Shades of the man who came to dinner. Only in my case it was men--lots of them--and a few women too. They were strangers, all of them. But there they were eating, drinking and chatting in my backyard. For a couple of hours they had a royal time and then, as quickly as they came, they were gone.
Who were they? The kind of people you see all over Los Angeles--the production crew for a television commercial, a portion of which was being shot on my street. After that night, I know why so many aspire to show biz: the food is great.
No sandwiches and chips for this group but Italian sausages and peppers (wonderful); chicken breasts stuffed with spinach and ricotta (great), cabbage salad with mozzarella cheese and fresh basil (unusual), corn salad with chiles (they'd love it at a potluck) and much more.
The "more" included plain, no-frills chicken, fettuccine, broccoli, green salad with tomatoes, olives and pickles; lots of fresh fruit, French bread, a luscious apple tart, carrot cake, soft drinks and coffee.
The menu was arranged by Production Caterers of North Hollywood, one of a variety of catering firms that service the film industry. Run by Rose Rever, her husband, David, and son, Rick, Production Caterers averages two to three jobs a day, most of them for companies producing television commercials. "They have to have a meal every six hours," Rose Rever said. There can be no delay in getting dinner (or any other meal) on the table because union rules make even a minute's delay costly to the production company, according to Rever.
German Montoya, a Colombian, is the chef for Production Caterers. To make the operation even more efficient, Montoya and his sister, Maggie Demario, recently took over the Easy Street Bakery in Northridge, which provides the company's desserts.
Remarkably, it took only one man to set up and serve at my home. Rick Shahan trundled in long tables, covered them with red-and-white checked cloths, arranged the food buffet-style and then dished it out with a smile and pleasing banter. It was a smooth show, and the reviews were good. "These guys seem to respect the way food should taste," said Tom Pogoler.
Pogoler and the others were there courtesy of Flint Productions of Los Angeles. And they didn't just drop in. The Flint people announced the shoot to homeowners and asked permission to use the yard for dinner. So don't worry about uninvited guests if your neighborhood winds up in the limelight. Instead, you'll get a great dinner. And the best part is, you won't have to do the dishes.
Here are recipes for five of the dishes served that night, all worth top billing whether the camera is rolling or not.
2 (8-ounce) cans whole kernel corn, drained and rinsed
1 (8-ounce) can chopped green chiles
1 bunch cilantro, finely chopped
1/2 (8-ounce) bottle Italian dressing, about
Dash white pepper
Combine corn, chiles and cilantro in bowl. Add dressing to taste, salt, if wanted, and pepper. Toss gently to mix. Makes 6 servings.
1/2 (1-pound) head green cabbage, coarsely chopped
1/2 (1-pound) head red cabbage, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup basil leaves, finely chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic
1 tomato, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup bottled Italian dressing
1/2 cup cubed mozzarella cheese
Combine cabbages, basil, garlic, tomato, Italian dressing and season to taste with salt and pepper. Toss to combine. Add cheese and toss lightly. Chill. Makes 8 to 10 servings.
SAUSAGE AND PEPPERS
2 1/2 large green peppers
2 1/2 large sweet red peppers
2 1/2 large yellow onions
1 1/4 pounds sweet Italian sausage
1 1/4 pounds hot Italian sausage
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup chopped garlic
2 1/2 tablespoons dried basil leaves
2 1/2 tablespoons dried oregano leaves
1 (15-ounce) jar marinara sauce
Cut peppers and onions into strips about 1/2 inch wide. Bring large pot of water to boil. Add dash salt, vinegar and sausages. Boil about 15 minutes. Rinse and cool. Cut cooled sausages into thirds. Heat olive oil in Dutch oven. Add garlic, basil and oregano. Cook 3 to 5 minutes at low heat. Add peppers and onions and cook 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add marinara sauce and sausages and mix. Cover and cook 10 minutes. Do not allow peppers to become limp. Serve alone, over pasta or rice or in a hot sandwich. Makes 6 to 8 servings.
1/2 cup frozen chopped spinach, loosely packed
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup cottage cheese
3 eggs, beaten
4 whole chicken breasts, boned, skin on
Thaw spinach and drain thoroughly. Combine spinach, ricotta, Parmesan and cottage cheeses and eggs. Gently stuff mixture under skin of each chicken breast. Brush generously with Butter Topping. Bake at 350 degrees 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool and cut in half. Chicken may also be served hot. Accompany with bowl of Yogurt Sauce. Makes 8 servings.
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
Combine butter, paprika,. garlic powder, salt and pepper. Makes 1/2 cup.
6 tomatoes, chopped
1/4 cup yogurt
1/2 (1/2-ounce) package basil leaves, finely chopped
4 drops red wine vinegar
Combine tomatoes, yogurt and basil and season with vinegar, salt and pepper. Makes 2 1/2 cups.
EASY STREET APPLE TART
5 cups prepared apples
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 (9-inch) Tart Shell
Peel apples. Cut into eighths, removing core section. Sprinkle lightly with lemon juice. Add sugar, flour, cinnamon and nutmeg and mix well. Place apples in Tart Shell, mounding in center. Cover evenly with Crumb Topping and pack apples securely into shell. Bake at 350 degrees 45 minutes. Remove to rack to cool. Remove outer rim of tart pan to serve. Makes 1 (9-inch) tart.
1 cup flour
3 1/2 tablespoons sugar
3 1/4 ounces butter
1/2 lightly beaten egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Mix flour and sugar in bowl. Cut butter into small pieces, add to bowl and mix until crumbly. Add egg and vanilla. Form dough into ball, wrap securely and refrigerate 4 hours or overnight. Roll out dough and fit into 9-inch tart pan with removable bottom.
3/4 cup flour
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 pound butter
Combine flour, sugar and cinnamon in bowl. Cut butter into small pieces, add to bowl and mix until crumbly.