Adventures in Catering

So, last night I completed what felt like my first proper Vicar’s Wife Assignment. 

We have a Church Plant  (new church gathering for non-church-folks) in the community centre by the school gates every Wednesday tea time. This largely involves games, discussion and a shared meal. So far, I’ve gone along with the kids and enjoyed dipping in and out of the discussions, trying to get to know people inbetween rushed trips to the bathroom and cat-and-mouse chases outside. Last night, however, it was my turn in the kitchen.

As usual, and as I’m sure you can imagine… this had mixed results!

Now, before I go on, I have say that this was one of the tasks that I foresaw in our future in ministry, and one that I was actually most nervous about. See, I love food and I love serving good food to guests. The problem is that my ideas are normally much more elaborate than my capabilities, (or, indeed, my budget!), I’m terrible at portion sizes and my guestimations leave alot to be desired! 

So, you know, this was another task that I approached with a fair amount of umph and a great deal of research…

Back at college, I knew a few of my fellow spouses were, in fact, hospitality goddesses (pardon the expression), and so at the time, I arranged yet another ‘skills sharing evening’ to pick their brains. Now, I’ll be honest, I’ve since lost any notes I made in the move, and can only really remember being advised to invest in a food processor, a slow cooker, a very large pan and an Alpha Cookbook! (Not to mention a heated discussion about the neccessity of peeling vegetables… oh those were wild nights indeed!)

So… come this Wednesday, I was armed and- as always- potentially dangerous, with my Christian Aid Book of Seasonal Feasts, by Sarah Stancliffe; and, quite possibly the saddest but most beautiful birthday gift I’ve ever requested from my family: Madge!

Unfortunately, Ms Stancliffe didn’t have a recipe for a nice Spag Bol, but, between her Chilli-Con-Carne for 20 and Dr. Google’s brother, Chef Google’s, advice on pasta-weight-per-person… I actually managed to cook something pretty darn good for 40 people- and brought just enough home for tonight’s tea. Nice!

It went alot like this…

Simple Spaghetti Bolognaise, for 40

3200g minced beef

7 x 400g tins chopped tomatoes 

10 medium onions (chopped)

5 garlic cloves (crushed)

Large handful of fresh basil (chopped)

Olive oil

80g spaghetti per person

Method: ‘Madgify’ onions, garlic and basil in a food processor, then fry in a large pan, with oil. Add meat and cook until brown. Stir in tomatoes… heat until done! 

Now, I know what you’re waiting for… what’s the catch?

And it’s coming, I promise! 

First, though, as a vegetarian myself, I have to tell you about my completely accidental, but utterly fantastic (and cheap!) Veggie version. 

See, when I first got Madge and took her for a spin, I tried to chop some vegetables and completely emulsified them. However, what I discovered was that if you blitz raw carrots to this degree, they actually take on just the right texture and consistency for bolognaise… no quorn or lentils required! The kids absolutely love it, and it is now one of our staple meals of the week. Not bad for a MagiMix mishap, hey?!


Vegetarian Spaghetti Bolgnaise

Replace the minced beef with raw carrots and mushrooms, (Sometimes I also include broccoli… experiment with what you have!)

Blitz together, fry and mix with sauce in the same way as before. Simples! 🙂

So… if the food was so easy… what on earth went wrong?!

Well, it’s all very good researching your recipe and your portion sizes and even your price comparisons; but…. What I would also now suggest you do before catering for a large group is to research the flipping kitchen you’re supposed to be serving from!

See, this was my first use of the church centre kitchen and, as I’d apparently prepped “the hard bit” at home, I didn’t bother checking what equipment and utensils they had in there first. Error!

See, to accompany the Spag Bol, I bought 50 slices of garlic bread (79p for 10 in Heron Foods, ta very much!), and found they didn’t all fit on the industrial baking tray that had been left on the side. But, “no matter”, thought I. A quick rake around the big metal cupboard, full of pans, right by the oven,:and I found a little black tray just big enough for the leftovers. Perfect!

Of course, it’s just a massive shame it turned out to be made of PLASTIC! 

Next, I couldn’t find any forked spatulas for separating the massive mess of spaghetti; and so attempted to use what turned out to be the salad tongs of the devil himself… 

The handles had such a nip that I bled down my fingers and had to delay serving to recieve some hygienic first aid!!

Oh well! 

At least everyone’s plates were clean though, right?!

So there’s my recipe for successful crowd catering:

One intoxicated oven;

One injured hand;

One less baking tray…

But a mass meal served as planned!

I think I’ll take that as a win, yeah?!

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