>Jews, Schmooz, Barbecues

27 Aug

Ahh, the start of a fresh school year…

The sun is shining, people are happy…there are new beginnings aplenty!

Fraternities and sororities are bustling and bursting out in rush-songs and secret handshakes. Incoming college freshmen are scurrying around campus trying to find the correct building. The co-ops are still semi-clean. Actually, nevermind. I take that back.

Clubs and organizations parade you with fliers and free food, trying to get you to sign up for this and that.

Berkeley Hillel, a Jewish center for student life, is all about giving free food to hungry college students and encouraging social interaction…

Every Wednesday, a handful of students join together to prepare a massive barbecue at Berkeley Hillel. We make a rockin’ guacamole and salsa, a leafy green salad, a colorful pasta dish, barbecued chicken and hot dogs with accompanying bread buns (we always do a vegetarian option, too!), French fries, and a dessert!

Cooking for a crowd is a whole lot different than cooking for four. We usually barbecue enough for about 300-500 people!

I used to be a sucker for following a recipe step-by-step and taking my time to slowly and thoughtfully put a meal together. Now I have learned how to use a recipe only as a guide and how to cook mostly by feel, leaving lots of room to experiment and get creative in the kitchen!

While I sometimes miss cooking for four, when cooking for a crowd there are many more compliments, which always make me feel good after a long afternoon of chopping, roasting, baking, and sautéing!

When cooking for a large crowd, it is a luxury to be able to get a case of avocados. Avocados are a miracle fruit. They can fit into many different cuisines—Japanese sushi, Mexican guacamole, American sandwich filling…Recently, avocados are used as a thickener and base to hold everything together in baked goods, and also makes for a creamy ice cream flavor! Although I have yet to try this, avocados are also great for make-at-home face masks and beauty regimes. They are great for the skin and have a lot of “healthy” fats and vitamins.

I make guacamole by feel. Sometimes I like to have the chunks of avocado bits and other times I like to mash the avocados for a smoother feel.

Rockin’ Guacamole
Serves 2-4

2 avocados
¼ red onion, finely minced
lemon or lime juice (about 1-2 Tablespoons)
salt and pepper

optional add-ins:
1-2 tomatoes, diced
jalapeño, finely minced
fresh corn
diced mango

1. Slice the avocados in half. Scoop out the pit or lightly bang with a sharp knife and twist it out. See here for a more thorough explanation for how to cut and peel an avocado. **Reserve the pits (see step 7)
2. Score the avocados into a criss cross pattern and scoop out the cubes with a spoon. Alternatively, you do not have to score the flesh and can just scoop it out with a spoon and mash with a fork or potato masher.
3. Finely mince the onion and combine with the avocado.
4. Add in the lemon/lime juice, and salt and pepper to taste.
5. Add in diced tomato, jalapeño, and cilantro to garnish.
6. For a fun twist, add in fresh corn or diced mango!!
7. If you are not eating the guac right away, place the pits in the guac to prevent browning (I do not know if this really works, but I do it anyway!! It looks pretty, too!).
8. Serve with chips, veggie crudités, corn tortillas, or use as a sandwich spread!

One tip I learned while working at Spago Restaurant is how to correctly boil pasta. When you boil the water, throw in enough salt for it to taste like an ocean! Really, a LOT of salt. When you add the pasta to the water, the salt gets incorporated into the dough and then you do not have to add so much extra salt to your sauce.

Do a taste test. Taste some plain pasta that has been cooked in heavily salted water and then try some that was cooked in only water. Wow. The flavor of the salt really pops out and makes such a big difference! Thank you Spago chefs!

Another tip is to reserve some of the pasta water before you drain the pasta to incorporate into a sauce.

Pasta salad with summer vegetables

You can adapt proportions according to how many people are eating!

Dry pasta (I like to an assortment of fun shapes!)

Fresh seasonal produce (I used cherry tomatoes which I left whole, fresh corn, zucchini and yellow crookneck summer squash, red bell peppers, garlic, and onions!)

A few splashes of Balsamic vinegar and good quality extra virgin olive oil

Fresh herbs such as basil or parsley

Optional: cheese (feta, Parmesan, mozzarella…_)

1. Cook the pasta in boiling SALTED water.
2. Drain (reserve some of the pasta water in case you want to add some back).
3. Chop the veggies into shapes of your choice—circular slices, thin strips, small chunks…
4. Sauté the onions first for a few minutes. Then add the rest of the veggies and stir until cooked. Add some salt.
5. Combine the sautéed veggies and pasta.
6. Add a splash of the balsamic vinegar and olive oil and stir. If the mixture seems dry, add some of the reserved pasta water (although most likely the vegetables will add enough moisture).
7. Stir in cheese. Garnish with fresh herbs.

After making the Silver Palate cookbook recipe for homemade barbecue sauce, it is hard to eat the store bought stuff. This is a really fresh tasting sauce that you can add or substitute ingredients according to your own taste buds.

I often make it and then toss it with some chicken to either pop in the oven or throw on the grill! It is always a hit, tastes better than the store bought sauce, and is super easy to prepare!

Homemade Barbecue Sauce!

Adapted from the Silver Palate cookbook
Makes about 3 cups

2 cups ketchup
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup water
Juice from 1 lemon
2 Tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 Tablespoons Tabasco sauce (I used a drop of Asian red chili sauce)
2 Tablespoons unsulfured molasses
2 Tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/4 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
2 Tablespoons chili powder
2 teaspoons finely minced garlic (I used a few cloves of roasted garlic…mmm!)
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

1. Combine all the ingredients in a saucepan.
2. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring, to heat through and to blend the flavors, 10-12 minutes. Do not boil.
3. Use immediately or store in the refrigerator, covered, for up to 2 weeks.


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