Last weekend we whipped up a 4-course meal for a crowd of 80+ alumni of our school, and as I was madly prepping and blending and plating and shouting out instructions I thought, "how 'Masterchef' of me", and laughed. If someone had've told me three years ago that I would be cooking an upper-scale banquet for over 80 people, I would've kicked them in the shins and run screaming in the other direction. Years ago, it would've been my worst nightmare. But something changed in me the last little bit (helped by MCA, perhaps?) and when we were asked to cook last weekend, my brain immediately dove into menu planning and timing: what would be easy-yet-flavourful, what's the best 'bang for the buck', how should we plate up and what can be done early and warmed just before, were some of my first thoughts.
We came up with this cracker (another MCA word) of a menu - and we had a ton of compliments on the whole lot, especially on the easiest dish to make (NOT the easiest dish to prep, mind you), butternut squash soup. I hit on this recipe in one of my old cookbooks and have been making it for years and still get compliments and requests for the recipe. So without further ado, our menu from last weekend:
Squashyssoise or Squash Soup
2 Tbsp butter
2 C summer squash (I use butternut)
4 C chicken broth or bouillon
1 C milk or cream
salt & pepper
1. In medium skillet, saute the onions in butter until translucent. Remove onions and set aside.
2. Saute the squash until soft. Add 1 cup of the chicken broth.
3. Pour this mixture gradually with the reserved onions into a blender or food processor with the motor running; blend until smooth. Return to a large saucepan along with the remaining broth, milk and salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot or cold. Yields: 4 servings
**One note on this soup: I just bought the Vitamix blender and used it to blend up this soup. The result was THE creamiest, most lucious not-lumpy soup in the world. I tell you the blender made all the difference - and I would know because I've been making this soup for years. Any decent blender, hand-held or otherwise will work adequately, but part of me thinks the Vitamix made the soup texture so smooth, it tasted even better.
Tossed Green Salad
Dressing of choice
(by Gordon Ramsay)
3 tsp Goose fat or oil
600g Shin beef (or other tough cut of beef)
100g smoked bacon, sliced
350g shallots or pear onions, peeled
250g mushrooms (about 20)
2 garlic cloves, sliced
1 bouquet garni (tie together or tie up in cheesecloth a couple sprigs of fresh rosemary, thyme and parsley with a handful of dry bay leaves)
1 Tbsp tomato puree
750ml bottle red wine
1. Heat a large casserole pan and add 1 tbsp goose fat. Season the beef and fry until golden brown, about 3-5 mins, then turn over and fry the other side until meat is browned all over, adding more fat if necessary. Do this in 2-3 batches, transferring the meat to a colander set over a bowl when browned.
2. In the same pan, fry the bacon, shallots/onions, mushrooms, garlic and bouquet garni until lightly browned. Mix in the tomato puree and cook for a few mins, stirring into the mixture. This enriches the Bourguignon and makes a great base for the stew. Then return the beef and any drained juices to the pan and stir through.
3. Pour the wine over all and add about 100ml water so the meat bobs up from the liquid, but isn't completely covered. Bring to the boil and use a spoon to scrape the caramelized cooking juices from the bottom of the pan - this will give the stew more flavour.
4. Heat oven to 150C (about 300F). Make a cartouche: tear off a square of foil slightly larger than the casserole, arrange it in the pan so it covers the top of the stew and trim away any excess foil. Then cook for 3 hours. If the sauce looks watery, remove the beef and veg with a slotted spoon, and set aside. Cook the sauce over a high heat for a few mins until the sauce has thickened a little, then return the beef and vegetables to the pan.
5. Remove bouquet garni and serve over potato or celeriac mash.
**Tip: Make this dish the day before you want to serve it (which is what we did) as the flavours develop and "mature" overnight. Warm up slowly in the oven.
Potatoes, peeled and chopped
Butter, Sour Cream, Milk or Cream, Cream Cheese, Cheddar cheese, etc.
Garlic, peeled and minced
1. Boil potatoes in salted water until soft.
2. Drain, mash while adding garlic and any or all milk products to your own tastes. (Minced garlic will cook and mellow in the hot mash - still be careful of using too much)
**Full of fat I know, but absolutely delicious.
Apple Crisp with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream
(from the Betty Crocker website)
4 medium tart cooking apples, sliced
3/4 C packed brown sugar
1/2 C all purpose flour
1/2 C oats
1/3 C butter or margarine, softened
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
3/4 tsp ground nutmeg
Vanilla bean ice cream
1. Heat oven to 375. Grease bottom and sides of 8 inch square pan.
2. Spread apples in pan. In medium bowl, stir in remaining ingredients except ice cream until well mixed; sprinkle over apples.
3. Bake about 30 mins until topping is golden brown and apples are tender when pierced with fork. Serve warm with ice cream.
I'm not going to lie, there were some rough spots here and there, especially the awkward moment when we gave out the last scoop of mash to one of the volunteer servers and another volunteer came back to say her table hadn't all been served yet. We had to 'bribe' that patron with an extra large portion of dessert. One of our comments was how good everything was, for being so simple. I mean, this was basically beef stew with mashed potatoes, salad, soup and apple crisp. Easy, readily available ingredients, but definite crowd-pleasers. I went with my mom's advice this time around - keep it simple, stupid. She used to kill herself over Christmas cookies, baking and slaving for weeks over little delicacies. And in the end, she'd whip up a batch of Rice Krispie Squares for the kids. Every year, Rice Krispies were always gone, delicacies were always leftover. Lesson learned. The stomach wants what the stomach wants. And last week, we gave it to them.