This is a long story. And I know I haven't been around for a long time. So if you want the Reader's Digest version of today's story and the last two weeks:
Get sick, cook for 47 hours in 3-days while sick, help a friend buy a car (man does paperwork take a long time), then cook, cook, take newish car to dealership for some work and sit there for 3-hours, cook, cook, and cook (even when I wasn't "working"). I ended up cooking 3 T'giving meals on three different days. (77 people, 20 people, & 15 people respectively). And may I also mention "stress, stress, stress?" And still sounding like a barking seal with this cough that won't go away? The end.
But today's post deals with dinner last night.
Tuesday night I'd lost sleep over how I was going to improvise cooking of the Poulet au Vinaigre (vinegar chicken) for this weeks Wednesday night dinner.
That was an accurate foreshadowing of my stressful day.
It began when I had to make a paper goods run - which I wasn't planning on doing - and got out of the house an hour later than I anticipated. So instead of beginning to cook at 1pm, I didn't get stared until about 2pm.
Plus - my best volunteer - who is also an amazing cook - and cooks for large groups - and I can give a huge list of things to do (like "make the sweet-tea, lemonade, coffee & then set up the warming table and then come see me for your next job") and he gets it all done, and quickly, and without a billion questions, and does it QUICKLY and can do about four more things for me ... called in sick. So I was stressed beyond belief at the beginning of the day.
However, once again my friend Beth came to help out - and she TOTALLY gets the "Friendship Medal of Honor" for going above and beyond the call of duty. She's the one who put together the lime/chile vinegarette for the squash, and diced the shallots/roasted the garlic for the Poulet au Vinaigre. And she doesn't even ATTEND MY CHURCH.
But before Beth showed up - and after I knew my "right-hand man" wasn't going to be there I struggled with the stupid roll-ups/pin-wheels which were part of the appitizer. (And also? They were only on the menu 'cause they were supposed to be made 2 weeks before and there was a sudden change in plans and didn't get used - and I didn't want the ingredients going to waste.) Normally I'd NEVER make appetizers for a Wednesday Dinner. That's just CRAZY talk.
Tuesday night I made the filling - and had it out at room temperature long enough to be malleable when I went to spread it, but man - rolling those things up?!? They were a pain in the butt. Well, not the rolling - more like figuring out how to get them to roll up with the filling even to the ends - and then cutting them without smooshing them into pin-oblongs or pin-trapizoids. I got frustrated after trying to cut ONE - and so just rolled them up - and put them in the fridge to firm up - and made someone else cut them later. (ha!)
It still bugs me that I can't figure out an engineering solution to get the spread evenly distributed when they're rolled. I did start squaring off the tortillas (so great - another step - and more time) - but STILL THEY DIDN'T LOOK PERFECT. (more crazy talk, I know)
Then the chicken SUCKED ... because it's poultry. And I am freaky when I'm cooking for the public about not spreading salmonella/chicken-juice death from one end of the kitchen to the other.
Usually I work with frozen chicken which minimizes this concern. But this time I was doing fresh - 'cause I wanted crispy skin. Which means drippy chicken-death on my hands, the sink where I opened the packages, on the counter AND THE FLOOR where I spilled the drippy-death as I placed the chicken in the cooking pans. So there was some extra time (that I didn't have to spare) spent on cleaning/sanitizing work surfaces as I moved from place to place spreading and cleaning up the germy-evil.
Because I wanted to deglaze those chicken cooking pans, I couldn't use baking sheets with parchment paper (which keeps stuff from sticking and holds more chicken pieces per pan). Instead I had 13 hotel pans (12x20) of chicken. Which of course took more room in the convection oven. Leaving not much room for anything else to cook.
I have 8 racks available (in the configuration that will hold these deeper pans) - and I used 6 of them with chicken. So no room for the rice or the squash. (But I wasn't worried about the rice - 'cause I made that at 3pm - and then kept it in the hot-box.)
Anyway - the chicken got cooked off - and then I had no where to put it while I let someone else deglaze the pans - because it was 5 pm - and we were 50 minutes away from serving time - and the squash wasn't cut or cooking yet, and I'm the only one with good enough knife skills to cut acorn squash into 3/4 inch wedges without lopping off fingers and wrists. So I knew I needed to spend my time on this and not trying to make the sauce correctly.
And if you see how disjointed this story is - that's how I felt trying to cook yesterday. Not enough room to take chicken out of the oven so it wouldn't over cook, not enough room to prep the squash while people were cutting up all the crap for the salad bar (which I hate with a purple passion) - and the sauce got started late ... and the cobblers still weren't dished into individual servings and, and, and ...
... the sauce - that is supposed to deglaze, then have garlic paste & shallots added while it sautés with white wine, red wine vinegar & tomato paste, then go back over the chicken to cook for another 45 minutes - THEN HAVE THE CHICKEN REMOVED from the sauce and the put back in the oven to crisp the skin while the sauce is further reduced & finished with butter so it's this beautiful, thick, silky sauce?? ... Well THAT didn't happen.
Instead the pans were deglazed, stuff sautéed, and dumped back over the chicken and served.
The squash came out at the VERY LAST POSSIBLE MINUTE (which I guess is a good thing, 'cause it was hot - and I didn't want it sitting in the hot box getting mushy or on the line cooling off before serving) ... but it was STRESSFUL - 'cause everything else was ready to go - and we were waiting on squash.
EVERYONE RAVED about the meal. I mean really, they went ON AND ON AND ON.
Plus - I cooked EXACTLY the right amounts this time. Everyone GOT chicken - and there was none left over. I probably threw away - 2 quarts of rice - and no squash or bread. And they liked the peach & blueberry cobblers. And the spicy sausage phyllo dough triagles & the cream cheese/olive/pimento pin wheels with just a hint of chipolte chile in adobo sauce blended in there.
So - what's the moral of all of this?
Well - one thing is I REALLY need more people (or even just "someone") helping me out on Tuesday nights prepping everything.
But I guess most importantly - while I am crazed - and trying to do 10 things at once - and yelling orders (nicely) at everyone, and frustrated that they are not slicing/dicing quick enough and GOOD LORD HOW MANY QUESTIONS DO THEY NEED TO ASK WHILE I'M TRYING TO COUNT??!!?? ... and while I'm totally sure everything is going to be a disaster - and never be served on time - God keeps coming through.
With another last minute pair of hands - with sending me a brilliant suggestion on how to improvise on a cooking method - with another two spare bags of chicken in the freezer - and countless other little moments of grace and salvation.
The end result is the dinner has always been ready. On time (so far). And tastes good. (and no one has gotten food poisoning, yet)
So - totally a God thing.
And I don't think I express that very well, here or in the kitchen.
But in my mind/heart, I know.