Menu planning with an unusual theme: Making a dinner for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute Orchestra that reflects the composers and the time period of their new show | TheUnion.com

Menu planning with an unusual theme: Making a dinner for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute Orchestra that reflects the composers and the time period of their new show

Britta Tigan
Special to The Union

Lavish sit-down dinners may be out of fashion, but planning a menu for a small group of friends can be challenging fun. Try forgoing menus based on one cultural cuisine and search for a more eclectic theme.

Three friends recently agreed to volunteer for "Friends of OLLI Orchestra" by greeting guests at the orchestra's upcoming concert.

Hindi Greenberg, Barbara Terhorst and Pam Jung were promised a dinner based on the theme of the concert, "333 Years of Music."

The pieces scheduled for performance on Friday, May 11, were composed by a Croatian, a German, an Austrian and a Northern Californian. My research prompted this menu: Black squid risotto, red cabbage, blood sausage and a "Double Double." Yikes!

Starting the meal off strong

Anna Watson Carl's blog, "How to Plan the Perfect Menu," from http://www.tastingtable.com, offered great advice, "Planning a menu is essentially a balancing act of colors, textures, temperatures and flavors on the plate, along with the constraints of time, budget, occasion and season."

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She recommends starting with the main dish, so I searched for a Croatian chicken recipe. My guests have a few dietary restrictions, so food from Croatia, birthplace of composer Franz von Suppé, seemed the best bet.

Chicken in lavender and dried plum sauce intrigued me, but it called for too much garlic. So I went with Chicken Paprikash, an affordable main dish that made its own gravy. It's a common and versatile recipe that calls for lots of onions and paprika and finishes with sour cream. My guests rated it, "Delicious!"

German composer Johann Sebastian Bach would have preferred I make homemade spaetzle, but I substituted wide egg noodles to serve with the Croatian chicken.

Several musicians from the orchestra told me what Bach ate after a performance. His meal could have fed an army.

With a nod to Bach, I served appetizers of Belgian endive and watermelon radishes with crackers and cheese.

Interestingly, Hindi Greenberg declared the watermelon radishes, "Wonderful." These beautiful gems aren't as fiery as common radishes.

The favorite among our group was chilled asparagus with citrus vinaigrette from reciperunner.com.

Blanching the vegetables in boiling salted water for just two minutes and chilling them immediately in a large bowl of ice water meant resulted in perfect doneness.

Our organic asparagus was local, in honor of Shelley Rink's composition "Bella Noche."

Rink teaches music at Sierra College and other regional colleges. She's the youngest composer of the group by a few hundred years.

The vinaigrette adds color, lightness and tang to the meal. This menu would have been bland and heavy without this California contribution.

Ending on a sweet note

"Choose only one complicated dish, for the sake of your time and sanity," said Anna Watson Carl in her blog.

The most complicated piece in the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute Orchestra's concert is Mozart's "Jupiter Symphony." The most complicated dish on the menu was Austrian Linzertorte.

It was an ill-advised choice, this crazy torte. The hazelnut flour alone cost $18. Time wasn't an issue, I thought, but this dessert took ages to make.

Nevertheless, working the recipe was pleasurable and it looked and tasted "impressive," according to my guests. I'm glad I took photos of it because I'll never make it again. It screamed for ice cream — not available in Mozart's time.

On a happier note, the recipe made two Linzertortes and I'll share one with the orchestra musicians.

It's the 40th anniversary of the orchestra, founded in 1978 by local musicians. It's now supported by Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, hence the name. Many of the musicians are professionals and all are volunteers.

Osher Lifelong Learning Institute Orchestra performs "333 Years of Music" on Friday, May 11, at Sierra College, 250 Sierra College Drive, Grass Valley, California 95945.

The concert begins at 7:30 p.m. and runs 90 minutes with no intermission. There will be signs directing traffic to the parking lots and there is no fee to park.

Tickets aren't required at this free concert, but donations are gratefully accepted.

For more information about the group, music and concert visit http://www.olliorchestra.org.

Britta Tigan is with the Friends of OLLI Orchestra and can be contacted at 530-559-8397 or btigan@gmail.com.