My husband loves throwing a party. When I finally became a citizen, he seized the moment. The guest list grew as he contacted more and more friends and family. At first, I expected a low-key small gathering, but it turned out to be a party of 50 people. The next thing I knew, he was cutting a giant oak tree into pieces to make standing tables for the party. He gave me a stupid smile when I caught him on the tracker slowly rolling the logs into position. The reality quickly dawned on me that the party would need some serious planning, so I started to prepare about a month before the party.

Vision (1 month ahead)

The party took place during the fall harvest season. The corn close by was harvested days before the party. The setting was surrounded by several giant oak and hickory trees with lights hung among them to create a warm ambiance. The grass was still lush while the leaves were turning red. It was the party for people to mingle and drink, so the food was mostly cocktail finger food. I wanted the food to leave a memory for people instead of the ordinary backyard party food.

Research and Testing (1 month ahead and throughout)

I referred to cookbooks for inspiration, and I adjusted the recipes based on taste and presentation. The testing process was continuous, and I was perfecting the mini apple pie 2 days before the party. Once I found a few recipes, I tested them out and took detailed notes for future scaling up and changes. It was helpful to calculate how many slices of bread it took from a baguette and how many mini quesadillas could be made from the 8 oz neufchatel cheese mix. I also tracked any changes in ingredients with measuring spoons and cups. With the detailed notes, I was able to scale up accurately and cook without hesitation.

Inspiration

  1. The French Kitchen Cookbook: Recipes and Lessons from Paris and Provence by Patricia Wells
  2. The Bonne Femme Cookbook: Simple, Splendid Food That French Women Cook Every Day by Wini Moranville
  3. https://www.thekitchn.com/how-to-make-meatballs-cooking-lessons-from-the-kitchn-108048
  4. https://www.thekitchn.com/chicken-tenders-264560
  5. https://www.livewellbakeoften.com/mini-apple-pies/
  6. Buvette: The Pleasure of Good Food Hardcover by Jody Williams

Taste

The original mini quesadilla recipe calls for goat cheese, but I swapped it with neufchatel cheese as a more affordable option. I added honey for sweetness and decreased the amount of lemon zest to lessen the bitterness.

Sautéed artichoke with mushroom was on the menu. However, the canned artichoke hearts were too tough and sour, so I removed that dish. I also got rid of the apple Parmesan cheese frisco because it tasted stale after reheating.

For the oven baked chicken strips, I created a thicker batter with egg and mayo. I splashed olive oil on the chicken strips prior to baking for a crisper crust. To achieve even browning, I baked the chicken strips on wired racks.

I was not satisfied with the mini apple pie recipe online, so I made 3 batches to perfect it. I added 1/2 teaspoon apple cider sauce and added a thick slice of butter on each pie before baking for a flaky crust.

Final menu

  1. Charcuterie board
  2. Baguette with brie cheese, apricot jam, and green onion
  3. Baguette with cream cheese, tomatoes, and green onion
  4. Mini quesadilla with lemon neufchatel cheese
  5. Oven baked chicken strips
  6. Meatballs in marinara sauce
  7. Sauteed mushroom with garlic
  8. Bacon wrapped Brussels sprout
  9. Mini apple pie
  10. Apple cider

Planning (3 weeks ahead)

After organizing all the cooking notes, I scaled up and over-estimated the ingredients. While I was cleaning the fridge and pantry, I took inventory of the groceries before the final shopping. I also needed to plan additional food for people traveling out of state, midnight snacks, and food for myself during the mad dash.

I wrote down all the ingredients and directions on a few pieces of paper, and I separated each dish into different steps for easier organization.

  1. Ingredients and amount
  2. prep
  3. Cook on stove top, oven, roaster oven, or crock pot
  4. Re-heat in microwave, oven, roaster oven, or crock pot
  5. Assemble

Shop and Storage (1 week ahead)

I decided to shop for most of the ingredients a week ahead, so I needed to ensure the food remained fresh until I was ready to cook. I looked for ways to extend the shelf lives of all the fruits and vegetables. In general, I pre-washed most of the produce and allowed them to dry before storing them in the fridge. To preserve the freshness, I did not cut them until the last minute.

Cooking (5 days ahead)

I started cooking 5 days before the party to give myself room for error. I also had Dan get some last minute groceries. I worked 10-12 hours for 4 days to cook most of the food and plan out all the serving utensils. I had Lori and a family friend help with some prepping. After cooking the food, I ensured enough time for the food to cool down prior to storing in the fridge. Otherwise, there will be condensation on the lids. I labeled all the food and serving utensils, so that my friends could help me put the menu together with less confusion.

Below are a few things I found useful in cooking in a large quantity.

Tools

Prep

  1. a few large mixing bowls
  2. nitrite gloves

Cooking/re-heating/cooling

  1. rimmed baking sheets x4
  2. wire racks x2
  3. parchment paper
  4. tin foil
  5. plastic wrap
  6. roaster oven
  7. crock pot
  8. large microwave bowls

Clean

  1. dish soap x1
  2. clean dish towels x4
  3. hand towels x2
  4. dish sponges x2

Storage

  1. tin pan with lids
  2. quart size zip locks
  3. gallon size zip locks
  4. containers for drink, e.g. gallon water bottles

Organizations

  1. painter tape
  2. permanent marker
  3. food labels

Monday

Charcuterie board

  • rolled out all the cured meat
  • sliced all the cheese
  • pre-packaged all the jam into smaller jars

Baguette

  • cut the baguette
  • diced the green onion
  • mixed the cream cheese mix

Mini quesadilla with lemon neufchatel cheese

  • mixed the neufchatel mix
  • cut the tortillas

Sautéed mushroom with garlic

  • diced the parsley
  • cut the mushroom

Tuesday

Sautéed mushroom with garlic

  • delegated to a friend to make the mushrooms

Mini quesadilla with lemon neufchatel cheese

  • cooked the quesadilla and stored

Oven baked chicken strips

  • prepped and baked the chicken strips

Wednesday

Meatballs in marinara sauce

  • prepped and cooked the meatballs

Bacon wrapped Brussels sprout

  • baked the Brussels sprout

Baguette

  • browned the tomatoes

Thursday

Mini apple pie

  • baked the apple pies

Preparation

  • prepared all the serving plates and utensils

Relaxation (1 day ahead)

The day before the party, I had 8 friends traveling from out of state and camping out. All the hard work of planning paid off, and I was able to kick back and spend time with my friends. I also had planned for simple dinners and snacks for their entire stay.

Assemble (hours ahead)

About 4 hours before the party, I had a handful of friends help me assemble most of the food. With organization, I was able to easily delegate each task to others. About an hour before the party, my friends helped me reheat all the food. Everything was ready by the time of the party.

Refill (throughout the party)

About 3-4 hours into the party, I refilled the food and added water to the chafing set. About 6-7 hours in, I made pizza and piggy in a blanket for late night snacks. A couple family members helped with most of the dishes. When I tried to help out with dishes, they both kicked me out of the kitchen. It was fun talking to everyone about the food, and people seemed to be excited about the food. A couple friends mentioned how good the bacon wrapped Brussel sprouts was, and one of them did not like Brussel sprouts. People also told me they could not stop eating the baguette with brie and apricot jam. The party did not stop until 3 AM.

Cleaning and Aftermath

As people were getting ready to leave, I gave away as much leftovers as I could. My sister-in-law took a pan of the mini apple pies home and demolished them in a day. When I sat down and looked at the kitchen, it felt like the end of a roller coaster ride. It was a tremendous amount of work and planning, but I could not believe how many people showed up for me. It has been 10 years since I came to the states without knowing anybody, but now I have family and roots in the Midwest.

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