Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Lazy Sundays

What happens when you get a few cooks together for a gorgeous Portland Sunday grill-fest-slash-cocktail party:

Rainbow trout on the grill
Nomnomnom. Yes please.

I'm fairly convinced that on the scale of badass-result to ease-of-method ratio, grilled whole fish rates quite high.

Method: Stuff fish with good shit. Grill.

Doesn't get much easier, kids, and it makes for a nicely dramatic presentation. Not to mention it tastes awesome as hell. Luckily for me, the only choice of whole fish at New Seasons, rainbow trout, happens to be a fish that doesn't need descaling to be perfectly palatable. I seasoned the fish cavity with salt, stuffed the fish with sliced fennel, fennel fronds, parsley and thyme, and oiled and salted the skin before plopping them on the grill for a few minutes each side. In my excitement I forgot to add the slices of lemon I intended; next time. The grill needs to be really hot for the fish skin not to stick, but ain't no thang.

Note the grilled corn in the backgroud; Mike made an awesome cilantro-lime-serrano mayo dip to go with it. Mayo-slathered beards abounded, Jeff and Jaybill's in particular.

Fresh pasta
Tell me that doesn't look a little hott...

Mike adopted a pasta maker and we were eager to try it out. I've made fresh pasta this way a handful of times, but it's still surprising how lovely the pasta comes out. We used a basic pasta dough recipe from Marco Pierre White's White Heat. It took a little tweaking (the first batch was a dry flop before it even got rolled) but I think it turned out pretty sexy.

What's a backyard barbecue without proper beverages?

I'm in love with this cooler. Along with the typical Portland mix of ever-present Pabst and local brewery choice, in this instance Bridgeport Brewing Company's Haymaker Extra Pale Ale, I picked up some Vernor's Ginger Ale, a non-alky classic, and a case of Capri Suns in reverence to my childhood. What's more badass than grill tongs and a side towel in one hand and a Capri Sun in the other?

Jeff and I, Sunday barbecue stylz
Me giving Jeff attitude whilst double-fisting beverages

I failed to get managed to procure a photo of the melon-infused vodka and fresh watermelon concoction that got the party started (in Jeff's hand, above). I do, however, wish I had photos of all the rambunctiousness that occurred, from Pop-Its and whizzing fireworks, Jeff jumping over the fire pit, and Butters versus Butters: The battle for a Nerf football between a high energy twenty-something and a hyper Labrador Retriever. Surprisingly sustaining entertainment.

I love my coworkers, for all their insanity and silliness, but most of all for their heart and soul. This past Sunday was pretty perfect, and if summer keeps up like this Portland will have me in its grips for good.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Killin' it in a cocktail dress

Ladies (and gentlemen?), don't wear four-inch heels when you're catering a party. I only rocked the heels for about 20 minutes before changing into more sensible shoes, but two days later, my calves are killing me!

Because I threatened to do it. on Twitpic
Click to embiggen. Awfully blurry, I know. My camera batteries were dead and my little cell phone was the best I could do.

(Good dress though.)

This past Sunday, I was fortunate enough to cater a fundraiser for a film my good friend Jim is writing and directing called Widow's Walk Lake. The fundraiser was an Edward Gorey-themed garden party, as the look of the film itself is based on Gorey's artwork and is set in the 1930's.

Photo taken at the fundraiser by Circle23, who set up a room at the event for fabulously "gorey" poses. See the entire awesome set here.

When Jim asked me several months ago to cater the party, I said yes with no hesitation. Cater a friend's costume party for about 100 attendees on my day off? Perfect! Ever since I worked as a catering server in Los Angeles, catering is something I've kept in the back of my mind as a career path. I love working in a restaurant kitchen, but I enjoy the change in scenery that catering provides too. I didn't let the fact that up to this point I'd never planned a meal for more than 12 people on my own deter me at all. I happily trotted along, recruiting a few awesome and eager friends from OCI to help me with my little project.

Two weeks before the party, I woke up with the worst, most panicky feeling in my gut--though I've prepped for and plated plenty of large parties at work before, I was two weeks away from my first "solo" event, with insanely scattered ideas for what to do about sourcing the product, budgeting the event, and actually prepping and transporting everything. I had no idea how far in advanced I wanted everything to be done, or how much of anything to get. I immediately thought of my Term 3 Pro Skills instructor, Maxine Borcherding, who besides teaching management at OCI (and WCI previously), ran a catering company in Portland for 20 plus years and still caters parties from time to time.

As soon as I reached out to her, the sinking ship could not have righted itself any faster. We sat down over lunch and talked everything out. The original menu I came up with, an OLCC-friendly menu with several options--soups, focaccias, tea sandwiches, crostinis--were all very Victorian-era finger-food-type things that I thought would look and taste fresh and amazing for an indoor-outdoor garden party. It quickly became evident that with the budget constraints under which we were working, I had to simplify the menu while making it hearty enough for the fact that the party was being held during dinner hours.

Chef Max suggested I revamp the menu, and we decided upon an easy, inexpensive but still delicious menu:
- Tuscan white bean salad
- Penne salad with roasted bell peppers
- Summer melon, grape and pickled fennel salad
- Three types of focaccias: Roasted shaved asparagus and caramelized fennel; Yukon Gold potato, crimini mushroom and truffle oil; and caramelized onion, toasted walnut and Gorgonzola cheese.

With the help of my amazing friends Jess, Nate and Pablo, all of whom I attended school with, not to mention the endless support and resources from Chef Maxine, it took us two days to prep out the final menu. While planning amounts and recipes, I couldn't help but be grateful for all the number crunching we did during school.

I contracted a killer head and chest cold a week before the event, so Maxine in all her awesomeness made a comprehensive (think Excel spreadsheet) shopping list for me. She also secured us kitchen time in a local catering kitchen. I made my first will-call pickup order at Sheridan Fruit Company, which took up five big veggie boxes. We slowly but surely got through the boxes, and with a little baking guidance I pulled off some awesome handmade focaccias (I say they're awesome because I'm massively impressed I managed to not screw it up... though I'm pretty confident they actually tasted good).

The morning of game day, running on five hours of sleep and adrenaline, we knocked off one by one the items on the prep list I'd written and re-written the night before. I kept having moments where I thought I should be freaking out but wasn't at all--things were going so smoothly, it was eerie. There was definitely a little bit of a race to the end, but we finished it all on time. We packed everything up in the Zipcar'd Honda Element and carted it over to the truly gorgeous Overlook House in North Portland. They couldn't have picked a more picturesque spot for a Victorian garden party, and once the attendees started arriving, I felt like I was in another era altogether.

Photo by my good friend John. See the rest of his set here.

How could I not cater this party in a cocktail dress? I mean, really.

Once we set up the buffet table, it was smooth sailing. Jess and Pablo were great about keeping the table refreshed and clean. The crowd favorite was the Gorgonzola focaccia though the dapperly-dressed ladies and gents were helping themselves to seconds, thirds and fourths of everything. At several points in the evening there were small crowds of people around the table, munching and chatting, and I could not have been happier.

Thanks to a dead battery in my camera, the best photo I managed of the table I took with my pitiful camera phone. Still, you get the general idea:

The spread in full FX on Twitpic
Click to embiggen. From front to back: Roasted bell pepper penne salad, Tuscan bean salad, melon and pickled fennel salad, lotsa focaccia.

We overshot the estimated amount needed by quite a bit and ended up offering leftovers to guests to take home. Everything was snatched up in a matter of minutes.

All in all, a smashing success in my book. Though the event was small fry, logistically speaking, in the vast world of catering, I loved the challenge and the gears are starting to spin for side projects I'm envisioning. I'm thinking of catering events every now and then for friends and friends of friends, charging only food and supply cost to get my chops up. Thoughts?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Open Letter

Addendum #2: I've received some concerning feedback about the original blog post, so I truncated it. Like I said earlier, I'm beyond grateful for our customers, as they're the ones keeping us going through this tough economic time. Consider this a small rant against the rare badly-behaved.

Dear Maserati Douchebag,

We should have known better than to seat you and your three equally demanding friends on Saturday night after the scene you threw the previous week for not getting a table outside like you wanted, then calling the manager an asshole and saving some choice words for the hostess. Fortunately for you, there was a different manager on Saturday night, and though you were seated promptly, you still demanded to be seated in an area we stopped seating for the night. You won the manager over by promising to take really good care of your server, who got to spend the rest of the evening running her ass off between her given section and your totally out-of-the-way table.

Maybe in your hometown of Douchebaggerton, a $35 tip on a $335 check equates to "taking really good care of your server". Here in your chosen city and country, a 10 percent tip, on top of being demanding and calling people names, immediately qualifies you as blacklisted. The cherry on top was not tipping the valet when he pulled up your precious Maserati. Hate to break it to you, but showing everyone how wealthy you are without sharing the wealth with the people who take care of you will never make your man parts any bigger.

Please, please, PLEASE come back into the restaurant; it would make my day to watch you get kicked out.