Dinner Party for 12 – Thai Beef Salad

A bunch of folks in my West Adams neighborhood are freelance, myself included. Speaking personally, it can make you a bit loopy at times when you have no water cooler hub bub to satisfy the daily need for human connection. So, this past week I launched what I hope will be the first of many Freelance Lunches where we can get out of our offices (and let’s be honest – out of our pajamas) to hang out and eat. Freelancing is not a prerequisite. We’ve got stay at home moms and folks who work nearby too.

It dawned on me that the menu I threw together is perfect for a dinner party. I needed to scale the recipes which can be a pain in the ass. And, the need to do the prep in a way that it didn’t suck up the whole work day meant getting efficient with my time. Why go through all the trouble to figure that out and then not pass it on?

So here it is. Dinner for 12 with suggestions on timing and prep below.

Coconut Soup with Mixed Mushrooms

Serves 12 as a starter, 6 as a main

6-14oz cans of reduced sodium chicken broth (I like Swanson’s) or 12 cups homemade chicken stock

9 4-inch pieces of lemongrass (about 3 stalks)

4 inches of ginger, sliced into 1/8 inch slices

3-13.5 oz cans of coconut milk

5 tablespoons of fish sauce, more to taste

5 tablespoons of lime juice, more to taste

1 lb mushrooms (a combination of shitake, cremini and oyster works well with some specialty mushrooms thrown in for texture and color. The picture in this post features wood ear and orange chanterelles for variety.)

2 tablespoon of olive or grapeseed oil

3 tablespoon soy sauce

2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

A handful of cilantro leaves for garnishing

Pound each piece of lemongrass with the heavy handle of knife to release the oils. Place lemongrass and ginger slices in a large pot with the chicken broth and simmer for 10-15 minutes.

While the broth is simmering slice mushrooms or break apart by hand into bit sized pieces. Heat the oil in a pan and sauté over medium high heat until they lose their moisture and turn golden brown. Add soy sauce and stir until the soy sauce coats the mushrooms. Add the cilantro, toss and turn off heat.

When the broth is done simmering, add the coconut milk, fish sauce and lime juice. Taste and correct seasoning by adding more lime or fish sauce depending on your preference. Remove the lemongrass and ginger slices from the broth.

Divide the mushrooms into 12 small ramekins or bowls and ladle a cup of broth into each. Top with cilantro leaves.

 Thai Steak Salad

Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated

Serves 12

For the steak

4 lbs of flank steak, skirt steak or flap meat

1/2 cup canola or grapeseed oil

8 tablespoons fish sauce

8 tablespoons brown sugar

For the dressing

1 cup fish sauce

3/4 cup warm water

9 tablespoons lime juice

7 tablespoons sugar

3 medium garlic cloves, minced (I use the microplane for this)

2 thai chilis, minced (this is optional depending on your spice preference and if you are serving to kids)

For the salad

3 head butter leaf lettuce

4  carrots, shredded

2 large cucumbers, peeled and seeds removed, diced

9 cups cooked hot jasmine rice

3/4 cup chopped roasted peanuts (I use Trader Joe’s 50% reduced salt)

1 cup loosely packed  basil leaves (preferably Thai basil but Italian works)

1 cup loosely packed cilantro

1 cup loosely packed mint

To assemble

In a bowl big enough to fit the steak, combine the oil, fish sauce and brown sugar and stir until sugar is dissolved.  Add steak to the bowl and turn until coated. Put a plate over the bowl and stick in the fridge for at least 4 hours but preferably overnight. You can also throw this all in a ziplock but I am trying to avoid unnecessary waste these days and the bowl works great. Either way turn the meat over once or twice during marinating.

Whisk all the dressing ingredients together until sugar dissolves. I like using ball jars for this. I put all the ingredients in and shake. That way you already have storage for leftover dressing.

Make the rice according to your preferred method. I use a rice cooker which I cannot live without and can’t recommend highly enough.

Separate all the leaves of the butter lettuce and wash. Rip the leaves into large pieces (smaller leaves can stay whole) and  lay out in an even layer on two large platters.. Spread the cucumber and carrot over the lettuce and set platters aside.

Remove the steak from the marinade and discard the marinade. Grill steak to your preferred doneness depending on the cut you are using. Tent with foil and let rest 5 minutes. Slice thinly against the grain.

Gently toss the lettuce, carrots and cucumbers with 1/4 cup of dressing and make a ring around the outside of the platter with the salad leaving a space in the middle for the rice. Scoope the rice into the middle of each platter and pour 4 tablespoons of dressing over the rice.  Top rice with sliced steak, herbs and peanuts. Pour 2-3 tablespoons of dressing over the steak and serve with extra dressing on the side.

No Churn Passionfruit Sorbet

Serves 10-12 with one generous scoop

6 cups of buttermilk

2 ½ cups of sugar

12 ounces of frozen passionfruit puree (I used Goya)

Mint for garnish

Pour the buttermilk and sugar into a large bowl and stir until sugar has dissolved. Divide the mixture between two loaf pans and freeze until solid. This takes about 6 hours. You could also pour the mixture into muffin tins and they will freeze faster.

When the buttermilk is frozen solid, remove the passionfruit puree from the freezer, remove from the packaging and break it up into small chunks.  Let it sit on the counter for about 15 minutes to soften.

Remove the buttermilk from the freezer and break up into large chunks. Rinse the loaf pans as you will you use them again to freeze the final sorbet. Place the buttermilk and passion fruit chunks in a food processor and blend on high until blended and there are no more chunks. It should be the consistency of soft frozen yogurt. Depending on the size of your food processor, you might need to do this in two batches.

Using a rubber spatula, divide the mixture and pour back into the loaf pans. Place the loaf pans back into the refrigerator and freeze again for at least 2 hours.

Scoop a single ice cream scoop into small bowls and garnish with a sprig of mint.

Prep and Timing Suggestions

Day before

  • Marinate the flank steak
  • Wash the herbs, spin dry in a salad spinner and pick the leaves off the stems. Roll the leaves in a sheet of paper towel. Place in a Ziploc or Tupperware and refrigerate.
  • Chop peanuts
  • Make the sorbet. Freeze the buttermilk mixture in the morning and finish off the sorbet in the afternoon or evening
  • Make Thai salad dressing

90 minutes before you want to begin serving

  • Simmer broth for soup with lemongrass and ginger
  • Wash and spin lettuce, refrigerate
  • Grate carrots and chop cucumbers, refrigerate
  • Chop the herbs. refrigerate
  • Make rice
  • Sauté mushrooms

30 minutes before

  • Remove the flank steak from the refrigerator

20 minutes before

  • Grill flank steak until 135 in the center. Place on a baking sheet and wrap sheet with aluminum foil. Place in an oven at 170 to hold until ready to slice

5 minutes before serving soup

  • Bring broth back to a boil then reduce heat to simmer and add coconut milk, fish sauce and lime juice to the soup and adjust seasonings. Pour over mushrooms, garnish and serve

When ready to serve dinner

  • slice all the steak and assemble the salad on two large serving platters

Remove sorbet 10 minutes before serving to soften it for scooping