When I was a little girl, I found Dad’s foot-locker stuck in a corner of the garage, just collecting dust. It was from his time in the Air Force. We aren’t talking about a flimsy foot-locker. It was a big, sturdy trunk that was made to last. Dad let me have his foot-locker as a way of storing my treasures.
Unlike my brother’s treasures of baseball cards and marbles, mine would not fit in a cigar box. Dad’s foot-locker became my hope chest. I was all of nine or ten at the time. Would you believe, some of the things I had tucked away in that chest I still have today? Yep – stuff you can’t find any more – my tools of inspiration and creativity.
Growing up, there were many parties at our house. While all revolved around food, most were casual in nature – backyard barbecues and such. Only at Christmas and Easter did the “fancy” china make an appearance at the table and everyone dressed for the occasion – the ladies in dresses of the season, the gentlemen in suits. Of course, back then men generally wore shirts and ties and ladies wore dresses, with stockings and high-heeled shoes – even on the weekends. Casual attire was strictly reserved for staying at home, without company. Dress attire included jackets for the gentlemen and hats or gloves for the ladies.
While a traditional “Hope Chest” held clothing, linens and some household items a young girl would collect in anticipation and preparation of her wedding day, mine was strictly for kitchen stuff. Marriage had nothing to do with it. My fantasies didn’t revolve around a knight in shining armor or prince charming sweeping my off my feet. Mine were of big kitchens and formal dining rooms. I longed for my own kitchen, where I could prepare wonderful meals to be served to interesting dinner companions. Even now, I still enjoy spending time putting together elaborate menus for sophisticated suppers. Once upon a time, in our prior life, we hosted extravagant dinner parties. While at times a catering company was hired, the menu was always one I had designed. There were times when all the work of preparing the selected menu was done by me (since I love being in the kitchen) and only a wait staff was necessary to serve and clear while I was free to enjoy the company of our guests.
Granted, for most of us today (yours truly included), an elegant 10-Course dinner party for six is an insane propitiation, yet one can dare to fantasize just a bit. And so the fantasy begins . . .
Serving an Apéritif is a warm way to welcome your guests as they arrive. This allows time for everyone to mingle and gives “late” arrivals a guilt-free appearance. Although the aperitif is served anywhere BUT the dining room, it is considered the first course of the meal and thus sets the tone.
The appetizers through dessert course are all served in the dining room. If you don’t have a dining room that isn’t a part of the kitchen – no problem – move the table to the backyard. With proper lighting and a little imagination, this could transport the entire party to another place and time. It’s even possible with a little work to transform the garage into a fantasy destination.
Unless you are the Queen and have at your disposal a 30-foot long dining table, with each course individual china and silverware are placed on the table, then cleared away to make room for more. Besides, a normal size table or even a round table lends itself to light conversation. The key here is to allow ample time between courses, otherwise your guests may faint from all the food! Lingering over a glass of wine is a wonderful way to pace the meal nicely. Different wines can be served with each course.
The conclusion of the evening’s meal is served away from the table. A living room or drawing-room if you have one, is perfect. Low tables adorned with the final morsels of goodies are perfect. This gives everyone a chance to stretch their legs after a long meal and to linger just a big longer.
And now for the menu –
1st Course – Apéritif
Champagne with Chambord and Strawberries
2nd Course – Hors d’Oeuvers
Canapés a l’Amiral
Chilled Duck Breasts with a Zinfandel Reduction Sauce Amuse
3rd Course – Soup
4th Course – Fish
Poached Salmon with a Mousseline Sauce
5th Course – Sorbet
Lime Sorbet with Mint Garnish
6th Course – Fowl
Roasted Quail with Grape Clusters
7th Course – Meat with Two Vegetables
Tornadoes of Beef with Three Peppercorn Sauces
Peas in a Cream Sauce
8th Course – Salad
Mixed Greens with Artichoke Hearts
9th Course – Dessert
Chocolate Mouse with Pear Chips
10th Course – After Dinner Refreshments
Coffee and Espresso
Liqueurs and Wines
Fruit and Cheese Platter
Bite-Size Chocolate and Small Cake Platter
Remember what I said at the start – this is a FANTASY dinner. While recipes are a collection from a variety of sources – cookbooks, magazines and of course the internet, the menu is mine – all mine. This is what you get when I close my eyes and drift through space and time to an era of elegance, romance and tantalizing sensations. Pardon me while I dream on . . .
First Course – Apéritif
CHAMPAGNE with CHAMBORD and STRAWBERRIES
1 Magnum Imported Champagne
6 Tablespoons Raspberry Liqueur (Chambord)
6 Strawberries, whole with green tops removed
Pour champagne into 6 long steamed flute glasses.
Add a splash of Raspberry Liqueur (about a tablespoon) to each glass.
Drop one strawberry into each glass and serve immediately.
Second Course – HORS D’OEUVRES
CANAPÉS À L’AMIRAL with SHRIMP BUTTER
20 slices (about 1/2-inch thick) baguette
1 teaspoon lime juice
10 small cooked shrimp, halved lengthwise
20 fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
2 tablespoons caviar
Place baguette slices on a baking sheet and toast under broiler for 1 minute per side or until lightly golden. Remove from broiler and set aside.
Drizzle lime juice over cooked shrimp halves; stir and set aside.
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 large shallot, peeled, ends removed, minced
1 clove garlic, peeled, ends removed, minced
8 ounces shrimp in shell, rinsed
1/4 cup brandy
4 ounces cream cheese, softened (regular or reduced fat)
2 tablespoons butter, softened
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
Dash of Vanilla
In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the shallot and garlic. Cook, stirring often, for about 5 minutes or until softened.
Increase heat to high and add the shrimp. Sauté shrimp for 4-5 minutes or until the shells are pink and the flesh is opaque. Remove the shrimp and cool. When cool enough to handle, peel and discard shells.
Transfer shrimp mixture to a food processor fitted with the steel blade or a blender. Return skillet to the heat and add brandy. Cook, stirring, for about 30 seconds or until the brandy is reduced to a glaze. Scrape the glaze into the shrimp mixture. Pulse shrimp mixture until it is coarsely chopped.
Add the cream cheese, butter, tomato paste, salt, pepper and vanilla. Process until almost smooth and set aside.
To assemble Canapés: Place shrimp butter in a pastry bag fitted with a decorative tube. Decoratively pipe the shrimp butter onto the toasted baguette slices, or spread mixture on slices using a table knife. Top each with a cooked shrimp half, parsley leaf and a small amount of caviar.
CHILLED DUCK with a ZINFANDEL REDUCTION SAUCE AMUSE
1 cup Zinfandel
1/2 cup soy sauce (Use Japanese soy such as Kikkoman)
1/2 cup Mirin (Japanese Wine)
4 large scallions, green parts only, coarsely chopped
2 large garlic cloves, very thinly sliced
One 1-inch piece of fresh ginger, thinly sliced
Two 1-pound Muscovy duck breasts, fat trimmed
2 cups small arugula leaves (2 ounces)
In a medium saucepan, boil the Zinfandel over high heat until reduced by half, about 5 minutes. Let cool to room temperature.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. In a large, sturdy, resealable plastic freezer bag, combine the soy sauce, Mirin, scallions, garlic, ginger and Zinfandel reduction.
Gather 10 bamboo skewers in your hand and puncture the duck skin all over, through to the meat. Alternatively, use the tip of a very sharp knife to poke the duck skin all over.
Heat a large skillet over high heat. Add the duck breasts, skin side down, and cook over moderate heat until deeply browned, about 8 minutes. Turn the duck over and cook until browned on the other side, about 3 minutes.
Transfer the duck breasts to the bag with the marinade and seal it. Place the sealed bag inside a double layer of sturdy plastic bags, sealing each bag. Carefully lower the duck breasts into the boiling water. Cover, turn off the heat and let stand for 10 minutes.
Prepare a large bowl of ice water. Plunge the bags with the duck into the ice bath and let stand for 45 minutes, or until completely chilled. Refrigerate the duck in the bags for at least 6 hours or overnight.
Remove the duck breasts from the marinade and pat them dry with paper towels. Strain the Zinfandel marinade into a medium saucepan and boil over high heat until it has thickened, about 7 minutes. Using a thin, sharp knife, thinly slice the duck breasts crosswise. Drizzle each plate with some of the reduced Zinfandel marinade and arrange the sliced duck breasts on top. Mound the Arugula leaves on the plates and serve.
Make ahead: The recipe can be prepared up to 3 days ahead; refrigerate the Zinfandel marinade and the cooked duck separately.
Third Course – SOUP
7 cups beef stock
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 leek, finely chopped
1 celery, finely chopped
1/2 tomato, chopped
1 tablespoon chopped parsley stems
1/4 lb lean ground veal or 1/4 lb lean ground beef
salt and pepper
3 egg whites, beaten until frothy
1/4 cup port wine
In tall narrow pot, gently heat stock until body temperature. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, stir together vegetables, parsley, and meat until well combined; add salt and pepper; fold in egg whites.
Whisk heated stock into egg mixture; return to pot and, whisking, bring slowly to boil. When mixture begins to look frothy, stop stirring to allow egg mixture to rise and solidify into a raft. Lower heat to medium-low. Carefully make a vent hole in raft with spoon handle. Simmer consommé gently for 30 minutes.
Leaving pot on heat, carefully push raft down with back of ladle; ladle clarified consommé through cheesecloth-lined sieve into clean pot. Heat until very hot. Stir in Port.
6 large sea scallops
1/2 celery , blanched and julienned
1/4 English cucumber, julienned
1 small carrot, julienned
Slice scallops crosswise into 3 pieces, Melt a little butter in a skillet. Quickly sear scallops for about a minute or two per side. Place 3 seared discs into bottom of each of 6 warmed bowls. Quickly blanch vegetables in boiling salted water for about a minute. Arrange vegetables around the scallops. Plate the arrangement at the table. Pour hot consommé over scallops for a dramatic presentation. Enjoy.
Fourth Course – FISH
POACHED SALMON WITH MOUSSELINE SAUCE
Basic Court Bouillon
7 cups water
1 carrot, sliced
1 small onion, chopped
1 bay leaf
1/4 cup parsley
1 teaspoon of salt
1 1/4 cup dry white wine
In a large pot combine all the ingredients and bring to a boil over high heat.
Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes.
Strain into an air-tight container and cover tightly. Court Bouillon will keep for up to a week in refrigerator, for up to a week.
6 cups Basic Court Bouillon (see recipe ABOVE)
6 salmon fillets
30 very thin slices of English cucumber
6 sprigs fresh dill
In large shallow pot, heat court bouillon until just below boiling point.
Using a slotted spoon or spatula, gently place salmon into bouillon. Add water if needed to completely cover the fish.
Poach fish for 3-5 minutes or until opaque on the outside and still coral-colored in the center.
2/3 cup melted unsalted butter
3 tablespoons water
3 egg yolks
1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
1/4 cup lightly whipped cream
Melt butter over medium-low heat. Allow the butter to melt undisturbed. Using a spoon, skim froth from the surface of the melted butter and discard. Allow butter to cool slightly.
On top of a double boiler or heat-proof bowl, whisk water and egg yolks together with salt and pepper for 30 seconds or until pale yellow and frothy. Over barely simmering water, whisk mixture for 3 minutes or until it draws a ribbon for 5 seconds.
Remove pan from heat; whisk in warm butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, until sauce begins to thicken. Still whisking, pour remaining butter into sauce in a slow steady stream.
Stir in lemon juice and dill. Allow the sauce to cool slightly. Gently fold in whipped cream. Adjust the seasoning to taste. Keep warm by setting over a pot of warm water.
When ready to serve, place salmon on a fish platter. Drizzle with some of the Mousseline Sauce. Pour remaining sauce into a gravy boat, and pass at the table.
Fifth Course – SORBET
LIME SORBET with FRESH MINT GARNISH
6 Small Cordial Glasses or Champagne Coupes
1 Pint Lime Sorbet; purchased or homemade
Fresh Mint for garnish
Place attractive glasses on small plates. Fill each glass with one well-rounded scoop of sorbet. Garnish each scoop with a mint leaf. Place demi-spoons on plates and serve.
Sixth Course – FOUL
ROASTED QUAIL with GRAPE CLUSTERS
6 large quail, about 4 to 5 ounces each
Salt and pepper
1 ½ teaspoons grated garlic
6 large rosemary sprigs, plus 1/2 teaspoon chopped
6 large thyme sprigs, plus 1/2 teaspoon chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 small red boiling onions (about 1/2 pound), peeled and quartered
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1 pound grapes, cut into 6 small clusters
Rinse quail and pat dry. Season inside and out with salt and pepper. Put a small amount of grated garlic in each bird’s cavity, as well as the chopped rosemary and thyme. Drizzle birds with 1 tablespoon olive oil, and let marinate at room temperature for at least 1 hour. (You may refrigerate for several hours or overnight; bring to room temperature before roasting.)
Heat oven to 450 degrees. Place onions in a small oven-proof skillet or pie pan, and season with salt and pepper. Toss with balsamic vinegar and remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil to coat. Bake until slightly softened and caramelized, about 10 minutes. Set aside.
Spread remaining rosemary and thyme sprigs on a baking sheet or in a low-sided roasting pan. Lay quail on top of herbs, breast-side down. Roast for about 15 minutes, until puffed and lightly browned.
Turn birds breast-side up and surround with roasted onions and grape clusters. Continue roasting for 10 minutes more. If necessary, put birds under the broiler to crisp the skin.
Let rest 10 minutes. Transfer birds to a large round or oval serving platter. Cluster grapes around quail and serve.
Seventh Course – MEAT with TWO VEGETABLES
TORNADOES OF BEEF with THREE PEPPERCORN SAUCES
Potato Shingles (Base)
1/4 Cup + 2 tablespoons Olive Oil
3 lbs Russet potatoes, sliced 3/16-inch thick
6 Garlic Cloves, minced
Salt & Pepper
6 tablespoons butter, melted
Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position. Pre-heat oven to 425-degrees.
Peel and mince garlic, set aside until ready to use. Wash and slice potatoes. Set aside until ready to use. Brush rimmed baking sheet with 2 tablespoons oil.
In a large bowl, toss potatoes with ¼ cup oil and garlic. Shingle potatoes tightly into even rows, lengthwise, on baking sheet (about 5 rows). Drizzle with melted butter, season with salt and pepper.
Cover potatoes and roast in oven until just tender, 35-40 minutes, rotating pan midway through roasting process.
Uncover potatoes and roast until spotty-browned, about 15-20 minutes longer.
Cut potato shingles into 18 squares just large enough to hold the petite steaks.
Tornadoes of Beef
18 petite Beef Tenderloin steaks, about 1 oz each
In a large skillet add olive oil enough to coat bottom of pan, heat over medium heat. Sear steak in batches, taking care not to overcrowd the skillet. Sear each batch of steaks until nicely browned and pink in the middle, about 3-4 minutes per side.
While steaks are browning, begin making Pink and Green Peppercorn Sauce. Once steaks are cooked, make remaining black peppercorn sauces.
Remove steaks, wrap in foil to keep warm and set aside. Add a little more oil, heat skillet and continue to sear remaining steaks. Remove, wrap in foil to keep warm and set aside.
Pink Peppercorn Sauce
1 Teaspoon Pink Peppercorns, crushed
½ Cup Heavy Cream
1 Teaspoon Pimentos, chopped
Place peppercorn in a bag, crush with rolling-pin. Set aside until ready to use.
In a saucepan add pink peppercorns, chopped pimentos and heavy cream. Cook over medium-low heat until cream is reduced and thick, about 15 minuets.
Green Peppercorn Sauce
1 Teaspoon Green Peppercorns, crushed
1 Teaspoon parsley, chopped
½ Cup Brandy
Green Pepper Corn Sauce: Place peppercorn in a bag, crush with rolling-pin. Set aside until ready to use.
In a saucepan place peppercorns, parsley and brandy. Bring to a quick boil and allow to boil about 5 minutes.
Black Peppercorn Sauce
1 Teaspoon Black Peppercorns, crushed
2 Oz Mushrooms, sliced
¼ Cup Whiskey
Place peppercorn in a bag, crush with rolling-pin. Set aside until ready to use.
To the skilled, add peppercorns, mushrooms and whiskey. Bring to a quick boil, scrapping up any browned bits of steak.
Place 3 squares of potato shingles on each plate.
Top each potato square a steak. Pour black peppercorn sauce over 1 steak on each plate, pour pink peppercorn sauce over another steak on each plate and the green peppercorn sauce over remaining steak on each plate.
1st VEGETABLE – POTATOES ROMANOFF
2 lbs whole baked potatoes, grated or chopped small
1/2 cup finely minced onions
2 cups grated white cheddar cheese
1 1/2 cup sour cream
salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
6 Small Ramekin Dishes
Bake potatoes in the oven until fork tender, about 40 minutes. Allow potatoes to cool. This can be done in the morning, continuing with the recipe later in the day.
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
In a large bowl combine the potatoes, onions, cheese (reserve about a 1/2 cup of cheese for the top), and salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste. Gently fold in the sour cream until just combined.
Butter 6 individual ramekins, and spoon in the mixture. You want as an irregular surface as possible, with lots of nooks and crannies. Top with the remaining cheese and bake the oven for 25-30 minutes, until golden brown.
Place ramekins on small plates to prevent burning your guests and serve.
2nd VEGETABLE – PEAS in a CREAM SAUCE
3 Cups Fresh Peas, shelled from 3-6 lbs Pea Pods or frozen peas, thawed
2 Tablespoons Sugar
½ Cup Heavy Cream
2 Tablespoons Butter
Salt and Pepper
1 Tablespoon Chives, finely chopped
Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil. SLOWLY add peas to maintain slow boil. Cook until tender, about 8-12 minutes depending on size of peas.
In a saucepan, heat heavy cream to a boil. Cook until reduced by half, about 3-5 minutes. Add peas ¼ teaspoon pepper and butter. Cook until butter has melted and peas are heated through, 3-4 minutes, stirring gently to blend.
Transfer to serving bowl and sprinkle with chives. Serve at once.
Eights Course – SALAD
MIXED GREENS with ARTICHOKE HEARTS
4 cups mixed salad green
1/2 red onion (sliced)
14 oz artichoke hearts (water drained)
1 Small Can Sliced Black Olives, optional
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon seasoned salt
1 teaspoon black pepper (ground)
1 teaspoon garlic powder
Parmesan Cheese, shaved
In a large bowl, combine the mixed greens, onion, and artichoke hearts. Toss with black olive slices, if using.
In a medium-size mixing bowl, whisk together the oil, vinegar, seasoned salt, pepper, and garlic.
Pour enough dressing over salad to coat, and toss well.
Place individual servings on chilled salad plates. Garnish each plate with shaved Parmesan Cheese and serve.
Ninth Course – DESSERT
CHOCOLATE MOUSSE with PEAR CHIPS & CHOCOLATE LEAVES
6 oz semi-sweet chocolate, chopped (good quality)
2 cups heavy cream
1 saucepan filled with one inch of simmering water
1 large wire whisk
6 sherry or shot glasses
1 piping bag with plain tip, optional
If you want the mousse to rise above the containers for a dramatic presentation, first make a collar by wrapping a piece of parchment or waxed paper around each container, leaving about 1” excess above the container. Secure the paper with tape or kitchen twine. Prepare your containers prior to making the mousse.
The key to this mousse is the temperature of the chocolate. It should be completely melted but not too hot. The ideal temperature is 122 degrees, which is warm, not hot, to the touch. If you have a kitchen thermometer handy, use it.
In a metal bowl that fits over the saucepan of barely simmering water, ensuring that the bowl does not touch the hot water, add the chopped chocolate and 1 cup of whipping cream. Gently melt the chocolate, stirring occasionally, until the chocolate is fully melted, but not overly hot.
In the bowl of a stand-up mixer fitted with a wire whisk, add the remaining 3 cups of whipping cream. Whisk the cream until it is thickened only. The cream should not be firm enough to hold its shape. When you remove the whisk from the bowl, the cream should drip off in thick beads.
With a whisk close at hand, pour the warm melted chocolate, all at once into the barely whipped cream. Combine with a whisk until the chocolate mousse is uniform in color. The texture will firm as you combine the chocolate with the cream.
The mixture is now ready to pour into your containers. If you have a piping bag, pour the mixture into a piping bag; this will help get the mousse into the glasses neatly, without any mess.
Managing a piping bag is easy when you use a narrow canister or large-mouthed glass to hold the piping bag in place while you fill it. Simply tuck the narrow end of the bag into the container (tip side down) and roll the large end of the bag over the edge of the container, like a cuff, to hold it in place.
Pipe or spoon the mixture into the glasses and refrigerate until set.
While mousse sets, prepare pear chips.
1 Pear, Firm & washed
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
lemon zest (white pith removed) from ½ lemon
1 Mandoline or single-blade slicer
1 Rimmed baking pan lined with parchment paper
Pre-heat oven to 200 degrees.
Combine the sugar, water and lemon zest in a small saucepan and heat the mixture until the sugar is completely dissolved.
Slice the pear into paper-thin slices using a mandoline or single-blade slicer/grater.
Using a pastry brush, coat both sides of each pear slice with the sugar-water solution. Place the coated slices on the parchment-lined tray, being careful not to overlap the slices.
Dry in the oven for 2 to 3 hours. To test the chips, remove the tray from the oven and allow the pears to cool for 10 minutes (away from a humid kitchen). If your kitchen is warm, place the tray of pears outside to cool them. Gently peel the pears from the parchment. If they are firm and crisp, they are ready. If not, continue to dry them in the oven for another half hour and test again.
Tenth Course – AFTER DINNER REFRESHMENTS
COFFEE, ESPRESSO, AFTER DINNER DRINKS, FRUITS, CHEESES AND SWEETS
The final course is designed to be served in another room, away from the dining table. To linger with guests and chat about life well into the night.
COFFEE: Brew a pot of coffee and place into an Urn for serving. Place on a tray along cream and sugar. Pour upon request.
ESPRESSO: Brew Espresso upon request. Draw Espresso into demi-cups and serve.
Sambuca (my personal favorite – with 3 whole coffee beans in the glass)
Late Harvest Ice Wine
While not all the liqueurs and wines are necessary, an assortment is always nice. Take requests and serve in the appropriate glassware.
Create a fruit and cheese platter as well as a small platter of bite-size sweets such as Truffles or mini cakes. These can be purchased or home-made. Simply arrange the offerings onto platters for serving.
I’d love to hear what your Fantasy Dinner Party might be – what would you serve? Who would be at your table? I’d love to sit with the likes of Julia Childs, but only if she were doing the cooking as I am sure my culinary skills would pale in comparison. As for the other guests, I’ve given this a great deal of thought as well. The Pope, Abraham Lincoln and our Blessed Mother, Mary.