Cooking for a crowd is something for which I have the very greatest affection; the menu planning, ingredient shopping, kitchen prep and especially, those last few moments before the meal begins and everyone is seated together at the table. I even love the clean up. Washing and putting away all the plates and flatware and large platters; I ones I only ever use when serving a crowd.
Unsurprisingly, the Wednesday before my recent Boston workshop which I hosted with guest teacher Betty Liu, in the midst of all the bustling and prepping, I felt that familiar infectious excited happiness I always feel before an event. I could feel it bubbling up as I was driving back to the farm, windows down and heady hay scented summer air rushing in and a load of beautiful Five Fork Farms blooms in tow. I began to feel intoxicated with happiness . In less than 24 hours, accompanied by two of the loveliest food bloggers I know, Betty & Valentina, I would be standing in my kitchen, cooking for a crowd. We were preparing a lunch which relied on fresh ingredients, prepared simply, and using as much gorgeous produce from my gardens at CottageFarm as possible. Our gardens at the farm have been producing at such a rapid rate it was wonderful to have an excuse to cook up a big meal to share! To showcase without overworking or overcomplicating things is always my desired method of preparation. I simply want the food to be at its best and freshest and for this to shine through.
There is something undeniably magical about events. A modern-day theater of sorts where lines between audience and performers blur and the entire scene comes to life. Part of that magic is that small but persistent truth that this specific place, group of people and meal is evanescent. There is something in this knowledge that entices and encourages those present to soak in as much of the experience as possible before it is gone – off into the wind, never to be captured again.This workshop was no different and I felt its magic long after we concluded that day. Beginning with our meal the previous night at LoyalNine. It was a symphony of seasonal flavors, cold french whites and flowing conversation all against the back drop of the restaurant’s brimming kitchen gardens. We feasted on savory pancakes topped with grilled peas and peppery lettuces, creamy baked cheeses and homemade buttery crackers. There were bowls full of the most decadent little balsamic drenched onions one could ever imagine and a deeply flavorful green rice salad with the lightest freshest farm eggs on top. It is not a meal or an evening I will soon forget. We all stayed at the table chatting well past our bedtime
We kicked off the next morning at the amazing WarehouseXI, and plenty of strong coffee from No. Six Depot. I spent the first hours of the day busily laying our dark wood farm table from BeOurGuest Rentals with layers of smooth white bistro plates, stunning splatterware enamel, elegant glassware, sparkling silver flatware and the crispest linen napkins. I also piled on yet more beautiful flowers and laid out bowls of deeply ripe red berries. The breakfast table was laden with betty’s homemade coconut granola, pots of thick natural yogurt, honey, concord grape and peach jams from CottageFarm and the lots of lovely flaky croissants from Forge Baking Company. All the while excited to set to work with our amazingly talented group of participants.
After a whirlwind of morning lessons, styling set ups, camera mechanics, discussions of prop selections and a little ladder climbing, we were all more than ready to sit down to lunch. We whipped up the most decadent cheese board imaginable with armloads of crusty french baguette and sourdough boule from Forge Baking Company, and heaps of the loveliest cheeses imaginable all from Vermont Creamery. An assemblage of rich decadent cheeses was our final styling subject before we fairly devoured it ~Lunch itself was a parade of offerings from the CottageFarm gardens – white bean and fresh kale salad, a huge bowl of mixed greens with a citrus vinaigrette, a rye berry salad with creamy buttermilk dressing, pickled rhubarb and dill (see the recipe below) & perfectly soft-boiled eggs from the CottageFarm hens. At the last-minute, I found the most divine fresh apricots at the local Somerville Whole Food Market. I tossed the apricots in a bit of olive oil and honey and paired them with lots of torn purple basil, a swirl of Vermont Creamery quark and a sprinkling of Maldon Sea salt. Lets just say, no one went away hungry.
And before we knew it, we had busily worked away the afternoon as well. Lots of chatter and shutter clicking and the clinking of props on surfaces could be heard as the afternoon turned to evening. Of course we couldn’t end without a little celebration. Nic Korn, a fabulously talented Boston-based mixologist whipped up a few libations for us at the end of the day! He even treated us to the locally produced WireWorks gin! He incorporated this local gin into the most deliciously light, citrusy cocktail. It was all rather a lovely ending to the workshop.
And then, I as I so often do at the end of an event, I found myself standing at the sink in the wee hours of the morning, elbow deep in warm soapy water. In the stillness of a previously manic kitchen, letting my mind weave and stitch together the event from start to finish; solidifying it in my memory and letting the infectious energy of the group settle in my mind.
This recipe below is for the wonderfully summery ryeberry salad. I served it as part of the lunch for this workshop. I adore ryeberry, they are nutty in flavor, chewy in texture and have the most delightful pop when you bite into them. The buttermilk dressing adds a sharp counterpoint to the ryeberries and I load it with lots of fresh dill. I also love the pickled rhubarb in this salad. There is so much rhubarb coming up at CottageFarm in the spring and early summer, this quick pickle is the best way to preserve it. Its delicious in salads or accompanying cheese. I also eat it straight from the jar – it’s that good!
The recipe is intended for a crowd but can easily be cut in half. If you can’t find ryeberry you can use wheatberry of farro. I also use a cured feta from Whole Foods Market, but any old variety will do really. Make sure to rinse and soak the ryeberry in water and a tablespoon or two of raw apple cider vinegar over night before using. Cook it as you would pasta; by bringing a large pot of water to a boil and slowly add rinsed and drained rye berries, stirring as you go, until they are cooked. This can take up to an hour but they are usually done in about 45 mins of cooking.
For the pickled rhubarb
- 3 or 4 deep red stocks of rhubarb
- 1 1/4 cups white wine vinegar
- 1/2 cup water
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 6 whole cloves
- 3 bay leaves
- 1 tsp yellow mustard seeds (optional)
- wash and trim ends from rhubarb. cut into 1″ pieces and place in a clean glass jar
- in a sauce pan over medium heat, combine the remaining ingredients. stir together until the sugar is completely dissolved
- bring the liquid to a quick boil then immediately pour over the rhubarb pieces.
- cover the jar and let it stand for two hours in a warm place. this will allow the rhubarb to soften
- place in the refrigerator until ready to use or for up to 10 days
For the buttermilk dressing
- 4 medium cloves garlic
- 2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
- 2 cup / 240 ml buttermilk
- 2 tbsp yogurt
- 1/2 cup white wine vinegar
- juice from half a lemon
- 1/2 cup / 60 ml extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup chopped dill
- 2 tablespoon chopped thyme
- a few good grinds of fresh black pepper
- grate the cloves of garlic on a microplaner into a large bowl, add salt and stir to combine
- add vinegar to the bowl and stir, then add the buttermilk and yogurt. whisk well and let stand for 15 minutes
- in a small bowl, combine the lemon juice, herbs and black pepper. let stand 5 minutes, then add to the buttermilk mixture
- slowly drizzle the olive oil into the buttermilk mixture and whisk until well combined
For the salad
- 2 1/2 cups soaked, rinsed and drained rye berry
- 3 large cucumbers, peeled, deseeded and cut into 1/4″ half-moons
- 2 cups cured feta
- 2 cups fresh or frozen green peas
- 2 cups pickles rhubarb
- 1/2 cup of chiffonade mint
- bring a large pot of water (6-8cups) to a boil over high heat
- when the water is at a rolling boil slowly add the rinsed and drained ryeberry to the boiling water. stir and let the pot return to a boil and continue to cook the ryeberry until al dente – aprox 45minutes
- when done, remove the pot from the heat and drain very well
- place drained rye berry in a large mixing bowl and allow to cool
- add half the dressing to the grains and allow to stand 10 minutes
- then add the peas and cucumbers and another few tablespoons of dressing. taste and add more dressing as desired
- Just before serving add the pickled rhubarb and stir through a bit more dressing if desired, then fold in feta and top with the chiffonade mint