Cooking for Weekend Away 2012 – Stories Behind the Kitchen Door

After last week’s busy happy time with family at Cathy and Austin’s wedding (plus a shocking time in big dark London – more stories to follow!), and a weekend’s busy cooking for church friends, I can finally have a day at home, drinking tea without worrying if the milk out there has got used up.

Three days, 6 meals, 45 people

2 November, after two days we came back from London, we went to Balcary House, Hawick, in Scottish Borders for a weekend away with friends from church.

We have come to Balcary House for church weekends away every year for 4 years now. It’s a lovely big house, we had a lot of lovely times here. However, my role was different this time, Andy and I were going to be the cooks. We had never had the responsibility of feeding 45 people for a whole weekend before. The preparation actually started three weeks ago. I’ve been thinking about the menu, looking for recipes, ordering ingredients, recalculating the amount of food needed, trying hard to do all these within the budget at the same time, for ages.

From the beginning, my goal was: everybody gets fed happily. I read it in a book that the best servants do their jobs without anyone noticing their existence. That was the goal I set myself: the whole weekend would go smoothly with people learning, talking, having fun etc, without any problems caused by food. At least, the problem should stay inside the kitchen. I think we did it. Although almost all the meals were served later than they should be, there were no major disasters. However, there were a few “emergency” moments.

Emergencies that only the kitchen knows about

What’s wrong with the bacon:

Saturday lunch was spaghetti carbonara. When we added the bacon to the two saucepans, there were bits of bacon in one of the pots that became a kind of mushroomy colour. After a small confidential group discussion, we decided to throw the dodgy pot away and feed everyone with half amount of the bacon. It really reminded me of the story of Jesus feeding 5000 people with two fish and five loaves of bread. We served 45 people with half amount of food, and we had a lot of leftover.

Super late chicken:

Tesco did not have enough drumsticks, so they delivered chicken quarters instead of drumsticks. They were marinated in mango mustard sauce for 24 hours. I was not worried about them at all. But when they went into the oven, it took absolutely ages to cook through. Saturday dinner was an hour late. An HOUR! Really bad time control. Fortunately there was no seminar or talk that evening. We just lost a lot of time for games.
Having learnt from this experience, we put the beef joints into the oven 8 o’clock in the morning the next day, for lunch at 1pm. They all came out on time beautifully.

Bread and butter pudding, or the lack of it:

Sunday lunch dessert was supposed to be Bread and Butter Pudding. But it failed me (or I failed it). 30mins before the meal started, I found my pudding looked like pieces of dry toast lying in milk on baking trays. I’d rather serve no dessert than give people toast (they just had it for breakfast!). Searching through the fridge and freezer, there were one and a half tubs of ice cream, a small tray of Meringue Cream dessert left from previous day and three jugs of sauce. It was the same miracle again, we managed to serve all the people at the tables some dessert, and there were some portions leftover.

Favourite moment

I admit it was hard work. When I went to bed, all the items on my to-do list kept floating around in my head. But I enjoyed it. I liked the moments when the food was (finally) ready to serve, with people queuing outside the kitchen. I liked it when someone came in and said “smells nice!” or “look at that!”

A few “thank you’s”

Thanks all for the card, the orchid and chocolates! The chocolate has made me very happy today (it’s almost empty now). The card is standing on the book shelf. The beautiful orchid lives on my desk now. I watered it today. I can look at her every time I sit down and type. She looks great against my coffee colour wall. Thanks Lydia I love it!

To everyone who worked so hard to wash dishes, heavy saucepans and greasy baking trays.

To Jessie and Lingling. For giving up your half-term afternoon, squeezing in a little car (which got “tired” in the middle of the countryside) for almost 2 hours. For chopping 2kg of onions, loads of garlic, tons of bacon, spreading butter on 7 loaves of bread. For your expert opinions on cooking rice, making chocolate and caramel sauce.

To Lily. For your lovely smile, getting up early, putting up with my confusing instructions, washing dishes willingly, running around like a little busy bee, doing a brilliant job.

To Ramzi and Ben. For trusting us to do the job, being supportive and considerate, helpful and patient.

Big hug to my qin’ai’de husband. For being there. I couldn’t do it without you. We are a good team.

Recipes for the weekend

For all the lovely friends who said they liked the food and wanted the recipes, here are the links and recipes:

Friday dinner dessert – Chocolate and Caramel Sundaes
Saturday lunch main course – Spaghetti Carbonara
(our Italian friend said: hmm, it’s different. Hmm…)
Saturday dinner dessert – Sticky Toffee Pudding
(with a bit of twist from a friend who is a Master Baker)
Sunday lunch main course – Roast Beef

Here’s the recipe of the Meringue Cream (Saturday lunch dessert):

Serve 6

300ml double cream
1pkt of 8 meringue nests
225g raspberries
50g icing sugar

1. Whip the cream until softly stiff and stir in the crumbled meringues. Fold in evenly and spoon the mixture into a tray. Cover with cling film and freeze.
2. To make the sauce, press the raspberries and sweeten to taste with icing sugar.
3. To serve, take the tray out of the freezer and leave for about 30mins or so.

Mango Mustard Chicken (Saturday dinner main course)
mango chutney, wholegrain mustard, chicken drumstick
1. Mix mango chutney and wholegrain mustard, ratio 2 to 1.
2. Marinade the drumstick for a few hours in a roasting tray.
3. In the oven 200C.

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One Comment

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  1. Well done Nicole, Andy and team. Sounds delicious!

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