Weir Cooking in the City: Do's and Don'ts for Menu Planning

What should we have for dinner? (my do's and don'ts for menu planning)

1. I try not to duplicate ingredients. If I start with Crostini with Gorgonzola, I won't serve Risotto with Gorgonzola; or if I start with a cherry tomato pizza, I won't serve a main-course chicken with tomatoes.

2. I try not to duplicate techniques. I won't do a first-course soufflé and then a dessert soufflé or an appetizer flan and then a dessert custard.

3. I try to think about varying flavors (arugula, fennel, and radicchio salad with raisins) and colors (mixing different colored cherry or heirloom tomatoes or bell peppers).

4. I like to start with a first course, whether it's soup, a salad, a tart, pasta, a pizza, or even a couple of small plates. (I love firsts!)

5. I like to balance heavy and light dishes, richness, and intensity of flavor throughout the meal. If I start with a soup, I serve a substantial main, but if I start with a pizza, I'll serve a light main. If I've done pasta as a first, I won't have as much starch with my main course; if I've served a fairly substantial meal, I'll serve a lighter dessert like fresh fruit sorbet or ice cream and a cookie. If one course has been heavy on the butter and cream, the next will be light; if I have one highly flavored or spicy course, the next will be refined.

6. I always, always, always take seasonality into consideration. If it's summer, I'll celebrate it, whether with tomatoes, basil, or peaches. In winter, I like to use all those heartwarming, stick-to-your ribs comfort foods like butternut squash and Brussels sprouts, turnips, rutabagas, and parsnips.

7. I like to stay in the same country or region (like Asia or the Mediterranean) of dishes or ingredients. So I'll never serve a Japanese Miso Soup followed by Pasta with Italian Sausage or a Mexican stew followed by a Moroccan dessert. With ingredients, I might use the same family of ingredients -- soy sauce, wasabi, and ginger, for example -- throughout the meal, but I won't ever use soy sauce, wasabi, and ginger in one course and then balsamic vinegar and capers in the next.
I do like American adaptations, like Fettuccine with Wild Mushrooms, but I don't like fusion.

8. I love diversity at the table, like skewers of salmon, pork, lamb, or chicken dipped in dry spice rub and served with a variety of sauces.

Recipe ©2004 Joanne Weir from Weir Cooking in the City, reprinted by permission.