Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Cooking for a Crowd (and my Lemon Garlic Salad Dressing)

Cooking a full meal for over 20 people is not an easy thing for me, especially in someone else’s kitchen. It was for my son’s 5th birthday, which we celebrated while visiting family in Minnesota. I decided a spaghetti dinner was they way to go. It’s a crowd-pleaser, the kids love it, and it’s not too complicated. Add salad, garlic bread, a couple simple appetizers – no problem!

Well, I don’t have much experience cooking for more than six or eight, so the first thing I had to do was put my multiplication skills to work, so my recipes would make enough for the large group. Then I realized I probably shouldn’t make sauce from a jar as I usually do. What would everyone think of a food blogger who didn’t make her sauce from scratch!? I went online and found a recipe for spaghetti and meatballs that sounded good. The reviews were all positive, so I decided to go for it – fingers crossed.

Next, I put together my master list of all the meal components: spaghetti, tomato sauce, meatballs, basil pesto, salad, garlic bread, plus cannellini bean dip, cheeses, and olives for pre-meal snacking. I kept thinking of more things: Spider-Man birthday cake, ice cream, drinks, ice. The grocery list was huge!

I made the salad dressing and basil pesto a day ahead. Then the day of the dinner, while everyone else went out for a day of fun on Lake Minnetonka, I stayed behind and cooked, hunting around the unfamiliar kitchen for the required cooking implements, improvising at times. I found two large pots for sauce and another not-quite-big-enough pot to boil spaghetti that evening. I made 64 meatballs and even though there was a nice large skillet, it took four or five rounds to brown them all. I made the cannellini bean dip that afternoon too.

After cleaning the kitchen, I sat down and made a list of what needed to be done starting at 4:30 to have appetizers out at 5:00 and dinner ready to serve at 6:00. The family then returned from the lake and we bathed and dressed the children. I showered and dressed myself, and before I knew it, it was time to start checking items off the to-do list. My sister and husband helped out as I heated the sauce and meatballs. The checklist worked pretty well, but I still found myself scrambling to wash the lettuce and throw the salad together at the last minute, and even worse, I forgot to start the water to boil the pasta! Thank goodness someone volunteered to take care of the pasta, and someone else poured me a glass of wine. I never would have made it without them.

In the end, everything came together, and dinner was served, buffet style, shortly after 6:00. Overall, it was a good meal, though there was way too much food. The sauce was fine, but I think sauce out of the jar would have been just as good. The meatballs received lots of compliments, as did the basil pesto, and everybody loved my husband’s out-of-this-world, fantastic garlic bread. I got a few requests for recipes, and I’ll publish them here over the next few days. One of those requests was for the cannellini bean dip, which I posted previously – see Quick Dips.

Here’s the salad dressing recipe that Mary Ann asked about (no onion). It’s a Caesar style dressing, but a little lighter – no egg yolks.

Lemon Garlic Salad Dressing with Parmesan  PRINTABLE RECIPE

1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
3 garlic cloves – chopped
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/2 tsp Worchestershire sauce
2 tsp finely chopped anchovies or anchovy paste
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth. Pour dressing over torn or chopped Romaine lettuce and toss with additional Parmesan cheese and croutons. This recipe makes enough for two large salads (about 2 large heads of Romaine lettuce per salad).

1 comment:

  1. I can personally attest to the quality of this recipe. Some of it was left behind in my refrigerator and I enjoyed in on a salad a couple of days after the blogger had departed from my home. I also enjoyed some of the left over meatballs and sauce on the same evening with some fresh pasta I whipped up.