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Please critique my dinner party menu!

Here's the scenario: Casual buffet style dinner party for about 8-10 people, including 2 vegetarians, 1 non-adventurous diner who dislikes spicy foods, and the rest a bunch of adventurous and multicultural eaters.
I am a good cook but not always so good at planning a menu with elements that complement rather than clash. Prefer a mix of cultural influences rather than a theme. Any advice and critiques of my tentative menu will be greatly appreciated! Thanks, Serena

Summer dinner party—MENU

Assorted cheeses/bread
Cold cooked/raw vegetables w/ aioli
Figs with cheese, or bacon, or...?

Soltero (Peruvian bean salad)
Some vegetarian dish (lasagne?)
Aji de gallina over potatoes

Lemon mousse with assorted berries
Almond torte with vanilla ice cream

Wine, beer

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  1. As good old Clara would have said, "where's the meat?" Move the figs and cheese to dessert

    1. Figs with cheese AND bacon! Stuff the figs with goat cheese and wrap each with bacon. My friends went gaga when I did it with panchetta and feta.

      I like the two desserts in that they're a good contrast, but would agree with Candy that there should be meat (unless you are all vegetarians).

      2 Replies
        1. re: PseudoNerd

          I thought it was blue cheese, pecans, and, prosciutto? Here's a favorite Dallas recipe from Hatties's in Oak Cliff.

          Prosciutto-Wrapped Figs

          8 dried figs, preferably Mission (do not subsitute fresh)
          8 pecan or walnut halves
          3 ounces blue cheese or goat cheese, about 1/2 teaspoon for
          each fig, at room temperature
          Thin slices of prosciutto or other imported ham (enough to
          completely wrap each fig with one layer of ham)

          Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

          Slice figs in half vertically but not all the way through; leave stem on to make a little "handle" for easy eating.

          Stuff each fig with a nut half and a bit of cheese. (The goat cheese is a bit milder, the blue cheese strong. To tone down blue cheese but retain flavor, mix with cream cheese.)

          Wrap figs in prosciutto and roast for 10 minutes. To caramelize the fig a bit, roast an additional 3 minutes.

          Note: May be made a day ahead and refrigerated before baking. Optional: drizzle with rosemary olive oil before setting out.



      1. I assume that the Aji de gallina is a meat (chicken?) dish. I would definitely add more meat to the menu. Figs wraped in bacon sounds good. Maybe a shrimp cocktail to add some seafood to the menu. Maybe another meat dish entree as well. Maybe add some notes of chocolate to your desserts as well.

        1. I think it sounds great--what time should I be there? If you feel the need for more meat (do you?) add some salami/proscuitto to the cheese plate. Maybe a mixed green salad? I usually put out some dried apricots and almonds with the crudite, just to boost the protein opportunities for my vegetarian friends.

          1. If you move the figs and cheese to dessert, as has been suggested, you could use proscuitto and melon to replace them.

            Meatless lasagna sounds like a lot of bother. Could you make a manacotti with meatless and meat sauce? One dish with sauce for everyone.

            I love almond tort. Does it need ice cream? Could you just skip the tort and have a lemon and a chocolate mousse?

            You don't have to pay any attention to my musing.

            1. For the vegetarian dish...how about something that takes more advantage of summer ingrediants like a veggie terrine or tart.

              I also have a recipe for some yummy grilled polenta and vegie stacks with a roasted red pepper sauce...this is a little more fiddly since each is assembled individually but I am sure you coiuld assemble in a baking dish and heat then serve buffet stlye.


              1. Original poster here...thanks guys, you are giving me many good ideas. Should have said that that aji de gallina is a Peruvian chicken dish, chicken in chili/nut sauce (not spicy btw). Was contemplating replacing this with a roasted herb-encrusted pork loin and a separate side dish of potatoes (maybe in romesco sauce). Are my flavors getting too "clashy"?
                Jenna, would love your grilled polenta recipe!


                1 Reply
                1. re: smsliu


                  No problem. The recipe is from the Real Food Daily cook book which is a vegan organic resto in California.

                  3 cups water
                  3 cups plain soymilk
                  1/4 cup olive oil
                  3 cloves garlic, minced
                  2 tsp sea salt
                  pinch white peper
                  2 cups polenta or yellow cornmeal

                  6 (1/2 inch thick) eggplant slices
                  2 red onions sliced into 1/3 inch rings
                  6 stemmed portobello mushrooms
                  1 cup Balsamic vinargrette
                  Sea salt and pepper
                  1 1/4 cup tofu ricotta cheeese (you can use normal cheese though)
                  3 cups Tomato Saffron Coulis (or the roasted red pepper that I said-I forgot this was the coulis it called for)

                  Make polenta: combine water soymilk olive ooil garlic S&P in large heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil over med-high heat. Gradually add polenta whisking until boiling and smooth. Decrease heat to low and cook whisking often until mix is very thick about 25 mins. Spread into a 13 by 9 by 2 baking dish and cool slightly. Cover and refridgerate for at least 6 hours and up to one day. Using a 3 1/2 inch cookie cutter cut out 6 rounds of polenta (this is for the individual veggie stacks, you could just leave it in the pan.

                  Make veggies: marinate veggies in the vinagrette for one hour or up to one day in the frigde. Heat the grill and grill until tender. Grill the polenta until heated through (this isn't hugely necessary if you want to serve in the dish)

                  Assemble: spread cheese over polenta then top with eggplant. Another layer of cheese then onion put more cheese and then the mushroom gill side down. Spoon couis over stacks.

                  Serena, if you are serving this out of the baking dish I would make more veggies to make sure the polenta base is covered.



                2. Hi Serena--not jenna here, but have a grilled polenta dish as well, went over huge at a summer party last year.

                  Polenta, tomato and mozarella antipasto:

                  Slice polenta in rounds, sprinkle with shaved parmesan.
                  Grill on stovetop cast iron grill pan or on medium heat on bbq till parmesan is browned and polenta is crisp at edges.

                  In the meantime, reduce some balsamic vinegar for a few minutes in a saucepan to a syrupy consistency.

                  Arrange on platter with slices of very ripe yellow and orange tomato, and 1/8 inch thick rounds of fresh mozzarella. I like to create layers of polenta, cheese, tomato, so it fans out on the platter.

                  Garnish with torn fresh basil, fresh cracked black pepper or red pepper flakes, and drizzle with balsamic immediately before serving.

                  1. I have a great fig 'dish' that's vegetarian. Toast up some baguette chips, spread with goat cheese, top with fresh sweet figs, or dried one will work too, and drizzle with lavendar honey (or regular honey). It's unusual and it's vegetarian.

                    1. It all sounds wonderful... but lasagne seems to stand out too much given that the two other main course items are Peruvian.

                      Since I'm not familiar with these Peruvian dishes, it's hard for me to suggest a better pairing. Maybe you could describe them. Does the bean dish contain legumes (a protein source) or green bean-type beans? Which spices/types of chili are in the chicken? Are there any spices with the beans or is that vinegary?

                      1. Hi, OP here again with more clarification...

                        The soltero is a salad made w/ fresh soybeans, carrots, sweet onion, red pepper, corn, in a lemon vinagrette. Very light and fresh tasting.
                        Aji de gallina is shredded chicken in a mild sauce of ancho chiles, ground walnuts, cream, Parmesan cheese, served over potatoes.

                        I've added another veggie side dish: baked corn w/ cumin, red pepper, green chilis and feta. Which still leaves the veggie main dish. I am leaning towards a pesto lasagne now but am still undecided. Thanks for your help everyone!

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: smsliu

                          mmmm... It all sounds so delicious!

                          A few ideas for your veggie main course come to mind --

                          I always find eggplant good for a hearty main course, perhaps:
                          -eggplant and portobello lasagnas with roasted tomato vinaigrette (epicurious)
                          -chikpea eggplant and tomato tarts (epicurious)
                          -eggplant tian
                          or a vegetable tart/quiche (with egg for protein)
                          All would pair well with the potatoes

                          Whatever you go with, I'm sure it will be wonderful! I hope you have a great time.

                          1. re: smsliu

                            Do you have a recipe for the baked corn?

                            1. re: Katie Nell

                              Hi Katie,

                              This is a copyrighted recipe from Deborah Madison's "Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone" (one of my most favorite cookbooks by the way, highly recommended and I am the furthest thing from a vegetarian you could imagine) so unfortunately I can't post it here word-for-word. To paraphrase:

                              Fresh corn (cut off cob including "scrapings")
                              ground cumin
                              salt, pepper
                              diced onion
                              green chili, roasted and diced
                              diced tomato
                              crumbled feta

                              It's pretty much a simple matter of sauteing the corn, onion/garlic, chili, spices then adding the tomato/parsley at the end, and baking in the oven w/ feta cheese sprinkled on top till hot. Good luck! : )

                              1. re: smsliu

                                It sounds fantastic... thank you!!

                          2. I'd wrap those figs with prosciutto! Yummy!

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: altond

                              See my earlier posting in this thread for the recipe.


                            2. I'm with Maviris, I think since the rest of your menu leans so heavily towards peruvian dishes that a peruvian or latin american inspired veggie main would make the most sense. An italian veggie main seems like an afterthought (even though it will take a long time to make) and won't mingle well with the other flavors. One meat dish, provided that there is enough of it, seems to make the most sense with a party of 8-10 people. I wouldn't worry about a second meat dish. Green salad though would be nice. Sounds like it will be a great party!

                              1. Have you considered empanadas (half-moon-shaped pies stuffed with meat, cheese, veggie, or creamy corn filling)? I'm most familiar with Chilean and Argentinian empanadas, but they have them in Peru as well. Cheese- and corn-filled empanadas are a really nice finger food (if you make them small) and can also be very filling (if you make large ones).

                                I've made them before and can dig up a recipe if you're interested. Can make them spicy or not.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: DClope

                                  I'm not the original poster, but I'd love to try your empanada recipe!

                                  1. re: DClope

                                    Hi, OP here...would love your empanada recipe, thanks!

                                  2. meat: this time of year it's easy to find gorgeous selection of
                                    peppers..buy a variety, small/red/purple/mild/hot - and stuff them with meat-rice-raison mix and top each before baking with a
                                    thick tomato sauce. Serve room temp.