Friday, 25 February 2011

Cooking for 50+

Last weekend was a work event for our younger constituents. That should immediately tell you that this blog is about cooking for a high number of people, rather than cooking for the older generation.

The brief was to cook dinner and dessert on Friday and Saturday night, and lunch on Sunday afternoon.

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I wasn't alone in the kitchen - I had the help of the lovely Liz, Alta, Emma, and the microwave specialist Luke (microwaving steaks, Luke, really?) to get me through.

Friday night was chilli and rice followed by swiss roll. I've blogged my chilli recipe before, so really it was just a case of multiplying up the numbers.

The swiss roll was an adventure though. I've only done it once before, so cooking it for 50 kids was worrying me a little. Thankfully we had a whole host of other cakes and goodies, so even though I only made enough for about twenty in the end, it was still okay.

You will need:

- 225g self raising flour
- 225g caster sugar
- 9 eggs
- Jar of jam

Thankfully for my whisking arm, the kitchen was equipped with a wonderful Kenwood mixer. This meant that beating all the sugar and all 9 eggs together was completely hassle free.

Once the eggs and sugar were well whipped (forming stiff peaks), it was just a case of folding in the flour and then pouring the mixture into a big baking tray.

I'd preheated the oven to 180°C, and then just shoved in the tray for twenty minutes.

Once the cake had risen a bit and coloured nicely, it was time to take it out. Hopefully you'll have greased your tin a wee bit better than I did...

Lay out a clean tea towel and sprinkle it quite generously with caster sugar before turning the cake out onto it. If you haven't greased the tin, be prepared to give it a good old whack - and pray you don't break up your swiss roll.

Then it was time to spread the roll with jam (all the way to the corners!) and then carefully, very carefully, roll it up using the towel to lever it over without breaking.

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Saturday was undoubtedly the success story of the weekend foodwise. With a menu that boasted both lasagne and trifle, I was always going to be onto a winner.

I had never cooked lasagne before - so starting by cooking for 50 was a little nervewracking. Thankfully though, I had much support from Alta to bring it all together.

You will need:

- 1kg lasagne sheets
- 7kg beef mince
- 6 tomatoes
- 4 cans chopped tomatoes
- 1kg onions
- 4 cloves garlic
- 3tbsp tomato puree
- 4tbsp mixed herbs
- Plenty of salt and pepper to season
- 2 beef stock cubes
- 1kg cottage cheese
- 1kg cheddar cheese

I haven't included the ingredients for the white sauce here. It's just flour, butter and milk, but I'm unsure of the quantities we used. It was a lot. An awful lot.

We started by greasing two very large, deep sided baking trays.

Then, while I got the mince mixture ready, Alta put together the white sauce.

First, I minced the garlic and finely chopped the onions, frying them off in a little oil. Quickly following this was the mince - browning 7kg of mince takes about thirty minutes.

Once the mince has browned, add in the tinned tomatoes, chopped fresh tomatoes, the tomato puree, herbs, crushed stock cubes and just a ton of salt and pepper. Leave this for another half an hour to an hour to cook through and allow all the flavours to come together.

Once you've made your basic white sauce (mix together the butter and flour to form a roux, then add in milk until you have the quantity and consistency you want), take it off the heat and stir in the cottage cheese and a good helping of cracked black pepper to taste.

Once your sauce and your mince mixture are both cooked, it's time to construct your lasagnes. This recipe would easily serve 60 - so make sure you have two big trays or three reasonably sized ones to build it all in.

Start by laying a little white sauce on the bottom to help stop the pasta sticking. Then apply one layer of pasta, a generous layer of mince, then the sauce and repeat, finishing with a layer of pasta topped with white sauce. Grate your cheddar over this and then whack it in the oven for a good forty minutes at 180°C.

While it was in the oven it was time to sort out the trifles. I'd set the jelly with some fruit in the night before, so it was just a case of piling on the custard and whipping several litres of cream (again with the magical Kenwood mixer) to spread over the top.

I will admit now, that for the sake of time and convenience I was using packeted jelly and custard. Maybe I'll make it all properly some day, but I really wasn't going to be faffing about when I already had so much to make.

The final touch was to grate some chocolate biscuits over the top. Job done.

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Sunday was by far and away the simplest to do - just putting 50 or so baked potatoes in the oven (for four and a half hours!!) and preparing plenty of salad, beans, tuna and grated cheese to go with them. Easy.

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And that was my biggest catering adventure to date - bring on more!

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Coming up:

- No idea...

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