Cooking for two persons at home is easy.

Cooking for a party of 10 could be a little more work but it is a joy for me to share good food with friends.

Cooking for a 180 people in a community dinner is a stretch. Starting from ordering of food, cleaning, marinating, preparing, cooking time, scheduling of cooking for the different food so that the stove and oven is available when is needed, keeping and serving food at the right temperature and planning to have all the food to be ready at the same time, 6.15 pm sharp to be ready to serve.

Almost has to be on the toes from start to end.

This ultimately is a different purpose and satisfaction.

The several months of volunteer to cook and help in the community kitchen every Wednesday, has given me a great opportunity to stretch my ability and learn that the regular recipes does not work when cooking in large quantity.

For example; the result of baking 50 pieces of chicken in a cooking tray is not the same compare to baking 10 pieces of chicken. If you think it would be nicely browned and ready to serve in 2-3 hours, it is not going to happen as you may expect.

Baking 50 pieces of chicken in the same tray from raw, it produces lots of moisture during baking and therefore it will become stew chicken instead of baked golden brown chicken. In this aspect every piece of chicken have to be pan seared to seal in the moisture before placing it in the oven to further cook till desire temperature.

A regular recipe only serves as a guideline for what spices to use in the process of cooking. The amount of spice to be use in large quantity cooking is not simply multiply the amount of portions. That wouldn’t work either.

The only measurement guideline is the chef’s estimating and tasting skill.

I need to have an end result expectation in mind to correct and improve the flavor base on tasting it. Besides that is to know the spices well in order to know what to add and how much more to add.

I call that layering of flavor. Adding spices layer by layer until it reaches the desire flavor.

Besides enjoying cooking together with the wonderful volunteer team, my favorite time is cooking with the professional chef that also volunteers for the week. This month I got the opportunity to cook with executive chef Steven Murphey from Nani’s Italian restaurant.

Therefore the menu was an Italian fair!

This might be a free dinner for the community who needs a good meal once a week, we do not skim on just serving any convenient meal but instead most ingredients are fresh and every dish are cook from fresh produce.

The goal was to be able to let a family enjoy a good restaurant standard, home cooked meal once a week.

80 pounds of fresh chicken breast was washed, butterfly cut and marinated. Each piece of chicken was pan seared to seal in the juice. Chicken Piccata sauce was cooked separately and drizzled on during further baking. Trays of chicken were slow baked in the oven for couple of hours till perfection.

The flavor was amazingly delicious!

Over 8 gallon of fresh sliced mushroom was prepared to cook for the mushroom risotto.  The risotto was sauté with onion and de-glazed with white wine and slowly cooked on the stove. It was fun to watch how chef Steven set the box of wine above the stove and let the white wine slowly drizzle onto the risotto. All he needs to do was slowly turn the pan around while stirring it. And the wonderful aroma fills the kitchen and beyond.

Reminded me of the familiar delicious food aroma in the little Italian restaurant in Italy. During the visit to Lake Como, Tuscany, Venice, Florence and Rome, we love to find small local restaurant that tug in the small alley and explore what the locals eat. It was a wonderful eating and exploring experience two springs ago.

The aroma coming from the cooking reminds me of the delicious Italian cuisine we enjoyed, and the good memories of the trip.

As a low carb eater, someday I’m going to re-create the mushroom risotto to cooking with wildrice. The texture might be different but I’m sure the flavor is going to be good.

Fresh vegetable was cut, washed and roasted. When the ingredients are fresh, all it need was just simple spices and it was delicious. Trays of freshly cut vegetable was seasoned with salt, pepper, thyme and rosemary. Tossed with extra virgin olive oil and roast for 30 min in the oven for 350F. And than mixed together after when it was all cooked.

The kitchen received a few cartons of fresh pear from donation and we decided to make pear crème anglaise to top on house-made brownie and fresh fruit for dessert.

So the freah pear was skinned and cut into small cube. Batches of pear was saute with butter till it became cooked thru and soft. The cooked pear was than puree in batches in a food processor until it is smooth.

It was than re-heated in a big pot. Heavy cream, cinnamon, nutmeg and beaten eggs was added and cook thru till the right consistency before cooling down immediately to room temperature and chilling it.

This is the first time I made pear crème anglaise and I’m sure very happy to be put to the task in creating it! It was heavenly delicious!

I’m certainly very thankful to be able to have the capacity to volunteer for the community every week. And thankful to be given this opportunity to learn and grow in this wonderful environment with wonderful people.

The greatest satisfaction was to see families enjoying the food we created with big smile on their face.

There was one time, a man was quitely eating and eating and not chatting with anyone around the dining table. After he finally finished eating, he said: ‘This is the first meal I have had for the last 3 days. It is wonderful and thank you for cooking.’

I smiled and said: Thank you for eating! The pleasure is mine. 🙂


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