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Campout Cooking, In Quantity


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The task:

to cook dinner for 65 omnivores and 35 vegans. The budget: $5.50 per person. Food must be purchased tomorrow. Food to spend approximately 24 hours in coolers, then to be transferred to an on-site freezer.

I will have a great deal of unskilled, volunteer help.

The difficult part?

I have 8 burners. No oven, no grill. All cooking to take place on site, no pre-prep is possible. Outdoor kitchen. Buffet style, not plated (as least I've got *that* going for me.)

Ideas?

(NOTE: I *had* splendid ideas. Then the count tripled, the vegan menu became my responsibility, transport date was moved up to tomorrow, the shopping became my responsibility *and* my silly idea that I'd have ovens and/or grills at my disposal was proven disastrously wrong.)

Edited by Anita Bergmann (log)
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My first response was that You. Are. Seriously. F*#!*ed.......and then I thought about it.

How many days? Can you treat this as if you were trying to cook after a massive storm, with limited cooking resources? Even though half the group is omnivore, with limited space resources for cooking, either you're making the vegans eat meat (unlikely) or the omnivores are going to eat veggie......Make life as easy on you as possible - within that narrow, limited range you have left for yourself! :huh:

For example: Hummus/ taboule with pita bread and chopped tomatoes and shredded lettuce. Carrot soup.

Vegetarian chile? With TVP?

Soy dogs and mashed potatoes?

I'd say forget anything that demands individual portions, unless they're already pre-made (like the soy dogs).

Breakfasts are easy: Oatmeal with nuts and raisins and brown sugar............

Lunches: salads based upon cukes, tomaoes, or shredded carrots.......breads with spreads?

Dinner: Vegetable stews.

Good luck!

I'm a canning clean freak because there's no sorry large enough to cover the, "Oops! I gave you botulism" regrets.

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Okay. (ftr I'm committed to only one dinner)

I just had a meeting with the organizer and I have discovered the following:

1) The vegan chef has stepped up to the plate. Those 35 meals are no longer my problem.

2) It may be possible to arrange a grill immediately on site. If not, there is an enormous wood-burning grill within reasonable transportation distance.

So, my thought is this:

Send up a number of pre-marinated butterflied legs of lamb in the coolers (I'm looking at you, Trader Joe's), get them into the freezer on site.

Thaw the day before, schlep to the wood-burning grill day of, cook, schlep back. Lamb comes to mind because it'll still taste good if it's not screaming hot.

Bury potatoes in the embers of the grill (how long does that take? I've never done it in quantity).

Use the eight verkakte burners to have a minion sautee up whatever aromatics I've got with whatever frozen vegetables I've sent up.

Call it good.

What do you think?

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I think you still have a massive task ahead of you to feed 65 omnivores, even for one dinner, and still keep the per-plate cost down to $5.50 (let alone your brain and stomach lining intact). Rather than do all that shlepping back and forth with the lamb, you might still find it more sane to just make a couple of huge vats of chili/stew/jambalaya/etc. plus a vat of salad/coleslaw/etc., and then dude it up with relatively low-impact frills and sides and acoutrements. I know--not as glamorous as the lamb, but you can still get some gourmet mileage out of the chile/stew/whatever--plus dishes like that can really take advantage of your unskilled volunteer help to do all the mise en place.

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I hear you, and correct me if I'm wrong, but my catering experience tells me that giving unskilled labor one really straightforward task

-you're following me to the grill with a golf cart and helping me get the lamb back in one piece

-you're wrapping 65 potatoes in foil

-you're chopping some onions

-you're chopping some red pepper

-you're sauteeing the lot of it

is the less stressful option in the long run. That said, the market will tell me whether it's going to be lamb or pork tenderloin or chicken breasts. The numbers are working out on the other meal I'm doing, but that's only for 15.

The other thing is that space for transporting the ingredients is limited, and, even though I have access to a freezer, the product is travelling Friday, arriving Saturday and the meal is Wednesday. So the fewer ingredients the better and fresh vegetables for salads and such is not really an option. Which is part of why I'm so relieved that someone else is handling the vegans.

I think you still have a massive task ahead of you to feed 65 omnivores, even for one dinner, and still keep the per-plate cost down to $5.50 (let alone your brain and stomach lining intact). Rather than do all that shlepping back and forth with the lamb, you might still find it more sane to just make a couple of huge vats of chili/stew/jambalaya/etc. plus a vat of salad/coleslaw/etc., and then dude it up with relatively low-impact frills and sides and acoutrements. I know--not as glamorous as the lamb, but you can still get some gourmet mileage out of the chile/stew/whatever--plus dishes like that can really take advantage of your unskilled volunteer help to do all the mise en place.

Edited by Anita Bergmann (log)
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I hear you, and correct me if I'm wrong, but my catering experience tells me that giving unskilled labor one really straightforward task

-you're following me to the grill with a golf cart and helping me get the lamb back in one piece

-you're wrapping 65 potatoes in foil

-you're chopping some onions

-you're chopping some red pepper

-you're sauteeing the lot of it

is the less stressful option in the long run. 

There's a lot to be said for that strategy, yes.

I guess my other concern here is about those potatoes. I've never tried to do anywhere near that quantitiy in coals--more like maybe only a couple for a family picnic. But I did once have a memorable almost-disaster with doing a baked potato bar, indoors, for about a 60-something person crowd. Warming up that huge a mass of taters to cooking temp took a loooooooooong time, much longer than I had expected even with the commercial-grade ovens I had available for the task. It was only because I'd gotten to the site early anyway, recognized the problem in time, and cranked the ovens to the max that I just *barely* got the potatoes baked off in time to start the dinner only five or so minutes late. YIKES.

So I'd suggest caution: make sure you have a huge enough supply of hot coals to handle the mass of potatoes you'll be baking, get them rolling early, and work out some way that, say, one of your volunteers could be prepared to tend them for the good few hours that they might need to get properly baked. (Or seek out somebody with more direct experience than I of mass campfire-potato baking, for real-life timing tips.)

Best of luck!

Edited by mizducky (log)
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I don't know if this will help and you probably don't have enough time, but several times per year I plan several camping meals for 14 or so people. I try to cook or pre-cook as much as possible and freeze it for transport. We don't have any refrigeration and have to rely exclusively on coolers. This is primitive tent camping - the kitchen is in the open air, tables are under a dining fly. Running water is 5ooyds away.

The only stoves we have are 2 2-burner coleman propane or gas versions, a campfire and a large turkey boiling pot with industrial size propane burner. Everything we take has to be carried in a 1/2 mile or so and then carried back out. We have to carry the dirty pots, dishes and hot water 500 yds to a sink to wash them. The temps are usually 80's during the day and 70's at night. In the years we've been doing this no one has gotten sick from the food - only from drinking too much. We try to freeze as much as possible to keep it cold enough. We are also careful about layering foods in the coolers and some coolers are packed and not opened until the day that food is going to be used. Labeling the coolers is the best way to make this work. We also have to make sure the raccoons can't get our coolers open. I have even seen two raccoons working together and turning a cooler over and shaking it to get to its contents. We now use hasp locks with padlocks on all the coolers and food boxes. Luckily, we don't have to worry about bears. We use one support boat to bring camp chairs, the kitchen, coolers, food boxes, and mountain bikes with child trailers. The rest of the stuff is transported in kayaks or by foot on the ferry.

Ususally day 1 is pasta, day 2 is low country boil, day 3 is fried turkey, and day 4 is stir fry using the leftover turkey, shrimp, potatoes with rice as a side dish.

Lunches are self serve sandwiches, breakfast is eggs, bacon, pancakes, and cereal.

I try to plan day one as a pasta meal, since we have to set up camp that day and don't have much time or energy left. I cook the pasta and bag it and then freeze it to reheat it later. I make the sauce and bag it and freeze it. I make meatballs, sausage and/or chicken chunks and bag them and freeze them. I also make garlic bread, wrap individual servings in double foil wrap, bag it and freeze it. At camp, I heat the sauce on the stoves then add the meats, once it is all hot, I put on the lid and keep it warm. I then heat the pasta water and reheat the pasta. It gets drained and then it gets served and the sauce ladled over it. While all this is going on, I hand someone a long pair of tongs and the garlic bread and let them put it in the campfire coals and turn it until it is hot and it gets transferred to the picnic table.

The Turkey is transported frozen and thaws in the cooler until frying. Potatoes, white and sweet, are double foil wrapped, partially cooked ahead of time and frozen. The potatoes are reheated on the fire like the garlic bread was. If they aren't tended and turned often they burn. Any other veggies that are served are fresh.

Low country boil (shrimp, potatoes, corn, onions, kielbasa) is day two and none of it ingredients are frozen, except maybe the kielbasa. The pot is drained and the contents are spilled onto the picnic tables which are covered with disposable table cloths. We have also done this for a group of 40 on 4 picnic tables. We had two large 10 gallon pots of food. No one left hungry.

Stirfry - we have 2 large woks. None of the veggies for this are fozen but they are kept in a moderately cold cooler.

All the wine is served at whatever ambient temps we are enjoying at the time. One of our participants makes much of the wine we drink and he brings that with him in large gallon bags.

I hope this gives you some ideas. The turkey and the boil are the two most popular meals. Sometimes, we have fresh cauught fish or crabs to add to the table.

Edited by Kayakado (log)
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I help do this sort of thing for large camping events once or twice a year.

I assume based on budget that you're not going for uber elegant, but nourishing.

MizDucky is right that the easiest thing thing you could do (and probably the best for food safety) would be to make some kind of stew/glop (we like pomegranate chicken a lot) and put it in boil-n-bags and freeze it. (then just defrost that morning/afternoon & plop them in boiling water onsite to reheat) And even if you can't do that I'd still go with some kind of one-pot stew type option to work with the limitations of your burners.

I'd also skip those potatoes (too uncontrolled) and do a couple big pots of couscous (very forgiving) for your starch.

Carrots should hold up fairly well in a cooler for a day or two (so will bags o broccoli or cauliflower) if you want to do some kind of sauteed veg on the side.

Untrained volunteers are great at chopping up carrots :biggrin:

Get a bunch o watermelons to hack up, and just buy prepackaged cookies/brownies whatever you like that's shelf stable & affordable to serve them for dessert.

oh and if people will have been out in the sun/running around before the dinner then pickles will go over well.

Do you suffer from Acute Culinary Syndrome? Maybe it's time to get help...

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