Having a caterer, restaurant or upscale food store plan and prepare the perfect menu is the ultimate luxury. Sutton Place Gourmet in Pikesville, for example, will choose everything for your dinner from the perfect garnish for the appetizer platter to the perfect after-dinner drink.
But remember, you don't have to buy everything at a gourmet carryout; you can choose instead to order the time-consuming dishes and fill in with easier recipes.
Gourmet carryout places are also a great source for fancy ingredients. Bunny Dwin, owner of Bunny Dwin's Commissary in Fells Point, says customers sometimes buy just her Caesar dressing to turn ho-hum salads into something special. A pantry well-stocked with gourmet foods, such as canned, stuffed grape leaves or marinated vegetables in a jar, can provide the ingredients for a quick appetizer.
A jar of olive paste, for example, mixed with softened cream cheese, makes a simple and elegant spread for crackers, says Ann Brody, senior vice president for Sutton Place Gourmet.
The most basic combination of meats, vegetables and spreads looks fabulous when tightly rolled in a soft cracker bread and sliced thinly. Ms. Brody says the store's Hye rollers, named after the frozen flat bread of the same name, are a popular appetizer and entree.
Lasagnas are a popular take-home entree at Morton's. This vegetarian dish is the creation of Kate Koehler Gordon, one of Morton's head chefs.This dish is made with uncooked noodles. After assembly, warm water is poured around edges of pan and the entire dish is wrapped in a layer of foil and plastic wrap. Ms. Gordon says this steams the noodles, making a very flavorful and tender dish.
Be sure to follow instructions exactly. It's very important to make narrow layers and to compact them as you go. Try pressing down firmly on the mozzarella and pasta layers. If you make your layers too big, there won't be enough room in the pan.
Using thinly sliced mozzarella and provolone from a deli is also essential. It's very difficult to slice cheese thinly at home.
We made this recipe using an aluminum foil pan 11 3/4 inches by 9 1/4 inches by 2 1/2 inches deep. To make room for all the layers, we turned up the aluminum foil edges.
If you'd prefer a more conventional recipe, use cooked noodles and decrease temperature to 350 degrees. Bake for about 30 minutes or until warmed through. Check frequently and cover dish with foil if it begins to over-brown.
This is a very hefty dish. Place a sturdy cookie sheet in the oven while it heats up. When ready to bake lasagna, place on top of hot cookie sheet. This will help brown the bottom of the dish, catch any drips and provide support when lasagna is removed from oven.
Morton's mushroom lasagna
2 ounces dry cepes mushrooms
1 cup red wine
2 cups warm water
1 cup julienned yellow squash
1 cup thinly sliced carrots
2 10-ounce packages frozen chopped spinach, thawed and completely drained
2 pounds ricotta
3 large eggs
2 tablespoons dry basil
2 tablespoons dry oregano
1 tablespoon thyme
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
about 1 3-pound jar spaghetti sauce; do not use chunky
1/2 cup water
about 1 pound uncooked lasagna noodles
1 pound mozzarella, very thinly sliced from a deli
1/4 pound thinly sliced provolone
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan
about 2/3 to 1 cup warm water
Heat oven to 400 degrees, and place sturdy cookie sheet inside oven.
Rehydrate mushrooms in 1 cup red wine mixed with 2 cups warm water for about 15 minutes or until spongy. Drain and discard liquid. Set mushrooms aside, reserving 1/4 cup mushrooms for garnish. Do the same for the other vegetables. Set aside.
Thoroughly blend ricotta with eggs and spices. Set aside.
Ladle only enough tomato sauce to cover bottom of pan. Add 1/2 cup water. Place uncooked noodles, about four, to completely cover bottom of pan.
Spread as thinly as possible with ricotta mixture. Place drained spinach on top. Press down firmly.
Place one layer of mozzarella cheese on top. Press to compact. Ladle thin layer of sauce, about 3/4 to 1 cup sauce, on top; sprinkle with Parmesan. Repeat with noodles -- pressing down firmly -- and ricotta.
Spread carrots in one layer. Repeat mozzarella layer, then add 3/4 to 1 cup sauce, Parmesan, noodles and ricotta. Remember to press down firmly on top of noodles. Spread drained mushrooms in single layer.
Repeat layers as above. Spread squash in single layer.
Repeat mozzarella, sauce, Parmesan and noodles. Spread more sauce on top.
Cover with provolone. Place reserved vegetables on top, if desired.
Carefully run a sharp knife around edges of pan. Starting with 2/3 cup warm water, pour water around edges of pan. Add more water until sides are full and a very thin layer forms on top of provolone. Run knife around edges once more. Add more water if possible.