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#MeetUsInTheKitchen: Pound Cake Four Ways This Holiday Season

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The holiday season brings memories of crackling fireplaces, social and family gatherings and freshly baked goods coming from the heart of the home — the kitchen. Pound cake, a perennial, crowd-pleaser, is an easy recipe that offers the novice or seasoned baker with a canvas for whatever inspiration that can be imagined. Here, Chef Randall Jacobs offers four unique recipes for pound cake to add festivity to your holiday celebrations. Make sure to share your #MeetUsInTheKitchen moments with us on Instagram at @blueplatechicago.

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Recipe #1: Pound Cake

For the pound cake:

¼ cup vegetable shortening

1 stick of butter

1 ½ cups granulated sugar

3 eggs

½ cup milk

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

1 ½ cup all-purpose flour

¼ teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon salt

For the icing:

1/2 cup powdered sugar

2 tbs fresh lemon juice

1-2 tbs milk

Preheat oven to 325° F and grease pan with butter. In a separate bowl, sift together flour, baking powder and salt; set aside. With a mixer, cream the butter and shortening together then gradually add the sugar. Add eggs, one at a time, beating the mixture after each addition. Alternate adding the dry ingredients and milk to the mixture, starting with the flour mix and ending with the flour mix. Add the vanilla. Pour into a greased pan and bake for 1 to 1 ½ hours until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.

Remove from pan and finish cooling on the rack. When the cake is completely cool, prepare the icing by whisking together all the ingredients. Pour over the top of the cake and let sit until the icing has completely dried.

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Recipe #2: Cranberry and White Chocolate Pound Cake

Follow recipe and method above for plain pound cake, then add the following ingredients as directed.

 

1 cup frozen or fresh cranberries

1.5 cups white chocolate chips (divided)

1 cup dried cranberries

 

After folding the flour mixture into the egg/sugar mixture, add fresh or frozen cranberries and six ounces of white chocolate chips to the batter. Right after the glaze has been drizzled onto the pound cake, top it with the dried cranberries and the remaining white chocolate chips.

 

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Recipe #3: Harvest Pound Cake with Caramel Glaze

Follow recipe and method above for plain pound cake, then add the following ingredients as directed.

 

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

2 medium Granny smith apples, peeled, cored and chopped

1 cup walnuts

 

Add the ground cinnamon and nutmeg into the sifted flour and baking soda. Add the apples and walnuts into the finished batter.

 

Caramel Glaze

1/2 cup butter

1/2 cup brown sugar

2 tablespoons milk

Make the sauce by heating the butter, milk and brown sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar, then remove from heat. Drizzle over the cake.

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Recipe #4: Bourbon Soaked Dried Fruit Pound Cake

Follow recipe and method above for plain pound cake, then add the following ingredients as directed.

 

1/2 cup dried diced apricots

1/2 cup dried cherries

1/2 cup dried currants

1/2 cup golden raisins

3/4 cup bourbon

 

One Day Before Baking:

In a large airtight container or Ziplock bag, soak all dried fruits in the bourbon. Marinate overnight, turning fruit frequently to ensure it is evenly marinated. Drain off bourbon from the dried fruits and coat with one tablespoon of flour; this prevents the fruit from falling to the bottom of the pan while cooking. Fold the fruit into the batter. Bake as directed above.

 

For an additional spin to your pound cake recipes, heat things up by substituting the icing for a bourbon syrup.

Bourbon Syrup

1 cup sugar

1 cup water

½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

½ teaspoon maple extract

1 teaspoon unsalted butter

3 tablespoons bourbon  

 

In a small saucepan, bring sugar and water to a boil. Cook 2 minutes. Add butter, vanilla, and bourbon. Cook until syrupy, about 5 minutes.

 

Our In the Kitchen Tips:

  • Fun Gifting: Wrap individual baked loaves in kraft paper and tie with cooking twine attached to a small note care for a fun gift presentation.
  • Holiday Parties: instead of the usual holiday spread, set-up tasting stations in your kitchen of various small bites. Include a pound cake station with the various recipes; add beer and wine drink pairings to liven it up.
  • Make Ahead: Bake your cakes ahead of your celebrations minus any glaze and freeze by wrapping it in plastic wrap and foil then sealing in a separate bag. Once ready to serve, pull out to thaw and glaze with your favorite topping.

 

Happy holidays!

Making a Caterer-Approved Thanksgiving Spread

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thanksgiving-spread

Are you hosting Thanksgiving dinner this year? Whether this will be your first time having the honor of entertaining loved ones on this special day or you’ve been doing so for years, it can be…well…stressful.

Use some of the caterer approved tips to help take some of the pressure off by helping you put together a Thanksgiving spread that you’ll have fun putting together.

Planning Your Menu

Just because you are hosting Thanksgiving doesn’t mean you have to make every single dish yourself (and we don’t advise that you do). Figure out what parts of the meal you really love preparing and focus on only making those key dishes. For everything else, delegate.

For example, if you love making turkey but don’t exactly love baking, ask guests to bring dessert or order pies from your local bakery. What if your specialty is in creating savory side dishes but the mere thought of making the turkey causes you anxiety? We promise no one will mind if you order a turkey! And if you’d like some dishes catered, consider reaching out to your local caterer or a restaurant to see if they can work with your needs.

Mix it Up

While a traditional Thanksgiving dinner with sides like mashed potatoes and green bean casserole is always wonderful, don’t feel like you are required to be married to this type of menu. Feel free to mix it up by serving a combination of classic dishes or you can try bringing in unique fall flavors with roasted squash or some of our favorite fall comfort dishes.

Think about your guests and what you know they truly enjoy. Then see how you can incorporate their tastes and preferences into your menu.

Plan Like a Caterer

Read through all your recipes in advance to be sure you have everything you need and understand how long everything will take to make. Then determine what can be prepped and made ahead of time and what dishes can share the oven or stove so that you don’t leave everything for the day-of.

Do as much as you can before Thanksgiving, such as making desserts and appetizers, chopping vegetables, and, of course, thawing the turkey.

A general rule for a 12-16 pound turkey is to thaw for 3-4 days, 16-20 pounds: 4-5 days and 20-24 pounds: 5-6 days.

Keep Appetizers Simple

Simple dishes like artisan cheese plates, stuffed olives, and fresh vegetables served with hummus for dipping are quick to put together, look lovely, and – most importantly – are both easy to eat and tasty.

Be sure to have appetizers (and beverages) ready to go when guests arrive. It will give them a chance to mingle while keeping their hunger at bay and allow you to calmly put the finishing touches on everything.

Be Prepared to Send Guests Home With Leftovers

Don’t forget to have containers ready for packing up leftovers to send with your guests on their way out. Not only will guests feel cared for, but you won’t be stuck having to eat turkey for the next week!

For additional Thanksgiving Day inspirations, check us out on Instagram at @blueplatechicago.

Happy Thanksgiving from Blue Plate Catering!

Catering a City-Wide Event: Bank of America Chicago Marathon

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The Bank of America Chicago Marathon is an exciting time of year, especially when you’re the premier catering company that’s feeding it.

For more than 20 years, Blue Plate Catering has been fueling the Bank of America Chicago Marathon with our award-winning catering and services. It is a partnership that is near and dear to our hearts and business highlighting the key of what makes Chicago run — collaboration, relationships and good ole’ Midwestern hospitality.

This year added another “win” for us — our kitchen and crew cranked out an estimated 2,000 assorted breakfast sandwiches, 2,000 bagels, 2,000 muffins and scones, 6,200 pounds of beverages, 70 pounds of coffee, 500 mimosas and 50 fruit trays plus other unique tasting and buffet stations across various tents and spaces; all for nearly 4,000 guests.

From initial planning meetings and coordination with Chicago Event Management, the planning arm of the marathon, to four days of kitchen production and then day-of service, it is a big event for us and one we look forward every year. “We have employees who have worked the marathon for more than 15 years, it is their most coveted event,” says Beth Bracco, vice president of business development. “From our CEO, Jim Horan, to our receptionist, it’s all hands on deck for the marathon; everyone is eager to be there.”

Pulling off large events like the Bank of America Chicago Marathon is one of our specialties, and each year we go through our own training to make sure the event goes smoothly. Check out our recap of what it takes to be Chicago’s Caterer to one of the most anticipated events of the year.

Find more behind-the-scene and day-of photos at our 2016 Bank of America Marathon Facebook album!

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#MeetUsIntheKitchen — Squash: Fall’s Boundless Ingredient

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Pan Roasted Chicken with Squash | Blue Plate Catering

Pan Roasted Chicken Breast with Fall Squash Ragout, Wilted Arugula, Wild Rice and Carrot-Mascarpone Sauce. Photo credit: Blue Plate Catering

Once the smell of fall is officially in the air and we’ve pulled our jackets from their hibernation, our minds turn to fall’s ubiquitous and versatile ingredient: squash. It’s an old friend we are always happy to see here at Blue Plate as its subtle sweetness, mild nuttiness and vibrant colors provide us with a sandbox of inspiration to explore.

 

Types of Squash

While available all year long, (think zucchini or the fun, miniature, pattypan squash), winter squash takes longer to mature and is best harvested once cooler weather sets in. They are typically elongated and pear-shaped, and the most common types include butternut, acorn, banana, delicata, spaghetti squash, kabocha and even pumpkin.

“Kabocha squash have a remarkably sweet and tender flesh with a slightly nutty flavor,” says Blue Plate’s Sous Chef Randall Jacobs. “The dense, smooth, sweet flesh is so tasty that it needs very little fuss in preparation. Roasting or slicing and baking it with a bit of butter or oil and salt are the only ingredients this delicious squash needs. The dense flesh also holds its shape when cooked, even in liquids, which makes it perfect for using as chunks in soups or steamed dishes.”

 

Squash | Blue Plate Catering

Taryn Domingos/Flickr

Squash & Seeds | Blue Plate Catering

Isabelle Boucher/Flickr

Preparation and Storage

If you’ve ever taken a knife to a winter squash you know the task can be daunting; their heartiness doesn’t betray. To protect yourself, Jacobs recommends shaving a flat surface on the bottom so the squash doesn’t wobble when cutting. Alternatively, for thinner skinned squash, he suggests using a vegetable peeler to remove the skin. One favorite technique he prefers is to shave and julienne the squash into fine threads that can then be fried and used as a garnish on main dishes or hors d’oeuvres.

When storing, cool, dark places are squash’s best friend so avoid putting it in the refrigerator whole unless you want to cut ahead of time for prep. Squash with stems will also last longer than squash without if you are lucky to come across a large quantity of them.

 

Common Uses

Squash can be used in a variety of ways like the simple yet silky butternut squash soup to a filling for ravioli, or a holiday favorite, the nostalgic pumpkin pie. For chef Jacobs, his preferred and easy preparation is oven roasted. “Once the squash is cooked and tender, it can be used for many different applications. The cooked squash can be cut up and put into salads, or pureed and turned into a sauce or soup. One application that is unique and fun is using it on S’mores; the nuttiness and savory aspect works well with marshmallow, chocolate and graham crackers.”

Use chef Jacobs’ recipe below for a simple oven roasted kabocha (or other winter squash) to liven up your fall creations. Then share your #MeetUsInTheKitchen inspirations and other fall dishes with us on Instagram at @blueplatechicago.

What you’ll need:

  • 1 each     Kabocha squash
  • 2 Tbsp     Butter
  • 1 each     Cinnamon Stick
  • 1 each     Orange
  • 1 Sprig     Fresh Sage
  • 1 Tsp       Salt
  • ½ Tsp       Pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Cooking time: Approximately 30 min

Remove the skin from the kabocha and cut into eight quarters, then place the pieces in a bowl. In a saute pan, add butter, a crushed cinnamon stick, an orange peel, and fresh sage. Heat until the butter is melted and the aromatics come together. Once the butter is melted, drizzle it into the bowl with the squash; season with salt and pepper. Place all the ingredients in a pan and cover with plastic and foil (this helps to cut down on the cooking time.) Cook for about 15 minutes, covered. Halfway through the squash cooking process, remove the pan from the oven. Once the pan is removed, turn up the oven to 450. Remove the plastic and foil and roast for an additional 15 minutes or until tender.

 

 

Top Fall Wedding Ideas

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Fall Wedding Ideas | Blue Plate Catering

With the weather often being more comfortable in the fall than in summer, and the beautiful fall foliage that provides the perfect backdrop for outdoor weddings and pictures, it’s no wonder that fall is increasingly becoming the season of choice for weddings.

If you’re planning a fall wedding, get some inspiration from the fall wedding ideas below:

  • Start with a menu that is seasonally inspired. Fall foods provide comfort while taking advantage of the bounty of garden fare that is available. Think of incorporating meats with paired sauces, creamy soups and bisques, and fresh, garden-inspired fare. Add popular fall pies to your dessert selection such as the classic apple pie or a pie featuring your favorite berry.

 

  • Feature a special autumn drinks menu that includes beverages like apple cider mimosas, maple bourbon cocktails, hot toddies, and hot spiked ciders, as well as an array of flavored coffees for after dinner. Our “My Favorite Godfather”  with amaro, scotch and chocolate bitters is the perfect example of creatively layering fall flavors into a unique cocktail experience.
Godfather Cocktail | Blue Plate Catering

Blue Plate Catering

  • Choose rich fall colors to use throughout your décor, such as brick, dark green, cranberry, and charcoal gray to add depth to your wedding décor. Deep jewel tones of amber, emerald, sapphire, and garnet create an exceptionally elegant atmosphere. And, if it suits your style or theme, don’t be afraid to incorporate unanticipated fall colors like light or hot pink.

 

  • Take advantage of the gorgeous scenery and use elements provided by nature in your décor, including twigs, leaves, and flowers. For a lovely color and texture contrast, add fall leaves to your bouquet. Or place a green garland in an entryway for the ceremony for guests to enjoy upon entering.
Tablescapes | Blue Plate Catering

Amy Aiello Photography

  • For a truly romantic fall setting, accent main colors like merlot and rust with shades of cream. Instead of trying to precisely match colors, experiment with different tones and shades within your palette to attain a more authentic look and feel.

 

  • Create an assorted floral tablescape by grouping flowers, such as mustard-yellow ranunculus and pink roses, in clusters. Displayed in clear vases of various heights and sizes, this visual arrangement is colorful, romantic, and dreamy.

 

  • Wheat is another fantastic fall themed wedding decoration option. Create bundles of wheat to use for centerpieces or incorporate wheat into your bouquet — or both! If using in a bouquet, stems of wheat look especially lovely when added to cream and soft pink colored roses. Wrap in burlap, and you have an ideal fall wedding bouquet.

 

When it comes to fall weddings, there is an abundance of creative ideas from seasonally-inspired menus to unique tablescapes to choose from. Using these ideas to spark your imagination, be sure that, in the end, your personal style, taste, and personality shines through!

 

Find more inspiration at our Wedding Inspiration Pinterest Board!