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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
    breadmaking.

    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.