“When the cats are away, the mice shall play”
While our parents were away on an out-of-the country excursion, my brother and I held a gathering of both of our friends. Yes, we had a party at our parents’ house while they were away. Unlike those wild parties we hear about from TV or movies, the only people we were afraid of breaking things were the little children running around. Of course, as Muslim gatherings go, there was no alcohol. Great times can be had sans drinking.
Since many of our friends were married (and some to each other) or had siblings of the opposite gender who were our respective friends, it made sense to do just one big “co-ed shindig”. Cooking for a lot of people isn’t easy, but it is doable and moderately easy if you plan it right.
Thankfully, my brother had the same idea when it came to cooking for gatherings: make a lot of a few dishes, rather than a lot of several dishes. Giving people too many options is not only stressful for the hosts (to make all the food) but is also just too much food. In general, people like a simple meal with a few dishes. Buffets are hits because they offer a wide selection with an “eat all you can” capacity, but how many of us can actually eat that much at buffets? How many of us get overwhelmed by the amount of choices and get full by the time we’ve tried just a few things?
For whatever reason, though, This doesn’t apply to dessert.. Most of the time, I’ve found the more dessert, the better. And as a host, most of the time you don’t actually have to worry about dessert (as much) as people usually bring that over even when it’s not a potluck. As my friend Ayesha observed, however, it isn’t cool when someone brings a store bought cake or cookies while others make things from scratch, especially when guests actually reach for the store bought goods versus the labored goods. I do put that disclaimer before hosting, but it isn’t always heeded. I will call you out on it though, so let ye all be forewarned. 🙂
Ok, as for the dishes themselves, I baked (for the first time ever), “magic layer bars”, from a friend’s food blog. I don’t know that I’ve ever actually had them, so I was excited to not only make them but try them too. Yep, I was experimenting on my friends (and myself). 🙂
This was relatively easy to make and I actually made a larger amount than the recipe (I used a 11 x 15 inch pan, I believe). I used coconut oil for the graham cracker crust. The condensed milk, which I had apparently never used before, was a lot thicker than I thought it would be and I had a hard time spreading it onto the graham cracker crust without ruining the crust. I did the best I could, trying not to use the whole can (I heard it’s terribly sweet). I managed all right, I think.
I then added chocolate, in the form of mini-chunks that I made from Trader Joe’s Pound Plus chocolate bar, oatmeal, slivered almonds, (organic dried) cranberries, and finally the coconut flakes. I had some reservations about adding cranberries, but after asking my friend, she said it would taste good and add a slight tartness to the sweetness of it (I was afraid of adding raisins and making them TOO sweet).
There was actually a lot of this left over, but thankfully I had friends come over and help me finish it. 🙂
For the main course, (which did come before the dessert, really) I baked (roasted) some vegetables: baby carrots, butternut squash and sweet potatoes. I chopped them up into cubes, trying to make them all the same size so that they would cook evenly and placed them into a pan. I then poured olive oil and sprinkled rosemary (dried) and salt onto the vegetables and tossed them together to create an even coat of the oil and seasoning. I covered the pan with foil and placed them into the oven at 425 (or might have been 400) and baked until “fork tender” (should be soft enough that a fork goes through easily, but not squishy), about 45 minutes.
When it was time to serve them, I placed them in a dish and sprinkled dried cranberries on them. I was going to add toasted walnuts as well, but a) didn’t have time to toast walnuts and b) was concerned about someone possibly having a nut allergy. I made this instead of salad (which my brother wanted to do), because winter is the season for heartier vegetables, especially squashes and sweet potatoes.
P.S. To give the other home-made goods their due: my brother made kunaf- two kinds – one with nuts and one without, both with ricotta cheese – and my friend Elif made spinach cake.