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Chufi

Husbands birthday dinner

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Bump!

Almost a year has passed and it's time to think about The Dinner again.

This dinner has already kept me up at night. I have done about 14 of them now, mostly for the same crowd, and so far I think I managed not to repeat myself, but it's getting really hard to come up with something new and exciting..

The rules are roughly the same as last year:

- we try to keep it reasonably priced. All the more so because there will be about 18 guests this year. So no prime rib, fillets of wild salmon, or anything like that...

- I have time to do a lot of prepwork the week before. On the night of the dinner, I don't want to spend the entire evening in the kitchen.

- I do most of the shopping, and all of the cooking, by myself. At the dinner, there are usually helpful people around for some last minute prep and to help me plate and serve.

- which brings me to the final point. It seems I can always come up with creative ideas for soups, salads, first courses etc. It's the main course that's the hardest to decide. Usually I have done a braise of some sort, because it's so easy to make ahead and just reheat. But I would really like something different his year. Something that does not have that braised texture. If you know what I mean.

Here are my other ideas so far:

For (one of the) first course(s), little vol au vents with a mushroom ragout. I have learned recently how to make puff pastry, I could make the pastry well ahead and freeze it, and that would make a really special first course I think.

For dessert I'm thinking of doing a chocolate hazelnut pavlova, sandwiched together with a prune/amaretto cream.

I would love to hear ideas & input!

edited to add:

it's my husbands 50th birthday. He says that does not matter, but ofcourse it does.. lucky for me, it adds to the pressure..


Edited by Chufi (log)

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Isn't the answer obvious?

Given the wonderful dishes you're thinking about, a cassoulet seems in order :smile:.

Something I've made for larger groups at celebrations is Marcella Hazan's striped sea bass that is stuffed with shrimp, scallops, shallots and herbs.

Since you mentioned you'd like to stay away from braises, a good, filling paella or boullabaisse, though for the former, especially, I'd switch to a few interesting tapas, including mushroom if that is a favorite of your husband's.

A roast bird (or two for 14) such as a formidably scaled capon deboned by your butcher, then stuffed with interesting things and then cut into pretty slices along with a simple grain or rice dish.

Another mainstay for me is a stuffed polenta, though that's hardly elegant.


"Viciousness in the kitchen.

The potatoes hiss." --Sylvia Plath

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Chufi,

Would you consider duck breast? Sliced thinly it plates so beautifully.

Or mussles? There's no advance prep you could do, but they do cook quickly. You could have a side of braised witlof(endive) as a side.

And Pontormo's suggestion of paella or a fish stew sounds good too.

Whatever you cook will be delightful. I'm sure of it.


If only Jack Nicholson could have narrated my dinner, it would have been perfect.

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Chufi that's a wonderful tradition! My husband just gets worried by expensive gifts, but really appreciates a nice birthday dinner. It's a lovely thing to do, isn't it! I usually make the same cake every year - one that I worked out just for his birthday, and never make at other times.

Are you in Europe troubled by the same expensive vegetable prices that we're experiencing this year? If so, I'm finding hothouse vegetable prices are more stable - things that are normally extravagant are comparatively good buys!

I second the baked fish suggestions - so spectacular to serve! Crust the fins and tail with coarse salt and protect with foil, so that they stand out when served, but are not burned.

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Chufi,

unless I've remembered wrongly, you said somewhere that you have a copy of Penelope Casa's Delicioso (?)

How about trying the rabbit with blackberries and brown sugar (p. 376). If rabbit is too expensive (and sometimes it can be!) or some of your guests might not like it, this can also be made with chicken. I actually prefer to use chicken thighs (with the skin on to get the best flavor) if I have guests because then serving it out is easy. This dish is roasted in the oven, and apart from pulling it out part way through to add the sauce onto the chicken pieces, it doesn't need last minute preparation.

I know chicken doesn't necessarily sound too fancy, but I love this recipe. You are using blackberries, blackberry jam/preserves, paprika, cumin, wine, thyme, and a little wine vinegar for flavoring the chicken, so it gives all sorts of room to use these same flavours to play around with the accompaniments and other courses. For example, the blackberry or berry theme can be brought in all the way through from salad to dessert, whether in the form of actual blackberries, blackberry vinaigrette, as a last-minute topping on your pavlova, etc. You can reflect the cumin or paprika in side dishes such as cooked carrots or whatever else you feel like, and so on.

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Maybe a big paté/terrine/galantine would work. It can be made days in advance and certainly has the wow factor.


Martin Mallet

<i>Poor but not starving student</i>

www.malletoyster.com

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Isn't the answer obvious? 

Given the wonderful dishes you're thinking about, a cassoulet seems in order :smile:.

Another mainstay for me is a stuffed polenta, though that's hardly elegant.

Ah. Pontormo.. I'm scared of cassoulet. It intimidates me..

I'm interested in your stuffed polenta. Is it like a polenta lasagna? And stuffed with what? Elegance is not my first priority...

Would you consider duck breast?  Sliced thinly it plates so beautifully. 

Or mussles?  There's no advance prep you could do, but they do cook quickly. 

I think duckbreast would be great.. I could roast them right, instead of frying them? Because frying 18 duckbreasts is hardly practical..

Are you in Europe troubled by the same expensive vegetable prices that we're experiencing this year? If so, I'm finding hothouse vegetable prices are more stable - things that are normally extravagant are comparatively good buys!

I second the baked fish suggestions - so spectacular to serve! Crust the fins and tail with coarse salt and protect with foil, so that they stand out when served, but are not burned.

No, the wintervegetables (greens, cabbages, carrots, root vegetables) etc are really cheap right now!

Baked fish sounds good.. I'm sure my husband would love that, he's very fond of fish, more so than I..

Chufi,

unless I've remembered wrongly, you said somewhere that you have a copy of Penelope Casa's Delicioso  (?)

How about trying the rabbit with blackberries and brown sugar (p. 376). If rabbit is too expensive (and sometimes it can be!) or some of your guests might not like it, this can also be made with chicken. I actually prefer to use chicken thighs (with the skin on to get the best flavor) if I have guests because then serving it out is easy. This dish is roasted in the oven, and apart from pulling it out part way through to add the sauce onto the chicken pieces, it doesn't need last minute preparation.

I know chicken doesn't necessarily sound too fancy, but I love  this recipe. You are using blackberries, blackberry jam/preserves, paprika, cumin, wine, thyme, and a little wine vinegar for flavoring the chicken....

I have 3 of Penelope Casas' books, but not this one :smile: The recipe does sound delicious though.. Although fresh blackberries might be a bit hard to find, and expensive this time of year, the idea of roasting chicken pieces with a rich sauce really appeals to me. Would you be willing to PM me the recipe.. and do you think something could be substituted for the blackberries?

Maybe a big paté/terrine/galantine would work. It can be made days in advance and certainly has the wow factor.

That's a really good idea for the first course.. maybe even better than the vol au vents, because it needs no last minute prep at all..

Thanks everybody, you are really helping me in getting the creative process going!

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Hi Klary,

You could make something like I made last night, but use cornish hens or a whole chicken. If you use cornish hens, you would buy 9 and give everyone 1/2.

I stuffed my chicken with pre-cooked couscous that I seasoned with ras al hanout, dried sour cherries, walnut and a little olive oil. I stuffed the cavity of the bird and then places the rest of the couscous on the bottom of the casserole dish, placed the chicken on top. I drizzled pomegranate molasses, honey and olive oil on top and sprinkled some cinnamon on the top of the chicken. Then I poured 1 cup of red wine in the casserole dish around the chicken and baked for 1 hour at 180. 1/2 way through the cooking I checked it and if the liquid evaporated, then I added a little water.

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That's a great idea Michele. I think I have a similar recipe somewhere.. a couscous and chorizo stuffing with pinenuts, raisins etc..

I can't get cornish hens here, but poussins would work as well I think.. maybe they are a bit blander so I would have to make sure the stuffing was very well seasoned.

Then, ofcourse, the question is if 10 poussins will fit in my oven, and if it won't be too much of a hassle to cut them in half right before serving.. but I really like this idea..


Edited by Chufi (log)

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I cut mine with kitchen shears. It is much easier than trying to use a knife.

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Chufi: Down in the Italian forum, I am not sure if you've mentioned more than one cookbook you own (Claudia Roden's). Do you have a copy/copies of Marcella Hazan's classic work? She's got a basic recipe for stuffed polenta that Roden might have since it's made in Northern Italy.

To prepare the polenta, you make a large batch. For 14-16 people, you would need two batches. Once done, pour the hot mush out onto a wooden or plastic board, making one big oblong shape with dimensions of a lasagne/roasting pan or a gratin dish in your cupboard.

When cooled, the cool trick is to use a doubled piece of thread or even dental floss to cut the polenta lengthwise. Marcella says twice, I say, two layers are plenty.

Then treat it like lasagna (which, by the way, is amazing with fresh home-made pasta and cooked artichoke hearts, bechamel & Parm, nothing else), slathering on a layer of bechamel, a good ragu Bolognese (see the thread in the Italian forum) that I like to make with reconstituted porcini, and generous sprinkling of Parm-Reg. Repeat on upper surface.

I notice you are as fond as I am of fennel. The polenta is excellent with a simple orange and slivered fennel salad. The disadvantage is that this cheap, filling food does not really lend itself to a pastry-shelled appetizer nor a rich, layered cake afterwards. Thus, my initial hesitations. If your party wouldn't mind getting up and playing rugby or hiking in between courses...

Now, what does your husband absolutely LOVE that you do too?

Is there anyway you could build something biographical out of comfort foods he loved as a child, a wine he associates with a friend at the table, or something he discovered with you on your Honeymoon...?


Edited by Pontormo (log)

"Viciousness in the kitchen.

The potatoes hiss." --Sylvia Plath

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I was thinking that a milestone birthday like #50 might be a good chance to do a "greatest hits" themed meal -- choose his favorite appy, soup, main, dessert, etc. that you've made over the years and combine them into this meal.


~ Lori in PA

My blog: http://inmykitcheninmylife.blogspot.com/

My egullet blog: http://forums.egullet.org/index.php?showtopic=89647&hl=

"Cooking is not a chore, it is a joy."

- Julia Child

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The disadvantage is that this cheap, filling food does not really lend itself to a pastry-shelled appetizer nor a rich, layered cake afterwards.  Thus, my initial hesitations.  If your party wouldn't mind getting up and playing rugby or hiking in between courses...

I have Marcella's book.. in fact I have 3 of her books.. I'll look this up.. but I can see what you mean, this might be too heavy.. we spend all evening at the table so I want at least 4 courses.

Now, what does your husband absolutely LOVE that you do too? 

uhmmm :blush: ...

Is there anyway you could build something biographical out of comfort foods he loved as a child, a wine he associates with a friend at the table, or something he discovered with you on your Honeymoon...?

That's a lovely thought. His mother could not cook, so that period is dealt with easily :biggrin: Food from our history, that I could do..

I was thinking that a milestone birthday like #50 might be a good chance to do a "greatest hits" themed meal -- choose his favorite appy, soup, main, dessert, etc. that you've made over the years and combine them into this meal.

Another lovely thought.. I love how you all inspire me.. Indeed, why not compose this dinner around him, for him, instead of thinking about how I can impress the guests yet another time.. I really like that...

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Klary, do you usually serve your main dish family style or plate? That might make a difference in what you decide upon. I am so like you in this regard... I have no trouble thinking of several courses, except for the main entree. That's harder to decide. I posted the recipe for the chicken with Champagne vinegar sauce. It could be served family style or by plating. It's a dish that is both home cooking -like, and sophisticated or elegant, in my opinion. And, chicken is inexpensive. And it tastes so good!

Wow, talk about this keeping you awake at night... I have never cooked for that many people, except for an outdoor barbecue type thing. I would be at risk for committment to the nut hut. I consider myself a good cook, but I get really nervous cooking for more than four people outside of my own family/relatives!

Have you chosen a salad yet? I have a really good recipe for a salad of an individual Cabrales blue cheese souffle which is on top of mixed baby greens and some raw pear slices. If I recall correctly, the souffles are easy and can be made ahead. We eat salads after our main entree, and I like this because it combines a salad course and cheese course. If you're interested, I'll look for it.


Life is short; eat the cheese course first.

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Klary, do you usually serve your main dish family style or plate?  That might make a difference in what you decide upon.  I am so like you in this regard...  I have no trouble thinking of several courses, except for the main entree.  That's harder to decide.

For this dinner, I usually do the first two courses plated, and the main course is just bowls and serving platters on the table and everyone helps themselves.. dessert is often cakes or something else that is cut/served at the table, also making it easier for people to ask for a smaller portion (or a second helping :smile: )

I have a really good recipe for a salad of an individual Cabrales blue cheese souffle which is on top of mixed baby greens and some raw pear slices.  If I recall correctly, the souffles are easy and can be made ahead.  We eat salads after our main entree, and I like this because it combines a salad course and cheese course.  If you're interested, I'll look for it.

It does sound good, but with the guestlist being up to 20 since yesterday :shock: this would mean I would have to buy 16 new little souffle molds. You see... that's one of the big problems of doing a dinner like this only once a year.. the logistics are killing!! :biggrin: but I love it!!

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Hi--

The suggestions about cornish hens brought to mind B'stilla, the Persian pigeon pie in phyllo dough.

Big wow, but little last minute fussing.

By the way, I agree with something you said last year, about one big dessert being more impressive than individually plated ones. Especially for birthday parties--even if you don't do candles--and because it's something you don't usually see in a restaurant. Home cooking is its own virtue.

Have a great meal.

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At one of our egullet gatherings, Carolyn Tillie made an incredible and spectacular stuffed timpano. One large one would probably be enough for the whole group and there would be so many options to serve for before and after... Carolyn or someone else may have more specific tips as I've never made one.


"Under the dusty almond trees, ... stalls were set up which sold banana liquor, rolls, blood puddings, chopped fried meat, meat pies, sausage, yucca breads, crullers, buns, corn breads, puff pastes, longanizas, tripes, coconut nougats, rum toddies, along with all sorts of trifles, gewgaws, trinkets, and knickknacks, and cockfights and lottery tickets."

-- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1962 "Big Mama's Funeral"

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Hi--

The suggestions about cornish hens brought to mind B'stilla, the Persian pigeon pie in phyllo dough.

Big wow, but little last minute fussing.

By the way, I agree with something you said last year, about one big dessert being more impressive than individually plated ones. Especially for birthday parties--even if you don't do candles--and because it's something you don't usually see in a restaurant. Home cooking is its own virtue.

Have a great meal.

B'stilla is Moroccan, not Persian and for a nice dinner it would look nicer if you made individual ones, but for 20 people, that would be too much work.

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Chufi,

I've done duck breast for 14 but 20 sounds like too much :wacko: ! For a slightly smaller group you might do as I did and half cook them in advance and finish in a HOT oven. If you make a sauce it will caramelize in the oven. Although something like this might be frowned upon here the average eater seems to like it.

You know, I really like the idea of a 'best of' from your husband's favorites. He will feel special!


If only Jack Nicholson could have narrated my dinner, it would have been perfect.

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It's getting lost in the flood of ideas, so please let me bump up Marcella's whole fish stuffed with shellfish, the suggestion that popped into my head when I read your call for help and before I'd read Pontormo's post. It's a perfect dish for large gatherings: it's simple to put together and a good part of the prep can be done ahead of time; the recipe is easily expandable (two or three fish would be sufficient for your crowd); each fish is wrapped in foil before baking so no fancy cookware is required and the fish can easily be moved from counter, to oven to table; once the fish are assembled and in the oven, there's no more work involved, leaving you free to concentrate on other things; the fish are deboned by the fishmonger, meaning you slice them like a roast and diners don't have to deal with the skeletons; you are guaranteed at least four rounds of oohs and ahs (on bringing it to the table, on opening the foil and releasing the delicious aromas, on slicing it and on eating); and, despite its simplicity, the dish creates a sense of occasion, making it appropriate for a special occasion. As your husband is a fish lover, he'd be doubly impressed.

A make-ahead dessert that I've been getting a lot of milage out of lately and that never fails to delight comes from a local restaurant, Brunoise: vanilla panna cotta with basil syrup and passion fruit pulp, an unusual combination of flavours that makes blissfully perfect sense once you've tried them together. The most elegant presentation is in martini glasses or champagne flutes, though I've been known to use tea cups for a crowd (if the cups are all the same height, you can stack them in a fridge so they don't take up much space). I usually serve them with a crisp, rolled cookie; for something fancier, you could take a cue from the resto and whip up some petit fours. Since I'm invariably asked for the recipe when I serve it, I have the script typed up. If you'd like it, shoot me a PM and specify the language (it's in French but I could translate it into English a flash because it's really, really short).


Edited by carswell (log)

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I am glad you also have found the same recipe perfect for celebrations (in my case, a friend's acceptance into law school & given the line at the shack at the wharf where fish were cleaned, my cooking companion read Marcella aloud as I gutted the beast and removed the backbone).

However, I believe Klary is not as fond of seafood as her husband is and after all this effort, something she would enjoy seems in order.

P.S. Did you see the exquisite cakes from last year's event? I suspect the dessert will be splendid.


"Viciousness in the kitchen.

The potatoes hiss." --Sylvia Plath

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However, I believe Klary is not as fond of seafood as her husband is and after all this effort, something she would enjoy seems in order.

She didn't say fish made her gag, just that she is less fond of it than her husband. Don't know about you, but when I prepare a birthday dinner for someone, I usually put his/her preferences ahead of my own. Besides, the dish in question, especially when made with wild striped bass and impeccably fresh shellfish, is one that can make a believer out of a fish doubter (I've seen it happen); eliminating the bones often does the trick and, if it doesn't, the savoury, briny, herby smell/taste and moist texture almost assuredly will.

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Go with the stuffed fish!

PS: What color plastic wrap will it be this year?


Sitting on the fence between gourmet and gourmand, I am probably leaning to the right...

Lyle P.

Redwood City, CA

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