Saturday, July 30, 2011

Mid-Year Retreat Menu Part 2

Tuesday Breakfast
Breakfast Burritos with Sausage, Scrambled Eggs, Cheese, Scallions, and Tomatoes (the link is not to the recipe I used, but sounds like a great one; also picture is not of recipe I used - I just compiled these ingredients for people to roll up in tortillas)
Juice, Milk, Coffee, Tea
Tuesday Lunch
Tuna Melts on English Muffins (I actually didn't like these, so wouldn't make them again, but others seemed to; it seems I prefer basic tuna mixed with mayo and some relish)
image via the pioneer woman
Zucchini, Tomato, and Feta Pasta Salad (this made a ton and I served it with several consecutive meals - I really like it)
image via the pioneer woman
image via all recipes

Tuesday Dinner (This meal was the one that went the most wrong! I forgot to buy skewers and when your whole menu is kabobs, that affects things, so we grilled them sans skewers and it was just fine - the pasta was forgotten as well and so we had the pasta salad from lunch and some leftover roasted potato salad from the previous night - turned out great, thankfully!)
Meat Kabobs (Steak, Pork, and Chicken)
Grilled Veggie Kabobs (Red Pepper, Onion, and Zucchini)
Grilled Fruit Kabobs (Pineapple, Mango, and Peach - turned this into a fruit salad)
Pasta with Butter, Lemon, and Garlic (and Sour Cream)
Bread and Butter

Tuesday Supper
Chocolate Chip Cookies (our team is crazy for them with a bit of sea salt on top! also, this recipe is for brownie stuffed cookies, which are awesome, but I just use the cookie dough recipe, so everything minus the brownie mix)
Milk and/or Ice Cream

Wednesday Breakfast
Eggs in a Basket with Cheese
Bacon (forgot to cook this that morning so we had tons on Friday!)
Apples, Grapes, and Yogurt
Juice, Milk, Coffee, Tea

Mid-Year Retreat Menu

Sunday Dinner
Barbecued Chicken (I used the chicken pieces that were cheapest at the counter)
Creamed Corn (canned with butter)
Mashed Potatoes
Green Beans (canned with garlic and a bouillon cube)
Rolls and Butter
Sweet Tea (crowd pleaser on my team!)
image via martha stewart

Sunday Supper (what Aussies call dessert)
Dump Cake with Ice Cream (I used only 1 stick of butter, put cinnamon on top, and used canned apple pie filling, but a drained can peaches and crushed pineapple are great too!)
image via the pioneer woman

Monday Breakfast (we all left for snorkeling early so it needed to be quick)
English Muffins, Croissants, or Toast
Jam, Butter, Peanut Butter, Honey
Yogurt and Muesli
Milk, Juice, Tea, Coffee

Monday Lunch (packed lunch for only 9 while snorkeling)
Sandwiches: Bread, Turkey, Ham, Cheese, Peanut Butter, Jelly
Mayo and Dijon Mustard
Cookies (non-melty since we'd be outside!)

Monday Dinner
Burgers (patties made in the morning by people who left in the second shift): Worcestershire sauce, Scallions, Garlic, and S&P mixed in) with Cheese, Lettuce, Tomato, Ketchup, and Mayo
Grilled Corn on the Cob with Lime Butter (just mix lime juice into softened butter, then chill)
Crystal Light Raspberry Lemonade (nixed this because of the budget, but groceries are WAY cheaper in the states!)
image via how sweet eats

Monday Supper
Maria's Birthday Cake! Chocolate Raspberry Cake (not the exact recipe, but we made one like it; however I would have made this one if I had more time!)
Chocolate Ice Cream
image via cakes you can bake

Cooking for Groups

One of my favorite things I get to do on staff, besides be with students, is cook for my team! Usually a few times each year there are different opportunities for this: a staff retreat, student leader retreat, wives conference, etc. Each event has different needs for food, different numbers of people, budget, and feel of the event. And since they are usually at least 3 days long, they require lots of planning!

I think I love it so much because it is a project I can work on that is short-lived (I only work on it for a few weeks) and allows me to experiment with different recipes to come up with a great product that people usually get really excited about! It is so fun also to pull people into the kitchen with you to chop things, chat, whatever. I love it. This year I have gotten to plan two staff retreats' food for our team. The first one was at a house with minimal electricity (and no oven) for 2 1/2 days (which posed many new challenges) with Aussies and Americans (also affects my food choices for the group). The second was at the beach for our mid-year retreat, was all Americans, and lasted for 5 days.

I wanted to post on here all the recipes I used for the mid-year retreat, mostly because I know my team wanted them, but I figured it may be fun to document it for myself too and offer some of my go-to recipes and advice for groups for anyone else who is interested. :)

I started the planning by looking at our budget ($700 for 17 meals and 14 people). I divided up the money into amounts I thought I could make work for each meal, and to give me an idea of how elaborate or simple I needed to make each meal. This really helps me start to plan. Otherwise I will just come up with ridiculously expensive ideas for everything, and ones that take me the whole day to cook. Not really ideal for a "retreat" where I'm supposed to be relaxing too! I can't remember exactly the amounts, but I think it was $30 for each breakfast, $40 for each lunch, $70 for each dinner, and $15 for each supper (dessert). I didn't provide any snacks except for leftover fruit and veggies from the meals prior since we always end up eating too much at these things.

I also made a list of everything people didn't like to eat, or allergies and things like that could be taken into account here. I have several picky teammates, even ones that don't like chicken and cheese…so that made things a bit more challenging since I had to make sure each meal could be cheese-less on a portion. However, the girl that doesn't like chicken is awesome and loves veggies and sides so a couple nights she tried the chicken and then just ate lots of sides. :) I also had a vegetarian (who also eats fish) to consider. She needed to have protein options. This was probably the most difficult retreat to plan for me so far because it was the longest with the most picky eaters. (I also planned it for a tighter budget of $600 which got increased at the last minute by our team leaders since they had extra from something else!).

To make the actual menu, I thought through things our team always likes to have at team things (i.e. a specific salad, dessert). I made a list of all the possible things to include and asked a few teammates to give me feedback. Then I drew out a calendar and wrote down all the meal ideas, then moved them all around so there was a variety of meats each day and different fruits and veggies, too. Then I tried to look at it overall to see if anything was missing or if I had a bit of money left to throw in something really special. I also LOVE theme nights for meals, so I included a couple of those, which also helped me to fill in the sides and dessert to match the theme.

It is also very important to know what equipment you will have access to while there. We were staying in a nice vacation home, so I went to their website and they had everything detailed out there. That was really helpful, but not always available. Sometimes I will call the camp or wherever we are staying to ask questions. But sometimes you get to a place (like I did with our other minimal-electricity-no-oven-house staff retreat) and just have to adjust after you figure it out.

The final thing I looked at was the prep time involved for each day. If I had a more involved lunch, then I wanted dinner to be pretty quick so I didn't have to pull people inside to help twice in one day. But our team was great and was always willing to help so I didn't really have any problems with this. I wrote down a menu for anyone in the house to see and also a prep schedule, especially for those days when I had a meeting and wasn't going to be able to be around the whole time. I tried to think through what we would be doing each day…for example, on the day we arrived, I knew I wanted to make something easy because we were going to be grocery shopping until about 5pm and would need to get home and get people fed quickly. These things really helped to shape the menu and make it conducive to a retreat where we had other responsibilities and wanted to relax.

After I had made the whole menu, I printed out a stack of every recipe I needed to bring, including the ones that are just in my head, then went through and made a huge master list of all the ingredients I needed to buy. It is really important to me to be very detailed in this part of the process because it makes shopping much easier, especially if others are helping you, and it helps you to stay on budget and not end up with a lot of unused food. Since I had a really strict budget, I actually made a spreadsheet with each ingredient and amount written out and went to the grocery store the week before the retreat and wrote down each price. Then I got home and did the math. I realized then that I was $20 over budget so I took a few things out and adjusted in small ways to make sure I was under. You wouldn't have to do this, but I recommend it if you have a budget. It is just too easy to end up spending way too much. It took me about 3-4 hours including going to the store and adjusting the menu but it was worth it! Especially when Jordan and Chris were the two who volunteered to go to the store with me…they had the exact price written down next to the ingredient so they easily chose the right brand/type. However, we inevitably forgot a couple of things and so I just changed the menu based on what we had. (We didn't have a car after the first night we took a taxi, so I couldn't really get back to the store, but if you could, this may not be as big of a deal).

My other overall advice is just to have fun! I love to cook, so I really enjoy when people hang around the kitchen to help, when they really enjoy a meal, and when clean up isn't too bad because you're all doing it together. We had a great time at the retreat so hopefully this will help you if you ever need to do something similar. :) I will post recipes over the next few days since I don't want this post to be longer than it already is…yikes!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Herbed Risotto with Chicken and Caramelized Onions

I haven't updated this blog in forever, but I figure the easiest way to start that process again is to post about something I really like talking about! Recipes! However, we have had a million things going on and hopefully I'll post about them someday.

Risotto is something I never considered trying until I moved to Australia, where it is extremely common and it's on every menu, everywhere. It's also made frequently by most home cooks. I think the only place I'd ever heard it talked about was in Gilmore Girls, by Sookie, who raved about how great her's was. I just assumed it was too complicated. However, after I tasted the creamy goodness of risotto for the first time, I was hooked! I found this recipe and immediately wanted to try it. It is a very fool-proof method and really doesn't even require that much time [another risotto myth]. Jordan loves this recipe, too! Enjoy!

Herbed Risotto with Chicken and Caramelized Onions

Yield: about 6 servings

1½ tbsp. olive oil, divided
1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
Pinch of sugar
5 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 cups water
3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
4 tbsp. unsalted butter, divided
¾ tsp. salt
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
2 cups Arborio (medium grain) rice
1 cup dry white wine
2 oz. grated Parmesan cheese (about 1 cup)
1 tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tbsp. minced fresh parsley
2 tbsp. minced fresh chives [I just used chives]
Ground black pepper


Add 1½ teaspoons of the olive oil to a large skillet over medium heat. Add the sliced onion and sugar, stirring to coat. Allow the onion to cook, stirring occasionally, until deep golden brown and caramelized. Remove the onions to a plate and set aside.

In a large saucepan over medium heat, combine the chicken broth and water and bring to a simmer. In the meantime, add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil to the skillet used to cook the onions set over medium-high heat. Season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper. Transfer the chicken to the heated skillet and cook, turning once, until each side is a light golden brown. Remove from the heat and transfer the chicken pieces to the saucepan with the simmering broth mixture. Let cook until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part registers 165˚ F or until cooked through (no longer pink). Remove the chicken from the broth and transfer to the plate with the onions.

Add 2 tablespoons of the butter to a Dutch oven set over medium heat. Once melted, add the garlic and cook just until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the rice to the pan, stirring to coat. Cook, stirring frequently, until the grains are translucent around the edges, about 3 minutes.

Add the wine and cook, stirring constantly, until fully absorbed, about 2-3 minutes. Stir 5 cups of hot broth mixture into the rice. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and simmer until almost all liquid has been absorbed and the rice is just al dente, 16-19 minutes, stirring twice during cooking.

Add ¾ cup of the hot broth mixture to the risotto and stir gently and constantly until the risotto becomes creamy, about 3 minutes. Stir in the Parmesan. Remove the pot from the heat, cover and let stand for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, shred the chicken into bite-sized pieces. Stir the shredded chicken and caramelized onions into the risotto with the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, lemon juice, parsley and chives. Season with salt and pepper to taste. If desired, add up to ½ cup of the remaining broth mixture to add moisture and loosen the texture. Serve immediately.

Source: Annie's Eats, adapted from Cook’s Illustrated, May/June 2010