Thursday, July 8, 2010

Casual Cooking for 45

For the first time ever, it’s been my turn to cook dinner for our delegation this week. Throughout the year we receive 10-15 delegations – groups from churches and universities mostly – who stay in our dorm and work in our projects. The
-->se groups or “brigades” are usually here for a week or 10 days and bring between 15 and 25 people. While Josefa and Carmen make them delicious Nicaraguan breakfasts and lunches, we make them gringo style food for dinner…let me amend that. Kathleen makes them gringo style food for dinner.
Although others of us often pitch in, Kathleen is the true chef among us, regularly cooking meals for 45 without breaking a sweat. And let me add that these aren’t just any old meals…they are meals that you continue to dream of months after you’ve left…I think we have more than one delegate who annually makes a 6,000 mile trek not for their love of Nicaragua, but for their love of Kathleen’s spaghetti!
Kathleen honed her cooking skills while running homeless shelters with Mike and Sarah in the early days of the Jubilee House Community. Since coming to Nicaragua she’s been the main dinner cook for our delegations for 16 years, cooking not only for the 25 brigadistas but also our permanent community members and long-term volunteers, which is often a group totaling 45 hungry mouths!
But this month, while we have a Bucknell Brigade Alumni delegation with us, Kathleen is visiting family in the US. Before she left, Kathleen spent hours training Nubia – the sous chef when we have groups here – how to prepare and cook six different meals by herself. Then Nubia – after six years of waiting – was finally scheduled for back surgery…during this delegation, of course! She is actually getting three spinal blocks done to try to correct a problem with her vertebrae. The first one was successfully done in June, and the second one was scheduled for today. So luckily, Nubia was able to cook the first four dinners and Carmen and Josefa and I are bravely taking on the second two dinners.
I regularly help Kathleen with shopping and often make meals for 15, so the work wasn’t a total surprise, but I have to admit that this week I’ve come to really appreciate Kathleen for all the hard work she quietly gets done without fuss: figuring out menus and what food to buy for each meal (took me an hour!), putting together shopping lists from 6 different people (took me nearly another hour!), purchases at the farmer’s market (6 watermelons, 100 tomatoes, 75 limes, 210 eggs, 100 oranges, 10 pineapples, 20 plantains…) and the grocery store (50 chicken drumsticks, 20 pounds of cheese, 24 bathroom deodorizers, 36 rolls of toilet paper…), organizing which food gets eaten when (Josefa has saved me three times by catching things I didn’t manage to buy at the right time!), then mixing vats of fruit salad and egg salad and chicken salad (okay, vegetarian me didn’t taste that one)…Phew! It’s hard work. And at the end I taste the food and it’s pretty good, but it’s just lacking that certain something…Kathleen. It must be her love of food and the ever-present hostess in her that gives her food that special flavor, and we’ll sure be glad to have her back!
In lieu of Kathleen actually being here to whip us up something wonderful, I’m including two of our favorite recipes from Kathleen’s cookbook, Grits Greens and Gallo Pinto. You can request your own copy of the book when you make a $35 donation to the CDCA. Email Buen provecho! -- Becca
Spaghetti Sauce
Serves 6-8
Brown and drain:
1 ½ lb. lean hamburger
Add and sauté:
2 onions, chopped
4-5 garlic cloves, minced
When onions begin to change color, add and lightly fry:
3-4 T. paprika
2-3 t. oregano
2-3 bay leaves
1 T. black pepper
Salt to taste
18 oz. tomato paste
7 ½ c. water
Bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for 3-4 hours, stirring every 30 minutes. Taste after two hours and adjust seasonings.
· The secret is in the paprika; my mother does not add oregano or bay leaves. If you don’t want to measure, then shake paprika until it lightly coats the meat mixture so that it looks red. Then shake pepper over the paprika so that you still see red showing through. Then add salt.
· Use the tomato paste can to measure water (you need 3 cans of water for 1 can of paste). Take the spatula or spoon and stir up the paste sticking to the sides of the can; by the third can of water you will have gotten all the paste.
· Make lots, and freeze for other recipes or for a quick spaghetti supper. It freezes really well.
Meatless Spaghetti Sauce:
Onions and garlic
In: Olive oil
Proceed with recipe. After the tomato paste and water are in, then add:
2 c. chopped tomatoes
1 c. chopped green peppers
Becca’s note: Kathleen now often makes us a vegetarian sauce thickened using TVP or cooked garbanzo beans and both are super tasty. For an easier version add whole black olives.
Potato, Tomato & Egg Casserole
Serves 6-8
25-30 minutes
Bring to a boil (in same pan):
2 lbs potatoes
10 eggs
Boil for 2 minutes. Cover and turn off heat. Let sit for an hour. Peel eggs. In a 9” x 13” baking dish, spread:
2 T. olive oil
Slice potatoes 1” thick and layer in baking dish. Sprinkle on potatoes:
Salt and pepper to taste
Slice ½” thick:
2 large tomatoes
And layer on potatoes. Sprinkle with:
Salt and pepper to taste
2 t. basil
Layer on tomatoes:
1 c. grated cheese (mozzarella is best)
In a bowl, chop boiled eggs and add:
2-3 T. olive oil
¼ c. parmesan cheese
¼ c. parmesan cheese
¼ - ½ c. fresh parsely, chopped
Mix well and top the casserole with egg mixture. Bake 350° for 25-30 minutes until eggs begin to turn golden and casserole bubbles.
· I use a pastry cutter to chop the eggs into small pieces.
· Use oregano if you don’t have basil
· Use dry parsley flakes if you don’t have fresh parsley
· Eliminate cheese for a lighter dish