Tag Archives: cooking for a crowd

My Friends are Talented

My food photos are, well, lacking.

However, I have friends who are talented.

Although the Third Annual Indian Summer Picnic is a distant memory and the recaps are [finally] done, there are still photos to remember it by.

Feast your eyes on them…


.then give me some ideas of what I should add to the menu next year.

To access all of the recipes, click here.

All photos courtesy of Michael Landry

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Around the Campfire.

Last week, as I was walking to my office, the air felt crisp. My office itself was colder than usual. I had to put my sweater around my legs to keep warm.

There’s no mistaking it, Fall is upon us, and my long ago Summer Picnic feels long ago. The last hurrah of Summer.

To be quite honest, I wasn’t sorry to see it go.

I was ready to move forward, and into some much needed rest. And, yet, as the end of summer drew nearer I was suddenly and unexpectedly nostalgic.

Labor Day weekend, I found myself reading a book that I probably should have read for the first time twenty years ago, Judy Blume’s Forever.

And, well, this quote:

“It’s funny, the way you get to know summer friends so well in a short period of time, especially at camp, when you are thrown together morning, noon, and night.”

That was all it took. And suddenly, I was remembering the summers of my childhood at camp. Or, more specifically of those end of the summer nights when the upstate air was cold as we sat around the lake, clinging to each other for warmth, getting ready to say goodbye. This was before we were all online at all times, when the head counselors would read sports scores from last night’s major league baseball games at flag pole. When saying goodbye meant staying in touch with letters or simply with the tacit understanding that we would see each other at the same place next year.

I’ve tried to explain the experience and, somehow, always fall short.

How can I not?

The details sound unimpressive—or even strange without the right context. I could tell you about how the entire camp dressed in white on Fridays for the Sabbath or how on the last night of the season, we floated candles on Sylvan Lake, making wishes and plans for the following year. Or, I could tell you about being younger, and looking forward to the night where my division would have a campfire and we’d gather sticks to roast marshmallows for our very own s’mores.

I think I’ll stop there—at least that last one seems to be more universal. And, ultimately, I wasn’t nostalgic for the place so much as the feeling—of being on the cusp of things. Over the summers of my childhood it was the promise of fall and new books and fresh starts in the school year. Now? The days are getting busier and shorter and colder. And, I find myself wanting to hold on the lazy luxury of the summers of my youth in whatever ways I can.

I don’t have access to a camp fire—and, given that I live in an apartment in Manhattan, that’s a good thing. So, this is the indoor version of the summer standby. The good news is that, when the weather gets cold, and I’m feeling wistful and nostalgic, s’mores are no longer so hard to come by—stick not included.

S'mores Bars

S’mores Bars
Recipe courtesy from Seriouseats.com

Making everything from scratch is not a requirement (and, some may say you’re crazy to do so). However, I’ve included links to the recipes for graham crackers and marshmallows, should you be so inclined. It’s worth the effort.

1 cup graham cracker crumbs (made from 10 rectangular crackers)
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
Salt
1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoons baking powder
3 cups Marshmallows

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Cut two 16-inch pieces of foil and line an 8-inch square baking pan, allowing excess to hang over sides. Spray with nonstick cooking spray.

Break graham crackers into small pieces and pulse in food processor until they become fine crumbs. Melt 4 tablespoons butter. Add melted butter, 1 tablespoon sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon salt to crumbs and pulse to combine. Press into bottom of prepared pan.

Melt chocolate and remaining 8 tablespoons butter in medium bowl in microwave, 1 to 2 minutes, stopping every 20 seconds to stir with rubber spatula. Transfer mixture to a large bowl and cool, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes.
With a wooden spoon, mix in the remaining 1/2 cup sugar, eggs, espresso powder, vanilla, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Add the flour and baking powder and mix until smooth.

Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the brownies comes out with moist crumbs attached. Do not over-bake.

Transfer to cooling rack and top with marshmallows.

Adjust oven rack to upper third position and heat broiler. Broil until marshmallows are golden brown, 1 to 3 minutes. Cool in pan 1 hour. Using foil sling, transfer directly to wire rack and let cool completely, at least 1 hour. Cut into 2-inch squares and serve.

Makes 16 2-by-2-inch bars

Photos courtesy of Michael Landry

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Like it’s 5773

kinishes

Earlier this week, in order to observe Rosh Hashona, I did something that was long overdue: I disconnected from the world at large.

It’s a new year—5773, to be exact—and the days are solemn, which suits me just fine. They’re days of reflection and awe; of taking stock, making amends and making changes.

I had a long standing joke with a long ago boyfriend that it was a good thing that we were Jewish, we had two chances each year for a fresh start.

I still sort of believe this.

Maybe it’s because the days are slow going. I’ve alluded to it here, with my absence as much as anything else. Two steps in one direction, one in another.

On Monday afternoon, I got out the mixer and set about making challah. In a burst of ambition, I attempted the traditional shape, winding the cord of dough around itself until redoubled, letting it rise and bake up fragrantly and golden brown.

Except. Well, it didn’t quite bake.

Or, bake at all.

Instead, it was a perfectly browned lump of uncooked dough. I thought about using it for Tashlikh but then remembering this particular scene thought the wiser. And, I couldn’t get to the water anyway. No matter, it’s all metaphorical. Perhaps that’s the lesson.

There’s always something to learn from and a way to make sense of a year’s passing. I had an extra challah on hand, made in the more typical braided style. A lesson learned from experiences such as Monday’s. The greater takeaway: plan for the unplanned, if you can. And, if you can’t, go with it.

I meant to share a recipe for apple cake with you here, for the holiday’s sake. I always mean to, and maybe next year I’ll get to it. Instead, another traditional Jewish food—at least in my experience—the potato knish. Naturally, I meant to share this recipe with you months ago.

Forgive me, I’m running behind, as always, although now one step closer to catching up.

Potato Knishes
Recipe adapted from Joe Pastry

For the Dough:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp kosher salt
1 large egg, plus 1 yolk set aside (to glaze the dough)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp white vinegar
1/2 cup water, plus 1 tsp set aside
1 large egg yolk

For the Filling:
1.5 pounds russet potatoes (3 medium or 4 small), peeled quartered and boiled
1 cup diced yellow onion
1 TBS vegetable oil
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp ground white pepper

To Make the Dough:
In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking soda and salt. Stir to combine, and set aside, forming a well in the middle. In another bowl, combine the whole egg, oil, vinegar, and 1/2 cup of water. Stir the wet ingredients into the dry, using your hands to knead them together until the mixture forms a smooth dough. Place the dough in the large bowl, covering with plastic wrap and set aside for at least an hour. While the dough is resting, make your filling.

To Make the filling:
Boil the potatoes in salted water, starting with cold water and bringing it to a boil with the potatoes in the water and then reducing the heat to medium. This ensures even cooking. The potatoes are done when they are tender. This should take about 20 minutes. When the potatoes are ready, drain them and set them aside to cool.

While the potatoes are cooling, cook the onions by heating a large pan over low heat, adding the vegetable oil once the pan is hot. Add in the onions and caramelize over medium low heat until they are golden brown. This will take approximately 45 minutes. When the onions are ready, in a large bowl, combine them with the potatoes, white pepper and salt to taste. Mash them until they are smooth, then set aside to cool.

To Assemble the Knish:
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

Take half of the dough and roll it out onto a floured surface. Roll it out as thinly as possible, forming a square shape that’s approximately 12″ long . Place the potato mixture in the center, so that it is approximately 1″ thick, then roll the filling up within the dough, leaving a little room. You don’t want it too tight or it will open up while baking. Trim the ends of the dough. You want them to be about 1/2″ longer than the potato filling.

Make indentations along the filled dough every 2.5″ and twist the dough at these points, snipping it at each turn and then using your fingers press the ends together to seal tightly, twisting to ensure that it stays closed. Using your palm, flatten the knish. Then, using your palm, press the dough on the top of the knish, leaving it mostly open. You want the dough to run flat against the potato.

Please the knishes on parchment lined baking sheets, taking care to leave at least 1/2″ of space between each one.

Bake the formed knish:
Whisk the egg yolk and 1 tsp water together and using a pastry brush, glaze the top of the knish. Bake for 45 minutes, until they are golden brown.

Allow to cool for at least ten minutes before serving.

Makes approximately one and a half dozen knishes 1.5″ in diameter

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A Small Bite

I have to admit something. Don’t be alarmed—it’s not that that kind of confession. It’s just that I’m never quite sure what to tell my guests to bring when I’m hosting an event.

I think a lot of this comes from going to poorly planned dinners—you know the kind, where you’re being served Eggplant Parmesan with a side of samosas and stir fried vegetables? Where everything is cooked well but the sum simply detracts from it’s parts?

It’s true that I get unnaturally excited about menu planning, but perhaps it’s from the aforementioned dinner misses. At least I’d like to think so. Regardless, I’m a firm believer that the best meals are the ones where the flavors play off each other, with one course building upon the next. So, when I saw this recipe as I planned for the Third Annual Indian Summer Picnic, I knew I had to make it. The flavors were all there—echoing the spices from the pork. Plus, with the protein, it seemed a good bet that, if I couldn’t get the pulled pork out on time, this would hold everyone’s hunger at bay.

I’m hoping to get to the rest of the recaps from that long ago Third Annual Indian Summer Picnic as time allows. But, until then, consider this an appetizer to keep your appetite in check as well.

honeyed nuts

Honey Glazed Almonds
Recipe Courtesy of MyRecipes.com

1 1/2 cups raw, unblanched almonds
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons honey
1/2 teaspoon ground chipotle chile powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon salt

1. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Place the almonds in a medium nonstick skillet; cook over medium heat for 6 minutes or until lightly toasted, shaking pan frequently. Combine the remaining ingredients in a 2-cup glass measure. Microwave at HIGH for 30 seconds. Add honey mixture to pan, and cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Arrange almond mixture on prepared baking sheet in a single layer; let stand 10 minutes. Break apart any clusters.

Photo courtesy of Michael Landry

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The Third Annual Indian Summer Picnic (aka the one that took place in the Summer)

It seems only appropriate to begin this post with the obligatory photograph of slow roasted pork shoulder. This is 15 pounds worth.

In the end, all that was left was this:

Somehow I managed to fit 30+ people in a New York apartment. To say my house needs cleaning would be a serious understatement. There’s a dishwasher that needs to be unloaded and reloaded, ad infinity. The floor needs to be mopped. At least twice. Every surface needs scrubbing and rescrubbing.

Still, it was worth it. It was my most ambitious menu to date—I’ll get to that in a minute. It also afforded me the chance to help a dear friend of mine who has been sick for some time.

If you were at my house you would have seen the tray pictured below.

It’s a make your own s’mores kit, complete with homemade marshmallows and graham crackers. The note attached reads:

Official Solicitation
Haven’t heard of Justin’s plight? It’s a gripping tale of a 30ish year-old moderately successful designer who’s fighting a way against his own body. Please enjoy this homemade treat and shameless solicitation compliments of your host, Hillary.

The long and short of it is this: my friend Justin has been sick with a chronic condition called RSD (Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy). While there’s hope, treatments are ongoing, expensive, and often uncovered by insurance. You can help. Click here to find out more.

Now, the menu:

The Third Annual Indian Summer Picnic (aka the one that took place in the Summer)

Starters
Honey Glazed Almonds
Guacamole

Mains
Pulled Pork, with barbecue sauce
Baked Macaroni and Cheese

Sides
Fennel Slaw
Four Bean Salad
Succotash

Dessert
Buttermilk Pralines
Lavender Lemon Shortbread
S’mores Bars
St. Louis Gooey Butter Cake

To Drink
Spiked Lemonades

I’ll be sharing the new recipes in the upcoming weeks, and thanks to a good friend who has actual skills as a photographer, expect some great photos.

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Setting the Bar High

Before we begin, let me get this out of the way. The last time I made marshmallows, I swore I would never do so again.

They’re sticky. And exacting. And, truth be told, unless they’re charred within an inch of life, I don’t really enjoy them that much. Okay, that might be overstating it, but I don’t enjoy them nearly enough to go through all of that effort to make them from scratch when there’s a perfectly good fall back option.

And, yet, here I was doing just that.

Because, I make things complicated.

There, I said it. In black and white print for all of the world to see.

And, now for the rationalization. You knew this was coming, right? This weekend, I’ll be hosting my Summer Picnic. It’s the third year, and I’m setting the bar high. It’s becoming a tradition, albeit one that’s slightly earlier this year, owning to some travel plans. Still.

The first year was all about learning the process. It was small, partially on the theory that if I charred the pork or made a mess of things, then it was easy enough to order pizza for 9 people. I think about these things.

Last year. Well, what is there to say about last year? A gathering of nine became a gathering of almost thirty. There were menu additions. And, eight pounds of pork devoured within the first hour.

Not content to rest on my laurels this year, I’m setting the bar high. Which means, in practical terms that the cooking has started. As has the culling of new recipes. When I saw a recipe for S’mores bars it seemed just thing.

Except that I cannot leave well enough alone. The thought process went something like this, If I’m already making the brownies, why wouldn’t I make the graham crackers, too?

I’m told that rational people don’t have thoughts like this, let alone act on them. Me? I was getting out the standing mixer and soon after covered in fluff. In case you’re wondering, I have gelatin at the ready, for situations such as this one.

Will my guests notice the from scratch difference? Hard to say, although I’m sure that I’ll be pointing it out each time someone takes a bite of something (I’m a great host, I swear).

One last thing, before we get to the recipe—having tasted the homemade marshmallows again, I’ll say this: They’re good. Really, really good..

Worth the effort in fact.

marshmallow1

Marshmallows
David Lebovitz

2 envelopes (17g) powdered gelatin or 17g sheet gelatin (8 to 10 sheets)
1/2 cup (125ml) + 1/3 cup (80ml) cold water
1 cup (200g) sugar
1/3 cup (100g) light corn syrup
4 large egg whites (1/2 cup, 110g), at room temperature
pinch of salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract or 1 teaspoon vanilla paste

Marshmallow Mix
One part corn starch (or potato starch), one part powdered sugar (about 1 cup, 140g, each)

In a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over the 1/2 cup (125ml) of cold water to dissolve and soften. If using leaf gelatin, soak the leaves in about 2 cups (500ml) cold water.

In a small saucepan fitted with a candy thermometer, mix the sugar and corn syrup with 1/3 cup (80ml) of water. Place over medium-to-high heat.

(Note that you will use this saucepan twice, to make the syrup and melt the gelatin, eliminating the need to wash it between uses).

In the bowl of an electric mixer, pour in the egg whites and beat on low speed until frothy. Add the pinch of salt.

When the syrup reaches about 210ºF (99ºC), increase the speed of the mixer to high and beat the whites until they are thick and fluffy.

When the syrup reaches 245ºF (118ºC), slowly pour the hot syrup into the whites, pouring so that the syrup does not fall on the whisk since some of the syrup will splatter and stick to the sides of the bowl.

Scrape the gelatin and water into the pan that you used for the syrup, or put the gelatin sheets and 2 tablespoons of the water into the pan and swirl it to dissolve. (There should still be residual heat left in the pan from making the syrup in it to dissolve it).

Pour the liquified gelatin slowly into the whites as they are whipping. Add the vanilla extract or paste and continue to whip for 5 minutes, until the mixture is feels completely cool when you touch the outside of the bowl.

Dust a baking sheet evenly and completely with a generous layer of the marshmallow mixture. A sifter works well for this purpose. Make sure there are absolutely no bare spots.

Use a spatula to spread the marshmallows in a layer on the pan. Allow to dry for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight, uncovered.

Put about 1 cup (140g) of the marshmallow mixture into a large bowl.

Dust the top of the marshmallows with some of the marshmallow mixture. Use a pizza cutter or scissors (dusted as well with the marshmallow mixture) to cut the marshmallows into any size or shape pieces that you’d like and toss the marshmallows in the marshmallow mixture. Shake the marshmallows vigorously in a wire strainer to remove the excess powder.

Alternatively, you can dust a baking sheet and put scoops of the marshmallow on it, and let them cool.

Makes 25-50 marshmallows, depending on marshmallows, depending on how you decide to cut them

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And, just like that.

I’m back!

mex choc cake

Please forgive my absence. To put it in perspective, it took me two days to finish this article. It’s short, I know. I have no excuse, other than that I got too busy. I’m fully aware of the irony of that statement.

For what it’s worth, it once took me over a month to finish an article from The New Yorker on procrastination.

This will seem all the more appropriate when I tell you that I began to write this post back in February, when I was recapping one of the many dinners that I had hosted.

It was months ago, and, had I gotten around to writing this when I originally planned, I would have regaled you with stories of wandering around midtown Manhattan with some colleagues trying to find a place to buy lottery tickets. It was one of the largest jackpots in New York history, or at least that’s what the news was saying.

Did we think we would win? Probably not, although it should be noted that there’s something to be said to surrendering one’s self to any sort of possibility, however far fetched. Even I got caught up in the frenzy. A first for me—when I was younger, I was always the killjoy at the bodega, opting out of lottery tickets in favor of violets.

I know, I sound like a bit of a killjoy here, too.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve won plenty. The short list includes:

  • Camper of the year (Twice. I’m still flummoxed by that one)

  • several bottles of wine

  • $100 from FreshDirect

  • Another $100 from the Boston Chamber of Commerce

  • a book about women’s lives.

There was an award associated with the last one, although I’m fairly certain that, as with the rest of the cases mentioned above, luck played a great part. Well, luck and having some not so busy moments at various jobs when I could fill out surveys.

Still, winning seems to be missing the point. Ultimately, what it comes down to is that not everything can be a victory. Not every cake can be a celebratory one, with craters of butter cream and fondant (although once it cools down again, I may have a new dinner party project). When it came to the lottery, I didn’t stand a chance.

And, when it comes to cake, lately I prefer this one. It’s a workhorse of a cake, by which I mean that there’s really no occasion for which it’s not suited. It’s versatile enough that you can eat it for breakfast. But, with the right company, and a scoop of just the rice kind of ice cream, it makes any dinner special. Just the thing as my days become more manic. Turns out, I’m not busy so much as overly ambitious. Here’s to hoping I’ll be able to focus some of that ambition to this corner of the internet.

Mexican Spiced Chocolate Cake
Inspired by Smitten Kitchen

1/2 cup (1 stick or 4 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup (6 7/8 ounces) firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup (4 ounces) granulated sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 cup buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp chipotle powder
1 1/2 cups (6 3/4 ounces) all-purpose flour
3/4 cup Natural Cocoa Powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Butter and lightly flour an 8″ round cake pan.

Cream the butter, brown sugar and granulated sugar until smooth and fluffy. Add the egg and beat well. Then, add the buttermilk and vanilla. Sift in the flour, cocoa, cinnamon, chipotle, baking soda, and salt into your creamed sugar mixture. Stir until everything is well incorporated.

Pour batter into your pan, and bake it for approximately 50 minutes. When your cake is fully cooked a tester placed in the center will come out clean. Cook the cake for 10-15 minutes before removing it from the pan.

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