Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Spring Bites for a Small Crowd

My assignment for today is to prepare "snacks" for at least 18 people.

The event is Day One of a two-day clinic for teachers who either preside over a school garden or would like to start one. Since building a large container garden at my daughter's charter school last year I've been roped into a leadership spot in an organization called D.C. Schoolyard Greening. There I mingle with several environmental activist types who mull ways to increase the number of gardens in D.C. schools.

And since I cook, I was nominated to put food on the table for the Powerpoint fest and tour of the U.S. Botanical Gardens scheduled for this evening.

I am impressed with the "Penny-wise Eat Local" challenge currently underway. And if I had any ready sources of local spring vegetables close at hand I would leap at the chance to put them into play. Absent the local stuff, I'm thinking seasonal. And since this is a gardening crowd, I will be leaning hard on the vegetable side.

Are you thinking of your own menu? The one that's coming into view for me starts with some poached asparagus and possibly blanched baby carrots. I would serve these with a green aioli spiked with garlic, mint, tarragon and dill. (I also make this with anise hyssop, but later in the season).

Secondly, I like the idea of artichokes, probably marinated artichoke hearts beaten into a spread with sauteed leeks, garlic chives from the garden and feta cheese. I would serve these with some kind of artisenal cracker.

Finally, I'm going to make our friend Larry's famous sweet onion sandwich rounds on brioche. I do believe Larry stole the recipe from James Beard. They are terribly decadent, these little tea sandwiches, with a dollop of mayonnaise inside, then rolled in finely chopped parsley. They are addictive and disappear like popcorn.

I inquired about brioche at Whole Foods yesterday and thought the clerk in the bakery section was going to take me home with him. He was so happy to talk about his brioche and how much he'd enjoy making a loaf for me. So I placed an order for one loaf (who knew you could order bread at Whole Foods!) and am scheduled to pick it up today at 10 am.

My wife, the baker, has offered to make heart-shaped brownies for this event, which will no doubt be the most popular item of all. Now we have to decide how we will be transporting this food to the Botanical Gardens, which of our glass and ceramic platters we might use to display our "snacks" and how to ensure everything makes it back home in good working order.

Catering still make me nervous. I don't care how many times you have done this, whether dinner for two or hors d'oeuvres for 1,000, feeding strangers is always like jumping into the abyss. There are so many things that can go wrong. They usually don't. Usually, you find a way to make everything turn out fine in the end. Still, there's always this anticipatory panic leading up to the event. I think most caterers, like busy restaurant chefs, relish the adrenalin rush. I don't. I am only a reluctant caterer. I would much rather have friends come to my house to eat so I can relax.

I will let you know how this turns out and tomorrow we can take a closer look at these onion sandwiches. If they turn out anything like the ones Larry makes, you will want to make these soon.


GreatBigVegChallenge said...

A propos of absolutely nothing - brioche is fantastic in summer puddings - the best bread to use and it takes the summer pud to a new dimension of loveliness

Ed Bruske said...

We are very big on bread pudding around here, Charlotte. Thanks so much for the tip. And now that we know Whole Foods will make one for us any time, we'll be back with more brioche...