How to plan a dessert menu? Well there are several ways to do this, if you are organizing a dinner party you have to consider the main dishes as well as your starters to the meal, if it’s a grand affair, or if it’s an informal dinner party.
You need to consider the likes and dislikes of your guests, as well as yourself. For the most part it would be assumed that you know your guests and their likes and dislikes to a degree anyway.
So let’s start with a grand affair, which could be a special celebration like a birthday, a reunion, or something similar.
If you are starting with a fruit you might not want fruit within your desserts, or if you did you would want to choose different fruits as desserts, if you had pastry somewhere in your meal either to start or part of your main meal you wouldn’t want a fruit pie or pastry within your desserts. What you need to do is find a real balance within the menu as a whole so that things are not repeated which will add too much bulk and make your guests feel bloated and too full before they even get to their dessert. Nearly everyone will look forward to the dessert so it’s worth making the effort.
So let’s try putting together a balanced menu here, I am going to start with a small salad of rocket leaves as my base for a seafood starter, a combination of shrimps, mussels and a smoked fish like mackerel that is flaked perhaps, over the top of the other fish, or you could have a Mediterranean fish compilation of squid, shrimps and clams, perhaps cooked ahead of time and marinated in olive oil and lemon juice with seasoning and always add garlic, which I always add in large chunks so that they are easy to discard before I serve up. Not everyone is enamored of it and while they might not mind a hint of garlic they wouldn’t appreciate whole pieces of it on their plate. So we have our starter of rocket leaves, washed of course, as a bed for the seafood, spoon over the marinade, never waste it, and garnish with finely chopped parsley. No need to further season as the seasoning will have been done within the marinade. If your guests want to further season allow them to do that at the table by offering them salt and a pepper grinder which is always much nicer. Also offer plenty of fresh warmed bread, no butter as this will spoil the starter.
Now for the next course, since the first course has been quite light we can now afford to offer something a little more substantial, remember this is the second course of four, since it is a grand dinner party, we want to make an impression don’t we? Ok, so I would suggest either a risotto or a pasta dish, perhaps a few ravioli with a very nice plain tomato sauce, or cannelloni with a ricotta and spinach filling with the same plain tomato sauce. If it’s a plain sauce then it won’t be too heavy. Keep it simple because the filled pasta is quite special as it is. The sauce is easily made, by just sauting a small finely chopped onion, a garlic clove and freshly chopped parsley, in olive oil, season, add your sieved tomatoes and cook for at the very least an hour, longer if possible. Obviously make enough for your guests, I would use two cartons of the tomatoes for four people as a starter course which is what this is, if it were for the main meal I would make more sauce.
So the starter and second course is spoken for. Now comes the tricky part the main course, we need to think about what we started with which was fish, and the second which was a filled pasta dish, no meat used in the second course, so we need to decide what meat to use, which could be a leg of lamb, boned and stuffed with ham and mushrooms, I have cooked this many times and it looks pretty impressive. What you need to remember is that the lamb must be cooked very slowly, and it needs to rest, once cooked for at least half an hour before you slice it. So we will go with the lamb, your butcher can bone it for you, and if you are quite handy in the kitchen with this type of thing then go ahead and have a go and do it yourself. You do need a sharp knife which needs to be fairly small. Cut the lamb to the bone along the whole of the leg and simply scrape at the bone to remove the flesh from it. Once you have done this you are now ready to stuff it. You will need at least 8 to 10 slices of honey roasted ham, not too thickly sliced and lightly sauted mushrooms, onions and bread crumbs. Lay the ham across the open flesh of the lamb and top with a layer of mushrooms and onions and sprinkle with breadcrumbs. Season well with freshly ground pepper and salt, now you need to bring the lamb together and tie it with fine string, if you cut lengths of string just big enough to knot off then it will be a lot easier. Take your time and secure the leg of lamb so that none of the stuffing is visible. It does take a little time but well worth it. Place it in a roasting pan just big enough for the piece of meat, season it, place it in a hot oven for 30 minutes to brown it a little then cover with aluminum foil and lower the heat as if you were braising. Allow it to cook on this low heat for at least four hours, check from time to time and baste it well. Once it is cooked remover it and let it stand.
In the mean time think about what vegetables you might like. I like roasted veggies with my lamb so I would prepare a selection such as sweet red and green peppers, carrots, zucchini, mushrooms, onions and whole plum tomatoes and perhaps chunks of aborigine. There are no hard and fast rules about what veggies to roast of steam for that matter, just what you like or prefer, and since we had a pasta dish for one of the courses I wouldn’t bother with potatoes here. Roasted vegetables always look nice and caramelized once done and they compliment the lamb beautifully, in face they compliment any roasted meat well.
So now we come to the main reason for the written piece. How to plan a dessert menu, well I think you can see that planning a menu, even a dessert menu depends largely on what the whole menu is to begin with, so far we have a fish starter course followed by a pasta course, and then the main course of slow roasted stuffed lamb and roasted vegetables.
We now need to think of desserts that will compliment the courses that have preceded the dessert. Lamb is quite fatty, so any dessert we choose should be refreshing and light. Fruit is always a favorite, but you might want to have more than one dessert on offer, so a good fruit salad is a good one, perhaps a dairy dessert, like a fool or syllabub, and perhaps an ice cream gateau of some sort. I don’t know about your guests but mine always like a little of them all so I usually have at least three if not four on offer.
You could go in many directions with the fruit salad; you could have a berry fruit salad with lots of red berries, an exotic one with passion fruit, guava and pineapple etc. or a very plain one. I always like to add just a little sherry to mine and a dusting of cinnamon with a light sprinkling of brown cane sugar.
The syllabub can be a citric one with orange or lemon juice, I have even made it with passion fruit and it is so delicious. Always be sure to offer small servings rather than large ones of the syllabub as it can be quite rich. Of course there is the cheese board, don’t have too many cheeses. Choose a hard one like good strong cheddar, a soft one like gorgonzola or another blue veined cheese and one in the middle, perhaps smoked or non smoked Gouda. Not everyone wants a sweet dessert..ice cream gateau, yes its so easy to make. All you need is a block or container of good vanilla ice cream, fruit such as soft berries and a coolie made of fruits cooked with sugar and sieved, and allowed to cool of course, although serving warmed coolie with ice cream gateau is quite acceptable. All you need to do is soften the ice cream just so it is a little pliable, not melted, put it in a bowl along with the soft fruit, add a little sherry or your favorite liquor, a fruit based one and mix all the ingredients together, place the ice cream mixture into a prepared cake tin and put it back into the freezer. When you are halfway through the main course take it out of the freezer to slightly soften, turn it out onto a nice glass plate and drizzle the cool coolie over it and sieve icing sugar over it. Now all you need to do is make a nice pot of coffee to finish the meal off nicely.don’t forget the mint chocolates.enjoy!
This can be used as a basis for any menu making, think about who will be attending, what their likes and dislikes are, how they will be eating, at a table or as finger foods for a buffet etc, and what type of meal it will be, formal or informal. There are no rules as such, but just a little thought can make it as enjoyable for your guests as it will be for you, the cook. There is something quite special about sharing a meal with friends and family, so make it extra special.