Last week we hosted another gathering - this time for 25 college students. It's always a challenge cooking for this many - because I'm never sure how much is enough. Friends have told me - and I think they're right - that you just cook until you're done - - because they'll eat until it's gone. For the most part, I think that is true. Because it was a particularly cold night, I cooked up a vat of The Silver Palate's Pasta with Sausage and Peppers. It really was a vat - in fact because I multiplied the recipe by six, I had to cook it in several different batches. That particular recipe is one of my favorites for a crowd because it's hearty and spicy and with salad and bread, provides an ample dinner. I learned a few things this time - one is that multiplying the recipe by six may be just a little too large. Two - I used turkey sausage - half spicy and half sweet. While I am typically very happy using turkey sausage, this dish really needs the body and richness of a more traditional Italian sausage. Third, cooking the sauce on the stove makes for a better consistency than using the crock pot. Finally - when you are cooking pasta in such large quantities, it's better to boil it all ahead of time and dress it in olive oil and keep it warm. My stove is so slow to boil that I was in arrears on the pasta all night. I used the lobster pot to boil the rigatoni because I was cooking 9 pounds of pasta! Even when breaking the amount down to to 3 to 4 pounds per cooking session, it took forever for the water to boil and I had hungry bodies swarming waiting for the next batch. Oh well - lesson learned.
Several other funny things added some spice to the evening. My 9 year old decided to hide in the under-the-sink cabinet in the downstairs bathroom - jumping out at our guests when he heard the door close. It's funnier now than it was last Thursday, but it's a mixture of amusement and horror.
I spent about 10 minutes visiting with a young man that I'd not met before - and we chitchatted about general things: football and the super bowl, food, weather, etc, when he asked me where I was from. I replied that I was from Texas.
"Oh", he said. "That surprises me".
"Really?" I asked. "I guess that's because I don't have much of an accent anymore. I haven't lived in Texas since 1989."
"Oh it's not that", he said. "It's just that usually when I meet someone from Texas, they tell me where they're from in the first sentence".
Clearly I am slipping.
Oh - the centerpiece on the cheap: While at the supermarket buying the last minute things that you need for the party, buy three bunches of supermarket flowers (red Gerbera daisies, yellow Gerbera daisies, and yellow button mums) and a block of floral foam. Soak the floral foam in warm water while cutting the stems to the appropriate height, and trimming the leaves off of the mums. Stuff the floral foam into the can left over from your pasta sauce (I had 6 of these!), and let the can trim off the extra foam when you stuff it in. Start assembling the flowers in a simple bouquet shape - alternating the yellow and red daisies, and then filling in with the mums. When I finished that step, I had too much floral foam showing, so I took my kitchen shears to the front yard and trimmed some of those green branches off of one of my shrubs. No I don't know what it is - it was just one of the few green things in my yard. I stuffed the green branches in and viola! Done. Now this was assembled last Thursday, and it's still looking pretty good. I have added water once, but that's it. Total cost was less than $12.