Adventures in amateur catering, starring pimiento cheese and the best oatmeal cookie
My parents both turn 60 this month and to celebrate they decided to throw a big party and renew their wedding vows.
I offered to help with the food because I’m good at helping with food, but I’m not good at helping with other wedding-ish event things like decorating and music and speeches about feelings.
The guest list was around 150, so we needed some professional assistance. I’m not that good at helping with food. We went for a southern/comfort food-type menu. The pulled pork sliders and mac and cheese were catered, and I prepped the cold dishes with my dad and my brother who cooks for a living and let me use his fancy knives.
We made about 15 pounds of “Tennessee-style” coleslaw, which is dressed with a combination of mayonnaise, yellow mustard, apple cider vinegar, sugar and celery seeds. I became obsessed with mustard coleslaw after my trip to Memphis last summer. It’s the perfect combination of tangy and creamy, and I recommend heaping it on top of a pulled pork sandwich.
We also made a bunch of pimiento cheese - 1 gallon of mayonnaise and 10 pounds of sharp cheddar’s worth. I recommend eating that on just about anything. There was a buttermilk herb dip for crudité, and giant bowls of salad with a simple vinaigrette.
For the cookie bar, I made oatmeal lace cookies, which I tried for the first time at my friend Andrea’s epic holiday cookie party last month and immediately forsook all other cookies. There is only THIS COOKIE. I made a big batch of them to take to various family Christmas gatherings and accidentally (on purpose) forgot them at home in the freezer. I ate them all by New Year’s. I might try some different flavorings, like this fennel and poppy seed version from 101 Cookbooks. But then again I might not, because why mess with perfection?
“I will stipulate to having both French sea salt and a big bottle of extra virgin in my kitchen. And while the presence of both might go some small distance in pigeonholing me demographically, neither one of them makes me a good person.”—
David Rakoff, 1964-2012. RIP.
From his 2005 collection of essays, Don’t Get Too Comfortable. Excerpt here.
This week, I headed back south on a little road trip to Memphis. We toured Graceland and the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, visited a few music clubs, but mostly, we ate barbecue.
Our first stop was 17th Street BBQ in Marion, Illinois. It’s one of several locations owned by champion barbecue pitmaster Mike Mills. We tried their famous ribs, the pimento cheese & hot links plate and a trio of sliders (chicken, pork and brisket). I’ve never been to a barbecue competition, but I imagine these are the kind of ribs that would win - they were perfectly smoked. The space feels a bit like a big chain restaurant, but the food is legit. Definitely worth the stop.
Once we arrived in Memphis, we headed to Central BBQ. Two Memphis barbecue specialties are ribs and pork shoulder sandwiches (pulled or chopped) served “Memphis-style” with mild sauce and coleslaw. Pulled pork sandwiches are my favorite barbecue item, so I ordered one at every stop. This one was mighty good and paired nicely with a pint of Schlafly APA.
I have to agree - this sandwich is perfection. The baked beans, too, are probably the best I’ve ever had.
Our last stop was Germantown Commissary, located just outside of Memphis. We had a late breakfast of pulled pork and ribs, you know, just to squeeze in one more barbecued bite before we headed home. Here the meat is piled high with a rich barbecue sauce and slightly creamy coleslaw. By the time I finished this (very tasty) sandwich, I had hit my barbecue wall. But I’d definitely do it all over again.