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My life as a monastery cook begins...I need your help along the way.

This is in reference to my previous thread on filling in for a vacationing monastery cook: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/9104...

I think it was DuchessNukem who called it "Monastery Master Chef" but my husband is calling it "Monastery Impossible."

Delivered my first meal today of turkey/black bean chili (a Beth Hensperger recipe) with hot dogs and fumi salad today. No one was around when I dropped it all off. Hope I'll get some feedback...

Thursday is going to be Curried Chicken, and I have two questions about this: I'm going to make it a day ahead because my husband and I found it tasted WAY better the next day. I will make at home, bring it to the monastery about an hour before their dinner, put it one of their large pans, stick in the oven to heat up--what temp would you recommend if it's going to be unattended for an hour? Is 350 safe?

Second question: I will make them a batch of jasmine or long grain white rice in my Zojirushi rice cooker at home, then bring it up there to keep warm till serving. I've never done this before: how would you keep rice warm in an oven for an hour without it drying out? They have 4 big commercial ovens plus a commercial steamer, but I have no idea how to use it.

Thanks for your help!

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  1. For the curry, 175F or lower, as long as it's above 140F. You'd burn your tongue at either temp. All you need is to warm it up, not cook it. Higher may dry it out, and will overcook the vegetables.

    For the rice, a pan in the oven, covered tightly with aluminum foil, also on as low a heat setting as possible. Would probably spread it in the pan, and mist it with water from a spray bottle before covering it.

    Hopefully you can get Father Kitchen's e-mail address and correspond with him. He" a Chowhound who cooks for his monastery brethren and posts very knowledgeably about

    ETA: I found his latest thread and added a post there asking him to take look at this one.

    4 Replies
    1. re: greygarious

      They showed me that you can add a shot of steam to whatever's in the oven by pressing a button. Wasn't sure why you'd do that--would I do that to the rice and then put foil over it? I wondered if I should choose one of their deeper pans so the rice wouldn't dry out as much as it might in a large shallow pan.

      And if the curry's been in the fridge all day, you still think 175 for an hour would make it hot enough?

      And thanks for the tip about Father Kitchen--I had no idea!

      1. re: Thanks4Food

        That steam button is for baking bread, gives it a more "toothsome" crust. And a nice finish.

        1. re: Thanks4Food

          I wouldn't wager with the devil over the low oven '-). Maybe 225. Consider that 212 is boiling. Not knowing your cookware or oven, ir how long your drive is, it's a guesstimate. Better, IMO, to have it not hot enough (easily remedied) to dried out or overcooked.

          1. re: Thanks4Food

            He provided his e-dress for you on the other thread I mentioned: centnerd@archmil.org.

        2. Is it only one batch of rice in the rice cooker?
          If so i am thinking you could just bring the whole rice cooker, set it up, hit cook and it will be warm and fresh by the end of the hour...
          (And i'm really not concerned about the "safety" of the rice cooker, somehow i believe it will be there when you return a few days later....;)

          5 Replies
            1. re: Ttrockwood

              I like this too. I've heard that rice is best if it soaks an hour before you press cook, but my MIL often washes up the rice and lets it sit in the water overnight -- it's on an automatic timer.

              Another thing she does is roll them into plastic-wrapped squares (about 1 inch thick and 3 by 3 inches square) and freezes them. This is about one person's serving. Then she just microwaves them when they are needed. May not be what you are looking for . . . .

              1. re: Ttrockwood

                Not sure the rice (for 12 people) actually would be ready in an hour; the fuzzy logic models are slow, very slow. But if you did cook there, you could transfer the rice to another container. There are big thermos-like containers. I saw one for $8 at my local Indian grocery store recently. It was not terribly big - maybe a quart sized capacity? But this type of thing would keep food warm, or even just transfering to big container after cooking. It takes rice a while to cool down in my experience. I think there are some big pyrex containers with plastic lids that would work as serving and storage containers.

                1. re: willownt

                  Worth remembering that coolers and insultated grocery tote bags can be used to keep food hot.

                  1. re: greygarious

                    Maybe it makes a difference if the meal is going to last for an extended period of time or if there will be shifts of eaters, or people will be wandering by to eat at different times. Otherwise if it is for transportation only, that's a great reminder. I've got some of those insulated bags myself.

              2. I often reheat food at 400 deg. However I pay attention to it, and don't let it dry out.

                Either leave the rice in the cooker to be plugged immediately on keep warm, or put it into a warmed slow cooker, and make sure they know to plug it in.

                I solve a similar problem myself, for a much smaller crowd. Instead of using my Zojirushi, I made a large batch in the microwave oven, and took the hot pot. It kept warm for probably a half an hour. (The pan gets quite hot.)

                1. If the commercial steamer can be set up with a delayed start, then put both the curry and the rice into separate large hotel pans, and heat in the steamer. 30-40 minutes would probably be sufficient.
                  Actually, a hour is sufficient time to bake the rice on-site in their oven. I usually line the large pan with parchment, add rice and hot water. Place a sheet of parchment directly on top of the rice/water. Cover the pan tightly with foil. Bake for 1 hr at 375F

                  1. When I was in DC and our Brother who was our cook died, the community settled on having our meals catered in, so we end up addressing some of these same concerns..
                    An awful lot, of course, depends on how much you are cooking and for how many people. I would think that, if the food is cooked, you would only want to hold it in a warm oven. I believe 170 is about as low as they will go. But, it seems to me, the best way to do this would be to ask them to get a steam table for you--we used a portable steam table. Chafing dishes before that. If you hold the rice in a warm oven, seal it well with foil. But if you have an hour lead time between delivery and their serving time, you could actually have the rice cooker cook it there. Do they have one available?

                    8 Replies
                    1. re: Father Kitchen

                      Agree with Father Kitchen, a steam table set up is cheap, even if you have to spring for it, and easy for them to clean up too. With the flammable fuel and a waterbath underneath, it will be at a safe temp, keeping the food warm for several hours, and won't have to be watched like a hawk.

                      1. re: Father Kitchen

                        Hello, Father Kitchen, nice to meet you! I'll reply to everyone in this one post--since a thunderstorm already made me lose my first attempt.

                        Cooking for 9 this time around (it will vary every day), and after reading all your posts, I'm thinking what I could do is bring them my Zojirushi rice cooker, plug it in, put the curry in the oven on low, go pick my husband up from work, head back to the monastery--probably just a few minutes before they eat--and put the rice in a serving bowl myself.

                        My issue with leaving them the rice cooker, Throckwood, is not theft so much as scratches. ;-) I don't trust those guys to only use the plastic rice paddle and not the nearest stainless steel implement. I could leave a sign that says "Use the rice paddle or no more chocolate cake!" At any rate, I'd have to go back because I wouldn't want them to attempt to wash it either. (My Zo' is my Precious...)

                        Now that I think of it, perhaps I should bring the curry in my large oval crockpot instead of leaving a pan in the oven. I'll be cooking it tomorrow and serving on Thursday: I know you're not supposed to reheat food in a crockpot--not sure why--but perhaps I could reheat on the stove, put the warmed curry in the crockpot and then take it to the monastery.

                        Wait a minute: I do have another crockpot and could put the rice in it as I think someone suggested above. It would only be in it about 45 min. before they eat. Hmm....

                        Oh, and just to report on the first challenge of chili dogs and fumi salad: one monk told me it was the best chili he had had in a long time, and that "all the guys" loved the fumi salad. It was one monk's birthday and he told me it was all quite tasty.

                        Since men aren't the most diplomatic, I'll have to instruct them to play it cool when the vacationing cook comes back: I don't want any hard feelings (and I'm definitely not after his job!).

                        1. re: Thanks4Food

                          If you're doing this as a business, it might be to your advantage to buy some equipment specifically for your clients?

                          1. re: coll

                            Oh no, this is not a business, just helping out with a few meals while their regular cook is on vacation. The thread I refer to in my OP will give you the full info.

                            1. re: Thanks4Food

                              Sorry I didn't see that link for some reason.

                          2. re: Thanks4Food

                            I understand completely your concerns about the Zojirushi rice cooker, once you pointed them out. I have a ten-cup model and would be inclined to slit the throat of anybody who messed it up- my guys have been duly warned, and telling DH how much it cost was a further incentive for him to treat it gently.
                            "Well, just take it over there" sounded good until you enumerated your concerns!

                            1. re: Thanks4Food

                              I wonder whether the monks might consider purchasing a rice cooker anyways?

                              1. re: KarenDW

                                I got mine- a top of the line Zojirushi on Craigslist for 50 bucks.

                          3. Okay the second challenge is done: not real happy that the curry was still a bit thin even though I made it yesterday in the hopes it would thicken up (it did last time I made it). I did add crushed cashews as someone suggested on my other post about this, and I also added some cornstarch. Left it in their oven at 300 degrees because a little more cooking could only have helped, I think.

                            The rice I made in my rice cooker; just before leaving, I buttered my crockpot and transferred the rice to it. Left it on low. Left a small bowl of raisins and one of chopped cashews to top the curry and rice. Also a plate of Kristen King's almond squares and "luscious apricot bars" --both recipes I found here on Chowhound.

                            I'm done till Sunday when my husband and I are on to grill them sausages and peppers. Never made before (can't eat bell peppers myself), so any suggestions or suggested recipes welcome. Not expecting it to be difficult, but wondering if there's any way to make a sausage sandwich more exciting. Should I start a new thread?

                            19 Replies
                            1. re: Thanks4Food

                              I never make sausage and pepper with bell peppers myself. Any other pepper will do. I hate bell peppers. The world (of peppers) is your oyster, so to speak. Would you need some suggestions? Cubanelles for a start.

                              1. re: Thanks4Food

                                You may be overthinking this. You are cooking for everyday eaters, not competing on Master Chef.

                                I assume you are grilling onions along with the sausage and peppers. You could make a cheese sauce (monterey jack, perhaps) to go on top. I'd use sourdough bread or multigrain rolls rather than plain white, What goes with the sausage sandwiches? Sweet potato fries would be nice (I like the frozen ones from Trader Joe's)

                                I have previously posted a Maple-Mocha Pudding recipe on this board that you might consider for one of the meals, topped with whipped cream and/or some chocolate syrup.
                                It's something most people have never tasted before, but the flavors combine well and call to mind comfort food.

                                1. re: greygarious

                                  I don't think it's overthinking: I've simply never made sausage and peppers before in my life so wasn't even sure what kind of sausages are used. Just found this recipe: http://www.simplyrecipes.com/recipes/... that looks pretty good--if you don't hate bell peppers like Coll and me. I may just make something like this on the stove and give it to them in a crockpot again.

                                  I had told them I was only going to make the main dish and they could handle the sides, but for this one, I may throw in some kind of side. I had been thinking of a Tuscan bean dish, perhaps like this one: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo...

                                  I'll look up your maple mocha pudding--thanks!

                                  1. re: Thanks4Food

                                    That recipe for sausage and pepper sounds fine. Although the wine seems unnecessary to me. Just make sure to cook the peppers and onions for awhile, until they really wilt. I like to bake it in the oven myself.

                                    This time of year, you can find Cubanelles that are green AND red, to make it more festive looking. Flavorwise, not so important though. Adding a bit of tomato in any form is key. Lately I like to add a can of Rotel, to add a little heat. I do like to cut up my sausage so it's easy to make into a sandwich, which is how we do sausage and pepper in my house! If you're serving from a crockpot that would be best anyway.

                                    The bean dish, I would be tempted to add some greens too, like broccoli rabe or kale maybe.

                                    1. re: coll

                                      Thanks for reminding me: one of the monks is crazy about kale and collards etc (he's big on the ANDI score).

                                      As for the wine: my husband was going through a grilling book that recommended poaching the sausages in beer--and I saw a case of beer in their pantry, so maybe we'll go in that direction.

                                      And good idea about the Rotel!

                                      1. re: Thanks4Food

                                        Yeah I'd go with beer before wine. I use dark beer as often as I use stock, in my stews and such!

                                  2. re: greygarious

                                    I'd suggest you sit down with the monks and work out a practical menu with them. You'll have some people with special dietary needs that can be easily accommodated by serving simple foods. A lot of our men get fussy if I get too "gourmet" (which for some of them means more than four ingredients or a bit of wine thrown in). So your rotation could be steamed rice, baked potatoes, noodles, pilaf of some kind, mashed potatoes, baked yams, Italian pasta. For protein, alternate a few simple meat dishes like beef pot roast, salisbury steak, pork loin, pork chops, chicken, and fish. Braising is often a good way to cook the protein dish, as you don't worry about them drying out before serving. Avoid things that depend heavily on cream or fat-filled sauces as a rule. Do find out what the major feasts are for the monks and save something special for those days. I'd suggest you vary the greens and keep them mostly simple. For example, recently I served thin-sliced chicken breast alla pizzaiola (after Giuliano Hazan), risotto, and steamed Swiss chard. On another occasion, it might be pork loin or bratwurst slow cooked in rinsed sauerkraut to which I have added onions, apples, and a bit of apple juice, with red cabbage and potato pancakes or simple boiled potatoes. Or: "oven-fried" breaded chicken tenders with sweet peas and egg noodles or perhaps farfalle pasta tossed with a bit of butter and grated cheese. Another occasion might be braised brisket of beef or pork, shredded, moistened with pan juices, and served with steamed broccoli and arroz blanco with simple boiled beans on the side. I'm not keen on cooking fish if I have to hold it long--though Bittman's book on fish may contain plenty of good ideas. My favorite treatment is too cook fillets en papillote or poach them. Since I seldom have a proper fish stock, I'll sometimes make a court bouillion and add some tomato and cajun seasonings and a small can of baby clams and poach the fish in that. Collard greens and red rice and beans. Don't shy away from things like shepherd's pie and tamale pie. And of course there are lots of simple things to do with chicken.

                                    1. re: Father Kitchen

                                      I was hoping you'd see this thread and give you tried and true opinions.

                                      1. re: Father Kitchen

                                        Sorry I haven't replied sooner, Fr. K! I came down sick yesterday and have been out of commission. I should have worded my subject line more precisely: I'm not really going to be a full-time cook--I'm just filling in while their cook is on vacation for a few weeks.

                                        I really like that idea of the pork loin/bratwurst with sauerkraut, apples, etc--wonder if I can talk them into it instead of a pasta dish they had requested. (I gave them a list of perhaps 15-20 dishes I could make and they chose from it.)

                                        There's a simple tuna/rice casserole they selected that's really not all that good (cream of mushroom soup-type thing). I'll make it for us on a Friday as a somewhat penitential dish, but they selected it for a Thursday (they eat an even more penitential reconstituted soup on Fridays, I understand). If you've got any suggestions on how to make a tuna/rice casserole a little more stellar, I'd appreciate it--but I have to add that one of the monks has lactose intolerance. He doesn't mind if I make something cheesy/milky, as long as he can have a separate dish without. (And he's just discovered Lactaid milk and is happy about it.)

                                        1. re: Father Kitchen

                                          Fr. K, speaking of special feast days: my husband made them meatloaf for tonight--delivered yesterday. I had forgotten today is the Feast of the Beheading of John the Baptist, so I emailed the superior to ask if it was too late to come shape the meatloaf into the head of John the Baptist. (I had more ideas about an apple in the mouth and ketchup around the bottom, but my husband thought I should keep that to myself.) Father's brief reply was "No dancing!"

                                          1. re: Thanks4Food

                                            I've been away a lot and only just caught up. Instead of tuna-rice casserole, why not a tuna loaf? You could serve it with egg noodles and even make a decent sauce to put on the side that could be poured over the loaf. I avoid a lot of tuna, just because of methyl mercury concerns. There was a mix/match chart for casseroles that came from Southern Living. You had boxes that listed sauce maker in one, protein in another, starch in another, additions like vegetables in another etc. It works well enough, but I don't have a copy handy. Maybe it is on the net someplace. I bet Uncle Phaedrus could find it.

                                            1. re: Father Kitchen

                                              I think the OP's clergy cooking stint is finished for now. Do you happen to know if Uncle Phaedrus and CH member Phaedrus are one and the same?

                                              1. re: Father Kitchen

                                                Do you mean ask uncle phaedrus? Great site! I've found some long-lost recipes there, and saw some strange stuff, too.

                                        2. re: Thanks4Food

                                          I think you have taken on a great challenge that will bring many stories and rewards.
                                          A lot of times when you multiply a saucy recipe the amount of spice or liquid is not increased proportionally. Just think about how long it takes a quantity of water to evaporate in a small pan versus wide or large. So experiment with holding back some liquid, its always easy to adjust to thinner (even if its just with water).
                                          If I were going to have a sausage sandwich it would be with brown mustard and pickled onions on a hoagie roll.

                                          1. re: holypeaches

                                            I think you're right about the liquid in the curry recipe--I really hesitated about adding that second can of coconut milk, and now I know I shouldn't have.

                                            1. re: holypeaches

                                              mmmm, pickled onions, that would make it for me too

                                              1. re: GretchenS

                                                They are so easy, thinly slice white onions and marinate in 1/4 white vinegar and 3/4 water with a little salt (and red pepper flakes or dried mustard) for a few hours up to a week. I love them on all kinds of sandwiches. I have a 1/2 c glass bowl with plastic lid that keeps these constantly, I just add slices when convenient for about six weeks.

                                              2. re: holypeaches

                                                HP, what kind of sausages would you use for that? I'm guessing NOT an Italian sausage?

                                                1. re: Thanks4Food

                                                  Absolutely spicy Italian (or chicken and apple). The peppers and onions on sausage always sound good then taste overwhelming to me. The acidity and texture of the onions create a balance of flavors and textures I enjoy.
                                                  I would not replace the norm for a large group, yet its an easy add-on if you like.