It all started with a three-layer cake recipe. And evolved into dinner for ten.
It seems I don’t need an occasion to throw a party, just an intriguing recipe. The three-layer cake was it. And following shortly on its heels was a miniature watermelon “grill”, complete with fruit kabobs. In their photographs, the cake was stunning, and the fruit grill was clever and fun, and I had an overwhelming desire to prepare both, and soon. So that settled it. It was time for a celebration.
Here’s a little background for you. About a year ago, my daughter got married, and then she and my son-in-law, a history professor, moved 300 miles away so he could take a teaching position. Now that we don’t get to see each other all the time, we make up for it by texting, calling, emailing, and messaging each other fairly constantly. We exchange lots of recipes – I send her old favorites that she grew up enjoying, and she sends unique and unusual recipes for me to sample.
Hence the cake. She sent it via email and said “We HAVE to fix this cake next time I’m home!” I was in complete agreement. This creation had one layer each of chocolate, caramel, and white cake. It was covered in a caramel buttercream, and topped with a chocolate ganache. It could be dressed up with buttercream roses, if the baker were so inclined. It simply screamed “BAKE ME”!
About a week later she sent the instructions for the watermelon grill, a step-by-step guide to transform one of those miniature round watermelons into a faux grill for skewered fruit kabobs. It was inspired, really, and included celery sticks for legs and blackberries to serve as the charcoal briquettes. Add some slender wooden skewers as the grate work, and voila! Food as art. Or at least arts and crafts.
But you can’t have a party with just fruit kabobs and a little cake. Well, you could, I suppose, but it would require a lot of alcohol to distract the guests from realizing you’ve forgotten to feed them. And then everyone would be hungry AND drunk in short order. There would need to be more of a meal involved. I knew the rest of the menu would coalesce in due time. That’s how these things happen for me.
Labor Day was approaching. My daughter was coming to spend a week with me, and both of my chicks would be back in the nest for a visit over the long holiday weekend. It was all falling together perfectly. We invited a handful of guests to join us.
And the rest of the menu evolved, as I knew it would. Nearly two months after my fried chicken experiment, I decided it wasn’t too soon to practice again. Besides, the forecast for Labor Day Sunday was a sweltering 104 degrees, so putting my husband to work outside grilling meat just seemed cruel. Main course: Foo-worthy Fried Fucking Chicken. Excellent!
Fried chicken is like a supermodel. You can accessorize it with just about anything and it works. This meal was all happening in air-conditioned comfort, so hot side dishes would be just fine. I fixed a vat of crockpot mac and cheese and a big pan of spinach brownies (??). The name is misleading – it’s an easy spinach casserole that you’re supposed to cut and serve in neat squares. No chocolate is involved, just cheesy spinach-y deliciousness.
To this I added a pan of biscuits, a bowl of my husband’s magnificent potato salad (at my son’s request), a lovely green salad one of my guests brought, and the crafty and clever fruit kabobs. We iced down a cooler full of Shiner, Woodchuck, and Topo Chico, my son fired up the blender and made kick-ass margaritas, another guest brought hummus and crackers for the warm-up, and we were ready – a pre-Labor Day feast!
What am I forgetting?
Oh, of course! Dessert!! The triple-layer, triple-flavor cake that inspired the whole event. But, in my mind, at least, a party isn’t truly a party if you’re limited to just one dessert, so I threw in a triple berry cobbler, just in case. The cake, although beautiful, was baked in six-inch pans, so it wasn’t a big cake. And berries are summer fruits, so you should use them while you can get them.
And besides, it’s dessert! It’s a treat! There should be options.
We all had a wonderful time. My guests raved about the food. I’d say they were just being polite, but the amount of food consumed said they were sincere in their praise. Besides, if something didn’t pass muster, my family would have said so.
The event-inspiring cake was delicious, but mine wasn’t quite as pretty as the pictures, so I’ve already come up with some tweaks that I’ll make on a second attempt. And I’ll do it again when I’m not fixing an entire dinner for 10 to go with it. Trial and error, my friends, trial and error.
As you know, I use my kitchen now as a testing ground/rehearsal space for my dream job. With every recipe or event, I want to take away something that will make me a better cook.
Here’s the takeaway from this experience:
- No matter how far ahead I start prepping, it never hurts to start earlier. Other than the potato salad my husband made, and the contributions of the other guests, I prepared everything in one day. And it was a LONG-ASS day, even in comfortable shoes – about nine hours of continuous prep time. Both desserts could have been done a day ahead. Especially the very complex cake that I had never made before.
- I’m actually much better at multi-tasking than I used to be. There were no missed steps, no forgotten ingredients, no broken crockery, burned cookware, or kitchen fires. Of course, this required some laser-like focus on my part – no breaks for Facebook, Words with Friends, or phone chatter. I was in the zone. I took two short breaks during the day, only when I noticed my dogs standing at the back door looking nervous and desperate.
- When the day comes that I have the privilege of doing this as a job, I’m up for the task. And my feet will hurt less after long days like this if I drop a few pounds. Twenty would be good. Thirty would be better. My dream job has inspired me to unload some excess poundage, like a fighter in training.
When the Foos call, I’ll be ready. A lean, mean, cooking machine.