Category Archives: Cooking for a crowd

A Formal and casual Dinner for a crowd–January 2019

This was a week of contrasts. We fed 2 different groups of kids 2 very different meals.

Last Saturday, we were very involved with a formal dinner for the high school youth group from church. The event was held at my sister’s house and our 2 families did all the cooking.

We ended up having about 24 youth, and 12 college-aged and adult helpers. My brother-in-law rearranged their house so that there were 3 large tables in the living area and all the youth were able to sit down.

We had gluten free and dairy free students coming, one that was allergic to fish and one that was allergic to shellfish, so needed to make it allergy friendly. We had at least one vegetarian as well. It was quite a challenge.

We served the meal in courses. We had the “waiters” take orders, noting special dietary needs and kept all questionable food completely separated from the other food, even on the grill. Rob used foil and separate pans/dishes to do this.

Our waiters kept really good track of what each student needed using sticky notes.

The first course was appetizers. Rob barbecued shrimp skewers with peppers and onions threaded on in between the shrimp. We made 2 kinds of potato skins–one with olive oil, green onions and rosemary and one with cheese, bacon bits and green onion. We had purchased mozzarella sticks, served with marinara and ranch. The last appetizer was cheesy bread sticks. The bread sticks were purchased and cheese was sprinkled on top and they were baked to melt the cheese.

There were fancy drinks. They had sugar around the rims of the glasses and the kids could choose their favorites. Unlike a restaurant, they could have free refills and some had several!

Salads were next. They got their choice of dressings and customized salads without cheese or bacon if requested or needed.

The main course consisted of risotto, teriyaki chicken or salmon topped with mango-peach chutney sauce, garlic green beans and was decorated with spiralized zucchini and cilantro. Rob was able to cook the beans, chicken and salmon on the big grill outside, which helped the kitchen prep tremendously.

We dipped strawberries in chocolate and made gluten-free mini-cheesecakes with cherry topping and chocolate decorations for dessert. It was so pretty and tasted so good. We dipped a few berries in dairy-free chocolate, but did not make dairy-free cheesecakes. The student was still happy because he could have a yummy strawberry and some extra chocolate candy we got for him.

That event turned out very, very well. It was so fun to see the kids and some adults dressed up and they ate SO much food! We had a ball doing the event. The kids were delighted to have this experience and were happily talking about it the next day at church, I’ve heard. They went off ice skating afterwards, but we collapsed! It was worth it, though.

The second event this week was feeding the college aged kids their Tuesday night dinner. It was just coincidence that our turn for that was this week as well. It was kept quite simple.

We got ham for 77c/lb at Winco and Rob barbequed 2 of them. He sliced them and put them in our big roaster. I made southwestern beans with soaked pink beans, onion, green salsa verde and ham broth. We used 6 heads of romaine and one head of head lettuce to make a huge bowl of salad. Then, we put toppings such as olives, cheese, tomatoes, and tortilla salad toppers out so they could create their own southwestern salads. Some canned corn, oranges and brownies and made from a boxed mix finished out the dinner. There were around 35 people there–more than expected, but the food held out! Hallelujah! Those kids are a cheerful, appreciative bunch every time we feed them. It makes it fun to do.

Thriving In My Thrifty Week-January 13, 2018

This week was an interesting one. I did a couple of things that were out of the ordinary.

I went with my sister to visit our friend, Harnet. She has moved a little farther away from us, so we carpooled a lot of the way, saving me some gas. Even better, my sister and I got to visit for way longer than if we had driven separately. We had coffee, lunch, did errands, and visited. It was a fun day. It was on my normal shopping day, so I did not go to the grocery store. Danait wanted to wear all her gear and ride her bike, so my sister took her outside for a while to do that. Brrr…..they didn’t last long, but it was fun for them both while it did!

Rob made Jake “Almanzo” pancakes for breakfast this morning. Every since we read “The Long Winter” and Almanzo ate stacks of pancakes, Jake has been fascinated with the idea. Rob makes them small, only about 3 inches across, so he we can make a stack. Last night, we were helping with a youth event, and after Rob finished barbecuing, Jake had had enough of it all, and went home with “Unckie.”

The youth event was a formal dinner. A few weeks ago, the youth pastor asked my sister if she could make a dinner for the kids, with “real plates and courses.” Of course, my sister said she could, and roped us in. In the end, over 20 kids sat down and ate dinner at my sister’s house, in their fancy clothes (or not in a couple of cases–there were a couple in jeans, but still always welcome). Then, they went ice skating. I’m planning to do a post later in the week showing what we cooked, but here I’m going to highlight the money-saving things we did.

Rob cooked 4 things outside on a very large BBQ. He did 1 of the appetizers, the vegetables and the chicken and fish. That saved us a lot of commotion in the kitchen. He shopped around quite a bit for the best price on salmon. It varied greatly in price, according to where it was purchased. He finally found 2-lb bags for $7.99, an amazing deal.

We used between 120-150 glass plates. We were able to use hers, mine and borrow more until we had enough. (In addition to the over 20 youth, there were 12 adults and college age helpers that came for the actual event and we fed them, too, making it a crowd of around 35. Yikes!). I had some nice paper napkins someone had given me long ago that we used, and we took 24 sets of silverware over there. I bought that set years and years ago at Walmart and they are very lightly made, but they all match and I use them for large gatherings.

We tried to get the best prices on the food that we could. For instance, I got most of the cream cheese on sale over the Christmas holidays and picked up a few more boxes at Winco when I realized I had not purchased enough for the cheesecakes. Their brand was quite inexpensive–I’m not sure if they had leftover from the holidays, but I was happy to see that price! I used dipping chocolates we had on hand for the decorations and home-canned cherry pie filling for the topping.

As I mentioned before, I was so busy this week with the dinner, and was gone on my normal shopping day that I didn’t have a chance to go shopping, except early one morning to pick up just a very few items. This is helping me with my project of cleaning out the fridge and using some stockpile items. I’ll see how many days I can make it, but I’m pretty sure I may run out of some things this week. We’ll see! At this point, I really, really want to clean out that fridge–it needs a good wash very badly.

Thriving In My Thrifty Week–December 30, 2018

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We have been doing a lot of cleaning and reorganizing.  While doing so, we noticed that this dresser had drawers that were completely broken, so Rob repaired it.  We got this dresser years and years ago, for the first 2 girls we adopted, over 30 years ago.  It has been painted and repaired many times, and it’s now back in great condition once again.

We collected a few bags of torn wrapping paper from Christmas, and have been using it to start fires in the mornings, along with kindling that Rob cut from free scrap wood collected around town.  There are a few businesses around town that use wood to make products such as flooring and doors, and they put bins of free scrap wood out for anyone to take.  Sometimes he gets really nice scraps and uses them for cutting boards, and the rest we use to start fires.

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I made broth from the turkey bones from Christmas.  I froze most of it.

We were given a Christmas gift that enabled us to do a Costco run.  We didn’t choose what some would call exciting items–we got toilet paper, ziplocks, garbage bags, things such as that, but it was exciting to me to get those things stocked back up.  We got a few food items as well.  We also got a date out of it.  We dropped Patsy off at a youth event, went to Costco, and bought one of those yummy cooked chickens and one container of salad and ate our lunch in the car.

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Jake’s greens are growing!  (There is a Columbine flower coming up, as I used a pot that had that in there just in case the seeds didn’t sprout for him). He was under the weather today when he was here, and hasn’t looked at them lately, but I know he will be here next weekend and hopefully can see them then.  He was not himself, but was glad to snuggle on the couch under blankets and do the forbidden act of eating crackers on the couch while asking me 4-5 times to take his temperature with the thermometer.  I’m not sure why it fascinated him so much–he didn’t have a fever any of the numerous times we took it, but it did.  I kept him here for only part of the afternoon, just to keep his normal Sunday schedule, then sent him home.  Hopefully he will get over it quickly.

Patsy was able to do 2 more work projects with the youth group this week, and is well on her way to earning the money she needs for the retreat she wants to go on.

We helped prepare lunch for the teens today.  I made a large tossed salad, purchased 4 large sodas for 88c each on sale, and bought one large tub of ice cream.  I made hot fudge sauce with mint in it and got some clearance red and green M & M’s for toppers. My sister ordered pizza for the main dish.  It was very easy today.

As I mentioned last week, I had used my grocery budget up.  But, Rob ate all the salad stuff and a few other things were running low.  I decided to start in on January’s grocery money. I made a plan of what I thought I would use for the next 2 weeks, knowing full well I will need to grab lettuce at least weekly.  I had several things that helped me out.  1) There were several free items on my Safeway rewards that I needed to use before Dec. 31, so I got those–2 boxes of Safeway pasta, 1 dozen eggs, and $2 off a bakery item (I used it towards a package of  gf buns), and a bag of mini chocolate chips.  While I was there, I got 99c/1/2 gallon milk, cottage cheese, 99c sour cream and a few more items like 88c soda.  I also used a few Bottle Drop dollars to help out with that store’s haul.  2) I got a few Christmas clearance items at Fred Meyers, while getting produce: a package of Christmas cards at 75% off for next year, and the Christmas M and M’s.  3) I earned around $6 with Ibotta rebates.  4) When I stopped at Winco for the ice cream I’d forgotten I had promised to pick up for Patsy, I saw ham for 77c/lb.  I immediately grabbed the 2 allowed.

I spent a $10 JoAnn reward they sent me.  I also spent a little fun money I had.  I did not buy fabric, as I have plenty, but little odds and ends and some clearance Christmas paper.  I found one Star Wars print that had no Christmas markings at all for Jake’s upcoming birthday, some leopard print paper for Michaela sometime, and a few ribbons that went with those and the other rolls I picked up.  It was great that there were several selections that were not Christmas-y at all, and I will use them for birthdays.  What wasn’t inexpensive was the package of iron-on patches I bought to mend some of Patsy’s clothes, but hopefully they will work to fix the holes.

How is your week going?  Are you getting organized after the holiday and back to schedule?  I hope to during this upcoming week after a little more holiday fun:)

Feeding A Crowd–Nov. 2018

 

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There were 2 occasions in the past week that we fed crowds.  I’m sharing the menus in hopes of giving good ideas to those who need or want to feed large groups on a budget.

The first occasion was over at my sister’s house.  She was hosting a high school gathering.  There was no way to know if there would be 5 kids or 40.  It was a bit of a challenge.  She decided to serve salad bar, baked potato bar, fruit salad and ham.  Her reasoning for these choices was to provide many, many options for the kids who needed to eat gluten-free, dairy free, or chose to be vegetarians.  There are some of each in the youth group.

She got the hams and asked Rob to BBQ them the day before.  She asked me to bring desserts.  She cut and chopped, cooked and simmered the rest.  It was all delicious.

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In the end, there were about 20 people at the gathering, so there was too much food.  (Better too much than too little–that’s our motto!) We were able to send the rest of the berry-apple crisp to an evening youth activity and they ate a bunch more of it there.  We all ate salad for a couple of days afterwards, along with potatoes.  She made a twice-baked potato casserole with some of them, using the cheese as well.  She plans to freeze some of that, as an experiment to see how it freezes, for another  day. We were both pleased.  There was lots of food.  The kids loved it.  Everyone, no matter what their dietary needs, had plenty to eat.  There was plenty of opportunity for them to visit with one another, then have their discussion/lesson.  (By that time, I was long gone, with Jake in tow, so they could focus on the youth)

The second occasion this week was feeding the college-aged kids at church.  There are several teams who rotate through with this project, so we have a turn about once a month.  My niece, Alissa, is really enjoying being a part of this project.  We are not only practicing her cooking skills, but are using it as part of her homeschool math.  She has been figuring out budget, cost, helping shop and cook, and figuring out how much food is needed for “x” amount of people, etc.

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We pulled out the big roaster oven this month.  It was about 1/2 full of chili.  I made the chili Sunday night, using soaked pinto beans from the huge 50 pound bag Rob got for such a low price a while back.  There is a budget from the church for this project, so they bought hamburger and the rest of the ingredients.  The chili was refrigerated and was very easy to put into the roaster yesterday, warmed and transported with no fuss.

Alissa wanted to make potato soup. We used 10 lbs of potatoes, celery, onion, milk and a tiny bit of sweet rice flour and filled 2 crock pots each 1/2 full.  That way, neither pot, or the roasted sloshed over on the trip to the church.  Rob put the crock pots in a box, wedged in with dish towels, and that helped, too.

Rob made cornbread from mixes.  A large pan of regular, and a small pan of gluten-free were plenty for the job. We put out honey and butter.  He shredded a brick of cheese and cut onions, to put in the chili, or the potato soup, as desired.  It was desired.  The entire 2-lb brick was consumed.

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Alissa made 2 boxes of brownie mix, and added crushed peppermint to one of them.  I made some pumpkin-chocolate chip muffins for the gluten-free people.  I had previously made them, and froze them to make yesterday easier.

In the end, there was hearty chili with toppings, potato soup with cheese if desired, cornbread, muffins, brownies, and a veggie plate. Water is always the drink they put out for that group, and they always set up the tables and put out paper goods.  When they move on to their singing/Bible study, we clean up and parcel out the leftovers, as is their practice for that group.  We leave them in rows on the table, in little take-home cartons, baggies and bowls and the kids take them home for the next day’s lunch.  It’s a really good system, I think.  The attendance seems to pretty consistent, around 25–more or less, so it’s getting easier to plan for how much to cook each time.

This was a very low-cost meal.  I shopped around, and got the best prices on the food items that were purchased, but did not need many expensive ingredients.  Potato soup was very simple, and inexpensive, and they LOVED it!  The chili was a hit, too, and the cornbread was almost gone.  I bought very few veggies, and most of them were still there:). We are still getting a feel for what this group likes, as we have not been doing this for long, and I’m coming to the conclusion that it’s FOOD that they like:). They are so appreciative, say thank-you many times, and generally let us know over and over how much they like it—who wouldn’t want to cook for them? 🙂  They are a joy to feed.