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Sep 26, 2006 07:03 PM

Most COMPLICATED Dish You Ever Made

I'm starting this because the "Most time-consuming" thread seemed to have lots of posts about 16 hour smoking, etc. That is not really labor-intensive. Here, I'm talking about time AND work.

I once made a cake from the Alice B. Toklas Cookbook (No, NOT the marijuana brownies) - I haven't seen the recipe for years but it involved, I think, 3 separate cakes that were put together at the end with several different frostings/fillings. It was absolutely delicious but I didn't care. I was so wiped out by doing this all day that I wasn't even hungry.

My partner and I made dolmas for 100 guests when were used to cater about 75 years ago. Our hands were in realllllly bad shape after handling all those salty grape leaves hour after hour.

My nominee for one of the most difficult dishes was from Paula Wolftert (some other chef's recipe posted by her). It was some mint parfait with chocolate placed inside can probably see it online. Amazing!

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  1. Not one dish, but I will vent anyway:

    I once made Christmas dinner for 12 adults and 2 children, all by myself. No big deal, you say? Among the guests was one vegetarian flirting with the vegan diet and a notion that food should be consumed in the order of how easily it can be digested. Then there were two Jews, who could not have a dairy/meat combination. Another two guests had dietary restrictions due to poor health. Oh, a couple with a 2 year old and a vegetarian dude were staying overnight. We live in a tiny 2 bedroom house...

    I did all the prepping, cooking, serving and washing the dishes in between individually served courses (no dishwasher and only 2 sets of dinner plates). I don't remember much of the menu, but the first course was a stuffed quail in a red pepper and garlic sauce. That meant a faux bird for the veggie dude and a separate bland sauce for the dieters. At one point wild mushroom soup was served. For that course I had to make 3 different soups: Veggie dude had one with a vegetarian stock as a base, the kosher couple had a regular soup sans cream and a separate pot with a creamy version. Each course needed similar adjustments: at least 2 separate preparations in separate pots and only one tiny stove. On top of it all the guests were having a blast and wanted me there to share the joy. Most of the evening is a blur but I remember one thing vividly. Around midnight everybody, except the overnighters, left and I finally cleaned and put away everything. I sat exhausted,sweaty and red-faced on a little stool in the kitchen, channeling Babette after her feast and lit up a cigarette. Just at that moment the Vegetarian waltzed in, all pink and fresh from the shower and on his way to bed found time to lecture me on negative impact of nicotine on one's health. My husband told me later that he had never heard anybody who could fit more swear words into one sentence...

    4 Replies
    1. re: Bigos

      Bigos, you're a saint! Long ago I gave up trying to accomodate different guests' eating idiosyncrasies! If they want to accept a dining invitation, then they take their chances at what's being served. Someone wants to keep Kosher or be a Vegan (or a Vulcan for that matter,) that's fine. But I'm not doing special varietals of the menu for them. Food allergies are a special circumstance because I don't want to kill anyone although I do enjoy using my EMT skills!

      1. re: Mutt

        Usually people that keep kosher either bring their own food or, and this is a different take on it, they just eat whatever the host is serving.
        And vegetarians usually seem to make do with one or two courses.
        Sounds like it was more than just the dietary restrictions that were giving you a hard time :)

        1. re: Mutt

          This is an interesting take on things. When I know I will be entertaining someone like a vegetarian, I make veggie friendly recipes. That's not to say that I avoid meat altogether, but everything but a main meat dish is safe for them, or (most of the veggies I know will still eat fish) some type of fish. In place of meat, I come up with something protein-rich or meaty for them that should work (cheese enchiladas instead of chicken, grilled portabellas instead of burgers, caprese type pizza instead of something with salami or pepperoni, or a vegetarian pasta dish) to keep them from feeling like they're missing out! My mother in law will eat meat but doesn't like it much so having my in laws over for dinner helps to test recipes that will please my meat hungry husband and father in law but still satisfy my MIL.

        2. re: Bigos

          Bigos - the next time I make a family "occasion" dinner I will think of your story and realize my plight is not so bad. This Thanksgiving I had one pregnant daughter who (during pregnancy only ) could not stand to eat poultry, one son in law who swells up and can't breath when he eats mammal meat, another daughter who is vegan, ex-husband's wife who is a fishing eating vegetarian and three of us who eat anything. This is pretty typical of a holiday or birthday dinner (except for the pregnancy). But we manage - I cook a lot, ex's wife brings salmon and we all have a good time.
          The most complicated dish I ever made was a chocolate cake that looked like a chocolate cabbage - one spherical chocolate cake surrounding chocolate mousse and the whole thing covered with chocolate cabbage leaves made by pouring melting chocolate over real cabbage leaves, peeling off the cooled chocolate leaves and putting the whole thing together - on Christmas morning with two kids under 8 years old. No- that is not why the husband is an ex. but I will never again spend Christmas morning in the back yard pouring chocolate over cabbage leaves. The cake was spectacular and I wish I had a picture.

        3. A full Thanksgiving dinner for 12 hungry young adults (starving college and grad school types) in a junior one bedroom apartment (that's smaller than a one bed, bigger than a studio).

          16 lb. turkey brined for a day
          homemade cranberry sauce
          onion gruyere tart
          saffron mashed potatoes
          two kinds of stuffing
          gravy made with extra drippings from a previous roasting of turkey pieces
          creamed spinach
          pumpkin pie
          chocolate cake
          two kinds of infused vodka
          mixed non-alcoholic drinks

          omg, I can't even remember the five other things I made. I did it all by myself, everything from scratch, cooking for about two days straight and somehow getting everything on the table at the same time and all piping hot despite the fact that my stovetop was too small to hold more than two pots at a time, and the turkey was so big there was only an inch between it and the oven coils.

          The most complicated single dish I've ever been involved in was the Chinese stew "Buddha jumps over the wall." It's basically every $$$ seafood ingredient known to Chinese cuisine, and takes about three days to prepare. My mom and two of her friends all chipped in to make it, and I helped by getting into the fray.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Pei

            Oh my, you are like me.

            Unfortunately this is my fate every year. We have no family nearby so EVERY year I make EVERY course. Just removing the rosemary, sage, and thyme from their stems takes me two hours. Then there are the other 8-10 courses...

            But as a single dish, it was definitely my Koulibiaca:

            1. re: Pei

              Hi Pei,

              I'm going to attempt to make Buddha Jumps over the Wall." Do you have a recipe? The only one I've found online has daikon, carrots, quail eggs, well as all the $$$ seafood. I'm looking for the Cantonese one like the one found at Koi Palace or something similar.


            2. From the Bouchon cookbooklast summer, the Pork Trotters with Mache and Sauce Gribiche. Many many steps and it took about 3 days to complete and was worth every bit of the work. What would have been nice would have been a photo of the finished dish so I could have had an idea of what I was aiming for. I fed us one dinner of it and gave the other two portions to jillp. It was so rich a second go round the next night would have been over kill.

              The pate was formed and then sliced, dredged in panko and sauteed. I have not made it this year. I think I am still tired from making it the first time.


              1. Those "marijuana brownies" in the Alice B. Toklas book are actually a North African confection called Majoun. Not brownies at all, though sometimes (misleadingly) called "fudge," it's a dense mix of almond paste, honey, rosewater, other flavorings, and the active ingredient: hashish. Forty years ago a Moroccan guy I knew gave a party to celebrate Eid el-Fitr, the end of Ramadan. He put together a fantastic meal--lamb, couscous, and many other dishes, somewhat obscured in my memory by the passage of time and by the fact that dessert was Majoun, rolled into golfball-sized servings. I had one? two? and about an hour later got exTREMEly stoned.

                1. my moussaka is very complicated and takes about 6-7 hours almost continuous work. It is so delicious but really so much trouble I hardly ever make it. I have taught other people to make it and they always say it is soooo delicious but they will probably never make it again. Need to slice thinly about eight medium eggplants top to bottom with skin on. Then salt, sit, rinse and wipe dry. Than fry every piece and drain on paper towel.This is very time consuming. Meat mixture with ground lamb, onions, red wine, cinnamon. Then make bechamel sauce. Then put together layers of eggplant, meat eggplant and then bechamel sauce then bake. Yummy- haven't made it in 3 years but now have a craving.

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: emilief

                    Yes eggplant is such a pain with all those steps! I have the same problem with my eggplant parmesan...slice, salt, rinse, dry, my grandmother's recipe calls for putting two fried slices together and re-frying. Plus making the tomato sauce to go with it. It's not as much work as your moussaka, but it's tiring enough that I can hardly be bothered anymore. And that's such a shame because my family and friends love it.

                    1. re: Kagey

                      +1 on the eggplant parmesan....I love it, but it really is quite a process! I've made it once this summer, and will probably do it at least once more. The recipe I've been using most recently is from and calls for roasting the eggplant, which does cut out the breading and frying step (or steps, in the case of your grandmother's recipe!).

                    2. re: emilief

                      I never bother salting aubergines any longer. Over here (London, UK) you tend to find that the 'bitter' aubergines have been bred out so you needn't bother. It has made my moussaka making far more straightforward, ditto parmigiana, last made with beautiful Sicilian aubergines, no bitterness - no problem.
                      As for time consuming, dolmades made with fresh vine leaves (first step pick then you have to blanch first and it's always a stinking hot day) and the only way of making it bearable is to make hundreds as you know you won't do it again that year! Then, people come and eat them and no matter how many you make they're gone in a flash.

                      1. re: ali patts

                        I actually don't salt and rinse because of bitterness; you're right--eggplants these days aren't bitter. I do it because it really does seem to make the eggplant absorb less oil. Otherwise, they seem to suck it up like a sponge!

                        I don't salt for any other recipes.

                      2. re: emilief

                        This was my original method but it really was so time consuming that I cut some steps and it ultimately became a healthier dish with only a little less richness.