Lately, I have been very focused on helping with the 10th International Toy Theater Festival. This festival inspired me to begin making my own puppet shows in the 90s, and it is still my favourite festival in the wide world. It is produced by Great Small Works, a group of theater makers whom I admire a great deal. These are the DIY gods and goddesses of my universe. Here is what I have learned from them: You want culture? Make art! You want community? Bring people together! You want insightful, hopeful, honest political discourse? Educate yourself and share what you know with humour and artistry.
I have had the great pleasure of helping out for the last three festivals. I help with curation. I find free housing for the artists who visit the festival from abroad and out-of-town. This year, I brought my fifth grade theater students from Queens and my second grade puppetry students from Brooklyn to see a show and visit the Temporary Toy Theater Museum. My favourite festival job is coordinating the meals.
The festival feeds the performers (as well as the hard-working tech and production folks) for eight nights after the late show finishes. There are 45-75 people at each meal. I love feeding people and it is very satisfying to see a room full of artists from across the country and around the world enjoying a meal together. I would want to cook all the meals myself, except that would mean that I would not be able to see any of the shows, plus there is the small matter of waking up to teach three hours after the meal is cleaned up. This year, I cooked four of the meals, with help from friends who came to help me chop, clean and carry. The other four meals were cooked by Great Small Works company members, and some friends who know how to feed a crowd. Rima Fand made her amazing Gingered Chickpea, Eggplant, Spinach and Tomato Stew one night!
Here are the menus that I made, with links to the recipes so that folks who came to the festival can find the recipes that they liked. I am also including notes about quantities made, in case anyone else out there needs to feed a lot of people. Also, it’s helpful for me to have notes, since the festival only happens every two or three years and I will forget how much bean salad to make for 45 people by then. These meals were vegetarian and not gluten-free since we were working on a budget.
Meal #1 (45 people)
- Quinoa Tabbouleh (with and without sheep feta)- We made 6 batches but 4 or 5 would have been enough. It was good the next day though.
- Moroccan Carrot Salad- We made this salad with 3 pounds of carrots. Also I added 3 preserved lemons minced, which I would do again because it was tasty.
- Pita chips with Za’atar- We made these by using this method and sprinkling Za’atar on top (although, in my oven it only took 6 minutes per batch). You can by Za’atar at Sahadi’s or Kalustyan’s. We used 24 pita cut into 8 pieces each and served the other 24 pita raw and sliced in half. There was raw pita leftover but all of the chips got eaten.
- Spicy Date Dip- This one was a little bit expensive for this kind of meal. I could only afford to make three batches and it was nowhere near enough.
- Arugula Salad and Herb Salad with Almonds- We made 3 batches (1 pound of arugula) and we had just enough. I left the dates out, but maybe I should have kept them in and skipped the spicy dip?
- If I had more time and money I would have served Roasted Cauliflower with Dukkah and Gluten-Free Rosewater and Pistachio shortbread.
Meal #2 (45 people)
- Tomato Pie- Scroll down in this post about home-made mayonnaise for the recipe. We made 8, but 6 would have been enough. That said, no one ever complains about leftover tomato pie. You can find a gluten-free version by clicking here.
- Mona’s Bean Salad- We made way more than was needed, although it was nice to add it into later meals. I should have made it with 2 pounds of fresh beans, 1 large onion, 4 stalks of celery, 2 green peppers and a can each of kidney beans and chickpeas.
- Arugula Salad with Basil- made with 1 pound of arugula, but 2 pounds would have gotten eaten.
- If I had more time and money, I would have also made Cold Cucumber Soup and Gluten-Free Linzertort.
Meal #3 (55 people)
- Black Bean Soup- We made way too much soup, although it was even better a few days later. For this many people, I should have made 5 batches.
- Green Salad with Avocado, Grilled pineapple and Pickled Red Onion- We used 3 pineapples, 6 avocados and 3 pounds of arugula (instead of watercress).
- Tiny Cream Cheese and Guava Tarts- I made 5 batches of 12 using Old Fashioned Pie Dough for 4 batches, and Gluten-Free Pie Crust for 1 batch.
- If I had more time and money, I would have also made Chicken Empanadas.
Meal #4 (75 people)
- Leftover Black Bean Soup
- Arugula salad with leftover Bean Salad
- Turnovers filled with caramelized onion, thyme, potato and feta- recipe below!
- A wide array of tasty treats from Sahadi’s. Store bought or home-made ajvar would be good with the turnovers.
CARAMELIZED ONION, THYME, POTATO AND FETA TURNOVERS
This is not a gluten-free recipe. If you want to use a gluten-free crust, use this dough recipe. In my opinion, it would be much too difficult and expensive to make 75 gluten-free empanadas, but a small batch would be good.
This recipe should make enough to fill 75 turnovers with a scant ¼ cup of filling.
- Olive oil
- 10 pounds of onion, sliced
- 1 small bunch fresh thyme
- 5 pounds of russet potatoes
- freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup red wine (more if you like)
- hot paprika to taste
- wild mushroom powder to taste (optional, but very good)
- 3 pounds of feta cheese
- Warm a generous amount of olive oil in four large skillets over medium high heat. Spread 1/3 of the onions out across all four of the skillets, sprinkle with and saute until they turn translucent and wilt. This will take different amounts of time in each skillet depending on their size and thickness. Just proceed to the next step with each skillet as the onions are ready.
- Turn the heat down to low and let the onions turn a deep golden colour, stirring occasionally (about half an hour).
- Move all of the golden onions into the largest skillet along with the leaves from the fresh thyme. Continue to cook them on low, stirring occasionally while you start the next batch of onion. This first batch of onions will gradually turn a golden brown and develop a jam like consistency.
- Start the next 1/3 of the onions spread across the remaining three pans following the same process. When they are done add them to the big skillet along with the first batch and start the final 1/3 of the onions. While all of the onions are cooking you can start the potatoes.
- Peel and dice the potatoes. Toss the potatoes with a generous amount of olive oil, slat and pepper. Spread the potatoes across 2 or 3 baking sheets and roast until they are tender and starting to turn golden.
- When all of the onions are caramelized combine them in the very large skillet and turn the heat back up to medium high. Add the wine, paprika, black pepper and wild mushroom powder and cook it until the wine reduces. Remove it from the heat, taste it and adjust the seasoning.
- Combine the roasted potatoes, caramelized onion mixture and the feta (crumbled) in a large bowl.
This recipe makes enough dough for 8 turnovers if you are using a bowl 6 inches in diameter to cut. So, 9 batches will make almost enough. However, each batch will leave you with some scraps which can be worked together and rolled out to produce quite a few extras, so in the end 8 batches should be enough to get 75 turnovers.
I recommend having two helpers (many thanks to Kate Brehm and Kristy Balthazore). One person (Kate) can mix batches of dough and put them in the fridge. Another (Erin) can take chilled dough out to roll and cut into circles. The third person (Kristy) can fill and close the turnovers, brush them with egg and put them into the oven. The Erin person should take turnovers out of the oven and transfer them to a cooling rack so the Kristy person does not run out of baking sheets. It really helps to have 3 metal baking sheets. I do not, but boy will I buy myself an extra one next time I do this!
- 2 cups all-purpose flour (16 cups if you are making 75)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt (4 tsp if you are making 75)
- 12 Tablespoons cold unsalted butter (4 pounds if you are making 75)
- 1/3- 1/2 cup ice water (4 cup if you are making 75)
- 1 egg whisked with 2 tablespoons of cold water (1 or 2 eggs are enough to glaze all 75)
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees
- I put 1/2 cup water in a metal container in the freezer so that it is very cold by the time I need it.
- Combine the flour and salt in a mixing bowl.
- Cut the cold butter into the flour in at least 12 chunks.
- Use your fingers or a cold pastry cutter to cut the butter into the flour until it is the consistency of very coarse cornmeal with some pea sized chunks of butter remaining.
- Add the ice water gradually, stirring the dough with a fork. Add just enough water to make the dough form into a dry ball. The amount of water will vary depending on how dry your flour is.
- Put the dough in the fridge to cool it if your kitchen is hot.
- Roll the dough out on a clean floured surface. It should be 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick.
- Use a 6 inch bowl as a cutter. Transfer the circles of dough to a baking sheet.
- Place a scant 1/4 cup of filling in the center of the dough circle . Fold the circle over and then fold the half circle edge back, pressing it together to make a rippled crust. Sometimes it helps to wet the edge of the circle to make it stick.
- Repeat with all of the dough circles. Brush them with egg wash and bake them at 350 degrees until they are golden brown (15-20 minutes).