Hors d'oeuvre: Choux three ways: cheese, filled with crab, and filled with duxelles
Salad with warm chevre
Pissalidiere Nicoise and/or Tomato Tart
Individual Spinach Souffles
Cheese (exact varieties and accompaniments pending a conversation with my cheesemonger)
Three-layer Chocolate Mousse Cake
So I'm already up against a problem from the start: at least two of my guests are vegetarians. While having a majority of vegetarian friends has been occasionally trying having an avowed carnivore trying to plan a dinner party without even the barest hint of animal flesh has proven problematic. I mean, at least pescetarians would give me something to work with. Overall I'm planning on about 10-12 diners give or take.
Giving a critical eye to what I already have I've hit upon a number of potential issues:
- Too much cheese.
I have four dishes total that include it and of those three are using gruyere! The obvious first cut is the cheese course and that itself is a late addition. My thought was to limit myself to cow's milk cheeses. The goat cheese should be distinct enough to work, the puffs have a variety of flavorings and occur early enough not to get in the way, and the souffle should be enriched by the cheese, but it's not the dominant flavor.
- Salad as a first course
Reading over other threads opinion varies slightly on this. I could certainly hold it back to the cheese course, but I'd prefer to present that with pears, fruit, and perhaps a shallot confit depending on the cheeses I eventually select.
- Which tart to choose, how to serve, and where to place within the menu
The tomato tart itself sort of began life because one of my guests is allergic to onion (including leeks and all related Alliums) and I wanted to find an appropriate substitute for the pissalidiere. Spinach was already in the souffle and most other ideas quickly fell flat. Tomatoes, however, aren't exactly at the peak of season in the middle of November. Sure, I can still get them and probably even some decent ones, but when it's going to be so nakedly up front there it might not be the best idea. At the same time they complement each other rather well.
As well I still haven't decided whether to make two (or more) large tarts or serve them individually as tartelettes. On one hand it seems to suit them if I decide to make both (and lets me easily exclude anchovies from the vegetarians and double-size the onion-allergic), but on the other I'm already doing individual souffles and well... it just seems a bit twee to have too many miniature courses.
Finally I've started to vacillate on where I should place them within the menu. Both the tarts and the souffle can easily serve as entrees or mains. My thinking was that since the souffle is richer it would do better later into the menu and the progression would work better going from tarts to souffle than vice-versa. Especially with the carrots as a lead in... which brings us to.
-Ditch the carrots?
A simple dish, but I wanted to do a number of things 1) provide a nice lead-in both in flavor, texture, color, and contrast to the spinach souffle (I considered serving them, if not as a separate course, on the plate surrounding the souffle) 2) are quintessentially late fall/early winter... even here in seasonless San Francisco 3) buy me some time to get the souffles in and out of my overworked oven. The latter, however, is actually also the biggest part of the problem as the carrots take a solid 45 minutes in the oven at a temperature well above anything else so even if I had the space I can't double them up with something else. I've never actually tried to hold them for any period of time and I greatly suspect that if they aren't served immediately they'll just turn dry and leathery especially considering the number of dishes wanting a turn in the oven meaning they'd need to go in right after the choux come out and possibly holding everything else up in the process.
I've thought about a braise so I can move them up to the stove, but really it feels a bit bland compared to the simpler, but more intense flavor of the roasting. Another option was to go with a carrot soup instead, but then I have both a soup and a salad... not that wouldn't be a potential improvement, but I lose the buffer between the tarts and the souffle.
This isn't necessarily an exhaustive list and I certainly welcome whatever you can come up with, but these were, to me, the most glaring flaws when I sat down and tried to look at my own choices from an outside perspective.