Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Recipe Yoga

If they ever decide to start giving out Nobel prizes for sheer ingenuity in the kitchen, I know exactly who I'd place at the top of the nominee list. It's not easy feeding any amount of teenagers on any budget - let alone a crowd of 65 ravenous ones every night with less than a dollar per serving to work with! Our protein choices at the Club are always limited in variety, not to mention in amount, so creativity with what we do get off the Second Harvest truck leads to some interesting results! Generally, we have roughly 4-5 lbs of meat to work with for the Friday meal (the only hot one they get during the week from us), and the rest of the meal is a collaboration of "what do we have here" in terms of veggies and starches. That's how things like the baked bolognese last week came into play!

Last week we wound up with 8 lbs of whole, bone-in chicken parts: and for those of you savvy with yield percentages, you'll know that gave us just over 4 lbs of raw meat to work with. Surveying the remainder of the donation box, filled with bell peppers (not to mention zucchini, not-too-great looking tomatoes and a couple carrots), I commented that we could do a curried chicken and rice dish. Marlene (the grand pooh-bah of the kitchen, and who I would totally give that Nobel prize to) gave it the nod, and began machete-chopping the birds into small pieces (still with the bone - "the kids aren't babies", she told me) and directing me to the spices and other ingredients we'd start tossing together so the meat could marinate overnight before a long, slow cooking process the next day.

However, the volatile nature of the community kitchen reared it's head again the next day - I walked in to find Marlene in the midst of chopping vegetables, but she informed me that the "mood" for curry making had left her. I can relate, as I'm sure most of you can - when you can't cook something with the heart it deserves, you really don't want to (and shouldn't!) cook it. That goes double with souled dishes like curries - you really can taste the soul of the chef behind them. We would still be making a chicken stew, a very highly flavoured chicken stew, but we were taking the bird to the islands. Brown-stew style.


Of course, 4 pounds of chicken meat would in no way feed that crowd of kids. There's no way we were ever going to try that one. This is where the process I refer to as "recipe yoga", AKA "stretching", came into play. Instead of trying to serve a miniscule portion of chicken stew made as it was written originally, we took the opportunity to clean out the potato bin, full of old but (mostly) still-ok Russets, and came up with another 8 lbs of bulk to add to the meal. Carrots, onions and a rich stewed tomato sauce helped round out the flavours, and even though we had to do 3/4 of the cooking - including all the "stewing" - in the oven, not a single scent nor flavour got lost. I even thought to brown the meat all at once under the broiler instead of in batch after batch in the pot, saving the stovetop for a slow browning of the onions. All I had to do then was toss in the spuds and carrots for a quick saute, pour it over the chicken and cover the pan with foil before sticking it in the oven for 5 hours.

Normally this kind of richly flavoured stew would find itself perfectly at home over a bed of coconut rice, and I do recommend that option if you have the resources available to you. Unfortunately, we discovered that we did not have enough rice for the kids - nor enough cash in the budget to buy any. We made do with one of our staple items (mini pita breads), and the kids were none the wiser - though when we do get the curry mojo back I am stopping by Bulk Barn for a bag of Basmati.

Marlene's Jamaican Brown Stew Potatoes And Chicken
Serves 60
8 lbs bone-in, skinless chicken parts
2 large onions, diced finely
9 scallions, minced
2 red bell peppers, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
5 tbsp garlic powder
3 tbsp onion powder
1 tbsp allspice
1/4 cup seasoned salt
3 tbsp black pepper
3 tbsp brown sugar
8 tbsp soy sauce
7 cups stewed tomatoes (4 14-oz cans)
1 Scotch Bonnet pepper, pricked with a fork but left whole
1 tbsp minced garlic
1/2 tbsp allspice
2 tsp black pepper
3/4 cup ketchup
4 1/2 cups chicken broth
1/4 cup canola oil
3 large onions, diced
9 large carrots, diced
8 lbs Russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
  1. The night before, combine chicken parts, onions, scallions, bell peppers, garlic powder, onion powder, allspice, seasoned salt, black pepper, brown sugar and soy sauce in a large bowl or bucket, tossing well. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
  2. Meanwhile, in a large pot, combine tomatoes, Scotch Bonnet pepper, minced garlic, allspice, black pepper, ketchup and chicken broth.
  3. Cook over medium-high heat for 2 hours, stirring occasionally. Remove and discard hot pepper and set tomatoes aside.
  4. The next day, preheat the broiler and spread chicken mixture in a very large, deep roasting pan.
  5. Broil for 4 minutes, stir and return to broiler for 4 more minutes.
  6. Set oven to 350F.
  7. Heat oil in a large pot over medium-low heat.
  8. Add diced onions and cook for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally, until caramelized.
  9. Add carrots and potatoes, raise heat to medium high and saute until carrots begin to soften, about 7 minutes.
  10. Pour sauteed mixture over chicken and stir to incorporate.
  11. Cover roasting pan and bake for 5 hours.
  12. After five hours, add tomato mixture to the pan, stir in and bake uncovered 1 hour longer.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 115.5
Total Fat: 1.9 g
Cholesterol: 18.5 mg
Sodium: 359.6 mg
Total Carbs: 17.5 g
Dietary Fiber: 2.2 g
Protein: 7.8 g