Menu planning

If I'm correct, there was mention a little while ago about the possibility of a menu planning feature added to the cite. Along those lines, When it comes to menu planning, I often get caught up on achieving the rigt balance of flavors and textures without being redundant (hate that) and while being able to incorporate various new recipes I'd like to use. Curious as to how others go about planning a menu. Wondering whether Amanda or Merrill have some expert words of wisdom on process.

  • Posted by: ATG117
  • August 7, 2011


ATG117 August 8, 2011
Im all for seasonal and theme menus, the latter on occasion anyway, but I was more so referring to flavor and texture combinations amongst courses and sides, and even within a meal that has a larger theme. I've naturally heard if the flavor bible, but never gave it a thorough read. Sounds like something worth picking up. Thanks,
la D. August 8, 2011
Sometimes it's fun to think about telling a story with your menu. The food could be inspired by your recent vacation, celebrating a special occasion with food and wine trends that were popular that year, or using current events in the news to learn more about a country's cuisine and foster understanding. You could also think like a chef: start with a chilled soup made from a seasonal vegetable, feature a protein like grilled/roasted meat for your main course, and then finish with a dessert made from fruit at the peak of ripeness. Keep it simple but really high quality, and let your guests help by bringing wine or dessert.
beyondcelery August 8, 2011
I tend to plan most menus around seasonal ingredients and what I'm in the mood to make. But I also love themes. For casual small parties, a theme for me could be as simple as a country or area of the world I'm focusing on. That often stems from seeing a good ingredient at the market (fresh blueberries! ripe avocados! graceful green onions!). For more elaborate parties, I'll often pick something more off-the-wall. My last was the Hindenburg Disaster (I promise, we weren't trying to be morbid), where I made up a bunch of era-appropriate cocktails and served appetizers you'd imagine could have been served on one of its voyages. Be creative about matching food to something you're interested in and you'll find yourself with more ideas than you have room for in your menu.

The Flavor Bible is very helpful to me when it comes to pairing dishes with each other. It's also good to keep in mind any special diets or allergies. Sometimes your menu will emerge directly from looking for gluten-free, soy-free, dairy-free, vegan, vegetarian, or other cuisine. It'll draw your attention to areas of the world where the natural cuisine is already predominantly one or more of these. Gluten-free? Try Mexican, Caribbean, Japanese, Moroccan, or Vietnamese. Soy-free? Try Southern US, French, Greek, or Italian. Vegetarian? Try Indian, Thai, or areas of Africa.
ChefJune August 8, 2011
There are so many variables. What do YOU want to eat? I'm a fairly seasonal person, so right now I wouldn't think of Beef Stew... I like to plan at least two dishes I can make ahead of time. Saves on intense work the day of your dinner.

How the food will look on the plate together is a consideration. Elizabeth Andoh's book, "Washoku," although Japanese in cuisine, focuses on the harmony of colors and textures on the plate and can be applied to any cuisine you like.

Consideration for the health requirements of your guests is another important factor.
Anitalectric August 8, 2011
What are you in the mood to eat? Chances are, the people you will serve will want that, too. If you are excited about the food, your guests will be, too. I agree that the best ingredients are seasonal ones. You can find them at your local farmer's market. Just use your instincts. What looks good/interesting? What smells good? If you talk to the farmer's they can tell you some easy recipes. That is the best part about buying directly from the supplier. You know they are eating the same stuff, so they will have ideas on how to prep it.

From there, you can put your own spin on things. As a general rule I never skip dessert. Even if you are busy making other dishes, if you have some ice cream on hand with fresh fruit or cones, it will make your guests so happy. Besides that, anything goes. If you want to make three salads, why not? Soup in the summer? Sure! As long as it's chilled. Ten appetizers and no entrees? Great!

When you are looking for recipes, see how much prep is involved for each and budget your time. Do as much work as possible the day before or even in the week leading up to your special meal. Do as little cooking as possible on the day of, so that you'll be sure to enjoy the company of your guests instead of being stressed.
Author Comment
A menu planning tool would be a great asset. I am vegetarian, and always freak out when we have a party - so much pressure to make good food for carnivores that does not have meat in it.
linzarella August 7, 2011
I often find it helpful to think culturally when planning a menu. For example, if I'm making fish with a miso glaze, staying in the Japanese-y realm helps me narrow down what to serve with it (in this case, maybe a cucumber salad and rice or sweet potato). This makes things easier, but it's also limiting - I'm sure there are a lot of great cross-cultural flavor combinations that I'm overlooking. That's where I'll second the recommendation of the Flavor Bible - I haven't really used it much yet, but I can imagine this is one area where it would really shine.
SKK August 7, 2011
I agree with slc in that the menu is based on what is in season. From there I pick a theme. Purchased the book The Flavor Bible a couple of months ago and it has expanded my cooking point of view.
sexyLAMBCHOPx August 7, 2011
My menu planning consists of whats in season, the weather and where will be dining. I work around that and my guests special diets. I always ask becasuse someone has a special requirement. Depending on the size of the party, I try to determine what can be made ahead or easily finished when guests arrive. For me, what's in season is very important.
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