the deep, earthy taste of the bison and its wine sauce and with the fresh sweetness of the broccoli platform. Texture contrasts appear between the crisp broccoli, tender bison and soft potato.
Preparation. Add butter, sour cream, horseradish, salt and pepper to mashed blue potatoes. Form into small balls.
Plating the main
It will be easier and generate more surprise if you do the plating in the kitchen. Start by placing the “saucy” stars of red-wine sauce. You may want to practice making stars in advance, using any liquid of the right consistency (e.g., mustard or ketchup). To make a star with a squeeze bottle of sauce, put a dab on the plate. With any tool that has a small, blunt end (e.g., a blunt toothpick or the edge of a spoon), push the sauce out into five points, just as you would draw a five-pointed star.
Place three or four stars around one end of each dinner plate. At the other end, make a platform by placing two broccoli spears about 2 inches apart. Place two more spears on top and perpendicular. Place a generous slice of bison on top. Place three potato “delegates” in a semi-circle in front of and facing the “platform.” Pass the remaining sauce after serving the main.
A Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot, the same one used to make the sauce.
SALAD: BITTER DEBATE
Arugula and Radicchio in Sour Cream Dressing
Bitter radicchio and peppery arugula keep cool with a creamy dressing. Add bright notes with sour cream and mint, pungency with garlic and a bit of bitter with toasted cumin.
Preparation. Whisk together sour cream and mayonnaise (1:1). Add toasted, ground cumin, mint and grated garlic. Tear arugula and radicchio into bite-size pieces.
Plating. Top lettuces with a generous portion of dressing and scatter some chopped mint leaves over that.
Pavlova with Berries - The Sweet Thrill of Victory
A puff of white meringue to melt in your mouth, a cloud of heavenly whipped cream, sensuous custard cream, luscious berries and a whimsical chocolate “V” – visually and in taste, the perfect embodiment of that Cloud 9 feeling brought on by VICTORY!
Preparation. Use standard recipes to make Pavlovas, a custard cream and sweetened whipped cream. To make the chocolate “V”s, cover a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Melt chocolate in a small pan. Using a teaspoon, drizzle melted chocolate onto parchment in the shape of Vs, approximately 3 inches in height. Refrigerate immediately. Remove just when ready to place on Pavlovas.
Plating. Place Pavlovas on individual dessert plates. Pour 4 tablespoons of custard cream in center of each Pavlova. Top with blueberries, raspberries and whipped cream. Drizzle maraschino or raspberry syrup over top. Insert a chocolate “V” in the whipped cream and serve immediately.
THE LOSING CANDIDATE
Mocha Sorbet – The Bitter Agony of Defeat
Poor losing candidate. No wonder defeat is deemed bitter. Bitter things beget scorn, aversion and rejection. Except when, as is so often true in life and cooking, bitter is paired with sweet. One bittersweet classic is mocha, a double dose of bitterness from chocolate and coffee. Sweetened up, the combination is a triumph.
Preparation. Make or buy a mocha sorbet or ice cream.
Plating. Place two scoops in a small bowl. Top each scoop with a chocolate covered coffee bean.
A good American brandy is the thing, smacking as it does of back-room deals. If your guests are likely to approve, pass out cigars as well for a smoke-filled back room.
FAVOR: THE WHITE HOUSE
White Chocolate Blondie
Rich, moist and flavorful, cake-like blondies are favorites. Package them with an image of the White House and they will get everybody’s vote.
Preparation. Make or buy blondies. Download a small image of the White House and cut to size of the blondie. Wrap each in clear plastic wrap. Tape the White House image to the plastic wrap. Put in a package and tie with an extravagant set of red, white and blue ribbons.
Note for favor: You get the White House without having to run for President. Enjoy!
EASY DAZZLE RECIPE GUIDELINES
Cocktail. What could be easier than dropping a couple of berries into a glass of sparkling wine?
Appetizers. The candidate with star power in red, white and blue is easy to do.
Soup or Salad. The salad is simpler.
Main. The bison on its green platform surrounded by saucy stars will be easy enough and it is guaranteed to be stunning.
Desserts. Serve a winner in red, white and blue. Vanilla ice cream or panna cotta (can be prepared two days ahead) topped with red raspberries and blueberries that have been macerated in a berry liqueur such as Framboise will triumph.
Favor. Wrap blondies (or cookies of your choice) in plastic wrap with a downloaded picture of the White House covering one side. Place in an extravagant package tied with red, white and blue streamers.