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School Has Started!! Autumn Has Arrived! And I've Got 31 REALLY Hungry Guys to Cook For!

As some of you might know, my real-life bread & butter, what helps put groceries on the table job is cooking for a group of young men at a Fraternity at the local branch of University of California. This years' number is 31, w/ this breakdown: 24 omnivores; 7 vegetarians; no vegans.

I could weep out loud at from sheer happiness at this last. Although I am not required to produce a meal for the vegans, or actually even the vegetarians, I'm a Jewish Mother and it's physically impossible for me not to have something nice on offer for all coming to the table. (You will observe this high-flown sensibility of mine virtually disappearing towards the ends of the year, when I post things like" The vegetarians are all on their own.") The vegans always had me bending my brains, but the vegetarians had me in a snarl more than once too, mainly 'cause I didn't want to serve them the Same Old Thing.

The rules: No alcohol proper, meaning I can cook with it but not serve it. This is a legal and religious restriction (Per the terms of joining that branch of Fraternite et al). It is truly observed well. I have no idea what happens during Summer, nor do I care to.

That is my only menu restriction. WHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOPPPPPPPPPPEEEEE!

Ten "Old Boys" will have left, w/ ten "New Boys" arriving. There will be some new taste preferences to get used to, and ten new personalities. They, too will have something to get used to: Me. A foul-mouthed mama who cooks really well, takes breaks whenever I please and insists on the right to play my own musical selection or station VERY LOUDLY while I cook. By the end of the year, I'll have found something to love about each one. Kitchen Questionnaires are available for all involved and affected by the current management's unilaterally unbreakable decision on What's For Dinner. If you don't respond, you can't bitch.

The Magical Birfdayday blackboard will, as always, be employed: But damnit! Tell me a week in advance, 'cause I'm a cook, not a magician!!

I look forward to culling your ideas this year, and your recipes.

Kudos and ((hugs)) to the mommies sending their precious babes off to Kindergarten for the first times, and to the mothers kicking their eighteen-year-olds' butt out the door for their last year. And a stiff drink tonight. Or this morning, whatever.

Tonight WFD is Sliced Marinated London Broil, Stuffed Baked Potatoes, (w/ butter, milk, sour cream, chopped green onion; garlic, salt and pepper; mixed w/ beaten eggs and re-baked; garnished w/ shredded cheese, crunchy bacon and more green onion). Tiny little marvelous self-contained devils, they are. Alongside, bread and butter, green salad w/ sliced tomatoes and a well-emulsified lemon vinaigrette w/ oregano; Steamed string beans w/ brown butter and sliced almonds. And cake, because tradition decrees that on the first Real day of school, there must always be cake. And the ultra plus de nom: A do-it-your-owndamnself-rootbeer float bar. I'm sure some of you will recall how veryvery lazy I am, and that anything I can get them to assemble themselves is gravy.

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  1. mamachef, do you serve after cooking, like dinner in a home, or must these meals be made ahead?

    I'm sure you've thought of *everything*, but "breakfast for dinner" is something that many many people love (and many many people hate. My Dad would say "Why are we having breakfast for dinner?" My Mom would reply "Becase the cook likes it".)

    Blintzes (simple crepes filled with cottage cheese) can be baked or fried, topped with fresh, frozen, canned anyfruit. Ham, bacon, sausage (real or veggie) can accompany. Phyllo envelopes filled with curried smashed potato -- no , 31 is too many even for an assembly line -- but long fat strudels (vegetable, potato) might work.

    7 Replies
    1. re: blue room

      Hi blue room! To answer your first question: that's the beauty of it. I follow my own daily roadmap as far as service is concerned. I've got warming ovens and containers available to me, and can even go as far (infrequently) as leaving something that needs to be finished left undone, knowing that *somebody* will see my note, Bold, in Red. I don't often do this though. It's usually a happy tossup. I'm there, or I'm not. I never do short-order, though, unless it's a really special occasion and is HAS to work like that. And if Mr.'s not due home, I'll sit down and eat with 'em.
      We have breakfast for dinner all the time. I love that you suggested it, for sure. It's very easy to adapt for the vegetarians, it's unexpected, and hopefullyl it'll be Universally-loved. (I know the personal tastes, so far, of only 2/3 of my gang.) And actually, though you're right that some people grumble about lack of a "proper evening meal," most young folks love it. The potato strudel, known to my Gramma as "Lazy Woman's Knishes" are a grand idea. I frequently get stuck on an unusual starch side dish; this would fit the bill. I can get good strudel dough here. Wouldn't be as inclined to make blintzes, though: they tend towards liking their evening meal a little heavier, and I'd have to throw an incongruent main in with it, for the heavier eaters. Those, I do at home, and for catered events, most often brunches. Thanks for reminding me; we're do for a blintz brunch here, at some time of day or another: Cheese, w/ fresh berries while I can still get them, made into a crushed-berry sauce. :)

      1. re: mamachef

        Just goes to show: You are an incredible human being person!

        1. re: mamachef

          I have made and enjoyed this strudel: http://www.thewednesdaychef.com/the_w...

          It's not vegetarian but it could be. You could adapt it to have mushrooms, which would be nice. I think it could be made ahead as well, although I haven't

          1. re: limoen

            Very nice, limoen, and just the sort of thing I was talking about. I think the 'shrooms would be great with this, or even adapted as part of a whole new filling recipe. It has me thinking that a spinach/mushroom/onion version would work well as a main dish for the vegetarian gents, too......especially for a special occasion meal.

            1. re: mamachef

              Something I make for a crowd of vegetarians is pasta (I usually use cavatappi) with Marcella Hazan's Tomato Sauce II or III, pp. 95-95 of THE CLASSIC ITALIAN COOKBOOK.

              II is onion, carrot, celery, tomatoes (it says fresh, but I use canned more often), salt, sugar, olive oil.

              III is tomatoes, butter, sugar, salt, an onion (that you don't even have to chop--just peel and cut it in half from top to bottom, so it can leach into the tomato and butter).

              Add Parm (Is Reggiano in your budget for this size crowd?) and a salad. Dinner.

              1. re: Jay F

                Thankfully enough, Jay F, there is room for good cheese in the budget. I like her base recipes - and also am more likely to use good-quality canned tomatoes as opposed to fresh. (Tomato gravy is for home, every year.) And if I can hide them carefully, I generally have a few rinds lurking in the cook's fridge, to enrich the sauce with.

        2. re: blue room

          I'm finding myself a bit jealous mamachef! How much fun, first of all I love young people and do so so much that I have a couple of my own. Never knowing what to expect is half the fun.

          I'm not vegetarian as I'm sure you know that by now, but I do enjoy vegetarian dishes. Okay, so maybe I'll use chicken broth, or cheat a bit with eggs and milk, but certainly you know how to work around those little details.

          Here's a few of my favorites.
          Chile Rellenos
          Stuffed cabbage or peppers
          Eggplant Parmigiana
          lasange

          all of which can be made with or without meat.

        3. Wow. I had no idea that you cooked for a fraternity. What an interesting and challenging way to work in the food business! I'll bet you have lots of stories, even without alcohol allowed.

          I think I'm a little too speechless to have any great ideas right now, though beef stroganoff comes to mind as a favorite crowd-pleaser (and beefless stroganoff for the veg-heads--I'm married to one and it adapts surprisingly well). Served with egg noodles, though we have throwdowns in our house about noodles vs. brown rice.

          I am curious as to how this works budget-wise? It sounds like you aren't working with an unreasonably meager budget based on today's BTS menu--do you have a lot of flexibility in the cost of your meals?

          I am going to watch your future posts with even more interest!!!

          3 Replies
          1. re: jlhinwa

            Thank you, DPGood and Jlhinwa. That is REALLY sweet of you both. At DP: I LOVE that job. I love those guys. I get as much out of it, if not more, as I give.
            To Jlhinwa: The budget is really very decent, especially as open-minded as this bunch generally ends up being. Nights of decadent meatiness have been known to be counterbalanced by a delicious yet inexpensive meal of rice, beans, tortillas, salad, salsa - though I will confess that even on THOSE nights there will be nice accoutrements, like guacamole, shredded cheese and sour cram available - and it works out really well. Because of the group's number, the cooking I do falls midway between a really good, from-scratch-whenever-possible buffet to cooking that other people would consider Industrial-level. I do not use truly industrial products, though; wouldn't be fair to them. I enjoy sheparding their food budget: I just shop according to the meal plan that works within it and submit receipts that the House Treasurer generally looks at quizcally. And on an off-week, if I go a bit over, I try to go under by that amount the following week. I have had to ask for more money one year only; the rest of the year, I've been able to "cull" or save enough from the budget that I was able to offer them a Years' End blowout w/ amazing food, +1 invites included, or a dinner out, with the equal amount of $$ going towards their final bill.
            I love the young men (that just sounds wrooooooong, but it's staying in) and the time I spend there. It honestly doesn't feel like working to me. I've taught more than one of them the basics of cooking and a few recipes; enough to make a meal or two anyway. The lack of alcohol only highlights my experience there. I was concerned at first for a few reasons, on two different points, when the job was first offered to me many years ago: concerned FIRST about being the only, v. small woman in a frat full of alcohol-impaired young men. Sh*t happens, right? And I have a responsibility to not go into harm's possible way. When I found out about the no-booze rule, I totally relaxed. I relaxed a great deal more when I discovered they also have an anti-hazing rule in addition to the booze thang. I am not a fan of hazing, so that was good.
            Then, when I went in for my stage, somebody mentioned that both prohibitions were directly related to the House's religious association. So I had something else to worry about: would I be urged to find Jesus every day? Would I find tracts stuffed into my mailbox? And finally, was I REALLY going to accept a job at the House of Bush? (Yes, I mean Geo.)
            Turned out, no worries. None at all. Took the job w/ a two-week contract/proviso and have loved it ever since.

            1. re: mamachef

              What a great job for you! I'll bet those boys love you! And I would imagine they are fun to cook for--young men, most likely first time living away from home and probably a little clueless as to what it takes to put together a decent meal. I can imagine they would be a very appreciative audience.

              I was in Santa Fe in June and went to a cooking class. We came back with some fun recipes that might work...meatballs with Romesco sauce, a Spanish tortilla (works well for a large group), tamales, tortillas with roasted vegetables and goat cheese, marinated chicken cooked in banana leaves with some kind of very mild chili sauce, and sweet empanadas. I guess it would be considered southwestern cooking--definitely not Mexican.

            2. re: jlhinwa

              Ditto all this! You go girl! That sounds like a very challenging yet fun job!

            3. Some very lucky frat boys to have you cook for them! I'm guessing anything I add will be same old, same old for you but I'd start w/ a hearty starch and then have a meat that can be added on the side, or mixed into the starch. Then add whatever compatible vegetable with it. Things long the lines of (you can doctor them up for your cooking level):

              spaghetti and sauce w/ a big side of meatballs
              risotto w/ a side of prosciutto or seafood
              rice and beans w/ side of ham
              curry vegetables over rice w/ a side of chicken
              mac and cheese w/ side of pulled pork
              soups and bread

              Also:
              focaccia pizza, varioud toppings
              fajitas w/ roasted vegetables and some meat
              baked potato bar (so many fun toppings you could do w/ that)

              BTW, I love the breakfast for dinner idea. Stratas and the like would be great, too.

              10 Replies
              1. re: chowser

                Thanks for responding, chowser; and in such a thoughtful way. I really, REALLY appreciate the idea about a non-meat-centric approach, or not making a big slab of something the expected Main Event. It's rare that red meat is a complete centerpiece there, actually. It's much more likely that red meat, in the form of lean ground beef, will show up as meat sauce, or a pot of chili, or as a lasagne. (Meat left out until I can reserve a healthy portion for the non-meaty-eatys.) We generally have "whole meat" which includes poultry, about twice a week. The rest of the time it's casseroles, tacos, what have you.

                I adore you forever for including the baked potato bar. Although I've done many types of "bars" and have served "Bar Snacks" per the request of a birfdayday boy, I've never presented big huge bakers as the main. I've only done regular, side-dished sized bakers w/ a variety of (none main-dish) dressings and garnishes. MUST do. Now to think of (main-dish appropriate) toppings. Thank you, chowser!
                Oh, and folks? There IS no "old hat" when it comes to cooking like this night upon night. You'll see. About midway through the second semester, I'll be all over here whining, looking for either new things to do or for variations on the old things, 'cause I'll be sick of making the old stuff - almost as sick as they'll be of seeing it again. And if Birfdayday involves a request for an untried ethnic food? This is where I'll ask my questions and get my answers. Please, don't EVER not respond for reasons of quantity: I can alway work around that. For the most part, it'll be ideas I can play with, more than actual recipes, that I'm after. Kinda like real life.

                1. re: mamachef

                  For a baked potato bar, chili is of course a classic, and both easy to make in advance (tastes better that way, anyhow!) and to adapt to omnives' and vegetarians' tastes: a veg bean chili and one with meat, plus a variety of toppings such as sour cream, shredded cheddar or jack, green onions, pickled jalapeƱos, crumbled tortilla chips.

                  Of course, you can also chili night without the potato bar, with meat and veg versions, toppings, and big pans of cornbread.

                  Another easy-to-adapt one that hits that comfort-food note is baked ziti with marinara, dollops of ricotta, and mozarella. I like to saute strips of green pepper and sliced sweet onions and mix them with the pasta, sauce, and cheeses, for a nice addition of flavor and texture. You could do pans with marinara and meat sauce, or simply make it veg and offer grilled sausages on the side. Add a big salad and garlic bread.

                  How about pot pies or cottage pie? You could do a smaller pan of a vegetable pot pie or "shepherd's" pie (a veg shepherd's pie with a lentil and vegetable stew as the base is nice).

                  1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                    Those pies always go over so well, Caitlin. Funnily enough, Harters gave me a recipe for something similar to what you mention, last year: A lentil/veg. stew, topped w/ cheesy biscuit cobblers. It's great, and I've sinced used it in guises both veg. and meat-centric. Thank you for reminding me!

                  2. re: mamachef

                    How about a pasta bar...with a couple of different shaped/colored/flavored pastas and two or three different sauces? Crusty bread and tossed salad, and yum!

                    Jambalaya, also with crusty bread and a salad. I don't see why you couldn't do it with a vegetable based smoked sausage, and add the seafood, if you're using it at the end for the meat eaters.

                    Macaroni and cheese, in dozens of variations

                    Tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches, with some hearty sides....

                    Eggplant and/or chicken parm

                    Ratatouille

                    stuffed vegetables with and without ground meat in the stuffing
                    (acorn squashes are coming, but you can also do zucchini or summer squash)

                    I just did stuffed peppers that were really easy- kind of a southwestern style with rice and hamburg, seasoned with cumin and chipotle chile,and I liked the stuffing so much I made just the stuffing part the next time, and added some black beans

                    Rice bowls....endless varieties there

                    Lo mein bar

                    Wow.....you may have already done some/most of these, but sometimes it helps to have your memory jogged by somebody else....I've done lots of "communal" type cooking, and am also always looking for something new and different and delicious:)

                    1. re: sunflwrsdh

                      Love that pasta bar idea. Pasta is one of the cornerstones of our meals there, but at most I've made a vegetarian version of the usual meat sauce. I love the idea of building several different types for a bar, because if there is some left over, I can always find a way to incorporate extra sauce, and it's such a nice way to improve an almost hands-off meal.

                      1. re: mamachef

                        You could do an alfredo sauce, primavera, garlic and oil, and my granddaughter's current favorite, florentine as just a few suggestions. I love this thread, as it gives me great ideas too, which I am always looking for:)

                        1. re: sunflwrsdh

                          Cream, or tomato-based? We LOOOOOOOVE spinach, but buying enough to serve as a side is such a pain. Incorporating into sauce though: I'm thinking fresh tomatoes, etc. w/ spinach (pre-sauteed, chopped, drained) and some dollops of slightly-lemony ricotta.....

                    2. re: mamachef

                      We had a baked potato bar when I was at school and it was brilliant. Though the potatoes were a bit soggy - cooked then kept in a faux-Victorian display case thing which got quite steamy. We always had tuna salad, grated cheese, baked beans, cottage cheese, grated carrot, chopped ham. I had a BP with tuna, cheese and beans the other day and it brought back fond memories! Don't forget the butter and lots of white pepper :)

                      1. re: gembellina

                        I love a good baked potato bar. Love it as a "loaded" with butter, chili, diced ham, diced tomato, cheddar cheese and sour cream. You could do so many varieties of toppings. How fun.

                        You can also do stuffed peppers - some veg with rice mix and some meat. Love those little suckers. I know they have been on sale in my area.

                        1. re: boyzoma

                          We've done that potato bar, more than once, and a variation of it that involved a creamy potato soup w/ a bar of add-ins. The peppers are a GREAT idea. I'm going to have to look through my logs from last year to see if I've done that before, and how it was received. I've done stuffed eggplant (Mardi Gras!!) and stuffed zucchini (celebrate Summer!!) and they were good with it. I also like that one because I can do a vegetarian option v. easily. Thank you, bz!

                  3. Greek night for these Greeks? Hummus, grape leaves (canned, the latter)? Moussaka for the non-veg and spanakopita for the veg? Big green salad with cukes, toms, and feta? Nice crusty (Boudin hahaha) bread? Baklava?

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: buttertart

                      Digging hard on this one, girlfriend. HARD. Definitely within budget, both time-and-moneywise. But....because I'm lazy, as you know? I'd prolly just make up a pan of meatless moussaka as the veg. entree. (a travesty, I know) and blow off the spanakopita, which I'd happily make in its' normal quantity at home. I could put a layer of TVP/mushroom or Tofu/mushroom in, seasoned w/ just a hit of cinnamon and mint, for that. And they could smell the marinated cubes of crusty lamb as it grilled with olives, and onion chunks and cherry tomtoes and whole cloves of garlic. The rest of them can have meat in their moussaka, and all will be well at AGO.

                        1. re: mamachef

                          If you wanted to make an easy-to-serve spanakopita-type dish, you could make spanakopita pie (like this one http://www.marthastewart.com/313253/q..., though personally I wouldn't add herbs, which are expensive anyway) which could be done in batches, or even in a springform or three.

                          1. re: limoen

                            And I will endorse the linked recipe as FABULOUS although I did think the dill added a lot. Still, my dill-hating father thoroughly enjoyed his which I left the dill out of so I'm sure you could skip it.

                          2. re: mamachef

                            Instead of moussaka, try pastitsio. Kind of a Greek version of shepherd's pie...ground meat in a tomatoey sauce spiced with cinnamon, topped with a layer of pasta, a savory custard poured over and baked with cheese on top. Like any casserole, it adapts easily to being made in an all-vegetable version (I use mushrooms, onions, shallots, & bell pepper chunks). It is very filling and comes together quickly, and the cinnamon is an unexpected touch in a savory casserole...serve with a Greek salad, some warmed pita bread..maybe some hummus and tzatziki on the table for scooping up with the pita.

                        2. I recently attended an event that had a mashed potato bar that was very good. This same event also featured a soup bar. Three different soups served in little shot glasses. You could use any size glass/cup to accomodate larger appetites. Perhaps w/ an assortment of warm breads.