My Fantasy Dinner Party – What’s Yours?

When I was a little girl, I found Dad’s foot-locker stuck in a corner of the garage, just collecting dust. It was his, from his time in the Air Force. We aren’t talking about a flimsy foot-locker – it was big and sturdy and made to last. That is when I first began “collecting” things. It was my hope chest. I was all of nine or ten at the time. Would you believe, some of the things I had tucked away in that chest I still have today? Yep – stuff you can’t find any more – my tools of inspiration and creativity.

Growing up, there were many parties at our house. While all revolved around food, most were casual in nature – backyard barbecues and such. Only at Christmas and Easter did the “fancy” china make an appearance at the table and everyone dressed for the occasion – the ladies in dresses of the season, the gentlemen in suits. Of course, back then men generally wore shirts and ties and ladies wore dresses, with stockings and high-heeled shoes – even on the weekends. Casual attire was strictly reserved for staying at home, without company.

While a traditional “Hope Chest” held clothing, linens and some household items a young girl would collect in anticipation and preparation of her wedding day, mine was strictly for kitchen stuff. Marriage had nothing to do with it. I longed for my own kitchen, where I could prepare wonderful meals to be served to interesting dinner companions. Even now, I still enjoy spending time putting together elaborate menus for sophisticated suppers. Once upon a time, in our prior life, we hosted extravagant dinner parties. While at times a catering company was hired, the menu was always one I had designed. There were times when all the work of preparing the selected menu was done by me (since I love being in the kitchen) and only a wait staff was necessary to serve and clear while I was free to enjoy the company of our guests.

Granted, for most of us today (yours truly included), an elegant 10-Course dinner party for six is an insane propitiation, yet one can dare to fantasize just a bit.


The Aperitif is a warm welcome as my guests arrive. This allows time for everyone to mingle and gives “late” arrivals a guilt-free appearance. Although the aperitif is served anywhere BUT the dining room, it is considered the first course of the meal.

The second through ninth course are all served in the dining room. (If you don’t have a dining room that isn’t a part of the kitchen – no problem – move the table to the backyard. With proper lighting and a little imagination, this could transport the entire party to another place and time).

With each course, individual china and silverware are placed on the table, then cleared away to make room for more. (Unless you are the Queen with a dining-room table so long that everything fits. In which case, there may not be much in the way of pleasant conversation as your dining companions are in the next county). The key here is to allow ample time between courses, otherwise your guests may faint! Lingering over a glass of wine is a wonderful way to pace the meal nicely.

The final course of the evening is served in the living room (drawing-room, if you have one). This gives everyone a chance to stretch their legs after a long meal and to relax.

And now for the menu –

1st Course – Aperitif
Champagne with Chambord and Strawberries

2nd Course – Hors d’Oeuvers 
Canapés a l’Amiral
Chilled Duck Breasts with a Zinfandel Reduction Sauce Amuse

3rd Course – Soup
Consommé Olga

4th Course – Fish
Poached Salmon with a Mousseline Sauce

5th Course – Sorbet
Lime Sorbet with Mint Garnish

6th Course – Foul
Roasted Quail with Grape Clusters

7th Course – Meat with Two Vegetables
Tornadoes of Beef with Three Peppercorn Sauces
Potatoes Romanoff
Peas in a Cream Sauce

8th Course – Salad
Mixed Greens with Artichoke Hearts

9th Course – Dessert
Chocolate Mouse with Pear Chips and Chocolate Leaves

10th Course – After Dinner Refreshments
Coffee and Espresso
Liqueurs and Wines
Fruit and Cheese Platter
Bite-Size Chocolate and Small Cake Platter

Remember what I said at the start – this is a FANTASY dinner. While recipes are a collection from a variety of sources – cookbooks, magazines and of course the internet, the menu is mine. Pardon me while I dream on . . .


First Course – APERITIF

CHAMPAGNE with CHAMBORD and STRAWBERRIES
1 Magnum Imported Champagne
6 Tablespoons Raspberry Liqueur (Chambord)
6 Strawberries, whole with green tops removed

Pour champagne into 6 long steamed flute glasses.

Add a splash of Raspberry Liqueur (about a tablespoon) to each glass.

Drop one strawberry into each glass and serve immediately.


Second Course – HORS D’OEUVRES

CANAPÉS À L’AMIRAL with SHRIMP BUTTER
Canapés
20 slices (about 1/2-inch thick) baguette
1 teaspoon lime juice
10 small cooked shrimp, halved lengthwise
20 fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
2 tablespoons caviar

Place baguette slices on a baking sheet and toast under broiler for 1 minute per side or until lightly golden. Remove from broiler and set aside.

Drizzle lime juice over cooked shrimp halves; stir and set aside.

Shrimp Butter
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 large shallot, peeled, ends removed, minced
1 clove garlic, peeled, ends removed, minced
8 ounces shrimp in shell, rinsed
1/4 cup brandy
4 ounces cream cheese, softened (regular or reduced fat)
2 tablespoons butter, softened
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
Dash of Vanilla

In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the shallot and garlic. Cook, stirring often, for about 5 minutes or until softened.

Increase heat to high and add the shrimp. Sauté shrimp for 4-5 minutes or until the shells are pink and the flesh is opaque. Remove the shrimp and cool. When cool enough to handle, peel and discard shells.

Transfer shrimp mixture to a food processor fitted with the steel blade or a blender. Return skillet to the heat and add brandy. Cook, stirring, for about 30 seconds or until the brandy is reduced to a glaze. Scrape the glaze into the shrimp mixture. Pulse shrimp mixture until it is coarsely chopped.

Add the cream cheese, butter, tomato paste, salt, pepper and vanilla. Process until almost smooth and set aside.

To assemble Canapés: Place shrimp butter in a pastry bag fitted with a decorative tube. Decoratively pipe the shrimp butter onto the toasted baguette slices, or spread mixture on slices using a table knife. Top each with a cooked shrimp half, parsley leaf and a small amount of caviar.

CHILLED DUCK with a ZINFANDEL REDUCTION SAUCE AMUSE
1 cup Zinfandel
1/2 cup soy sauce (Use Japanese soy such as Kikkoman)
1/2 cup Mirin (Japanese Wine)
4 large scallions, green parts only, coarsely chopped
2 large garlic cloves, very thinly sliced
One 1-inch piece of fresh ginger, thinly sliced
Two 1-pound Muscovy duck breasts, fat trimmed
2 cups small arugula leaves (2 ounces)

In a medium saucepan, boil the Zinfandel over high heat until reduced by half, about 5 minutes. Let cool to room temperature.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. In a large, sturdy, resealable plastic freezer bag, combine the soy sauce, Mirin, scallions, garlic, ginger and Zinfandel reduction.

Gather 10 bamboo skewers in your hand and puncture the duck skin all over, through to the meat. Alternatively, use the tip of a very sharp knife to poke the duck skin all over.

Heat a large skillet over high heat. Add the duck breasts, skin side down, and cook over moderate heat until deeply browned, about 8 minutes. Turn the duck over and cook until browned on the other side, about 3 minutes.

Transfer the duck breasts to the bag with the marinade and seal it. Place the sealed bag inside a double layer of sturdy plastic bags, sealing each bag. Carefully lower the duck breasts into the boiling water. Cover, turn off the heat and let stand for 10 minutes.

Prepare a large bowl of ice water. Plunge the bags with the duck into the ice bath and let stand for 45 minutes, or until completely chilled. Refrigerate the duck in the bags for at least 6 hours or overnight.

Remove the duck breasts from the marinade and pat them dry with paper towels. Strain the Zinfandel marinade into a medium saucepan and boil over high heat until it has thickened, about 7 minutes. Using a thin, sharp knife, thinly slice the duck breasts crosswise. Drizzle each plate with some of the reduced Zinfandel marinade and arrange the sliced duck breasts on top. Mound the Arugula leaves on the plates and serve.

Make ahead: The recipe can be prepared up to 3 days ahead; refrigerate the Zinfandel marinade and the cooked duck separately.


Third Course – SOUP

CONSOMMÉ OLGA
Soup
7 cups beef stock
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 leek, finely chopped
1 celery, finely chopped
1/2 tomato, chopped
1 tablespoon chopped parsley stems
1/4 lb lean ground veal or 1/4 lb lean ground beef
salt and pepper
3 egg whites, beaten until frothy
1/4 cup port wine

In tall narrow pot, gently heat stock until body temperature. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, stir together vegetables, parsley, and meat until well combined; add salt and pepper; fold in egg whites.

Whisk heated stock into egg mixture; return to pot and, whisking, bring slowly to boil. When mixture begins to look frothy, stop stirring to allow egg mixture to rise and solidify into a raft. Lower heat to medium-low. Carefully make a vent hole in raft with spoon handle. Simmer consommé gently for 30 minutes.

Leaving pot on heat, carefully push raft down with back of ladle; ladle clarified consommé through cheesecloth-lined sieve into clean pot. Heat until very hot. Stir in Port.

Garnish
6 large sea scallops
1/2 celery , blanched and julienned
1/4 English cucumber, julienned
1 small carrot, julienned

Slice scallops crosswise into 3 pieces, place 3 discs into bottom of each of 6 warmed bowls. Pour hot consommé over scallops; arrange celery, carrot, and cucumber decoratively in each bowl. Serve immediately.


Fourth Course – FISH

POACHED SALMON WITH MOUSSELINE SAUCE
Basic Court Bouillon
7 cups water
1 carrot, sliced
1 small onion, chopped
6 peppercorns
1 bay leaf
1/4 cup parsley
1 teaspoon of salt
1 1/4 cup dry white wine

In a large pot combine all the ingredients and bring to a boil over high heat.
Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes.

Strain into an air-tight container and cover tightly. Court Bouillon will keep for up to a week  in refrigerator, for up to a week.

Poached Salmon
6 cups Basic Court Bouillon (see recipe ABOVE)
6 salmon fillets
30 very thin slices of English cucumber
6 sprigs fresh dill

In large shallow pot, heat court bouillon until just below boiling point.

Using a slotted spoon or spatula, gently place salmon into bouillon. Add water if needed to completely cover the fish.

Poach fish for 3-5 minutes or until opaque on the outside and still coral-colored in the center.

Mousseline Sauce
2/3 cup melted unsalted butter
3 tablespoons water
3 egg yolks
1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
1/4 cup lightly whipped cream

Melt butter over medium-low heat. Allow the butter to melt undisturbed. Using a spoon, skim froth from the surface of the melted butter and discard. Allow butter to cool slightly.

On top of a double boiler or heat-proof bowl, whisk water and egg yolks together with salt and pepper for 30 seconds or until pale yellow and frothy. Over barely simmering water, whisk mixture for 3 minutes or until it draws a ribbon for 5 seconds.

Remove pan from heat; whisk in warm butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, until sauce begins to thicken. Still whisking, pour remaining butter into sauce in a slow steady stream.

Stir in lemon juice and dill. Allow the sauce to cool slightly. Gently fold in whipped cream. Adjust the seasoning to taste. Keep warm by setting over a pot of warm water.

When ready to serve, place salmon on a fish platter. Drizzle with some of the Mousseline Sauce. Pour remaining sauce into a gravy boat, and pass at the table.


Fifth Course – SORBET

LIME SORBET with FRESH MINT GARNISH
6 Small Cordial Glasses or Champagne Coupes
1 Pint Lime Sorbet; purchased or homemade
Fresh Mint for garnish

Place attractive glasses on small plates. Fill each glass with one well-rounded scoop of sorbet. Garnish each scoop with a mint leaf. Place demi-spoons on plates and serve.


Sixth Course – FOUL

ROASTED QUAIL with GRAPE CLUSTERS
6 large quail, about 4 to 5 ounces each
Salt and pepper
1 ½ teaspoons grated garlic
6 large rosemary sprigs, plus 1/2 teaspoon chopped
6 large thyme sprigs, plus 1/2 teaspoon chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 small red boiling onions (about 1/2 pound), peeled and quartered
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1 pound grapes, cut into 6 small clusters

Rinse quail and pat dry. Season inside and out with salt and pepper. Put a small amount of grated garlic in each bird’s cavity, as well as the chopped rosemary and thyme. Drizzle birds with 1 tablespoon olive oil, and let marinate at room temperature for at least 1 hour. (You may refrigerate for several hours or overnight; bring to room temperature before roasting.)

Heat oven to 450 degrees. Place onions in a small oven-proof skillet or pie pan, and season with salt and pepper. Toss with balsamic vinegar and remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil to coat. Bake until slightly softened and caramelized, about 10 minutes. Set aside.

Spread remaining rosemary and thyme sprigs on a baking sheet or in a low-sided roasting pan. Lay quail on top of herbs, breast-side down. Roast for about 15 minutes, until puffed and lightly browned.

Turn birds breast-side up and surround with roasted onions and grape clusters. Continue roasting for 10 minutes more. If necessary, put birds under the broiler to crisp the skin.

Let rest 10 minutes. Transfer birds to a large round or oval serving platter. Cluster grapes around quail and serve.


Seventh Course – MEAT with TWO VEGETABLES

TORNADOES OF BEEF with THREE PEPPERCORN SAUCES
Potato Shingles (Base)
1/4 Cup + 2 tablespoons Olive Oil
3 lbs Russet potatoes, sliced 3/16-inch thick
6 Garlic Cloves, minced
Salt & Pepper
6 tablespoons butter, melted

Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position. Pre-heat oven to 425-degrees.

Peel and mince garlic, set aside until ready to use. Wash and slice potatoes. Set aside until ready to use. Brush rimmed baking sheet with 2 tablespoons oil.

In a large bowl, toss potatoes with ¼ cup oil and garlic. Shingle potatoes tightly into even rows, lengthwise, on baking sheet (about 5 rows). Drizzle with melted butter, season with salt and pepper.

Cover potatoes and roast in oven until just tender, 35-40 minutes, rotating pan midway through roasting process.

Uncover potatoes and roast until spotty-browned, about 15-20 minutes longer.

Cut potato shingles into 18 squares just large enough to hold the petite steaks.

Tornadoes of Beef
18 petite Beef Tenderloin steaks, about 1 oz each
Olive Oil

In a large skillet add olive oil enough to coat bottom of pan, heat over medium heat. Sear steak in batches, taking care not to overcrowd the skillet. Sear each batch of steaks until nicely browned and pink in the middle, about 3-4 minutes per side.

While steaks are browning, begin making Pink and Green Peppercorn Sauce. Once steaks are cooked, make remaining black peppercorn sauces.

Remove steaks, wrap in foil to keep warm and set aside. Add a little more oil, heat skillet and continue to sear remaining steaks. Remove, wrap in foil to keep warm and set aside.

Pink Peppercorn Sauce
1 Teaspoon Pink Peppercorns, crushed
½ Cup Heavy Cream
1 Teaspoon Pimentos, chopped

Place peppercorn in a bag, crush with rolling-pin. Set aside until ready to use.

In a saucepan add pink peppercorns, chopped pimentos and heavy cream. Cook over medium-low heat until cream is reduced and thick, about 15 minuets.

Green Peppercorn Sauce
1 Teaspoon Green Peppercorns, crushed
1 Teaspoon parsley, chopped
½ Cup Brandy

Green Pepper Corn Sauce: Place peppercorn in a bag, crush with rolling-pin. Set aside until ready to use.

In a saucepan place peppercorns, parsley and brandy. Bring to a quick boil and allow to boil about 5 minutes.

Black Peppercorn Sauce
1 Teaspoon Black Peppercorns, crushed
2 Oz Mushrooms, sliced
¼ Cup Whiskey

Place peppercorn in a bag, crush with rolling-pin. Set aside until ready to use.

To the skilled, add peppercorns, mushrooms and whiskey. Bring to a quick boil, scrapping up any browned bits of steak.

To assemble:

Place 3 squares of potato shingles on each plate.

Top each potato square a steak. Pour black peppercorn sauce over 1 steak on each plate, pour pink peppercorn sauce over another steak on each plate and the green peppercorn sauce over remaining steak on each plate.

1st VEGETABLE

POTATOES ROMANOFF
2 lbs whole baked potatoes, grated or chopped small
1/2 cup finely minced onions
2 cups grated white cheddar cheese
1 1/2 cup sour cream
salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
6 Small Ramekin Dishes

Bake potatoes in the oven until fork tender, about 40 minutes. Allow potatoes to cool. This can be done in the morning, continuing with the recipe later in the day.

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl combine the potatoes, onions, cheese (reserve about a 1/2 cup of cheese for the top), and salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste. Gently fold in the sour cream until just combined.

Butter 6 individual ramekins, and spoon in the mixture. You want as an irregular surface as possible, with lots of nooks and crannies. Top with the remaining cheese and bake the oven for 25-30 minutes, until golden brown.

Place ramekins on small plates to prevent burning your guests and serve.

2nd VEGETABLE

PEAS in a CREAM SAUCE
3 Cups Fresh Peas, shelled from 3-6 lbs Pea Pods or frozen peas, thawed
2 Tablespoons Sugar
½ Cup Heavy Cream
2 Tablespoons Butter
Salt and Pepper
1 Tablespoon Chives, finely chopped

Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil. SLOWLY add peas to maintain slow boil. Cook until tender, about 8-12 minutes depending on size of peas.

In a saucepan, heat heavy cream to a boil. Cook until reduced by half, about 3-5 minutes. Add peas ¼ teaspoon pepper and butter. Cook until butter has melted and peas are heated through, 3-4 minutes, stirring gently to blend.

Transfer to serving bowl and sprinkle with chives. Serve at once.


Eights Course – SALAD

MIXED GREENS with ARTICHOKE HEARTS
4 cups mixed salad green
1/2 red onion (sliced)
14 oz artichoke hearts (water drained)
1 Small Can Sliced Black Olives, optional
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon seasoned salt
1 teaspoon black pepper (ground)
1 teaspoon garlic powder
Parmesan Cheese, shaved

In a large bowl, combine the mixed greens, onion, and artichoke hearts. Toss with black olive slices, if using.

In a medium-size mixing bowl, whisk together the oil, vinegar, seasoned salt, pepper, and garlic.

Pour enough dressing over salad to coat, and toss well.

Place individual servings on chilled salad plates. Garnish each plate with shaved Parmesan Cheese and serve.


Ninth Course – DESSERT

CHOCOLATE MOUSSE with PEAR CHIPS & CHOCOLATE LEAVES
Chocolate Mousse
6 oz semi-sweet chocolate, chopped (good quality)
2 cups heavy cream

Equipment
1 saucepan filled with one inch of simmering water
1 large wire whisk
6 sherry or shot glasses
parchment paper
1 piping bag with plain tip, optional

If you want the mousse to rise above the containers for a dramatic presentation, first make a collar by wrapping a piece of parchment or waxed paper around each container, leaving about 1” excess above the container. Secure the paper with tape or kitchen twine. Prepare your containers prior to making the mousse.

The key to this mousse is the temperature of the chocolate. It should be completely melted but not too hot. The ideal temperature is 122 degrees, which is warm, not hot, to the touch. If you have a kitchen thermometer handy, use it.

In a metal bowl that fits over the saucepan of barely simmering water, ensuring that the bowl does not touch the hot water, add the chopped chocolate and 1 cup of whipping cream. Gently melt the chocolate, stirring occasionally, until the chocolate is fully melted, but not overly hot.

In the bowl of a stand-up mixer fitted with a wire whisk, add the remaining 3 cups of whipping cream. Whisk the cream until it is thickened only. The cream should not be firm enough to hold its shape. When you remove the whisk from the bowl, the cream should drip off in thick beads.

With a whisk close at hand, pour the warm melted chocolate, all at once into the barely whipped cream. Combine with a whisk until the chocolate mousse is uniform in color. The texture will firm as you combine the chocolate with the cream.

The mixture is now ready to pour into your containers. If you have a piping bag, pour the mixture into a piping bag; this will help get the mousse into the glasses neatly, without any mess.

Managing a piping bag is easy when you use a narrow canister or large-mouthed glass to hold the piping bag in place while you fill it. Simply tuck the narrow end of the bag into the container (tip side down) and roll the large end of the bag over the edge of the container, like a cuff, to hold it in place.

Pipe or spoon the mixture into the glasses and refrigerate until set.

While mousse sets, prepare pear chips.

Pear Chips
1 Pear, Firm & washed
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
lemon zest (white pith removed) from ½ lemon

Equipment
1 Mandoline or single-blade slicer
1 Rimmed baking pan lined with parchment paper

Pre-heat oven to 200 degrees.

Combine the sugar, water and lemon zest in a small saucepan and heat the mixture until the sugar is completely dissolved.

Slice the pear into paper-thin slices using a mandoline or single-blade slicer/grater.

Using a pastry brush, coat both sides of each pear slice with the sugar-water solution. Place the coated slices on the parchment-lined tray, being careful not to overlap the slices.

Dry in the oven for 2 to 3 hours. To test the chips, remove the tray from the oven and allow the pears to cool for 10 minutes (away from a humid kitchen). If your kitchen is warm, place the tray of pears outside to cool them. Gently peel the pears from the parchment. If they are firm and crisp, they are ready. If not, continue to dry them in the oven for another half hour and test again.

Chocolate Leaves
6 ounces good quality chocolate, chopped into small pieces
12 Small, firm leaves, washed and completely dried
1 Tray lined with parchment paper

Melt the chocolate in a metal bowl placed over a saucepan filled with one inch of simmering water. The bowl should not touch the water. When the chocolate has just melted, dip the cleaned leaves into the chocolate, coating one side, and place on a parchment-lined tray. Place the leaves in the refrigerator to firm the chocolate.

Once the chocolate has firmed, carefully peel back the leaf from the chocolate.

To assemble and serve: Remove the mousse from the refrigerator approximately 20 minutes before serving.

Remove the parchment collar and garnish with the pear chip and chocolate leaf just before serving.


Tenth Course – AFTER DINNER REFRESHMENTS

COFFEE, ESPRESSO, AFTER DINNER DRINKS, FRUITS, CHEESES AND SWEETS

The final course is designed to be served in another room, away from the dining table. To linger with guests and chat about life well into the night.

COFFEE: Brew a pot of coffee and place into an Urn for serving. Place on a tray along cream and sugar. Pour upon request.

ESPRESSO: Brew Espresso upon request. Draw Espresso into demi-cups and serve.

LIQUEURS
Sambuca (my personal favorite – with 3 whole coffee beans in the glass)
Franglico
Grappa
Amaretto
Brandy
Irish Mist
Cognac

WINES
Fortified Wines
Ports
Sherry
Late Harvest Ice Wine
Dessert Wines

While not all the liqueurs and wines are necessary, an assortment is always nice. Take requests and serve in the appropriate glassware.

Create a fruit and cheese platter as well as a small platter of bite-size sweets such as Truffles or mini cakes. These can be purchased or home-made. Simply arrange the offerings onto platters for serving.


I’d love to hear what your Fantasy Dinner Party might be – what would you serve? Who would be at your table? I’d love to sit with the likes of Julia Childs, but only if she were doing the cooking as I am sure my culinary skills would pale in comparison.

Patio Entertaining with an Italian Flair – For Father’s Day or Just Because

For my birthday this year (and the year before and the year before – you get the idea), we ate at Vince’s. It’s a small place in the middle of a field – literally, nothing else on the corner except a field of dried weeds. This isn’t a to-die-for Italian restaurant. The food is more along the lines of comfort food – it’s easy to imagine a round, hot-tempered but big-hearted Nonna with a big wooden spoon in her hand and an apron tied around her waist in the kitchen, lovingly cooking up food for her large brood of children, grandchildren and maybe even great-grandchildren. This is further amplified by our usual waiter. He’s an elderly gentleman (I would venture to guess he’s close to eighty) who walks with more of a shuffle than a step. His Italian is better than his English, which add to the ambiance of this quaint eatery. The bread is always warm and keeps coming throughout the meal. And it really doesn’t matter what you order, it comes with a side of Spaghetti.

Anyway, with Father’s Day just around the corner, it got me to thinking about a Father’s Day Menu with an Italian Flair. While it might not be everyone’s cup of tea for Father’s Day, it does change things up a bit.  This menu would also be great for backyard entertaining – just a good excuse to bring people together, break bread and have a wonderful evening.

My “offering” began simple enough – a Father’s Day Barbecue with an Italian Flair. Yet as I rummaged through my recipes, a multitude of courses sprung to mind. With that, the menu itself grew until it began to take on a life of its own.

What started out as a three-course meal (antipasto, main and dessert), expanded into a six-course extravaganza (Antipasto, Primo (pasta course), Secondo and Contorno Course (meat and vegetable course), Insalata (Salad Course), Formaggi e frutta (Cheese and Fruit Course) and finally the Dolce (dessert).  I know, over the top! But what fun – hours leisurely dining as it was intended to be – savored and unhurried.

Rather than present the recipes in order of preparation, I’ve arranged them in order of presentation, beginning with the antipasto and ending with dessert. Just to widen the selection even further, I’ve included two choices of each. Make one, or both for each course if you’re feeling rather ambitious. All I can say is pick and choose from what follows whatever it is that strikes your fancy. Serve it all, or none of it. If you have a family favorite that is always a hit, why mess with perfection? What is offered here are mere suggestions. If all I’ve done is managed to inspire someone to get creative, than my job is done.

*** Antipasto ***

Once upon a time, antipasto was part of the Italian dinner table. It was that plain and simple. Nowadays, with hectic lives and more woman in the workforce, it’s no longer a part of everyday home cooking, but rather reserved for holidays, large family gatherings and special occasions. That said, it seemed fitting to include a selection of antipasto dishes for Father’s Day. The first makes for a beautiful presentation for a smaller gathering, the second will accommodate a crowd.

Asparagus - Italian Pan Grilled

Pan Grilled Asparagus with Prosciutto
2 lb big asparagus
2 oz Parmesan cheese
3 oz sliced raw Italian ham (prosciutto crudo)
1½ oz pine nuts (pinoli)
½ lemon
extra virgin olive oil
salt & black pepper

Remove the fibrous portion from the stalk of asparagus, snapping it with your hands at the point where it breaks easily. Scrape the stalks with a vegetable peeler. Wash the asparagus under cold running water, blanch for 3-4 minutes in lightly salted boiling water. Drain and pass under cold running water. While the asparagus is prepared for cooking, heat the oven to about 400 degrees, then turn it OFF. You’ll be keeping the asparagus in a hot oven that has been turned off.

Heat a griddle or a large frying pan and sprinkle the bottom with salt. Arrange some of the asparagus in a single layer on the grid and cook at medium heat for 2 minutes per side, turning with two forks. Transfer to a serving platter and keep warm in the oven. Repeat with remaining asparagus.

In a bowl, whip 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, one tablespoon of lemon juice, salt and pepper. Set aside.

Remove the excess fat from the slices of raw ham prosciutto crudo and cut into strips, width-wise. Toast the pine nuts for 1 minute in a pan, without adding fat.

Remove asparagus from the oven, drizzle with the olive oil mixture, then sprinkle with pine nuts and Parmesan cheese. Arrange the ham on the side of asparagus and serve.

 

antipasto platter 1Antipasto Platter
1 jar (24 ounces) pepperoncini, drained
1 can (15 ounces) garbanzo beans or chickpeas, rinsed and drained
2 cups halved fresh mushrooms
2 cups halved cherry tomatoes
1/2 pound provolone cheese, cubed
1 can (6 ounces) pitted ripe black olives, drained
1 package (3-1/2 ounces) sliced pepperoni
1 bottle (8 ounces) Italian vinaigrette dressing
Lettuce leaves

In a large bowl, combine pepperoncini, beans, mushrooms, tomatoes, cheese, olives and pepperoni. Pour vinaigrette over mixture; toss to coat.

Refrigerate at least 30 minutes or overnight (best). Arrange on a lettuce-lined platter and serve.

 

*** Primo  Course ***

primo is the first course. Typically the food is heavier than the antipasto, but lighter than the course to follow. Non-meat dishes are the stable of any primo. The best examples would be risotto, pasta, soup, polenta, meatless casseroles or lasagna. The serving portions are smaller than the main, or secondo course.

This course was one of the more difficult for me to plan – I love pasta. There are so many wonderful pasta dishes to choose from. I had to keep reminding myself to think light, especially for warm weather dining. As hard as it was, I was able to narrow it down to two suggestions – one pasta and one risotto dish.

Pasta - Simple LinguiniSimple Linguine with Garlic Butter
1 Lb dry or Fresh Linguine, cooked
2 Tablespoons Butter
4-6 Cloves Garlic, chopped
1/2 Teaspoon Dried Oregano

Bring a pot of well salted water to a boil.

Cook linguine until done al dente – cooked but firm to the bite, about 10 minutes for dry, about 3-4 minutes for fresh.

While pasta is cooking, heat a small sauté pan, add butter, garlic and oregano. Sauté until the butter is melted. DO NOT let the garlic brown.

Drain pasta, place in a warm serving bowl. Pour butter mixture over pasta, toss to coat evenly, then serve with a little Parmesan Cheese on the side.

Mushroom RisottoMushroom Risotto
3 1/2 cups Chicken broth
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon mixed dried Italian herbs
6 ounces cremini mushroom, sliced
6 ounces shiitake mushrooms, sliced
1 cup Arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine, warmed
2 cups fresh baby spinach
1/4 cup fresh parsley

Empty broth into a 2 quart saucepan and heat until simmering. Keep warm.

Heat oil in a large skillet on medium heat. Sauté onions and garlic until softened and fragrant.

Sprinkle dried herbs, followed by mushrooms; sauté until they release their juices.

Add rice and stir quickly to prevent sticking. Add warmed white wine and stir. Once the wine has been mostly absorbed, add the broth, one cup at a time, waiting until each cup of broth has been absorbed before adding the next. Before adding the last one and half cups, add the spinach. Sprinkle parsley before serving.

*** Secondo and Contorno Course ***

The Secondo or Main Course is generally considered the star of the show, the most important course. Typically it consists of a meat, fish or seafood course (Secondo) and a vegetable course (Contorno) offered on separate platters at the same time.  Generally speaking, one meat course is served with one or two sides.

Again, there are so many wonderful Italian dishes to choose from, it was hard to narrow down the selection. The two I’ve chosen were picked, if for no other reason, due to the fact that they are cooked on a grill. So while the dish is Italian, the American tradition of “barbecue” for Father’s Day remains intact.

The first main course recipe is actually a meat and potato dish that is cooked and served together. This goes well with pan-seared asparagus (as pictured). If asparagus is used in the antipasto course, it could be skipped as a side without being missed.

The second main course offered is a chicken recipe that is very simple to make. It’s just a matter of marinating the chicken in Italian dressing, then cooking it on the grill.  There’s something about grilled chicken and corn on the cob that seems to naturally go hand-in-hand.

Since both the potatoes in the first dish and the corn in the second are more of a starch than vegetable selection, I’ve included a summer squash recipe that complements either of the meat courses. It’s colorful and fairly simple to make.

Pork - Grilled Pork with Potato Vesuvio with  Pan-seared AsparagusVesuvio Grilled Pork & Potato Skewers
Ingredients – Pork & Potato Skewers
1 ½-2 lbs small red potatoes (about 1 ½-inch in diameter) scrubbed
1 ½ lbs Center-Cut Pork Tenderloin, cut into 1-inch cubes
6 lemon wedges

Ingredients – Vesuvio Marinade
½ cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons olive oil
4-6 garlic cloves, minced

Ingredients – Garnish
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
Salt & pepper to taste
½ cup chopped Italian parsley
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon peel

Morning of:

Scrub potatoes. Place potatoes in a saucepan. Cover with cold water. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce to simmer and cook for about 12 minutes or until almost tender when pierced with a fork.

While potatoes cook, cut pork into 1-inch cubes. Set aside until ready to use.

Peel and mince garlic, set aside until ready to use.

Place pork in a large resealable plastic food storage bag. Combine wine, oil and the garlic in a small bowl; pour over pork.

Immediately rinse potatoes with cold water to stop cooking process, drain and add to pork in bag.

Seal bag tightly, turning to coat. Marinate in refrigerator at least 2 hours or up to 8 hours, turning occasionally.

Evening of:

Prepare barbecue grill for direct cooking.

Drain pork mixture, discard marinade. Alternately thread about 3 pork cubes and 2 potatoes onto each of 6 skewers. Place 1 lemon wedge on end of each skewer. Season pork and potatoes to taste with salt and pepper.

Place skewers on grid. Grill skewers, on covered grill, over medium coals 14-16 minutes or until pork is juicy and no longer pink in center and potatoes are tender; turning halfway through grilling time.

While skewers are grilling, chop garlic, parsley and lemon peel. Combine in a small bowl and set aside.

Remove skewers from grill. Transfer to serving platter. Sprinkle parsley mixture over skewers.

To serve, squeeze lemon wedge over pork and potatoes. If desired, plate with pan-seared Asparagus.

Pan-Seared Asparagus
1 pound green asparagus
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
juice of 1/2 lemon, freshly squeezed
salt and freshly ground black pepper

The key to this recipe is to cook the asparagus until it is nicely browned, creating a slightly smoky flavor quite unlike that of steamed asparagus.

Rinse the asparagus and trim off the ends, leaving spears about 8 inches long.

In a large frying pan, heat the olive oil and butter to sizzling. Turn down the heat to medium and add the asparagus.

Using a broad spatula, turn the spears over from time to time until they are browned more or less evenly, about 10-15 minutes depending on the thickness of the asparagus. The spears will remain mainly green, with patches of crispy brown. Check for doneness by tasting a spear. It should be tender but slightly al dente.

Sprinkle the asparagus with lemon juice, salt and pepper, and transfer to a serving platter or individual plates.

 

Italian Grilled Chicken

Italian Marinated Grilled Chicken
1 Bottle Italian Salad Dressing
3-4 Cloves of garlic, pressed
1 teaspoon salt
8 Chicken Thighs, with skin

 

In a shallow baking dish, mix the salad dressing, garlic and salt. Place the chicken in the bowl, and turn to coat. Marinate in the refrigerator overnight or up to 48 hours to penetrate the meat fully.

Prepare the grill for high, direct heat.

Lightly oil grate. Discard marinade, and grill chicken 10-12 minutes per side, or until juices run clear.

Grilled corn with tomato herb spreadGrilled Corn on the Cob with Tomato-Herb Spread
1/2 Cup Butter, softened
4 Tablespoons seeded, finely chopped tomato
2 small garlic clove, pressed
2 Teaspoon fresh parsley, snipped
2 Teaspoon Fresh Basil, finely torn
2 Teaspoon Fresh Thyme, finely chopped
Salt and Ground Pepper to Taste
8 Ears of FRESH Corn
Sugar (if needed)

Additional Garnish
4 Roma Tomatoes, seeded and chopped
6-8 Basil leaves, cut into long strips

Heat coals for grill. In a small bowl combine butter, tomatoes, garlic, parsley, basil and thyme. Stir with a fork until well blended. Add salt and pepper to taste. Set aside

Bring a pot of water sweetened with a little sugar to a boil. Shuck and clean corn. Cut off tip and ends for an even finish. Parboil corn 5-6 minutes. Remove from water using tongs and allow corn to cool. Insert corn-cob-knobs into each end.

Rub corn generously with herb butter. Wrap each ear of corn in heavy aluminum foil, making sure cob knobs are completely covered. Grill foil-wrapped corn over medium ash-covered coals for 10-12 minutes, turning frequently with Barbecue Tongs to prevent burning.

To serve, unwrap corn, place on a platter and garnish as desired with tomatoes and fresh basil.

Cook’s Notes: The original recipe came from Pampered Chef (without the additional garnish). The first time I made it, there were two problems – cooking time and taste. The corn I had purchased came from the grocery store and not from a wonderful local farmer’s market known for amazing corn, thus the corn wasn’t as sweet as it should be. If you know the grower, skip the sugar but still parboil the ears. When the corn was wrapped well in foil, the cooking time was longer than expected – nearly twice as long as was called for. By par-boiling the ears in sweetened water, these problems were solved.

Summer Squash SauteItalian Summer Squash Saute
4 to 5 Small Zucchini (About 1 Pound)
4 Summer Squash (About 1 Pound)
1 Pint Cherry Tomatoes
3 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 Garlic Cloves, Minced
2 Tablespoons Fresh Oregano, Chopped
2 Tablespoons Fresh Basil, chopped
2 Tablespoons Fresh Italian Parsley (flat leaf), chopped
1/2 Red Chile Pepper, Finely Chopped (Optional)
Sea Salt
Cracked Black Pepper

Cut the zucchini and squash crosswise into 1/2 inch slices.

Halve the cherry tomatoes.

In a large frying pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat and add all the squash rounds.

Cook, stirring frequently until fork tender, about 10 minutes.

Add the garlic, tomatoes, and fresh herbs.

Stir to mix and continue to cook until the tomatoes soften. Season with salt and pepper and serve warm or at room temperature.

 

*** Insalata (Salad Course) ***

Unlike American meals, when the salad is offered either as a start to the meal or as an accompaniment to the main meal, in Italy, the salad is offered at the end of the meal. If green leafy vegetables are served as part of the Contorno, the salad might be skipped, instead opting to serve a selection of locally produced cheeses.

caprese51Caprese Salad
3 or 4 tomatoes, good quality, such as heirloom
1 lb fresh mozzarella
fresh Italian basil (do not substitute dried)
extra virgin olive oil
Kosher or good quality sea salt

Slice the tomatoes into about 3/8″ thick slices, then slice the mozzarella into the same sized slices.
Arrange the tomato and mozzarella slices into a pleasing pattern on a platter or individual plates. Tuck basil leaves into the arrangement, with a few more in the center. Drizzle with oil and season with salt.

Italian Mixed GreenItalian Mixed Green Salad
3 Cups mixed salad greens – Romaine, Iceberg, Green leaf, Bibb lettuce, Arugula, Escarole and/or curly endive
1 medium tomatoes, cut into wedges
½ large red onion, halved and thinly sliced
1/2 red bell pepper, halved and thinly sliced
1/2 orange or yellow bell pepper, halved and thinly sliced
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

In a large bowl, combine salad greens and vegetables. Sprinkle with parsley, basil and salt. Chill well. Just before serving, drizzle with oil and vinegar. Toss to coat.

 

 

*** Formaggi e frutta (Cheese and Fruit) Course ***

cheese and fruitdeli cheese and fruitThis course is purely optional. It’s simply an offering of local (or as close to local as possible) cheeses and a selection of seasonal fruits. Arrange the cheeses and fruits in an attractive way. Soft cheeses with a few crackers and small bunch of grapes and a few fruits make a nice presentation without a great deal of work. Or better still, have your local deli arrange a nice platter for you.

*** Dolce (Dessert) ***

Dolce literally means “sweet” or “luscious”. One option for dessert would be to find a good Italian bakery, pick up an assortment of pastries – especially cannoli – my personal favorite. To keep it light and refreshing, especially on a warm summer evening, something as simple as Gelato might be a welcomed conclusion. However; for those feeling the need to strut your stuff all the way to the end, Tiramisu would be a good choice for a  “luscious” conclusion to this multi-course flight of the fancy dining experience.  As would  Panna cotta. Either of these can be purchased from a good market or made from scratch.

Lemon TLemon Tiramisu
1-1/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup water
6 egg yolks
1/4 cup flour
2 cups milk
1/4 cup cubed butter
2 oz  finely chopped white chocolate
1 tbsp finely grated lemon rind
1-1/2 cups whipping cream
1 cup mascarpone cheese
24 ladyfinger cookies, 4 inch

In small saucepan, stir together 1/2 cup each of the sugar, lemon juice and water over medium heat until dissolved, about 5 minutes. Set aside.

In large bowl, whisk together egg yolks, flour and remaining sugar; set aside.

In heavy saucepan, heat milk over medium heat just until bubbles appear around edge; whisk half into egg yolk mixture. Whisk back into milk in pan; cook, stirring, until boiling and thickened enough to coat back of spoon, about 10 minutes.

Add butter and white chocolate; stir until melted. Strain through fine sieve into bowl. Add lemon rind and remaining lemon juice; stir until blended and smooth. Place plastic wrap directly on surface of custard; refrigerate until cold, about 2 hours.

In bowl, whip cream. Place mascarpone in large bowl; whisk in custard. Fold in whipped cream.

Arrange half of the ladyfinger cookies in a 13- x 9-inch glass baking dish. Generously brush cookies with half of the reserved syrup mixture. Spread with half of the mascarpone cream mixture. Repeat layers. Cover and refrigerate tiramisu for 4 hours.

vanilla panna cottaVanilla Panna Cotta Strawberry Coulis
Ingredients – Panna Cotta
1 Cup WHOLE milk
2 ½ Teaspoons unflavored Gelatin
½ Vanilla Bean or 2 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract
3 Cups Heavy Cream
6 Tablespoons Sugar
Pinch of Salt

Ingredients – Strawberry Coulis
12 Oz Fresh Strawberries, hulled
5-7 Tablespoons Fine Sugar
½ Cup Water, plus extra as needed
Pinch of Salt
2 Teaspoons Lemon Juice
Extra Strawberries & Blueberries for garnish

To Make Panna Cotta:

For a “fancy” presentation, place 8 glasses on a baking sheet. (You will want to use short, round glasses such as Champagne coupe glasses). Otherwise, use small ramekins lined with plastic wrap. Just be sure to smooth out the wrap to ensure a smooth finish when serving.

Pour milk into medium saucepan, sprinkle gelatin evenly over top, let sit for 10 minutes.

Cut vanilla bean in half lengthwise. Use the tip of a paring knife to scrape out seeds. Combine vanilla seeds, pod and cream in a 4-cup liquid measuring cup.

Make an ice bath in a very large bowl.

Heat milk mixture over high heat, stirring constantly, until gelatin dissolves and mixture registers 135 degrees, about 1 ½ minutes. OFF HEAT, stir in sugar and salt until dissolved, about 1 minutes.

Stirring constantly, slowly add cream mixture. Immediately transfer mixture to medium bowl and plunge into ice bath. Let mixture chill, stirring frequently, until it has thickened to the consistency of eggnog and registers 50 degrees, about 10 minutes. Strain mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into a pitcher, then pour evenly into glasses or ramekins.

Cover glasses with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 24 hours or up to 5 days.

To Make Strawberry Coulis:

Simmer berries, 5 tablespoons sugar, water and salt in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until sugar is dissolved and berries are heated through, about 2-3 minutes.

Transfer mixture to blender and puree until smooth, about 20-30 seconds. Strain mixture through fine-mesh strainer into a bowl, pressing on solids to extract as much puree as possible. Stir in lemon juice and sweeten with remaining sugar to taste. Coulis can be refrigerated for up to 4 days; stir in extra water as needed to adjust consistency.

To Assemble: If Champagne coupe glasses were used, simply unwrap panna cotta and spoon 2-3 tablespoons Coulis over top. Garnish with a few sliced strawberries and serve. If ramekins were used, unwrap panna cotta, invert onto dessert plates, remove second plastic wrap. Spoon coulis over top and garnish.

Here’s to a wonderful summer filled with friends and family!

Sunday Supper

I’ve written about Easter a couple of times now – this year Easter was simple. It was just the three of us, so we didn’t need much. Gotta have the ham. Gotta have the Au Gratin Potatoes. Gotta have the asparagus. Just for fun, we did deviled eggs. And those super easy warm and serve dinner rolls. No multi-layers of appetizers, no multi-course supper and surprisingly enough, no dessert. Instead, we started the day with an assortment of pastries. It was enough to give us that sugar fix early on.

blood orangeThis year, I tried a new ham recipe I picked up while visiting therebalchick.com. Well, sort of tried a new recipe. The original recipe called for Blood Oranges. After scouring three different grocery stores to no avail, it was a matter of falling back on an old recipe or simply going with what I had, navel oranges. Oranges are a winter crop. Blood Oranges can be had from December through March. With Easter late this year, the beautiful Blood Orange wasn’t an option. I will definitely make this ham again at Christmas time. Another detour from the original recipe was that she uses a bone-in smoked ham. The bone-in smoked hams were HUGE – much more than the three of us could polish off in several days, so I went with a small spiral cut boneless fully cooked ham. Even then, the three-pound ham is going to feed us for several more days.

The asparagus was different this year as well. A few nights ago I tried a new way of cooking asparagus in a skillet with a little butter, roasted garlic and a splash of lemon juice. I let the asparagus get nice and browned, almost blackened in spots. It gave a wonder added layer to the vegetable, with a nice smokey flavor. Typically when serving asparagus with a hollandaise sauce, I steam asparagus. The pan-seared method of cooking the asparagus was a big hit with the family – even my why-do-you-always-make-me-taste-the-asparagus eater liked the pan-seared veggies. So I decided to give seared asparagus with hollandaise sauce a try. The hollandaise sauce is recipe from everydayfrenchchef.com. The sauce was super easy to make, especially after adding a few short cuts. (The recipe called for 2 teaspoons of boiling water. I couldn’t see boiling a pot of water to get two teaspoons, so I put some water in a small cup and “boiled” it in the microwave. I don’t think the sauce knew the difference, and it was one less pan to wash. The same goes for the fresh lemon juice. The instructions said to warm it in a pan to lukewarm. Stick a cup in the microwave for about 10 seconds and there ya go.) I really like Meg Bortin, author of The Everyday French Chef. Her goal is to create authentic French dishes that are also simple and easy to create. Her hollandaise sauce was the easiest I’ve ever made without skimping on flavor.

As for the Au Gratin Potatoes, it’s a recipe I picked up years ago from my very first Betty Crocker cookbook. Over the years, it has evolved into a much milder, rich, onion infused potato casserole. I especially like the nice crunchy topping.

Now for the small kitchen dilemma. The ham warms at a very low temperature. The potatoes are cooked in a moderately-hot oven. If you don’t have dual ovens, this seemingly difficult problem can be solved one of two ways.  Option one would be to heat the ham in a roasting oven while you cook the potatoes in your regular oven. If you don’t have a roasting oven, cook the potatoes first, then turn down the heat and cook the ham. While the ham is “resting”, turn up the heat and rewarm the potatoes.  If you do the one-dish at a time method, plan to start the asparagus and hollandaise sauce when the potatoes are warming.  The timing should be right to have everything come together in the end.

This meal is delicious and you don’t have to wait until Easter.  Any Sunday is perfect.  I like Sunday dinners to be special in honor of Sunday. It’s a nice way to end the week or start the week, depending upon how you want to look at it. Whatever the occasion, I hope you enjoy!

Blood Orange Glazed Ham
6-8 Lb Ham Virginia Ham
4 blood oranges (or naval in a pinch)
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup water

Zest 1 entire blood orange into a small sauce pot.  Then juice that orange and two additional ones (juice from 3 total oranges) into the pot.  Over medium heat, whisk in the brown sugar.  Lower the temperature to a simmer and let it reduce until you have a slightly thickened sauce that can be poured over the ham.

When it is ready, preheat your oven to 275 degrees. Pour and then rub the glaze over the entire ham, then add the ½ cup of water to the bottom of the roasting dish.  Cover pan tightly with foil to allow ham to steam warm.  This will keep the ham from drying out.  Place in the oven and warm slowly.  About mid-way through the heating, uncover ham, spoon juices over the meat then cover again and continue to cook.  (Bone-in ham will take about 20 minutes per pound, boneless will take about 15 minutes per pound.  Take care, as the boneless ham may dry out if not allowed to “steam” warm).

You’ll want to cook the ham to an ideal temperature of 150 degrees. When the ham is done, let rest for about 20 minutes to help hold in the juices.

Slice the final blood orange into rounds and add to the ham and serving platter.

Mema’s Au Gratin Potatoes
6 Medium Russet Potatoes (about 2 lbs) peeled and thinly sliced
¼ Cup Butter
1 Medium White onion, chopped (about ½ cup)
1 Tablespoon Flour
1 Teaspoon Salt
¼ Teaspoon Black Pepper
2 Cups Milk
2 1/2 Cups Sharp Cheddar Cheese, shredded (½ cup reserved)
½ Cup Monterey Jack Cheese, shredded
½ Cup Fine Dry Bread Crumbs
Paprika

Preheat oven to 350-degrees. Peel potatoes and slice into thin disks using a food processor or vegetable slicer. Cut enough potatoes to measure 4 cups. Place sliced potatoes into cold water until ready to use, then drain.

Heat butter in 2-quart saucepan over medium heat. Cook onions in hot butter until soft, about 2 minutes. Stir in flour, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring constantly, until bubbly; remove from heat.

Stir in milk and 2 cups of the Cheddar cheese and all of the Monterrey Jack Cheese. Return to heat and cook until boiling, stirring constantly. Boil and stir 1 minute.

Drain potatoes in a colander and shake to remove excess water. Spread potatoes in an ungreased 1 ½-quart casserole dish. Pour cheese sauce over potatoes. Bake, uncovered, 1 hour.

Mix remaining cheese, breadcrumbs and paprika (just enough for a nice color). Sprinkle breadcrumb mixture over top of potatoes and bake an additional 15-20 minutes or until top is brown and bubbly.

Asperges à la sauce Hollandaise
3 egg yolks
1 Stick unsalted butter
1/2 lemon, juiced
2 teaspoons boiling water
1/4 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 lbs green asparagus, thick stalks
1 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 lemon, juiced

First, make the hollandaise. This recipe makes about a cup of sauce.

In a bowl, whisk the egg yolks until well-blended, about 20 seconds. Add the salt.

Melt the butter in a small saucepan. In a small cup or bowl heat the juice of 1/2 a lemon to lukewarm in the microwave, about 5-10 seconds. In another cup or microwave bowl heat a small quantity of water to boiling, about 2 minutes.

Begin adding the melted butter to the yolks, teaspoonful by teaspoonful, whisking constantly. When the sauce begins to thicken, add a few drops of the lemon juice. Continue in this way until all the butter and juice have been incorporated. Stir in the boiling water.

Grind in some pepper and check the flavorings, adding more salt if necessary.

If serving within the hour, place the bowl in a warm place, for example beside the stove. If serving later, place the sauce in the fridge. Before serving, heat an inch of water to lukewarm in a large pot. Turn off the heat. Place the bowl of sauce in the pot, taking care not to get any water into the bowl, and stir the sauce occasionally until it has softened. Be careful: if the water is too hot, the sauce will curdle.

Wash and trim the asparagus. Asparagus will “snap” just above the woody end. You want the asparagus to be about 6-8 inches long.

In a large non-stick skillet, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter to sizzling. Turn down the heat to medium and add the asparagus. Gently squeeze the juice of the remaining lemon half over the asparagus.

Using a broad spatula, turn the spears over from time to time until they are browned more or less evenly, about 10-15 minutes depending on the thickness of the asparagus. The spears will remain mainly green, with patches of crispy deep brown. Check for doneness by tasting a spear. It should be tender but slightly al dente.

Just before serving, place the asparagus on a serving platter. Spoon hollandaise sauce over tips for a nice presentation, with the remaining sauce served table-side.