Thursday, August 16, 2012

Epic Meal

This past weekend I've done something I've never done in the 12+ years I've been cooking: I put together a seated, 5-course menu from scratch. (Technically a 6-course meal if you count the cheese course...)

(Can we also take a moment for me to digest the fact that it's been 12 years since 20-year old Jackie began her love affair with food? That's alotta years...)

OK, back to my epic meal. Prior to this I'd say the only really GIANT and extremely challenging meal I'd put together was a Thanksgiving dinner for 14+ people 3 years ago, where I made everything from scratch (including cute little place cards on a decorated table, brie stuffed mushrooms, pull-apart bread rolls, mashed potatoes with Riesling gravy, herbed stuffing, cranberry sauce, a deliciously brined turkey, and uber moist pumpkin cupcakes).

In many ways that dinner was absolutely insane-- I prepped for days, including cooking as much as I could in advance and creating an excel spreadsheet and timeline for Thanksgiving day that included what I would be doing during each 30-minute block of my day (from 9 am to 7 pm). All of this was essential to make sure each component of my dinner would be ready and warm, to be served at the exact same time. No easy task.

I was, and still am, very proud of that Thanksgiving meal I made. But up until this weekend I'd never tackled an equally challenging, yet very distinct, cooking project: putting together a multi-course meal served over an entire evening.

Well, looks like I can finally check that off my bucket list!

THE menu!
(I didn't know what to name the courses, so I just numbered them 
1 through 6... in Assyrian of course!)

In many ways I'm shocked the whole thing came together as well as it did. As of Friday night I still wasn't 100% sure what my final menu would be. But by Saturday evening we had all enjoyed an incredibly smooth (timing wise) and delicious (taste wise) 5 hour meal.

How did I get from no menu to full-on meal in less than 24 hours? Let's take a peek at my Saturday, shall we?
  1. Force myself to sleep in until 9:30 as I didn't get to bed until well after 2 am the night before 
  2. Guzzle a glass of water in an attempt to rehydrate myself after drinking too much on Friday
  3. Clean my bathroom 
  4. Finalize what I want to make for dinner 
  5. Go to the grocery store to buy pretty much everything I needed
  6. Drive home and look in vain for parking, since the Cubs were playing in a few hours and all parking spots near my apartment were gone (I managed to "only" spend 15 minutes finding a spot 1/4 mile away from my apartment)
  7. Clean my apartment for my guests that were coming in less than 6 hours (and by clean I mean throw all the shit that was in my living room into my bedroom)
  8. Have a mini freak out as it's almost 2 and people are coming over in 4.5 hours and I haven't even started any of the courses yet (!!!)
  9. Calm myself down
  10. Get pumped up as I start to get into the groove prepping as much as was humanly possible in those short hours  
  11. Set the table
  12. Type up and print my kick-ass menus for my guests
  13. Put on some normal looking clothes and apply some blush/mascara to prevent my guests from running away in horror
But, in spite of all that, the dinner turned out as close to perfect as I would have hoped!

The very simple table setting

I'm clearly far from a professional in putting this type of thing together, but let me share with you a few things that helped me in this process: 

1. Chose simple recipes
This is a hard one for me, as I'm often drawn to really complex, involved, and time-consuming recipes. Which are great when you're making a single show-stopping meal. But they're not so great when you're also putting together a half-dozen other dishes. So if you want to actually enjoy your evening along with your guests, do everyone a favor and chose simple dishes-- with lots of flavor of course!

2. Ready...set...go get your place settings ready
I don't have a ton of dishes (I usually just cook for myself or 1 other person) so I needed to go through my stash to figure out exactly what I'd be using for the various courses. So first thing I did in the morning was lay out the dishes I would use, in "chronological" order. As you may see, I had 2 totally different kinds of soup bowls (and small plates for the scallops). Whatever, just put them across from each other at the table and your mismatchy-ness becomes visually interesting. Boom! Problem solved.

Setting the plates out also got me really excited for the day!

3. Make sure everything you need is easily accessible
Other than the meats, dairy products, or anything else that needs to stay in the fridge, pull out all the ingredients you're going to use (veggies, herbs, pantry staples, etc) and arrange them so they're easily accessible. Not only were they gorgeous, they made my kitchen smell amazing and mentally prepared me for the madness that would ensue shortly. But what's most important is that it allowed me to easily grab exactly what I needed, when I needed it-- instead of wasting time digging through my fridge.

Seriously? How gorgeous is all this fresh food?!?

I'm so excited to share with you all the different courses I was able to pull together! Each one of them was relatively simple, but absolutely bursting with flavor. Which isn't a surprise as I purchased no less than 5 herbs for the single meal (rosemary, thyme, dill, cilantro, parsley, and mint). So over the next week I'll feature each of the courses in it's very own blog post. Stay tuned!

Yours in constantly pushing herself in the kitchen, and becoming a better cook for it,


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