No staff? No worries. With organization and pre-preparation, an opulent and elegant dinner can be presented with the greatest aplomb that Victorian homes of the past would envy. How do I know this? I’ve been celebrating Epiphany with all the trimmings of a French twelve to fourteen course feast for the past twenty-seven years. Though the Titanic served twenty-nine courses to the elite first-class customers, that is far beyond my scope.
Draw up your guest list and understand any dietary limitations or preferences involved for those individuals. Your friends will appreciate your concern and consideration to enhance their dinning experience. Next, the menu and budget. Not many have unlimited funds to serve Beluga caviar, even when it’s on sale. Good quality is found locally in your neighborhood grocery store. I prefer lumpfish caviar, as it is mild, not fishy, nor salty. And while you’re at it, a printed menu is always appreciated and demonstrates your care in both preparing the meal and its presentation. A nice elegant touch, if you will.
For all the courses, except the main one, serve very small portions. That is the key to enjoying such a long feast. Champagne goes delightfully well with the courses and eliminates the necessity of serving a different wine with each course.
Enjoyment of food begins with the presentation or platting. A carefully placed garnish enhances the experience and demonstrates your attention to detail and culinary artistry.
Homemade fois gros, one decorated with 24kt edible goldleaf
Hors d’œuvres is the first course, served in the living room with wine or champagne. You might have as few as seven varieties or as many as twelve. If serving seven courses at the dining table, then ten varieties of hors d’œuvres would be appropriate. Allow one hour to ninety minutes for this sampling for tidbits and drink.
When I call people to the dining table by ringing a crystal dinner bell, an aperitif is in place at each setting. Either a Kir or a Kir Royal (small amount of Cassis with Champagne instead of white wine). With the beverage is a small tasty biscuit or very flavorful cracker. This is a nice opening for a second course.
Fruit mixture of some sort comprises the third course. This can be as simple as a fresh fruit salad. Stay away from the canned or jarred fruit mixtures. You want your guests to know your see them as special and are willing to put in the effort at every course for their enjoyment. Often I will serve a fruit salad from the hollowed out halves of the grapefruit used in the recipe.
A fourth course is soup. It can be as simple as cream of tomato garnished with minced fresh basil or as elaborate as vichyssoise. The choice is determined by skill and time. Remember, presentation can elevate any simple recipe.
Next is the fish course or shellfish. A simple creamed tuna is upgraded by the addition of a small amount of dry sherry. Never use any alcohol that you would not drink. Alcohol is a flavoring ingredient. The hot burner cooks off the alcohol
For a sixth course, a savory is served. It can be as elegant as poached marrow or a simple quiche. Instead of a savory, a poultry item could be substituted, or served as a separate course after the savory.
Dinner guests waiting for the aperitif. Sixteen sat at this 13 ft table.
A palate cleanser is next up, or as the French call, the Entremède. Any sherbet or sorbet will fit the bill for this one. It is served in a small portion with a demitasse spoon. Ice cream is deemed an inappropriate substitution and always considered a dessert item.
The pièce de résistance could be beef, pork, or lamb. For my Epiphany celebrations, I serve Bœuf Bourguigonne. It’s a hearty beef stew cooked in burgundy wine with pearl onions and mushrooms and totally worth the effort. As an accompaniment, no fewer than four vegetables, all of different colors. If you have onions, mushrooms or other vegetables in your main course, then don’t serve a variation of the same as a side dish.
Cheese and fruit, if not served previously as an hors d’œvre, is the next course. I realize in Europe a light flavorful salad would be presented at this point. However, American tradition has regulated salad to a lunch course and served after soup for a simpler menu. I chose to omit this item in my listing of offerings. Whatever cheese you choose, there should be a choice of three: one sharp, another mild, and a third creamy. The tang of cheese sets the palate ready for the sweet contrast of dessert.
The tenth course is dessert! Ah the variety abounds. A simple peach melba to flaming cherries jubilee. I would avoid a heavy cheesecake in consideration of your guests’ full stomachs.
Next is the savior to that full feeling; the demitasse or known as expresso. If an expresso maker is not in your culinary arsenal, take heart. Instant expresso will fill the bill. Serve this black delicious drink from a lovely small coffee pot. Offer small sugar cubes, heavy cream, and lemon peel to guests as their taste dictates. Expresso can be found as a ground in full bodied or decaffeinated form for the drip coffeemaker.
Lastly, the liqueur course. I offer no less than three and up to seven to my guests. It’s a nice finish to a long, yet enjoyable meal. Besides, it aids digestion. The French call this Les Digestifs.
If you desire to serve more than twelve courses, add a poultry course, and a pretty layered savory verrine after the aperitif. Now you have fourteen delightful taste experiences.
Husband Mitch with all of our 5 poodle children. They enjoy fine cuisine, too.
To spur your creative interest in the kitchen, below are two of my favorite go-to recipes.
Serve over tender rice or noodles.
2 whole chicken breasts (4 halves), boned and skinned
2 Tbs. butter
12 small white onions (boilers), coarsely sliced lengthwise
½ cup fresh or canned mushrooms, sliced
½ cup canned whole tomatoes, drained and crushed
½ cup sliced black olives, (or whole pitted, if preferred)
¾ cup dry white wine
1 tsp. salt
¼ tsp. freshly ground pepper
½ tsp. paprika
8 oz. sour cream
In large skillet, heat butter. Add chicken and cook until lightly browned on both sides. Add onions, and continue cooking until onions are well browned and impart their enticing sweetness. Add mushrooms, tomatoes, black olives, wine, salt, pepper and paprika. Bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for 45 minutes, or until chicken is tender. Remove chicken to heated serving dish and keep warm. Add sour cream to pan and heat, stirring constantly, without allowing to boil. Pour over chicken. Serve hot.
Serves 5-6, recipe may be cut in half, or doubled.
5-6 lbs stew beef
3 Tbs. brandy
1 lb. small white onions, peeled
1 lb. small fresh mushrooms
2½ Tbs. cornstarch
2½ tsps. meat extract paste (beefer-upper, or any substitute that’s not overly salty)
2 Tbs. tomato paste
1½ cups Burgundy
¾ cups dry sherry
¾ cups ruby port
1 10½ can beef consommé
1/8 tsp. black pepper
1 large bay leaf
1.Wipe beef with paper towels. Slowly heat a 5 qt. (or larger, anything over 5 qts. works better) Dutch oven with a tight-fitting lid. In 2 Tbs. hot butter, over high heat, brown beef well all over—about a fourth at a time, enough to cover the bottom of Dutch oven.
2. Turn beef with tongs. Lift out as it browns. Continue until all beef is browned, adding more butter as needed (takes about ½ hour). Then return beef to Dutch oven. In small saucepan, heat 2 Tbs. brandy (the remaining brandy will be used later) just until vapor rises. Ignite; pour over beef.
3. As flame dies, remove beef cubes to another pan; set aside. Add 2 Tbs. butter to Dutch oven, heat slightly. Add onions; cook over low heat, covered, until onions brown slightly, stirring occasionally. Then add mushrooms; cook, stirring 3 minutes.
4. With slotted spoon, remove onions and mushrooms. Remove Dutch oven from heat. Using a wooden spoon, stir in cornstarch, meat-extract paste, and tomato paste until well blended. Stir in the Burgundy, sherry, port, and consommé. Preheat oven to 350F.
5. Bring wine mixture in Dutch oven just to boiling, stirring; remove from heat. Add beef, pepper, bay leaf, onions, mushrooms, and remaining 1 Tbs. brandy; mix well. Place a large sheet of waxed paper over top of Dutch oven; place lid on top of paper. Bake covered.
6. Stir occasionally; cook 1½ hours, or until beef is tender when pierced with fork. Pour off liquid collected on paper. Sprinkle with parsley. (This is better made the day before, refrigerated, and reheated gently. If necessary, add Burgundy wine to thin sauce.
Wine: Any full-bodied Burgundy or Bordeaux.
© 2014 Cynthia B Ainsworthe, Award-winning Author
Born in Mahopac, NY, raised in Yorktown Heights, NY, Cynthia has longed to become a writer. Life circumstances put her dream on hold for most of her life. Some eight years ago she ventured to write her first novel, Front Row Center, which won the IPPY (Independent Publisher) Award and is now being adapted to screen with a script is in development by she and Hollywood screenwriter, Scott C Brown. Since then Cynthia shares with other authors the Reader’s Favorite International Award for two short stories, When Midnight Comes, and Characters, she contributed to the horror anthology The Speed of Dark, by Clayton C Bye. It Ain’t Fittin’ earned her the Excellence in Writing Award by It Matters Radio. Cynthia enjoys her retirement from her profession as a registered cardiac nurse in Florida, caring for her husband and five poodle-children.
Cynthia A xxoo
IPPY Award-Winning Author, Front Row Center
Reader’s Favorite International Award Winner, The Speed of Dark
Excellence in Writing Award, It Ain’t Fittin’, It Matters Radio
Words and Passion