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Menu help! Feeding 35 hungry college athletes for pre-race dinner

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I need some guidance and inspiration Hounds.

I already have the bulk of my menu planned: baked ziti, salad, garlic bread. But it all seems rather *blah* to me. Any ideas on how I can put some oomph in my menu to make it more memorable and less 'team dinner-ish'?

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  1. It would be hard to make it a "wow" dinner if you're cooking for 35 people. How about a variety of salads? Are they allowed desserts? An ice cream sundae bar where you provide a bunch of toppings and they make their own sundaes?

    1. Oooooh! Deja vu! Years ago when my son was racing ten speed bikes, I used to host a houseful of cyclists on big race weekends. I have no idea how much you already know about carbo loading for athletes, so forgive me if I "overdo."

      I'd use the French (or Italian) bread as a first course in traditional bruschetta, but go light on the olive oil. With carbo-loading you want to limit but not illiminate fats. The bruschetta would have lower overall fat than garlic bread.

      The baked ziti isn't defined, but it sounds like cheese, which is a little on the fatty side. One pasta dish I used to make is a no-cook tomato sauce over spaghetti, linguini, or fettuccini (your choice). As I recall my recipe, you use two or three Roma tomatoes per intended serving, chop them up fairly fine. A food processor doesn't work all that well, but if time is limited chances are the athletes won't notice. Wash them well. You can peel them if you wish. The peels are chewy and add bulk to the diet, but some athletes have fairly tender tummies. Put the chopped tomatoes in a large glass bowl. Add minced garlic to taste, a handful of fresh chopped oregano, same with chopped parsley, a touch of fresh thyme (if you have it, or a tad of dried), kosher salt to taste, freshly ground pepper, and some extra virgin olive oil. Better to err on the side of stingy than to be too generous with the EVOO. And finally, a dash or three of balsamic vinegar. The cheap kind, not the syrupy or sweet kind. Cover, then allow to mature at room temperature for about a half hour before putting it in the refrigerator. If you're making it a day ahead of time, don't worry about the room temp aging. Remove it from the refrigerator in plenty of time to reach room temperature before serving.

      There are two ways you can serve it. You can boil your pasta, drain it and add the sauce in the kitchen (which may be best for a crowd) or present the sauce at table beside a bowl of steaming pasta. The heat from the pasta "cooks" the sauce, but doesn't overcook. It has a delicious fresh taste. Pass freshly grated pecroino Romano, or parmisan of choice. I like the tang of pecorino.

      I'd add some roast chicken. Protein is very important in sports diets, you just reduce the amount. And maybe a dessert? A banana cake or loaf, if you live in a relatively mosquito free area. (Discourage bananas when mosquitos are out, as they issue a mosquito invitation through sweat that results in the athlete becoming their lunch!) An oatmeal raisin loaf, or something similar, is also good for desert.

      Anyway, have fun with your party!

      1. Hot wings and lots of them!

        1. I like the meal, overall. Sure, it seems a bit common, but I think that using some good ingredients will make your ziti special. The bruschetta is a good idea. One using a blave olive tapenade that was premade would be easy.

          I would concentrate on dessert, and I would offer a few choices if you could.