Menus for "mixed" dining

Discussion in 'Open Forum With Denise Landis' started by mezzaluna, Feb 11, 2006.

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  1. mezzaluna

    mezzaluna

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    Dear Denise,

    I find my puzzling over how to manage a sit-down dinner menu when the diners have varying tastes or dietary needs. For instance, how do you plan when one person is vegetarian but the others will eat meat or poultry? To complicate things further, my husband doesn't eat fish (fin or shell) at all. I've managed to develop one menu for this but some general principles would help in expanding my repertoire. I'm a fairly well-skilled home cook, but not a pro.

    Thank you in advance,
    Mezzaluna
     
  2. denise landis

    denise landis

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    Here are some ways to solve the problem of the vegetarian coming for the roast beef dinner, the friend who is allergic to shrimp when you have your heart set on a shrimp appetizer, the husband who won't touch fish when you want to serve a whole baked salmon:

    -- Keep small portions of foods frozen for such occasions. There are plenty of recipes that freeze very well. I have made and frozen the following vegetarian dishes: zucchini soup, black bean soup, burgers (homemade of course), chili, etc. Make your dinner as planned, but serve the person who won't eat it something similar. If I am serving roast beef, I will not serve the vegetarian a soup, but instead, a roasted vegetable dish.

    -- Serve a dish that can be adapted to be vegetarian or not. In my book Dinner for Eight, I have an appetizer recipe for Crispy Mushrooms with Ginger Sauce. I adapted the recipe from one I make using shrimp. I have several friends who are vegetarian, and when one is coming for dinner, I sometimes make the mushrooms first (so the oil won't be contaminated), then fry the shrimp. The sauce is vegetarian but I supply a spoon for the sauce and individual plates, or else a separate bowl of sauce for dipping the mushrooms.

    -- Mix vegetarian foods and non-vegetarian foods in the same menu. Serve shrimp (but do not serve it at all if anyone present has an allergy) but also serve a vegetarian terrine. Remember that the non-vegetarians will eat the vegetarian food too, so have plenty.

    -- Serve a side dish that can be appropriate as a main course. None of that "she can eat the salad" attitude, which is not very hospitable. I have served vegetarian risotto, vegetarian paella, pasta dishes, grain dishes, foccacia...To make it special as a main course, add an embellishment that the other diners won't have, such as large curls of cheese, shredded lettuce, julienned carrots, a toasted crouton, or some other pretty garnish. You can also add spouts to the plate, or olives, or a pickled vegetable or chutney.

    -- Unless you already have the menu planned, make the entire meal appropriate for your needy guest. If you have a well-planned menu and good food, who's going to say "where's the meat?" or "how come there are no shrimp?" In Dinner for Eight, I have four fully vegetarian menus. When I serve involtini (eggplant rolls topped with tomato sauce and fresh mozzarella) my meat-eating friends and family are quite happy. And my vegetarian friends are sincerely appreciative.
     
  3. mezzaluna

    mezzaluna

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    Thank you for the ideas, Denise! I never thought of keeping portions on hand for that purpose, although I do have a FoodSaver facuum sealer. And of course, I'll consult your cookbook for the menu ideas you mentioned.

    Regards,
    Mezzaluna
     
  4. denise landis

    denise landis

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    If you would like recipes for vegetarian burgers that can be frozen, read Mark Bittman's The Minimalist column this week (Feb. 15th) in the Dining In/Dining Out section of the New York Times. If you decide to freeze burgers (vegetarian or otherwise), place them on a baking sheet, cover with a sheet of freezer paper, seal with plastic wrap, and freeze. Once they are solidly frozen, wrap them individually in freezer paper and place in a plastic freezer bag, squeezing out as much air as possible.
     
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