25 January 2013

Soup Kitchen I

Can you believe I almost forgot I had a blog? So in a belated effort to avoid become one of those MIA bloggers that have disappointed me in the past, I offer this little nugget of content and the possibility of an ongoing series of posts.

One of the things that I've been doing besides blogging is volunteering to cook at a local social services center that works with the homeless population in the area. As part of their day program, they provide three meals a day. A cold breakfast, a hot lunch, and a bagged meal to take for dinner. At first, I started out one day a week, just helping the employee in charge of the kitchen. Soon, I was responsible for the cooking the entire meal that day, from planning to plate. Usually it was an effort in scavenging and improvisation. There is an intense need to make do with what was on had and to use up donated food items. The situation was dire mainly because the kitchen employee was unskilled, unambitious, and entirely lacking in confidence. This lead to some really poor meals. Canned green peas were frequent side dish on the menu. I was proud to introduce scratch cooking and stuff like fresh vegetables to menu.

Unfortunately for the center, the employee in charge of the kitchen left at the beginning of this year. Despite her culinary deficiencies, she was an exceptionally nice and giving person, and will be sorely missed. This left a cooking vacuum in the kitchen, and I was luckily able to arrange my schedule to help out. Now I get to cook for these folks more often.

The point of this block of exposition is to introduce some cheap, easy blog content by the way of what I cooked for the soup kitchen, and hopefully some pithy observations (don't hold your breath on that one).

This week we had:

'Javanese' Roast Chicken, Jasmine Rice, and Salad with Peanut Dressing: Fryer legs and thighs seasoned with salt, white pepper, garlic, onion, nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice, and clove. Brush with tare (I would have used kecap manis, but I didn't have any there, so I made tare) and let finish cooking to crisp up the skin. The salad dressing was made with peanut butter blended with white vinegar, soy, a little sugar, garlic, red pepper flakes, and enriched with a little oil. The salad was topped with crispy chow mein noodles (from a can, no less) and some mixed nut topping (left over from an ice cream party). The jasmine rice we had is actually com tam or broken rice. Through some twist of fate we had 50 lbs of it donated to us. It's got a great texture. I should have described this dish as Indonesian, because everyone kept reading Javanese as Japanese.

Roast Pork Loin with Creamed Collard Greens, and Spaetzle: I used the equilibrium brining method (soon to be the subject of a future blog post) and 'Montreal steak' spices for the pork. We had a bunch of braised vegetarian collards donated, but they were rather insipid, so I revived them with a flavorful bechamel sauce. The spaetzle was just buttered.

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