The holidays are over. As festive and fun as they may be, it’s nice to put the decorations and traditions behind us and look forward to planning and preparing some festive meals to share with our family, friends and neighbors. Dinner party number 1, for the two of us and four guests, takes place on Friday, January 10. Why on a Friday? I read that Friday dinners cause you to organize and prepare things ahead of time rather than a Saturday party where you do everything on that day resulting in your being exhausted by the time your guests arrive. It’s especially important to get things organized this time because I have an appointment Friday morning which will take me away from home for a couple of hours.
My partner and I worked out a menu this morning. All components have been prepared before to great acclaim – no experimentation on guests here. We plan to have an hors d’oeuvre and drinks at the ready when guests arrive at 5:30. Dinner is slated to be served at 6:15. I plan to chat with guests until 5:45 or so and then excuse myself to do final preparations in the kitchen. Our menu is as follows: Appetizer – Buttercup squash soup, and rosemary bread; Main course – Beef Wellington, carrots vichy, savory cranberry relish, haricorts verts; Dessert – Coupe Glacée Diva Renée.
Hors D’oeuvre – We’ve not yet decided upon what we will serve but we know that it should be something simple that can be set out ahead of time. It will also be something you can eat with one hand so that you can hold your drink in the other. Update: We decided upon a buttery, Ahi tuna pâté spread on a little toasted crouton and garnished with olives.
Appetizer – The buttercup squash soup is a silky puree of squash, leeks, cream, and broth, with a touch of white pepper to add a tiny bit of heat. The soup will be assembled the day before and reheated an hour or two before serving. Float a pat of shallot and herb butter, cut in a pretty pattern, in the center of the bowl for flavor and visual punch. The rosemary bread is my old favorite, Dill Casserole Bread. It’s a tender, moist bread that can be made in the food processor and requires minimal kneading. You add cottage cheese for a little tang, a bit of onion and some fresh rosemary for the savory note, and then brush on butter and salt the crust when it’s done. The bread is made in the midday and served at room temperature.
Beef Wellington: I will need six prime grade, 6 – 8 oz. filet mignon, or beef tenderloin medallions. I will use commercially prepared puff pastry for the crust and will need to find some good foie gras or similar pâté . The dish can be assembled before guests arrive and popped in the oven shortly thereafter. Serve over a buttery mushroom sauce with the carrots, green beans and relish on the side. Update: I selected an excellent goose liver pâté from Whole Foods and used the Beef Wellington recipe from the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express restaurant (yes, the train) – Beef Wellington
Carrots Vichy – A nice dish from the Joy of Cooking cookbook consisting of julienned carrots caramelized in a little butter, lemon juice, and sugar along with a touch of Chinese five spice. It’s a tasty, slightly sweet, and colorful addition to the hearty beef dish. Peel and julienne the raw carrots, add all ingredients to a sauce pan, and have it ready on the back of the stove for cooking at the last minute. They will cook themselves, just don’t let them scorch.
Savory Cranberry Relish – Fantastic Raw Cranberry Relish – This is a recipe from my friend Susan who predicted that I would serve this all the time. She was right. It’s an easy dish to prepare and it benefits from making it the day before. Made with all raw ingredients it is a wonderful combination of sweet, spicy, and acidic that serves as a little palate cleanser between the other main course components. This will be served cold
Haricorts Vert – The slender green beans provide great visual contrast, are easy to fix, and are a nice, nutritious side to offset the rich Beef Wellington. As with the carrots, I will have them at the ready to cook in a pan at the last minute with a little water, garlic, butter and a few slivered almonds.
Coupe Glacée Diva Renée – Coupe Glacée Diva Renée, from Elle Decor magazine, is a stunningly delicious dessert that can be made ahead of time and quickly assembled while guests are relaxing and coffee is brewing. With layers of raspberry compote, chantilly cream, chocolate ice cream, pistachios and warm chocolate sauce it looks divine and is surprisingly easy to make. None of the components require hard to find ingredients or tricky culinary skills to prepare. It is most assuredly a crowd pleaser.
Now it’s time to prepare a grocery list and shop for the ingredients. I figure I can do the shopping in three stops. I can’t wait to see all the dishes come together. Having written the menu down I better understand the sequence of preparation and I am confident that this will be a great dinner that I will be proud to serve.