1. For some reason, I had people come into the kitchen as they arrived to get their appetizers and then go out on the deck for drinks. That meant that the kitchen, where all the last-minute prep was taking place, was a complete and total madhouse. Why didn't I put the appetizers outside along with the drinks? No clue.
3. KING SOOPERS LOST MY CHICKEN ORDER!!! We've had their great deli baked chicken at the last two picnics, but this time I wanted to do something a little different, so I bought pounds of Costco's smoked shredded pork. I knew we'd have at least several people who don't eat pork, though, and it's always nice to have a choice. So I stopped by the deli IN PERSON on Friday and filled out an order. But when Gideon went by to pick it up, they said they had no record of it. So some people who would have eaten the chicken instead had to be temporary vegetarians. The lesson here? Always call to confirm. I guess it wasn't the world's worst tragedy.
Now, on to the recipes. I slaved, I labored, over two exotic kinds of chocolate cupcakes: one with root beer and one with chili powder. (To see an unbelievably darling version of the root beer cupcakes, one which I did not make as it was totally impractical for a large crowd, go to the Smitten Kitchen website.) People liked them fine, but the real hit in the dessert department was Gideon's lemon bars. He thought I should have them, and so I said he should make them. Unfortunately, I can't show you even one picture, as every last one disappeared. I guess I could show you the empty pan, but that wouldn't be too attractive. I got the recipe from a site called Lemons and Anchovies, and you can see her lovely photographs by clicking on the link. I had looked at the America's Test Kitchen/Cook's Country recipe, but it was just ridiculous--it called for 7 egg yolks. Since we were making a double recipe, that would have involved separating 14 eggs. I would have had no use for all those whites, so they would have just gone down the drain. A little bopping around on the web garnered me this recipe, and it has a couple of nice refinements:
1. It has you bake the bottom crust quite thoroughly, using parchment paper and pie weights, and even after sitting in the fridge overnight the crust was still crispy. I love lemon bars, but the crust always comes out pretty stodgy. This was marvelous.
2. It calls for the optional addition of pine nuts to the crust. I had some on hand and thought they'd add a certain something. I think they played a part in the crunchiness of the crust, although I'm sure that slivered almonds would also work. The pine nuts are the best choice, I think, but you may not be up for paying $20 a pound for them. The crust would certainly work without them.
I am going ahead and re-posting the recipe below with my commentary and tips on making a double batch (my words are in italics).
Tartine Bakery’s Lemon Bars from the website Lemons and Anchovies:
For the crust:
- 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar (2 oz/55 g)
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (7 1/2 oz/215 g)
- 3/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature (6 oz/170 g)
- 1/2 cup pine nuts (2 oz/55g) (optional--but very good)
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour (2 1/2 oz/70 g)
- 2 1/4 cups sugar (1 pound/455 g)
- 1 cup plus 2 tbsp lemon juice (9 oz/28o ml)
- lemon zest, grated from 1 small lemon
- 6 large whole eggs
- 1 large egg yolk
- salt pinch
- confectioners’ sugar for topping
To make the crust: sift the confectioners’ sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Stir in the flour. Add the butter and pine nuts (if using) and beat on low speed just until a smooth dough forms.
Press the dough evenly into the pan and allow it to come up about a 1/2 inch up the sides of the pan. Line the crust with parchment paper and fill with pie weights. I told Gideon he didn't have to bother with the parchment and weights, but he's a real stickler for following directions. I think that this step does lead to a nice evenly-baked crust, so if you have these tools available I would go ahead and use them. Pie weights are little unglazed ceramic balls, and they're supposed to do a better job than rice or beans because they hold heat well. If you bake a lot of pies it's probably worth it to get them. (Amazon has a page with several versions. Ignore the "pie chains"--they are useless.)
Bake the crust until it is a deep golden brown, about 25-35 minutes. I think we just did the 25 minutes. Here's the real secret to success of this crust: the longer-than-usual baking time. Usually recipes say to bake "until the edges are lightly colored" or some such, usually about 15 minutes, and so the crust is never really cooked all the way through.
To make the filling: While the crust is baking sift the flour into a mixing bowl and whisk in the sugar until blended. Add the lemon juice and zest and stir to dissolve the sugar. In a separate mixing bowl, whisk the whole eggs and egg yolk with the salt. Add the eggs to the lemon juice mixture and whisk until well mixed. Because he was doing such a large batch, Gideon used the stand mixer and the paddle. The wire whisk attachment would have worked a lot better--he ended up with some visible bits of egg in the final product. No one complained, though!
Once the crust is ready (after you've carefully removed the parchment paper with the hot pie weights or whatever you used--beans or rice) pour the filling directly into the pan (leave the pan in the oven while you do this to make it easier). Reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees F. and bake just until the center of the custard is set, about 30 to 40 minutes. This is another nice refinement of this recipe. The crust bakes at a nice high temp to get it crunchy, and then the filling is baked more gently.
Let cool completely on a wire rock, then cover and chill well before cutting. Cut into squares and dust the top with confectioners’ sugar. Make the pieces pretty small, as these are seriously rich.
The other huge hit of the evening was the version I came up with for tabbouleh salad. See the picture above. I wanted to make it pretty substantial for any vegetarians, plus I had some ingredients I wanted to use up: oven-dried tomatoes and marinated artichokes, both from Costco. (You do have a membership there, don't you?) I don't know that I can call the following a recipe, more a set of directions.
Debi's Hearty Tabbouleh
I used Bob's Red Mill red bulgur, which is a whole-grain version. It has a wonderful nutty flavor and a nice chew. (I've given the link to their product just so you can see it, but it's readily available at the grocery store.) Their directions say to mix one cup each boiling water and bulgur and let sit for an hour, which works fine. Be sure to salt the water--maybe 1/4 tsp. per cup of water. Then add whatever ingredients you think appropriate, in whatever proportions you like or have on hand. I put in the artichokes and tomatoes, as mentioned above, plus green onions, quartered and thinly-sliced cucumbers, parsley, and, for added heartiness, chickpeas. For the dressing, I used the oil from the tomatoes and the artichoke marinade to replace some of the regular olive oil. (Put the tomatoes in a strainer and let them sit over a bowl for an hour or so--you'll be surprised at how much oil you get.) For each cup of oil I used 1/3 cup of red wine vinegar and 1/3 cup of lemon juice, plus 1/8 tsp. or so of lemon oil (or you could use zest if you have fresh lemons) and about a tablespoon of good old lemon pepper seasoning mix (again from Costco!). I didn't put in any garlic, for some reason--perhaps because the clock was inexorably ticking--and that might be a good addition. I was fairly generous with the dressing. This makes a bright, fresh-tasting salad that will stand in well for pasta or potato salad.
And there it is. I'm already thinking about next year's picnic. In the meantime, breakfast for 75 people is coming up soon. Stayed tuned.