Planning to feed a large number of people can be daunting, but to me it’s the epitome of the culinary Olympics. Athletes not only are driven to strive towards the ultimate challenge, but they also get an amazing rush from the event and the preparation leading just up to the event. It’s the butterflies in the stomach, the sudden desire to just hop up and down a few times to warm up, the mental walk-throughs and plannings that get athletes to keep at it race after race, year after year. Of course, there are always sore losers, the people who take a 2nd or 3rd or 11th place win so personally or hard on themselves, that as a loved one, you sit back watching thinking, why would you destroy yourself like this week after week? If you can’t win, and your psyche tells you you must win, why not seek out another activity and quit beating yourself up?
Luckily, I’ve never been a blue ribbon kind of girl. I really, really don’t like losing either, but as long as I can come in approaching or withing the top quarter of entrants, I feel pretty solid. I did *hate* swim team because I constantly came in 5th or 6th out of 6. I don’t like to do things I am *bad* at, but I don’t necessarily have to win either. I can say with full confidence I’ll have a rough time ever throwing a text book perfect party. I’ll always forget the flowers, run low on time and fail to get the bar setup before arrival, or burn a loaf of bread, but in the end 90% will go the way I planned and that’s the part I enjoy.
The hardest part of planning party food is picking a menu that doesn’t have to be served immediately or piping hot, while still retaining a level of elegance and tasting enchanting. My other challenges come from matters of time lines, quantities, delegation, budgets, and presentation. Usually in that order for me. The flow chart definitelyhelps me with the time lines, though I really have to force myself to a menu early in the week to get the flow chart arranged properly, starting with the shopping and ingredients. The quantities are still a big problem for me, in an effort to never ever run out of food, I generally wind up way over purchasing in a couple of categories. Delegation has always been an issue for me. It’s partly a control problem and it’s partly a mellowness problem that I really don’t like telling other people what to do. But I’ve definitely earned my sometimes nickname of Mussolanie in the kitchen. Budgets, eh? What can I say, there’s never enough money even with generous budgets. My husband always wanted me to spend less, and I always wanted to spend more. But that’s why we balance each other. Presentation is always a constant problem for me – I’m a cook not a cleaner and I can destroy a kitchen in about 5 minutes. That said, I certainly know how to properly restore the order, it’s just hard for me to manage while in the midst of the process. And so far, I haven’t found any little sprites to follow me along straightening and ordering all the while staying gracefully out of my way.
All of these are real challenges, but I look at it like a culinary decathlon. And each time, I get a little bit better, at least in one category! The menu for this party was too intense for one post, so I’m going to break it up and I’ll discuss breakdowns and successes in each section. I’ll start with the Orange and Herb Grilled Chicken sandwiches. The recipe below is exactly as I cooked it for the party. Next time, I’ll probably up the marinade to 8 hours, and make a specific sauce for the sandwiches. I meant to make Andrew’s Chimichuri  but ran out of time. Guests used either of the sauces for the Beef Sandwiches which worked fine, but I think something lighter would capture the citrus nicely. We have a lot of leftover chicken comparatively to the rest of the food, but I think I just made dramatically more chicken than anything else. I’d calculate 3 chicken sandwiches per every 4 rsvps the next time, then use then divide by three to get my chicken breasts required. All in all this was quite good and pretty easy and the leftovers have been tender and delicious.
Orange and Herb Grilled Chicken Sandwiches
1 c. fresh squeezed orange juice
1/4 c. fresh squeezed lime juice
1 c. olive oil
3 oz. fresh oregano, leaves pulled from stems
3 oz. fresh thyme
8 cloves garlic, whole
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper
18 chicken breasts, skinless boneless
Mix together ingredients for marinade. Marinade in a ziploc or casserole for 6 hours, turning occasionally. Prepare a grill on medium heat. Place chicken breasts in a single layer and cook with the lid closed about 10 minutes, watching to ensure you aren’t over browning, turn cook about another 8 minutes. Cook to an internal temperature of 165. Slice on an angle in thirds and serve on mini croissant rolls.