Sunday 22 June 2014

Deena's Dozen

Deena's Dozen. Herself at the front, hands crossed.

I always said I'd never do it.

"Someone will pull out," said Deena. "They always do." She's right. Too frequently the numbers tumble due to illness or child minding machinations. 10s become 8s. Deena hadn't noticed the stipulation on the web site that we cater for groups of 6 to 10. She confessed that she hadn't looked before she booked. And it was impossible, anyway, to exclude one of the couples. This was a tightly knit group. But it wouldn't be a problem. Someone always pulls out.

They didn't.

So I was faced with cancelling Deena's husband's birthday party... or entering the world of proper double-digit catering. Take a wild guess.

If I step back a few feet... I love how the back of the house is framed by the vines. Feels like a hidden space.
Anthony's pointing, with much amusement, at a tomato crisp. I don't know why. Perhaps he finds fruit funny.

We can't seat more than ten at the dining table so our old patio table was pulled into service in the lounge. This meant hosing off the shed spiders. A little bit of mobile protein that would not have pleased! The plan was for an eight and a four; call it the VIP seating or the unpopular table. In the end it was even more mixed and matched. Some staying out in the late June sun and others ranged across the two tables. By the main dish, it had gender split, with the women in the lounge, having managed to wangle in an extra chair. 

Deena expressed pleasure at the sight of the men remote. She preferred it like that.

Three tables in service. If you look carefully, you might see the world's largest cauliflower in the utility room.
And, of course, OF COURSE... just after the starter was served there came a call from a fraught family member with talk of childhood emesis*... and we lost one couple. The universe had listened... too late. 

The problems aren't just in the seating though. I can't plate up for twelve. I don't have the counter space and even if I did, the first plate would be cold by the time I finished the last, especially with a meat/vegetarin split, as this was.

I discussed this with my boys, for the 10+ I needed both their help. We decided on a canteen style service, with guests queueing with plates and us serving them as fast as we could. It seemed to work. The plates certainly weren't as elegant as they normally are but no one cared, apart from me. Yes, we had mismatched plates, a right old mishmash of linen and we had to wash all the cutlery between every course but It didn't affect the flavour of the food. It may even have contributed to a more relaxed atmosphere. I want to be careful here though, a restaurant can be too relaxed. We are here for you. Service must still feel... attentive but generous. People soon get the arse when there's no wine, or water on the table. Even brilliant food will not ameliorate appalling service but good service will salvage a poor meal. I think guests are much more likely to excuse bad cooking than a bad attitude. Not that I want to experiment!

Starter was roast onion tart with charred asparagus, a horseradish mascarpone and a little dressed rocket. Oh god, I've just realised I've been spelling mascarpone as marscapone, all my life. I've even looked it up. How embarrassing.

I don't think I can make a dark brown tart look any prettier than this. The pink sprinkle is peppercorn.

Mains was either a whole roast poussin (baby chicken) or roast vegetables with a sweet, sour and smokey glaze. Both were served with a basil pesto and/or a lemon verbena hollandaise sauce.

The poussin were stuffed with rosemary, garlic, lemon and shallots and roasted - a sprinkle of Madeira (always spell that wrong too) towards the end - for 40 minutes at 220°C. These were half kilo birds. There are many recipes that ask for 50 or even 60 minutes of cooking: 'until the juices run clear.' After that long there'd be no juices to run!

***Update*** I now roast the poussin for only 34 minutes. No pinkness, just juicy flesh.***

I rested the birds for 15 minutes, basting frequently with the roasting juices. You can rest the poussin upside down which makes the juices flow into the breast. This really does work but it means you have soggy skin. It's a choice.

I also did two types of rösti, green beans and a simple lettuce salad with a lemon dressing.

Catering quantities of rösti. I normally do individual ones. Come to think of it... no idea why I didn't this time.
Would I do it again? Yes. But hopefully not often. It was a lot more work and I need both boys to help, which isn't always an easy option. Not only are they often preoccupied but there's always the jeopardy of a snarling internecine skirmish breaking out which requires use of none-too-hushed disciplinary language from chef. Actually, on this occasion, both my sons, Fabian and Etien, seemed to relish the change. Perhaps because it demanded new levels of attention. So despite the kids' below-counter ankle kicking, I enjoyed it too. I could even make believe it was a real restaurant.

And no, I'm not doing that. Never.

*All reports were of a fully recovered child. See, I'm not heartless.

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