Ask A Minnesota Expert: Compiling The Perfect Holiday Menu

December 4, 2013 6:00 AM

Dedicating her life to the art of food and drink, Alicia Lee has worked in restaurants and for wine companies all across the country. She understands the joy of a great meal and takes pride in sharing her knowledge and expertise with the masses.

Alicia Lee
Heartland Restaurant and Farm Direct Market
289 E. 5th St.
St Paul, MN 55101
(651) 699-3536

Alicia Lee is a certified Sommelier, passing the first level exam with the Court of Master Sommeliers in 2007 and the next level, Sommelier Certification with the Court in 2008, who has worked in the restaurant industry for nearly two decades. From the hustle and bustle of work as a floor manager, to providing top-quality service as a server, to representing wine companies and teaching wine classes, to cooking delicious meals at home for friends and family, she has embraced every aspect of the perfect meal. Alicia currently works for the upscale, nationally renowned Heartland Restaurant in Saint Paul, allowing her the opportunity to continue working directly with the guest when pairing food and wine and creating the ultimate dinner experience. You can contact Alicia Lee at

Tip 1

It’s important to understand the type of menu you want to create. The more formal the meal, the more formal the menu. Know who you are cooking for and create your menu accordingly. For a more formal dinner, know your plating as well. Use charger plates (larger, attractive plates placed under the dinner plate for decorative effect) to really make your meal shine. Presentation is key when serving a memorable dinner.

Tip 2

Consider the different courses for the meal. What type of first course is to be served, and how does it relate to the next? What are the appropriate side dishes? For example, the butterflied shrimp appetizer is a fantastic first course before a heavier main course. It’s light and delicious and won’t overwhelm the rest of the meal, leaving your guests too full. A mixed green salad is always a great complement for your entree; lightly dressed (you don’t want a heavy dressing along with a heavy main dish) greens add needed texture and lighter flavor to the plate.

Related: Roasted Lamb Recipe From ‘The Way We Ate’

Tip 3

Drinks are very important. What are you going to serve with each course? It’s smart to start off with a cocktail: you can finish preparing the meal while your dinner guests are sipping and enjoying the drink. For the meal, wine pairings add a sophisticated touch, and it is important to think about what will pair well with each course. For something like the shrimp, a white wine that has gone through the malolactic fermentation process (converting the sour taste of malic acid in grapes into a more pleasant, smoother flavor) pairs well; a nice Chardonnay that will complement the smooth buttery flavory of the shrimp. For something like a nice, hearty roast for your entree, a Chilean Cabernet is the perfect choice, with the acidity of the wine helping to bring out the gaminess of the meat.

First course idea: Butterflied Shrimp in Herb Butter

This is a fantastic first course that never fails to impress. Start with fresh shrimp; never buy pre-cooked shrimp. Approximately one pound of shrimp is plenty for five people. First, butterfly and devein the shrimp. Then cook, while still in the shell, with fresh crushed garlic and butter. The shrimp will take in the butter and garlic spice while it cooks, and the shell will hold in the moisture. Use a local, fragrant herb for the butter. Basil will work well, but for the most impressive flavor, tarragon is your best bet. About 1/4 cup will do. Cook the shrimp until they are succulent, warm and ready to eat. Serve with a nice french bread with which to mop up the remaining butter.

Served with a good Chardonnay, it will be an appetizer your guests will never forget.

Related: Holiday Recipes from Minnesota Chef Peter Makens

Adrian Schramm is a resident Saint Paul writer with a passion for all things local. Through his work with Saint Paul Almanac and Minneapolis Examiner at, as well as in the kitchens of bars and restaurants around town, he has discovered what truly makes the Twin Cities tick.

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