In my code of ethics, the only permissible broken promises are those made to oneself. Ten years ago, when I sold my venture (The Store in Amagansett) into "carryout cuisine" I vowed never to cater another party again. It was a hard oath to keep. From the moment I turned off the gas, everyone wanted me back at the stove. My old clientele would call with alarming regularity offering large and tempting sums of money for my services. But I held firm. Cooking in my own bailiwick was a pleasure, I declared; cooking on alien turf however, was unmitigated penance.
That was my last word on the subject. Or so I thought until a few weeks ago when I abrogated the pledge at the request of two friends (Mildred and Herold Schulz of Golden, Colo.) who hoped to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary with a small dinner and Greene at the range.
A Single Simple Request
The Schulzes, who also happen to be parents of my culinary buddy and cookbook author, Phillip Stephen Schulz, made a single request for their half-century bash. No presents that could not be conspicuously consumed. So I knew my goose was cooked--long before I flew westward for the festivities.
The Schulz tribe is large. Happily, they are also all endowed with good appetites. For this notable occasion, eight children and their spouses, plus 12 grandchildren of varying ages and some assorted mates came from three states to celebrate.
As a seasoned, "circuit-riding cook" I had the good sense to bring half the comestibles cross-country. Particularly those items I suspected would occasion a local shopping dilemma, like chorizos, poblano chiles and a favorite brand of Iowa hams.
The first 48 hours of my stay in Golden were spent in the Schulz kitchen putting my act together, breaking down the menu into various stages that could be alternately reheated, chilled, frozen and in one case barbecued. At the same time family photographs were being snapped by a professional photographer.
A Cutting Deficiency
Pots, pans, platters and like cooking equipment were borrowed from family members nearby. However, a good French chef's knife for chopping was not to be had for love or money. As an ex-caterer I should have brought my own but didn't have the foresight. In the end, however, a food processor and a couple of bread knives performed a miracle meal.
If you're wondering about my catering comeback, forget it. I made myself another promise: no more parties, ever. With a slight exception: It seems I'm penciled in for the Schulzes' 75th anniversary party.
Ordinarily, I'd print recipes for some of the dishes I prepared. But the truth is, they've all appeared before. Instead, I'd like to share a dessert I filched from the party. No traditional wedding cake, this is known in Schulz lore as "Mom's chocolate cake." This popular family confection is usually baked in an oblong pan and sliced prudently. To make it a keepsake of the event, I baked it round as a wedding ring.
ROCKY MOUNTAIN WEDDING CAKE
1/4 cup unsalted butter or shortening, softened
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons boiling water, about
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons cake flour
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon lemon juice or vinegar
1 ounce unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1 cup powdered sugar
10 marshmallows, cut in halves
Beat 3 tablespoons butter, granulated sugar, egg and vanilla in large bowl of electric mixer until light and fluffy.
Combine cocoa and 1/3 cup boiling water in medium bowl. Whisk until smooth. Whisk in baking soda. Let stand until mixture becomes mahogany in color and bubbles slightly.
Beat cocoa mixture into butter mixture until smooth. Slowly add flour and salt. Combine milk and lemon juice and add to mixture.
Pour batter in greased and floured 9-inch springform pan. Bake at 350 degrees until wood pick inserted in center comes out almost clean, about 25 minutes.
Meanwhile, in top of double boiler, melt chocolate with remaining 1 tablespoon butter. Stir until smooth. Remove from heat. Stir in powdered sugar. Add just enough boiling water to make slightly thin chocolate icing. (Icing should not be thick enough to spread with knife, nor as thin as glaze.)
When cake is ready, place marshmallow halves over top. Return cake to oven until marshmallows soften, 2 or 3 minutes. Spoon icing over and around marshmallows. Cool on rack 20 minutes before unmolding. Cool before serving. Makes 8 servings.