A pleasant surprise

It’s been awhile since I’ve done any catering, but last night ended the drought. My friend Angie asked me to help with a surprise 40th birthday party she was planning for a girlfriend. Eager to get my catering skills back up to snuff, I readily accepted.

The plan was hors d’oeuvres for 25-30 people. Cool, easy enough. Then Angie threw me the curveball. The birthday girl doesn’t eat red meat, chicken, pork, nuts or cheese. Omitting the meat wasn’t too much of a problem, but I don’t think I’ve ever put out a party spread that didn’t contain cheese and nuts. I turned on my brain and got down to recipe browsing.

Once I got my head wrapped around the menu constraints, coming up with ideas wasn’t as challenging as I feared it might be. Vegetables and fruit were fair game, of course, and the possibilities there were endless. So were crackers, dips and spreads, as long as they didn’t contain dairy. And seafood was allowable. Birthday cake for dessert was already taken care of.

So here’s what I came up with:

the spread

First, instead of a standard run-of-the-mill veggie platter, I decided to take a note from Black Market and assemble a variety of fresh pickles. I picked five items  to pickle and used different recipes for each to provide plenty of flavor variety. I’d made the pickled grapes and the lemon pickled zucchini before, but the dill green beans, Asian carrots and icebox pickles were all new experiments, and ones that worked out great. I prepared the green beans, carrots and grapes the night before so they’d have plenty of time to marinate, and then banged out the cucumbers the morning of and the zucchini at the last minute (I knew from experience that these don’t take long to soak up the juice).

a fine pickle

Hubby and I pulled all the pickles out of the fridge for a mid-afternoon taste test to make sure things were on track. And boy, were they! The carrots took on an awesome soy ginger tang and the cucumbers were spicy sweet thanks to the pickling spice I used. The green beans were my favorite – crunchy crisp and packed with bracing fresh dill and puckery vinegar. Yay! I breathed a sigh of relief and turned my attention to the rest of the menu.

wine-baked olives

Wine-baked olives were something that I immediately pulled out of my recipe box for consideration. Easy peasy and elegant. The only tricky part is boiling the olives briefly at first to soften slightly and leech out some of the excess oil. Then you simply drain them, throw them into a casserole dish and pour in a little red wine. Sprinkle in some fresh thyme and grate over a little orange zest, then bake for 30 minutes and there ya go. One gentleman at the party said they were the best olives he’d ever eaten. Thank you, kind sir!

California shrimp cocktail with orange and avocado

Shrimp cocktail was one of the first things that leapt to mind, and I have a great recipe from my catering mentor Jen that I’ve made a couple times before. A California spin adds in sliced avocado and orange sections over mixed greens. Served individually in little cups, they look attractive and taste great. And as Angie’s husband Ben so aptly noted, avocado is like bacon for vegetarians.

spicy roasted chickpeas

Figuring we needed a little something crunchy to go with the drinks, I toasted up a big batch of spicy chickpeas instead of setting out a bowl of hummus like I’d originally intended. Drain the garbanzos, then toss with olive oil and a spice blend of your choosing (I used cumin, thyme, garlic salt, pepper and cayenne), then bake on a cookie sheet until crunchy. These little babies are great to have on hand in lieu of nuts or chips, and totally threw some of the party guests for a pleasant loop when they bit in.

I rounded out the mix with crackers, toasted pita wedges and a yummy roasted eggplant dip recipe from Ina Garten. Ina never steers you wrong.

All in all, the birthday girl was surprised, the party was a success and I got lots of great feedback. Nice to know I’ve still got it.

St. Elmo's still delivers

I love St. Elmo’s Steak House. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve actually ever eaten there mind you, but I love it, and the twice-yearly Devour Downtown promotion makes a great excuse to get on down to this granddaddy of Indianapolis dining establishments.

I took my dad to the venerable St. E’s on Saturday night under the pretense of doing research (I got a freelance gig that covered my meal if I was willing to write a report about it and take a few photos). Dad and I hit up St. Elmo’s for Devour Downtown two summers ago as well, if memory serves…

My dad is sort of funny about this sort of excursion. After all, this is a man who enjoys the weekly $1.99 country-fried steak special at KFC without fail and thinks it’s a great meal. To him, any dinner that costs more than about $10 is terribly extravagant. He admitted he didn’t just think he could enjoy eating at St. Elmo’s at regular price. And he’s right, it is expensive, as upscale steakhouses by nature are. Then again, it’s not like we’re eating at these types of place every week. In my book, a $30 three-course meal at St. Elmo’s once or twice a year is a STEAL, and an opportunity well worth taking advantage of.

We didn’t make a reservation during our previous visit and lucked out by just showing up around 5 p.m., getting seated right away. This time around was a different story. Hindered by bad weather, downtown construction and tons of traffic, we rolled in the door around 5:25 p.m. and were told we could expect an hour and a half wait before getting any sort of table. Ugh. Our lucky stars were shining on us again, though, and we were able to immediately snag a bar table from a couple who were in the process of vacating. Unknowingly snatching it out from under another pair, who proceeded to fix me with the evil eye for the ensuing hour, even though they got the table right next to us within a matter of minutes.

The bar scene at St. Elmo’s is actually pretty trendy and happening in spite of its old-school rep, but it did not make a great spot for dinner with pops. My dad has trouble hearing to begin with and all the loud ambient noise precluded any effort at dinner conversation. Our attempts at reading each other’s lips failed miserably, and we resigned ourselves to eating our meals while watching some golf tournament on the flat-screen TV over the bar.

On the upside, the food was fantastic. For $30, the Devour Downtown menu provided us each with a shrimp cocktail, filet mignon with red-skin mashed potatoes and garlic green beans, and a dessert. Everything is a slightly smaller portion than you usually receive, but still more than enough to fill you up. In fact, I took a few bites of steak and green beans home with the intention of assembling a kick-ass black-and-bleu salad for lunch the following day. (Alas, hubby intervened…)

The cocktail contained three HUGE succulent pieces of shrimp buried under an avalanche of St. Elmo’s signature blow-your-head-off horseradish sauce. Can’t speak for my dad, but my steak was perfectly cooked to medium-well just the way I like it, and tender like butta. Yum. Yum. And yum.

St. E's filet mignon

Dessert was perhaps the only slightly underwhelming part of the meal. My slice of cheesecake was rich and delicious and the accompanying raspberry coulis garnish tangy and fresh, but my dad’s crème brulee wasn’t all that. It was just a tiny custard cup with a barely-caramelized crust. Instead of that satisfying crack you get when you sink your spoon into the first bite of a really good crème brulee, this one only offered a few blackened spots on the surface, much like the cheese bubbles on a pizza. Eh.

Adding up the bill, we spent around $90 all in – two dinners, one glass of wine for me, tax and tip. Great value in my humble opinion, considering you can easily spend this much per head there any other time of year.

So what’s your vote? St. Elmo’s – hotspot that’s held up over time, or just plain over-rated?

For more info:

http://www.devourdowntown.org/

http://www.stelmos.com/home.html

 

 

 

 

 

St. Elmo Steak House on Urbanspoon

St. Elmo’s still delivers

I love St. Elmo’s Steak House. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve actually ever eaten there mind you, but I love it, and the twice-yearly Devour Downtown promotion makes a great excuse to get on down to this granddaddy of Indianapolis dining establishments.

I took my dad to the venerable St. E’s on Saturday night under the pretense of doing research (I got a freelance gig that covered my meal if I was willing to write a report about it and take a few photos). Dad and I hit up St. Elmo’s for Devour Downtown two summers ago as well, if memory serves…

My dad is sort of funny about this sort of excursion. After all, this is a man who enjoys the weekly $1.99 country-fried steak special at KFC without fail and thinks it’s a great meal. To him, any dinner that costs more than about $10 is terribly extravagant. He admitted he didn’t just think he could enjoy eating at St. Elmo’s at regular price. And he’s right, it is expensive, as upscale steakhouses by nature are. Then again, it’s not like we’re eating at these types of place every week. In my book, a $30 three-course meal at St. Elmo’s once or twice a year is a STEAL, and an opportunity well worth taking advantage of.

We didn’t make a reservation during our previous visit and lucked out by just showing up around 5 p.m., getting seated right away. This time around was a different story. Hindered by bad weather, downtown construction and tons of traffic, we rolled in the door around 5:25 p.m. and were told we could expect an hour and a half wait before getting any sort of table. Ugh. Our lucky stars were shining on us again, though, and we were able to immediately snag a bar table from a couple who were in the process of vacating. Unknowingly snatching it out from under another pair, who proceeded to fix me with the evil eye for the ensuing hour, even though they got the table right next to us within a matter of minutes.

The bar scene at St. Elmo’s is actually pretty trendy and happening in spite of its old-school rep, but it did not make a great spot for dinner with pops. My dad has trouble hearing to begin with and all the loud ambient noise precluded any effort at dinner conversation. Our attempts at reading each other’s lips failed miserably, and we resigned ourselves to eating our meals while watching some golf tournament on the flat-screen TV over the bar.

On the upside, the food was fantastic. For $30, the Devour Downtown menu provided us each with a shrimp cocktail, filet mignon with red-skin mashed potatoes and garlic green beans, and a dessert. Everything is a slightly smaller portion than you usually receive, but still more than enough to fill you up. In fact, I took a few bites of steak and green beans home with the intention of assembling a kick-ass black-and-bleu salad for lunch the following day. (Alas, hubby intervened…)

The cocktail contained three HUGE succulent pieces of shrimp buried under an avalanche of St. Elmo’s signature blow-your-head-off horseradish sauce. Can’t speak for my dad, but my steak was perfectly cooked to medium-well just the way I like it, and tender like butta. Yum. Yum. And yum.

St. E's filet mignon

Dessert was perhaps the only slightly underwhelming part of the meal. My slice of cheesecake was rich and delicious and the accompanying raspberry coulis garnish tangy and fresh, but my dad’s crème brulee wasn’t all that. It was just a tiny custard cup with a barely-caramelized crust. Instead of that satisfying crack you get when you sink your spoon into the first bite of a really good crème brulee, this one only offered a few blackened spots on the surface, much like the cheese bubbles on a pizza. Eh.

Adding up the bill, we spent around $90 all in – two dinners, one glass of wine for me, tax and tip. Great value in my humble opinion, considering you can easily spend this much per head there any other time of year.

So what’s your vote? St. Elmo’s – hotspot that’s held up over time, or just plain over-rated?

For more info:

http://www.devourdowntown.org/

http://www.stelmos.com/home.html

 

 

 

 

 

St. Elmo Steak House on Urbanspoon

a festive 4th party

I was excited to cater a 4th of July party for my friends Brent and Angie… (ok, it was actually on July 3, but no one is splitting hairs…)

The menu included Caprese slider mini-cheeseburgers with tomato, pesto and fresh mozzarella; California shrimp cocktails with avocado and orange-jalapeno cocktail sauce; cheese and fruit platters, bruschetta three ways with sun-dried tomatoes, olives and blue cheese/honey; a veggie platter with creamy garlic herb dip; and chocolate and vanilla bean mini-cupcakes with raspberries and blueberries.

Here are a few pics to whet your appetite:

fruit and cheese

fruit and cheese

shrimp cocktails on ice

shrimp cocktails on ice

three-way bruschetta

three-way bruschetta

veggies and dip platter

veggies and dip platter

patriotic mini-cupcakes

patriotic mini-cupcakes

Cocktails, anyone?

Last Friday night, I hosted a cocktail party to christen “This Little Piggy,” the moniker I’ve chosen for my catering enterprise. The weather was fantastic, the guests were great and the food turned out beautifully! I couldn’t have been happier about the way it all came together. Thanks to everyone who attended, and for supporting me in this new venture/adventure.

Check it out…

the buffet

the buffet

cheddar gougeres (cheese puffs)

cheddar gougeres (cheese puffs)

fruit and cheese platter

fruit and cheese platter

crudite and dip platter

crudite and dip platter

California shrimp cocktails

California shrimp cocktails

meatballs marinara

meatballs marinara

lemon cherry cheesecake bites

lemon cherry cheesecake bites

fudge mint brownies

fudge mint brownies

my new business cards!

my new business cards!