Salt. Herbs. Less cooking time. A lot less cooking time. Tonights dinner, I mean.
Tonight was my first solo catering gig. I have been meaning to write about it all week, as that is how long I have been thinking about it, planning for it, wanting to tell someone(s) about it. It was for the couple that I rent from, or rather, the husband (L) of the duo and his five Harley-riding biker buddies. Every summer they do an end of season ride, and their (my) home, is a stopping point. Rather than hitting the local pub as they usually do, L asked if I would have dinner ready for his hungry gang.
Now this was very exciting, and flattering...and exhausting. I easily came up with a menu, things I had wanted to cook all summer long, recipes I wanted to try, and ones I had created and deemed shareable. Roast pork loin would be the entree, as I supposed these would be meat eating men, and my usual bean dishes would not suffice. Besides, I wanted to venture out and roast something carnivourous. But I had to venture beyond that even; L doesnt eat pork.
Square one, new menu, and after a consultation with Brett from work, three lamb shoulders I had no idea what the hell to do with. Slow braise yes, but how slow is slow, and am I going to be making peanut butter sandwiches ala minute because it is ten pm and these damn slabs of animal arent done yet. Near breakdown not unaided by the questioning of my bosses as to why I picked such a tough cut of meat, or worse, why I picked something I had never worked with.
Because how was I going to learn otherwise. Because I got an idea in my head and wanted to go with it. Because I had limited time. Because the shoulders were already defrosting in my fridge. Thats why.
So another chef consultation later (called my ma for comfort and encouragement and the sound advice to cook the meat the night before and simply bring it up to temp for dinner) and I was back in control.
Prep went well, and I had plenty of time for what I had readied the previous night, and the guys running--riding--an hour behind schedule. But for a shawdy bag of green beans, all was in order and everything but final touches were ready for the gang when they got there, armed with beer and tequila, friendliness and hunger. I started them off with a ciabatta loaf from Wine Country Bakery , and a Buttermilk Zuchinni Tart with herb salad from my garden. Needed more parmesan, but was nice and light considering the generous dose of cream I added. Yet another kudos to buttermilk; I really consider it my secret weapon.
But the dinner itself--Braised Lamb Shoulders on Bean Ragout with summer herbs (couldnt leave out those beans) with Lemony Roasted Fingling Potatos and Carrot Fennel Salad--was not at all how I wanted it. The romano beans I boiled to near mush, and I had not made enough dressing for the salad, which should have been out of fridge a lot earlier to really soften and blend. And that dreaded lamb. It was so fatty I could not slice it to present, but ended up just pulling the actual meat off to scatter atop the beans, both of which needed about double the fresh herbs I had used. And it all needed salt. Except the potatos, the potatos were great. Of course, the were doused in coarse salt...
But apparently, I am my own worse critic, because the guys were raving when I joined them (at their insistence, and during my designated dish-washing time), cleaning their plates and talking food. It was great, it truly was, and a huge relief, but I couldnt help wondering, and still cant, if they were simply being kind to the sweet little apprentice chef (that would be me), or maybe tequila shots make everything taste good (but then, I would have enjoyed it too because they poured seven of those little plastic cups each round--their goes professionalism) or there is something seriously wrong with my own tastebuds, because I thought the whole thing quite flat. Except the potatos.
And the dessert. I did a play on milk and cookies, roasting President plums plunking them, still hot, in glass cups and topping with barely whipped cream, then wedging in a cookie that was the subject of play for me. I love walnut and plums together, but I wanted a cookie that would sort of make the whole thing seem like it could have been a plum crisp--a big chewy, oaty thing. So I combined a recipe from Orangette (Molly never lets me down when it comes to cookies) with a classic oat cookie recipe in the joy of cooking, swapped some nuts around and mixed it all together. I did a test run the morning of, deciding they needed more butter and sugar if they were going to be wanna-be crisp toppings (yknow how that crumble is, almost crunchy on top and when you try to sneak off a little peice, it ends up being a big chunk, soft and moist from the warm fruit underneath...oh boy). So that night while prepping, I melted more butter and brown sugar together with another handful of walnuts, to stir into the already made dough. Well, I got doing other things and the butter browned somewhat before I could add the sugar and nuts. But that was just what it needed and there was not a cookie crumb left to be dipped in the ÈmilkÈ.
I suppose it was a success, L booked me to cater for his wife and her girlfriends when they come up two weeks from now, and asked me to be part of the annual biker trip. I hope that each visit marks my improvement. And taht I can get the hand of that seasoning thing.