Dinner Party: Plans and prep
I was hired to cater for a dinner party for one of my Family Food Makeover clients. Chefing for dinner parties has been a welcomed addition to my business. Usually I am focusing on the highly restricted dietary needs of the client's allergies and intolerances. This night, however, was a night with no strict boundaries. No matter what, I am always health conscious and I make sure to cook with the best ingredients possible. But sometimes it is fun to move outside the lines of daily restrictions and not care for an evening. This was one of those nights where anything goes!
The Charge: 16 people for a Christmas party hosted by one of my clients in their beautiful home on the Upper East Side. Desired menu items: appetizers of crab cakes and meatballs with the main course: beef tenderloin. I offered up a side dish mashed potatoes to which my client's eyes widened with joy and anticipation. This traditional dish isn't usually on the menu for this Paleo focused family. We decided to round out the 4-course-meal with roasted asparagus and a medley of orange colored root veggies. There was one dish hanging in the balance: ricotta gnocchi. I didn't think the gnocchi's would be a good side dish along side the famed mashed potatoes, so we decided to make it fancy and go with an amuse bouche of ricotta gnocchi. To add more green dishes (to be good boys and girls) I added a DELISH endive cup appetizer and a autumn butter lettuce and arugula salad that was instantly made "winter" with the addition of pomegranates. For dessert we served ginger cookies, gf almond chocolate chip cookies and my coconut fudge truffles along with a chocolate mousse. 13+ hours of prep with my wonderful friend and fellow chef, Stephanie. @sjfklein
I'd love to share a few of these wonderful recipes with you along with some little tricks to amp up the dishes that make them unique. By no means do I invent all these recipes on my own and so I will share the links with you to try them out for yourselves!
First up: my meatballs. This recipe is my baby. I have made them with such success for all of my clients but first and foremost this recipe was created for my wedding 3 years ago. (Yes, I was crazy enough to cook for my wedding). My secret is to minimize some of the bread crumb filler and add a dollop of tomato paste to moisten. And the coolest part is that I don't fry my meatballs. They caramelize on their own in a high heat oven. I like easy if I can get away with it.
Beef Meatballs - yields 35-40 small meatballs
1 lb beef
1 lb pork
1/2 cup breadcrumbs (gf optional)
1/3 cup milk (I prefer buttermilk)
1/3 c parmesan cheese, finely grated
1 rounded tbsp tomato paste
3 tsp worcestershire sauce
3 tbsp fresh parsley
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tsp sea salt
heavy sprinkle of pepper
a sprinkle of dried oregano, basil and onion powder
1 jar tomato sauce
In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, breadcrumbs, tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce and crushed garlic. Add meat and the rest of the ingredients and mix with your hands until fully integrated. Take spoonfuls of mixture and form into golf ball size balls. Place on a cookie sheet with parchment paper. They can be fairly close together but not touching. Bake on 400 for 16-18 min or until cooked through.
(You may also fry them in butter, browning on all sides and then bake for 10min on 400 to cook the inside.)
To serve, heat a pot of tomato sauce. Throw the meatballs into the sauce post baking. Serve with a quinoa pasta or zucchini noodles. Or for appetizers: toothpicks.
**If you would prefer not to use milk then leave out the breadcrumbs as well. The egg will hold it all together.
Next up? Endive cups. I had to coax my client into this dish. Endive is usually not a preferred green, but the combination of flavors cancels out the bitterness of the leafy veg. The last time I served this was for a wedding of 250 people. They all liked it too!! Get recipe here!
Ricotta Gnocchi. This gnocchi recipe is killer. Super easy and divine. Do not... I repeat, DO NOT skip over the brown butter sauce! And the freshly grated nutmeg is so worth it. It is a very rich dish which is why we only plated 3 per person considering what the rest of the meal entailed. Keep in mind that these can be pre-made and stored in the fridge for one day before cooking.
The beef tenderloin. I am so excited to share this exciting recipe. This is a way to cut the price of the tenderloin in half if you live in nyc. At Whole Foods they are selling their beef tenderloin for $32 bucks a pound. Pricey cut of meat! However on Fresh Direct, you can get petite beef filet roasts that taste just as decadent, and cooks in 1/4 of the time. (also known as beef shoulder steak) It's an awesome short cut to gourmet cooking. Totally an easy DIY cut of meat for any novice cook. People will eat about 1/3 lb per person. We cooked about 6 lbs.
Cooking a Petite Beef Filet in 4 short steps
1. Marinate the filets for 1-8 hours in a generous sprinkling of salt, pepper and olive oil (or ghee) on all sides.
2. At the time of cooking, preheat oven to 400-415. Heat a large frying pan with a combo of olive oil, coconut oil or ghee. (my preference is always the latter two combined) Brown all sides- 2 or 3 sides depending on the size of filet: 4-5 minutes on each side.
3. Throw in the oven on a baking sheet for a short 5-8 min depending on the size of the steak piece.
4. Let rest for at least 15 min. Slice.
The lesson in this was to really trust the resting of the meat. In order to cook for 16 people we had to do 3 rounds of frying and then baking. So the first round was done 45min. before serving time. That batch rested for 45 minutes under foil, and believe it or not, we did not have to reheat. They still retained plenty of heat and was cooked a perfect medium rare center.
Last note: save the brown drippings from the frying pan. There won't be much but you can accumulate by pouring a few tbsp beef broth in and gathering up all the brown goodness.
Last recipe I will share was a most incredible chocolate mousse recipe from Bon Appetit. It's a little involved but we did it first thing to get it chilled and out of the way. The whipped cream we made just before serving. And that's cacao powder and mint to garnish.