The girls’ school offers a hot lunch sponsored by a student’s family, once a week. The little one joined her sister this fall at the school, and I realized there was a hot lunch slot available around the time of their birthdays.
I mulled and pondered… What did I need to do? What am I expected to do?
One day, my older daughter turned to me and said, “Mama, it’s not fair. You NEVER come read a book on my birthday at school, and you NEVER do hot lunch.”
That statement sealed the deal for me.
I signed up on the hot lunch volunteer list, and started brainstorming.
“What do you want for lunch?” I asked her.
“Men men! (noodles)!” They both piped up.
I asked the school what I needed to do to prepare the lunch. They gave me ideas… “We usually cook 12 pounds of pasta… Probably about 100 students will participate…”
I started panicking. What could I possibly make for a hundred kids?!
Udon or soba noodles in soup would be a challenge, since the noodles are not tasty if over cooked, and the soup may be the X-factor. I could almost see myself doling out a tub of soup, while trying to catch slippery noodles out of a pot to try to portion out… A hundred times.
I then thought about rice bowls… I could steam a hundred servings of rice. I then make various toppings that each student could customize their rice bowl with… Seasoned turkey soboro, egg, peas, vegetables… I then realized I only can possibly make eleven servings of rice in the rice cooker(s) I would have access to. I even asked the local Japanese restaurant to provide me a quote for the steamed rice… But the thought of making all the toppings was dizzying.
I then realized, yakisoba would probably be the best option. I could make it with ground turkey, vegetables, and make my own yakisoba sauce to ensure I kept control over the ingredients.
I went on a shopping binge at the local Japanese food stores, snapping up bags of the fresh yakisoba noodle packs – each one containing three servings. Thirty three packages of noodles later, (some were on sale too!) I purchased seven pounds of cabbage, ten pounds of carrots, six pounds of onions, eight pounds of ground turkey, a bottle of ketchup, two bottles of Bulldog brand Worcestshire sauce and a pilfered bottle of my husband’s HP sauce, we were ready.
The night before the lunch, I peeled the carrots, and hand-sliced them into 1/4 inch matchsticks (yes, each and every one…) until 3 am. The onions and cabbage were also sliced, thinly, about 1/4 inch thick.
The next day, my car perfumed with the strong smell of onions, I took my goodies to the school. A concerned friend, worried for my sanity!, helped me for an hour, and produced a food processor to cut up four pounds or celery.
Once set up in the school’s commercial kitchen, I started browning the turkey, seasoning with salt, white pepper and soy sauce. In a separate pan, I sautéed the onions slices, and added the carrots, the cabbage, and then the celery, seasoning with salt and pepper.
Once the turkey was done, I set it aside, and continued cooking the vegetables. When the onions were softened, and the cabbage edges were starting to become translucent, I set them aside.
A added ketchup, HP sauce and Worcestshire sauce in a 2:2:1 ratio, mixing everything together with a whisk. Some soy sauce, mirin and sesame oil were also added, just to add depth. These were about 1/2 cup each, but again this was for 100 kids!!
Into another pan, I lightly oiled, and added the noodles. The pan was large enough to fit three squares of the fresh noodles, so I started cooking them, following the instruction on the packets. I added a bit of water to soften.
Midway, the school staff reassured me, due to some student absences, we could probably make less than the original hundred count so we ended up cooking only twenty packets, or sixty servings.
I somehow managed to get most of the lunch ready, and squeezed into the classroom (for both!) to read “Guess How Much I love You” to each respective class.
Lunch was successful. I received many kind compliments, and the best part was that every bite was either eaten, or taken home!
Here are some pictures of that day.