I don't know about you, but I typically have a series of dishes that make regular appearances on our dinner table. I say "series" because it changes depending on the season. We try to stay out of ruts but tend to depend on our regulars--just to keep meal prep simple in these very busy days. Summer tends to be our creative season not only because there is more fresh produce available, but because I have much more time to cook them up and experiment.
During the winter, my default mode is--roast, braise, or simmer--as in roasted chicken and root vegetables, braised short ribs (that was Thursday's dish), and simmered soups. Thankfully, a pantry stocked with pickled beets, fig jams, poached pears, and beans helps to keep the meals fresh.
All that is to say, I don't give a lot of thought to menu planning. I kind of throw things together and it works. But with folks coming over for dinner tonight I've spent the past few days thinking about what to serve.
Two of my "go to" resources for menu planning ideas are Maria Helm Sinskey's The Vineyard Kitchen, and Martha Stewart's latest "Dinner at Home". The recipes in both are quite solid and the menus--with wine and beer suggestions, take some of the guesswork out of figuring what will go well together.
For tonight, I settled on the menu below. I didn't get the menu idea from a cookbook--I just thought about what dishes I really enjoy eating. I imagined the progression of flavors from course to course--a rich entree I thought, ought to be preceded by a light and refreshing salad. I considered what the last bite of the night might be. And then I did a bit of a mental exercise:
Think about how each dish looks on the plate.
Take a mental bite and imagine how the flavors will taste together. If my mouth begins to water, if I can imagine the flavors and textures complementing one another--then I suspect they'll work together in real time. We'll see. I'll let you know how it goes. Here's the plan:
Appetizers: Medjool Dates stuffed with Lively Run Goat Cheese; apple slices dotted with honeyed hazelnuts; served with Atwater Estate's 2007 Vidal Blanc
Salad: Frisee and arugula salad with pumpkin seeds, slivers of Manchego cheese and pears.
Main: Chicken with Black Pepper Maple Sauce served with Creamy Polenta with Marscapone Cheese and roasted carrots; Wine--Lamoreaux Landing's 2007 Reserve Chardonnay
Dessert: Buttermilk lemon cake drizzled with Renee Suzette's Passionfruit flavored Bittersweet Chocolate Sauce; French press coffee and tea selection