Friday, February 14, 2014

mangia! an italian dinner in vermont

last weekend the brooklyn peech clan drove up to vermont for jho's birthday getaway: sixteen adults and one baby in a giant house for two nights. weekend activities included snowboarding (for most), hot tubbing, sledding, playing in the snow, playing with fire ::cough cough:: jade ::cough::, taboo, and of course chowing down. there were potato chips for days in all sorts of flavors--ketchup, jalapeƱo, cheesy garlic name a few--ramen bowls, jet-puffed marshmallows, some pepperidge farm cookie action, and green seedless grapes..yknow, to keep things healthy (that's a little bit of food math for you).

to take advantage of the accommodations, and because most people would be busy hitting the slopes saturday, i volunteered to cook dinner for everyone (with the help of some trusty sous chefs). since cooking for such a large group can be rather daunting, especially doing so in an unfamiliar kitchen, i planned a menu of things that could be prepped ahead of time and leave little to do day of. this naturally fell into an italian-american theme: spaghetti and meatballs, lasagna, roasted veggies. let's put the diets on hold and embrace the carbs.

[despite all the planning and prep, i completely forgot to get pictures of the final meal ::wah wah:: so you'll have to settle for random pictures throughout~]

a couple days before the trip i made the meatballs, tomato sauce, and lasagna. it was quite the undertaking; my fridge and freezer weren't quite prepared, but we made it work. i took a chance with recipes that i've never tried before, but they seemed straightforward enough that the risk seemed worth it.

i started by making the tomato sauce which was super easy with only three ingredients: canned whole san marzano tomatoes, butter, and onions. once that cooked and cooled, i jarred it up and stored it in the fridge. next up were the meatballs. these were made up of a trio of meats--pork, veal, beef--and a mixture of spices and herbs, which made them incredibly juicy and flavorful. smooshing all the ingredients together was super satisfying (as long as you suppress the raw-meat-contamination thoughts) and so was shaping them with a big ice cream scooper. uniformity! once those were all scooped and lined up on trays, i wrapped them up and popped them in freezer. i would defrost them in the fridge in vt and then for dinner pan-sear, bake, and finish them in the sauce. the most time-consuming of the dishes was the lasagna, mostly because of the various components that went into it: spinach, mushroom duxelle, and a cheesy cream sauce. the recipe came from seriouseats' kenji, who is notorious for working the crap out of and perfecting his recipes; this usually means a lot of tedious steps, but luckily this one was relatively painless. once everything was layered up, into the freezer it went with the trays of meatballs. all that was left to prep were the vegetables: chopped up broccoli, trimmed brussels sprouts, and made a champagne vinaigrette for the salad. come saturday, i only needed to focus on making sure everything cooked in time without having to spend hours during the day getting everything ready. 

for the most part, the dinner turned out great. courses and timing were a little off since everything needed to be finished in the oven, of which we only had one, but the food was good and plentiful, and everyone seemed to enjoy it. making things ahead of time totally paid off; i didn't turn into a complete stress case, and everyone was super appreciative (and full) :D

no good dinner comes without sweets, so we had birthday cupcakes with italian meringue buttercream and italian rainbow cookies. for the cupcakes, i made two kinds: funfetti with vanilla buttercream and sprinkles and yellow cake with chocolate buttercream, all decorated with pictures honoring the birthday boy, of course~ (the cupcakes ended up a little denser than i'd like, which i was disappointed by because when i tried one right after cooling it was super light and fluffy. booo. i'll have to remedy that next time...maybe i'm overworking the batter?) 
 the rainbow cookies were a total hit and fun to make: one batter--split and dyed into three colors and stacked--two jams (apricot and my homemade blackberry), and a semisweet chocolate coating. pretty and addictive, my favorite combo ;)
so, would i plan, prep, and cook another meal for 16 people? sure, why not! :D


  1. you're willing to cook for us all again??? i'll start planning the next trip then

  2. Awesome weekend! I want more of that lasagna. :)