Tuesday, September 14, 2010

How To Feed A Crowd - cheap and easy

My husband and I are affiliated with an L.D.S. congregation of college students. (See October 2009 post A Pediatrician's Advice or February 2010 post Now Go Sit Down.) They all live in an apartment complex in Provo, near Brigham Young University. Twenty-six apartments with up to six kids living in each one. We like to have groups of them over for dinner on Sundays. We usually invite two or three apartments at a time. It's a fun way to get to know them better, and many of them like the chance to be in a house now and then. If I had a dollar for every time one of them said "Real carpet!" upon hitting our family room, I'd probably have enough money to pay for a fair amount of the food I serve them. Feeding all these students as well as our own kids (and usually some of their friends) could get expensive. But I've figured out how to feed a crowd, cheap and easy. I've got it down. I make the same meal every week. They seem to love it, and, believe it or not,  my family doesn't even get sick of it.

I make a big pot of Lasagna Soup and two pans of homemade foccacia bread. I put out ingredients for make-your-own-salad, including torn up hearts of Romaine, cucumbers, grape tomatoes, and green onions. If I happen to have anything else that would be good in a salad, I put it out as well. They can also use the Parmesan cheese that I put out for the soup in their salad if they want. Then I make an easy dessert. Sometimes apple crisp in the Dutch oven, or Texas sheet cake. Maybe cupcakes and let them frost their own. I usually have vanilla ice cream to go along with any of these.

I got the soup recipe from my friend and neighbor, Cherie Peterson. She's an excellent cook. Her family actually calls it Freakin' Good Lasagna Soup. And it is.

Here's the recipe:

1 lb. ground beef

1 small onion, chopped

1 large clove garlic, minced (I actually use garlic-in-a-jar)

1 (15 oz.) can tomato sauce

1 (28 oz.) can Italian style petite diced tomatoes

1 tsp. beef bouillon (1 cube - I like the granules because you don’t have to unwrap them.)

3 tsp. chicken bouillon (3 cubes)

4 cups water

1 tablespoon dried oregano

1 tsp. dried thyme

1 tablespoon dried basil

crushed red pepper flakes

about 5 lasagna noodles, cooked and cut into bite-sized pieces (a pizza cutter works well)

mozzarella cheese, grated

Parmesan cheese, grated

Ricotta cheese

Heat a little olive oil in a good sized pot. Add onion and garlic and sauté until golden. Add the ground beef and brown it. Drain fat and return ground beef mixture to pot. Add tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, bouillon, water and seasonings. (Adjust seasoning amounts to your taste. I never really measure.) Heat to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer. Add cooked lasagna noodles. To serve, ladle soup into bowls and top with ricotta, mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses.

When I make this for a crowd (maybe twenty people), I triple it and use a whole box of lasagna noodles. Be careful with the crushed red pepper flakes!

So, on to the foccacia bread. It's really easy to make. Really! And so good.

Foccacia Bread

6 cups flour

2 cups warm water

¼ cup oil

1/4 cup sugar

2 tsp salt

1 ½ Tbsp yeast (2 single use packets)

6 oz. grated Parmesan cheese

2 Tbsp Italian seasonings

2 Tbsp olive oil

1/2 tsp salt

Combine 3 cups of the flour, water, oil, 2 tsp. salt, sugar, and yeast in a large mixing bowl. Mix with beaters or dough hook for 5 minutes. Add remaining 3 cups of flour and knead for 5 minutes (by hand or in mixer). In a separate bowl, combine cheese and seasonings. Add ½ of the mixture to the dough and knead it in for 2 more minutes. (Sometimes, I make it to this point the night before, spray the inside of a plastic grocery bag with non-stick spray, toss the ball of dough into the bag, tie the top up and put it in the fridge. The next day I take it out, let it warm up a little and proceed.) Lightly cover the dough with oil place in a bowl, and let rise for 20 minutes. (If you had it in the fridge overnight, skip that. Just start here after the dough has warmed up a little.) Roll the dough out a little bigger than a baker’s half sheet (large cookie sheet with sides---11 x 17). Spray the pan and place the dough in it. The dough will retract a little; make it fit the pan. Spread the olive oil on the dough. Add the last 1/2 tsp. of salt to the cheese mixture. Sprinkle the mixture over the dough. Let rise for 15 – 20 minutes. In the meantime, preheat oven to 425 degrees. Poke the dough gently but firmly enough to leave depressions over the dough’s surface. (If you forget to do this, don’t worry about it! I usually forget.) Bake for 15 minutes, placing aluminum foil lightly over the top for the last five minutes to avoid over-browning. You might need to add a few more minutes of baking time, depending on your oven.

 (This bread is really good for sandwiches. Cut in squares and split in half lengthwise.)

I serve this cheap and easy meal most Sundays from September through December. (In January I change it up by making Pasta Alfredo instead of the Lasagna Soup. Maybe in January I'll post that recipe.) If you're in the neighborhood, drop in and join us. What's one more mouth when you're already feeding a crowd?

October 24th update: There is a pasta shaped like little lasagna noodles. It's called campanelle. Target sells it. It's a little cheaper than a box of lasagna noodles, and a lot more convenient to use. Also, I've been making the bread with four cups whole grain wheat flour and two of regular white flour. It's really good and I feel a lot better about eating it. For the students, I make a pan of white and a pan of wheat.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for posting these recipes. I have always wanted them. You are a gem for feeding all those kids!!!