Success and Gratitude

Cabbage Pineapple & Cilantro Slaw in Lime Vinaigrette, Pureed Carrot Ginger Spread, Roast Plantains. (Photo by Sharon Ramirez)

The big Auction Dinner on Sat went well and I am so thankful to the 20 volunteer cooks and servers who helped me pull it off!  They chopped, stirred, sauteed, baked and blended with aplomb, good humor and minimal direction. Susan made the collard dish from start to finish, and she’d never even tried collards before! And now she knows a terrific recipe.

(top to bottom) Rice Pilaf with Lentils & Caramelized Onions, Jerk Chicken Stew with Sweet Potatoes, Sauteed Collards with Red Bell Peppers & Raisins. Photo by Sharon Ramirez.

I am quite proud of the fact the menu was again gluten- and dairy-free (vegan). (See previous post for full menu.)

It means a lot to me when guests with food issues can enjoy a meal with their family or community. Plus, I like the challenge of designing these menus.

On the nutritional side, this meal got an A. Lots of Vitamin A, too. Super Food count was 3 : collards, cabbage, sweet potatoes. Nearly all the starches were complex carbs — plantains, sweet potatoes, brown rice & lentils.  The only processed sugar was the brown sugar in the pineapple upside-down cake. Fats were minimal, esp if you didn’t take a lot of chicken sauce.

Roast Plantains w/ spicy Sriracha sauce (photo by Sharon Ramirez).

Turning to ethnic cuisines is the key to designing tasty gluten-free and dairy-free meals. Although actually (as noted here last year), a traditional British/American Sunday roast dinner of meat & potatoes is gluten-free, too. Thanksgiving or Christmas type meals can be too if you revise the bread-based stuffing and make a crust-less pie. So get over it, people.

While dinner guests definitely liked the whole meal, the Jerk Chicken & Sweet Potato entree received the most comments and requests for the recipe. It is super easy. I just used Frontier’s Jamaican Jerk seasoning blend from the co-op. I have made jerk sauce from scratch but for a 150-person dinner, I needed to save time.

Jerk Chicken w/ Sweet Potatoes feeds a crowd on a chilly night. (photo by Sharon Ramirez)

Here are general instructions:

~ Mince lots of fresh green onions and garlic in a food processor. [if you have extra, make a vinaigrette or dip with it, or save for another marinade, pasta sauce etc.]
~ Cut chicken thighs into chunks (or leave them whole if you are having a sit-down dinner). Put in a large baking pan.
~ Liberally sprinkle Jamaican Jerk seasoning blend, dried thyme and salt onto chicken. Add the onion-garlic mixture and some olive oil, and toss well with your clean hands to evenly coat chicken. Set chicken aside to marinate for 30 min if you have time.
~ Cover with foil and bake chicken for 30 min at 425 F. (Chunks cook faster than whole thighs.)
~ While it’s baking, dice sweet potatoes and boil til soft. Scoop out of pot and set aside. Use the hot water for blanching a green vegetable such as collard greens.
~ Pull chicken out. It will be moist b/c of the foil covering. Pour the juice into a large pot, bring to a boil, and add some more seasoning blend & salt to taste. Simmer to reduce and concentrate flavors. (At this point you could add any fresh or frozen green vegetable.)
~ Add back the chicken and the sweet potatoes. Taste again, add salt if you like (since you diluted it with potatoes).

Serve over rice or other whole grain like spelt, kamut, wheatberry, kasha, millet or quinoa. Or, you could make it into a pot pie! (yum).  I like to serve spicy food with a tart citrusy salad — in Sat’s case, a pineapple & cilantro cabbage slaw in lime vinaigrette — to cool one’s tongue.

Red Bell Peppers & raisins sweeten sauteed fresh collards, and make a beautiful dish. (Photo by Sharon Ramirez)

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