Monday, November 23, 2015

Mercy Chefs prepare Thanksgiving meal for Middletown, California

Mercy One, Mercy Chefs' first
mobile kitchen, is ready to
serve 500 Thanksgiving dinners
in Middletown.
Mercy Chefs returned to Middletown, California, to serve Thanksgiving dinner Saturday afternoon. A team of chefs from California, North and South Carolina, Oklahoma and Virginia converged on the town to prepare the holiday meal for over 500 townspeople. Middletown was devastated by the 76,000-acre Valley Fire in late September.

Dozens of volunteer chefs stand ready to deploy at a moment's notice to the scene of wildland fires, floods, tornado and hurricanes throughout the United States. They deploy with a mobile kitchen, ready to deliver quality meals to the victims of a natural or man-made disaster. The meals are offered free of charge to anyone who asks.

"In a disaster area to share that meal with somebody is an incredibly powerful tool just to encourage them," said Gary LeBlanc in a 2013 video. Chef LeBlanc is the president and founder of Mercy Chefs

Chef Lisa presented a wonderful
buffet centerpiece.
Mercy Chefs has a tradition of sharing a chef-prepared holiday meal with those who have lost so much in recent disasters. The chefs provide a hot meal, complete with turkey, ham, stuffing and all the fixin's, along with an encouraging word and prayer, to those as they rebuild their lives. This is Mercy Chefs' way of reminding the victims of such devastation that they are not forgotten.

Thanksgiving dinner for Middletown was served from a colorful buffet table under a large white tent. Unlike disaster feeding, where the meal is served out of the mobile kitchen in to-go containers, this meal gave the chefs to present the same meal as they would have done at a catered holiday event. Diners enjoyed linen tablecloths and a pleasant fall day in the mid-70s.

Chef Peter of South Carolina was the lead chef for the meal. He led a team of four chefs over two days of preparation and panning to prepare the Thanksgiving meal, which was served from the buffet over a period of three hours. The team included chef Lisa from Oklahoma, chef Buddy from North Carolina and chef Steven from California.

The menu is presented as it was planned by chef Peter. Some 480 pounds of whole turkeys and over 60 pounds of ham were used for the meal.


Mixed baby greens with roasted baby tomatoes, mandarin oranges
& slivered almonds tossed in a  citrus vinaigrette

Roast whole turkey with gravy
Ham with an orange honey glaze
Andouille sausage & apple cornbread stuffing
Sweet & spicy cranberry compote
Roasted acorn squash with raisins & brown sugar
Mashed potatoes with pureed cauliflower & skin-on bliss potatoes with Parmesan
Green beans with mushrooms in a soy sauce balsamic reduction
Whole wheat dinner rolls

Pumpkin tart with caramel
Apple cobbler with pecans

Apple juice
Bottled water

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

German red cabbage for a (large) crowd

I realize not many readers of 'Round the Chuckbox have need for six-plus gallon batch of German red cabbage. Faced with a 50-pound of cabbage last September on my mission to Middletown, California, with Mercy Chefs, the natural thing to do was to prepare a large batch of German red cabbage. The cabbage was served with barbecues beef strips, roasted red potatoes, tossed green salad with vinaigrette and peach cobbler.

Two volunteers cut the core out of 24 large heads of red cabbage. They then shredded it by hand after discarding the outer leaves.
I prepared this dish in the 15-gallon tilt skillet on the Mercy Chefs' 32-foot mobile kitchen trailer, known as Mercy One. The red cabbage can also be prepared in one or more large stockpots or in a steam jacketed kettle. See my recipe for a family-sized batch.

This is a vegetarian recipe. Add 4 or 5 pounds of diced cooked bacon to the cabbage if desired.

50 pounds (1 case) red cabbage, cored, outer leaves discarded and shredded
2 cups vegetable oil
3 pounds yellow onions, diced small
1/4-cup kosher salt
2 tablespoons ground black pepper
3 quarts apple juice
2 quarts red wine vinegar
2 pounds brown sugar
2 tablespoons ground cloves

Heat oil over medium heat. Add onions. Cover; sweat for about 10 minutes, being careful not to brown. Add shredded cabbage. Season with salt and pepper. Stir to coat with oil and onions.

Add juice, vinegar and cloves. Stir to combine. Cover; simmer for 45 to 60 minutes, or until cabbage is tender. Check seasoning. Adjust flavor with additional vinegar and salt, if needed. Makes 200 (1/2-cup) servings.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Veteran's Day tribute: Navy

MEDITERRANEAN SEA (Oct. 7, 2015) -- Culinary Specialist 1st Class Steven Kane prepares pastries for dinner aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS Donald Cook (DDG 75). Donald Cook is conducting a routine patrol in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of operations in support of U.S. national security interest in Europe. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Mat Murch.

Veteran's Day tribute: Army

An Army cook with the 180th Transportation Company prepares a meal at Crane Army Ammunition Activity, Ind., June 14 as part of Operation Golden Cargo. Operation Golden Cargo gives food service specialists the opportunity to get field training that prepares them for future deployments. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. David Turner.

Veteran's Day tribute: Coast Guard

Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Darwin delaCruz, a food service specialist at Sector San Francisco, serves the noon meal to a hungry crew member at the sector's galley Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2015. A typical day for a Coast Guard FS begins around 4 a.m. and ends well past the evening meal. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Barry Bena.

Veteran's Day tribute: Air Force

Elmendorf force support squadron earns Lemay award--Airman 1st Class Cortny Pelton, assigned to 673rd Force Support Squadron, prepares food for lunch at the Iditarod Dining Facility April 23, 2015, on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska. Pelton, a native of Wyoming, Mich., and the rest of the 673rd FSS, earned the Air Force Curtis E. LeMay award for best large installation-level FSS of the year in the Air Force for 2014. U.S. Air Force photo by Justin Connaher.

Veteran's Day tribute: Marine Corps

D'ARTA PLAGE, DJ - U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Mario V. Castillo, right, a food service specialist with the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), and native of Escondido, California, grills hamburgers for the 239th birthday of the United States Marine Corps during sustainment training in D'Arta Plage, Djibouti, Nov. 10, 2014. The 11th MEU is deployed as a theater reserve and crisis response force throughout U.S. Central Command and 5th Fleet area of responsibility. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Jonathan Waldman.

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Baked French toast for Valley Fire victims

In late September I deployed to Middletown, California, to serve with the Mercy Chefs, where chefs cooked breakfast, lunch and dinner for victims of the Valley Fire. Many of those served had lost everything when the fire storm raged through the community on September 13. Nearly 2,000 structures -- including 1,280 homes -- were destroyed by the fast moving wildland fire.

The chefs served over 2,500 meals during the 10-day deployment from Mercy One, a 32-foot kitchen trailer. The kitchen is based near Dallas, Texas. Chefs and support staff converged on Middletown from homes in California, Colorado, North Carolina, Virginia and Texas toward the end of September.

Once the managing chef posted the menu each day, we set about preparing the different dishes for the next day. Several days into the mission, I saw an excessive amount of biscuits, cinnamon rolls and apple crumb cake in the refrigerator trailer. Quick calculations showed that the leftovers would give us five two-inch hotel pans, enough to feed a filling breakfast to 150 persons.

This recipe for baked French toast is offered as I prepared it for our fourth breakfast. (I posted a recipe for Dutch oven baked orange French toast last year.) I quickly put the formula together after briefly confirming custard ratios on the internet. Note that I didn't add any sugar or syrup to the recipe. I felt the orange juice and berries added sufficient sweetness to the dish.


The important thing here is to fill each pan with diced or crumbled biscuits and pastry. I understand that you won't duplicate my mix of leftovers breads. You'll need about three and one-half to four pounds bread for each hotel pan. (Remember the apples in the crumb cake added additional weight to the formula.)

6-1/2 pounds buttermilk biscuits, cut into medium dice
4-1/2 pounds iced cinnamon rolls, cut into medium dice
8-1/4 pounds apple crumb cake, crumbled
10 pounds frozen mixed berries, thawed
2 flats whole eggs (30 eggs per flat)
1 gallon whole milk
6 cups orange juice
1/4 cup ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon ground nutmeg
1/4 cup vanilla extract
1 tablespoon kosher salt

Lightly grease or spray each 12 by 20 by2-inch hotel pan. Equally divide crumbled/diced biscuits and pastry among five hotel pan. Spread 2 pounds berries over each pan.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs, milk, juice, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla and salt together. Evenly pour 6 to 7 cups of the custard over the bread in each pan. Cover and place in the refrigerator overnight.

In the morning, bake in a 350-degree F oven for 45 to 60 minutes, until set and puffed up. Serves 25 to 30. Serve with fresh berries if available and maple syrup.