Thursday, August 10, 2006

Party food

This weekend my siblings and I hosted a 45th wedding anniversary/70th birthdays party for my parents. I catered, so that meant all the cooking I’ve done since the end of the Eat Local challenge has been party-related.

For financial and logistical reasons, I knew I was not going to be able to buy locally for this event, but I found that I was mostly unable to bring myself to purchase regular supermarket meat or eggs. So the produce was Haymarket (not a farmers’ market, for you non-Bostonians, but a big open-air market of regular commercial produce of mixed quality but rock-bottom prices), but most everything else came from local Italian markets or Whole Foods. Strangely, though I wanted to use organic pork, I still couldn’t bear to use my great heritage, pastured pork on people who were unlikely to appreciate it. (“I am large, I contain multitudes.”)

I’ll give ya’ll the menu, because it was actually one of my best-planned parties. I fed about 45 people at a reasonable price; everyone ate a lot and seemed to really enjoy the food; the food wasn’t too scary for a conservative crowd, but was not so cliché-ridden as to bore me; and everything was done and in place when the first guest arrived without any last-minute craziness. I think the mix of purchased and homemade items was just about right - enough homemade to give flair and warmth, enough purchased to make things easy.

Cheese plate: Generously provided as far, far below wholesale price by my friend A., the cheese salesman. There were about a dozen lovely cheeses.
A basket of breads, including a large whole wheat Tuscan loaf, a long crusty white, some soft rolls, a ring loaf, and a multigrain.
A tray of cold, sliced roasted meats: a boneless pork rib roast, a pair of beef eye or round, and a half-turkey. I rubbed the pork simply with black pepper and salt, the beef with black pepper, salt, and celery seed, and the turkey with Penzey’s fabulous Northwoods Fire Seasoning.
An assortment of condiments, including (semi) homemade artichoke/caper spread, fig/caramelized onion spread, and horseradish spread, plus purchased tapenade, mustards, and mayo.
A vegetable platter made up of steamed green beans in basil oil, steamed asparagus, roasted tomatoes, roasted peppers, and a ruffle of prosciutto slices.
Purchased olives and pickled onions and homemade marinated mushrooms.
A fresh fruit tray with grapes in three colors, cherries in two colors, cantaloupe and honeydew slices, and some fresh figs, sliced in half and hit with the torch,
Devilled eggs. (Why do people love these so much? They were the first item gone.)
Two 12 inch cakes: one raspberry-almond, the other chocolate.
Purchased ice cream and homemade berry compote.

People ate pretty much everything. The spreads, which I hoped would elevate the simple cold-cuts-and-bread arrangement, probably were used the least. I think part of this was logistic: people circled in the opposite direction from what I had expected, so they hit the spreads before the meats. The fig and onion, which was simply a matter of caramelizing onions and folding them into purchased Dalmatia fig spread, was the most popular, and with good reason. It was delicious. But I think overall, people are more afraid of mixing together flavors than I expected. They weren’t sure what meat went with what spread, or if they were supposed to use the spreads with the meats at all, or just on the bread, so they skipped over the spreads entirely. Lesson learned. Next time I do something along these lines, I’ll either make the sandwiches myself or include suggestions on the labels for the spreads.

People ate less fruit that I would have expected, too. But they ate more vegetables – the roasted tomatoes were gone in a flash, and the asparagus and peppers soon after. There were beans left over, but I had made an awful lot of beans. The three meats seemed to go over equally; no distinct preferences were shown. Everyone ate the meat, but not with the excitement I think they would have had the crowd been younger. For the under-forty set, home-roasted meat is a comparative rarity, but for these folks it was nothing particularly special, though still a definite step up from deli cold cuts. The cheese was a big deal, though. Some people just stood there and noshed.

The raspberry almond cake was a huge hit. I used the Martha Stewart wedding cake recipe from Baking with Julia, brushed with amaretto syrup, then filled with raspberry jam, raspberries, and a plain traditional buttercream. People went back for seconds and thirds, which was gratifying. The chocolate cake was not ignored, but in the end, about a third was left – the raspberry-almond had been annihilated. The ladies loved the marzipan flowers and bees, a comparatively simple decoration that always goes over well. I like it because I do the marzipan work ahead and just place the flowers on the cake that morning.

My sister took pictures, but I forgot my camera, so I’ll post when she forwards hers along. That probably won’t be for another week – I’m off on vacation to Maine, where I expect to eat local vegetables and seafood and all sorts of good stuff. I’ll be renting a cottage from a goat/maple syrup farm, so I intend to take lots of pictures and come back with all sorts of food tales. See you then.


plentyo'moxie said...

goat maple syrup farm? *sigh* [jealous sigh]

It's funny, the home-roasted cold meats were what I was totally fixated on from the original menu. (That and deviled eggs - I had to stop reading and go put a couple eggs on to boil. They really are the best things on earth. So mayonaisy.) A really good menu - and I would have firmly been in the under 40 adoring the meat camp.

Raving Foodie said...

Since I left Boston nearly 10 years ago, I've not given Haymarket a single thought and all comes back. I used to love elbowing my way through that madhouse, and with the right eye you could actually find some fantastic stuff.

Sounds like a great menu. Looking forward to pictures.

Pyewacket said...

I love the Haymarket, too, even though a lot of the stuff is terrible, none is local, and very little is organic. But I can buy (as I did this morning, in preparation for my trip) a few dozen limes and lemons, a large hand of ginger, bunches of mint, cilantro, parsley, scallions and basil, a few pounds of cherries, some peppers, three pounds of crimini mushrooms, two good pineapples, some lychees and a flat of figs for well under thirty dollars. Since I would be unable to get most of those things locally anyway, I don't feel particularly guilty. We'll buy local benas, corn, tomatoes, potatoes, beets, greens, peaches and cheese when we get to Maine, and I'm bringing some meat.

Anonymous said...

Owning a greenhouse here at the Fish Creek House Bed and Breakfast in Montana has been a great way for us to grow organic fruits and veggies here for both our consumption and the guetss we host. Great to grow from the earth and pass it on!

smokey said...

Wow, the final menu sounds just wonderful. And, I'm with plentyo'moxie--I would have been in the under 40 crowd loving the home-roasted meat. I just can't stand cold cuts and they're ubiquitous (I even went to a "bbq" (or so it was advertised) where the meat served was cold cuts!)

Gypsy Daisy said...

My mouth is watering!! YUM!