Every cook loves the idea of pulling off a gourmet dinner, especially to celebrate a special holiday or event. But good intentions aren’t enough to pull off a really great holiday dinner. Doing this takes planning and of course, a little creativity.
When you’re planning your gourmet meal you have to first take into account who will be there. Are there allergies? What is the proportion of children and adults? Are there any picky eaters in the group – children or adults? Even the best meal prepared by the world’s top chef will be ruined if you serve it to people who don’t appreciate it.
It’s great to serve a gourmet meal filled with exotic and interesting dishes if you know people are going to eat it. If you’re not sure, prepare a base of basic dishes that people can choose from, and then add a few unique and creative dishes. That way if people want to try something new they can and if not, they’re still enjoying a full meal. Desserts and appetizers can be a great place to be really creative because they don’t impact the rest of the meal if people are leery of trying something new.
When you’re planning your meal divide it into segments so it’s easier to look at what you have and what you need to round things out. Many gourmet meals will contain an appetizer or starter; the main dish – often a meat or casserole; vegetables – and this can include salads; starches if you’re a stickler for these; and a dessert. They may also include a side dish of some kind that could include pickles, cheese or an antipasto platter, or even a little something between courses to give people something to sample while the next dish is being prepared.
When you’re looking at your segments remember one dish with a sauce is likely enough. Besides being too rich and heavy, you will have too many extra flavors competing. You also want to make sure you’re not using any one ingredient too heavily. Apples can be a great addition to many dishes but apple glazed ham with a side of applesauce, apple coleslaw and cabbage sautéed with apples is a little heavy on the apples.
Consider your preparation time. Do you want to create a gourmet meal that will mean you have to be in the kitchen the entire time your guests are there, sautéing this and fussing with that? Or is it possible to choose dishes easily prepped ahead?
It is important to consider what constitutes a gourmet meal for you. I know some people who find that if food is presented in a really interesting way they feel they’re eating gourmet food. Perhaps there is something creative you can do with your food to make it look more festive and elegant. Instead of having people prep their plates on their own if you prepare them in the kitchen you can place an ice cream scoop of mashed potatoes on top of a slice of turkey and garnish it with some baby carrots, spinach leaves and a dollop of cranberry sauce and turn a traditional Christmas meal into something quite wonderful. Or, let them help themselves but have a scoop of fresh cranberries and a sprig of fresh spice on their plates when they’re seated to get them started.
There is no real pattern for creating a gourmet meal. In fact what defines “gourmet” may vary a great deal from my family to yours, but if you plan, give it some thought, and throw in a dash of imagination, you can create a meal for your friends and family that they will think is wonderfully gourmet.
Text by Heather Seftel-Kirk