Saturday, 24 September 2011

A Five-Course Dinner for 16 for Less than $5 Per Person: Paving the Way Ambassador Dinner

Happy National Cherries Jubilee Day! And happy second day of the fall season! Unfortunately, I don't have a cherries jubilee recipe for you today (though that would be an appropriate dessert for this cooler fall weather today), but I do have a meal you can prepare for less than $5 per person (given a sizable group). This past Tuesday, I cooked a five-course dinner for our office's pre-orientation program staff, the dinner of which was gastronomically themed "fall flavours and the last bit of summer." On the menu: TAB (turkey, apple, and brie) tartlet, Italian-marinated chicken with bow tie pasta, roasted vegetable salad, s'more brownies, and lemon-nectarine granita with lemon and berry garnish.

Following Monday's Stone Hall potluck, I prepared for Tuesday's dinner by preparing the lemon-nectarine granita. Originally, I had aimed for making a peach or apricot granita, but inadvertently purchased nectarines. (For the record, find some information on the differences between all three here.) To start, peel six nectarines; slice and put them in a pot with about one cup of water. Add about 1/2 c granulated sugar and boil everything together until a knife easily pierces the nectarine slices (approximately 15-20 minutes). When the nectarines are ready, strain out the liquid into a bowl and purée the fruit; strain and add this to the liquid. Next, carefully fold in about 1.5 c lemon-lime soda (it should still look fizzy when you're done), cover the bowl with tin foil, and leave it in the freezer over night.

With the granita liquid now in the freezer, I cubed up four pounds of chicken breast, placed it in a gallon-size storage bag, and added 2 c Italian dressing. I then sealed the bag (removing as much air out as I could) and placed this in a bowl just in case it leaked. Finally, I put the bowl in the refrigerator to marinade overnight. All of this being said, I would advise marinating the chicken in the morning (as opposed to the night before), as the acid in the dressing can start to cook the chicken. After properly cooking the chicken, the end result will most likely be tougher than desired (though still undoubtedly edible.

On Tuesday morning before going to work, I took out the bowl in the freezer and used a fork to scrape the now frozen (well, mostly frozen) granita. Another way to look at this concoction is to see it as something of a slushie-type/shaved ice dessert. After the initial scrape, I re-foiled the bowl and put it back in the freezer for a second freezing.

At the end of the work day, I somehow found myself with only a 75-minute cooking window, and so multi-tasking became essential in completing the meal. I got a large pot of water boiling for the pasta (season with about three large pinches of salt), and started cooking the chicken (along with the marinade) in another pot. While these were both going, I turned the oven on to 350 °F and lined a baking sheet with 5 rectangles of frozen puff pastry dough (you'd be wise to use some cooking/baking spray on the sheet prior to doing this). To this, add two granny smith apples (thin-med slice, and then matchsticked), half a pound of thinly sliced smoked turkey, and about 3/4 a small wheel of brie. Then, get all of this into the oven and bake for about 20 minutes, or until the perimeter of the dough puffs up and starts to brown; at that point, turn the oven to broil, and broil the dish for 3 minutes, turn and cook for an additional 2 minutes. This will get the crust to be a beautiful golden brown.

By the time your TAB (again: turkey, apple, and brie) tartlet is in the oven, the pasta water should be boiling; cook one 16 oz of farfalle (bow-tie pasta) and 8 oz of mini-farfalle. Then, strain out all the chicken liquid and finish (practically) frying the chicken itself (no more than five more minutes should do). By this point, the students arrived and so I put some of them to work as sous chefs. While one student scraped the granita for the second time, another crushed about 5 oz graham crackers and a third peeled off the skins of an entire garlic bulb. Meanwhile, I worked on the roasted vegetable salad, adding to one of two baking dishes (drizzled with olive oil and the oven heated to 425 °F) one diced eggplant, two sliced yellow squash, two sliced zucchinis, a package of sliced sweet mini bell peppers, a pint of grape tomatoes, and (when the student had finished) roughly chopped garlic. Leave these in the oven to roast for about 15-20 minutes or until the yellow squash and zucchini are fork-tender.

Mix all the vegetables together and serve alongside the cooked pasta and chicken.

While the vegetables were in the oven, it was then time to make the s'more brownie batter. You can use any brownie batter you'd like; I used my chocolate pudding brownie recipe minus the pudding mix. At this point, the vegetables should either be done or nearing completion. When the vegetables are out of the oven, reduce the heat back to 350 °F. In a non-greased baking dish, mix in 2 tbsp unsalted butter to the crushed graham crackers; the resulting mixture should represent barely wet sand. Spread evenly the soon-to-be graham cracker crust and blind bake it for about 5 minutes. Layer on the brownie batter, and bake it 3/4 of the way through. Add as many chocolate chunks as you'd like and finishing baking the brownies. Finally, sprinkle about 5-6 oz of mini marshmallows (or go for regular or even jumbo marshmallows if you're so inclined); set the oven to broil and toast the marshmallows, keeping a close eye on them so as to not let them burn (this last part takes about 4 minutes, making sure to rotate the dish at the 2-minute mark). Take the (now) s'more brownies out of the oven and give them some time to cool before cutting them.

At this point in the meal, the appetizer, entrée and salad were done. For as many as we had present, I used ramekins instead of bowls and served the s'more brownies and the lemon-nectarine granita for the duo of desserts. To garnish the granita, I served blueberries, half lemon slices, and raspberries, all of which had been washed and prepared earlier. Whew! And with that, the five-course meal was complete. For the photo album from this meal, click here.

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