Prep Breakdown: IYIM Post-Nuptial Signing Party

I was retained to prepare and serve a reception menu for a post-nuptial signing party by the International Young Israel Movement. Couples were invited to sign post-nuptial agreements at a reception that featured my food, as well as desserts from a commercial business.

This is what happens when the menu is left entirely in my hands.

The only main items that I didn’t make myself were the crackers, the mayonnaise and the quiche shells. I used the savory #4 shells from Ruth Petifours [sic], which were amazing, since a) Breakage was limited to one shell out of 264; b) The case is priced and counted as 240, and there’s an extra tray in the case to cover breakage (so basically 23 free shells!); and c) Lebell, the local bakery supply place gave me a 10% discount on the whole case. They also handled a fair amount of abuse; since they come in compartmentalized trays, and because I was getting impatient, I started dumping the trays, and they stood up to the rough handling.

Being efficient in any kitchen, especially for large scale cooking, means working from lists, working methodically, having your mis en place, and Always Be Cleaning. I’m not so good on the last one myself, but at least I clear one preparation before starting the next one.

A week ago I set salmon up to cure for the wraps. One side of salmon, salt/sugar cure with fennel seeds, and into the fridge weighed down with bricks.

Party Prep Day 1

First things first, I got the dips and mayos out of the way. On the menu was: tapenade, gremolata, caper aioli, herb dip, pesto, black pepper mayo, and curry mayo. This was mostly blitzing stuff in the food processor or mixing by hand, which I insist on doing especially when I’m using extra virgin olive oil, which can get bitter if overworked. I didn’t saute the curry, which usually needs to be heated in oil for best results, since it was to sit overnight. I was tempted to make my own mayonnaise, but I find the Kirkland brand in Osher Ad to be an excellent alternative for Hellmann’s. And I had too much to do. Also the aioli was a cheat, since I didn’t actually emulsify the oil with garlic, rather I just used mayo. Still came out delicious.

Next I needed to prep the fillings and garnishes for the quiches. Two hundred forty divided by six five is 48, which is two trays of shells per filling.

The mushrooms were easy. I picked out the little ones for garnish, and dumped the rest into the processor. Then into the pan with lots of butter, cooked out the water, added some blitzed onions, seasoning and done. The garnish I trimmed the stems, got 3-4 mushroom-looking cross sections, sprinkled with oil and baked until mostly done.

I sliced the onions into rings and cooked them confit until soft. Upon reflection, I would cut them into half-moons next time, or use smaller onions.

I sliced small plum tomatoes into 1/2cm rings, since they were going into the oven and they lose a lot of water. Salt and oil and that was that. The parsley I had blitzed en masse in the processor, and I only needed a large handful to mix into the quiche base.

The broccoli was thrown into the oven with oil and salt to roast them and concentrate the flavor but not so much that it got woody and stringy. Afterwards, I trimmed the heads from the stalks so that each floret was about the size of a shekel. The stalks went into – you guessed it – into the processor until I got a nice, thick paste.

The butternut squash needed the most knife work. After peeling, I quartered the next, reserved one quarter, cleaned the bottom, and roasted the rest of it. From the last quarter I minced it brunoise, then sauteed in butter and oil until just soft.

I boiled something like three dozen eggs.

Lastly, I sliced the salmon for the wraps. I’m a little annoyed I can’t find my proper slicing knife, though I suspect it was fleishicked by accident.

Everything else for the party would have to wait for the morning.

Party Prep Day 2

The hard part for today was pacing myself so I didn’t burn out before the party, dehydrate myself, or forget anything. The last one was easiest; I had my lists.

I was so ready to make the quiches by now, because I’ve been thinking about them for quite a while. The old Moosewood Cookbook had a straightforward formula for the quiche base. I added the butter. Secret of French cooking and all that. Scaled up, I used 2 liters of milk, 24 eggs, and 200 grams of butter. It was more than I needed, but I made larger rounds of crustless quiches with the leftovers.

Working with each filling in turn, I mixed 1/5 of the base with each of the vegetable fillings. For the thicker ones a teaspoon was the perfect amount per quiche, and a small ladle for the liquid ones. After filled, and garnished, in and out of the oven, cooled, wrapped, and done.

Next came the vegetable crudite. Not my favorite kitchen task, since I don’t own anything that will cut them for me except my chef’s knife; a mandolin has never worked for me. I did peel about 100 carrots in ten minutes, so that’s something. Red peppers, yellow peppers, cucumbers, kohlrabi. After that, I took a break.

Next came the wraps. Washed the lettuce, sliced some more onions, and sliced the tomatoes. Each wrap style was going to be 20 units, except for the vegetable wraps, of which I made 40. My thinking was that some people might have been fleishig, or vegan, or wanted something lighter in the evening.

There’s nothing glamorous or exciting about making tuna fish or egg salad, even when you’re making for a 150-person party. I am as my wife puts it “fanatical” about shells in egg salad, so that took some time to do right. Other than that, and that the tapenade egg salad was an odd color, it was straightforward. The eggs I did in batches in the food processor, and it came out pretty good. Usually I separate the yolks, cream those with mayo, and chop the whites in separately. It comes out fluffier that way. This was creamier, which I didn’t hate.

Working in layers is more efficient, but you need to have the counter space to lay everything out at once. For most of the wraps, first came the dressing (x20), then the main (x20), some lettuce (x20), a crunchy vegetable for texture contrast (x20), and rolled (x20). I had wanted to do a stop-action video of it, but it was getting late already, and I don’t have a phone clip adapter for my tripod. Which I have now ordered.

Dips, quiches, veggies, wraps. Done! Okay, time to shower, shave, pack up the car and head to the party.

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