Sunday, February 26, 2012

Blue and Gold Dinner 2012

Last night our Cub Scout pack hosted its annual Blue and Gold Dinner.  Officially we were feeding 108 guests, and that number was climbing as late as noon yesterday--but I'm pretty sure some extra Boy Scouts showed up.  It wasn't a problem; they were most welcome and we had plenty of ziti and meatballs to go around.  People must have been on a health kick this year, though, because we completely ran out of salad before the last 15 people got through the line.  (What can I say--I make a mean salad.  Open bag of salad, dump in a bowl, add sliced cucumbers and grape tomatoes.  It's a tough job, but someone's got to do it.)

I made 225 meatballs this year, with just under 14 pounds of meat.  22 were left, so I'm happy with that; it means my estimate was right on the money.

Here's the staging area before I started making the sauce.  I just love our parish kitchen:  12 stove burners on 2 industrial stoves, a HUGE stainless-steel prep table, triple sink, 2 smaller sinks, and an equipment room that is nearly as big as my entire home kitchen.

Spaghetti sauce for 225:  use 3 18-quart roaster ovens and split ingredients among them.
1 111-oz can of tomato paste
9 28-oz cans tomato puree
9 28-oz cans crushed tomatoes
1/3 to 1/2 can of water for each can of anything
seasoning:  3 bay leaves
3 handfuls parsley flakes
3 handfuls basil
3 handfuls oregano
3 handfuls garlic powder
3 smaller handfuls onion powder
drizzle of olive oil
6 tsp sugar
6 tsp salt
3 tsp crushed red pepper

I wasn't speeding along, and everything got done in plenty of time.  I set up to make the sauce at 1:30 and the roasters were all cooking by 2:30 (there were 19 cans to open...)

And here's what I call the Roaster Parade.  I placed each one on a huge baking tray.  This way the heat didn't melt the plastic tablecloth, and we had a place to set the serving spoons down.

There's nothing like a roaster oven to get a job like this done.  You can set them at 350 to get them good and hot when you first fill them, then turn the temperature down to 200 or so and let the sauce simmer all afternoon.  They cooked the sauce right there at the serving table, so there was no moving hot pots of sauce around.  There was also no mess of spaghetti-sauce spatters all over the stove (so much less to clean up later!)

When it was time to serve dinner, we just opened one roaster at a time and served meatballs and sauce until it was empty; then we moved on to the next one.  Each roaster held 75 meatballs but I have fit up to 100 in roasters that size.

We cooked 18 pounds of pasta (and had 4 more boxes at the ready) but only needed 16.  2 pounds of pasta went into each of the big pots shown here.  We cooked 3 pots at a time.  Each 2 pounds of cooked pasta went into a shallow steam-table dish.  After drizzling it with olive oil and stirring to coat the pasta (so it wouldn't stick together) we covered the dish with foil and placed in a warm oven until it was time to serve the food.

I started that a little earlier yesterday and probably shouldn't have.  1 hour and 15 minutes before serving is plenty.  The first pan or 2 of pasta that was cooked got a little mushy from sitting around so long.  Also, it's important to remember to serve the pasta in the same order that it's cooked so that it doesn't sit around too long!

If I were a little taller (OK, a lot taller) I could have used this pot. It holds 58 quarts, according to the etching on the inside.  But I'm too short to see over the rim.

Behind the stove they have the most fabulous thing ever:  a special hose with hot and cold water taps so you can fill the pots right there at the stove!  I love this.  The hose stretches far enough that I could roll up a cart with the coffeepots and 5-gallon drink jugs and fill them as well (did that before we turned on the stove to cook the pasta).

Here's last year's shopping and equipment list.  This year I used the quantities of pasta and sauce listed above, 1 gallon of Boost, 1 can decaf coffee (11 oz), 1 1/2 cans regular coffee (11 oz), 3 quarts half and half, enough iced-tea mix to make 4 gallons (16 quarts), 10 bags of salad (and they're less than a pound now, which is probably where I went wrong), 3 cucumbers, 3 boxes grape tomatoes, 4 pints salad dressing, 4 regular-size bags croutons.  I got 4 flavors of dressing:  Ranch, Italian, Caesar and Catalina.  All had a little left; only the Catalina had more than 1/4 of a bottle left.

I cannot say enough good about 3 of the Boy Scouts.  They're Middle Sister's friends and I've known these guys for years.  Yesterday they showed me that they are growing up into wonderful young men.  Before dinner, they sought me out to ask how they could help.  They agreed that they'd help with scrubbing the pots after dinner.  Those guys showed up as soon as the Scout ceremony was over and got right to work.  All I had to do was put the clean items where they belonged.  They wiped down the sink and the work table after the dishes were done, without being reminded.  They left that kitchen much cleaner than I found it when I walked in yesterday afternoon (I had to scrub the 3 pasta pots before I could use them.)  All the while, they chatted with one of their leaders about ideas for their Eagle Scout projects and other personal ambitions they have.  They were friendly, respectful, amazingly helpful and kind.  I made sure to praise them, in front of them, to more than one Scout leader.  Because of their hard work, the Cub Scout parents had the chance to enjoy family time with their children and social time with other Scout families after dinner.

This morning, my shoulders and upper back are really feeling it from all that lifting, but it was a good day and a good dinner and I was proud to be able to do this for our Cub Scouts.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Rustic Lemon-Onion Chicken with Spinach

When I heard about this recipe over the weekend, I knew it was something that my whole family would like.  After all, it's not TOO different from our favorite Chicken Piccata--except for the seasonings, the onions and the bed of spinach.  I love spinach and so does my daughter.  And it's so good for you!

I had no fresh thyme, and I used a different method for cooking the spinach than the original Food Network recipe for this dish.  Also, I cut the chicken into small pieces (as we do with the Chicken Piccata) so that even more of the chicken is coated in the delicious sauce.  This recipe served four, but there was easily enough sauce for twice the amount of servings (I'll probably cut the sauce in half next time).

Visit Cook and Count to get the recipe and nutrition facts for this dish!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Caramel-Stuffed Chocolate Chip Cookies

This is something I've been wanting to try for a while.  I used my favorite chocolate-chip cookie recipe and the "stuffing" technique used in the Oreo-stuffed cookies, but put in caramels instead.

Caramel-Stuffed Chocolate Chip Cookies

3/4 cup butter (1 1/2 sticks), softened (Do not melt or heat the butter)
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg, beaten
1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon (I've been known to add up to 2 tsp)
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 package chocolate chips, whatever kind you like best (I like mini chips in these, but any kind works)
caramels, unwrapped

Cream butter, sugars, vanilla and egg with electric mixer until light and fluffy.

Add dry ingredients, excluding chips.  Stir in chips by hand or use the mixer on very low speed.

Refrigerate your cookie dough for at least an hour before starting.

Use a teaspoon to remove balls of dough. Flatten on a sheet of waxed paper.

Place a caramel on half the flattened disks of dough.

Place another disk on top of the disk with the caramel, then carefully mold the dough around the cookie so no caramel is showing.

Place on baking sheet (I like to line my baking sheets with a silicone liner).  Bake about 1 minute longer than you usually would for chocolate-chip cookies.  Your mileage may vary, but this timing worked for me.  For this recipe, I baked the cookies at 375 for 9 minutes.

Two great tastes that taste great together!  Just add a tall glass of ice-cold milk.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Fiesta Chicken Tacos: Secret Recipe Club

I was afraid I wouldn't have time to find and prepare a new-to-me recipe from a new-to-me blog for this month's Secret Recipe Club. You see, I've been wearing an extra hat these days. In addition to being the Head Chef and Chief Multitasker for my family, with responsibilities including laundry, homemaking, chauffeuring, homework-related nagging and making sure the kids (and their friends) don't play ball in the house, I have also become a Stage Mother.

My younger son, age 9, has been performing in a not-local-enough production of Pippin. Since he's 9, I'm with him at each and every rehearsal and performance, and there have been a lot of rehearsals. It's all worth it, I keep telling myself, as I look at my filthy kitchen floor and wipe my bleary eyes (late-night rehearsals don't sit too well with this early bird.)

I was happy to find this 3-ingredient recipe for Fiesta Salsa Shredded Chicken at my assigned blog, The Yummy Life. When I've got more time, there are a lot more recipes I want to try at this blog, like the Everyday Vinaigrette, Tortilla Cups, and Dulce De Leche Brownie Bites (oh, who am I kidding--I wanted to try almost every recipe on this blog!) But I didn't have a lot of time, so I stuck with this simple--and simply delicious--slow-cooker taco filling recipe.

This reviewer gives the recipe's performance 5 stars!  It's definitely Stage-Mother-Approved, taking only 5 minutes to assemble and about the same amount of time to shred the chicken before serving.  Since it's a slow-cooker recipe, it's perfect for Matinee days.  And it would make a can't-miss Cast Party hit, since my slow cooker has a "warm" setting that would keep this chicken nice and hot until the performance is over and everyone's ready to eat.

Here's how to make it! The full recipe is at Cook and Count.

Don't miss this and all of Monica's other appetizing recipes at The Yummy Life!

Friday, February 03, 2012

Super Simple Side Dish: Broccoli Rabe with Lemon

I've been on a dark-green vegetable kick lately.  And while my kids would gladly eat steamed broccoli several times a week, I like a little something different every now and then.  I love Brussels sprouts, and they're easier to make than you think!

When I saw a recipe for Garlicky Broccoli Rabe in Melissa Clark's cookbook Cook This Now, I decided to try a vegetable I'd never eaten before.  It's delicious!  I chose a different way of seasoning it, substituting crushed red pepper flakes with lemon zest.  This side dish is really simple and super-nutritious.

Broccoli Rabe with Lemon
serves 4

1 large bunch broccoli rabe, washed and drained
2 TBL extra-virgin olive oil
1 TBL minced garlic
1 tsp kosher salt
zest of one lemon

Trim the tough stems from the washed broccoli rabe.  Heat oil over medium heat and add garlic.  Cook about a minute, then add the broccoli rabe and toss well.  Cook another minute.  Stir in 2 TBL water and cover the pan.  Cook 3 to 4 minutes or until tender.  Top with lemon zest and serve.


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