First, I want to thank everybody who answered my post--you are all so inspiring!!! Love of food is truly universal!!
You had terrific suggestions. And you really and truly helped me finalize my menu. So I thought you might enjoy knowing what the menu is!!
I loved the suggestion of mushrooms, as that would satisfy most meat eaters. The suggestion of a mushroom pot pie or mushrooms in pastry was intriguing, and I may try that on my own someday, but not for a dinner party. Pastry dough and I don't mix very well. Plus I wanted something that I could prepare a head of time, and maybe just warm up for the guests. The golden rule of my dinner parties is to enjoy the party, too. I don't want to stand in the kitchen while the guests are enjoying my wine without me. So the winning suggestion is: ratatouille.
I researched and read and experimented. The recipe I decided upon I found on Epicurious from a 1997 Bon Appetit. The ratatouille will be served on top of sauteed portobello mushroom caps. That way I can use the mushroom idea, too. And it looks really fancy and special, just the way I wanted. Oh yeah....and it tastes good, too. :-)
So the entire menu is as follows:
Velvety Chilled Corn Soup--this is from the most recent issue of Bon Appetit. Very easy, except for the straining part. Can be prepared ahead, natch. May play with the garnishes a bit. I'm growing cherry tomatoes, and they are starting to come out my ears. May substitute them for the cucumber garnish the recipe calls for.
Blue Cheese Souffle (or if the practice one that is in the oven right now falls, it will be back to the bitter greens salad with raspberries)--this recipe is from an episode of Food 911 on the Food Network (otherwise known as eating vicariously). It looked really simple in the episode, and I thought, "Heck, I can do THAT." But those food shows and recipes from them always seem to oversimplify things. Hence the test run. My fingers are crossed.
Ratatouille atop Portobello Mushrooms
And last, Individual Hot Fudge Pudding Cakes--from the May/June issue of Cook's Illustrated. It is billed as the "easiest." They were right on the nose. It's easy and delicious and impressive. I haven't decided on whipped cream or vanilla ice cream to go with it yet. The coffee added to the pudding mixture is just fantastic. I tested it in a square cake pan, and plan on making it in individual ramekins for the party that night. The dessert cannot really be baked before serving, because it should be warm. But I figure after the first 3 courses, everybody will want to take a breather anyway.
Thank you all!! You made what I thought would be onerous into a real pleasure.
Very, very, sincerely,