Tag Archives: polenta

Plenty platters of polenta! A parade of pears.

Plenty: n. a full or more than adequate amount; the quality or state of being copious

Platters: n. flat serving plates

Polenta: n. see prior post

Parade: n. a lengthy array or succession; a procession

I should have brought my camera (how many times do I have to learn this lesson??) to take pictures of the beautiful food we prepared for the donor’s acknowledgment dinner last night. It was a totally vegetarian meal, and as local as we could make it, given that it’s March.

The group of 60 was to gather for wine and appetizers at 6:30 then proceed to dinner around 7.  Our cold appetizers were ready by 6 and the yummiest one,  garlic-roasted fingerling potatoes, would come out of the oven right at 6:30. Little did we know that the hungry hordes would begin to gather at 6:10, forks in hand, napkins tucked into their collars.

A little wine and a lively conversation soon worked its magic and they forgot that amateurs were in the kitchen. Fortunately we had a fine team to spread the work load.

And it IS a work load. It’s one thing to throw a big salmon or a bunch of steaks on the barbie to be served with french bread and salad. It’s quite another to prepare a wild mushroom ragout (about fifteen separate ingredients, most requiring chopping and sauteeing) to be served on squares of grilled polenta. We did EVERYTHING from scratch.

There were also technical/logistical problems to solve. Like gathering sufficient large saute pans, cookie sheets and stew pots. Like having enough big bowls to hold batches of chopped or sauteed veggies in process. Like how to keep a vat of stew from burning on the bottom before it’s cooked through on the top. Like how to toss great quantities of green salad (how much dressing?) And how do you calculate how much is ENOUGH of each dish?

We over-prepared. As it all turned out, the hors d’ouevres were both tasty and substantial enough that appetites were significantly reduced by the time people sat down for the main meal. We had PLENTY polenta, a PLETHORA of ragout, and a PARADE of pears.

So let me describe the pears, the easiest and most beautiful of all the dishes.  We stood 24 D’anjou pears upright in each of three baking pans, poured some red wine to a height of about 1/2″ around them, sprinkled them with some sugar and a little grated lemon peel and baked them, basting occasionally for about an hour. They came out of the oven like an army of mini snow-capped mountains. Killer tasty too.  If you were to make a pan of 6, it would be about a cup of wine and a 1/3 c. sugar. Serve room temperature w. some sauce and a scoop of ice cream.

pears

This web image will give you an idea of how our pears looked lined up in their pans: multiply by about 9 to envision the Pear Parade.

Prep for this dinner took me at least 40 hours, even with help for about half of those hours.   Others spent as much time or more on other aspects of the event. And to think I once thought it would be fun to be a caterer. HA!!!!

Polenta panic!

Polenta: n. a medium grind of dried corn, used in many cultures as a cereal grain and cooked into a kind of savory or sweet mush, served on its own or sauced.

Panic: n. feelings of intense anxiety when one realizes one is in over her head…

polenta

Because once upon a time I had a reputation as a good cook, and because I’m stupid, I said yes when asked to create an elegant meal for the top 60 donors and volunteers at my Unitarian church (warming them up for the annual pledge drive).

I had all sorts of brilliant menu ideas.  It would be vegetarian, so we could save a little money AND provide a meal that would be acceptable to all. It would be based on (mostly) local foods.  Aha!! What could be more local than wild mushrooms, which grow so beautifully in the damp Pacific Northwest.  And I have a killer recipe for a wild mushroom ragout from the Greens Cookbook.

The stew is served on a bed of polenta. Piece of cake, I said.  Make a few batches, pour them into loaf pans to set up, then slice and broil them before serving.

Ha.  Wrong on many counts. So wrong.

Making polenta for a family of five isn’t the same as making it for sixty. In fact making anything for sixty is a twelvefold increase in scale over what I used to cook in my maternal heyday.

Making polenta makes a god-awful mess.  It splurts volcanicly all over the stove – and the splurts are hell to scrape/wipe off. It also sticks to the bottom of the pot like glue.  After scrubbing my two non non-stick pans for about fifteen minutes each, I decided I needed to borrow a couple of teflon-coated pots.

Making polenta takes TIME. Like about 45 minutes per batch, with frequent stirring so the bottom doesn’t burn.

Making polenta hang together when you get to the broiling stage ain’t easy  either.  Grrr. I’m thinking folks will just have to enjoy the “made by loving hands at home” look, because it’s not going to look restaurant perfect.

So far I’ve made five batches, which will serve 5 or 6 people each. Seven more batches to go.

The dinner is Sunday night and I haven’t even started to assemble the vats of wild mushroom ragout, the appetizers, salads, dessert, etc.

The good news is that I’ll have volunteer help all day Saturday plus Sunday afternoon.  Now I just have to figure out how to scale up the rest of the recipes…  Let me confess right here: I’m in over my head.