Thursday, December 10, 2009

More Fun Cooking for a Crowd in Cincinnati

Actually, a more accurate title would be "More Fun Cooking Up a Shitload of Food in My Kitchen, Freezing It, Schlepping it to Cincinnati (a 4 hour car ride) and Reheating It a Day Later For 150 Hungry Mensans." We've been "guest cheffing" for the Cincinnati Area Mensa Regional Gathering for several years; we cannot say no to our dear friend and accomplice in cooking adventures, Virginia P. (Do note that someone from American Mensa recently asked me to return as Hospitality Chair for the National Gathering in 2011; I politely declined.)

The theme for the event this year was "CAM-A-Lot." Since Virginia planned to cover both Arthurian-era food and Spam for Saturday's dinner, we came up with "Lots-A-CAM" for Friday's dinner. I learned that five of American Mensa's local groups use the acronym "CAM," and I was determined to serve at least one delicacy from each place. As always, a major challenge was the lack of a real kitchen; though our improvised one works very well:

So, without further ado

Chicago Area Mensa:

Italian Beef Sandwiches

I was thrilled to have the assistance of retired Chef and dear friend Tom T., who served out the sandwiches - I was surprised at how many of the attendees weren't familiar with this Chicago-area staple!

Our Chicago-based friend (and Queen's Croquet Grillmaster) John M. was kind enough to pick up our order of 25# of beef and accouterments from Pop's Italian Beef, 7153 W.127th Street, Palos Heights, Illinois. (708) 361-0087 and drive them to Cincinnati. While not quite as ethereal as Al's or Johnnie's Italian Beef - Pop's was very good. The photo above is Pop's bread, which we cut into "half sandwich" size.

Pop's Hot Peppers

Pop's Sweet Peppers

I regret that I didn't get a photo of an assembled sandwich. I did eat one, however, and it was delicious!

Cleveland Area Mensa:

Pierogies with Caramelized Onions and Butter

These amazing potato-filled pasta morsels came from the Grandmas at St. Josephat's Church in Parma, Ohio. They make the best pierogies I've ever tasted, bar none, and I  always source from them if I want pierogies for an event.

Fresh Kielbasa

Redolent with a hit of freshly ground black pepper, we sourced 20 pounds of this goodness from Mazzulo's Market. Mazzulo's has two locations - Bainbridge and Aurora, Ohio. And while you may wonder what folks surnamed "Mazzulo" know about kielbasa - this version was fabulous, and was the first thing we ran out of. Bob pre-cooked them in our oven on Wednesday then chilled them; we reheated them Friday in a plug-in roaster, in its own juices.

Cincinnati Area Mensa:

Our plan was to re-create a local favorite: Cincinnati Style Chili, which is slightly sweet, and served over Spaghetti (or, as it is called in Cincy, "noodles") with Oyster Crackers. I think we did a fine job.

Red Beans, for a "4 Way"

Chili - thanks to Nora F. for the recipe!


The only lack of authenticity was the inability to make a "5 Way" - since one of our guests is deadly allergic to raw onion, we omitted it from the buffet. No one seemed to miss it.

Central Alabama Mensa:

Hopping John

This savory combination of black-eyed peas, bacon, onion and rice was well received. We pre-cooked the rice and froze it in zipper bags separately from the bean mix. The two parts were combined when heated for service.

Columbus Area Mensa:


Bob made about 500 of these peanut butter and chocolate confections.

We also served 3 types of GFS soup and a salad bar (thanks to Virginia  for the latter), and  an additional dessert:

Chocolate Mess

This crockpot cake of chocolate cake mix, chocolate pudding, eggs, oil, sour cream, and chocolate chips never fails to please, especially when served with vanilla ice cream and whipped cream (which I almost forgot to serve - oops - cranberry sauce!).

And so, we succeeded in feeding another large group.

Now - a word about the Cincinnati Style Chili I made. I began by having a "research" lunch at the local Skyline Chili outlet.

5 Way (Chili Over Spaghetti with Beans, Onion and Cheese)


Since we brought some of my chili home with us after the event, I was able to photograph the assemblage, which I'd neglected to do at the event:

I think we did pretty well with this - we've certainly enjoyed playing with the leftovers!

This should be our last major feeding project until spring. Until then, we'll be playing with our food on a slightly smaller scale. Which makes me both a little happy, and a little sad.

By the way - today is Terra Madre Day aka Slow Food Day- so please celebrate by eating something local or enjoying a slow cooked meal with family and friends! We're ordering in Mister Brisket sandwiches for lunch at the office today, and enjoying a Meet the Farmers' Dinner at Greenhouse Tavern tonight!


  1. Nancy, so glad you posted where to get FRESH kielbasa... I havent had much luck, but will try Mazzulo's. Great pics, too!

  2. I must be a real Clevelander, cause nothing looks as good to me as those amazing pierogies.

  3. Is Bob sick of making buckeyes yet? I'd have to imagine he'd not want to see another for quite some time.

    I know of the effort it takes to cook, schlepp, and re-heat for a Cincinnati gig ... I had one about three years ago. While I was only feeding 50 people, it was a ton of work. Bravo to you for the effort.