This is the question that I asked myself for three weeks until our friends, Hugh and Jackie, showed up to give us a few pointers. We volunteered to cook and serve a meal for 100 people every third Thursday of the month for Friends of the Homeless in Columbia, SC with absolutely no prior experience in doing so. We just wrote an extensive post here about how we were called to serve this mission (its worth the read!) As our friends Hugh and Jackie (seasoned veterans in the subject) started showing us how to make mountains of food and have all of the portions come out right and tasting good, I decided I needed to take pictures of the project so I would remember how to do this next month all by myself. And then I thought that there might be others out there who want to learn too…so I’m sharing my pictures and my “how-to” with you today!
Step One. Grocery. How to decide how much of what to buy.
We decided to make spaghetti this month because a friend of ours found Prego spaghetti sauce on sale for 63 cents a jar (that’s a steal!). When we make spaghetti at home, we use one package of noodles, one jar of sauce and one pound of ground beef and are able to serve 4-6 people. So this was our list as follows: Spaghetti Sauce…100 people/5 servings per jar equals 20 jars. 20 jars of sauce means that we need 20 pounds of ground beef. We decided that macaroni or penne pasta would be easier to serve quickly than spaghetti noodles. One giant box of macaroni at Sams contains 6 individual packages of macaroni that each serve 6-8 people each. 6 servings per package multiplied by 6 packages per box equals 36 servings of pasta per giant box. 100 divided by 36 means that we needed a little more than 2 boxes…so we got three (just to be safe) because sometimes the people that decide serving sizes think that all people eat tiny tiny portions :).
Also on the list were spoons, napkins, bowls, metal tins to cook and transport the spaghetti, water, bread and parmesan cheese.
Team strategy meeting over the ingredients. Holy cow! That’s a lot of spaghetti sauce!
Step Two…Cooking strategy.
Ok…we have ground beef, sauce and noodles that need to get cooked somehow and spread evenly into trays. After divising and discarding several plans, we decided on this:
1. Brown the beef the night before. Jackie and Kristen, each in charge of their own skillet, browned the beef in two-three pound increments. We then drained the cooked ground beef and placed it into three aluminum pans purchased at the grocery. The pans of ground beef were then stored in the refrigerator overnight.
2. Its morning of serving day. We need to decide how many aluminum trays we will need to hold the 100 servings of spaghetti. This decision is very important because we don’t have enough giant cooking pots to cook and mix all of the spaghetti together at once. We will make the spaghetti in batches, and each batch will fill one aluminum tray. We decide that one tray will hold eight servings. SO, it is decided that we will fill 12 aluminum trays with 12 batches of spaghetti.
3. Decide how much spaghetti sauce, cooked ground beef and macaroni noodles will go in each tray. Cook the needed portions and mix together in each tray.
We started with the cooked (but now cold) ground beef. We have three full trays of ground beef that need to be divided between twelve pans.
Twelve empty pans divided by three trays of ground beef equals four. Each tray of ground beef will be divided into four equal portions and those individual portions will be placed into its own tray.
4. Next…Start boiling water for the macaroni noodles. I have three pots. Two of them will be used to actually cook noodles in. We will place a colander over the third pot and use it to catch and recycle the spaghetti water so we don’t have to heat too many pots of water. This will cut down on our time waiting for the water to boil in between cooking noodles.
This is how the macaroni was packaged inside the boxes. We plan on cooking twelve of these macaroni packages. Each boiling pot of water will hold two packages of noodles….which we will split between two pans of spaghetti. Basically, we will use one package of pasta per pan of meat and sauce.
Cook the macaroni for 10 minutes.
5. Back to the pans of meat and the sauce… We have cold ground beef divided between 12 aluminum pans. We decided the easiest thing to do would be to heat the sauce, mix it with the ground beef and then warm the pans in the oven to warm the ground beef.
6. Heat the spaghetti sauce. Remove the lid from the sauce and place the glass jar directly in the microwave. Messy…but it works. Heat each jar of sauce in the microwave for 1:30.
Told ya it was messy!
7. Mix the heated spaghetti sauce with the meat. But how much? We have 20 jars of sauce to split between 12 pans…so we decided to mix approximately 1 and a half jars of spaghetti sauce per pan of meat.
Place the lid on the aluminum pans and heat in an oven at 275 degrees for 20 or 30 minutes.
8. After each pan is heated (the oven only holds 6 pans so there will be heating shifts) mix in the appropriate amount of macaroni noodles directly in the aluminum pan.
And that’s it for the cooking part. Hearty meal for a cold day. Everyone said it was really good!
Hugh and Jackie taking a minute to re-think cooking strategy. Thank goodness they were here! We couldn’t have done it without them. They’re a really good team 😉
Jack wanted to help too! Sorry Jack…cooking isn’t for doggies.
NOW…for the transport. We needed to keep the pans of warm spaghetti…well…warm on their ride to Finlay Park. Towels should do the trick! Wrap two pans of spaghetti into a towel and voila! Load them in the car.
We arrived at Finlay Park at little too early (for once in my life!). A few people were starting to gather in the park, and we were getting really excited. Shortly, Irvin arrived and more people came and started gathering around his truck…unloading the tables, getting the tablecloths ready, unloading our truck, carrying the food to the tables and setting everything up. Irvin said a few words at 12:00. Mary, a regular at the meals, let me know that she is the one who always passes the plates out and I wasn’t about to take her job from her! We started serving at 12:00. 80 people came through the line, some came back for seconds, and at 12:30 people started breaking down the serving tables and loading them back into Irvin’s truck. Why so short? This is really the remarkable part…Irvin does this on his lunch hour. Every. Day. Irvin works for the Department of Human Services just down the street from Finlay Park and takes his lunch hour every day and devotes it to his ministry. Rain or shine. Healthy or Sick. On our serving day, Irvin was sick. But he came anyway.
I snapped a couple of shots from my place in line just so you could see what takes place at Finlay Park everyday at noon.
This is what we can accomplish through community. This is what one person making a difference looks like. Thank you Irvin!
The Third Thursday team…
Hugh, Jackie and Kristen
Tom and daughter, Jillian.