On one of the free days I had during my spring break last week, I made a dinner for 50, the largest group I ever cooked for. So the reason this happened was because when I first moved (back) to California, I went to visit my sister Iris at UC Davis and experienced one of her multi-faith community's Wednesday Night Dinners. I enjoyed it so much that I offered to cook one of the dinners in the future, and my spring break was the first opportunity to do so.
I decided on a Thai-themed dinner because: 1) Thai is my favorite cuisine and yet I don't know how to make any of the dishes, so this was a good chance to try, and 2) Thai cuisine has many vegetarian options, which was one of the requirements of the dinner since the menu had to accommodate everyone's religious dietary restrictions.
To make it easier for me (since I only had a few hours to cook so much for so many people), for appetizer I simply did store-bought salad mix (with some carrots, cucumbers and tomatoes thrown in) with peanut dressing, and for dessert I simply did fruit cocktail with almond jello. (There was some anxiety over the kosher-ness of the jello, but thankfully I found that it was made from agar-agar, which is derived from seaweed, thereby kosher and vegan to boot.)
So the actual day-of involved me taking a train (almost two hours) to get to my dad's house to use his car, grocery shopping (almost two hours, despite using allrecipes.com to adjust the recipe to 50 servings, then the handy "add to shopping list" function), driving to Davis (two hours), prepping and cooking (four hours), etc. etc. Thank goodness Iris was able to find me two helpers (thanks Rose and Ashley!) to help me cut vegetables.
Although I planned on using this coconut curry tofu recipe, I found Thai curry packets in 99 Ranch (Asian grocery), so I ended up following the directions on there. It involved sauteeing the curry paste in some oil, then adding coconut milk and brown sugar to taste. Really easy considering the amount of flavor it yields, so it's surprising I've never tried to do it before.
At some point I figured out that all of the ingredients were not going to fit in the same pot, so I divided everything into two pots. From my experience in cooking I've found that it's really important what order you cook things in, even if they all end up together. In this case, the tofu and carrots went in first, because they would take the longest to get tender and absorb the curry flavor. Then I sauteed the mushrooms with onions and basil and scallions on the side (to soften them and develop their own flavors) and added those in. Then went the yellow bell peppers and snow peas and baby bok choy. And then I let everything just stew together.
Sadly, my one regret with the curry was that I stewed everything for so long. More specifically, I wish I had added the snow peas and bok choy last, because of the color element (stewing = loss of green color), and also because the snow peas could have retained their crunch and made the curry more palatable. Oh well! I'm just glad everything was done on time (ahead of time even) and was edible :)
And Iris was happy :)
And people got fed :)
My favorite part of the meal was actually dessert. Not only was it the easiest to make, I also thought it was the most delicious. The almond jello came powdered in packets (one brand looks like this) that I simply stirred into boiling water, then let cool and set in shallow pans, then cut into cubes. And then I opened some cans of fruit cocktail (and some cans of lychee, to stay Thai/Asian) and combined everything. So good. I ate two bowls myself and promptly passed out due to food coma and general exhaustion.
I think the best part of all this is that the experience has enabled me to cook more Asian in general, using ingredients like soy sauce and cornstarch and ginger and scallions (instead of my usual defaults of garlic and onion and Italians herbs). Finally I am living up to my heritage!
And I made curry again, this time with the snow peas crunchy.