Sunday, April 29, 2012

My First Catering Gig

Before I even get this blog started, let me tell you that this meal resulted in both chefs sleeping for nearly 24 hours straight and I want to take a nap just thinking about writing about the meal.  For two entire days, my life revolved around a meal that took its consumers only about 20 minutes to eat.  The meal was this: prime rib with a red wine reduction sauce and a horseradish cream sauce, mashed potatoes, candied carrots, caesar salad with homemade dressing and croutons, French bread, and tres leches cake.  For 70 people.
Jon squirreling away at lunch
About two weeks ago, Jon asked me to assist him in the preparation of the dinner for Jesus Encounter, a retreat put on by the Tampa Underground.  I've had the privilege of helping with this meal two times before and I've loved it.  It reminds me of my time at the Inn and so I jump at every chance I get to be back in the kitchen and serving others.  This time, though, Jon either offered or expected (I'm not sure which) that I take the helm on some pretty main aspects of the meal.  His skills were lent to the meat and the carrots while I managed the mashed potatoes and bread things.  We graciously accepted the generous offer to prepare dessert for the participants by one of the ladies of the Underground.  While it was hard for me to relinquish that task, I'm so glad we did.
Let me confess, I do not have recipes and the meal absolutely could not be replicated.  I'm sorry to disappoint but at the forefront of my mind was not keeping track of measurements-- it was getting a decent meal out on time.  Our mission was accomplished with plenty of accolades from volunteers and participants alike.
This was the French bread recipe I used, which I tripled to make 12 loaves of bread:  It's delicious and easy, even for a novice breadmaker like myself.  I also used this recipe to make loaves of bread earlier in the week with which to make croutons.  I baked the loaves of bread normally, let them sit out overnight, then chopped them into tiny cubes to make croutons the next night.  I lightly drizzled olive oil over all of them and put them in the oven at 300ยบ for 40ish minutes.  When I took them out and let them cool, I used a grocery store bag filled with Romano cheese, salt and garlic powder to coat the little bread nuggets. I'm not a huge crouton fan because they're too crunchy (I also don't like kettle chips for the same reason) but I heard they were good and they smelled pretty amazing.
The dish layout for 70 people
So Friday I made bread, Jon got the meat, and we used very generous volunteers to clean potatoes and carrots while I chopped in preparation for the meal the following day.
Two helpful hints: as long as you wash carrots, you don't need to peel them.  This will save you time and it will save your fingers from the throes of the peeler.  And, if you plan to prepare your potatoes the night before, be sure to put them in water otherwise they will turn black and be inedible (I learned that lesson the hard way one time in Philly).
And so we get to Saturday... Jon sent me a schedule for the day earlier in the week, broken down to allot enough time for all that needed to be done.  I'm not entirely sure that we stuck to the schedule at all but the meal got out on time and it was all hot and delicious!
Our very helpful volunteer
mashing potatoes
The day started really early (6am!) for Jon when he took the meat out of the refrigerator to start getting it towards room temperature.  By the time I arrived, Jon was getting antsy to start cooking so we boiled the potatoes and then the carrots.  We jumped the gun a bit on the potatoes and they were made just after lunch time and kept warm.  Once we were done mashing, we made a giant bowl out of the potatoes and used our hands to mix all the ingredients!  We added chicken broth, half and half, cream cheese, sour cream, garlic, butter, salt and pepper.  The measurements aren't even worth writing but the potatoes came out really good!
We then made the horseradish cream.  We whipped cream and then dried out half a gallon of horseradish then folded it into the whipped cream.  We also added white pepper.  I was really reluctant to combine the delicious, fluffiness of whipped cream with the savory, potent flavor of horseradish.  But, Jon forced me to try it (along with the candied carrots, which I'll get to) and I'm glad he did!  The whipped cream cut the intensity of the horseradish and made a nice garnish to the prime rib.
Finally, we boiled the carrots.  Now, I hate cooked carrots, in fact most cooked vegetables, especially when they're mushy.  So when Jon said that he was going to make them, I wrinkled my nose and he promised me that I'd like them.  What can I say, I'm a sucker for brown sugar and butter.  I'm not sure that I'm convinced of the cooked carrot part, but if you soak anything in brown sugar and butter, it's going to taste good.
The wreckage after getting the meal out
So now that each component of the meal is described (mostly) and now we get to meal time!  Jon took the meat out of the ovens and still says that it was over cooked.  I thought it tasted delicious, but there's no convincing him.  We developed a system for dishing out the appropriate amount of food onto platters given the table size and frantically got the meals out on the table, family style, all around the same time.  We were excited that there was PLENTY of mashed potatoes, just enough meat and carrots, and the sauces were a big hit.  It was crazy but the moment the meal was served, Jon and I collapsed and certainly employed the rule that was borne from all the many meals my mom cooked... if you cook, you don't clean.  Gratefully there were plenty of Jesus Encounter volunteers that worked for about 2 hours cleaning up after us.  I sat motionless for quite awhile after the meal was served before ending the night hanging out with the Jesus Encounter guests at the Lake House.
...and was in bed for the next two days.

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