This past weekend I helped host the engagement party of two of my dear friends, Katelin and Andy. The couple loves to dress up so my fellow co-hosts and I decided on a 1920’s theme. Off the bat, I knew I wanted to compose the menu and take the lead in cooking. This was my first real attempt in catering and it will be a long post, so bear with me.
I began by researching food that was popular or invented during the 1920s, which helped quickly develop the menu. I learned that the Caesar salad was invented (as was the Pineapple Upside Down Cake) in the 20s and that canapés, finger sandwiches, and deviled eggs were common appetizers at parties. I also knew that I wanted to tie in Katie’s Italian background (she also went to college in Rome) and Andy’s Hungarian heritage (his father was born there) into the meals. Once I had the idea set in my mind, I began looking for recipes from some of my favorite food blogs and websites. After several weeks of searching, the menu finally emerged (click on food titles to get links to recipes):
A brief background on the Caesar salad: Invented in 1924 by Italian-American restaurateur, Caesar Cardini, it quickly became popular. Cardini moved to Tijuana, Mexico early in the 20’s to escape Prohibition and people like Clark Gable and W.C. Fields made the trek south of the border to eat this new delicacy.
There wasn’t much altering to this recipe because the dressing had the perfect flavor.
The salad was a lot lighter than most Caesars and the homemade croutons were clutch.
Smokey Deviled Eggs (The Kitchn)
I knew I didn’t want to do the traditional deviled egg because I honestly only like them one time a year, Thanksgiving when my Dad makes them. But the use of Greek yogurt instead of mayo (which I don’t care for) made the eggs extra creamy and the smoked paprika provided fantastic flavor. I actually was in a panic because I could not find smoked paprika anywhere (not Safeway or Whole Foods) and was considering adding chipotle to add smokiness, which would have completely altered the flavor. Finally, I found it at the Giant down the street (the last place I thought it would be). I also added about 2 tablespoons of fresh parsley to the mixture and 2 tablespoons of mustard for a little more tangy flavor.
Also instead of crispy shallots, we sliced them in circles and sauteed them in butter so they came out looking a little like noodles. I also decided to top them with fresh parsley for color and to tone down a little of the smokiness.
Katie loves arugula so I knew I wanted to tie it into a recipe. I also added 4 oz of low-fat cream cheese to thicken the recipe and used part-skim ricotta to lower the calorie count. I also added 3 cloves of pressed garlic because well, garlic is the best.
This actually wasn’t originally on the menu, but I thought we needed one more appetizer and this was the right choice. Not only was this among one of my favorites, but it was a huge hit at the party. I made major alterations to the recipe because it didn’t have enough flavor. After doubling the recipe, I added two tablespoons of dill, lemon juice, two cloves of garlic, and 4 oz. of cream cheese. Also instead of boiling the the shrimp, I sauteed them in butter, garlic, salt, onion, and lemon juice. The mixture was spread on toasted french bread and topped with fresh parsley and one shrimp.
There were no major alterations to this recipe except using olive oil butter because I like the taste better on spreads then regular butter. The rye-pumpernickel bread was a colorful and delicious touch.
This is without a doubt the best meatball recipe that I have found. I prepped the meatballs the night before to make sure the flavor would seep into the meat and used fresh parsley, oregano, and basil (an addition) instead of dried like the recipe asked.
Additionally, the meatballs were sauteed with onions for a few minutes to get a nice sear on the outside before being put into a casserole dish with tomato sauce and freshly grated Parmesan cheese for about 40 minutes. After they were ready, I put them in a crock pot on low to maintain heat and moisture and topped with more Parmesan. This was probably my favorite dish and a HUGE hit!
As I mentioned before I wanted to bring in Andy’s Hungarian background, but I quickly learned that appetizers aren’t typical in Hungarian cuisine. I altered this recipe by chopping both green and red bell peppers in bite sized pieces. Next time I probably won’t chop quite as small because it was very difficult to keep the stuffing on top of the roasted peppers.
The peppers roasted for about 10-15 minutes with salt, pepper, and olive oil while I cooked the “stuffing” on the stove with a teaspoon of olive oil. I omitted the sugar. I also cooked the rice separately since the mixture wasn’t stuffed into the peppers, there would not have been enough moisture to cook properly. Once the rice was cooked, I added it to the meat mixture.
Once the meat stuffing was cooked and peppers roasted, I added the meat on top of the roasted peppers with a teaspoon of tomato sauce. The “stuffed” peppers were returned to the oven at 200 degrees to keep warm until the guests arrived.
Overall the event was a huge success and my first “catering” experience wasn’t a disaster. Prepping most of the food the day before lowered my stress level. I actually felt like a contestant on Top Chef with all my ZipLock tupperware containers. Of course the biggest help came from my fantastic sous chefs.