Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Week 11- Cooking for a Crowd

Whether you cook for large numbers regularly, or just occasionally- it's always worth having some recipes at the ready so you can rustle up a meal for a crowd without too much stress- or expense.

I found myself cooking for ten last week- ranging in age from under 8 to over 80! And with as much variation in tastes in food too.

I decided to go for the following menu- 'Bubbles and Nibbles' to start, pasta bake and tarte a l'indienne (chicken curry tart) with salads for the two mains, and a choice of spiced apple cake, jelly or chocolate eclairs for pudding.

Many of these recipes have featured before on the blog- because entertaining the hordes might not be the best time to experiment with something new. Stick with what you know.

When I say 'Bubbles and Nibbles'- I'm talking about canny canapes which can be washed down with loads of sparkling wine or water- and make an impressive start to the meal. They can mostly be prepared in advance - with just a few hot ones to add interest- and people can pick and choose what they like.
We had blinis with onuga caviar and creme fraiche and dill, spring rolls, mini croques-messieurs, red pepper hummus with vegetable sticks and sausages and cheese and pineapple on sticks (put together carefully by the children at the feast.

Cheese and pineapple hedgehog

Spring rolls toasting in the oven

Mini croques toasties

I filled up the table with salads- green salad, tabbouleh, rice salad, garlic bread - and brought out the centre pieces: penne pasta tray bake with mozzarella and meatballs and a chicken curry tart  (tarte a l'indienne)- just click on the cloud at the top of the blog or use the search option for any of these recipes.

When you need to feed a lot of people- pasta is definitely your best friend. 

Boil 500g of penne pasta in a large pan until tender. Drain and pour into the largest gratin or baking dish you have. Mix in one carton of chopped tomatoes (I used one with oregano and olives added) and a jar of passata. For the meatballs, mix 500g of minced steak with some seasoning sauce (soy or Worcester or Maggi), the crust of a loaf made into breadcrumbs (I always have some in the freezer ready) and a finely chopped spring onion. Knead together until you have a good 'meatloaf' texture and then wet your hands and roll the meat into walnut sized balls. Fry in a dry pan- they will release fat of their own accord. Press them into the pasta randomly. Do the same with a tub of mozzarella balls. Then  sprinkle 200g of grated cheddar or gruyere/emmental over the surface. Bake in a moderate oven (170 degrees) for 10-15 minutes until the surface is golden but the pasta is still tender.

The chicken curry tart is just as simple. I made the pastry shell the day before- baked blind. 
First take a carton of chicken curry ready meal- korma is best. Separate the chicken meat from the sauce and distribute it evenly over the base of the tart. Mix the sauce with 4 beaten eggs and a splash of milk and pour into the tart shell.
Carefully bake at 170 degrees for about an hour until set and firm and golden on the top.
Do this well in advance of your party - as it is nicest served at room temperature with the salads.

Both of these dishes are really good as vegetarian options- just forget about the meatballs ( or add mushrooms instead) and use a vegetable korma rather than a chicken one for the tart. In fact, I think it could be better that way.

And so to pudding.

For the children  (who had been on a visit to the zoo the day before) we had Nile Crocodile infested jelly and ice cream- and for the adults we had spiced apple cake with cream or chocolate eclairs (not homemade this time!) in case neither of the options appealed.

The jelly is just lemon jelly poured over jelly sweets and set overnight in the fridge.

The apple cake is made from 2 dessert apples, finely chopped, 125g of butter, 125g of self raising flour, 125g of demerara sugar, 2 eggs and 50g of cinnamon sugar (caster sugar mixed with equal parts cinnamon and mixed spice powder.) Grease and line a 20 cm cake tin. Beat the butter and sugar together until pale. Add 2 beaten eggs, the flour, half the spiced sugar and the apples. Loosen the mixture with a splash of milk if it seems too stiff. Pour into the cake tin and sprinkle the remainder of the spiced sugar over the top. Bake at 170 degrees for 35- 40 minutes or so, until the top is risen and golden and a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean.

Allow to cool in the tin before taking out and then serve warmed up (the next day) with some cream.

The feast was well received - and large amounts consumed. However, there was still enough to see us in leftover meals for the next few days.

The pasta did another two meals- as it reheats well, and can be bulked out with some french bread or garlic toasts. The tart and salads did another meal- and the salads made up lunchboxes too.

The hummus made part of a tapas-y style meze meal- with cheese and pate, parma ham and melon:

Check out the lovely Scottish slate serving tray- one of the perks of entertaining is that sometimes people give you lovely presents in appreciation, as in this case!

All in all, this frugal feasting (16  or more meals) works out at just £1.50 per head per meal (not counting the bubbly!)

But then who counts bubbly when you're having fun?

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