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Sunday, October 14, 2007

crowdsourcing mass cookery

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There's been a lot of buzz lately about the infinite power of crowdsourcing. While the word is generally a neologism associated with the online world, it can, like so many things, be applied to other aspects of our lives.

Like dinner. :)

I was introduced to this whole concept when asked if I would be interested in helping out with a progressive dinner being planned for some local university students. This involved having 3 successive sessions of 15+ hungry students stopping into my house for some main course.

Or, in the unforgettable words of Queen Ant, "they come, they eat, they leave."

Always eager for new challenges, I accepted. And then I started You've all seen photos of my paltry little kitchen...not exactly the stuff of which mass production is made. And I wasn't even sure if it was a place where mass production could be see, I don't even have a huge pot. My biggest pot is a 6qt. Which contains precisely (if you fill it to the brim and don't stir) 24 cups of liquid. And if you start doing the math....24 cups for 50ish people is not really going to satisfy.

So my mind was set aflurry with what exactly I could feed these people. In a group that size, you're bound to have the intersection of all sorts of likes, dislikes, allergies and ideologies.

I had a few thoughts cross my mind (briefly considered lasagna, but it always seems like such a cop-out, and people end up eating way too many bad lasagnas in their lives anyway....I didn't want to go there).

So I came up with burritos. And it worked PERFECTLY. Here are a few of the kick-ass attributes of the burrito:
- it's easy to make
- you can easily make several kinds (hence negating the need for one giant pot for filling)
- trays of burritos are stackable (key when one has only a single fridge)
- you can make the filling in advance
- you can round out the meal with a pot of refried beans and some mexican-seasoned rice
- chips and salsa on the table fill in the blanks

Platters with beef burritos:
that's a lot of burritos

Other things I learned:
- 2 kg of rice was way too much. I filled 3 3-qt corningware casseroles with rice and didn't even go through one. It's a good thing we like rice.
- 5 pounds of ground beef will make 70 burritos (who would have thought?)
- chicken burritos are the most popular, followed by beef, then trailing way behind is bean (even though they are really good!)
- people love fruit punch
- I kinda have fun hosting that many people in a night
- it's faster and easier to make 140 burritos, 6 qts of refried beans and 12 qts of rice than it is to throw a dinner party for 4
- 15 x 24 inch aluminum roasting pans kick ass
- university students are, for the most part, very polite and lovely people (not that I was anticipating otherwise, but it was still nice)
- hubs is the best sous-chef ever (I think he chopped almost everything!)
- the grating function of the food processor is possibly the best thing ever - I grated about 3 pounds of cheese in five minutes!
- labelling everything and listing ingredients might be geeky, but it's appreciated nonetheless
the menu

Timing was overall pretty short between the groups of people (15 minutes) so hubs and I developed a great system for making sure food was hot, safe and fresh....

1. As people arrived, I directed them to serve themselves drinks from a table I had set up (assortment of pop, juice and ice tea).

2. Then they would grab their plate and head in to the kitchen....I would serve their choice of burrito to them (because I could tell them all apart), then they would serve themselves rice and beans.

Platter of beef (topped with red salsa) and chicken (topped with green) burritos:

lots of burritos

Platter of chicken and bean burritos (bean were whole wheat shells):
more burritos

3. As soon as I served the last person, I would take out the next 2 platters of burritos, top them with their respective sauces, dress with cheese and put in the oven at 350F. I would switch positions after 15 minutes. The beans would go back on their burner. The rice would get nuked again (no more space in the oven).

4. As soon as the group left (and most were kind enough to bring the dishes into the kitchen!), hubs would wash the plates (I am lucky enough to have about 40 small dinner plates), I would distribute napkin/flatware (I tasked hubs to rolling up a knife and fork in pretty fall napkins beforehand....made setting the table very quick).

Here is the LR/DR set-up:
the set-up

other spectrum of living room set up

5. Put out all the plates, top up the condiments as needed (hot salsa, milk salsa, sour cream, guacamole and taco chips). I would also add more drinks and ice too.

6. Start the process over again with each group.

So....should any of you ever get a hankering for mass producing a big ole pile of burritos, here are some recipes:

Beef Burritos - this was me catering to the MPV eaters....not spicy, nothing weird in it)
(makes about 70, using 6-inch shells)
5 lbs of ground beef....

5 pounds lean ground beef (I admit it...I caved and bought the stuff that comes in a tube....gross, eh? It actually smelled really good while it was cooking though, so not so bad as I suspected it might be....)
who knew beef came in a tube?  ew

6 cloves garlic
3 cups chopped onion
3 T chili powder
2 cups mild salsa
1 red pepper, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
2 cups chopped mushrooms

1. In two batches, cook the ground beef THOROUGHLY in a large, deep skillet. When it's mostly cooked, add half the garlic, onion, chili powder, red pepper, green pepper and mushrooms. Cook until meat is really really cooked.

2. Drain in a strainer (oily burritos are NASTY).

3. Dump into a very large bowl (seriously, the bigger the better.....I think my bowl is almost 10 qts).

4. Repeat with remaining beef and veggies.

5. Stir in enough salsa so the mixture is moistened (I bought my salsa in half gallon jugs).

6. I made the filling the day before and just popped the bowl in the fridge.

7. To make burritos, gather your shells, and use about 2 spoonfuls of filling per shell (I was using a regular flatware spoon and scooping). Roll up and place in a pan. (if you're using larger shells, you can fold them properly, but with six-inch shells and making 140 of them all told, I wasn't going to fuss with that).

8. They can be frozen like this, or refrigerated and stacked. To bake, top salsa and cheese (I like to put both in a line down the middle, because it's easier to separate them when they aren't completely glued together with cheese). Bake at 350F for about half an hour.

Chicken and White Bean Burritos with Salsa Verde (for the more adventurous eater)
makes about 33 burritos
chicken, white bean and cheese filling

3 lbs of chicken breast, cooked and chopped into small cubes
2 cans white beans, drained and rinsed
1.5 blocks of light cream cheese, softened
Salsa verde:
24 oz (about 3 cups) of salsa verde (Herdez brand)
3/4 c. coriander
6 cloves garlic
3 cups onions

1. Place the salsa verde, coriander, garlic and onions in the blender and blend away.
2. Mix the chicken, beans, cream cheese and 1.5 cups of the green stuff together.
3. Roll as per beef burritos.
4. To bake, top with the rest of the green stuff, and a bit of cheese. Bake at 350F for 30 minutes.
These ones are a HUGE hit. I've made them before and I'll make them again.

Black Bean and Veggie Burritos - for vegetarians and people who just like food....these are really good!
makes 40-45 burritos
bean burrito filling

3 cups onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic
4 cups chopped mushrooms
2 chopped zucchinis
1 green pepper, chopped
1 red pepper, chopped
3 cans black beans
2 cups corn
1 can red enchilada sauce
1/2 cup chopped coriander
1 T steak spice
1 T cumin
1 t oregano
a few shakes of ancho chile powder
chipotle hot sauce
3-4 T olive oil

1. In a large pot (6 qt!), heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and garlic. Cook until softening. Add the mushrooms, zucchini, and peppers. Cook until the mushrooms are releasing their liquid.

2. Add the beans, corn, enchilada sauce and spices. Continue to cook until almost all of the liquid has evaporated (if your filling is liquidy, you will have soggy, watery burritos....gross).

3. Wait for your filling to cool and stuff burritos.

4. To bake, top with more red enchilada sauce, and then cheese. Bake at 350F for 30 minutes.

Mexican Rice Overdrive
This stuff is okay. Not the best thing in the world, but tasty, and will fill people up. If you were making biiiiiiig burritos, it would be a tasty addition. But feel free to scale it down, eh?

2 kg parboiled rice, uncooked
1 can diced tomatoes
1 T onion salt
2 T chili powder
1 t celery seed
1 T cumin
1 small jar of processed cheese food (aka cheeze whiz....I know...GROSSS....but trust me when I say it gives the rice a really pleasant texture.....I do now how gross it is)
1 T olive oil
1/2 package onion soup mix

1. Cook rice (I did it in two session in my rice cooker).
2. Meanwhile, in a medium sauce pan (3 qt), combine remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil until cheez melts.
3. Mix together with cooked rice (in a GIANT bowl).

Makes about 9 quarts.

Refried Bean Bonanza
3-4 T olive oil
6 onions, chopped
8 cloves garlic
6 cans black beans, drained and rinsed
1 can diced tomatoes
1/2 cup chopped coriander
5-6 chipotle chilies in adobo sauce
1 T cumin

1. Cook onions and garlic thoroughly in a 6 qt pot.
2. Add remaining ingredients. Heat thoroughly and partially mash with a potato masher. You can make them really smooth, but I prefer mine at a 'bean dip' consistency. Taste the mixture and season accordingly.

These beans are very tasty and slightly spicy.

So now I will be eating burritos for the next month.


Sorry for the big long break between posts. Thanksgiving chez DNM is up next though.....

Thanks for reading and sticking with me!


David T. Macknet said...

Awesome! Did you bake them, or was the cheese on top just garnish?

Wendy said...

I take my metaphorical hat off to you!

Anonymous said...

Wow! Now that is a dinner party...I wish they had things like this in my university town :D

Anonymous said...

You have a nice looking home. Would you come decorate for me?

Anonymous said...

Holy crap! Well done cooking for so many starving students!

Jenny said...

Wow! While I can't imagine wanting to do this any time soon, I am so impressed by what you have accomplished here!

Deborah said...

Wow - you are so adventurous! And I love the colors of your walls. I have been wanting to re-paint (I guess I get bored easily - it's only been 1 1/2 years!)

Janet said...

Wow - I have a couple of questions... how on earth did you get roped into that... and how much did they pay you??

leslie @ definitely not martha said...

davimack - I did bake them, but once the guests started arriving, there was no time to take any more photos!

wendy - thank you! it wasn't as tough as I thought!

anonymous - I think I might propose the idea of a (much smaller scale) progressive supper/supper club to some of my foodie-inclined buddies. It could be fun, and would spread around all the work!

meghan - thanks! The first thing I did when I moved in was pick the orange paints. wheeeee!

simone - Thank you - it was a fun new challenge!

quellia - Thanks!!!! I was just happy it went smoothly and I didn't run out of food. That said, I just had meal six of burritos....

deborah - thanks! It has a really warm feeling to it - just last night I was reading in the white lazyboy chair and thinking how cozy and pleasant it was.

janet - I got roped in as a favour to a family member...and as for pay...hahahahahahHAHAHAHA. I think of it as a $200 donation.....
It was fun though!

Thanks for all the comments!

kickpleat said...

wow, that is quite an accomplishment! and those chicken burritos look incredible! yum.

Peter M said...

The Mexican spread looks tasty and I'd surely be planted on that Laz-Y-Boy chair, munching away & watching Food Network!

Madame K said...

Nice party plan and tasty-looking too. (also, I love the paint color of your dining area).
I personally dislike progressive dinners. I like to plant my rear end down and get comfortable around the dinner table!

Emily said...

You are amazing. I have been to many progressive suppers, never as the cook, always the chaperone and I can't tell you how you made those students day by having yummy homemade food.

Marlene said...

You are brave & awesome!

Dharm said...

Crowdsourcing eh! I must say that takes an incredible person to do it! You are awesome!!

Lisa said...

Three cheers for Leslie! One for blogging again! Two for taking on this i.n.c.r.e.d.i.b.l.e. task and three for cleaning up after!

Glad you're back!

Kitty said...

Wow...I have never heard of such a thing! Good work!

How have I missed your blog for so long? Our blogrolls seem to run in the same circles...

Lor said...

Awesome! But I've never seen that ground beef in a tube, um, thankfully.

Seza said...


I used your recipe last week for a potluck with friends. It was a hit. I modified a couple of things to make the recipe smaller, but the basics were still there. Thanks for the great idea. I just posted about it today.

Kristen said...

I tried a recipe on your blog tonight for dinner and loved it! Black bean and veggie burritos but I added ground beef! I am definatly trying more recipes in the future! I was also wondering what the name of the font is in the header on your blog it is so cute! Love your blog! Keep the recipes coming!

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