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GOOD COOKING

It's the Ultimate Holiday Dinner Party for 6

November 29, 1990|ABBY MANDEL

More parties are given in December than in all the rest of the months combined. It's such a festive month that even the most reluctant host gives entertaining a nod.

If you're planning on entertaining at home, here's a suggestion for simple elegance: the ultimate dinner party for six. It features foods that are simple and yet festive enough for the holidays. It also cuts unnecessary fat and calories without sacrificing flavor or flair. Moreover, this is a meal that is not overly time-consuming and can be completely prepared in advance.

To make the meal even more festive, make sure your table reflects the distinctive elegance of the dinner. Long, white, tapered candles, a white tablecloth, napkins tied with green leaves and holly berries, your very best dishes and a bowl of pomegranates and greens in the center of the table would add just the right holiday touch.

\o7 FESTIVE HOLIDAY DINING FOR SIX

Chilled Champagne

Smoked salmon rosettes with fresh dill on thinly sliced pumpernickel toast, lemon wedges

Duck Breasts With Warm Caramelized Red Onion and Cranberry Relish

Sauteed Wild Rice With Cabbage and Leeks

Beaujolais wine, slightly chilled

Salad of mixed greens with juliennes of red and yellow peppers

Glazed Pears With Sugared Walnut Halves and Hot Bittersweet Sauce

Gewurztraminer, chilled

Packaged duck breasts are easy to find in the market; they are practical and extremely quick to prepare. In addition, the breasts are successfully cooked without the skin so that they're far less fat-laden than whole roasted duck. Although the last - minute cooking is short, this recipe can also be prepared completely in advance and reheated at serving time. Broiled venison chops would be a great substitut e for the duck if you prefer game. Chicken breasts would work too, cooked in the same manner as the duck but a few minutes longer.

DUCK BREASTS WITH WARM CARAMELIZED RED ONION AND CRANBERRY RELISH

2 teaspoons safflower oil

2 teaspoons butter

3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

1/2 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground pepper

3 (10-ounce) boneless duck breasts, split, skinned and trimmed of all visible fat

Red Onion and Cranberry Relish

12 orange slices, each centered with clove

Heat oil and butter in non-stick 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Mix cinnamon, allspice, salt and pepper to taste in small dish. Sprinkle 1/2 seasoning mixture over top of duck breasts. When oil and butter are hot, place breasts, seasoned side down, in skillet. Sprinkle remaining seasoning over breasts.

Cook, uncovered, turning only once when underside is browned, until rare (3 to 3 1/2 minutes) or medium (about 5 minutes). (Cooked beyond medium, meat tends to be tough.)

To serve, cut each breast into thin, slightly diagonal slices. Arrange on warm serving plates, reassembling breast in original shape but fanning out slices. Garnish each plate with Red Onion and Cranberry Relish and 2 overlapping orange slices. Makes 6 servings.

Variation:

Duck may also be cooked ahead and reheated at serving time: Brown both sides of seasoned breast quickly, about 1 1/2 minutes. Slice for serving. Using metal spatula, transfer each sliced breast to shallow baking dish. Garnish with relish. Cover and refrigerate as long as overnight. Spill off accumulated juices. Reheat, covered, in 350-degree oven 20 to 25 minutes until hot and cooked to desired doneness. Serve hot with sauteed wild rice with cabbage and leeks. Garnish plate with overlapping orange slices.

Red Onion and Cranberry Relish

1 tablespoon safflower oil

1 large red onion, about 8 ounces, thinly sliced

1/2 cup fresh cranberries

1/2 cup dried cranberries

6 tablespoons water

1 1/2 tablespoons sugar

1/2 cup dry red wine (Beaujolais)

1/4 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground pepper

2 teaspoons butter

Heat oil in non-stick 8-inch skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Add red onion and fresh and dried cranberries. Cook, covered, until onion is tender, about 7 minutes, stirring often to avoid burning. Add water and sugar. Mix well.

Remove cover and continue cooking until mixture is thick and syrupy, about 7 minutes more, stirring often. Add red wine, salt and pepper to taste. Bring to boil. Decrease to simmer. Stir in butter. Adjust seasoning and sugar (adding little more if wine is highly acidic). Remove from heat. Serve hot.

Note: Relish can be made 3 days ahead and refrigerated. Reheat gently on stove top or in microwave oven.

Wild rice is really not rice at all but a long-grain marsh grass native to the northern Great Lakes region. In this menu, it adds a luxurious touch as well as a most desirable nutty flavor and chewy texture . Wild rice can be cooked ahead and frozen, which is a definite convenience since it takes a long time to cook; it's a good idea to make more than you need and stash it away in the freezer.

SAUTEED WILD RICE WITH CABBAGE AND LEEKS

1 1/4 cups wild rice

4 1/2 cups hot water

2 tablespoons light-tasting olive oil

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