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CathyZ from Kauai

Diary of a Crazy Woman....or "What was I thinking?" This is a long story.

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Joined: Dec 10, 2005

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Posted to Thread #27816 at 3:36 pm on Jul 18, 2015

I work at a resort that has 4 boards of directors. We are self-managed so the boards rule. Each quarter 2-4 of them meet for a week of committee and board meetings. I coordinate and run them all. It is always nuts and crazy and busy with last minute changes, additions, all kinds of stuff the whole week so it is not unusual for me to work 60-70 hours that week. This time was all that times ten due to several major issues and projects going on.

There is always a joint board dinner held at a restaurant of their choice. This time only one board wanted to have a dinner and I opened my big, stupid mouth and told them I would cook for them and they should come to my house. On Thursday evening in the middle of board meeting week.

What was I thinking??? I used to do stuff like this all the time but I am almost 68 and have a fair amount of arthritis in my hip and ankle joints.

I knew I would have about 20 mouths to feed. I gave them four different menu choices (all things I was comfortable with), knowing full well ahead of time what they would pick. When planning I kept in mind that I would need to do plenty ahead of time- but I had to work every day and could not take more than an hour off per day to come home to do prep work. I found I needed to avoid nuts in the menu as one board guy's wife is allergic. I decided to still use pesto in an hors d even though it has pine nuts in it. I warned her ahead of time.

To me the most important thing (besides flavor and menu balance) is timing in cooking; this is the thing that most new cooks struggle with. Since I've been doing this for a while (this cooking for a bunch thing), I thought it might be fun to some of you- to see how to pull off a fairly upscale dinner for 20 while working full-time and being on-call all the time. One giant asset for me is that we have a 3-keg stainless beer cooler that I use for extra refrigeration when I need it. I also have a very helpful Hubby that intuitively knows what to do and when- and having a commercial stove does not hurt.

Setting the scene: 85 degrees and so humid. Cooler in the house but all fans on high the whole week. Bar open and starters out when they arrived. They came in a caravan so all arrived at the same time.

Here was the menu:

Starters: homemade Hummus/ Kalamatas/Pita Bread/ raw veggies. Layered creamy cheese and pesto torte (layers of mixed cream cheese, Brie, whipped cream between layers of pesto)/ crackers.

Grilled butterflied leg of lamb (marinated overnight in mustard, fresh rosemary, garlic, red wine and oil then sliced thin after grilling)
Crab-stuffed Ahi Steaks (pungent crab salad made with olives/capers/onion/mayo/parmesan/other things stuffed in a pocket cut in the steaks, sautéed then sprinkled with chopped parsley)
Glazed carrots
Roasted potatoes (the parsley potatoes- cut in half, flat-leaf parsley pushed into cut side then roasted in a lot of butter until crusty brown)
Mixed greens salad with homemade Papaya Seed Dressing
and a homemade cheese pizza for kids

Desserts: Chocolate Cheesecake (made with semi-sweet chocolate and a T of cocoa just to intensify the chocolate), Blueberry Pie with lattice crust, Apple Pie, Creamy Lemon Pudding.

Here's how it happened: I sat down and planned it out carefully, what I would do day by day. I went through the entire menu again and again to make certain I didn't miss anything I needed to purchase (nothing worse than "oh my gosh, I forgot the _____"). Sunday before was a major Costco run (over an hour from my house) to get the first list of ingredients purchased. Monday the rest of the ingredients purchased (grocery store nearer my house) except the fish and lamb which the meat cutters would have for me on Wednesday afternoon.

Tuesday after work I made the Hummus, the Chocolate Cheesecake and the Lemon Pudding (20 individual cups- and I had to zest and juice 15 lemons for this last one). I cleaned part of the house and cleaned silver to supplement stainless flatware. I knew the desserts would hold up well for a couple days- probably even taste better. The Hummus too.

Wednesday after work I picked up the meat and fish, cut pockets in Ahi Steaks, trimmed the fat cap off the lamb, finished butterflying it then put it in the marinade, made pizza sauce, made the creamy cheese layered with pesto torte, made the Papaya Seed Dressing, made the crab salad stuffing, cut pita bread in triangles and cut the raw veg that would go with the Hummus. I cleaned the rest of the house. Went to bed after Midnight- Hubby helped with house prep.

Thursday I set arrival time at 6:30 for the party. I left work at 2pm. I made the blueberry and apple pies, sliced the cheesecake (such a pain to do as the knife must be rinsed off between slices so best to do ahead) stuffed the Ahi steaks, pre-steamed the carrots half way, cut potatoes and pressed parsley into them, put them face-down in melted butter and set aside, made pizza dough, set tables and created centerpieces (lots of green stuff and flowers here so that is easy- I took a basket around the yard and snipped stuff), then cut tomatoes, mushrooms and apples for the salad. The house is spacious so 20 is easy. I set the main table for 8, we put a small round table out for the hors d that would later have 4 seated at it for dinner (the kids ended up there). The rest of the party would sit on bar stools at our long counter or out on our lanai- I unmolded the torte, free-formed the Hummus, got it all decorated, presentable and ready to go just before they all arrived. Took a quick shower and then put out Crackers and pita at the last minute due to humidity. My Husband was an awesome front of the house guy and handled all the drinks and getting everyone comfortable and happy when they arrived. While they were munching and sipping and mingling I assembled the cheese kid pizza, put the potatoes in the oven then 15 minutes later put the pizza in (two ovens). Kriss (Hubby) started the grill and began grilling the lamb (first on a throwaway aluminum sheet then finished it directly on the grill- 8 lbs of it then tented it as he finished pieces). I had two large pans on the stove and began sautéing the Ahi steaks which I tented as I finished them. Meanwhile another pan on the stove was glazing the carrots. In between I turned off the ovens, took out the pizza, assembled the salad and tossed it.

I decided on a buffet- plating takes too long for one person to do and I knew this crowd would love it. So- out it all went at one time. Salad first. Platter of Ahi steaks. Platter of grilled lamb. Platter of potatoes. Giant bowl of carrots. Pizza for the kids. All decorated some with parsley and other stuff.

I waited until they had a chance to have seconds then moved all of it to get ready for dessert. I cut the pies, placed the chocolate cheesecake on a plate stand, put out the individual lemon puddings which I decorated with a bit of whipped cream and a mint leaf. As plates came back to the kitchen I washed forks and made sure I had enough spoons for the pudding. I set up the dessert buffet with plates and after a break of about 20 minutes after dinner, they all came back for desserts.

I put food away. They left at Midnight. They had a great time and enjoyed all the food and camaraderie. It couldn't have turned out better. Kriss had started rinsing and stacking the massive amount of plates, cooking pans, wine glasses but it was still pretty awesome to see just how much we needed to clean up. We worked on it for a while but decided to wait until yesterday to finish. He finished it all while I was at work as I had the last board meeting to run yesterday.

There was food left. I didn't know who would like what so I made plenty. We have leftovers for a few nights. I removed the crab stuffing from the leftover cooked Ahi steaks, washed the steaks off and made tuna salad and took it to work for colleagues. I don't like leftover Ahi myself so that seemed the best thing to do with it.

So. Crazy, eh? The board asked me to do it again in January but I probably won't. Or will I?


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