Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Cooking for 14?

Thank you all so much for your comments and wishes in response to my last post! It was strange for me, being so reliant on my e-mail and such, to not have Internet access for so long... I should probably "get away" more often. But it was so wonderful to read over all your comments once I got back!

Actually, I have been back for a few days. But I had another CPA exam this morning, so I have spent the time since I returned preparing for that while I was still "out" of the blogging loop. I'm excited, now that one more part is behind me, to take a break and catch up with you all! The trip to Nebraska and South Dakota was an amazing and much-needed experience for me. I saw some things that I could never have imagined, beautiful things and horrible things alike. For those of you who might be interested in the non-food aspects of my trip, I have been doing a series of posts on my other blog to try and put into words a little bit of what I did and learned and saw.

Of course, cooking for fourteen people for a week was a separate adventure in itself! When Bob and I were planning recipes, we knew that we wanted to expose our team members to some new foods and flavors that may have never tried before, but at the same time we wanted to make things that almost anyone was sure to like. We wanted it to be healthy and colorful and rich in nutrients, just as we try to eat at home... But we also had to keep a budget in mind. Our trip leaders, before we left, told us that the food budget was $10 per person per day, which came out to about $1,000 total. This included breakfast and lunch as well, which we would really not be able to cook because of being in a hurry and not knowing where we would even be at lunch time on some days. So planning the meals was a little more complicated than I had imagined it might be.

The good news, though, is that we underspent our budget by HALF, and still had leftover food that we were able to leave at the ministry, where I am sure it will be put to good use. Everything that Bob and I planned and prepared was 100% vegan, but this is not to say that everyone on our team ate 100% vegan the whole week. People bought dairy milk and cheese and so forth to accompany their meals, and it wasn't really our place to try to stop them from doing so. I feel good about it on the whole, because everything we served was well received and we were able to explain a lot of things about a healthy, balanced vegan lifestyle, and we had some encouraging conversations about veganism that I feel sure got people started on thinking about the issues. But anyway... enough talk about that.

Days 1 and 2 were on the road... no cooking. The highlight from that leg of the trip was when we stopped at a pizza place in St. Louis, Missouri, and Bob and I shared a delicious vegan pizza. It was certainly not as good as we make at home with our tofu ricotta and pesto, but it was quite satisfying just the same. On day 2, we had dinner in Rushville, Nebraska, where we stayed for the duration of the trip. We got in at about 9:00 that night (mountain time, so it was 11:00 "our" time) and went to this little diner where my only menu option was a tossed salad. I was immediately discouraged, though the salad itself was very good and actually quite refreshing after a day of eating "on the road."

Day 3: Bob and I made sloppy lenties for dinner. Thanks, Leslie! (For my slightly modified version of the recipe, check here.) We shopped for the lentils ahead of time and took them with us on the trip, not being very confident about the availability of red lentils in Rushville, Nebraska. It was a wise decision.... This was the grocery store we had to work with.

It was fine, though, not lacking in anything basic. Organics were really not an option, which I had braced myself for ahead of time.

This was the biggest pot of sloppy lentils ever. I started with six cups of lentils, to give you an idea. There were a lot of leftovers, which was a GREAT alternative to PB&J for lunch every day. We had salad and French bread with this meal.

Day 4: Spaghetti with marinara sauce and roasted squash, zucchini, and eggplant.

The marinara sauce recipe was from The Grit cookbook, but what really made this meal special was the roasted veggies. Bob also made some garlic bread by heating a bit of oil with some minced garlic, then slicing a loaf of French bread and drizzling some of the oil, along with some salt and pepper, between each slice and then baking it, wrapped in aluminum foil, to get it warm and toasty. Served with leftover salad.

Day 5: Chipotle, Corn, and Black Bean Stew from VWaV. This was easily my personal favorite meal for the entire trip. Most of the team members also liked it very much but found it to be a little on the spicy side. Maybe I was a bit heavy-handed with the chipotles... oops. I forget that I eat spicier foods than most people.

We had this with tortilla chips and, yes, leftover salad again. I think this was the last appearance that our salad made. Bob and I both agreed that this stew turned out better this time than it ever has when we have made it in the past. Because we used pre-cooked beans? I can't think of what else we could have possibly done differently.

Day 6: We were out much later than we expected to be, and when we got back to the motel we were too tired to cook. So leftover black bean stew it was (yes, we made enough of this to feed the entire team two, probably three times)... I steamed some broccoli to go with it this time, and it was a welcomed change from salad.

Day 7: Bob made his signature "hash browns"--stir-fried potatoes, this time with onions and garlic and plenty of green peppers, broccoli, squash, and mushrooms.

Here's a tip: Serve this with cilantro and salsa... mmm.

Day 8: The meal I had been waiting to make all week was Chickpea Ratatouille from Vive! This recipe has, I think, the most non-traditional flavor combinations and was the most "daring" of all the meals we selected. Not to mention that we served it with quinoa (and we got to pronounce the word "quinoa" countless times that night), which has become my favorite grain for its ease of cooking, its taste, and its nutritional punch. The quinoa was another ingredient that we had the forethought to buy ahead of time and pack with us.

This meal was very popular with most of the team, though I think that they were even more excited about the quinoa than about the ratatouille! We served this with steamed broccoli. There were lots of leftovers, which made great breakfast and lunch the next day.

Day 9: Bob and I had a meal planned for this day, but we did not get to cook it. Instead, the missionary that we worked with invited us all over to his house for dinner. What was dinner?

Grilled kabobs! We built our own kabobs, and I was very pleased with the available veggies. There was actually a clean spot on the grill for us, too. The pasta salad that they made was quite impressive--carrots and cucumbers and snow peas and cherry tomatoes tossed in a vinaigrette dressing. There was also quite a selection of olives and pickles and such... I could not complain.

Days 10 and 11, again, were on the road. I ate lots of salads and energy bars and peanut butter on tortillas... it was good to get home and eat tofu again.

So that describes the cooking side of our adventure. What did I learn? Well, one thing that we did which I was very glad that we thought to do was to buy our spices in bulk, ahead of time. The day before we left, Bob and I made a list of everything that we would need, including quantities, for all the meals we had planned. Then we went to the health food store and bought precise amounts of everything. This helped keep the cost down immensely, and it was great to work with fresher dried herbs. The other thing, which we didn't plan so well, was quantities of food. We greatly overestimated the amount of food that fourteen people would eat, so we were constantly dealing with massive quantities of leftovers! This worked out fine in the end, but it was a little inconvenient trying to find room in the refrigerator, containers to hold everything, and so forth.

Since I've gotten back, my cooking has been minimal as I've been cramming for today's exam. I look forward to getting back into the normal swing of things, and having more food to share with you all soon!

I'll leave you with just a taste of the beauty that I got to see in South Dakota... This is a view from the top of Sheep Mountain, located in the Badlands on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. The Badlands were perhaps the most amazing thing I have ever seen.



aTxVegn said...

My first thought is that for people who say it's too expensive to eat vegan - WRONG! What a fantastic job you and Bob did! It sounds like an amazing 2 weeks and a well deserved getaway. I'm off to read your other blog!

Welcome home!

bazu said...

It's so good to have you back to blogging! I really enjoyed reading about your trip, and especially all the cooking you guys did. How utterly impressive. Delicious, nutritious, varied, vegan, under budget, and everyone liked it? I nominate you and Bob as presidents of veganism worldwide! ( I love those sloppy lentils too, and they make great leftovers)
I hope now that your exam is over, you can relax a bit and get readjusted to life at home.

Laura Faye said...

The name of that grocery store is cracking me up.
I've been meaning to try that Chickpea Ratatouille. My momma still doesn't believe that quinoa is pronounced the way I say it is. Oh well!

laura jesser said...

Diann, exactly! By eating a diet not based on processed meat substitutes but on grains, legumes, and vegetables, you can save immensely on cost! I was glad we had a chance to prove that.

Bazu, wow... that sounds like a big responsibility! I might just rather stick to cooking out of my humble little kitchen! ;) Hee hee. I'm glad to get back into a normal lifestyle too... and have the chance to try out some of those recipes you sent!

Laura faye, that's funny about your mom... every time I pronounce "quinoa" then someone asks me to spell it, and then I get funny looks because the spelling seems so completely different! And you're right, the supermarket name is rather funny--I think I'd call it something more like the "Just Alright Grocery"--I wouldn't say it was ideal...

Kate said...

Great job. I really enjoyed reading this post.

Urban Vegan said...

Welcoem back. Missed you.

Looks like you ate well while you were away--no surprise with you two.

The photo of Badlands is incredible.

Melody Polakow said...

You are awesome! Seriously, I am soo impressed that you came in so underbudget! How freaken cool is that? What a great way to show people how simple and delicious it is to eat a vegan diet!

maybepigscanfly said...

Wow- it sounds like you and Bob had a great trip. And boy that's a big responsibility to cook for that many people! But it sounds like it was a great success- I couldn't picked better vegan meals myself. Oh and I do love introducing quinoa to people, whether they are veg or not. And good job on the budget!

The Sheep Mountain picture is awesome.

Hope the exams went well!


laura jesser said...

Kate, thanks!

Urban vegan, I wish I could have taken a picture that did justice to this place...

Melody, that made me quite happy too! I love sharing my favorite meals with people and showing them how simple and good and inexpensive they can be...

Teresa, quinoa is definitely an underappreciated food, and it feels good to introduce it to people! And thanks for your wishes about the exam--I think it went alright...

Celine said...

welcome home! your pictures look more amazing than ever. <3

david santos said...

Today it is the World-wide day of the child

laura jesser said...

Celine, thanks!

David, hmm... I didn't know that.

Chantal said...

I am happy you're back... After all, your blog is part of my routine. The Badlands look beautiful... wild and isolated. The kind of place where it's easy to think and feel.

Vicki's Vegan Vice said...

Day 5 looks AWESOME! and what a beautiful view.

Dori said...

I've never been to South Dakota but it is a neighboring state, love the view also. I just finished finals, it was quite interesting to be on the other side of the desk this time though... I think I could be sympathetic with the students though since it is all so fresh for me.

I love that you came in under budget. I read a book by Maxine Hancock called Living On Less & Liking It More. I found this book at a garage sale shortly after we decided to give up my income (50%) and homeschool our kids. I found it very helpful to stretch dollars and also learned to cook on a budget. Although I am thankful my budget is not as tight as it used to be I am also glad that I have the skills that will allow us to reach any financial goal that comes our way.

Carolann said...

This is so encouraging! I’m about to head off to Colorado, Nebraska, and South Dakota myself for a family reunion. I’ve been a little stressed out with how the food is going to work, but now feel much better after viewing your blog! Thanks so much for the post!

Kati said...

It's so good to have you back, Laura! I'm so impressed with the food you made - under budget and all! I visited the badlands quite a few years ago, but I don't remember it being that green - very pretty! Okay, I'm off to read your other posts now...