From school lunch to family dinner


POSTED: Wednesday, February 04, 2009

If you think about it, the school cafeteria is a fully equipped professional kitchen that's only in use for part of the day. Fire up those ovens and stovetops for dinner and they can accommodate a whole lot more cooking.

Michi Harris is doing that at Star of the Sea School in Kahala, offering dinners to go twice a week—and soon Kristy Monroe, who runs the cafeteria at Holy Nativity in Aina Haina, will be doing the same out of another East Oahu school kitchen.

For families in those neighborhoods, this means hot meals that will feed four to six—with leftovers. And we're not talking cafeteria food they way you probably remember school lunches. On Michi's Take-Home Dinner Menu last month: Braised Lamb Shanks, Braised Asian-Style Boneless Beef Shortribs, Thai Green Curry.

“;I've been a busy mom. I know how hard it is,”; Harris said. “;I try to make things that take a long time to cook.”;

Harris and Monroe aren't like the cafeteria managers employed by most public schools. The two are independent businesswomen who have contracted with these private schools to provide daily lunches. Those agreements allow them to continue using the kitchens to sell dinners under their own businesses.

Harris has about a dozen regular customers for her dinners on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Tomorrow, they'll choose from Seafood Lasagna for $42, Chicken Cacciatori with Parmesan Fettucine Pasta for $38, Michi's Waldorf Salad with Chicken for $12 or a Ceasar salad for $9. (The kids that day will eat Homemade Kalua Pig & Cabbage with hapa rice, fresh pineapple and haupia; teachers can opt for the Waldorf salad for $3.50.)

  Carola Souza, principal at Star of the Sea, said Harris has transformed the lunchroom since she took over in August. “;We've had two other services in the last two years, different companies, and the children were just not buying lunches. ... All of a sudden our lunch count has gone up—it's at least 50 percent more than what it was.”;

Kids pay $3.55 to $3.85 for lunch, depending on age. The menu might include spaghetti made with whole-wheat pasta and turkey marinara sauce, Vegetarian Chili or Lemon-Garlic Fish. Low-fat milk or fat-free chocolate milk is included.

“;It's been really rewarding, the whole process,”; Harris said. “;I have kids who are running to the line every day.”;

Monroe has a busy catering business, Kristy's Kitchen based in the Aina Haina Shopping Center, with clients such as Campbell Estate, Title Guarantee and the Pflueger Auto Group.

She starts offering Thursday dinners-to-go from Holy Nativity on March 5.

“;I want to make it so it's kid-friendly as well. Our main target is the kids—to get them to eat properly.”;

Neither woman has formal culinary training. Monroe's catering business was born 15 years ago when she was working as a dental hygienist and her boss's wife asked her to cook for some special events. “;She knew I loved to cook. I used to do Cinco de Mayo—my famous Chicken Enchiladas.”;

Her menus will include those enchiladas, as well as vegetarian lasagna, roast turkey and beef stew.

Harris was working in marketing when she began cooking for parties for the Harris Agency, her husband Doug's company. She's been catering private parties and doing some personal chef work for 10 years. And she also provides recipes for the Big Island's KTA Super Stores' Super-Saver guide.

“;I'm a Food TV freak,”; she added. “;I'm constantly reading cookbooks, constantly reading every food magazine possible.”;

  From the customer's point of view, the takeout meals are a way to make life easier while boosting the quality of dinner, Astrida Pesentheiner said, as she picked up Harris' lamb shanks on a recent Tuesday afternoon. The tray of five shanks, with whole-wheat couscous made with pine nuts and apricots, will feed her family of six, with leftovers.

“;We're so excited about the lamb shanks,”; she said. “;It was hard to focus today.”;

  » To order Michi's Take-Home Dinners call 286-6484 or e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). For menus for the month visit cookingfreshforyou.com.

» To order from Kristy's Kitchen beginning March 5, call 377-8499.

Healthy Caesar Salad with Seared Salmon

Michi Harris

1 pound salmon fillet, pin bones removed
1 teaspoon garlic salt
Fresh ground black pepper, to taste
Cooking oil spray
10 cups romaine lettuce
2 cups croutons (see note)

» Dressing:
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1/3 small block firm or medium-firm tofu
4 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons low-calorie mayonnaise
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon Worchestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
3 anchovy filets, generous squeeze of anchovy paste or big splash fish sauce

To make dressing: Combine ingredients in blender or food processor. Blend until smooth.

Heat a large pan on medium-high heat.

Season fish with garlic salt and pepper; place in hot pan, skin side down. Cook 3 to 4 minutes per side until done. Remove skin, if desired. Cut into pieces.

Toss romaine with 1/3 cup dressing. Add croutons, then divide onto salad plates and top with salmon. Liberally sprinkle with Parmesan. Serves 4 as main dish, 8 as a side.

Approximate nutritional analysis, per serving (dressing and fish, not including croutons): 370 calories, 22 g total fat, 4.5 g saturated fat, 80 mg cholesterol, 900 mg sodium, 8 g carbohydrate, 4 g fiber, 2 g sugar, 35 g protein.


Approximate nutritional analysis, per 2 tablespoons (dressing only): 35 calories, 2.5 g total fat, 0.5 g saturated fat, no cholesterol, 190 mg sodium, 1 g carbohydrate, no fiber or sugar, 3 g protein.


Nutritional analyses by Joannie Dobbs, Ph.D., C.N.S.