Thursday, April 21, 2005

Wedding Receptioning

No this is not a how-to to cater your own wedding. I may like to cook, but I am not a masochist. I thought it might be fun to relive the wonderful catering experience J and I had with our wedding. I'll tell you this much, DC can be a damn expensive place to get married. Because there seems to be a large population of rich folks, it's hard to find a space that seats over 80 for less than $5000 and a caterer that will feed and serve people for a reasonable price. On the first point, a really good resource is the book Unique Places to Have Your Wedding in DC. It breaks down the list of places by how many people will fit in them and lets you know things like, whether they have their own tables and chairs, will allow outside caterers and what the ambiance is like. We ended up having our reception at the Great Falls Grange, a former meeting space for farmers in Fairfax. It has a relatively big space for the dinner and dancing (45 feet by 35 feet), a good soundsystem, a stage for our swing band (who were a steal because I volunteered for them) and a downstairs area for food. They also had a few sets of tables and chairs, which meant we didn't have to spend as much money on rentals. While the space charged an initial $500 for four hours rental, we needed the space for a good 14 hours for set up and break down so we ended up spending $1200 altogether. We also rented place settings, tablecloths and napkins, glasses, and chafing dishes. That was a major part of our reception budget. Though the reception site people did proclaim our wedding to be the most beautiful event ever staged at their site, they were the stingiest, uptightiest people about their space. No candles, no free extra hours to set up (like anyone will use the space at 11:00 am on a Saturday) and nitpicky about our faboo decorations. They were faboo. We had a whole crew dedicated to the Christmas light swag. Our friends rock. Truly, truly rock.

Anyway, onto the food. J and I were fairly firm that we wanted to incorporate both of our cultures (Texas and Vietnam) into the menu. Most true blue caterers were totally out of our price range. And quite frankly, one of our criteria was to have the caterer cook the food better than we could. A fairly tall order considering our enthusiasm for cooking. We racked out brains for months to figure out this wedding reception Gordian knot. We wanted to have food brought in from Rocklands BBQ because not only is their meat delicious, the sides rock as well. Finally, we were hanging out with Tim and Rob and ordered food from Cafe Asia in Clarendon. It was good. REALLY GOOD. Better than we could have made. I called and talked with Joey the manager and she said doing half the food as well as providing staff to serve, bartend, and clean up was doable. So we picked a draft menu and noodled around with it for a while. And then, we went with Olivia to their Clarendon location to for a tasting. Never did I feel more like a bride than when Joey ushered us to a table and gave us free food. WHEW!!!!! We were originally going to have their curry as a dish but while delicious, it what spicy. Nicely spicy for my tongue of iron and fiery for the whitey palette. In the end the reception went amazingly well. The setup ended ON TIME. Noone had to stay late to clean and the staff rolled with all the punches. For the $2200 we spent on Cafe Asia we got food for 75, a staff of 2 servers and 1 bartender, and the true insurance of a good reception, two managers to supervise. It was great service and made it be exactly the reception we wanted. For those interested here's was our menu:

Southern BBQ:
Corn Pudding
Baked Beans
Caesar Salad
Sliced BBQ Pork
BBQed chicken

Vietnamese Spring Rolls
Vegetable Pad Thai
Pangang Tofu (the sweet soy sauce that adorns this dish is to die for!)
Indonesian Fried Rice

Friday, April 15, 2005

Not Too Caulkamole Guacamole

My Favorite Guacamole

6 avocados (Haas, giving but not mushy)
1 clove of garlic, minced (roasted gives a nice flavor)
¼ cup of red salsa (Timpone's, is good also Joe T Garcia's or your own homemade)
cilantro to taste, NO STEMS
1 roma tomato, diced
1 medium yellow or white onion , diced
1 dash kosher salt
juice of 2 small juicy limes
½ of a jalapeno (diced, remove seeds and veins for less heat, can be roasted)

Grab a medium-large bowl.
Seed the avocados and put the avocado flesh in the bowl.
Mash the avocado into big chunks with a fork or the side of a wooden
Add the rest of the ingredients.

Gently fold the ingredients together with the occasional mashing. The goal is not to make avocado cream cheese like some stores will sell you. If you want this, go to Taco Bell where you can get the guacamole out of a caulk gun (caulkamole). I try for delicious chunks!

SOme might want to try: More lime juice, cilantro, roasted serrano chiles (instead of jalapenos), more fresh tomatoes, dashes of Tabasco or Arizona Gunslinger, a pinch of cumin, cayenne or sugar.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Where I get my recipes

I should actually say this is where where I get my inspiration for cooking because I invariably change recipes around. Case in point. This weekend I made the Nigella Aromatic Lamb Shank recipe. It called for ground ginger, cinnamon, tumeric, honey, and red pepper flakes with the shanks being served whole with couscous and lentils. I substituted fresh lemongrass for the ginger, garam masala for the tumeric, maple syrup for honey and Thai chili sauce for the red pepper flakes. I then substituted the lentils with yellow split peas and the couscous with brown rice. I also shredded the meat of the shanks instead of leaving them whole. So when I am looking for a recipe, it's always a starting off point for my own machinations. But I do look for recipes that have a degree of reliability to them. That the techniques make sense to me and I understand the outcomes. So where am I getting my recipes? Here's the list:

1. Nigella Lawson - in all forms. She is truly my role model in all ways. I love the way she writes, speaks and cooks. And while not all of her recipes work for me (don't make her pigs in blankets), when they hit the mark, it becomes of of my signature dishes. I take recipes from her tv shows, How to Eat, Nigella Bites, and Feasts cookbooks.

Recipes in my repetoire - Roast chicken, chicken stock, chocolate cake (ROCKIN!!!), Union Square roast nuts, Vietnamese chicken salad.

2. Bon Appetit and Epicurious - For the most part I love Bon Appetit. I regularly tear recipes out of that that magazine. However, it's usch a trendy magazine when it comes to food. It's all truffle oil, balsalmic vinegar blah de blah. Only a small number that make it into my regular repetoire. It's primarily occasion cooking. But it's such food porn.

Recipe in my repetoire - Pie crust, blueberry pie, molten chocolate cake

3. Paula Deen - Because she started off as a home cook and she so Southern, her recipes are amazingly accessible. I have yet to make something of hers that didn't rock. The one caveat is that you can't make it too often or you will die of a heart attack in three seconds.

Recipes in my repetoire - shrimp croquettes, homemade non-ice-cream-machine ice cream, spaghetti pie, vegetable pancakes, fried chicken

4. Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa - Another queen of the food porn. I want her house, kitchen and garden. Her recipes are very straightfoward but she does rely on the standing mixer a lot of if you don't have one in your kitchen, it makes it hard to do many recipes. The other challenging thing is that she often relies on expensive food for her recipes.

Recipes in my repetoire - Tequila lime chicken, chocolate white chocolate chunk cookies, pan fried onion dip, roasted vegetable dip

5. Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook - There is nothing like this. It has to be the spiral bound copy with the gingham cover. It has to have thos tabs for breas, soups etc. Ignore the desserts and candy section as well as the seafood section (because everything in that section is like tuna salad or trout almondine). But the cookies, bread and pie sections rock. This is THE cookbook for basics.

Recipes in my repetoire - cookies of all kind, pancakes, muffins, beer-cheese bread, chicken and dumplings.