April 05, 2016

Cooking for company

Four-layer polenta casserole.

Choosing dishes for a company dinner is, for me, a fine balance between creating delicious food, and not having to be stressed out with last minute cooking. I choose recipes that can be made ahead, and I do a lot of planning, so I know exactly what will go into each dish, and when it needs to be made. For example, the four-layer polenta casserole I served this past weekend only looks and tastes complicated — each part is super easy, and all but the last topping can be prepared ahead of time. And even that can be prepped ahead. The basic polenta recipe is from Passionate Vegetarian by Crescent Dragonwagon. It's baked in the oven and requires almost no effort. I made a double recipe, and added extra water so my polenta would be soft and creamy, and stand up to being made ahead, spending time on the counter, and being baked again to cook the crema. I also added a small amount of nutritional yeast for extra flavor. While the polenta was baking, I made pine nut crema from Viva Vegan by Terry Hope Romero, and stashed it away in the fridge for later. For my take on a recipe inspired by spinach with pine nuts and raisins from Urban Vegan by Dynise Balcavage, I sliced mushrooms and washed spinach, then put them away until needed. I minced garlic and zested lemon. About 45 minutes before dinner, the crema was spread onto the polenta and the dish was placed back into the oven to bake until the crema was firm and lightly golden. At that point, about 3/4 of a jar of Trader Joe's organic no-salt marinara was spread on top of the crema. While the sauce heated in the oven, I sautéed the mushrooms with garlic, added the spinach, dried cranberries and lemon zest, (no pine nuts since they were already in the crema), then spread it over the top of the casserole and called everyone to dinner.

Red and green cabbage salad.

A salad of shredded red and green cabbage, shredded carrots and a boatload of greed onions, tossed with a dressing inspired by a recipe for gentrified coleslaw from Celebrate Vegan by Dynise Balcavage, had been made early in the day and allowed to marinate in the refrigerator. The salad completely disappeared, leading my husband to say it was exactly the right amount, but making me  worry I hadn't made enough. Do you think like my husband or like me?

Tourlou tourlou.

A Greek baked vegetable dish, tourlou tourlou (pronounced toodloo toodloo) is an easy side dish. Once all the veggies are cut, it just cooks itself in the oven. Layers of sliced potatoes, eggplant, zucchini, peppers, onions, garlic and tomato bake until the eggplant is creamy and the potatoes are soft. I used a five-quart enameled cast iron dutch oven to hold the veggies, which came to the top before they were baked. It was baked early, then reheated in the oven while the crema was firming up. The original recipe called for — take a deep breath — one cup of olive oil! That makes me kind of shudder. I'm not used to such a generous amount of oil in my food. I drizzled olive oil on the bottom of the pot, and over the top of the veggies, and it seemed perfect. The vegetables only get better the next day, by the way, if you have leftovers. You can find the recipe here.

We also had a platter of stuffed grape leaves bought from PCC co-op, and an excellent hors d'oeuvre of tapenade and rice crackers made by a guest.

Caramel apple tart.

For dessert I made an apple tart. The sponge crust had a layer of caramel under the apples, made from the recipe for caramel filling in homemade yolos from The Oh She Glows Cookbook by Angela Liddon. The apples are drizzled with bee-free honee.

One of our guests made wonderful chocolate pumpkin cupcakes, but unfortunately they didn't get photographed.

Because so much of the dinner was cooked leisurely earlier in the day, and because I kept the menu limited, I didn't feel stressed, and was able to enjoy my company. What do you do to minimize stress when cooking for a crowd?




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6 comments:

  1. This looks like a super awesome dinner party! The apple tart is so *beautiful!* I go back and forth -- depending kinda on who I'm cooking for and whether or not I have much time before they arrive. I love using dinner parties as an excuse to get all fancy and cook something special, but it's not nice to have to stand in the kitchen and keep cooking and fussing while everyone is chatting in the living room!

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    1. Your Persian New Year parties are my ideal; I've made some of the recipes, though not all at the same time! I try to strike a balance between exciting food and easy to prepare. The polenta, for example, is super easy, but had everyone exclaiming. The veggies, too — so easy but so delicious.

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  2. I have to admit, I never have company over because for starters, there's no room to fit more than two people in my tiny apartment, but moreover, I have no idea what I would feed them! Beyond pastries and coffee, I get tripped up all too easily. That menu of yours sounds stellar and your guests should feel incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to partake!

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    1. I can accept the small space excuse because I remember the days of living in a tiny apartment. But, not knowing what to cook? How about the chickpea curry you just posted? Or? Or? So many possibilities. Or you could just serve ice cream! I'd like that. :D

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  3. If I'd have gone to visit someone and they'd have made that for me, I'd feel like a happy guest. I think the idea of making lots of big dishes that people can serve themselves from is a wise way to go - every one gets exactly the portion size they want!

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  4. Well, you know, the guests seemed rather pleased with their lot. :) I've also started letting guests serve themselves in the kitchen and bring their plates to the dining room. It makes the table less cluttered, and it's less awkward than handing large platters and casseroles back and forth in front of people.

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