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Come for Dinner: Memorable Meals to Share with Friends

 
Book Review by Cheri Sicard
Editor Fabulous Foods & Fabulous Travel
Come for Dinner: Memorable Meals to Share with Friends
By Leslie Revsin

Photographs by Christopher Hirsheimer
308 Pages
Hardcover
2003, Wiley
$29.95

ISBN: 0-471-42010-7

If you know in advance that Come for Dinner author Leslie Revsin was the first woman chef of New York's famed Waldorf-Astoria, or that she was chosen one of only thirteen "Master Chefs of New York" on PBS or named one of Food and Wine magazine's "Top Chefs," you might expect this book to be filled with fussy gourmet recipes that take a lot of time and a ton of exotic ingredients. But you'd be wrong.

The food is delicious but approachable -- fresh quality ingredients prepared in a way that brings out their flavors. The range is inspiring with everything from comfort food to gourmet dishes to ethnic inspired dishes that draw from Asia, The Mediterranean, Latin cultures and more. Revsin believes entertaining at home provides the opportunity to connect with friends and family on a profound level. Inviting loved ones to dine nurtures more than the stomach.

In order to encourage readers to host dinners more often, and to make entertaining easy and hassle free, she gives invaluable timesaving tips and make ahead advice throughout the book You'll also find lots of complete menus for every season and a multitude of occasions. Menus are customizable depending on the number of guests expected.

In addition to recipes that are clear and straightforward, you'll find 16 pages of full color photos to inspire you start inviting folks over for dinner.

Chapters include: Some Menus for Memorable Meals -- Great Home Cooking, The Simplest Dinner Menus, Just Good Foods, Soup Dinners; Soups, Green Salads & Other Starters; More Menus for Easy Entertaining -- A Little Grander, Alfresco Dinners from the Grill; Do-Ahead Dinners, Make Your Own Dinner Party, Just Desserts; Main Courses -- Seafood, Chicken, Pork & Lamb, Veal & Beef, Slow Cooked Dishes and Casseroles; Dishes on the Side -- Vegetables, Potatoes, Rice, Couscous and Rolls; Desserts -- Cakes, Cookies, Fruit desserts, Puddings and a Mousse, Ice Cream Sundaes and Chocolate Truffles.

Appendices include Easy Ideas for Hors d'Oeuvres, Ingredients and Techniques for Foolproof Baking, and mail order sources (although you can find the ingredients for most every recipe at normal supermarkets).

Sample Recipes from Come for Dinner:

  • Avocados Stuffed with Tropical Fruit Berries
  • Gratinéed Eggplant, Lasagna
  • Poached Pears with Vanilla Bean and Lemon Zest

Starter

Avocados Stuffed with Tropical Fruit Berries

On a frigid day when I was longing to knock back rum punches under a leafy canopy on a tropical beach, instead I tossed the usual vinaigrette suspects of mustard, vinegar, and olive oil (with a little honey) into a blender with raspberries and came up with a creamy vinaigrette for fruits destined for a short life in the cavity of an avocado. It was great to look at, tasted fresh and lush, and was perfect as a starter or for brunch.

¾ cup fresh raspberries

2½ teaspoons Dijon mustard, preferably French

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon honey

½ cup olive oil

Salt and freshly ground pepper

2½ cups mixed berries, such as blueberries, sliced strawberries, and raspberries or blackberries

1 cup peeled diced tropical fruit, such as mango, papaya, cherimoya. Pineapple, kiwi, or melon

4 ripe avocados, preferably Hass variety.

Serves 8

Puree the 2/3 cup raspberries with the mustard, vinegar, honey, and olive oil in a blender until smooth, thick and creamy, about 1 minute. Push the dressing through a strainer to remove the seeds, season with salt and pepper, and set it aside.

Place the mixed berries and fruit in a large bowl. Gently fold in enough dressing to coat them lightly and transfer the remainder to a sauceboat. Cut the avocados in half, discard the pits, and slice a sliver off the bottom of each so they sit flat. Season lightly with salt and pepper and set them on plates or a platter. Spoon the fruit into the cavities, letting it overflow attractively. Serve with the remaining dressing on the side.

Gratinéed Eggplant, Lasagna

With the remarkable simple beauty of Italian food, this layered eggplant, ricotta, mozzarella, and tomato casserole, with its golden crust of crumbs and Romano cheese, emerges bubbling from the oven. Just be sure to bake it in a shallow dish on the top rack of the oven, so that it browns easily (and if you have a great, rustic-looking oven-to-table dish, use it here)

2 medium eggplants, about 1 pound each

½ cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2/3 cup ricotta cheese, preferably fresh

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1½ pounds plum tomatoes, very ripe but not soft

3 large garlic cloves, cut into very thin slices

½ teaspoon dried oregano

1/3 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese

1/3 cup dry bread crumbs

1½ tablespoons butter, melted and cooled

1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese (6 ounces), preferably fresh


Serves 6-8

Preheat the oven to 450°F. Trim and discard both ends of the eggplants. Preparing one at a time cut lengthwise slice about 3/8 inch thick and lay the eggplant flat side down, then cut into long slices 1/3 inch thick. Lay the slices in a single layer on 2 cookie sheets, brush both sides with 6 tablespoons of the olive oil, and roast until tender but not mushy, about 20 minutes, turning them once midway. If they brown somewhat, all the better.

Meanwhile, place the ricotta in a small bowl, season with salt and pepper to taste, and set aside. Remove the eggplant when it is done, but leave the oven on.

Holding each tomato with the stem end facing your palm, grate enough tomatoes on the large perforations of a box-type grater to measure 2 cups pulp (This is a handy technique; you'll see as you grate that the tomato flattens out, and its skin protects your hand). Discard the skin.

Place the remaining ¼ cup olive oil in a medium saucepan set over low heat, and when hot, cook the garlic, stirring, for about 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes and

oregano, increase the heat to medium, and cook the sauce, stirring occasionally, until thickened and reduced to about 1 1/3 cups, 10 to 15 minutes. Season generously with salt and pepper.

Combine the Romano cheese and bread crumbs in a small bowl and stir in the butter until the mixture looks like moist, coarse sand.

Spread about 3 tablespoons of the tomato sauce over the bottom of a shallow, 1½ -quart oven-proof casserole. Lay one-third of the eggplant over the sauce (it won't completely cover), season with salt and pepper, top with half of the ricotta, spreading it to cover as best possible. Cover the ricotta with half of the remaining tomato sauce, followed by half of the mozzarella. Add another layer of eggplant and repeat the process with the remaining cheeses and sauce. Add the final layer of eggplant (which may not completely cover).

Spread the crumb mixture as evenly as possible over the top and bake on the top rack until golden brown and bubbling, about 20 minutes.

Do-ahead options

  • The eggplant can be roasted and the sauce prepared up to 2 days ahead.
  • The crumbs can be seasoned up to 3 days in advance.
  • Assemble the dish up to 6 hours ahead and let it come almost to room temperature before sprinkling it with crumbs and baking it.

Poached Pears with Vanilla Bean and Lemon Zest


These pears emerge from their poaching bath as exquisite, translucent objects that look lit from within, the color of palest yellow buttercream. Tiny specks of vanilla bean seeds freckle their sides, and they are served in a shallow pool of lemon-scented syrup. When shaving off the strips of lemon peel, be sure to pick up only the bright yellow zest, leaving the bitter white pith behind.

¾ cup sugar

9 strips of lemon zest, about 2 x ½ inches each

One 6-inch-long piece vanilla bean, cut lengthwise in half

6 medium to large ripe but firm Bartlett or Anjou pears, preferably with stems

2 or 3 lemons cut in half for moistening pears, plus 4 ½ tablespoons strained lemon juice

Serves 6

Preheat the oven to 325°F with a rack in the center. Place the sugar, 3 cups of water, the lemon zest, and split vanilla bean in a large ovenproof casserole or deep skillet large casserole or deep skillet large enough to hold the pears comfortably lying down (or use 2 pans, dividing the ingredients). Set the pan(s) over low heat and simmer the liquid, stirring occasionally, until the sugar has dissolved and the flavorings have begun to infuse the syrup, 5 to 8 minutes.

Meanwhile, core the pears through their bottoms with the smaller end of a melon baler, then peel them with a vegetable peeler, moistening each with squeezes of lemon juice from the lemon halves to prevent darkening (do not rub their surface, however, because this will damage the fruit). Finally, slice a thin section from the base of each pear so it can stand upright.

Stir 3 tablespoons of the strained lemon juice into the syrup, add the pears, and roll them gently in the syrup with a rubber spatula (they won't be covered by the syrup). Cover the pan(s) and place in the oven.

Poach the pears until they're just tender but firm, about 15 minutes, turning them gently with a rubber spatula once during this period. To check for doneness, insert a wooden skewer into the cored middle and deeply pierce the upper, solid section of the pear (without going all the way through, if you can avoid it). If the skewer meets with more than a little resistance, continue cooking a few minutes longer.

Transfer the lemon strips and pears, supporting them with a rubber spatula as you life them by their stem, if there is one, to a platter (see Note). Loosely cover with plastic wrap and let the pears stand until cool, then refrigerate them.

With a teaspoon, scrape out the tiny black seeds from the center of the vanilla beans into the syrup; save or discard the pods (see page 277). Transfer the syrup to a small saucepan (there should be about 3 cups). Bring the syrup to a boil over medium-high heat and reduce it until lightly thickened and about 1 cup in volume, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes, scraping down the sides of the pan from time to time to loosen any vanilla seeds. Stir in the remaining 1½ tablespoons lemon juice, or to taste. Let the syrup cool and refrigerate it until lightly chilled.

Stand the chilled pears in shallow soup plates or bowls, stir the syrup to reincorporate the vanilla seeds, spoon it over the pears, slip 1 lemon strip into each bowl, and serve.

NOTE: The pears retain the nicest shape if allowed to cool standing up.

Do-ahead options

The pears can be poached up to 1 day ahead and refrigerated in their unfinished syrup (finishing it the next day early enough for it to become lightly chilled). Remove the pears and syrup from the refrigerator 20 to 30 minutes ahead, so they are just lightly chilled when served.

Cheri Sicard is the editor of FabulousFoods.com, a favorite net destination for recipes, cooking tutorials, health and fitness information, holiday and entertaining ideas, celebrity chef interviews, cookbook reviews and more.

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