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Planning a 5 course meal

Okay so my boyfriend loves going to nice restaurants to do tasting menus, but after a less-than-stellar meal last time he was kind of bummed. I want to cook him a really nice 5 course meal, and am just struggling to put together a menu that's going to taste great, but also wont drive me crazy trying to do it. I'm a reasonable cook--not world-class, but I have the patience to stick with more time consuming and complicated recipes.

I know I want to do a fun amuse bouche, a fish course, and a meat course (the boy likes meat), but beyond that I'm just not sure. I lean towards french and asian food, but I'm not sold on it. Any suggestions for progressions, or particular recipes you've tried that have worked great?

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  1. You might want to consider a soup course that isn't meat-based, like cream of mushroom or leek and potato. Your fish course could be one perfect scallop, but the fish course will depend on what you find at your shop that is the best they have that day. Add a salad course before dessert - I like to make it a salad and cheese course at the same time. He'll love that you made such a special meal, no matter what you choose to serve.

    1. You will do great! I think what's tricky in these things is the timing so that there are not long waits between the courses. So something an amuse to start, then a soup (waiting on a warm stove), a short wait on that perfectly seared scallop, for meat you might try braised short ribs (waiting in a warm oven), cheese or salads can be done ahead, etc.

      To me, what makes a restaurant style tasting menu is the sauces... These aren't necessarily hard, but when you need to have one for the starter, two for the fish, dressing for the salad, and two more for dessert... Make sure you look for recipes where you can make components ahead of time!

      1. Sweet effort of you, here. I hope it goes duly appreciated.

        Consider making at least 1-3 of the courses largely preppred ahead. Like the soup course that Terrie H wisely suggests.

        For Euro-style: I suggest bruschetta topped with whatever's great, perhaps Ventresca tuna and oil, shallots and capers; then look into a great simple dressing for a green salad with shaved parmagiano and lemon drizzle; a risotto with a seared scallop atop (or a squid risotto); a (reheated from yesterday) braised lamb shank with roasted or mashed potatoes; and a cheese & fruit dessert (shaved parm; apple slices dredged in lemon juice; some cave-aged gruyere).

        Immediately dump any guy who turns his nose up at that.

        1. Five courses, leaning towards the French style the OP mentions:

          Crudites (all easily prepped well in advance)

          Fish course - something cooked at the last minute. Say, small fillet of whatever looks good wherever you buy it. Small garnish. Lemon butter sauce.

          Meat course - maybe a daube or similar that can sit around

          Cheese - easy peasy just buy it and serve with bread, maybe a little garnish of salad leaves in a mustardy dressing (one of my favourite restaurants in northern France serves this way)

          Dessert - definitely something to buy from wherever you can get good patisserie

          1. A great candidate for the salad+cheese dessert-y course after the meat is Ina Garten's roasted pears with blue cheese and walnuts. You can make the pears with their filling ahead the day of the dinner, using basting liquid to prepare the vinaigrette, so all you have to do at serving time is dress the baby arugula and top it with the pears.

            If you want an additional 'real' dessert, you could go with an exotic sorbet served with a lacy cookie -- items that can be prepared a day or two ahead.

            The day before you can make a soup and a braise for the meat course (which is always better made a day ahead -- flavors blend, and refrigeration allows you to easily de-fat the braising liquid). On the day of, but well ahead, you can also prepare a puree or mash that will be the base for the braised meat and sauce.

            That leaves you free closer to meal time to fuss with the amuse-bouche and fish course.

            Have fun!

            1 Reply
            1. re: ellabee

              I love pears and blue cheese, so I think that may have to be a part of my meal. Thanks for the suggestions!

            2. Everything they have advised is spot on. My dinner parties are normally a minimum of 4 courses. Definately prep ahead of time. Salads come out of the fridge, soup out of the pot, cheese off the counter. Have him pouring beverages while you are engaged in the kitchen.

              Please take advantage of my mistakes. Always experiment on your self, not your guests. What seems like a short time in the kitchen can be an eternity of waiting at the table. All china should be on the counter in order needed. All needed silverware and glasses should be on the table. The fish course or fresh pasta course should be the only ones cooked to order. The only meat I would consider cooking to order would be rack of lamb in a 500 degree oven or a seared filet mignon. Forget the bacon.

              Don't forget to have fun!!!

              2 Replies
              1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                We do this often with friends, and I have gotten a lot of great advice on the boards. My favourite way to get started is by picking a theme such as an ethnicity or style of cooking (bbq, gourmet comfort, bacon etc). I almost always serve a soup as one course, they are easy, often you can make ahead and seem 'fancier' than they really are, especially if you take the time to strain them and drizzle something on top.

                I love lamb as a main, seems very high end to me, and with a multi course meal you really only need 2-3 chops each. Serve with a starch (I like roasted squash) and a sauteed veggie which you can blanch ahead of time. Even the squash you could pre cook and finish right before.

                Don't forget your wine pairings too (if wine is your thing), since there are only 2 of you, consider half bottles, or be prepared for leftovers.

                My favourite soup of late is Celeric/Apple http://www.jamieoliver.com/magazine/r...

                I recently made a salad of shaved fennel, cara cara orange segments and parsley for a multi course meal. It was a great palate cleanser.

                I would also second the suggestion of a scallop (although I would want more than one LOL) or a giant shrimp as your seafood app. Or you could get fancy with some mushroom & goat stuffed phyllo pastry or puff pastries, which could be prepped and frozen ahead.

                For dessert I am a die hard for chocolate, I don't care how heavy my meal is. I love a chocolate pate, pot au creme or souffle (they first 2 can easily be made ahead), or for non chocolate a panacotta with fresh berries (again easy to make ahead).

                Be prepared to spend most of the day prepping and cooking (which is part of the fun for me!)

                1. re: cleopatra999

                  Oh man... pot au creme. Hadn't even thought of it but I think I may be sold on the idea now.

              2. These are all awesome suggestions thanks so much! I had been thinking of a soup that could be done ahead, so getting suggestions for types is great (leek and potato sounds fabulous). I'm also leaning towards scallops now, unless my market has some really fresh looking fish that day instead. The steak-lover in me wants to do filet mignon but as you all pointed out something like short ribs would definitely be great since it could be done ahead.

                Any other recipe suggestions are of course welcome, and thanks all!

                1 Reply
                1. re: mottomatic

                  If you really like potato leek, consider the celeriac soup. It is less heavy, still earthy and creamy. I worry that potato leek is too heavy before a meaty dish. If you go this route, make sure it is quite thin and very smooth.

                2. For the not driving you crazy aspect, make sure that you don't have to cook more than one of the dishes on the spot.

                  So a cold amuse bouche (made ahead), a soup that can be warmed up before serving, a fish dish that's cooked on the spot (fish can be fast fast), a meat dish that's stewed, a cold salad dish, and a desert that's made ahead.

                  I do courses sometimes for Italian food. Something anti-pasto like for an appetizer, pasta for the first course, meat and a vegetable for the second course, salad to finish, and dessert. One menu I did for guests was

                  - spiced olive for appetizers (made ahead)

                  - gnocci with home-made simple tomato sauce for the first course (sauce made ahead, gnocchi made earlier that day, but cooked at the last minute).

                  - pork with milk for the second course (slow cooked, can be kept warm while we eat the earlier courses) with pan roasted carrots with parmesan as the vegetable (make earlier and finish with the cheese at the last minute).

                  - Orange and radish salad for the salad course.

                  - Espresso and tiramisu for dessert, with limoncello liqueur to finish up.

                  It involved a lot of work in advance, but once the guests arrived all I had to do for the cooking was boil and sauce the gnocchi, warm the vegetables and mix with grated cheese, serve the food and clear the courses, and make coffee.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

                    If you like the idea of gnocchi, I have been making ricotta gnocchi and finding them so much easier, better tasting and lighter than the rest.

                  2. I did a dinner party recently when I served a shot glass of cold cucumber soup with mint. A small course....but lovely between the seafood appetizers and the next course.

                    1. I recently did a 3-course dinner, preceded by apps and drinks.
                      I made one thing during the course of the dinner, which was polenta.
                      Apps-olives, Ina Garten's onion dip with homemade pita chips, a cheese and nuts.
                      First Course-Curried Cauliflower Soup and sourdough bread/butter.
                      Main- Osso Bucco over polenta (took 10 minutes to make, add butter and Fulvi) and braised kale.
                      Dessert- duo of blood orange panna cotta and chocolate pot de creme.
                      I had not entertained in quite a while and thought long and hard about making as much as I could ahead of time, right down to every garnish.
                      It went off without a hitch.

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: monavano

                        Your polenta only took ten minutes? Wow. I was going to suggest oven-baked polenta. Could you give some details please?

                        1. re: c oliver

                          Yes, about 10 minutes. Maybe 12 tops. I use Bob's Red Mill and while the directions say it takes 30 min or so, it doesn't. After 10 minutes, I add a couple knobs of butter and cheese and stir for another minute or so.
                          I thought about preparing the polenta beforehand and baking, but I love it loose!

                        2. re: monavano

                          Sounds delicious--do you have recipe you'd recommend for the chocolate pot de creme?

                          1. re: mottomatic

                            Here's the recipe I used:

                            VERY rich, in a good way!
                            I added some strong coffee and good cinnamon to the mix for a little "hmm...what is that?". Topped with seetened whipped cream, toasted and chopped hazelnuts and a pirouette (Pepperidge Farm).

                        3. I would go oysters for a first course... I haven't made these (oysters with Presecco Granita) but I'm dying too.