Something strange started happening as I became more capable in the kitchen. I began to develop an uncontrollable ambition to feed everyone in close proximity. I know the importance of eating well and how it can influence our quality of living. The mere thought of my loved ones eating poorly just bothers me to the core. That was the driving force behind another year of my self-appointed position as Head of Catering Department at my Montreal 24h relay teams.
The premise is simple. Each team of ten skaters relays on the F1 race track in Montreal’s Gilles-Villeneuve race way over a period of 24 hours. During this time, we make our home in the paddock next to the race course and life reduces to the simple matter of eat, skate, sleep. Fuelling our bodies in order to skate fast plays an important role. My inner control freak wanted to make sure me and my teammates eat nutritious food that tastes great with lots of varieties to suit different tastes. So of course I volunteered for the job.
This was not my first year cooking for two teams. Last year’s experience gave me some good feedback on the limitation of track side food preparation and what people prefer to eat when they are tired. Food safety was obviously a number one concern. With that in mind, my menu consisted primarily of vegan dishes to avoid exposing meat and dairy ingredients at room temperature for long stretches of time. I also wanted the menu to be low maintenance so I could focus on racing myself too. After all, I was there to skate, not just to fuss over the buffet! Here is the final menu of what we ate last weekend.
Slow cooker barbecued chicken sandwiches with dill pickles was a huge hit. The convenience of slow cooker cooking is not to be underestimated when you’re preparing hot meals outdoor without a kitchen! This was a recipe from Slow Cooker Revolution. I vacuum packed marinated boneless skinless chicken thighs and half froze them to keep the meat at a safe temperature during my long drive from Toronto to Montreal. Choosing chicken over pork was a good decision because it requires much shorter cooking time in the slow cooker, a saving of three hours. The dill pickles came from Kawartha CSA.
Vegan black bean chilli with northern cornbread was the other hot main course. Did I mention we had two slow cookers running side by side and I was seriously worry that we would blow the fuse? Chilli recipe also comes from Slow Cooker Revolution while the cornbread recipe comes from Cook's Illustrated Cookbook. The cornbread was made ahead of time and cut to portions. I followed the cooking directions for the chilli up to the point where all the ingredients needed to go into the slow cooker and vacuum packed everything into one convenient package. You can say I am a little obsessed with my vacuum food sealer. It is so incredibly useful when the occasion calls for portability!
Next came a sextet of salads. The best way to describe them is that they are a condensed version of what I would eat at home over the course of a month. These are all familiar dishes that reflect my normal way of eating with focus on healthy mix of macro nutrients and bold flavours.
Apricot cranberry almond quinoa is as straight forward as they come. Sweet notes from dried apricot, cranberries, roasted almonds, mint, and parsley made the salad very light and appetizing. The vinaigrette of orange juice, orange zest, sherry vinegar, olive oil, and Dijon mustard further highlights the sweetness of this dish. I should have added in some cinnamon for a more Moroccan angle.
Sweet summer corn, edamame, smoked tofu salad in miso walnut dressing packs one heck of a protein punch with plenty of fibre too. This salad is a study of soy in many guises. Edamame, smoked tofu, and a dressing made with white miso were combined with raw sweet corn kernels. The dressing is very creamy but entirely vegan. It is made with toasted walnuts, miso, brown rice vinegar, mirin, and grated ginger root. I can't get enough of this! Recipe is adapted from Serious Eats. A keeper.
French lentils with roasted tomatoes and goat cheese is a variation on a dish I made many times before with huge success. It is one of my all time favourites. You can see a previous variation with bolder ingredients here. French green lentils are dressed in classic red wine vinaigrette with wilted red onion, garlic, roasted tomatoes, and chunks of creamy unripen goat cheese. The recipe comes from Ottolenghi’s Plenty.
Also from Ottolenghi’s Plenty cookbook is Roasted sweet potatoes with capers vinaigrette. Looks familiar? Sure it does. This is a standard dish on my winter cooking rotation (see?). This time I forgo the parsnips and just went with plenty of sweet potatoes, red onions, garlic, and grape tomatoes. The vinaigrette is tangy made with lemon juice, capers, maple syrup, and olive oil. A dusting of roasted black sesame seeds completed the dish.
Stir fry wild rice with mushrooms, tempeh, and green beans is a dish I make regularly this summer. This is the dish that changed my mind about tempeh. I never knew they can be so crispy nutty once I carefully toast them on all sides. The sauce is made with maple syrup, soy sauce, mirin, sake, sesame oil, and shichimi (Japanese chilli pepper) for a bit of heat. Recipe adapted from my own.
Last but not least was a dish that I made off the cuff and regret for my lack of recipes. This wheat berry salad in curry caramelized onion dressing with chunks of mangoes, cucumbers, and creamy chickpeas is totally addictive. I recalled caramelizing 2 small onions, then sautéed a tablespoon of grated ginger and a tablespoon of Penzeys curry powder until fragrant. This paste was stored in fridge until needed. To make the dressing, thin the 3/4 cup of curry paste with juice from two limes and add in the lime zest too. Cook 1lb of dried wheat berries in salted water. Dress the wheat berries with half the dressing immediately after it’s cooked. Chill in fridge. Before serving, toss in diced mangoes, salted & drained cucumbers, cooked chickpeas, and remaining dressing. Adjust seasoning with salt.
There is a serious lack of photos for our breakfast but the menu is not any less exciting. I prepared two kinds of homemade granola to be served with almond milk or plain yogurt. Banana Maple Hazelnut Granola (recipe available here) and Chocolate Hazelnut Cherry Granola (recipe adapted from Food in Jar) were both decadent cereal that I wouldn’t mind eating any time of the day.
Birscher muesli remains my power breakfast on days I need easily digestible energy. The mix of oats, soy milk, mixed berries, almond, dried cranberries, apple sauce, and plain yogurt is potent and energy dense. You can find my recipe here. We also had a selection of fresh fruit such as bananas, grapes, and cherries. Bread from Première Moisson with a choice of peanut butter, almond butter, homemade apple butter, and plum jam were on offer as well. I am a little sad knowing that I’ll likely not make any apple butter (recipe available from America’s Test Kitchen Feed) this year because of the poor yield of our crops in 2012. Much of the apples in southern Ontario were destroyed in the April frost.
I am personally not a fan of sweet baked good for breakfast but I know many who are. To accommodate for different tastes, I baked two loaves of Cranberry Orange Walnut Bread and a loaf of whole wheat Banana Bread with Chocolate Chips. The banana bread recipe comes from Melissa Clark’s Cook This Now! and I make this often. It is a great way to get rid of overripe bananas.
During the long hours of racing, many of us like to graze so it is important to have a variety of snacks available at all times. Aside from all the food I already mentioned, I prepared a mix-your-own trail mix bar with containers of roasted almond, peanut M&M, pretzels, roasted Virginia peanuts, banana chips, dried cranberries, dried apricots, yogurt covered raisins, sunflower seeds, and sesame sticks. An important lesson I learned from last year is that people don’t know what to do with food in bags. We had plenty of leftover snacks last year when we had a pile of knotted plastic bags. I took a different approach this year and simply empty all the trail mix ingredients into separate plastic tubs with lids. What do you know? Most of them were gone by the end of the race.
We also had oven toasted pita chips to accompany homemade hummus and black sesame roasted eggplant dip (adapted from my own recipe). Last year I went totally overboard and made enough hummus to fill a bathtub. This year I was a lot more sensible, just 3lb.
Many of us shun refined grains but there is much desirable about white rice when we need a quick hit of energy. For this reason, I made a small batch of vegan Arborio rice pudding using almond milk and gently flavoured with cinnamon and vanilla bean. It was comforting and definitely an energy boost.
It wouldn’t be an outing for Dessert By Candy without some good old fashion cookies. Mind you, they were treats and entirely not meant for sports performance. But they were such nice treats! Here I had peanut butter, oatmeal cranberries, molasses spice, and oatmeal chocolate chip. Everybody loves cookies, right?
Last but not least, my famous menu black board you see in the first photo. I thought it was pretty funny the number of photographers who asked me to pose with my menu board! Sure it is cute but there is much practical reason to include the black board as part of my catering toolbox. Since I was not hovering over the food station to answer questions all the time, my teammates could easily look at the menu board to know what was currently on offer at the table. Although every item was carefully labelled, it was still nice to get an overview. Besides, it saved me the work of replying the same questions over and over again.
Next year, I am considering offering my catering service to other teams too. There is no reason any of us should race on an empty stomach! If you’re curious about the planning that went into preparing this menu, you can check out the accompanying spreadsheet to see how I managed to keep my sanity.