Sunday, March 27, 2011

Planning a Meal for 85 People

I was at the meeting for my daughter's school auction and there wasn't anybody assigned to food. I wanted to do something for the auction and cooking seemed like a natural way for me to help so I offered to plan and prepare the auction dinner. After a lot of recipe reading and talking to friends, I decided on an Italian Menu.  I went on a lasagna exploratory adventure and settled on a cheese lasagna and a lasagna bolognese as the central point of the meal. 

I prepared and cooked all the lasagna the day before the auction. At one point I had two pots of lasagna noodles going, two pans of bechamel and two lasagnas in the oven. I worked from 6:30 PM until 1:30 in the morning making lasagna. I would have been done faster with more than 4 burners and more oven space but I had to work with what I had. The most difficult part was not the cooking but estimating the correct amount of food. The event was from 6:30 - 9:30, so prime dinner time, but we didn't charge for the event so there wasn't an assumption that dinner would be served.

Below are the recipes, links and descriptions of the meal. I didn't love the white bean dip from Bittman, I would probably sub out something else if I was going to do this again. I would also replace the cheeseboard with something else because there was cheese at every turn in this menu. I also ended up with too much dip, too much green salad and too many prepared meatballs so the recipes below outline the amount of food slightly above what was consumed instead of what I made, which was a little too much. Would I do this again? Yes I would! It was fun and so, so interesting. I am not, however interested in becoming a professional caterer and I have a new respect for people that do that job. But I loved it; making 85 people feel content and full of delicious food.


Cheese Lasagna
Lasagna Bolognese
Gluten Free Cheese Lasagna
Tortellini Salad
Cheeseboard (4 lbs. of assorted cheese set out next to the bruschetta bar)
Green Salad
Bruschetta Bar (Artichoke Dip, Tapenade, White Bean Dip, Whipped Ricotta with Fresh Herbs)
Pre-Made Meatballs from Trader Joe's

Tortellini Salad

7 9 - 10 ounce Boxes of pre-made tortellini (a mix of two different colors and flavors)
5 cans of black olives, drained
2 containers Cherry Tomatoes (the large ones from TJs), washed
10 ounce chunk of Salami
1/4 Cup Red Wine Vinegar
1/4 Cup Lemon Juice
1 Cup Olive Oil
1 Cup loosely packed Basil

Cook tortellini. Drain and gently toss with a very small amount of Olive Oil to prevent sticking. Mix in cherry tomatoes and black olives. Chop Salami into small 1/3 inch cubes. Place Salami into a separate bowl (if you want to offer a vegetarian version) or drop it in the big bowl (if you don't). In a blender puree the remaining ingredients and mix into the salad(s).


Three pans of this Cheese Lasagna.

One pan of the same Cheese Lasagna made with gluten free lasagna noodles.

Three pans of Lasagna Bolognese. I used this Bolognese recipe. For constructing the lasagna I followed this recipe subbing out my own Bolognese sauce. It is great for making the day before because it is on the wet side which you need if you are going to pre-bake and re-warm.

Green Salad

3 16 ounce containers of mixed greens, washed and spun dry
4 heads of iceberg lettuce, torn or cut into bite-sized pieces, washed and spun dry
6 English Cucumbers, washed and cut into bite sized pieces
3 Red Onions (you don't want strong ones, find sweet red onions, taste them!), sliced into thin rounds and separated
2.5 times Bouchon's Basic Dijon Vinaigrette, adding Salt and Pepper.

Toss everything together.

For the Bruschetta Bar:

Except for cooking the artichoke dip, everything can be prepared ahead of time.


7 Baguettes, sliced into 1/4" pieces
Olive Oil

Reheat the oven to 400 degrees. Brush both sides of each piece with olive oil. Toast them for 10 minutes, turning over half way through until they start to turn golden. After cooling, place them in a ziploc bag and seal.

Bruschetta Toppings

Three jars of Olive Tapenade from Trader Joe's.
A double recipe of Paula Deen's Three Cheese Artichoke Dip.
One recipe of Mark Bittman's White Bean Spread. Not my favorite though.
Whipped ricotta wish fresh herbs: 1 Tub of high quality ricotta beaten. Mix in a small handful of chopped fresh herbs (I used basil), some lemon juice and/or lemon zest, salt and pepper.

Trader Joe's Frozen Meatballs

I don't think I would use these again if I had to repeat this event but about 4 bags of them were eaten.

Friday, March 25, 2011

D'Ambrosio Gelato

D'Ambrosio Gelato reminds me of the gelato shops in London. The store has a very clean modern look and it doesn't feel like your neighborhood ice cream store. Their small serving size, which is extremely generous, allows you 2 different flavors. I generally turn straight to chocolate but it wasn't so easy with the choices they offered. They had a malt flavor, vanilla, a berry that was a swirl of purple and white, hazelnut, chocolate and a few novel ones like Caramel & Figs. I really wanted to try four different flavors but I had to pick two so I settled on chocolate and berry (pictured above). The gelato is creamy, soft and flavorful. My husband got the Malt which he found a little disappointing. It tasted delicious but not like malt. The closest description we could come up with was salted caramel. The kids stuck with chocolate and vanilla. The vanilla had a very strong vanilla flavor to it and the color was beautiful, a warm yellow, like buttercream.  It lived up to its appearance and was possibly the most delicious vanilla gelato I have ever tasted.

D'Ambrosio Gelato on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Bolognese Sauce

I made 11 pans of lasagna this week. Two were experimental, two were test runs and seven were for an auction that I prepared food for. The first two pans of lasagna were vegetarian and made with a white sauce. I really struggled with them. I have come to the conclusion that vegetarian lasagna needs the acidity of tomatoes and the texture from ricotta. I love the leek and artichoke vegetarian lasagna from Greens cookbook but it has ricotta in it. I will keep experimenting but so far, I haven't found a "true white sauce" (i.e. no ricotta and no tomato sauce) vegetarian lasagna that I like.

The third lasagna of the week was a basic cheese lasagna with a pound of mozzarella, a pound of ricotta, parmesan, noodles and marinara. This is a great fast eats recipe that can be made in ten minutes. You could spend longer, if you wished to, making a great marinara from scratch with vegetable add-ins or mix fresh herbs into the ricotta or mix spinach into the ricotta or all of the above. Coming to the conclusion that vegetarian lasagna works best with ricotta was hard for me to admit because I recently embraced lasagna bolognese. Real lasagna bolognese, with no ricotta. It is hands down my favorite kind of lasagna. After my vegetarian lasagna endeavors I returned to this favorite and made enough bolognese sauce for three 10 x 15 pans of lasagna. Here is the recipe that I ended up with.

Bolognese Sauce

3 T Olive Oil
2 pounds ground beef
2 pounds ground pork
1 pounds Italian Sausage, casings removed
1.5 cups dry white wine
4 28 ounce cans of crushed tomatoes
4 onions, finely chopped
4 carrots, finely chopped
4 celery sticks, finely chopped
1.5 tsp crushed fennel seeds
1 T dried oregano
1 T dried thyme

Yields enough for three large pans of lasagna

Pour the Olive Oil into a large pan set over medium low heat. Add the onions, carrots and celery and stir, cooking, until the onion is translucent. Transfer the vegetable mixture to a bowl. Add the meat to the pan, breaking it up with a wooden spoon and stirring until there are no pieces of meat bigger than a lima bean. Cook over medium heat until the meat is no longer red. At this point you will most likely need to drain off all the fat. You can do this by transferring the meat with a slotted spoon to a bowl or by pouring the meat into a fine sieved colander placed over a bowl and letting it drain. Put the meat and vegetables back in the pan and turn the heat up to medium to medium high. Add the wine and stir, scraping the bottom of the pan. Boil off almost all of the wine and then add the rest of the ingredients. Bring to a simmer, taste and add salt and pepper. Stir every 10 - 20 minutes,  for about two hours.

Note: If you like a looser sauce you can stop after an hour. For Lasagna Bolognese or a thicker sauce, cook longer until more liquid has evaporated off. I would also recommend that you taste and add salt and pepper (if needed) every thirty minutes or so.