I recently had the opportunity to cater a cocktail party. I initially turned down the offer out of fear and doubt and offered the gig to a private chef friend. Then I thought, why the hell not, it’s an opportunity and if I don’t take the chance now, then when? I was in for a treat. There were 35-40 guests expected and I charged $20/person for 5 passed hor d’oeuvres. Menu planning came pretty easily, I scrounged through tastespotting and found most of the recipes which were a good mixture of heavy, light, summery, and palate pleasing. An entire evening was devoted to grocery shopping at Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, which is very difficult to do when you don’t have a car and you’re little woman lugging bagfuls of food struggling to get through the subway turnstyle. My dear friend Andrzej came shopping with me and made everything easier, funnier and manageable.
I started preparing the evening before and for the following 24 hours I gruelingly chopped, grated, rolled, spread, toasted, grilled, and toasted. Once 5 am rolled around I was overwhelmed and had a nervous breakdown, realizing there was no way I could do this alone. Preparing 100 pieces of each item was too much in such little time, not to mention they couldn’t be done too long beforehand before going stale or tasteless. So at 7 I sent dear Andrzej a message and he missed work and hauled his way over to help for the rest of the day. Once he entered the vibe immediately changed and once again I was able to finish off the job. Time and productivity flow was at a high and we made it to the gig in time and we were in perfect tandem with preparing and serving. I couldn’t have asked for more. Allow me to get into details:
The first dish served was spinach hummus crostini. The recipe was found on 101 cookbooks. I wanted this to be the first thing I made because it would still be good the next day but of course I forgot to soak the beans overnight so it waited till later. The end product was a bit dry and I ended squeezing one too many lemons, so it was a very tart spinach hummus. It was popular with the guests at first and was a great way to start the party. Of course I ended with a tub still left over and multiple trays of crostini’s remaining but friends finished that up with the quickness.
The second dish passed were the roasted pepper wrapped mozzarella bites. The pictures I find on recipes always look more perfect than mine, completely overestimating my presentation and arrangement skills. This plate was not salty enough and a bit too mushy. During roasting time the juices slipped out of the pepper probably causing the extra softness but they were easy enough to prepare, just sliver, wrap, and stick. But that process times 100 is what gets a bit grueling.
The “main” course for the evening was asparagus and proscuitto bruschetta. It involved cooking with the most ingredients served on soft and garlicy ciabatta bread. I’m not a big fan of seared prosciutto, I much prefer it uncooked with basil and mozza, but this was also a popular plate. I also am questioning cooking asparagus and tomato together. I feel the acidic juices from the tomatoes turned the asparagus bitter, losing its original flavor. I also didn’t grill the veggies as the recipe directed which might have affected the juice flowing from tomato to asparagus. It was a very pretty dish and easy to prepare on site.
Here’s the dish that caused my nervous breakdown: Salmon canapes. It’s a simple enough feat: make cream cheese mixture and dollop on a strip of smoked salmon and roll, topped with roe, or in my case dill garnish (roe was too expensive). But untrained imperfectionist that I am I couldn’t get the slices and portions even and what was supposed to be rolls that were of same size and amount turned out looking like above: uneven, slanted, and sloppy. It was also 5 am when I was rolling these and my head was nodding off despite the red bulls and iced coffees and I freaked out and was very close to giving up, doubting my skills as a caterer and swearing to never do this ever again. I ran out the house, eyes frantic and searching and came back with the nastiest cup of iced coffee from a polish bakery. I laid down on my soft and konked out for 15 minutes and woke up trying to breathe out the desperation and start over. I let go of the fact that it wouldn’ t look perfect. Andrzej finished off the pile and we used it as is and people seemed to enjoy it. I will never be making this ever again though, that’s for sure.
The last dish served before starting back at one were summer rolls, whose refreshing and palate cleansing elements brightened up the crowd and the kitchen. This was a difficult recipe to get right becuase the delicate paper ripped if prepared to early leaving me with the thought of preparing on site when there would be a thousand other things to prepare. We tried to roll a few before hand and learned a few hours later it tore and gutted out the ingredients. We watched this video and incorporated items from this recipe into the first and came up with these. Andrzej came up with the brilliant idea to replace dipping sauce and the wasteful use of two papers per roll and directly mixed peanut butter and siracha sauce into the noodles. Brilliant. This not only moistened the dried up noodles, it created an unexpected punch of flavor and spice that knocked you off guard. The bean sprouts created the juicy crunch and the mint and basil an extra layer of herbiness. This is such a successful recipe, we’re planning a summer roll party.
The evening was a big success, everything rolled smoothly and made me forget my vow never to cater ever again. I get deep gratification in making people eat and enjoy my food and I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if I tortured myself again soon.