Feeding fifty (My Big Catering Adventure)

Last weekend I cooked dinner for fifty people at our Lions Club changeover dinner. This is a big event in the Lions club year. Normally it is held at the Eugowra Bowling club and catered for by either the resident cook, if we have one at the time, or external caterers. This year it was to be catered for by the current Chinese Cook. Until the Monday before, that is.
Invitations had already been sent and accepted.
It was far too late to hire caterers and we hadn't charged enough to get anyone good in any case. So I said I can do that, no problem. I've catered for quite a few big family events in the past. Cooking for fifty doesn't faze me. As it turned out the cooking was not a problem and went without a hitch. The hard part was transporting everything to the Bowling club and serving hot food in what was a very inadequate kitchen. 
I worked out the following menu that I thought had:
  • universal appeal
  • could  be mostly cooked ahead
  • was economical and value for money
  • easy to reheat
  • easy to serve
 Marinated Olives
Fresh Bread rolls
Hearty Beef Casserole served with creamy mashed potato, broccoli  and cauliflower gratin and honey, balsamic glazed carrots
Apple Crumble and ice cream
Peppermint slice

I marinated the olives in lemon zest, salt, thyme and olive oil
The Bread rolls turned out really well.
This is the recipe I used.

Sourdough-ish Dinner rolls
1 cup sourdough starter that has been refreshed
1 tablespoon dry yeast
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon salt
1 1/2 cups warm water
3 1/2 cups bread flour
I put all the ingredients into my kitchen aid mix master and mixed with the dough hook for about five minutes. Then covered and rested until it had doubled in size, it was very quick on Saturday as the sun was shining into the kitchen and the wood stove was roaring.
After that we formed it into smallish rolls and let it rise again, again this was quite quick and we probably left it a bit long as some of the rolls expanded into each other!
We then baked it in the wood over on moderate heat.
these were lovely rolls, soft but with a nice flavour from the sough dough.
I took about twenty extra and while i was serving the dessert sent one of the girls who were waitering around the tables again to see if anyone wanted more and every last one was gone!
4 quantities of this mixture mad 90 rolls

The casserole I made was beef, vegetable and red wine.
for fifty people you need.
9 kilos of chuck steak that has already been trimmed and cubed.
1 cup of seasoned plain flour
1/2 kilo of butter
4 cups of olive oil
3 1/2 bottles of read wine
30 carrots
30 onions
30 sticks of celery
5 cups of beef stock
18 cloves of garlic
parsley and thyme
9 tablespoons tomato paste

I made this in five batches. Browned the meat that had been tossed in the seasoned flour in butter and olive oil. Then removed it while I sauteed all the other vegetables, put it meat back in and then added all the other ingredients. Cook as slowly as possible for as long as possible.

I cooked this the day before and reheated on the night. This turned out to be the most difficult thing as I had to reheat on the top of the stove and it was hard to stop the bottom of the pans from burning. In an ideal world you would reheat in the oven or a slow cooker.

For the Vegetables I blanched small pieces of broccoli and cauliflower for three minutes, tossed them in olive oil, sourdough bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese. These reheated nicely in small batches in the oven and stayed warm, without going soggy and tasteless.
Carrots were boiled and then tossed in honey, oil and balsamic vinegar and put in a very hot oven for about five minutes. these reheated nicely just in the Bain Marie.
I made the mashed potato just before leaving home and kept it on low in two s low cookers, this worked perfectly well.

Desert was apple crumble, based on Nigella's version.
Allow one large apple per person. I used Granny smiths from a local orchard. Peel, core and quarter the apples. Toss with melted butter in a pan, add some orange juice, cloves, cinnamon and brown sugar and simmer until soft and buttery. Place in a casserole dish or baking dish. Top with this mixture.
120 g self raising flour
90 g butter
6 tablespoons brown sugar
cinnamon and nutmeg to taste
Rub butter into dry ingredients.
This quantity serves six so multiply to get the amount for larger servings.
I did this and it didn't look enough so doubled it. Well the original quantity was spot on so i now have bags of crumble mixture in my freezer, not a bad thing.
This just needs to be baked in the oven until browned and bubbling.
Serve with ice cream or cream and custard.
After desert we served    Peppermint slice

Phew! It was hard work and the reheating very difficult, the other challenge was quantities and I would do more potato next time. Maybe allow 250 g, prepared weight for each person. We almost ran out. the other challenge was that I had two gluten free meals to serve one of which was also dairy free. Not hard but just a bit fiddly in the middle of serving everyone else. i made a soy milk custard with rice flour and egg to go with their crumble, they seemed to like it but i didn't think it tasted very good. would maybe use almond milk next time.



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