Once a month, our synagogue, Ner Shalom in Cotati, California, holds a family Shabbat dinner. Sometimes it’s a potluck, other times they order platters from a local restaurant. A few months ago, I volunteered to do the cooking. I had two motives here: 1) I love to cook for large groups of people. Seriously, I do. As long as I’m not the one cleaning up. 2) I wanted the opportunity to have a meal there that was 100% safe for my daughter, with no chance of cross-contamination.
I got my chance May 8, 2009. I announced the meal as vegan and gluten-free (the other meals there are vegetarian or vegetarian plus some fish), planned a menu, and set to work. I quickly realized that, while my cooking skills are pretty good, my catering skills are quite lacking. It didn’t help that we were never sure exactly how many people would show up (RSVPs are due two days before, but they’re flexible).
I planned for 20, got 18 (equivalent of 15 since several were small children), and cooked enough for 30. Whoops.
After many years of cooking Passover Seders for upwards of 20 people, I have learned the trick of saving complex or new recipes for smaller venues. Everything I made was simple to moderate and something I’d cooked many times before.
Roasted vegetables (red beets, golden beets, rutabaga, & leek with rosemary)
Green salad (romaine, cherry tomato, daikon radish, carrot, orange cauliflower, & mustard balsamic dressing)
Fresh strawberries with cashew cream
Challah (from masa) with sesame seed & oatmeal
The good news is the food all came out fabulous. No mishaps at all. I can’t tell you how relieved I was about that. The bad news is we had some disasters with the timing. One of the disadvantages to cooking a large meal outside of your home is that you tend to forget things. Well, Michael and I left a box of miscellaneous items behind. Unfortunately, they were essential items for both of the dishes I had to finish up and bake in the synagogue kitchen.
Michael running home to get it set us back about 45 minutes, and we were already running 15 minutes late. So everything was pushed back an hour (which means at least my time estimates were dead on). The challah also took longer than expected, even though I had deliberately made them thinner than usual so they’d cook faster.
All in all, I’d call it a success. The next time I get the chance to cook for a crowd, I’ll have a clearer idea of amounts. And hopefully the timing will work out better.
For anyone interested in the amounts of ingredients I used and what it all cost, check out my blog entry Catering Lessons: The Cost of Cooking for 30.