May 14 has been in my head for awhile – more than a date, it was a deadline. I needed to come up with a plan to serve 100 people…food that they would be wowed by and could be eaten in a FLASH. Because the real star of the Faithfully Jazz evening was Patrice Rushen, jazz great, Hollywood Bowl performer, and her amazing musician friends who wowed the audience with their jazzy selections on the stage at Holy Nativity. This was a fundraiser and so it required people to spend money to make it successful…money to hear Patrice Rushen, money to eat my food, money for the many silent auction items that were donated and so on. In other words, it had to be really good, but cost very little!!
I planned out a schedule where I could get volunteers to help me make the food and I was quite pleased with those who stepped up to help. First up was making 15 Key Lime Pies on Thursday afternoon. I recruited Doris, Mabel and Nancy of Adventures with Nancy Rose. Making Key Lime Pies is a blast. You simply follow the label directions on a bottle of Key West Lime Juice found at Bristol Farms…and I love lining them all up on the table afterward to relish in our beautiful work.
Since we worked quickly to get the Key Lime Pies done, I had Doris man the BBQ and roast our 12 red peppers and pasilla chiles used in our Corn Chowder that we would make the next day. The group was more than happy to peel, seed and chop these up too. Thanks team!
The Friday morning crew – Richard and Kristin had what I thought was the worst job – slicing and dicing 12 onions. While I proudly taught them the proper way to dice onions, just taught at my Knife Skills class, I forgot to bring my swim goggles that I use when attacking this many onions. They happily chopped away, while I chopped and fried the bacon for the “full strength” Corn Chowder as opposed to the whimpy Vegetarian version. After assembling the ingredients for the corn chowder, Richard turned to mixing the ingredients for our peanut sauce and Kristin mastered the Cuisinart mixing up our sate sauce, both which would be used to make the Thai Chicken Skewers.
While I continued doctoring and mixing the Corn chowder, the afternoon crew of Karen and Jo arrived and quickly got to work mixing the base for our watermelon salad dressing and then the other ugly task of slicing 20 pounds of chicken breasts for our chicken sates. They sat patiently and skewered 300 of those suckers – and we didn’t have a one left at the end of the evening! They were that good. the final note of the day was to slather the sate sauce on the skewers to marinade overnight. Then it was on to finding space in the refrigerator for our three stock pots of corn chowder and chicken skewers. We wrapped at 4:00 and I went on to enjoy Gustavo Dudamel conducting the LA Philharmonic in Brahms Requiem that night. I slept well.
Our day, May 14 had arrived and we had six hours to complete the finishing touches on our food. While Mary Pat sliced cubes of watermelon for our salad, Faith got the fun task of dicing our overripe avocados and lathering them with fresh lime juice. Shoulda coulda put those avocados in the frig to slow them down – oh well! We ended up hiding them in the salad under the beautiful watermelon cubes. I rewarded Faith with the fun job of piping whipped cream on the Key Lime Pies and she did a beautiful job! Shannon in the meantime helped get our rice ready, while Gerry flew in with our decorated chocolate cake from Costco, loaves of bread and heads of cauliflower recommended by Nancy Rose for our vegetarian Rice with Peanut Sauce.
Gerry went to work cutting up the cauliflower while Shannon cut loaves of bread.
Noon had arrived and Michael and Shirley were there to head up the rear of our preparations. Michael got to work on reheating and seasoning our Corn Chowder, while Shirley chiffonaded the basil for the salad. The next ugly task of thawing and rinsing our 14 pounds of shrimp was lovingly done by Shirley, with a smile on her face. This blessed woman is always happy and a pleasure to work with. “Group think” was employed as we did many times over the past three days. We needed to add the shrimp to our “full strength” corn chowder, but we wanted to have the shrimp separate to top off each bowl of chowder with 3-4 shrimps. The decision was finally made to start another stock pot to cook the shrimp. Taking panfuls of chowder from two of the stockpots, that became the base in which to cook the shrimp. It worked beautifully. Meanwhile, Michael was making our rice in a formula we discovered a year ago for steaming rice in a covered hotel pan in the oven. That and roasting our cauliflower, which we teasingly said was for him, the vegetarian!
It was time to get set up for the big night, so I set up tables and stations for getting the food out fast. Remember, we only had one hour from start to finish, as I knew people would be fashionably late. Jessika, our volunteer for the last shift arrived dressed beautifully for the party. I did not want her to drip anything on her nice clothes, and as it turned out, we had everything under control, so we took a breather as we reviewed the next steps. Our servers, Eli, Maureen and Olig arrived. Together the five of us made an assembly line and made up 50 salads, since this was the first course to be served. First the greens in a bowl tossed with a spare amount of salad dressing. Each paper plate moved down the line with greens, avocado, watermelon, kalamata olives, feta cheese, pepita seeds, then the basil chiffonade. We were expecting 100 people, but we knew we would have some special orders, so we stopped after about 15 minutes and 50 salads later. We had a brief meeting about our plan to serve 100 people four courses in one hour. Then the servers checked out the set up and staked out the situation to let us know when the guests were arriving. In the meantime, my last volunteer, Marian arrived to help out with serving.
I could not ask for a better comrade in the kitchen for this task. Marian is a retired colonel and man, can she take charge of a situation like this. There is no messing around when Marian is in charge. She immediately got to work and got our bowls and plates ready for the onslaught while Michael and I stood in amazement.
At 6:15, we finally had some customers. We were all ready, so we loaded up the trays and Maureen, Eli, Olig, Mike, Ashley and Lindsey went about the job of feeding the guests. Pretty soon they said people were asking for a second salad, so we started ladling the paper bowls full of corn chowder with exactly three shrimp in the center and a slice of bread on top. The bowls and servers went out into the abyss and there was happiness. Very little was coming back – they like it – they like it. Next it was on to the chicken skewers. We plated the trays with red cabbage and piped peanut sauce onto the skewers. The crowd couldn’t get enough of them. I had to hold back 20 of the 300 skewers to feed the crew or they would have all been gone. We had already sent up trays of food to the band, to get them warmed up for their performance. In between replenishing the servers trays, we plated up some rice with cauliflower and the peanut sauce for our vegetarian friends to enjoy. This was the only thing we had left at the end of the evening. Most of the “full strength” corn chowder was gone. We had some of the vegetarian version to serve guests at the Sunday “Coffee hour”, but that was about it.
The final act of the evening was to serve our key lime pies and the chocolate cake. We got rave reviews and again I had to hide a pie for the band and another for the volunteers. Just as the food was dwindling and the auction items had been bid on, the crowd moved into the sanctuary for the big concert and to auction off the high value items. I guess the crowd enjoyed the food, because the winning bid was $325 to have me cater a La Cucina Italiana dinner for eight at their home! (and be in one of my future posts.) Keep reading my blog to learn about more of my cooking adventures!!
Watermelon Avocado Salad
The vinagrette may be more than you need depending on the greens you use, but it will keep in the refrigerator for awhile and it’s always nice to have some made up salad dressing on hand. Serves 8.
1/2 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 Tbs white wine vinegar
2 Tbs watermelon juice
1 1/2 tsp dijon mustard
1/2 tsp lime zest (done before juicing)
2 cups watermelon cubes
2 avocados, preferably Hass, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 lime, juiced
8 oz. spring salad mix
1/3 cup feta cheese
1/3 cup kalamata olives pitted and sliced
1/4 cup pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
2 sprigs fresh basil, chiffonade
1. The first thing to do is to dice your watermelon into cubes so you have about 2 cups or so. You will undoubtedly end up with some watermelon juice on your cutting board or in your bowl. Scoop it up and place this in the salad dressing shaker or a separate bowl.
2. Next zest your lime, shaving off only the green part of the fruit. Add lime zest to the salad dressing shaker or bowl.
3. Juice the lime and place in a separate bowl. Cut the avocado into chunks and place in this bowl with the lime juice to coat. This will prevent the avocado from turning brown.
4. Add the olive oil, vinegar and dijon mustard to the salad dressing shaker. Shake to mix or whisk the ingredients in a bowl. Add more watermelon juice to the shaker that accumulates in the watermelon bowl.
5. In mixing bowl, toss the greens with the vinaigrette. Chiffonade the basil by wrapping the basil leaves together like a cigar, then cut thin slices across the leaves or just chop – your preference!
6. Assemble – line up your plates and divide ingredients among the plates – first greens, then avocado and watermelon chunks, top with kalamata olives, feta cheese. Sprinkle with pepitas and finally the basil chiffonade. Beautiful!!