party food: good things in big batches

Here's a lesson I have learned through many years of hosting parties:  sure you can make all kinds of amazing food, but try just to serve big batches of the favorites.  So I have acquired a rainbow of LeCreuset serving pieces (favorites being the heavy stoneware platters that hold a bit of heat or chill) and all manner of white serving pieces.  For the grad party I actually pulled them out and labeled them on the serving table which was the kind of organization I let go around the age of 40 (along with as many Type A tendencies as I could manage, either that or up the blood pressure medicine), but this was a big party and the hyper-preparation was needed.  Since I was feeding some "blue skies" fans, I decided on my greatest hits:  guacamole, queso, romesco sauce, tzatiki, grilled chicken tenders, grilled vegetables and assorted bar cookies.  I also learned the hard way that if you can make the time, prepping your own fruits for a platter or a fruit salad is not only cost effective but more delicious.  Sara loves fruit salad, but I forgot to tell Greg to pick up a pineapple so I added lots of lemon juice to give it a citrus twist.

this is what 10-avocado guacamole looks like
not enough room to smash it all together with any tools other than my hands

another guacamole action shot courtesy of Sara
I promised my hands were very clean when this started

Kelly and the 5 pounds of queso on the stove

Kelly was queso master on this batch and vetoed adding one
more can each of tomatoes and tomatoes w/chiles
a very cheesy batch

official queso tester and my stunt double, Miss Kelly Rogers

So that was my base plan, but as the numbers rolled up and the panic creeped in a bit I decided that the only way I could feed over 100 people when I was spending almost the entire day of the party at church was if I ordered some reinforcement food from Costco.  I got in my trusty van and drove down to Costco the next morning and ordered a tray of croissant sandwiches (only one half of a sandwich leftover), a tray of turkey/swiss roll-ups (not as popular, but still over half of them were gone) and picked up 4 boxes of mesquite chicken wings.  Then I could sleep.  Both my husband and my mother-in-law pointed out to me (separately, but with the same message) that I was feeding a lot of boys and serving a lot of "chick food".  Apparently really brilliant boys (like Sara's friends) enjoy "chick food".  Smart enough to go to an Ivy League school, smart enough to enjoy grilled chicken and vegetables.  I'm pretty sure they also ate the Costco wings and sandwiches.  I know they ate the queso and guacamole!

Here's how you grill vegetables for 100 people, when you will only have 2 hours before the party to grill:  you grill the day before.  Clean and cut-up all your vegetables.  Toss them lightly with olive oil and kosher salt.  Our new Weber grill has nice shiny grates and the vegetables are prettiest served in big pieces, so we did not use any grilling pans or baskets, just right on the grates over medium high heat.  We grilled bell peppers, zucchini and asparagus.

The red, yellow and orange peppers went on the grill skin side down and we did not flip them.  The skins charred after about 12 minutes.  The new grill puts out some serious btu's so there's a little learning curve after using the same grill for 15 years and the last few having only one hot side and actually losing one burner this past winter.   Eighteen peppers cut in 4 to 6 pieces, depending on the size of the pepper fit on our grill in two big batches.  First on were first off using a big spatula.  The charred peppers were spread out on baking sheets and cooled about 20 minutes.  The very charred skins were removed using a paper towel (works very well, easier than trying to peel).  Some of the peppers just blistered and I left their skins intact.  I stacked them in my glass storage dishes and kept them in the refrigerator.  I spread them out on baking sheets, covered the sheets tightly with foil and reheated them at 250 degrees for an hour (surely they were warm before then, but that was a nice safe temperature).

beautiful charred bell peppers off the grill and on a baking sheet

charred skins toweled off, all ready for company

The zucchinis I sliced lengthwise and then halved them again lengthwise before cutting them in half across the middle so I ended up with about 8 plank-shaped pieces per zucchini.  I cut up about 8 zucchini and 8 yellow summer squash.  If you salt zucchini before roasting you will really dry them out, so you might just toss or brush them lightly with olive oil and then salt them when they are off the grill.  We grilled them about 5 to 6 minutes per side.  When they came off the grill I spread them out in a single layer on a couple of cookie sheets so they wouldn't just steam each other into a mushy mess.  When they were cool they were placed in another glass storage dish (the ones from Costco with the snap lock lids are a good starter set, I've added to my collection through

have a little grilled squash

Saturday night the skies let loose and it poured rain.  While Greg and I took turns grilling, lightning was dancing all around and it was pitch black outside.  Our grill is on a little deck pad just off the kitchen not protected by our roofline.  Do you think it was very wise to have a metal grill spatula in one hand and a metal umbrella in the other?  Ah, no.  But the show must go on and we had to knock out some of the grilling Saturday night.

Sunday Greg grilled six pounds of asparagus and twenty pounds of chicken breasts/breast tenders.  Could not have pulled off the party without the help of him and the girls.  I simply don't have enough hands!  Asparagus is so yummy grilled and so easy.  Trim off the tough ends, toss it with a little olive oil and kosher salt and grill across the grates 10-15 minutes turning at least once.  Again, when you remove it if you stack it you will get steaming and it might get too mushy.  Fine if you are serving it right away.  If not, spread it out a bit.

plated for the party
just as pretty as the grilled vegetables at Whole Foods

The chicken from Whole foods (the big chicken sale windfall of a couple of weeks ago) needed to be thawed and then I cut the tenders off before cutting the breast meat in two or three pieces (bigger than bite-size, just a nice serving size).  I tossed it lightly with olive oil, kosher salt and an all-purpose grill seasoning I like from Rufus Teague (a barbecue sauce purveyor stocked by the local Joe's Butcher Shop).  Grill chicken turning it only once to get the pretty grill marks and keep it juicy.  Time is very dependent on thickness.  Start with 7 minutes on the first side.  If it does not release from the grill grates, it's not ready to be turned.  Chicken is best checked for doneness by pushing on it and feeling the firmness (takes some practice).  Or if you are grilling copious amounts like we did, cut one piece open and check that way.  You lose juices when you do that so don't make cutting into your lovely grilled chicken a habit, but one piece out of one hundred is acceptable.

So now if you have your big party and you aren't too exhausted to put up your leftovers in a timely manner for food safety you have a good start on meals for the next week.  Extra grilled vegetables make for delicious wrap sandwiches, paninis, pizza, pasta and salads.  Extra grilled chicken is a wonderful thing.  We are particularly fond of the Boar's Head EverRoast chicken deli meat, but at around $8 a pound making a little extra grilled chicken at $3-$5 a pound makes a lot of sense.  Slice or shred your own chicken for sandwiches and wraps.  That's kind of home-maker of me, but honestly might as well walk the walk.

So happy to have a successful party all wrapped up before graduation.  Nice feeling.


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