Cooking For Others: For a Living
EVENT: Mary’s Baby Shower
VENUE: Rebbecca’s Apartment, Chelsea
PARTY SIZE: 40
TYPE: Afternoon Sit Down Tea
MENU: (Cocktail Fare) Caprese Skewers with Pesto Dipping Sauce; Deviled Eggs; Asparagus in Parmesan Puff Pastry; (Sit Down) Sexy Ugly Caramelized Onion Tarts; Green Apple & Brie Sandwiches with Honey Mustard; Turkey & Beet Relish Sandwiches with Dill Mayonnaise; Mixed Greens with Lemon-Basil Vinaigrette; Zucchini & Walnut Bread; Chocolate Chip Banana Bread; Cherry Scones; Apple Cinnamon Scones; Magnolia Cupcakes
Our friend Jocelyn is lucky enough to have two older sisters who have made her an aunt three times over. We love to hear about her nieces and nephews and see pictures of them–Helena, her sister Rebecca’s daughter, modeled for us as our pretend “love child“–but more importantly for us gals of BGSK, Jocelyn’s sister was the one to grant us our first catering gig two weekends ago.
Rebecca’s friend, Mary, is pregnant with her first child. And since Rebecca is the one who set Mary up with her husband in the first place, she held the baby shower at her loft, co-hosting with Mary’s two sisters. Rebecca had contacted us about cooking for the afternoon tea in October, back when Cara still had her full-time job, and we were really excited to give this fifty-person catering gig a shot, though not as much for the professional opportunity as for the fact that we simply thought it would be fun.
Skip forward a few months, and the catering opportunity, while still seeming fun, also started to feel like a very exciting step on the way to another side of our foodie careers. Of course, Rebecca’s call was not completely out of the blue: Cara did a bunch of catering in college–especially of this type of afternoon tea event–and Phoebe has been hired by parents’ friends to make all the food for their dinner parties.
In the arms of our trusty servers, Alex and Matt, we passed a caramelized onion tart that was the epitome of teamwork (Cara made the pastry, Phoebe the filling), and a salad with an herb vinaigrette, the epitome of amnesia (don’t ask).
Fortunately (with respect to prep time) and unfortunately (regarding Cara’s baking obsession), Rebecca said she’d be supplying dessert: pink Magnolia cupcakes displayed in an adorable, wire-branched cupcake tree.
The most exciting moment by far was when the guests devoured the platters of sandwiches with an unforeseen gusto and we had to make more and more of them, with a dwindling bread supply and in fast forward. Runner up was when, before we located the oven mitts, we had to remove the asparagus from the oven with our bare hands. Ouch.
Though we swear our muscles were tired the next day, as if catering were some kind of contact sport, we really did have the fun we’d anticipated in October. Without being coy, we’d like to point out that if you ever did have an event and wanted to hire some able-bodied and semi-experienced young caterers to take charge of the food, you could do worse than to think of us. In fact, if you email us, you can see our catering menu for yourself.
From our kitchen, happy from our first professional gig and excited for our next, to yours,
Phoebe and Cara, THE QUARTER-LIFE COOKS
The dough is made in my mini food processor, so I have to halve the recipe. It means splitting the egg yolk, which is a bit awkward but nonetheless endurable. If you own a bigger processor, by all means make the dough at once. It’s also easy enough to make the pastry by hand.
For the pastry:
2 cups flour
1 3/4 teaspoons salt
2 sticks cold butter
1 egg yolk
4-5 tablespoons cold water
For the onion filling:
3 tablespoons oil
4 – 5 (depending on how prone you are to nibbling) large sweet Vidalia onions, thinly sliced
2 tbsp chopped fresh thyme
1/2 tsp cumin
4 tablespoons butter
a few sprigs fresh thyme
In a food processor, combine the flour and salt. Cut the butter into roughly tablespoon-sized pieces and add, then pulse until the mixture looks a bit crumbly. Put in the egg yolk and about 3 tablespoons of the water, then run the processor until the dough starts to come together. It should clump into a big ball; if it doesn’t, drizzle in another tablespoon of the water. You want to add as little liquid as possible.
Remove from the food processor and flatten into two 7-inch disks. Wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate about 5 minutes.
In the meantime, make the filling: Sauté the onions in the oil over a medium flame, stirring very infrequently. Once they soften and begin to brown on each side, return the flame to low and allow to slowly caramelize. During this time, it is important to make sure the onions are spread as evenly as possible across the pan. Every few minutes, scrape the bottom and redistribute the onions so each gains the maximum amount of surface area. The intention is to slowly crisp the onions by enticing the remaining liquids to sweat out, and for the onions to sweeten by condensing in their own juices. If you stir too often, the onions will turn to mush. This process takes about 40 minutes.
When the onions are dark brown, but not burnt, add the thyme, cumin, and season with salt and a touch of cayenne. Set aside.
When ready to make the tarts, preheat the oven to 400°F. Roll out each disk into a rough circle. No need to be perfect, you just want the dough fairly even. Fold about 1 inch of the edges in all the way around, pinching every inch or so to seal. Slide onto a parchment-lined baking sheet.
Spread about 3/4 cup of the onion filling onto each crust. Top with 2 tablespoons of butter, cut into little squares. Bake for 20-30 minutes, until the crust is golden. Garnish with fresh thyme, then cut into 8 wedges and serve.
You can really make as many of these bites as you want to fit your party size. We offered around 1.5 bites per person, which is always a safe assumption.
25 cherry tomatoes
25 basil leaves
25 bocconcini (bite-sized mozzarella balls)
1 cup basil-parsley pesto (recipe follows)
Thread the cherry tomato, followed by a basil leaf (folded in half) through the toothpick. Top with a bocconcini ball pressed halfway through with the skewer so the end is not revealed. Place pesto in a serving bowl in the middle of the platter and arrange skewers around the edge.
Makes 1-2 cups
2-3 cups basil
1 cup parsley
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
1/4 – ½ cup olive oil
1/4 cup grated parmesan
1 lemon, juiced
Classic Deviled Eggs
small handful arugula, finely chopped
2 teaspoons mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup mayonnaise (I made homemade, since it’s such a prominent taste in these eggs)
a few grinds fresh pepper
smoked or regular paprika for garnish
Hard boil the eggs: put 6 raw eggs in a pot with water to cover by about 1 inch. Bring to a boil, then turn off the heat. When the water has cooled to the point where it’s comfortable to stick your hand in to grab the eggs, that means they’re done. Remove and cool completely in the fridge. Peel and then cut in half along the longer axis.
Take the egg yolk out from both halves and place in a bowl. Gently mash them, then add the salt, mustard, mayo, pepper, and arugula. Taste for seasonings and correct if necessary.
Arrange the 12 halves on a serving platter. Carefully scoop about 1 tablespoon of filling into the concavity of each egg. Garnish with a sprinkling of paprika, preferably smoked.
For homemade mayo:
1 fresh, organic egg yolk
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
1/2 cup oil
Place 1 fresh organic egg yolk in the bottom of your food processor or in a small bowl that won’t shift when you whisk. Add 1 teaspoon water and the vinegar and salt, then pulse/whisk to combine. Drizzle in the oil little by little–going especially slowly at first. Continue to add the oil until the mayonnaise is thickened and smooth and all of the oil is used up. Refrigerate until ready to use, up to 3 days.
Puff Pastry Wrapped Asparagus
Makes 40 appetizers
about 40 asparagus spears
1 package puff pastry, defrosted in the fridge for 24 hours
oil in a spray bottle, or a few tablespoons in a small bowl to apply with a brush
1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Rinse the asparagus and pat them dry. Snap the woody bottom off of each one (it will snap naturally when you bend the bottom) and discard.
Unwrap the puff pastry and unfold each sheet. If the pastry refuses to unroll, grab a rolling pin and flatten the dough into a rectangle measuring about 10 x 12″.
Cut the pastry into strips that are about 1/4-inch thick and 10 inches long. Fasten the strip of dough at the base of an asparagus spear by winding it all the way around. Then spiral the dough attractively around the spear until you reach the top.
Place the asparagus on a parchment-lined baking sheet with the loose end at the bottom. Repeat with the remaining vegetables, leaving about an inch between them on the tray. Spray or brush with olive oil, then sprinkle lightly with both salt and Parmesan. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until the asparagus are wrinkled and browned and the pastry is golden. Serve warm or within 2 hours of making them.
Dill Turkey Sandwiches with Beet Relish
Makes 30 small sandwiches
1 package Pepperidge Farm “Thin Slice” white sandwich bread
8 ounces mayonnaise
3 tbsp chopped fresh dill
2 cups beet relish (minced very very fine)
1lb turkey (at least 30 slices)
2 handfuls arugula leaves
Mix the mayo and dill together in a small mixing bowl. Spread a thin layer of the dill mayo on one slice of the bread. Top with two slices of turkey.
On another slice of bread, spread a thing layer of beet relish. Top with a few leaves of arugula. Sandwich two halves together and press down gently.
Using a serrated knife, cut the crusts off the bread (using a damp cloth to clean the knife after each pass). Slice the sandwich across the diagonal into two pieces. Arrange sandwiches on a platter, and serve.