Tuesday, January 6, 2009

In which I might be biting off more than I can chew

One of the problems with liking good food is that I want there to be good food wherever I go. I realize that under certain circumstances my options are limited: e.g. when camping or staying in a hotel. But if I'm going to be in a house, with a kitchen and access to a grocery store, my inner foodie and control freak join forces and I feel the need to take charge and make sure that there's good food. (Or at least as good as I can make it in an unfamiliar kitchen with unfamiliar equipment.) This is part of what leads me to schlep two or three boxes of equipment and a giant cooler of food to Joshua Tree and cook a big meal, even though most of the other attendees aren't at all bothered by eating pizza or burritos for Thanksgiving dinner. The other part is that for someone who's not interested in having any kids, I can be powerfully maternal--especially when it comes to food. I love to make sure that everyone has something delicious and nourishing to eat.

But now these impulses might be encouraging me to volunteer for an ill-advised amount of responsibility. The Suitor and I will soon be departing for a week-long ski trip in Montana, and as I usually do, I am wondering what we're going to eat. We will be staying in a cabin, which means there's a kitchen, which means that cooking is a possibility. If it were left up to the Suitor and his friend N. (the only other person I know among the people who will be there), we would subsist on Doritos and microwaved burritos all week. Being the incorrigible food snob that I am, I reject that plan, and now the apparent power vacuum in the kitchen is sucking me in. My favorite apron might as well be looking at me with puppy eyes and saying, "take me with you!" But is this really something I want to take on? Cooking one or two meals for eight to ten people is one thing; signing up to cook dinner for 11 people nearly every night for a week is quite another.

My assumption is that breakfasts and lunches will be largely individual affairs, based on when people get up and what their ski schedule is. (That said, I will almost certainly cook eggs for people, and there might be a reprise of Thanksgiving's wildly successful pecan sticky buns.) We'll buy milk and cereal, cheese and crackers, and sandwich fixings. Dinner is where the real action will take place. Dinner for 11. I've done that once or twice in my life, but it was for Thanksgiving (an almost entirely predetermined menu made up of dishes that almost everyone likes to eat). What do I make for 11 people for dinner night after night?

But I'm getting ahead of myself. The first question I have to answer is whether or not I'm really willing to take on this project. The urge not to eat Doritos and microwaved burritos and canned faux cheese for dinner for a week is strong. Strong enough to overcome every rational objection to the idea of volunteering to play house chef for a dozen people for a week? I think so.

Operating under the assumption, then, that I will be packing my apron and my knives, I'd like to draft the brainstorming power of my little corner of the blogosphere. What do I cook for 11 people? I don't know what kind of equipment I'll have available to me, other than my trusty knives: presumably a chef's knife, a utility knife, a serrated knife, and maybe a paring knife. The cabin's web page says things like "a very complete kitchen for your chef" and " fully equipped with quality appliances, microwave, coffee maker and plenty of high quality cookware and serving ware," but who knows what that actually means?

Grocery sources are a Costco in Bozeman (we're flying into Bozeman, so I assume we'll stock up there just after we arrive) and, according to the trip organizer, a couple of grocery stores within a few miles of the cabin in Big Sky.

At the moment I have no knowledge of anyone's dietary preferences or restrictions, except mine and the Suitor's. I also don't know how adventurous the other people are, so I'm assuming that people are not adventurous. (My beloved braised kale with chickpeas and sun-dried tomatoes is probably out of the running.) At the same time, I'd like to keep things flexible so that if someone is vegetarian or just prefers to go meatless on a given night, he or she isn't left out in the cold with just a side salad. With that in mind, here are some preliminary ideas that might scale easily to feed 11 people:

- Roasted chickens, sauteed greens with cannellini beans and garlic, and (an enormous pot of) risotto.

- Make-your-own Mexican-ish stuff: tortillas, beans, cheese, veggies, salsa, maybe meats, etc. Could do fajitas, burritos, tostadas, tacos, quesadillas, and so on and people could customize them with whatever toppings they like. Very flexible, if not exactly hearty winter fare.

- Make-your-own pizza: buy a bunch of toppings, make some dough, and let people have at it. We wouldn't have a pizza stone, but a baking sheet would probably suffice.

- Chili, cornbread, and a vegetable. For the chili: Greens' black bean chili (which is vegan), and maybe Silver Palate's Chili for a Crowd if I have time/space. For the vegetable: salad? mustard-glazed carrots?

- Pasta, marinara sauce and maybe a rough basil or parsley pesto, meatballs for those who like them, garlic bread, and salad (or, if I think enough people will eat it, roasted broccoli).

What say you all? Additions? Revisions? Words of caution? (Including but not limited to "you're nuts!") Knowing me, I will probably supplement these things with a pear crisp, brownies or cookies or some other snackable sweet, and maybe a spiced apple cake. I do plan to do some snowboarding, but I don't think I'll be very sad if on most days I spend a few hours on the slopes, and the rest of the day in the kitchen.


Supersaps said...

I'd reject the microwaved burritos and Doritos idea too, and I'm even less of a food snob than you.

It seems like you're on the right track for a big meal in a place where grocery shopping may not be like CA-shopping. Simple stuff that's scaled up easily. I endorse all your plans (pasta was what first came to mind, followed by diy fajitas).

Other ideas:
-lasagna and other casseroles
-stews (the chili idea is good --maybe tanjine)
-something potato-related. Potato and leek soup? A potato casserole? Baked potatoes with all the fixings on the side?

Be careful about relying on pesto. I tried to find basil in downtown Chicago last week and failed. We tried to do an arugula pesto instead (which would have been fine, but we only had access to a blender, which ended up making our pesto into soup).

Good luck!

Anne said...

I was thinking about the lasagna idea as an alternative to regular pasta, but I worry that it's not as easy to customize as regular pasta if someone doesn't like, say, ricotta. When I was growing up, we did individual lasagnas in mini gratin dishes, so it was easy to make them however we liked. I doubt I'll have the equipment to do that, though.

I love potato-leek soup, but I worry about not having a blender. I suppose I could just leave it unblended! I'm going to consider some other stews or soups, too. I'd love to do something with barley, winter greens, and maybe some mushrooms.

By the way, Sapna, have you been to Greens? It's on the expensive side, but it's great for lunch if you're ever up in the Marina district. Their black bean chili (the one I'm considering) is amazing.

Re: pesto, I'm planning on not having any kitchen electrics: no blender, no food processor, etc. If I do a pesto of some sort, it will be by hand, which is why I qualified it with "rough." And I'm leaving it open to whatever herbs or greens I can find: basil, arugula, parsley, cilantro... who knows what will be in the stores in Montana in January! I'm considering bringing my own Parmigiano Reggiano. :)

Anne said...

PS: the baked potato idea could be great for the day after the chili. I love chili on baked potatoes, and with some other fixings, I'm sure that people could put together something tasty!

Bee said...

After reading this first paragraph, I was reminded - again - why I was immediately drawn to you. Like me, you hate bad food; also like me, it is your personal compulsion to want to feed people!

It's not exciting, but when I think skiing, lasagne immediately comes to mind. A big vat of homemade bolognese sauce is also incredibly warming. (I've heard that you can get good meat at CostCo.) Chili and baked potatoes (with sour cream, grated cheese and chives on the side) is another great idea that most people like.

How about a fondue night? Either meat or cheese or both? And chocolate, of course . . .

I also recommend my meatball stew. (From that post I wrote about food for grieving people. October?) You can make it up ahead of time, and then it will be even better when heated up.

Excuse me, but did I miss the sticky bun recipe? :)

Bee said...

About the lasagne: You can make it the English/Italian way, rather than the American way. In other words, layer the meat sauce with a bechamel sauce instead of lots of ricotta and other cheeses.

Anonymous said...

"wildly successful sticky buns" -- who'd have thought that a sentence with the world wildly and successful would prove to be an understatement? those were damn fine buns!

Anne said...

Thank you all for the suggestions! Word has come down from the trip organizer that their usual modus operandi is for everyone to pick a night and cook for the group. I don't want to ruffle any feathers, so it looks like I will be picking one evening's meal plan (maybe two if someone else doesn't feel like cooking) and going with that. I'm leaning toward chili with cornbread, rice, and/or baked potatoes, because I can't imagine anything I'd rather eat after a day in the snow.

Re: the sticky buns, I emailed Bee the recipe and if anyone else would like it, please let me know and I'll email it along. It's behind a subscription/pay wall, so I feel weird putting it out there for all to see, but I have no qualms about emailing it to whomever would like to have it.

Supersaps said...

I have been to Greens, actually (full dinner with wine pairings) and I LOOOVED it. I think it's one of the best vegetarian restaurants I've been to. :)