Thursday, November 13, 2008

Ladies Who Lunch...Catered Party for 10.

I absolutely love catering small parties. By small, I mean anything from 10-40 guests. Everything always remains calm and manageable and guests seem more appreciative. The events are more intimate affairs as oppose to a wedding for 200 or even a cocktail party for 70.

My average party size is 40 guests, celebrating anything from showers and anniversaries to holiday party and birthdays.

For example, my neighbor called me in a panic last week.

"I'm having some friends over for a birthday next week and no one offered to bring anything. I thought we agreed on potluck but now I'm responsible for everything! You have to help!" she explained. I felt like she was flipping through her cookbooks at home looking for a quick fix.

"What are you looking for?" I asked, as I grabbed some paper and a pen.

"I have no idea. I was thinking of doing egg salad and tuna salad, but that's so boring," she started.

"Well, it's a birthday so why don't we think of something a little more festive," I suggested.

"Perfect. Great. What did you have in mind?" She already seemed relieved at my effort.

"How about some salmon. That's simple and elegant and usually is perfect for a group of women. I would suggest a trio of sauces or salsa or something to go with it, but with 10 guests, that's a lot of food."

"Great. Let's do that. How about one sauce and one salsa? Whatever you want, you choose." "But I can't have anything super expensive,' she cautioned.

"I'll just charge you cost." She was my neighbor and my friend after all.

After talking over a few more details, we decided I would provide the following:
  • Slow-Roasted Salmon with Cucumber Raita and Pomegranate-Avocado Salsa
  • Israeli Couscous Salad with Dried Cherry, Toasted Almonds and Lemon-Parsley Vinaigrette

She would be providing the rest of the menu. The beauty of catering and why it fits my personality is that it's all about preparing ahead of time. Of course, there are those occasions where success depends on timing and keeping your cool, but the style of catering that I focus on is reminiscent of my days at the Ritz-Carlton. Working in the Garde Manger department, everything is served room temperature or cold. Focus is on presentations, flavors, and textures. It becomes a true test of technique as well. Garde Manger incorporates simple vinaigrettes and sandwiches to time-consuming homemade sausages and pates.

So this small luncheon, like many of the other events I cater, is all about chilled or room temperature foods. This methodology allows me to scatter my prep work over a few days and therefore not feel panicked when it's time to shine. Dishes can be plattered ahead of time so when it's time to go, I just pack platters and take off.

Now, let's get back to this luncheon for 10. Held on a Friday afternoon, I picked up 4 pounds of salmon from my wholesaler on Thursday morning and continued with the rest of my shopping. I allocated 2 hours to prep this event. With such simple dishes and only 10 guests, I was being generous with my time.

While the oven preheated and I set a pot of water to boil on the stove, I made the two sides for the salmon. For the raita, I combined yogurt, diced red onions, peeled diced cucumbers, cumin, cayenne, salt, pepper, and lemon juice. I used Greek yogurt which offered a thicker texture and not a tangy flavor as the American style yogurts.

For the salsa, I combined diced red onions, the pomegranate seeds and lime juice. Retrieving the seeds is a messy and time consuming chore, so be prepared. It's well worth the effort as the small seeds, after removed look like small rubies. They are beautiful and delicate and shimmer with a slight iridescent light. In terms of flavor, their sourness reminds me of cranberries, but their sweetness comes through with the added crunch of the seed. I will diced and add the avocado on Friday to avoid it turning colors or getting somewhat mushy with the rest of the salsa.

The concept of slow roasted salmon may make some nervous. It's all about preserving the gentle and soft texture of the fish. Set your oven to 225 or 250 and roasted the salmon for 20 minutes or so. It will have a medium rare look and basically feel texture-less when you taste it. The key, of course, is to season, season, season! For this luncheon, I cut 4 ounce pieces out of the side of salmon and roasted them on parchment. After they cooled, I plattered the fish and moved onto the pasta.

Israeli couscous is a pasta; not a rice and not a grain. So I prepared the couscous as I would any pasta: very salty boiling water. The boiling temperature of salted water is higher than that of unsalted, so for the sake of efficiency, I always boil the water and then add the salt. After the pasta is cooked and drained, I transfer it to a mixing bowl and add some oil so it doesn't stick. Finishing the rest of the dish is easy: add some dried cherries, toasted almonds and your dressing (lemon zest, red wine vinegar, salt, pepper, parsley, honey, oil). Last but not least, season, season, season, and taste, taste, taste!

Friday afternoon, I grabbed the dishes and some business cards and made the quick delivery. Now I just hope for positive feedback and of course referrals. Wish me luck!

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