Dinner for 20

Last Saturday we had a meeting in the Buddhist centre to discuss the outcomes of an event we organised earlier this month. The idea was to celebrate the success of the event afterwards with a dinner prepared by anybody who volunteered. Of course, I raised my hand (the virtual one) and started thinking in suitable options. Soon I learned that two other people had volunteered to help, so my options turned more ambitious. When talking to one of the cooks for the night about my choices I mentioned Moroccan food and he loved the idea. So I started browsing the Net for recipes that could go well together and cater for vegetarians and meat eaters.

The last confirmed number of guests was 24. With that quantity of people I had a really good excuse to tryafterward quite a few recipes from the really big bunch I had chosen. This was the menu:

Entrees, served with flat bread:
– Olives with preserved lemon
– Aubergine puree (recipe from The View from Fez)
– Taktouka – cooked tomato and roasted pepper salad (recipe from The View from Fez)

Mains:
– Sweet grated carrot salad (recipe from Food by Country)
– Raw Moroccan salad (recipe from Lahcen’s Moroccan Cooking)
– Ful – broad beans in tomato sauce (recipe from The View from Fez)
– Moroccan kefta tagine (recipe from The View from Fez)
– Fish tagine with preserved lemon and chermoula (recipe from The View from Fez), served over cous cous
– Chicken tagine with almonds and prunes (recipe from Food by Country), served over cous cous
– Moroccan vegetable tagine (recipe from Summer Tomato, adapted from Mark Bittman), served over cous cous

Dessert:
– Fruit salad with rose water (recipe from Narda Lepes)
– Orange, date and almond salad (recipe from Narda Lepes)
– Moroccan mint tea (I was planning to prepare it from scratch but we found Moroccan Mint Tea bags in the supermarket)

I did some of the shopping beforehand (bought preserved lemons and chili paste in Coles, rose water and orange blossom water in Fiji Market, minced lamb and fish fillets in Norton Plaza). I left those things plus the soaked chickpeas, bowls, measuring cups and spoons, and my “beer o’clock” apron in the centre and went to meet Guy in Foodworks. We found almost everything in the shopping list. We met Bonnie on our way to the centre (she had texted me saying she would be late). Once there, Bonnie and I started with the prep chores, and Guy went to buy the remaining things plus beers for the cooks.

I taped my charts on the wall: a table with one row per ingredient and one column per dish, indicating the amount of each ingredient required for each dish, and how should it be prepared (sliced, seeded and chopped, grated, etc), and the timetable saying who was doing what at what time. I also had printed the recipes, which were on the counter for quick reference of the person in charge of cooking a particular dish.

We really had a great time cooking together (I’m sure the beer, Doritos and guacamole were responsible for part of the fun), and even when Bonnie hated me for making her peel, seed and chop 30 tomatoes, I know she enjoyed the whole experience. Alvaro arrived late from his volunteer job and helped, too.

The meeting was supposed to start at 6, but people arrived a bit late. That gave us time to leave everything nearly finished. Gladys, who was the first non-cook to arrive, helped us, too. The meeting started but I didn’t stay too long in there, I had to be in the kitchen taking care of the last details, getting everything ready to go.

When the meeting ended we started reheating the entrees. Lovely Tatiana and Taeko helped us with the washing throughout the night. While the guests were eating we started reheating the mains. At the same time I prepared the cous cous in a huge bowl. For a few minutes I experienced the rush that I miss so much about working in a kitchen. Stress was at its peak, but it was the good kind of stress, the one that makes you totally alert and efficient (and sweaty, too). Once all mains were served in huge platters for people to help themselves I had a rest.

Gladys had serve a plate for me, so I just sat down and enjoyed dinner. I was kind of stuffed from the Doritos, beer, and all the times I had tasted the food while cooking, but I still wanted to experience how the guests were perceiving the food as a whole (if that makes sense).

At the end some people who had RSVP’ed didn’t come. We had leftovers but not as much as I thought in the beginning. I let people chat and drink for a while before dessert. To my surprise, they did eat the fruit salads (I did too, even when that meant no more space for beer in my belly). I would say we did a very good job.

The only regret I have is that with all that work I didn’t have a chance to take a single photo. Next time, maybe.

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