Sara's Memorial

Sadly, we're in Chicago for the funeral of my sister in law Sara Lee, my longtime partner in family cooking crimes.

The initial plan for the post-service gathering back at Chip's house was one involving simplicity and prepared foods. However, as Margie and Meghan began planning their trip to Costco, I was compelled to intervene. I mean, this is for Sara, a purist cook - how could we possibly buy trays of prepared appetizers and sandwiches? On the other hand, I wasn't going to cook for 10-12 hours and lose a night of sleep. Actually I wanted to, but was forbidden, appropriately, by Ms. Finn.

So I had the opportunity to mimic "Dinner: Impossible", the Food Network show where a chef is given a last minute catering job that seems impossible to accomplish. Fortunately, my mission was not impossible. We settled on a simple menu, so it was mostly the quantities that could pose a challenge.

  • Assorted Sandwiches on Baguettes
    • Black Forest Ham and Swiss / and Cheddar
    • Pastrami and Provolone / and Swiss
    • Salami and Provolone
    • Turkey and Cheddar
    • "Everything" - all the of above
    • Cucumber and Herbed Cream Cheese on Roasted Garlic Baguette
  • Spanish Summer Rice Salad with Tuna
  • Spicy Moroccan Couscous with Dates
  • Pasta, Fresh Mozzarella, Tomato Salad with Microgreens
The sandwiches were a big hit, as Margie and Meghan found VERY high quality baguettes at Costco, especially the Roasted Garlic version. In fact, these weren't baguettes at all. They were not a baguette shape - they were more squat and rectangular in nature; and they were not French style at all - despite the "French Baguette" label. They were a peasant, country style loaf - very dense, very high quality with a perfectly hardened rustic crust. If anything I'd think of them as a Tuscan style.

The lesson is, as always, that the quality and/or uniqueness of a bread is the dominant factor for sandwiches, burgers, crostini, etc. And if you don't bake your own, you're well served if you seek out a high quality loaf or roll.

We were expecting 75 to 100 people to stop by Chip's house, and were not sure how many other dishes would be brought, so we wanted to have a very decent quantity of food on hand. Besides, Peter and his Marine friends, Jonathon's baseball friends, and all those Lee relatives would likely party into the night and devour several courses over time. So 16 enormous sandwiches were assembled, using 8 pounds of meat, 6 pounds of cheeses, and a couple Kirby Cukes and cream cheese.

We set up a great family fueled sandwich factory, in which we had cutters, assemblers and slicers. My father in law Pete, not one to participate in many cooking endeavors, was the heart of the factory. Next time we'll convince him to put triple the quantity of meat on the sandwiches, but otherwise, he was awesome.

My son Alex helped determine the meat / cheese combinations, and came up with the all important and quite deliceious "Everything Sandwich". I was inspired to through together a quick herb cream cheese spread, and created the cucumber sandwich, which went nicely with the roasted garlic bread.

Simple Herbed Cream Cheese
- 1/2 pound container of whipped cream cheese
- 2 small garlic cloves mashed with salt
- 2 t dried tarragon
- 1/2 t dried thyme
- Mix and allow to sit overnight.

The rice salad is the standby that I've been making for 10+ years. (I'll link to the recipe sometime soon). I used 5 cups of Berretta Arboria, to make roughly a triple batch. There was plenty left over. Not sure why - it usually goes fast.

The Couscous was the same dish I created two weeks ago (add link here). It's got a nice blend of spiciness from cumin and cayenne, along with sweeetness from dates and cinnamon. I used 4 boxes of couscous, roughly 2 C each. This too was a bit more than was needed.

While pasta with Tomato and Mozzarella is a classic picnic standby, I chose to pretty it up by using very small tube shaped paste - I think I've seen the name tubettes, but this Barilla version was digitalli or something like that. Tomatos were diced small (1/4 inch) to match, and mozzarella also diced small. These choices set the stage for microgreens. the ones I had from Trader Joe's looked to be roughly watercress in nature, but without the tough stems. I was quite pleased with how they looked in the pasta, as it was more interesting to see than strips of basil, though admittedly, they didn't add much in taste. They may have added a little texture, though the stems were very soft and eminently edible. The pasta was tossed with some garlic infused olive oil, plenty of salt and pepper and about 2 oz of a high quality parmesan per pound of pasta. I made 4 pounds of pasta, which was exactly enough. Very little left over.


Elyse Smith said...

Hi Tom! Great meeting you at the memorial and the food was awesome! I enjoyed left overs for a couple days after as well. I really liked the pasta with fresh mozzerella and tomato. Anyways, I am at work so I have not been able to extensively read your blog spot, but I will look for more recipes throughout the summer.

boo said...

Very sorry about your sister in law but what a way to honor her.

Now I am hungry!

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