Jewish Journal

Add relaxation to Rehearsal Dinner menu

by Beverly Levitt

Posted on Aug. 9, 2007 at 8:00 pm

Mmmm, graavlax

Mmmm, graavlax

Your child's wedding is quickly approaching but you aren't feeling jubilant.

Perhaps it's because after running yourself ragged -- shopping, schlepping, making 10,000 arrangements that depend on 100 people acting in total synchronicity -- you'd feel a whole lot better if you could pull off just one event by yourself.

The rehearsal dinner should be a time of joy, with parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles and cousins from both sides of this new family tree gathering for the first time. But often it's the most harrowing time in the run-up to a wedding.

With event planner Colin Cowie as our coach we just might be able to pull it off.

"Relax," is the first piece of advice offered by the author of "Colin Cowie's Extraordinary Weddings" (Clarkson Potter, 2007) and "Effortless Elegance With Colin Cowie" (HarperCollins, 1996), who says that the antidote to party jitters is punctilious planning -- preparing and freezing food in advance, and having an impeccable checklist with every minute detail included. Since the best gift of all for people we love is cooking them an exquisite meal, it will be a joy to host a relaxed rehearsal dinner, and as a bonus, be a guest at your own party.
"Successful entertaining is about creating an atmosphere conducive to gaiety -- great music, spectacular cocktails and incredible food," the elegant South African-born Cowie says.

"Set the pace of the evening with music -- it's the tool that shapes the energy flow," he explains. "As everyone is arriving it should be mellow and welcoming -- instrumental, jazzy, bluesy. After 10 or 15 minutes, as emotion rises, provide something more animated."

As soon as the last member of the wedding party has walked back up the aisle, including the petite flower girl, bathe your guests in celebratory sounds.
And now it's time for guests to grab a drink, some of your hors d'oeuvres and start mingling with the new mishpachah.

A tray of festive drinks such as Brandy Alexanders, Grasshoppers, Gonzo Bellinis, passion fruit martinis, cranberry juice and Currant Vodka -- even Mint Juleps or rum punch -- all poured and shimmering on a tray, adds to the festivities. And don't forget nonalcoholic beverages such as Celebration Shampagne (made of ginger ale, club soda and fruit juices), frozen margaritas made with lemonade and club soda (both from "Sober Celebrations" by Liz Scott, Cleveland Clinic Press), plus fruit punch, sparkling cider, mineral water with lime and the pi?ce de résistance: Cowie's Aquavit in Ice Mold centerpiece.
As for the menu, below you'll find some easy but elegant hors d'oeuvres, and a celebratory entrée of sea bass with a luscious Champagne-Beurre Blanc Sauce from chef Fritz Blank, who suggests accompanying the celebratory dish with steamed Thai jasmine rice mixed with a good dose of freshly cracked black peppercorns and grilled tomatoes. Blank likes keeping the entrée simple.

"The complexity and richness of sauerkraut beurre blanc requires clean uncomplicated partners, else the meal becomes ongepotchket," he says, with a twinkle.

Of German descent, Blank, intersperses most conversations with a healthy dose of the fun, descriptive language.

For a sweet ending to our rehearsal dinner menu we've provided some refreshing, melt-in-your-mouth desserts.

Even though you're hosting this party yourself, that doesn't preclude a cadre of helpers in the kitchen and around the dishwasher. Your comfort will add to the bride and groom's joy.

Don't forget to have a good time. The worry that something will go wrong and spoil the big event will evaporate into one of the ghosts of weddings past if you prepare a punctilious time line of what to do when. The more daunting it looks on paper, the more confident you'll become as each item is checked off.
Now that you've conquered the first event, hand the mantle to the caterers and celebrate. Mazel tov!

Gravlax With Dill Mustard Sauce
From "Effortless Elegance With Colin Cowie."
Gravlax will last for one week in the refrigerator. Leftovers make divine sandwiches.

1 side of salmon, (4 to 5 pounds) boned, with skin intact
2 tablespoons brown sugar, packed
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse sea salt
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup dry dill weed
1 cup chopped fresh dill
1/4 cup vegetable oil
Fresh dill sprigs or lemon leaves
1 loaf party rye bread

Place salmon skin-side down on a large tray. Using tweezers, remove any small bones. Using a large fork, prick salmon every couple of inches to allow herb mixture to penetrate. Sprinkle sugar evenly over top side of salmon, followed by salt and pepper. In a small bowl combine fresh and dried dill with the oil. Spread evenly over the salmon. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for three to four days.

Remove gravlax from refrigerator and scrape away the dill. Slide it onto a large serving platter or board. Using a salmon knife, slice the gravlax very thin on a diagonal. Serve on buttered rye bread and top generously with Dill Mustard Sauce. Garnish with a sprig of fresh dill.
Makes 16 servings.

Dill Mustard Sauce
12 ounces spicy brown mustard
1/4 cup brown sugar, tightly packed
4 tablespoons chopped fresh dill

In a small pan, gently heat mustard and sugar. When sugar has dissolved, add fresh dill. Simmer five minutes. Remove from heat and allow sauce to cool.
Makes 1 1/4 cups.

Green and White Crudités Platter
From "Effortless Elegance With Colin Cowie."

About 20 each cauliflower and broccoli florets, asparagus spears, snow peas or other fresh green and white vegetables in season
1 large daikon radish, peeled and very thinly sliced
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 cup olive oil
2 teaspoons chopped parsley
2 teaspoons chopped chives
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Drop cauliflower into the water and cook for about two minutes. With a slotted spoon, remove florets and immediately plunge them into a large bowl of ice water. Drain. Repeat process with broccoli, asparagus and snow peas.

Arrange blanched vegetables and the daikon slices attractively on a serving platter.
In a small bowl, whisk balsamic vinegar and Dijon mustard. Slowly whisk in olive oil until dressing is thick and syrupy. Stir in parsley and chives. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.

Makes 16 servings.

Cheese Straws
Adapted from "The Silver Palate Cookbook" by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins.

1 box frozen puff pastry sheets
3/4 grated Parmesan cheese

Roll out puff pastry dough into a 20-by-24-inch rectangle. Sprinkle half the Parmesan evenly over dough and gently press cheese into dough with rolling pin. Fold dough in half crosswise; roll it out again to 20-by-24 inches. Sprinkle on remaining cheese. Using a sharp thin knife, slice dough into 1/3-inch strips. Take each strip by its ends and twist until evenly corkscrewed. Lay twists of dough on an ungreased baking sheet, arranged so they are just touching each other; this will prevent untwisting.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Set baking sheet in middle of oven. Bake until straws are crisp, puffed and brown, about 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from oven, cool for five minutes; cut apart with sharp knife. Finish cooling straws on a rack. Store them in airtight tin or plastic bags. They will stay fresh for a week.
Makes 20 straws.

Striped Sea Bass With Champagne-Beurre Blanc Sauce
From chef Fritz Blank, owner of Deux Cheminees in Philadelphia.

6 to 7 pounds striped bass fillet, cut into 16 pieces, skin scored
kosher salt
black pepper
extra virgin olive oil for cooking

Season both sides of bass with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a saute pan over medium-high heat. When oil is shimmering, place bass in pan, skin side down. Cook for three minutes on each side. Remove fillets and keep warm.
Makes 16 servings.

Beurre Blanc
2 cups Champagne
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
1/4 cup raw sauerkraut juice
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon finely chopped shallots
1 1/2 cups cold heavy cream
1 stick butter at room temperature, cut into cubes
1/4 cup cooked sauerkraut
salt and white pepper to taste
a few drops of lemon juice

Place the Champagne, white wine vinegar and sauerkraut juice into a large sauce pan with the shallots. Over high heat reduce to about a tablespoon or so, being careful not to scorch. Add cream; bring to a full rolling boil. Continue to boil for about 10 to 12 minutes until it is reduced to a sauce consistency and coats the back of a spoon. Remove from heat; stir in the cubes of butter, or squeeze it between your fingers directly into the pot.

Season sauerkraut with salt, white pepper and lemon juice to taste, and add to beurre blanc.

Asparagus Spears With Chopped Egg and Walnut Vinaigrette
From "Entertaining with Colin Cowie," (Harper/Collins)

3 to 4 pounds asparagus, trimmed

Steam asparagus until crisp tender, about two minutes. Plunge immediately into ice bath to stop cooking process. Refrigerate. Allow asparagus to come to room temperature before serving.
Makes 12 servings.

Chopped Egg and Walnut Vinaigrette
1 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
Salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste
1/2 cup walnut oil
1 tablespoon minced shallots
1 tablespoon minced chives
6 eggs, hard boiled, peeled, and chopped
1 teaspoon fresh chervil or parsley, chopped
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped

In a metal bowl, combine vinegars, mustard, salt and pepper. Beat with whisk, while slowly adding oil.

Arrange asparagus on platter. Spoon vinaigrette generously over entire length of asparagus. Cover stems with chopped egg. Garnish with chervil, parsley and walnut pieces.

Carrot Flan
From photographer Julie Siegel.
Usually served for dessert, this provides a wonderful, sweet contrast to the meal.

1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup sugar
2 10 1/2-ounce cans sweetened condensed milk
A pinch of salt
1 teaspoon cumin
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 cups carrots, cooked, then forced through a sieve

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Scald whole milk with vanilla. While whipping with a wire whisk combine all other ingredients except carrots. Add carrots, and simmer on low flame, stirring constantly, three to five minutes. Pour into two six-cup metal or enamel molds. Place molds in large pan of boiling water. Carefully transfer to oven. Bake for 60-75 minutes or until knife inserted into middle comes out clean.

Remove from oven; place directly into another bath of cold water for 30 minutes. Refrigerate. When time to unmold, run knife around sides, dunk bottom into hot water, then hold serving plate over mold and turn upside down. Serve warm.
Makes 12 servings.

Champagne-Honey Granita
From Vincent Scotto of Gonzo restaurant in Greenwich Village.

This smoothing, refreshing granita is delicious served with berries or sliced fruit.

1 (750-milliliter) bottle dry Champagne
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
1 cup honey

In a bowl combine Champagne, lemon juice and honey. Stir until honey dissolves. Transfer to a shallow stainless steel pan that fits easily into the freezer.
Freeze for about an hour. Remove and, using a pastry scraper or metal spatula, scrape the sides and bottom of the granita, mixing the frozen particles into the less frozen center.

Freeze for about two hours longer and scrape again. Let the granita freeze for three to four hours longer, until completely frozen. Chop the granita into pieces and serve immediately or return to the freezer until ready to serve. Makes about 2 quarts.

Champagne Apricot Truffles
From Kathy Cary, chef/owner of Lilly's Restaurant, Louisville, Ky. The recipe was inspired by Camille Glenn, the dowager of Southern cookbook writers.

1 cup dried apricots, cut into sixths
1 cup Champagne or more to cover the apricots
1 pound bitter chocolate
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup Champagne
1/4 pound shelled pistachios, toasted and finely chopped (optional)

Place apricots in a bowl. Add enough Champagne to cover. Soak apricots in Champagne overnight.

To make ganache: Melt chocolate in a double boiler. In a separate saucepan warm cream to about the same temperature as the chocolate. Whip the cream into the chocolate mixture. Remove from stove. Add 1/2 cup Champagne to the ganache mixture. Cool.

With a small scoop, shape dollops of the chocolate mixture into walnut-sized balls. Press a few pieces of Champagne-soaked apricots into each of the balls. Roll completed balls in pistachios to coat the balls.

Makes about 36 truffles.

Gonzo Bellini
From Vincent Scotto of Gonzo restaurant in Greenwich Village.

1 pint strawberries or peaches
1/4 cup sugar
2 bottles Champagne

Puree strawberries or peaches; place in pan with the sugar; bring to boil, cool. Add ice and Champagne. Serve in Champagne flutes.

Frozen Aquavit in Ice Mold
From "Effortless Elegance With Colin Cowie."

1 bottle aquavit or vodka
1 round metal container 8 inches in diameter and 12 inches deep
Fresh flowers with foliage (stick to color scheme of wedding)

For a striking presentation, fill a metal champagne bucket or a large plastic bucket with water. Stand a bottle of Aquavit or vodka in the middle of the bucket and tuck handfuls of roses, wildflowers, lemon slices, leaves, berries or grapes. If you like you can accentuate the colors of the wedding.

Place in the freezer until the water is completely frozen, from eight to 24 hours.
Just before guests arrive, remove ice mold from freezer. Run outside of the bucket under hot water until it releases the block of ice. Place ice mold on tray with folded napkin underneath to absorb any melting ice.

The ice mold will last four to five hours but the napkin should be changed frequently. If the bottle is empty you can simply refill it.

If using vodka, it can be flavored by adding lemon rind, chili peppers or berries directly into alcohol. When making ice mold, instead of flowers, use same ingredient as flavoring.

For lemon vodka, add lemon halves, wedges and foliage to water. They will float and form magnificent patterns in the ice.

For berry vodka, add berries and foliage to water.

For chili vodka, add dried, whole chili peppers.

Once mold is set, you can store it in freezer and refill container to start another mold.

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