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Jun 25, 2007 03:28 PM

Menu check needed for fancy family meal!

So I'm thinking about cooking a really fancy meal for my family. They usually eat Chinese food, but enjoy a Western meal once in awhile as long as the flavors aren't too crazy. We're looking at about 8 people, so I'll have enough time to get kind of creative with the presentation. Here's what I'm thinking--let me know what improvements to color or flavor you suggest!

APPETIZER--paired with a crisp white wine
I want to try stacking something in a cylindrical cook's ring for once. I have various size biscuit rings, so I want to do:

a layer of lightly dill flavored potatoes (Cubed? Mashed? A little of both?)
a layer of broken up rare salmon
a layer of finely chopped shallots and dill
another layer of salmon
topped with?

And a few shards of Parmesan crisps sticking out the top, to use as crackers. Would the flavor of Parmesan and salmon go well though?

A few drops of pureed dill on the plate

ENTREE--paired with a hearty California red (cab or zin)
sliced skirt steak on a bed of very runny polenta surrounded by au jus
a few long skinny baby vegetables lightly cooked and placed on top (carrots, zucchini, asparagus--whatever looks good that day at the market)

DESSERT--paired with an unctuous dessert wine, of course!
millefeuille. One puff pastry layer, a layer of piped custard lightened with whipped cream, another layer of puff pastry, and a swirl of berry compote on the plate and cooked berries spooned over the top.

Is the meal colorful and beautiful enough? I'm going for simple flavors to showcase quality ingredients, and lots of presentational oomph this time around.

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  1. Wow.

    I might try tuna tartar instead of salmon. On top of a wasabi spiked "guacamole" perhaps. I am sure I have seen chefs do something similar a million times on TV and always thought it looked great and I should make it! Instead of parmesan crisps. 2 thin slices of potato, buttered, with a beautiful herb stalk of your choice in between and baked til crisp.

    I love the idea of what looks good that day in the market. Always flexible! Try mixing in some creme fraiche and gorgonzola in your polenta. And then make it a Zin!

    Unctuous dessert wine = chocolate. For me anyway. How about a molten chocolate cake (individual) with a berry compote and whipped cream (perhaps spiked with framboise or chambord)? If you want to cheat (shhhh), I hear Williams Sonoma molten chocolate cake mix is outstanding and easy.

    You had to get me started, didnt ya?

    4 Replies
    1. re: MellieMac

      Thanks! I don't know why I didn't think tuna tartare. It's easier and more unusual! And it would be really lovely with a little spoonful of the green wasabi spiked masago instead of the usual orange. I'd completely forgo parmesan crisps of potatoes with that, but what's a good thin cracker type thing that people eat with tuna tartare other than baguette chips?

      Creme fraiche in polenta=a must!

      Sadly, my parents and uncles/aunts don't like chocolate. They much prefer fruit and cream type desserts .Maybe a panna cotta?

      1. re: Pei

        There must be a beautiful cracker around that has black sesame seeds on it. And use the avocado with the wasabi. YUM!

        Gorgonzola in polenta=a tasty delight!

        Awwwww, on the chocolate. Panna cotta sounds yummy though. Millefeuille stills sounds wonderful but gosh thats alot of work. It's family go for it!

        1. re: MellieMac

          If you're going all out, I was surprised at how easy it is to make crackers from scratch. There'a recipe on the Martha Stewart site for Thyme crakcers that you could adapt to have compatible flavors. Very simple - mostly flour and heavy cream in the food processor, and some slightly time consuming rolling. These come out thin and crispy, not like the cheesy shortbread ones, so they'd probably be nice with your tartare.

        2. re: Pei

          If you go w/ panna cotta, you could do it almond flavored and it would be similar to the chinese almond jello. Add fresh seasonal fruit and you'd have a refreshing dessert.

      2. I think it sounds perfect!!!

        And I'd do the potatoes very VERY fine, in a mandolin slicer, brush with olive oil and dill and bake until crispy.. use a couple of those top and bottom

        4 Replies
        1. re: purple goddess

          good idea. Do I bake them in a single layer and then stack them in the ring, or stack and then bake?

          1. re: Pei

            bake in single layer until crispy and then stack...

          2. re: purple goddess

            I think the menu sounds like perfection as is, and I design menus for a living.
            Stick with salmon; it's in season now (get wild of course) and your tian/stack is perfect: the layers, parm crisps, dill oil. Go for it. Agree on use of the mandolin if you have one.
            Likewise, the entree: don't change it. Gorgonzola in the polenta may provide an wanted tang: I'm picking up on the clean/elegant flavors bent here. I'd normally recommend mascarpone in polenta but probably not in this case b/c of the whipped cream in dessert...
            Dessert: keep as is, make sure your berries are impeccably fresh from a farm stand. But why cook them? Just macerate with a bit of sugar.

            1. re: maria lorraine

              Mascarpone!!!! Thats what I meant. Great recs ML!

          3. Personally, I would add an after dinner salad (reducing the serving size of the polenta and steak. Of course, not having enough veggies is a pet peave of mine. And salads certainly showcase the ingredients. The ideas are endless. Sliced fresh apricots, with mixed greens and a pomogranate molasses vinegrette, and perhaps pistacios would be nice. Maybe some great quality feta or chevre? could also do a slice manchengo or a bleu.

            On top of your appetizer you can add some dressed frizee for interest, or serve on a bed of baby greens. I would at least serve a sauce on the plate that is slightly acidic, like a lemon vinegrette. You can also make a chive oil for the plate that would be nice.

            9 Replies
            1. re: jsaimd

              I like the idea of the tuna with avocado, and you could keep with your theme of layers, and instead of mushing everything up in the guac, you could deconstruct it.
              You could fry your own corn tortilla, cut into rounds that fit your timbale, you could put it on the top right at the end so that it stayed crispy. Serve with a few scattered (dressed) spicy arugula leaves around the timbale.
              I am not crazy about the idea of the skirt steak with runny polenta. Skirt steak is so simple and quick and soft polenta to me is more for long stewed meats or poultry with loads of sauce. You could make the polenta ahead and then grill it along with the steak (be sure to oil the grill) or if you do serve the polenta soft, I would serve it on the side with just a little pool of the best olive oil you can find drizzled on the top. (I think La Macchia is about the best there is.)
              Heavy cheese stirred into the polenta doesn't really go with the rest of your menu. With your appetizer, I would stick to a beautiful tomato salad with mixed fresh herb, olive oil, a little smashed garlic, and that's it. Don't worry about having a million things on the plate, especially when you are having courses.
              Here is a recipe for a panna cotta that is actually from Florence, but translates well with the south american flavors you have going on in the beginning, because it is really much more a flan:
              Caramelize 1 cup of sugar and pour into a heat proof dish (9 in)
              Bring to the simmer, 1 cup of milk and 1 cup of cream (organic if you can find it)
              with a half of a vanilla bean scraped into the milk as it comes to the simmer.
              In a bowl, whisk 5 egg yolks and 2 whole eggs with 1/3 cup of sugar, added in a thin stream, and whisking constantly, just til incorporated. Temper the eggs with a little of the hot cream, adding just a few spoonfuls, then the whole of it. Pour through a strainer and on top of the caramel. Bake in a bagnia maria (the dessert pan put into a larger pan that has about an inch of hot water in the bottom) at 350 degrees until set.
              Serve with fresh ripe strawberries and very lightly whipped cream.

              1. re: fayehess

                not too much to add-- your menu sounds great and the suggestions others have put forth are creative and wonderful as well, but I really like the previous poster's idea about the grilled polenta. It is summertime after all.

                1. re: maxwhite

                  I get the impression Pei likes the texture and softness of "very runny polenta" as he says. As do I.

                  1. re: maria lorraine

                    I like both! And I'm a she :)

                    I've never grilled polenta, so Im hesitant about making this my test run. But maybe I'll try it some time this week, since it would be nice to be able to do the time intensive part of polenta making before, and just have to fry them up the day of.

                    1. re: Pei

                      No offense intended, and I'm guessing none taken. Sounds like a great dinner.

                      1. re: Pei

                        Making your polenta ahead and then frying it up in triangles the day of is a good do-ahead plan. You'll have to cook (and stir) your polenta longer than you normally do to get it to a thicker consistency (you probably knew that already).

                        And if you decide to go with a salad, one I like (and guests always ask for) involves baby greens, fresh berries, and a basic oil and vinegar dressing made with pear balsamic vinegar. Using an immersion blender, puree this dressing mixture with a few of the berries, feeling free to add more until you get the flavor and texture you want. Serve this salad topped with some crumbled goat cheese and candied pecan pieces, if you want. You could toast the pecans with a little butter and sugar in a skillet ahead of time, and make the dressing ahead too.

                        1. re: Pei

                          The best advice I can give, especially if you really need it to work, is to test thte menu before you serve it. Make it for yourself for lunch, and give yourself a couple of the options (soft polenta, runny, the potato with salmon vs. tuna and avocado) to see which work best for flavor, practicality, and just do you like it.

                    2. re: fayehess

                      That's not panna cotta, it's flan or creme caramel. Panna cotta is made with gelatin and chilled until set.

                      1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                        Traditionally panna cotta is made with cream and gelatin, and can be served with frutti di bosco, caramello, or any number of other sauces, but in Florence, it is common to find a proper flan that they refer to as "panna cotta". This recipe is taken from a book that I love called "Soffritto".

                  2. If you decide on the tuna (instead of salmon), you can try frying strips of wonton wrapper for the crispy garnish.

                    And I agree that chocolate MUST be on the menu.

                    Have a great dinner!!

                    1. If you want to add easy veggies, plate your grilled steak atop some fresh local arugula. It wilts nicely and adds a peppery zing to the steak.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: NYchowcook

                        Good idea! I'd wanted to have more greens but didn't want to do an actual salad because I always do that. Arugula wilted by hot steak with a few wedges of grilled polenta would be pretty and a very nicely balanced meal.

                        1. re: Pei

                          An excellent salad tha's not really a salad, that I think would help tie your steak to your salad, that I'm reminded of by the above, is make your wet polenta, (you can keep it hot by holding it in a covered metal bowl (foil) over a pan with simmering water for about 30 minutes or even a bit more), and then toss arugula with olive oil, lemon, salt and pepper, and shavings of parmesan cheese and as soon as you pour the polenta onto your board, cover it with the salad to serve alongside the steak.