I had the option to sit back and enjoy a party but I chose not to. When my skating club’s end of season party was announced, I toyed with the idea of catering the event. Before I even came up with a solid plan, I bounced my proposal to the club president and was enthusiastically accepted. “Proposal” is probably more formal than what I actually said. The conversation went something like this:
Candy: Hey are we serving dinner at the party?
Candy: Want me to cook? What’s your budget? How many people?
Prez: Sure! About 30 people. What number do you have in mind?
Candy: How does $10 per person sound?
That was back in early September and I had been dragging my feet with planning of any sort since. It was only a week before the party when I finally got my act together and came up with a rough draft of the menu. Why so much procrastination?
In this day and age of hyper awareness about food allergies, intolerances, and preferences, a menu with something for everyone in such a diverse group is not trivial. Let’s start with main course. Vegetarian option is a must. Although budget friendly, pork is not a good choice for religious reasons. Same can be said for beef although this did not apply to my target. That left me with inoffensive poultry. Dark meat such as boneless chicken thigh is my first choice since it doesn’t dry out easily and can withstand the rigors of reheating. Next challenge is dishes with low or no gluten. I respect the dietary preferences for many of my friends. Although my kitchen cannot accommodate those with gluten allergies (risk of cross contamination), I don’t want those on low gluten diet to feel deprived of choices. It was a juggling act to balance my budget without resorting to too many carb-laden recipes. Oh and did I mention the large contingency of teenagers? That means the menu ought to be nothing too exotic.
Party For Thirty Skaters
Contrary to my usual practice, I turned to many tried and true recipes I made in the past. I had a good idea of my schedule and was able to finish cooking right on time. The turkey meatballs, roast beef, and chicken skewers easily scaled up without involving too much extra labour. Instead of hand shaping and pan frying the meatballs, those 5lb of ground turkey were portioned with my cookie scoop and baked in the oven for 30 minutes. 6lb of eye of round became thinly sliced medium roast beef easily enough. And 4lb of boneless chicken thighs marinated in the savoury lemongrass mixture before I threaded them into bamboo skewers and blasted under the broiler.
It was the first time I tried Cook’s Illustrated recipe for baked ziti. I am pleased to report that it will return to my future party menus. It feeds a crowd and the bubbly melty blend of parmesan, mozzarella, and cottage cheese was very popular.
I toyed with many ideas for a quinoa dish but ended up in familiar territory. 3.5 cups of quinoa were cooked before I tossed them with a cup each of chopped apricots, pomegranate seeds, salted pistachios, mint, cilantro, and parsley. The dressing was my favourite tangy sweet mix of olive oil, white wine vinegar, pomegranate molasses, ras el hanout, cinnamon, and smoked paprika.
Can I just say how adorable the stuffed tomatoes looked? I hollowed out Campari cocktail tomatoes with a melon baller and stuffed them with small pieces of mozzarella cheese. Each of them was topped with a swirl of garlic herb Boursin (thinned with heavy cream until pipe-able consistency) and garnished with chopped chives. Dead easy to make but so attractive on the buffet table!
As for dessert, I had a moment of panic. My original plan only included two choices. The gluten free coffee cake and a chocolate cake of some sort. I really wanted to make a show stopping three layer chocolate sheet cake. But with everything else going on at the same time, the extra work just wasn’t feasible. I took a good hard look at my menu and reined in my ambition. I made a simple chocolate sheet cake with milk chocolate frosting instead. Same taste but much more streamlined.
That seemed very sensible until I saw how my chocolate cake turned out. A single layer cake looked so…skimpy. Surely there would not be enough cake for 30. So I panicked and added the apple yogurt cake to the menu at the eleventh hour. I had all the ingredients on hand and it was easy to make.
As I cleared the crumbs off the platters on Friday night, my panic was justified. We ate all the cakes. In fact, the only leftover I brought home were some roast beef and dips. I think it’ll be a while before I try to cook for a crowd again.