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Cooking for Paces

16 September 2008

Paces is a space on campus best known for generic, crowded Saturday night dance parties, and for Thursday night’s “Pub Night” with keg beer and quizbowl.

However, Paces is also the name for the much overlooked student run cafe, Sunday through Wednesday nights. Paces suffers from a series of woes – lack of ability to use points or meals as payment, poor visibility, management disorganization, and a space that is difficult to keep clean, especially with all the sticky alcohol that’s consumer there over the weekend.

But for all it’s woes, Paces does have good food. The ingredients are mostly organic, some coming from our very own student garden. The chefs and bakers and short-order cooks are students who can cook on a small enough scale to control from quality as well as have near complete creative control over what they make, so variety is good. To note, I have never actually eaten at Paces. I just cook there now.

I decided to interview for a Paces chef position at the last minute, and my application was late and I was not able to get recipes to them until the interview. They still hired me, for some reason, as one of the two Sunday chefs. Entree chefs make large batches of their dish early in the afternoon and the short-order chef reheats it for the evening. Not the freshest system, but given the tiny size of the kitchen, probably the most efficient.

The Paces kitchen is, well, not up to code. The knives were dull (I brought my own), there were dishes in the sink, uncovered food in the fridge, counterspace was lacking, and the floor was sticky. I cleaned all equipment and surfaces thoroughly before I used them. However, the ingredients were fresh and since I was the only one there for most of the time, I had plenty of room.

I made lentil “fritters”, based off of this recipe which I had been wanting to try. I never made them before, but I had made falafel, so I sorta knew what I was doing. Kinda.

A pound of lentils was cooked to near mush as I minced and fried one and a half onions and half a head of garlic. I also grated a potato and squeezed out as much moisture as possible. I then drained the lentils and mixed everything together. It was still too mushy so I put the mix in portions into a sieve and squeezed out the extra moisture. To this I added a bit of salt and lots of red pepper flakes to give it a nice kick. Instead of bread crumbs, I used cornmeal, which did not absorb the liquid as well, but seemed to work. I managed to forget the egg, which meant they lacked some structural integrity but they still held together when you picked them up. And this meant they ended up being vegan (even if the sauce was not). I rolled them into smushed balls, coating my hands in oil and cornmeal, instead of rolling them in it (lack of cohesion, remember?) and baked them on lined cookie sheet for 25 minutes at 350F and the broiled them until they began to brown. So not fried, thus not fritters, but the effect was the same, and less messy, and probably healthier for you.

For dipping I decided I needed something cool to contrast with the spice of the fritters. So I made a ginger tzatziki, which was just a standard tzatziki recipe with lots of finely grated ginger. It went really well together. I hadn’t made as much as I’d hope, so I only ate one and half of them. But they sold out Sunday night, which pleased me.

I wish I had pictures to show you, but I don’t have a camera. But in truth, they weren’t terribly pretty – lumpy little discs of yellow and brown with a not terribly interesting white sauce. But they tasted good. And that’s what I can do at least. I really should learn something about food presentation at some point, though.

I should make some for myself and freeze then uncooked, and heat them up for a quick snack. Like chicken nuggets. Only much more awesome.

Now I need to figure out what to do with two gallons of tomatoes that Jean picked from the student garden and gave to me, since I have a kitchen. I wish I could preserve them, but I have neither equipment or knowledge to can them and they are terribly ripe. I’m thinking soup. Lots and lots of soup.


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