Sunday, June 10, 2012

Fun Playing with Food at the Queen's Croquet

Last weekend, we catered for the 22nd Annual Queen's Croquet, in Cincinnati Ohio! My team would provide meals for our volunteers during the day on Friday, and meals for all of the approximately 80 attendees from Friday dinner through Sunday's farewell lunch. The Queen's Croquet started as a Memorial Day weekend grill out party at Queen Mary Lee's house. Then, it got out of hand and moved to a hotel. Our theme this year: Building Bridges. 

Beginning with a bare hotel ballroom, a bunch of tables, 4 refrigerators, and plentiful extension cords and outlet taps provided by the hotel, we assembled our kitchen and serving line. To the rear right, we had a portable oven, commercial rice cooker, 17 quart roaster, and room to plug in crock pots as needed for the two Saturday dinner items that would cook in crock pots.

In the photo above, Queen Mary Lee peruses the snack food service line (dry salty and sweet treats, plus a hotdog machine, veggies and dip, cheese cubes, pepperoni and other goodies) with input from Court Jester Drake. The Queen's Grillfriend, John, is in the doorway contemplating filling the hotdog cooker, as his grilling assistant Lori watches the scene. The working end of our kitchen consisted of the six butane stoves you see here.

We prepared a simple, yet delicious breakfast for our volunteers Friday morning: Tater Tot Casserole with Eggs, Milk and Cheddar Cheese. I put them together Thursday evening, so all we had to do Friday morning was pop them in the portable oven.

Friday lunch consisted of "make your own" cold cut sandwiches, with a simple tuna salad, lettuce & tomatoes, and cheese slices. Sorry, no photos.

Friday night, the party would commence in earnest. As we began planning for the event over the winter, the Queen had mentioned her love of Chinese Buffet, and so we determined to bring a bit of that to our first meal. Behold, Bridges to the East:

As usual, our dinner buffet began with three soup choices. 

Shantung (Chinese Velvet Chicken Corn Soup With Bacon) made by Me
Vegan Minestrone (made by CJ Howarth)
The third soup (no photo) was Beef Barley, from Gordon Food Service. GFS's "ready to use" line of refrigerated soups (available by order only at the retail stores) actually taste very good, though you don't want to know what is in them! Virginia had saved a few bags in the freezer after a large party she held in February, and donated them to the Croquet!

Dinty Moore Beef Stew with Peas
Virginia also donated this, to ensure that anyone who didn't care for Chinese-style food would have something they'd like to eat. 

Steamed White and Brown Rices
Beef with Black Pepper Sauce, Carrots & Scapes
Virginia also graced us with a large quantity of garlic scapes from her backyard, which is loaded with garlic plants. We used them in a variety of dishes over the weekend (and offered some finely chopped on the salad bar), including this one. Here's a photo of naked scapes, from our garden:

I used inexpensive beef roast for the black pepper sauce dish. Giant Eagle offers this roast cut into "steaks." After cutting the steaks into "stir fry" size pieces, and bathing it in an overnight marinade of egg white, cornstarch and sherry, I passed the meat through hot oil (about 250-275 degrees) to velvetize it. For service, I heated up cooking oil in a pot, sauteed the carrots and scapes for a few minutes, then added the beef, then my pre-made sauce. Once the sauce bubbled - it was done! The meat was very moist and, most important, tender.

Chicken with Broccoli in Brown Bean Sauce

This entree resulted from a similar process. Prior to the party, chicken breast was cut up, marinated in egg white, cornstarch and sherry, then velvetized in hot oil and chilled. The broccoli was blanched for about a minute, then chilled and bagged. After sauteeing some garlic and ginger, I added the previously prepared sauce mixture to a pot and brought it to a bubble. Once it thickened, the chicken and broccoli each went in. Stir fry without the wok!

"Stir Fried" Green Beans with Garlic
The Queen had alerted me that this is her favorite Chinese Buffet dish. Thanks to fabulous green beans and garlic from Cleveland's own Premier Produce (and also the broccoli used above - thank you Joe Harvey!), I was able to make this dish happen, in several small batches, on a butane burner. The beans were tipped and blanched in advance, then chilled. For service, oil was heated in my five quart rondo pan, and sliced garlic added. When it was hot, the green beans got their turn. A sprinkle of salt - and done! 

Cold Sesame Noodle Salad
Again, the main ingredient (the noodles) was blanched and chilled pre-event. Add the sauce (also made in advance), and some sesame oil, then toss, and this was ready to serve!

Edamame Salad
Our friend Caren made this tasty vegetarian option.

Finally, we offered a salad bar (and fortune cookies):

Choices included lettuce-radish mix, grape tomatoes, chopped scapes, shredded carrots, peas, cottage cheese, cheddar cheese, stuffed olives and mushrooms.

Also served up after dinner was an amazing bridge cake, constructed by Ernie and Nita. Here is a link to a photo of it taken by one of our guests. In addition to being the Cake Fabricators to the Queen, Ernie and Nita provided hot breakfast on both Saturday (made to order eggs and omelets, and pancakes) and Sunday (scrambled eggs & cheese).

We usually don't serve soup at the Saturday Lunch (The Great American Grill Out), but since Virginia had some more GFS product to donate, we began the line with GFS Vegan Minestrone. 

Though not in the same league as CJ's homemade version had been, our guests did enjoy this option. Not to be outdone by GFS - CJ also provided a cold soup for Saturday's lunch:

For the baked beans (which we make from scratch every year), I took inspiration from a recipe I sampled at the North Union Farmers' Market over the winter.

Apple & Bacon Baked Beans
Here, small white beans are joined by bacon (and the renderings from cooking the bacon down), Granny Smith Apples, Ketchup, Onion, Brown Sugar and Cinnamon. Yum.

Grilled Half Pound Burgers

John grilled up all of these juicy meats - burgers, chicken (honey teriyaki and plain), mild metts and beer-soaked brats.

Of course, you can't have burgers without fixins:

Or cole slaw and potato salad:

Chef Eric's Recipe Cole Slaw
GFS Southern Style Potato Salad with Fresh Dill

And the serving line ends with fresh watermelon slices!

Saturday dinner was titled: Bridges to Satiety, and we loaded up on the comfort food!

The base for this Bridge over Boiled Waters was Campbell's Condensed Tomato Soup (another Virginia donation) cooked with cream and milk instead of water, with the Tortellini (heated from frozen right in the soup pot) floating (thus providing the bridge over the boiled waters) and fresh basil. Canned soup never tasted so good! The other two soups were also Virginia's GFS overstock:

Potato-Bacon Soup
Italian Wedding Soup
Virginia prepared the crock pot mac 'n cheese that followed (cooked pasta, butter, Velveeta and milk, and it cooks itself). 

As it turned out, Scott's "Bite in the Ass" Chili was a bit more, um, bite-ier this year - I discovered that it paired amazingly well with the mac n cheese. Scott, who always brings a pot of chili to this party, is also our Recycler; virtually all of the aluminum, glass and plastic used over the weekend is recycled, thanks to Scott.

"A Bite in the Ass Chili" made by Scott

Virginia made her crockpot chicken and stuffing, which Her Majesty greatly enjoyed at the February party, and it was a big hit!

Since our theme was bridges, the one food that dominated my planning was Rice A Roni - I remembered that the package would sometimes have an image of the Golden Gate Bridge on it. Beth was able to find and deliver some graphics - and so the challenge was on: could I make Rice A Roni from scratch for a crowd? Oh, yes.

Beef Style Rice A Roni with GFS Meatballs  (another donation from Virginia), topped with Garden Parsley
Vegetarian Rice A Roni (made with butter instead of goose fat)

Caren made the above salad of cous cous, garbanzo beans, apricots and fresh herbs.

The serving line concluded with another salad bar:

The salad bar carried blanched green beans that hadn't been used on Friday, and the remainder of Friday's tuna salad, together with the usual suspects of carrots, mushrooms and cheese. 

Sunday's eating began with Ernie's scrambled eggs and some delightful muffins that CJ prepared. At lunchtime, the leftovers parade commenced, with re-heated burgers and baked beans, lunch meat, various vegetation, sesame noodle salad, and a whole fresh crockpot of mac n cheese! What a great weekend of cooking and eating with friends! 

Indeed, at the Queen's Court, held on Saturday evening, I was treated to a serenade from my towel-snapping Hospitality Crew, to the tune of Whatever Lola Wants (from the play, Damn Yankees; thank you Becky for coming up with this!):

Whatever Nancy wants
Nancy gets.
And little man, little Nancy
wants you!
Make up your mind to have
no regrets.
Put an apron on,
until the dawn.
You're through!
She feeds us well,
that's what she aims for.
The food is swell,
that's what we came for.
Whatever Nancy wants, 
Nancy gets!
You're no exception to the rule,
she's irresistible, you fool.
Give in!
Give in!

Fun playing with food and friends in Croquetia. We're already planning for the next party!


  1. Here's a link to a more public photo of the cake before the crowds got to it.
    Not sure anyone I'm not FB friends with will be able to see the FB photo!

  2. Thanks for the mention, Nancy!