Tuesday, January 5, 2010

A New Year's Eve Dinner - And Ramblings about the perfect menu

I always find menu planning more challenging than actual recipes. These days there are millions of recipes online and you can find one for practically everything. But there is not enough material out there that talks about planning the perfect menu. It's so cool when everything goes well together and the meal works out perfectly.

I think the reason menu planning is so challenging is that it is not static (well..even recipes should not be static and should change based on seasons, availability of fresh ingredients and the taste and preferences of people you're cooking for..but you can get away by following a good recipe closely). Menus are inherently dynamic. So much depends on the occasion, and the number of people and events that are to follow or precede the meal, etc. But like good recipes, good menu planning guidelines are wonderful. And every once in a while, you stumble upon the perfect menu...and the perfect setup. This New Year's Eve dinner was like that.

Here's what I made:
Mediterranean Puffs
White Bean Soup
Bread with Olive Oil Dip
Pear and Endive Salad
Roasted Red Potatoes
Mushroom and Thyme Risotto Cakes with Green Salad
Dessert (Brought by my friends) : Chocolate Mousse Bomb Cake.

We had a beautiful candle lit table setup (with an unbelievably beautiful pink carnation center piece). The thing I found interesting about the menu was the use of a different cheese in each course - Feta in the appetizer, Blue cheese in the Pear Salad and Parmesan in the Risotto. I also indulged in fresh herbs like thyme, rosemary and chives to lace everything from the soup to dip to potatoes to the risotto. It was clearly a rich meal..perfect for a big celebration.

Here are the recipes:

Mediterranean Puffs:

For stuffing, combine chopped olives, sundried tomatoes, capers, feta, salt, pepper, red chilli flakes and some dried oregano. I thawed out one sheet of pepperidge farm frozen puff pastry (I thawed out for too long, so it was stuck..I used it without unfolding it, which made it thicker). I simply cut it in four pieces, and placed the filling in the middle. Baked it on 350 oven for about 10-15 mins.

White Bean Soup:

This food network recipe always works well. I added some fresh thyme and rosemary for the extra touch.
http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/giada-de-laurentiis/tuscan-white-bean-and-garlic-soup-recipe/index.html

Ingredients

* 2 tablespoons butter
* 1 tablespoon olive oil
* 2 shallots, chopped
* 1 sage leaf
* 2 (15-ounce) cans cannelloni beans, drained and rinsed
* 4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
* 4 cloves garlic, cut in 1/2
* 1/2 cup cream
* 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
* 6 slices ciabatta bread
* Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling

Directions

Place a medium, heavy soup pot over medium heat. Add the butter, olive oil, and shallot. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the shallots are softened, about 5 minutes. Add the sage and beans and stir to combine. Add the stock and bring the mixture to a simmer. Add the garlic and simmer until the garlic is softened, about 10 minutes. Pour the soup into a large bowl. Carefully ladle 1/3 to 1/2 of the soup into a blender and puree until smooth. Be careful to hold the top of the blender tightly, as hot liquids expand when they are blended. Pour the blended soup back into the soup pan. Puree the remaining soup. Once all the soup is blended and back in the soup pan, add the cream and the pepper Keep warm, covered, over very low heat.

Place a grill pan over medium-high heat. Drizzle the slices of ciabatta bread with extra-virgin olive oil. Grill the bread until warm and golden grill marks appear, about 3 minutes a side. Serve the soup in bowls with the grilled bread alongside.

Pear and Endive Salad from Epicurious:

I used some ready caramelized pecans instead of hazel nuts. I also used the same vinaigrette for tossing the salad which I useda a bed for the risotto cakes.

http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Endive-and-Pear-Salad-with-Gorgonzola-Cream-Dressing-101596

* 4 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
* 3 tablespoons olive oil
* 1 tablespoon honey
* 4 large heads Belgian endive, sliced
* 1 large pear, halved, cored, sliced
* 1/3 cup sour cream
* 1/3 cup plain yogurt
* 1 1/4 cups crumbled Gorgonzola cheese

* 1/2 cup hazelnuts, toasted, husked
* Chopped fresh chives

Preparation

Whisk 3 tablespoons vinegar, oil and honey in large bowl to blend. Add endive and pear and toss to coat. Blend sour cream, yogurt and remaining 1 tablespoon vinegar in medium bowl; mix in cheese. Season dressing to taste with salt and pepper.

Mound pear salad on platter. Top with dressing, then nuts and chives.

Mushroom and Thyme Risotto Cakes with Roasted Tomato and Arugula Salad:

I did not do the arugula salad. Instead, I just tossed some spring greens in a simple vinaigrette and used that as a bed.

Epicurious | November 2008

by Andrew Friedman

subscribe to Bon Appétit
Ingredients

* 3/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
* 3 large cloves garlic, minced
* 12 ounces white mushrooms, thinly sliced
* 1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
* 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
* 6 cups chicken stock or low-sodium chicken broth
* 1 medium Spanish onion, finely diced
* 1 1/4 cups arborio rice (12 ounces)
* 1/2 cup dry white wine
* 1/4 cup fresh thyme leaves
* 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
* 3 eggs, lightly beaten
* 1 1/2 cups plain bread crumbs


* Accompaniment: Roasted Tomato and Arugula Salad

Preparation

In large heavy sauté pan over moderate heat, heat 3 tablespoons oil until hot but not smoking. Add 1/2 of garlic and sauté until softened, about 2 minutes. Add mushrooms, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and sauté until mushrooms begin to give off liquid, about 5 minutes. Transfer to colander and let drain until ready to use.

In medium saucepan over low heat, bring stock to simmer. Cover and keep simmering.

In large heavy pot over moderate heat, heat 1/4 cup oil until hot but not smoking. Add onion and remaining garlic and sauté until softened, about 4 minutes. Add rice and sauté 4 minutes.

Add wine and cook, stirring constantly, until absorbed, about 2 minutes. Stir 1/2 cup simmering stock into rice and cook, stirring constantly, until absorbed. Continue cooking and adding stock, about 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly and letting each addition be absorbed before adding next, until rice is tender and creamy-looking but still al dente, about 18 minutes. (You will have about 1 cup stock left over.)

Remove from heat and stir in drained mushrooms, thyme, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Cool to room temperature, then refrigerate, covered, until cold, about 4 hours. (Risotto can be made ahead and refrigerated, covered, up to 24 hours.)

Preheat oven to 250°F.

Transfer 1 cup flour, eggs, and bread crumbs to 3 separate shallow bowls. Stir 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper into flour. Stir remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper into bread crumbs.

Stir remaining 2 tablespoons flour into risotto, then, using wet hands, shape into 12 (1/2-inch-thick) patties.

In heavy large sauté pan over moderate heat, heat 1/4 cup oil until hot but not smoking. Working in batches of 4 and adding 2 tablespoons oil after each batch, dredge cakes in flour (tapping off excess), then egg (letting excess drip off), then bread crumbs, and fry until golden brown, about 2 minutes per side. Keep warm in oven while frying remaining batches.

Serve warm with salad.

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