Monday, December 8, 2008

Fun Playing With Comfort Food For A Crowd

This past weekend, we traveled to Cincinnati, Ohio to "guest chef" for the annual Cincinnati Area Mensa Regional Gathering. We've been doing this for the last few years, and it is always great fun. We prepared to serve about 150 people a Winter Wonderland, "Comfort Food Cafe."

We prepped and froze most of the food in advance. Thursday morning, we packed up the car and headed to Cincy. We arrived at the event hotel and unpacked. Volunteers arrived to "slice and dice" various produce and snack items, and other volunteers to wash the dishes, which are packed up clean, but stored in a garage all year.

It was during this latter process that we encountered a truly "Dinner Impossible" scenario. As noted, all of the group's Hospitality supplies are stored in a member's garage - well, apparently raccoons got into the garage this year, because their pawprints were everywhere. Items stored in plastic boxes were still pristine, but all of the cardboard storage boxes (for chafing dishes and roasters) had to be pitched, and the contents thoroughly sanitized; the group bought some new Rubbermaid storage boxes to re-store those items in after the event. It made for a more stressful start to the event than any of us was really prepared for. Thanks to a couple of terrific volunteers, though, we got everything ready to go by Friday morning, when Bob and I would begin to prep Friday's dinner.

We made two soups in advance and reheated them on butane cookers. The recipe for Bean and Barley soup came from Steve Sando's wonderful new cookbook, Heirloom Beans.

Rancho Gordo's Bean & Barley Soup

The second soup was Split Pea Soup, as made by my mother for her wedding anniversary every year while she was able-bodied. You'll see the secret ingredient in a moment.

Pea Soup With . . . Slices of Hebrew National Frankfurter!

This is how a Jewish cook solves the dilemma of wanting meaty smokiness in pea soup without using pork. As a kid, I remember picking at the soup - and picking out all of the hotdog slices, which were of course the best part!

I made the third soup on site. Since it required a lot of dairy, I was concerned that it wouldn't freeze well.

Creamy Pecan Soup

We made three entrees. First - Cheesy Corn Bake, a recipe posted on the Food & Wine Forum by cookbook author Linda Griffith, and a variation on a recipe from her wonderful book, The Best of the Midwest.

We offered two meat choices.

Mom's Meatloaf

My mom, of course, made the best meatloaf. Very simple - seasoned with salt, pepper, sweet paprika, garlic powder and onion powder, with egg and matzoh meal. She topped it with Ragu sauce (I used Hunt's for this project), and baked it covered. It received rave reviews.

Unfortunately, I failed to snap a photo of the Chicken Paprikash. A real shame - it was the first time I ever made this, and it came out perfectly. All 18 pounds were consumed.

We served these mains with noodles.

And a salad bar, which I also neglected to photograph.

For desserts, we offered two crockpots of "Chocolate Mess":

Chocolate Cake Mix, Eggs, Oil, Sour Cream, Chocolate Pudding, Chocolate Chips

We offered vanilla ice cream and butterscotch toppings to accompany the Mess.

And, it wouldn't have been a Winter Wonderland without some Snowballs!

Peanut Butter Snowballs

All in all, a warm and cozy repast.

I also photographed some of the other food offered over the weekend. Saturday's lunch was Katie's first time as a Hospitality Meal Manager, and with a little help from Virginia, she pulled off a lovely meal.

Virginia's Creamed Spinach Soup

Virginia's Mild Chili Soup

Vegetarian Refried Beans

Shredded Chicken with Taco Seasoning

Ground Beef With Taco Seasoning


Virginia's Cucumber-Egg Salad

I was too tired to photograph Virginia's Saturday dinner - Creamy Chicken Soup, Wild Rice & Mushroom Soup, and three entrees: Pulled Pork with Apricot Sauce, Rice, Beef Stew and Mac & Cheese. Virginia also made a beet and egg salad, and provided a salad bar. Death by Dessert followed a few hours after dinner.

I also slept through both breakfasts catered by Ernie & Nita, who served about 160 made-to -order omelette's.

A fun and filling weekend was had by all!

1 comment:

  1. Great thoughts you got there, believe I may possibly try just some of it throughout my daily life.

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