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The thing about buttered noodles…

1 Feb

noodlesHere’s the thing. What is so bad about trying something new? I know that the new is scary. When you walk into a dark room you never know what awaits you. It’s the momentary terror your minds spins into reality. You’ve seen way too many episodes of CSI and NCIS to believe that nothing is lurking in the shadows. But wait… what if instead of a horrifying beast or the suspicious murderous foe, waited a surprise party? All your friends joyously welcoming you to a festivity of laughter and merriment. This my friends, is why the new cannot be missed.

Everyday at work I make the obligatory pan of buttered noodles. Not really a big deal but it did get me thinking. Everyday I have kids that choose buttered noodles over anything else. Some of them I truly believe only like buttered noodles, but others take them simply because they don’t know if they will like the other offerings. It makes me wonder what is so wrong with trying something new. I know that when I was a kid we ate what was put in front of us and we were happy. (Well, unless it was my brother and beef barley soup, that combination was more drama then Jersey Shore) Anyway, the point is this: why don’t kids like to try new foods. They try new games, and TV shows. They make new friends and read new books, but when it comes to lunch it seems to be the old standby, buttered noodles.

Do you ever remember looking a food that you had never seen before and then looking at your mom or your dad and asking if you liked it. Usually they would lean down and say yes. In my family when this happened and we did not actually like what we had just tasted, we would say that our taste-buds had changed. And, rightly so as your taste-buds do change over time. What I can’t seem to wrap my head around though, is the complete lack of curiosity. How do you know you don’t like something if you’ve never tried it before. My philosophy is try something twice. Just like when tasting wine, the first taste clears your palette. The second taste is when you really get to know the food. It’s the second date if you will. If the first bite left you unsure, the second will most definitely help you decide.

I can’t knock buttered noodles completely. There was a time during my college career that buttered noodles made up at least 70% of my diet. And, now and then, I love a little butter and parmesan on my pasta. But, if I was presented with the choice of buttered noodles or something much more glamorous, the noodles would fall to second place in a heartbeat. I know what you’re thinking as you read this. If it bothers me this much, why not stop making them. The real answer is that there are kids that will not eat anything else. Literally these kids would rather starve without lunch then eat what else is for lunch. So, I must continue with the buttered noodles. Just in case you’ve never had them and are wondering what’s the big deal…

Buttered Noodles alla Katie

1 pound pasta, cooked
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic

in the microwave melt the butter with the salt and garlic. Pour the butter over the cooked noodles and stir to combine serve hot, garnish with grated parmesan cheese if desired. (the last step classes it up a bit)

Always thinking of the next meal

-Katie

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Long over-due update

8 Jan

I know this update is long over due. It’s been over 2 months since I’ve delighted you all with the trails and tribulations of cooking for the kiddies. Mostly the excuses are poor, but know that I’m back on track and the stories will be new and tasty.

The past few months have been a roller coaster. I’ve seen days that were nothing more than sheer delight. Most recently, the menu was burger sliders, tater tots, veggie dippers and popsicles. You would have thought I was serving gold. I know it’s not much of a stretch to think that kids would like burgers, but these are surprising kids. They are used to frozen bubba burgers. Not only are frozen burgers shoemaker style, but they are expensive and tasteless. Let’s face it, if you are going to eat a burger, it might as well be an indulgence. There is absolutely no room in this world for burgers made from 97/3 ground beef.

I really had no idea how I was going to make the sliders. As with most of my menu planning, I start by coming up with items I know the kids will buy and then figure out the execution from there. Yes, this method has shot me in the food a few times, but it seems like the more logical approach of defining recipes and execution and then putting in on the menu, yields much lower lunch count. When the day came I had 320 orders. That means I needed to have (at minimum) 640 sliders prepped for lunch. I usually get some last minute additions and so I like to have some extras. The goal was to make 660 sliders. I wound up with 700. How did I manage? Well, instead of making 700 individual patties, I pressed my raw meat into a foil lined sheet pan and baked the whole thing at 350 for 15 minutes. Because the meat was so thin, it cook remarkably fast. I pulled the sheet pans from the oven and let the cool. Once I could handle the meat, I used a pizza wheel to cut the sheet of seasoned meat into small squares. I was able to get 70 slider squares out of each sheet pan. It was awesome. The kids loved them, there were plenty to go around, and each one went out hot and steamy. It was a red letter day!

But not every day can be a gold star kind of day. In fact most days are about a 6 or 7 out of 10. Even with the best intentions, sometimes you just can’t quite get to the goal. On Thursday of last week, I make pancakes, bacon and fruit salad. Sounds like a decent, balanced meal to me. I decided to make whole wheat pancakes to up the healthy factor and they tasted great. I was cracking these babies out. Every kid was to get 3 pancakes, 2 slices of bacon and a 1/2 cup of fruit salad. They could help themselves to the butter and syrup.

This was destined to be one of those days that wasn’t going to be good. I started making the pancakes at 8am and was still flipping well past 1pm. I had made 930+ pancakes and ran out half way through the 3rd lunch. It wasn’t that I didn’t have enough batter, or that my math was off, it was just that I couldn’t cook the pancakes fast enough. I have a 20″ x 20″ griddle that could fit 12-15 pancakes on it at one time. I added 2 sauté pans that each held 3 pancakes each. This helped, but not much. In the end I had to boil up ravioli for the last lunch. The kids were fine with it, but it was embarrassing. I know now that I have to cook some of them ahead of time and be prepared with back-up. Granted we had high numbers and the cost was really low, but my stress levels were really high.

This roller coaster job is crazy. It’s crazy fun, and crazy overwhelming. It’s extremely rewarding and extremely defeating. There are days I want to throw my apron up in the air in disgust, and days I want to hug every last kid that walks through the line. It is pretty amazing to me that I get to have this opportunity and I can’t wait to see what Monday brings.

Always thinking of the next meal

-Katie

Week 2… Let the criticism begin

24 Oct

So this week was all about the trials and tribulations of learning on the job. As previously mentioned, this job came with no manual or instructions. As long as the kids received a hot meal things would be good. My menu was creative and filling. I had some classic dishes as well as some new things. The kids seemed excited. Quite frankly, I was too. It was my first week on my own and I was full of adrenaline. I knew that it wasn’t going to be easy, but my parents were helping me shop, so at least that part was going faster. I had know idea what was to come…

Monday- Mac ‘n’ Cheese. I figured this was a no brainer. All kids like mac and cheese. I inherited 3 cases of goldfish crackers and needed to use it up. (No amount of tomato soup could use up these goldfish) I saw on TV that there is a restaurant out there that makes a crust for their mac and cheese using goldfish crackers. I thought, Brilliant! I’ll borrow the idea, and the kids will love it. As soon as I started serving, the kids revolted. “Why are there goldfish in the mac and cheese?” “Can I have mine plain?” “Why would you do that?” The list goes on. I knew going into this job that my creativity would be limited, but I never thought something as small as goldfish crackers on baked mac and cheese would have such a negative result. I served peas and oranges a long side as well as shortbread cookies. Even with all this, it was apparently not enough to please.

Tuesday- French Bread pizza. Who didn’t like French Bread Pizza Day when they were in school. I remember thinking it was one of the best days. We didn’t have homemade FBP though, we had frozen, re-heated Ellio’s. It was good, but nothing beats homemade… or so I thought. I was really excited for this day. I made the turkey sausage from scratch and was working the sauce. I took a little shortcut and used canned tomatoes to save time. I flavored the sauce with onion, garlic, spinach and mushrooms. I pureed everything together so the kiddies didn’t see the vegetables. I thought it was great. Everything tasted wonderful and looked perfect. I served fruit on the side. I really thought this was going to be a homerun. Each pizza was about 7 inches in length and piled with toppings and cheese. The comments were shocking. Not enough food. The kids are still hungry. Well, that is the worst. I never want anyone to be hungry. But, seriously these pizzas were huge. And they were heavy. They probably weighed a 1/2 pound each. But… the kids were still hungry.

Wednesday- Meatloaf. It’s strange… I grew up with meatloaf. My mom made it a lot. Apparently it’s no longer the dinner time staple it was. The kids actually liked this one. My problem… I had no idea how much to make and I was really close to running out. The kids were used to having corn and mashed potatoes on the side. Personally, I’m not sure how you can count either of these as a vegetable, but the woman before me did. I added peas to the mix and oranges for dessert. Again the biggest comment, not enough food. At this point I was going crazy. Yes, I’ll admit the meatloaf portions were a little small, but I was really tight on servings and I had to make it work. I figured with all the starches on the side that it would be OK. After all, this was only my second week and I’m still adjusting to my portioning. Little did I know that the portion sizes of the sides were getting so big that I was running low on those as well. My volunteers seem to think that more is better, but in reality, it’s not. First of all, kids don’t need to each a cup of corn, a cup and a half of mashed potatoes and 4 oz of protein. Plus, they had the option of peas and oranges. The trays are getting so heavy that the kids are dropping them. I just don’t understand. Size wise, this should be plenty but parents are saying no.

Thursday- Tacozagna. This was a gamble. I was trying a recipe that I had never made before. It’s a Rachel Ray recipe that I adapted to fit my needs. I over made. I wanted to make sure there was more than enough for everyone. I served chips on the side and fruit, and the PTO was providing ice cream. As I was portioning out the trays, some moms were watching what I was doing. I laughed a little and said, “Wow, these are huge portions.” Each serving was at least 8oz. The dish was made with ground turkey, beans, cheese and flour tortillas. It was a hearty meal to say the least. Then they were given the option to top it with lettuce, tomato or salsa. The moms’ reaction? “Actually, it’s just enough.” Are you kidding me? Maybe it’s just enough for an 8th grade boy… but that it a lot of food for a kindergartner. The kids really liked it. A few of them can up to me and said thank you and said it tasted really good.

I’m finding it really hard to keep my food costs down and give the kids enough to eat and give them enough variety that if they don’t want fruits or vegetables, that they aren’t going hungry. The frustrating thing is that I have no control over what they choose to eat besides putting it on their plate. If they get to the table and don’t eat something or don’t like it, I can’t help it. I can’t force feed these kids. I seem to have a mixed support. People believe in my fresh foods philosophy, but are stalling process by telling me to offer chips and cookies at every meal. Portion size is a huge issue in this country. Everything is super-sized. This week’s menu is challenging. Not only, because it’s just me doing it, but because some of my choices don’t have a lot of side with them. I’m going to have to pull out some miracles and hope that what I offer is enough and that the kids like it.

Always thinking of the next meal

-Katie

Week One…Do and Do Not try this again!

17 Oct

“Woke up in the morning. Put on my new plastic glove. Served some re-heated salsbury steak
With a little slice of love. Got no clue what the chicken pot pie Is made of.
Just know everything’s doing fine Down here in Lunch Lady Land.”

So week one. I have to say that I had no idea how hard this job was going to be. This past week I was helped by the guy who was filling in for me over the past 5 weeks before I was able to move down. The weekly menu was: Tomato Soup with Grilled Cheese, Chick-fil-a, Chicken Teriyaki with fried rice, and Baked Ziti. I was feeling pretty confident in my menu choice. I knew that I had made all of these dishes before and that they were all successful. There was no need for doubt, I had blind ambition and engine full of steam.

Monday- Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup. I thought this would be a piece of cake. Toast the sandwiches in the oven and make soup. I even took the sandwiches to a fun new place by using 1 slice of whole wheat bread and 1 slice of white bread. The soup was made from canned tomatoes, condensed tomato soup (only because I inherited some and needed to use it up), Italian herbs and spices, salt, pepper, onion, garlic and water. Since the soup was cooking for 4 hours I figured the water would simply stretch the canned tomatoes and not lessen the flavor too much. After I received my lunch count for the day I panicked. I wasn’t going to have enough soup for all the orders. My counterpart suggested I add more water to the soup to stretch it and then correct the seasonings as necessary. What choice did I have, I didn’t have anymore tomato product and there was no time to run out for more. I added water and corrected the seasoning. The flavor was actually very good. It was the texture that was off. The extra water made the soup too thin. It was more of a tomato broth than a tomato soup. At the time, I didn’t have a food processor, blender, or immersion blender so there was no incorporating air for added volume. I had no cornstarch, butter or flour to thicken it with. So it was served as is, along side of perfectly toasted cheese sandwiches. The kids said the soup was perfect for dipping and the grilled cheese was the best they ever had. Day One… 7 out of 10

Tuesday- Chick-fil-a Day. This day happens on the second Tuesday of every month. I provide chips, fruit and a dessert, and the fast food joint provides the chicken. It makes for an easy prep day for me. Although no one told me that I needed to provide the extras until the day before, it all turned out fine. Day 2… 9 out of 10

Wednesday- Chicken Teriyaki with Veggie Fried Rice. Ok so I was really excited about this day. It was a brand new menu item that the kids had never had before. The thought process was to bake the chicken in the oven and then serve with the fried rice. As a side I had orange slices and for dessert, fortune cookies. I was like a little kid at Christmas. Who wouldn’t be excited about this for lunch. Little did I know the horror that awaited me. I had marinated the chicken over night and it smelled awesome. I started cooking the rice and prepping the fruit. The chicken went in the oven and we were rocking and rolling. 35 minutes into the cooking process, the chicken still wasn’t cooked. I started to panic… This was only the first batch of 3 and the clock was ticking. I had finished the rice and it tasted delicious. I was stuck on the chicken. Everything else was on it’s way, but the chicken was no where near done! There is a flat top in the kitchen that had never been used by the school before. It’s always been used be the Knight’s of Columbus for their pancake breakfasts, so I figured it was my only option. I started throwing the chicken on the flattop and bada bing it was beautiful. The searing made the whole kitchen smell like ginger and sweet soy sauce. I was feeling better. What I didn’t realize was that the kids have the choice of what they want to eat at lunch. So, each kid gets the main dish from me but then can choose from the offered sides that are offered by the volunteers. The lesson here is that these kids don’t like rice. Not many of them took it, and some of them didn’t have oranges either. This left them with a lunch of chicken and cookies. I was heartbroken. I thought for sure this would be a huge hit, but alas, not so much. Day 3… 3 out of 10

Day 4- Baked Ziti. I knew the baked ziti would be a hit. My counterpart had made it the week before and the kids went gaga for it. My version was a little different and I was not offering garlic bread. I did offer instead the school’s first salad bar. I’ve applied for a grant through Whole Foods that would provide the school with a salad bar. I wanted to test out the theory of the bar before we had one and then the kids weren’t interested. Well, they LOVED it. Despite seeing 1 kid eat ranch dressing and bacon bits as his salad or the kid who only had plain pasta and and croutons on his plate, everyone seems to be eating veggies. This is a huge step in the right direction. Day 4… 9 out of 10

I’m not what to expect out of this next week. There are lots of new recipes and I’m not sure how the kids will react. I have vendor meetings and inventories to do. When I first got married I thought it was had cooking or 2 people. Little did I know 5 years later I’d be cooking for 300.

Always thinking of the next meal

-Katie