Friday, June 27, 2008

My Latest Food Adventure

A couple months ago, my friend Emily called me to ask if I'd be interested in heading up the meal for the VBS Volunteer Luncheon (to serve 50-70 people). Now I haven't known Emily for very long, but obviously long for her to figure out what a crazy foodie I am. I was so very flattered and honored that she would put her confidence in me and it didn't take long for me to tell her a resounding "yes." I was giddy with excitement; this was exactly the kind of foodie challenge that I was up for: planning and preparing a meal from beginning to end with no constraints on my creativity. My giddiness even kept me up that night, as my I poured through my mental recipe file, searching for the perfect combination of dishes.

A couple of weeks later, as I strolled through Sam's Club with Emily, I started feeling a little overwhelmed. My behemoth-sized grocery cart was filled to the max with food and I couldn't help but think,"Holy Crap! Can I really do this?" Thankfully, I was reassured knowing that I had a handful of wonderful women who graciously teamed up with me to get the job done. I am especially grateful to Jillian, who worked for 6 hours in the church kitchen with me the day before the luncheon, sweating with me and keeping me sane! She's quite a foodie herself, plus she has way more catering-type experience than I do, so her input and hard work was invaluable. Without all of these gals, I absolutely could NOT have pulled this off! Here are the 5 of us finishing up on Sunday morning (from left- Anna, Liz, Jillian, Sabrina and me):

Everything went off (mostly) without a hitch and it was a joy to help serve all the VBS workers in this way. So without further adieu, here are the recipes:

VBS Volunteer Luncheon Menu

Slow-Cooked Mediterranean Chicken

Emerial LaGasse's Mediterranean Pasta Salad

Tossed Salad

Fresh Fruit Saladp>

No-Bake Peanut Bars


Slow-Cooked Mediterranean Chicken

Originally found in Cooking Light, this slow-cooker recipe quickly became one of my favorites. I adore Greek food, so I figured, what's not to love about it?! The original recipe calls for turkey breast, but I have easily substituted chicken many times. For the luncheon, I opted to cut down on the cooking time, since I wouldn't be able to use a slow-cooker. Instead, I basically marinated the chicken breast in all the other ingredients for 24 hours, then roasted them in the oven at about 300 degrees for 2 hours. It worked really well in lieu of the slow-cooker, however, to get the full effect of this dish, I would always opt for the slow-cooker over the oven.

  • 2 cups chopped onion (about 1 large)
  • 1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives
  • 1/2 cup julienne-cut drained oil-packed sun-dried tomato halves
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons bottled minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon Greek seasoning mix (such as McCormick's)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 (4-pound) boneless turkey breast, trimmed (or 6-8 large, boneless chicken breasts)
  • 1/2 cup fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth, divided
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Combine first 9 ingredients in an electric slow cooker. Add 1/4 cup chicken broth. Cover and cook on low for 7 hours.

Combine remaining 1/4 cup broth and flour in a small bowl; stir with a whisk until smooth. Add broth mixture to slow cooker. Cover and cook on low for 30 minutes. Cut turkey into slices.

Yield: About 8 servings


Emeril LaGasse's Mediterranean Style Pasta Salad

Oh. My. Gosh. Holy cow, this is the most phenomenal pasta salad known to man. You've never tasted pasta salad till you've tried this one. Even for people who normally don't care for pasta salad, this will bring new light that ho-hum, mayo-based pasta salad so popular at potlucks. One of the facets that makes this recipe so fantastic is the roasted garlic vinaigrette. Don't be scared of using an entire bulb of garlic; when garlic is roasted, its flavor becomes very mellow. Plus, the smell of garlic roasting in the oven will make your home smell so inviting. Then, when you're ready to take your first bite, make sure you're sitting down cause this bad boy just might knock you off your feet! Thanks to Emeril and the Food Network for this recipe..."Bam!"

  • 1/2 pound fresh angel hair pasta (I substituted rotini)
  • 10 roasted cloves of garlic (about one whole bulb, see note below on how to roast garlic)
  • 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Juice of one lemon
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 small red onion, thinly sliced
  • 4 roma or plum tomatoes, cored, seeded and thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup fresh sweet peas, blanched (I always omit peas cause I don't care for them)
  • 1/2 cup Greek black olives, pitted and halved
  • 4 ounces Feta cheese, crumbled (herb-seasoned feta is wonderful in this dish)

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until tender, about 4 minutes. Drain and place the pasta in a bowl of ice water. Stir the pasta a couple of times to separate the pasta. Drain very well; Season with salt and pepper. In a mixing bowl, add the garlic. Using the back of a fork, mash the cloves until smooth. Stir in the lemon juice and mustard. Whisk in the extra virgin olive oil slowly. Whisk until the mixture is slightly thick. Season with salt and black pepper. In a large mixing bowl, add the onions, tomatoes, and peas. Season with salt and pepper. Add the pasta, olives and cheese. Toss the salad with the dressing. Serve either cold or at room temperature.

**How to roast garlic: This is pretty darn simple, but you'll want to do this ahead of time so that the garlic is roasted and cooled before you prepare the pasta salad. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Loosely wrap the garlic bulb in foil and place in preheated oven. Roast for about 1 hour, checking periodically to make sure it doesn't burn. You'll know it's done when the bulb is very soft and the cloves are a lovely golden brown. Multiple bulbs of garlic can be roasted at one time, too.

**How to get the roasted garlic out!! Okay, so you've roasted your what? Allow the garlic to cool so that you can easily handle it. Then, insert the tip of a paring knife at the edge of the stem on the bottom of the bulb. You should be able to easily pry up the stem and pull it off. Now, holding it over a small bowl, squeeze several times at the top of the bulb and all the roasted goodness will squirt out the bottom. I should warn you, though, that it can be a little messy at times and roasted garlic is quite sticky on hands. But don't dismay, it's totally worth it! Now you're ready to use the your roasted garlic.


No-Bake Chocolate Peanut Butter Bars

Okay, so I have to admit, these bars are the one part of my meal that was a total, last-minute decision. I just had no clue what to make for dessert, but I knew it had to be simple. So I asked my husband, an expert dessert-taster, what I should make for dessert: cake? cookies? bars? etc. His response was, "Hmmm...bars really say 'VBS Luncheon' to me." So bars it was! I found this recipe on an ad for Nestle Toll House and as I've mentioned before, the chocolate/pb combo can never be beat in my book. The results were quite astounding and indeed, the recipe was super-simple to prepare. Although the Nestle employee who wrote the recipe must've been smokin' crack because it said that it yielded 60 bars!! Unless I cut those bars into 1 inch squares, there's no way to get 60 bars from one pan. Besides, when it comes to dessert, more is always better. :)

  • 2 cups peanut butter, divided
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter, softened
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 3 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 2 cups (12-oz. pkg.) semi-sweet chocolate chips, divided

GREASE 13 x 9-inch baking pan. BEAT 1 1/4 cups peanut butter and butter in large mixer bowl until creamy. Gradually beat in 1 cup powdered sugar. With hands or wooden spoon, work in remaining powdered sugar, graham cracker crumbs and 1/2 cup morsels. Press evenly into prepared baking pan. Smooth top with spatula. MELT remaining peanut butter and remaining morsels in medium, heavy-duty saucepan over lowest possible heat, stirring constantly, until smooth. Spread over graham cracker crust in pan. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour or until chocolate is firm; cut into bars. Store in refrigerator.


emily said...

I'm glad you did this post! Your lunch was FANTASTIC! I've been wanting those recipes, so this is great. I think you could have a future in the catering business...

Mickey said...

All I can say is that it looks like a job well done and well...YUM! :-D

cindy w. said...

thanks so much for sharing your delights ... sorry I missed it.

RT said...

This post makes me hun-gry. Mmmm...