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Feeding families at my church--need ideas

My church is hosting three families in transition (they've lost their homes and jobs) and I have signed up to cook for them this week. I will be feeding about 15 people in all, so not a huge crowd. I'm looking for recipes that will please non-foodie types (we have back-up Bell and Evans chicken nuggets for any picky kiddos), but are a little more interesting than run of the mill church casserole dinners, which is what most of the other cooks will be serving on their nights. I am expecting to receive several pounds of excellent tomatoes from our CSA, so would love to incorporate those. Also, our church has no A/C, so would prefer not to stand over a hot stove stirring for hours. Pizza--my specialty--is out because two other families are already doing this later in the week.

Thanks so much for any ideas you can provide!

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  1. I know this is going to have you stirring over a stove a bit, but how about a basic marinara sauce kicked up with red/green/yellow peppers, more onion, sliced olives, sliced mushrooms and chunks of chicken? Its a nice spin on the usual spaghetti. Add a nice tossed salad and some garlic bread and you are done.

    1. I would do at least 2 braises like a beef stew and a swiss steak or a chicken cacciatore. You could do the braises in crockpots to minimize the heat.

      I would do meatloaf one night. Spaghetti and meatballs.

      I love Ham Hocks and beans with corn bread but I might be tempted to call it ham and bean soup assuming your north of the Mason-Dickson line.

      Pulled pork sandwiches might be a change of pace.

      All these dishes are fairly inexpensive and have a lot of bang for the buck taste wise.

      1. I don't know what the logistics are for you, but chicken parmesan, baked in the oven, served with tomato sauce, might be an idea. I usually serve it with mashed potatoes but baking a lot of potatoes might be a lot easier; spinach is a good side veg for it too.

        1. faux-paella is good, made with chicken and some smoked sausage, yellow rice, red bell peppers, onions. you could add skinned tomato chunks for flavor and color.

          i like the chicken cacciatore idea.

          1 Reply
          1. re: alkapal

            A good "not to the minute menu" is a roasted pork loin, bone in is a better value, mashed potatoes, with gravy from the roast, sauteed summer squash, or whatever else is plentiful, apple sauce, a big lettuce and tomato salad with croutons. All of this can be prepared and allowed to rest, (hold), and there is a minimum of stove top heat !!!

          2. I like this spicy oven "fried" chicken from epicurious. http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo...
            I just use chicken thighs because I don't like to mess with the difference of timing of a bunch of different parts. And of course you can make it as spicy (or not) as you deem appropriate.

            As for the tomatoes, to me it's hard to beat a sliced tomato this time of year, so I wouldn't do anything but slice em and put em on a platter. And I'd probably blanch a bunch of green beans and make those into a salad. Hunk of bread optional.

            Oh, if you're up for more cutting, I find kids (and many veg-averse adults) will go through lots of carrots, zucc, etc if there's a good dip around.

            Good luck and let us know how it goes!

            1. A bunch of friends and I used to always eat together (8 of us). We would choose a place and everyone would bring a few things. We were not rich, but you'd never know it by what we ate.

              One thing that always went over really well was build your own taco night. It's inexpensive, easy, doesn't require a ton of cooking, and best of all it is delicious and fun. The fresh diced tomatoes would be a star in this.

              Just prep the ingredients, and set up a table with them for everyone to take what they like.

              Whatever is left over, if anything, is very easily worked into a brand new dish the next day.

              1. Isolda, Before I have answers, I have questions .......

                Is this dinner only for 15 or do you have the other two meals (breakfast & lunch) as well?

                Has anyone asked the recipients what THEY would like to eat? My first thought when I read your post is that in lieu of yet another chicken-rice-cream of whatsis casserole/spaghetti, someone going through a serious upheaval and unpleasant transition might appreciate the opportunity to have a bit of control. Even if it is only choosing what to eat for dinner, autonomy could be very welcome. How about thinking to make a celebratory meal - roast turkey or a ham with all the trimmings?

                Are you required to cook the entire meal in the hot church kitchen? or can you do some of it in your own (hopefully ACed) home and transport to the church?

                If the families have cooking facilities wherever they are currently living, would your CSA be willing to contribute produce to these families? I suspect that it could be handled through the church if liability issues are a concern.

                Is anyone coordinating a food-nutrition-budget-local social service availability-education part of this feeding project? or is more of a band-aid to solve the immediate issues?

                Lastly, are you paying for this out of your own pocket? is there a church budget? If the answer to the last question is "yes", are you obligated to stick to it or can you add?

                Edit: I just read your profile and figured out that you are in the Boston area (Metrowest?). What is available and really wonderful there right now? Your families might appreciate the thoughtful gesture if they're from the same area. Also, has anyone asked about food allergies? Picky is one thing, sick is a different ballgame. I look forward to hearing from you,Isolda.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Sherri

                  I'm only doing the one dinner and I do have a partner. I'm also shopping for the ingredients for their breakfasts and lunches for the first five days. We just use our own money for this, which is a pleasure to me. The families make their own breakfasts and pack bag lunches, and they have only a few minutes to do this each day, which is really tough, because the van comes at 7 a.m. to bring them to the day center, where they set up job interviews, etc. They are actually spending every night for the next few weeks in our church, then they move to another church to live for a week or two. You're right, it's a terrible upheaval. Some of these families have young children, which is really heartbreaking.
                  This is part of a comprehensive program, so yes, they are receiving social services, and every church in the program has had to receive permits and be inspected in order to house these families.

                  There are no allergies, except for shrimp, and our church doesn't allow nuts, so those are the only limits. I did ask them what they wanted, and their tastes, at least for breakfast and lunch, run to pop tarts, juice boxes, and deli roast beef, so I don't think they are used to having money to spend on fresh fruits and veggies. I'm definitely using the tomatoes I got in my CSA share today, as well as the melons and some interesting sweet peppers. One of the things our guests mentioned last year (different families, but I'm sure many would agree with them) was that every host treated the whole thing like a dinner party instead of like a family meal, so all the food was fattening and had too many desserts. That's why I want to do something simple and fresh, with only fruit for dessert!

                2. I agree about crock pots and braises. You can make it ahead and bring it in and reheat. Soup and sandwiches for dinner comes to mind. Maybe a good tomato soup and get long loaves of french bread and make long sandwiches and cut them up into individual servings. Again, you can make both ahead of time.

                  1. For potlucks, I have brought a crockpot filled w/ meatballs in marinara sauce. I bring along small rolls and mozzarella cheese. People can make their own mini meatball subs. You could add a salad to go with. Kids seem to really like this.

                    1. Maybe something like variations of enchiladas (cheese, chicken, beef, veggie, etc.) that you can assemble in large trays and bake off.

                      Polenta lasagna for something a little different - do the polenta in the oven first then layer into lasagna

                      Chicken/Pork/Veggie Satays - i cooked for a wedding of 40 ppl yesterday, and the kids lapped up the satay (amongst other things)

                      Navy Bean Soup with a crusty bread

                      Chili and Cornbread

                      Breakfast for Dinner - maybe a couple of stratas, one savory and one sweet (a la French Toast Casserole)

                      1. This is a recipe that people always seem to like, Tomato pie.
                        Use pre-made or home made pie crust in a pie pan, brush with brown mustard and blind bake. meanwhile (sorry doing this from memory, so not exact measurements) brown up some bulk sausage or Italian sausage (removed from casings) and drain well. peel and seed fresh ripe tomatoes. Grate sharp cheddar on the large grate (need about cup and a half). In the blind baked pan, place the browned sausage, then arrange thick slices of the tomato, you can salt and pepper (oregano if you like) to fill the pie pan generously. Mix the grated cheese with Mayo, to get a firm but spreadable mixture. Spread on top of the pie completely, to form a seal edge to edge. Bake at 350 til golden and bubbling. Salad and some good bread and that's good eating!

                        3 Replies
                          1. re: Quine

                            I've made this without the sausage from the epicurious website and it is fantastic. I'll bet a sausage version would be excellent, as well.

                            1. re: Isolda

                              Yes, since I have made this for years it sometimes was meatless and also lent itself well to some leftovers bits of ham and roasts.
                              Delighted you like it!

                          2. First, I have to say that you're really doing a wonderful thing voluteering to cook for these unfortunate families. I'm sure they will appreciate whatever you decide to make. Casseroles are sure to be the majority of what people will decide to make since it's so easy but really, it's not that difficult to go above by a bit and do something the families will remember.

                            Cheese stuffed meatballs or meatloaf in a sauce made from your tomatoes would be nice. You can put together the sauce and simmer in a slow cooker. Make the cheese filling out of any cheese you like; I like to use part ricotta, part smoked gouda but you can do any type. Roll them in small balls and chill then mix up your meat and form the meatballs around the cheese nuggets. I've done these with turkey, lamb, beef, any meat works. You can pair it with sauteed penne with peas in a butter sauce and gingered carrots as a side dish.

                            A couple of well seasoned roasted chickens is also a nice option. I like to serve potatoes simmered in BBQ sauce with a chicken occasionally. Easy to do, and again, the potatoes can be done in a slowcooker. Pair with a green veggie like broccoli or green beans.

                            A homemade pot pie with chunky veggies & any meat you decide in a flaky crust with good gravy is comfort food and would be great with mashed potatoes and a salad with maybe mixed lettuces and citrus.

                            1. taking a different direction here, how about showcasing those tomatoes in a panzanella or a shepherd's salad? pair either one with simple roast chicken (or grilled kebabs/skewers, though that would require standing over the heat) and you've got a great meal.

                              1. Considering the new information, a big batch of Swiss steak over rice, some veggies including sliced tomatoes, a salad, some bread and some iced tea would be wonderful. It is easy to cook, and inexpensive. It is comfort food. It's very filling. Watermelon and or cantaloupes for dessert would be great. You could do the swiss steak in an dutch oven or a crock pot.

                                1. Thanks, all, for your ideas. I wound up making a tomato sauce with smoked Spanish paprika, leeks, lots of garlic and a carrot. I violated all of my rules and did not peel or seed the tomatoes, but I did roast them first to concentrate their flavor. I found a good deal on kielbasa, and since no one had served pork or any other sausage to these families, I bought it and used it in the sauce. Served this on a platter of polenta, which none of the guests had ever tried before. My partner did a gorgeous green salad and garlic bread and everybody loved it.
                                  I have to confess that I was nervous cooking for them because even though I'm confident in the kitchen, I knew they didn't have the option of ordering pizza if the dinner turned out nasty!

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: Isolda

                                    sounds like a winner: paprika, leeks, garlic, pork and polenta! tasty and filling -- and novel for them. nice job. you are a kind and thoughtful person.