I want to win the golden skillet!
October 6, 2012 9:06 AM   Subscribe

Help me win the office cooking contest! I need a main dish recipe that will knock their socks off.

We have a "golden skillet" competition at work next week. The categories are appetizer, main dish, and dessert. I had plans to bring a spinach-artichoke dip for the appetizer category, but I found out yesterday that someone is bringing buffalo chicken dip. I figure there's no point in trying to compete with that, since alot of people love it.

The main dish category has the fewest entries thus far, so I thought that would be my best option. But, I can't think of a main dish to bring! When we have potlucks I tend to bring things like potato salad.

To help frame things, I'm in Minnesota and most of my coworkers are middle-aged, family oriented people. We also have a big contingent of IT workers from India, many of whom are vegetarian. Taste wins over presentation. I can keep food warm in a crock pot. I only have a microwave at my disposal (no kitchen). Food has to be able to be served in small portions.

I thought of trying to make butternut squash ravioli with brown butter and crispy sage,which I've made at home and is really tasty, but can't think of how to keep them warm without getting soggy.

Help me! Suggest some recipes!
posted by cabingirl to Food & Drink (19 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Can you make the pasta the night before, store it in the fridge and then reheat, sauce, etc just before serving? I have no idea how that pasta would hold up but that is what I'd consider.
posted by Medieval Maven at 9:21 AM on October 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

posted by asphericalcow at 9:22 AM on October 6, 2012

If you're set on vegetarian, I would make something like a sweet potato or butternut squash curry. Nothing that's trying to be super-authentic Indian... Maybe "stew" is a better way of putting it. (If you can bring in a rice cooker to serve it over, even better. Some sort of flatbread would work too.) Lentils or chick peas would be good as well. My recommendation is even stronger if you're having cool weather.

If not vegetarian, I would make something like boeuf bourguignon. Sear the meat in a pan first, then deglaze and put it plus the other ingredients into a slow cooker to tenderize/stay warm. That's excellent over egg noodles, which should keep a decent texture if you slightly undercook then reheat in the microwave with a bit of water.
posted by supercres at 9:31 AM on October 6, 2012

Asphericalcow has the start of a good idea that will let you do your butternut squash ravioli thing, but make it more stable: butternut squash lasagna with brown butter and fried sage. Consider using some ricotta to make it more lasagna-ish, and instead of mozzarella, maybe try some Gruyere? If you're afraid it'll be too dry, maybe consider a bit of bèchamel? Chopped and sauteed Kale might be a good way to add some dimension to the lasagna.

Here's a recipe from epicurious to get you thinking: Butternut Squash and Mushroom Lasagna

There is something so amazingly delicious about homemade pasta that has a tendency to wow people and will probably put you above the rest.

Good luck, and I'd love to know what you ended up making.
posted by absquatulate at 9:55 AM on October 6, 2012 [6 favorites]

My best recipe:

This is a very easy and is embarrassingly popular with family and at potlucks. The only time I have not been asked for the recipe was the time I used mozzarella instead of jack cheese. Don't do that.

Chili con Queso Casserole
Use a baking dish somewhat larger than 9x9. But 9x13 is a little too large.
1 large can Ortega chilis (rinse and remove seeds if you want to keep the heat really low)
1/2 pound jack cheese, grated
1/2 pound cheddar cheese, grated

Split open the chilis, layer them in a baking dish with the cheeses.

Mix together and pour over the whole thing:
1 egg
1 tablespoon flour
1 tiny can of evaporated milk. (I use fat free evap just on principle. Not that it makes any difference at all with so much cheese.)

Bake at 350 F for 50 minutes, 'til it is brown and crusty on top.

Pour a 6 ounce can of tomato sauce over it ans spread it around. Bake another 10 minutes to set that up. Don't use tomato paste.

Cool a bit, then cut into squares to serve. Reheats easily in a microwave.

Whatever recipe you use, post back and let us know how it goes. It sounds like fun!
posted by SLC Mom at 10:09 AM on October 6, 2012 [5 favorites]

Oh, wait. You only have a micro at work, or you only have a micro at home? If there is no oven at home you should just not even read my recipe above. You will only be sad that you cannot make it.
Sorry if I misunderstood.
posted by SLC Mom at 10:13 AM on October 6, 2012

Nth-ing the idea of turning your squash ravioli into lasagna -- that sounds awesome. If there's a party store near you, you can get a disposable chafing dish set for probably less than $10. Make your lasagna the night before, score serving portions before you go to work, and warm up with Sterno and a foil hotel pan filled with hot water.
posted by neroli at 10:13 AM on October 6, 2012

"We also have a big contingent of IT workers from India, many of whom are vegetarian."

How about a one pot vegetarian curry (example 1, example 2), mild enough to please the middle-aged, family oriented coworkers, authentic enough to please your Indian colleagues.

You haven't said yet if you're able to reheat but if so, that's very easy, either microwave or stove top, as does your need to serve in small portions. Don't bother with rice, serve as is or with mini naan breads or poppodoms.

Better still, maybe, is an oven baked curry that already contains the rice. While I wait for the other machine to boot up to get that recipe, this one is a huge favourite with even young children (= conservative palates), cooked with lentils rather than rice:

Sweet potato & coconut curry

• 1 tbsp sunflower oil
• 2 tsp mild curry paste
• 6 medium-sized sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into bite-size pieces
• 4 tbsp red split lentils
• 300ml chicken stock (start with less)
• 400ml can coconut milk
• 175g frozen peas

1. Heat the oil in a deep frying pan or wok, stir in the curry paste and fry for 1 minute.
2. Add the sweet potatoes and lentils and stir to coat in the paste, then pour in the stock and coconut milk.
3. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 15 minutes.
4. Add the peas, bring back to the boil and simmer for a further 4-5 minutes. Season to taste before serving.
posted by humph at 10:15 AM on October 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

I like the idea of adapting the ravioli recipe to lasagna, but how do I keep it warm? Will it work for me to bake it in the morning, then put it in the crock pot to keep warm until lunchtime?
posted by cabingirl at 10:19 AM on October 6, 2012

sorry, didn't see neroli's answer before posting.

I tried a sweet potato/lentil curry at a past potluck and no one ate it. But those recipes sound great for home :)
posted by cabingirl at 10:30 AM on October 6, 2012

I'd be all over the hotdish. Why not a wild rice & mushroom hotdish in the crockpot? Throw in some vegetarian sausage crumbles if you want, maybe some walnuts & dried cranberries? Add a little cheese & cream maybe?

There is also a good blog about crockpot recipes, with a crockpot falafel recipe.

Another thing that came to mind was stuffed mushrooms in a crockpot, make ahead and just layer them in there and cook on low or medium until lunch.

A couple of quiches might work well, if your veggie friends eat eggs. But I'd be looking at hotdish recipes and reverse-engineering them to vegetarian. Bonus points if you can include tater tots on top.

Or pasties with just veggies in the, carrot, turnip, potato, etc. You could do mini pasties using pre-made pie crust or just big ones and cut them into bite-sized portions. I don't think pasties were traditionally eaten warm anyway, wasn't it miner food?
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 11:39 AM on October 6, 2012

What if you adapt the lasagna recipe further to make it more of a casserole instead of layers? I know I have a lot of pasta recipes that use rigatoni or egg noodles, but the other ingredients are just the same as lasagna - sauce, cheese, meat. I think that would still work for butternut squash/mushrooms/etc with an alfredo type sauce.

You could cook it in the crockpot - does yours have a removable pot that is allowed to go in the oven? If not, just cook it in a pot on top of the stove and then spoon it into the crockpot for the fridge overnight. In the morning, plug it in when you get to the office and it should be warm by lunchtime.

I'll also give you another recipe that is very simple and folks love it, though it's not vegetarian: Sausage and Peppers Parmesan. Slice a bunch of onions, bell peppers (all colors) into about 1/2 x 2 inch strips and slice some mushrooms. Saute all those together, season with garlic and Italian seasoning. Put that into your casserole dish or 13x9 baking pan. Cook some Italian sausages (I like mild, not hot) in the fry pan, then cut them into round slices and keep cooking so the side edges get that carmelized brown too. Put those into your casserole with the onions/peppers/mushrooms. Pour on a jar (or 2) of Ragu or Prego or your favorite (homemade?) spaghetti sauce. Stir it all up. Top with mozzarella and parmesan cheese, bake for about 30 minutes to brown the cheese and get the sauce bubbly. If your crockpot can go in the oven - this works great. If not, cook it in the baking pan then spoon into the crockpot and heat it up the next morning, with another sprinkle of mozzarella and parmesan on top.
posted by CathyG at 11:42 AM on October 6, 2012

I will once again suggest Pasta tossed with Brie, Tomatoes and Basil. I would make the sauce in the morning (it needs to marinate) and cook the pasta. Try to keep the pasta warm until lunchtime and heat it up in the microwave if necessary. Combine and be sure to have a couple of loaves of the best, crusty bread you can get to accompany.
posted by nightwood at 11:58 AM on October 6, 2012

I made this pasta, gorgonzola, shiitake, and radicchio bake for a potluck that had many vegetarians well over a year ago and people still beg me to make it again.
I think I may have substituted some of the radicchio with spinach, but everyone's eyes still popped out of their heads when they ate it.
It's quite rich (heavy cream and three cheeses will do that) but it will blow the buffalo dip thing out of the water.
I made it pretty early in the day in a big tray pan, and it stayed warm for a few hours. If you bake it at breakfast and put it in an insulated container or wrap a bunch of towels around it it should still be warm. Or make in smaller serving sizes and warm in the micro.
posted by newpotato at 12:58 PM on October 6, 2012

This Black Bean, Yellow Pepper, and Cumin Chili recipe is fantastic -- and has won over a lot of our friends. We substitute refried beans for one can of black beans, and add a bottle of Goya Sofrito for some extra flavor. Never tried a crock pot, but suspect it would work well.
posted by rdn at 2:54 PM on October 6, 2012

For cabingirl: You could keep casseroles and lasagna hot with one of these hot/cold bags. Cook in the morning, pop it in one of these, and then serve at lunch.

The chafing tray/Sterno idea isn't a bad one either, nor is the crock pot idea if the crock pot sleeve is oven-safe.

Or, since it's vegetarian and cooked, it would probably be fine if it was cooked the evening before, refrigerated, cut at the office, and then reheat individual slices in the microwave.
posted by absquatulate at 3:21 PM on October 6, 2012

The Spaghetti Pie casserole is a favorite where I work. It is not vegetarian, but you could probably substitute sauteed spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini in place of the ground beef.

1 1/2 pounds ground beef (I use 50% ground round and 50% hot italian sausage.)
16 oz spaghetti noodles
48 oz jar spaghetti sauce (like Ragu)
8 oz cream cheese (room temp)
12 oz sour cream
5 or 6 green onions
8 oz shredded cheddar cheese
8 oz shredded mozzarella cheese
Parmesan cheese (grated)

Brown ground beef in a skillet and drain off excess grease. Heat spaghetti sauce and ground beef together.

Boil spaghetti noodles in a separate pot until done. Drain noodles and rinse in cool water. Chop green onions (white part only)

Put noodles in a greased 9X13 inch pan and add chopped onions, sour cream, cream cheese, mix well with noodles (mixing with your hands works best--I put vinyl gloves on for this).

Top noodle mixture with the spaghetti/meat mixture. Top meat/sauce layer with cheddar, mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses. Bake at 400 for 20 minutes or until cheese melts.

This reheats very well. Every time someone brings it to a pot luck where I work it is the first dish to disappear.
posted by I'm Brian and so's my wife! at 4:49 PM on October 6, 2012

The competition was today! I remembered that I had one of those Pyrex insulated carry bags, which meant that I didn't have to use a crock pot. I went with the suggestions to convert my ravioli recipe to lasagna.

I used this Butternut Squash and Goat Cheese Lasagna recipe as a base, but i used no-boil noodles in place of the fresh pasta and added shallots to the squash filling. It turned out pretty good, I think. We won't find out the winners until next Wednesday, but several people said they voted for me so at least someone liked it!
posted by cabingirl at 12:10 PM on October 11, 2012 [3 favorites]

Last update, I swear...I didn't actually win but lots of people asked for the recipe :)

The winner made pulled pork that wasn't even heated through properly. Just sayin'.
posted by cabingirl at 12:41 PM on November 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

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