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Christopher Greaves

Cooking For A Buffet Dinner Party

Not as difficult as it sounds, bear with me.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

I’ve announced a small dinner-party for the 6 suites on my floor for December First 2008 .

With the exception of the new tenants I know, or have met, each occupant; they are all nice people, so I have no fear of them.

But what is this anxiety creeping over me, more than a week before the event?

I’ve taken the only really major step – that of committing to a decision. This (Sunday) morning the invitations were slipped under the five other doors. I’ve printed off a couple of spares in case (1) the new tenants miss theirs or (2) I feel like shanghaiing a friend to help me out socially at the last minute.

It’s On!

I’m worried that “things won’t turn out well”, but how can that be a concern when it’s people I know and it’s my choice of dishes to be served?

I took a step back, and considered what happens when I go out to eat at a local diner or restaurant: I’m always impressed with the variety on the menu, but that variety is the choice of the management. Chances are high that my neighbors, never having dined here before, will be intrigued if not impressed, with my menu. They’ve never dined here before. They will anticipate some food, but which food is presented will be a delight to them.

Still in the diner, this time for breakfast, the waitress runs through the litany of 7*3*2*6 options for toast, eggs, pig and other options; often enough I say, nicely, “Please just bring me breakfast”; I’m easy to please, and wouldn’t have chosen that diner unless I felt that their food was good. Same thing happens at lunch or in the evening. Sometimes I am more interested in my companion than in the actual food consumed. “It’ll all be gone in 24 hours” is the watchword.

What about my menu?

If you’ve been browsing these pages you’ll see that I have documented several of my culinary skills. Not all, but several. Each dish aims at being simple to prepare, and there are several that you don’t see here (yet) such as Potato Cakes.

Here’s what I did:

I sat down with a sheet of paper and listed everything that came to mind that I know I can prepare. The list included Sweet and Sour Chicken, Oatmeal Apple Crisp, Curries, Rum Balls for Kids, Beans, Dead-Easy Fruit Cake, Raisin Chocolate and Bean Sprouts, and lot’s more.

Turns out I have quite a repertoire.

In no particular order:

And that’s without flipping through my recipe cards, sheets, old menus and so on.

How do I feel about these dishes? Well, they have one or two things in common:

I make them all the time. I’m forever boiling up some chick peas or rice for salad.

I’ve prepared them for my friend Bill to sample when he comes for supper.

Often enough Bill swings by, by arrangement, and learns that “tonight it’s sweet and sour chicken”. “Oh Good!”, says Bill, rubbing his hands. Most of my hot dishes have been voted on before now.

I’m not including my morning oatmeal here, that doesn’t seem appropriate.

Next I took this list and tagged each item according to whether it can be pre-prepared, whether I need to shop for ingredients, and so on:

Item

Pre-?

Purchase

Sweet and Sour Chicken

Boneless Chicken Breasts

Black Wild Rice with Red Capsicum

1

Capsicum

Basmati Rice with Green Capsicum

1

Capsicum

Devilled Eggs

1

Eggs

Rum Ball Squares without Chocolate Sprinkles

2

Fruit Cake Muffins

2

Fresh Fruit Salad with Honey

Fruit, Honey

Plain Flour Biscuits

1

Rice’n’Raisin Puddings

2

Iced Water

2

Soup

2

Chick Pea Salad

1

Chick Peas

Black Bean Salad

1

Note how many dishes can be prepared in advance! Supper is on the Monday. Monday morning I’ll buy the chicken and fresh fruit. The chicken can go on around 11 a.m. and simmer in the oven ever-so-slowly in its sweet –and-sour sauce. I will chop the fruit around 4pm.

Everything with a “1” can be prepared Sunday afternoon or evening and re-heated last thing Monday evening.

Everything with a “2” can be prepared two or more days in advance – Saturday would be a good day for mixing the Rum-Ball dough, rolling, chilling it, and cutting it into squares. I might even pop each square into a dainty little paper cup!

When I look at the supper this way, the pressure is relieved.

These are friends, not paying guests, and I know that they’ll be impressed with the variety and that I prepared it all myself.

All the dishes are ones I’ve done before; there’s little in the way of worrying about ingredients.

I buy my rice and beans etc in bulk, so I always have a stock; there’s no need for a last-minute big buy, just chicken and fruit.

Best of all: quantities! These dishes are all ones that I enjoy. I’ll make more-than-enough sweet-and-sour chicken; whatever is left over will go into small entrée trays with the rice and make frozen entrées for my mid-week lunches.

(Later this same day)

I have added Pasta Salad, Potato Cakes and Assiette de Crudités – the first dish I ate when I landed in France.

My list grows long.

I am under no obligation to prepare it all.

I think that two hot entrees and three dishes of cold, plus as many deserts (in the form of cakes) that I can prepare beforehand should do.

But it is grand to have such a range of dishes from which I can choose.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

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On the Thursday morning I organized myself and made a schedule.

I plan to be out driving during the day Saturday and Sunday, daylight hours, so I need to make sure that by Monday morning I have on hand everything I need.

You’ll notice that I’ve made no provision to “tidy the apartment”; that task will be a series of disjointed efforts while waiting for something to come to the boil.

Sprouts? I’m planning to have a dish of fresh bean sprouts, so I want to make sure I “tick off” scheduled rinsing so that they don’t begin to ferment!

I have scheduled a supermarket shopping trip for Saturday evening.

My neighbor has offered to lend me some crockery and cutlery.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

My little schedule is serving me well. At the appointed time I soak the sprouts, or shop for chicken breasts. Eight o’clock Sunday evening and I am a little bit ahead of schedule, which makes me feel good.

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I’ve begun to assemble the dishes. In the foreground are the almost-devilled eggs. The eggs are hard-boiled, peeled, and halved. The yolks are mashed with mayonnaise, salt, pepper etc and the paste is in a clean plastic bag. At the “last minute” I’ll snip a small hole in one corner of the bag and squeeze the paste into the egg-halves.

The fruit-cake mix and the rum-ball mix are made and bagged, ready to be baked, or rolled in sprinkles. I bought two types of sprinkles, figuring that that was a cheap and efficient way to impress my guests.

I have decided to include a jar of baked beans to go with the side dishes, since my baked beans are more like a chutney!

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I have measured out a cup each of chick peas, black beans, and red kidney beans. Tomorrow morning that is one less thing to do; they can start soaking at eight in the morning for three hours.

I have measured out my cups of Wild Black and Basmati rices, same reason.

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In the ‘fridge are the chicken breasts waiting to be cubed and marinated and slow-ovened.

Tomatoes for the Assiette de Crudités are on hand. I have beetroot and cucumber pickled instead of raw. I’ll hard boil some more eggs, if I feel like it.

Green and red peppers await their rices.

Fresh fruit (grapefruit, orange, apple, pear) is ready for fruit salad.

In a word Yum!

Monday, December 01, 2008

Dawns the day.

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I started off by organizing the table into areas. Front stage is where the hot dishes will go. To the right an area for the Assiette de Crudités (a jar of beetroot, a jar of cucumber and a jar of chutney beans sets the pace), behind that an area for rices, behind that my fresh fruit plate reserves a spot for desserts, and to the left is the area for bean salads.

AttenSHUN!

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I can dice the red and green peppers ahead of time, and store the dices in margarine tubs. How very Christmassy!

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The backs come off the chicken breasts and land smack dab on top of a couple of onions which are frying in the jam dixie.

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The sweet-and-sour sauce is coming to the boil. Hold your nose close to the screen and you’ll almost smell it!

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Here’s the chicken, cubed and swimming in the marinade.

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Meanwhile, back at the ranch .. the fruit-cake-muffin mix is in the baking tray, the rum-ball dough is coming to room temperature, and the custard/milk/sugar mixture (½ cup of each) is waiting to be added to the boiled white rice.

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How do I get my rum balls so similar in size?

I cheat!

I roll the dough flat then cut it into 3 cm squares, then roll each square. The wine bottle which I use as a rolling-pin is trying to sneak into the photo.

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Here are the rum-ball balls waiting for sprinkles. The pasta salad is well on its way.

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The rum balls are sprinkled and placed on the table, I cover them in plastic cling-film in the hopes that no-one will eat them.

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Here are the three rices, the Black Wild with red pepper, the Basmati with green pepper, and the red rice with green onion.

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The apples and pears are diced first and go in the bowl; they are covered with grapefruit and orange, the citric acid helping to keep it all fresh.

Then a cup of honey is drizzled over the lot.

I love that word “drizzle” when it applies to honey or chocolate sauce.

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Here’s my Assiette de Crudités; a bowl of fresh bean sprouts surmounted by a bowl of green onion, surrounded by white onion rings, grated carrot, beetroot, cucumber and tomato.

The bean chutney stands guard.

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Devilled Eggs.

Seems as if there are two missing!

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The custard/mil/sugar has been well-stirred into the boiled rice. Then I add a few handfuls of sultanas, and when they are evenly mixed, I figure the custard is well-mixed in, for sure.

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Two wossit plants from the window-ledge and two candles are my token effort at a center piece.


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Toronto, Friday, August 14, 2015 1:03 PM

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