At the beginning of the year, our church youth had a fundraising dinner. A group of ladies paid a lot of money for me to cook them a dinner with the main course being Julia Child's Boeuf Bourguignon. I'm making the dinner in the beginning of November, so I'm recipe testing everything throughout the next month to make sure all the flavors go well and I like the way the recipes turn out.
The dinner will be a lot of fun. Paul is going to don his tux and play waiter. He's also gathering the music and setting it up to run in the background. I know what I want to do for decorations, which are very simple and won't take a long time to do. That's a good thing because once I get in cook mode, it's hard for me to focus on the ambiance. The meal is for eight people. My current menu is:
Creamy Beet Soup-half made from red beets and half made from golden beets: I'm not sure whether I'll pour them both into the bowl at the same time to make it half-and-half or pour one into a small glass then top it with the other. I'm going to try it both ways and see which one tastes better and works better for presentation with the salad. The other issue is whether or not I need my bowls for something else. I only have eight of each size dish/bowl and I don't want my guests to have to wait while I wash dishes between courses.
Fall Salad: I'm testing the salad with Asian Pears, walnuts or pecans or almonds, mushrooms, spinach, and either feta, blue, or goat cheese. The dressing is a honey-poppy seed dressing. I'm substituting extra-virgin olive oil for the canola. I'm not sure which vinegar I will end up with. I'm testing pomegranate champagne, citrus champagne, champagne, and white balsamic. I'm also thinking maybe lime juice would work better than vinegar. But I want to taste them before I choose. I'm also considering the mustard. I have a Maple-Champagne mustard that I think would be very nice. I often think recipe writers get boring and just automatically grab the Dijon. Dijon is a very nice mustard, but there are a lot of others out there you can use to vary the flavor.
Herb & Onion Bread: People like bread with soup and salad, plus they like to mop up the sauce in the stew. So I'm doing an herb and onion bread I can make in advance. The herbs will complement the flavors in the soup and the stew.
Julia Child's Boeuf Bourgingnon: Because of my work schedule, it would be great if this recipe could work in my crock pot. So, I'm making it this week in the crock pot and if it's not as amazing as when it cooks in the oven, I'll use the oven for the party. I've made it before, so I have a benchmark to test it by. The main issue with the crock pot is that you end up with more liquid, so getting it to thicken properly is the main problem.
Side dishes: I'm doing a simple green bean saute with bacon and garlic, topped with crispy shallots. Since the stew is pretty soft, texturally speaking, I wanted some crunch in the veggies. And the green beans look nice with the brown stew.
Thinking about the bland color of the stew led me to a pretty nontraditional starchy side dish. The traditional is boiled potatoes or noodles, and they're white. The stew is brown. The plate looks boring. So I chose for my other side an unusual dish called Sweet Potato Kisses. It's mashed orange-flavored sweet potatoes piped with a star tip onto an orange slice. The shape resembles a Hershey's kiss, thus the name. They're browned under the broiler and dusted with powdered sugar. I'm thinking the sweet potato color will be wonderful.
I'm not sure the orange flavor will blend well with the stew. The palate in my brain says it should be a nice contrast. But, if upon tasting them together, I find that it clashes, I'll change the flavors of the mash. I'm thinking apples with maple syrup instead of sugar may be a good substitute, if I want to keep the emphasis on the sweet in the sweet potato. I can substitute precooked apple rings for the orange slices. If the emphasis on the sweetness turns out to be the problem, I'll do savory flavors and top them with a very fine dust of hard cheese--an Asiago, Parmesan, Romano or dry Jack.
If I decide that the sweet potatoes just won't work and use noodles or traditional mashed potatoes for my starchy side, I'll do baked tomatoes with a flavored bread crumb topping to add more color to the plate. If I don't want to do an additional dish, I'll add tomatoes to the green bean saute or do braised green beans with tomatoes instead of the saute. The braise can be made further ahead of time, but the saute has more crunch.
I'm leaning toward adding tomatoes to the saute as my backup plan. Doing the braise further ahead of time isn't as much of an issue with this meal, since almost everything is done ahead of time. The only last minute items are piping and broiling the sweet potatoes, assembling and dressing the salad, and the green bean saute. All the prep can be done in advance. Then it's just getting it on the plates and serving. Plus being aware of the timing so people don't feel rushed, but aren't annoyed because the food is coming out too slow. On to the final dish.
Dessert: I'm doing a very spicy gingerbread with a lemon curd cream topping. This is one of my favorite recipes. It uses fresh ginger and freshly ground black pepper, which gives it a bit of a bite. It's a wonderful contrast with the lemon topping. I found a recipe that makes the topping from scratch. I have a recipe that uses jarred lemon curd. I've noticed that different brands of lemon curd act differently in the recipe. Some of them blend nicely with the whipped cream and some seem to break down the cream and I end up with a thick lemon sauce. It tastes good, but isn't the texture I'm looking for. And both the gingerbread and the lemon topping recipes were from David Lebovitz (but he didn't write the cookbook I got them from), which is why they're so good. He's a genius at doing recipes that work for a cook in a home kitchen with home kitchen equipment.
Tonight I'm testing the beet soup and fall salad. We're having leftover chicken and baked potatoes, so I can focus on cooking my test recipes. I'm going to try the salad two different ways tonight. And continue with different combinations until I've found the one I want. Maybe it will be one of the two I do tonight and I won't need to test further. We'll see.