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Defining Menu Courses

While not every meal you create will include multiple stages, anyone with a serious interest in cooking should understand the basics of menu courses. Although the courses can be broken down in a variety of ways, here's what a five course menu might look like.

Culinary Arts

Appetizers

  • Also called starters or hors d'oeurvres.
  • The first course of a meal and served in small portions.
  • Often used at parties to tide guests over until the main meal.
  • Fast Fact: Tapas, which are served in some restaurants as a main course, are actually Spanish appetizers.

Salad and Soup Course

  • Salad and soup may be served together or as separate meal courses.
  • Salads and soups are sometimes served as appetizers
  • The type of soup or salad served may depend upon the season and should complement the main course.
  • Fast Fact: In some European cultures, it's traditional to eat the salad course after the entrée.

Main Course

  • Often referred to as the entrée or, more casually, as the main event.
  • Usually consists of the largest portion of food and features a protein.
  • Sometimes the main course may be broken up into multiple entrees, such as a fish dish followed by a meat dish.
  • Fast Fact: The word entrée first appeared in the Oxford English Dictionary in 1759 and was defined as a roasted ham.

Cheese or Dessert Course

  • If cheese is being served, it is usually done after the entree and before, or in lieu of, dessert.
  • A cheese course can be as simple as one piece of cheese or as elaborate as a sampling of numerous cheeses served with accompaniments such as bread, fruit, and nuts.
  • Desserts are traditionally sweet dishes served with a complementary beverage such as wine.
  • Fast Fact: Food&Wine Magazine lists carrot cake, Georgia peach pie and chocolate cupcakes among the most popular desserts in the country.

Mignardises

  • Mignardises are tiny, bite sized desserts like cookies, candies, or tarts.
  • Presented at the end of a meal as a final small treat and may be served along with coffee or tea.
  • The term petit-four is sometimes used interchangeable with mignardise.
  • Fast Fact: In anticipation of an upcoming movie, LA restaurant Faith & Flower began serving Star Wars-shaped mignardises.

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