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An Intimate Dinner with Sparkling Wine
For a charming intimate guest dinner, individual packets of oven-steamed leeks and fish make a delightful surprise entree. Diners split them open at the table and enjoy with herb-strewn Red Bliss potatoes. Lemon and anise-scented loaves of bread join the first course of baked shiitake studded with oozy goat cheese, and the bread carries nicely through the fish course. The green salad cloaked with a Balsamic dressing may either precede the entree or follow it. The pretty dessert features candy-like praline cups holding vanilla frozen yogurt and first-of-the-season strawberries. If time is at a premium you may omit the baskets and splash the frozen yogurt and berries with a touch of cassis or Framboise liqueur.
To sip alongside, pour a domestic sparkling wine such as a Mumm Cuvee Napa Valley Brut, a Domaine Chandon Etoile, a Jordan J, or a Roederer Estate Brut. Or you might offer a California Chardonnay from Byron, Cambria, Fritz, or Meridian.
Lemon Anise Loaves
makes 4 loaves
2 packages active dry yeast
1/2 cup lukewarm water
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup canola or olive oil
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon anise seed
Zest of 2 lemons, cut into julienne
1 cup milk, heated to lukewarm
3/4 cup lukewarm water
5 to 5-1/2 cups unbleached flour
Sprinkle the yeast into warm water, stir lightly, and let stand until proofed, about 10 minutes. In a large mixing bowl, place the eggs, honey, oil, salt, anise seed and lemon zest. Mix until blended. Add the milk and water. Add 2 cups of the flour and beat until smooth. Add the dissolved yeast and mix well. Gradually add the remaining flour, adding enough to make a soft dough. Beat with a dough hook 10 minutes or turn out on a floured board and knead 10 minutes. Place in a lightly greased bowl, cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1-1/2 hours.
Punch down, turn out on a floured board, and knead lightly to release air bubbles. Divide into four equal pieces. Shape into four round loaves. Place in greased 9-inch pie pans. Cover and let rise until doubled in size. Bake in a preheated 375ÉF oven for 30 to 35 minutes or until golden brown. Remove and let cool on racks.
Dried Fruit Almond Variation: Add 1-1/4 cups snipped dried apricots or golden raisins and 3/4 cup slivered blanched almonds or pistachios to the dough after incorporating the flour and let rise.
Grilled Shiitake with Goat Cheese
makes 4 servings
4 large shiitake mushrooms or regular white or brown button mushrooms, about 2 to 2 1/2 inches in diameter
2 tablespoons olive oil or unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 teaspoon fresh tarragon or 1/4 teaspoon dried tarragon
2 ounces goat cheese, cut in 4 slices
Freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Farenheit. Pull off the mushroom stems and chop. Slice each mushroom cap into 4 or 5 slices, keeping the slices together so that they retain the shape of a whole mushroom. Arrange the sliced caps on a non-stick or buttered baking pan and tuck the chopped mushroom stems on top of each. Toss together the oil or butter and parsley, garlic, and tarragon. Scatter over the mushrooms. Bake in the oven for 5 minutes. Arrange a slice of cheese on top of each mushroom and sprinkle with pepper. Continue baking for 5 minutes longer, or until the cheese melts. Serve at once on individual plates.
Green Salad with Shallot Dressing
makes 4 servings
Shallot Dressing: follows
Prepare the Shallot Dressing. Place the greens in a salad bowl and toss with the dressing, nuts, and grapes. Arrange on plates.
1 quart salad greens or mesclun
3 tablespoons toasted pistachios
1 cup seedless red grapes
Shallot Dressing: Shake together in a jar 3 tablespoons olive oil, 1-1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar, 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard, 1 shallot, chopped, and salt and pepper to taste.
Leek and Snapper Packets
makes 2 servings
Either foil or parchment can encase neat packets of ginger-spiced leeks and fish. Assemble in advance, ready for last minute baking.
1 teaspoon olive oil
1-1/2 teaspoons finely chopped ginger root
1/3 cup dry white wine
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
12 ounces snapper or salmon fillets, cut into two pieces
Salt and pepper, to taste
4 lemon slices
4 sprigs parsley
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees Farenheit. Cut off the green tops of leeks and trim the root ends. Split white portion lengthwise and wash thoroughly under cold running water. Drain. Cut into 1-1/4 inch julienne matchstick pieces. In a large skillet heat oil over moderate heat, add leeks and ginger root and saute, stirring, until soft. Add wine and and lemon zest and cook down until reduced to a glaze. Using two sheets of aluminum foil, 11-inches square, or parchment paper, lay out the foil. Divide the leek mixture equally in the center of each, top with fish, season with salt and pepper, lemon slices and parsley sprigs. Fold over securing completely, making a double fold in center and at both ends. Place on a baking sheet. Bake in the oven for 8 to 10 minutes or until puffed and fish is just cooked through. Serve a packet on each dinner plate, letting guests open at the table.
Red New Potatoes with Tarragon
makes 4 servings
1 pound Red Bliss or other small new potatoes
1 tablespoons fruity olive oil
2 teaspoons fresh tarragon, minced
Steam the new potatoes until tender, about 12 to 15 minutes. Toss in olive oil with salt, freshly ground pepper, and fresh or dried tarragon.
Ginger Praline Baskets with Frozen Yogurt and Strawberries
makes about 12 baskets
These lacy cookie cups make a sensational candy-like bowl for ice cream or sorbet. They are a bit tricky to shape. The secret is to mold them while they are still warm and pliable. The batter may also be baked in small wafers for cookies.
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1 tablespoon heavy cream
1/2 cup finely ground almonds (2 ounces)
2 tablespoons minced crystallized ginger
Frozen vanilla yogurt
Strawberries for garnish
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Farenheit. In a small saucepan, place the sugar, flour, butter, and cream; bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring, and let bubble 1 minute. Remove from heat and stir in the almonds and ginger. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and lightly butter two circles, about 8 inches in diameter. Spoon out the batter shaping 2 rounds about 6 inches in diameter (mixture will spread). Bake in the middle of the oven for 6 to 7 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from the oven and let cool 2 minutes. While still warm, turn them upside down and peel off the foil. Place each disc over an inverted 4-inch bowl or small souffle dish to shape into a cup. Repeat with the remaining batter. Store in a tightly covered tin. Serve each basket with a scoop of frozen yogurt or sorbet and halved strawberries on top or alongside.
Note: If desired, drop the batter into small 2 or 3-inch rounds and bake for 4 to 5 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from the oven. Let cool 1 to 2 minutes and peel off the foil.
Lou Seibert Pappas is a former food editor of the Palo Alto Times Tribune and a home economist with Sunset Magazine. She currently writes food, home, and travel-related articles for national magazines and newspapers and is the author of more than 30 books.