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Jan 30, 2011 07:20 AM

Soup kitchen cookery - large quantity recipes, cheap and delicious

I volunteer at a soup kitchen once a week. I started another thread yesterday, asking for a recipe for a large-quantity cheesecake because I have all the ingredients to make it for my Tuesday shift. It occurred to me that other C-Hounds may be doing similar things - I got one reply asking me to report on my cheesecake results from someone who also volunteers at a similar place. Got me thinking we should share these recipes. It's a challenge - we call it the Soup Kitchen Iron Chef - to make something out of whatever weird ingredients happen to have been donated on any given week. Sometimes we get huge amounts of unlikely things - red peppers, mushrooms, fresh mozzarella, frozen cranberries - and we have to figure out how to use them before they go to waste. There is rarely any meat, so sometimes the volunteers will actually split the cost of something on sale so that we can serve a meat main dish - usually it's hamburger (to make a pasta casserole) or a big pork roast (to slice and serve). We do a lot of prep at home - partially cooking a big vat of soup to finish at the kitchen or throwing together a casserole of some sort to bake on site.

Would love to share ideas and recipes with others who do similar things. It can be really hard to figure out how to make something delicious out of food bank donations.

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  1. So many threads on this already - here's one:
    And one of many on frugal meals:

    1. Nyleve, wow, what a challenge. Are you looking for basic strategies that help you accomodate/preserve the food bank donations as they come in? Or specific recipes/methods that are flexible? Or something else entirely? Also, how many folks are you serving each night?

      I have experience in the soup/bread for 100+ department, but am not sure if my tips would be at all helpful to you. (Also quite a bit of experience in the "wow, what are we going to do with three cases of kohlrabi" department.)

      Good luck to you and looking forward to contributing whatever I can to your challenge.

      16 Replies
      1. re: miss louella

        Since I'm only in once a week, I can do nothing by way of establishing any strategies for keeping donations or using them. It's a mess. One week you put away everything in a logical way, the next week you go in and nothing is where you left it. Sometimes I arrive and find a pot of soup sitting at room temperature on the stove and no one will be able to tell me when it was made and how long it's been sitting there. We spend a lot of time pitching food that was donated in good faith - this part of it kills me.

        I was just asking if anyone had any good recipes for large-scale casseroles etc. - we make do with what we have. Last week someone found a huge frozen block of ground beef, so shepherds pie will happen. I came home with a ton of cream cheese etc., and will be making cheesecake for dessert for Tuesday. We almost always get donations of bread - and nice bread, too (from Costco) - and there are almost always potatoes. Other than that, it's a crap shoot.

        1. re: Nyleve

          Do you have sheet pans, and racks to store them when they've got food in them? If so, it's easier to make cheesecake bars (lots of bars and brownies, really, and pizza) than actual cheesecakes.

          1. re: Jay F

            That what I was planning to do - I'm going to use those large disposable foil roasting pans (from the $$$ store) and line them with parchment or foil. I think each pan will hold about a double recipe (9x13 pan size) and I think I have enough cream cheese to fill two of those pans. All will be clear tomorrow when I bake. Most will go at lunch time, but leftovers will be eaten throughout the day, so no problem storing them.

            1. re: Nyleve

              Those large aluminum pans are dirt cheap at Costco and some times you can get more than a single use out of them. They come in two sizes, both of which fit in a commercial oven but I couldn't get the larger one in my old wall oven.
              If other shifts are disorganized you might keep your own roll of heavy duty foil in your car. It's a bummer to run out when you are cooking in those pans.

          2. re: Nyleve

            When I volunteered at a soup kitchen, there was a box of tags on elastic on one of the main counters. The general rule was once you cooked/prepared something, you would write what it was, when it was made, how it should be stored on the tag. The tag was looped to the pot handle or taped to the container. That way there were no doubts about what it was or when it was made.

            1. re: cheesecake17

              I will try to institute a plan like this (she says, beating head against wall) to avoid the kind of terrible waste I've seen. We've had magic markers taped to the fridge to mark things, we've asked people not to chop more vegetables than they need, I've had meltdowns that made me look like a maniac about having to throw out an entire bucket of fresh mozzarella cheese (!!!) that had been left at room temp in the summer. Something needs to be done but it's hard when you're just there for a short time every week - and I can't be there every day. Thanks for the suggestion.

              1. re: Nyleve

                It's definitely tough, especially when everyone wants to help and do their best. Another suggestion- come up with a list of basic "do's and don'ts." DO refrigerate if in doubt, DONT' leave knives on the counter.. stuff like that. Hand out a copy to all the volunteers, tape a copy to the fridge, freezer, and cabinets, and invite other volunteers to add to the list. It'll only help reduce waste!

                1. re: Nyleve

                  I agree with what others have said...all volunteers should go through a short "training" when starting out. Volunteers want to know that they are doing a good job...and some basic training would be welcome. I know in some places when volunteers come in, they are just put to work without any real training. This is not good for a number of reasons....including potential health violations. GOOD LUCK.

              2. re: Nyleve

                One casserole I've done for large (very large) groups is penne with tomato sauce. I use multi-grain pasta and add in whatever donated veggies make sense (either grated or sauteed--depending on veggie and time). Oh and I don't boil the penne/pasta first--just add a little extra water to the sauce, cover it for the initial baking and then uncover to crisp.

                Friends and I are about to start cooking for a nearby shelter that houses about 75 adults. No cooking onsite so it will be an interesting challenge to bring nutritious food in quantity and keep it hot. At least we'll know who did what and when. I can't imagine what it must feel like to see a giant pot of soup you end up discarding.

                Good luck to you. I'll add to your post when we get started and find dishes that work in mass production.

                1. re: miss louella

                  I saw something like your penne dish on a buffet once where the sauteed zucchini rounds were arranged on top of the dish. Really looked nice, and stretched the zucchini as well.

                  1. re: cheesecake17

                    I help out with 2-3 groups that feed homeless people... Food is served at a park(s) or a private parking lot. All food is cooked at home with the exception of summers when meat (usually chicken and hot dogs) is barbecued on site.

                    Food is provided by various church groups or donated by food pantries.

                    One of our main meals is mole, rice, beans, salad, bread or rolls, fruit, cake, drinks.
                    The mole is made with whatever meat source available (turkey, chicken, pork).

                    Basics include the meat cooked/simmered/braised in water, onion, garlic, salt and pepper. When cooked, shred the meat add canned mole/chili/enchilada sauce and further season as desired. The easiest to cook with is boneless skinless chicken thighs which can be purchased in 40 lb boxes from your local restaurant supply for around $40.

                    The meat mixture can be extended with either potatoes and/or pasta with about a 4 to 1 or 2 ratio. (10-20 lbs of potatoes to 40 lbs of meat).

                    One pan (steam table pans 6x12x20 or 22 qts) each of the mole, beans, and rice should serve 100.

                  2. re: miss louella

                    We took a large woodened box or crate and took a sleeping bag and turned it inside out to line the holds heat pretty good.

                    1. re: miss louella

                      I have some ideas for large groups:
                      macaroni and cheese
                      chicken (roasted, barbequed)
                      mashed potatoes
                      lasagne (meat or vegetable)
                      sweet potato and apple casserole
                      tuna salad (tuna with elbow mac)
                      crushed garden salad
                      baked ziti (with ground beef and turkey sausage)
                      spaghetti and meat balls with onions and peppers.

                      I love to cook and am volunteering a a soup kitchen. (I would love to start my own soup kitchen...but for now I am volunteering to understand the "ropes" of such an undertaking). We have to prepare meals with whatever is on hand...or what has been donated for the day that only has a short shelf life. Soup is always good...but having a good meal is welcomed.

                    2. re: Nyleve

                      The feeding program I work with turns extra bread into bread pudding, wildly popular. You can also use up other stuff in the pudding by adding dollops of canned or fresh fruit or of jam, all sort of layered in between the bread.

                      1. re: Nyleve

                        ground beef would work well in a recipe of mine. the base is rice, cooked in canned diced tomatoes+juice (some rotel works too), water if needed, with spices, canned corn, canned beans (i use black beans, but whatever you have) and any other canned/fresh veg that makes sense. i usually finish by stirring in a cooked protein (anything works, from sausage to beef to chicken), and if you have cheese, topping with cheese and baking at 450F until browned and bubbly. makes a nice rice casserole, and beans (+cheese if have) can serve as protein with or without meat.

                    3. Our group volunteers to make a meal for a soup kitchen once a month. We get our provisions from a very generous discount food store. What they have for us changes every time (sometimes boxes of onions or carrots, sometime boxes of organic lettuce). Luckily, they usually give us whole chickens or chicken thighs. We find that basing a meal around roasted chicken (baked with butter and spices) and roasted potato wedges works well. We add whatever vegetable or salad stuff they give us, and usually one member will make dessert, like cookies. Sometimes we have had to split the cost of meat. A meal based around baked chicken and potatoes is filling and more healthy than many meals I've seen. We tried getting donations from chain grocery stores didn't work - they are tapped out from donating - but this local discount store really came through for us.

                      6 Replies
                      1. re: cybergrrl

                        Do you have the chain Panera near you? They are very generous in donating their leftovers.

                        1. re: arp29

                          Same for Noah's Bagel's and some Starbucks..

                          1. re: cybergrrl

                            One of my favorite quick meals is chicken pot pie. Take rotisserie chicken and pull all meat off, place in large foil pan. Add drained can of veg-all, peppers, onion, salt, pepper cream of chicken and some chicken broth. pour bisquick (pancake consistency) on top and bake according to bisquick directions. it should be brown on top. (we then boil off the chicken bones and freeze the broth for cooking use waste!)
                            Easy, delicious and filling.

                            1. re: momaH

                              Nice recipe! Since posting above, we have also gotten a CSA farm to donate salad greens and whatever vegetable is being harvested. They are happy to do so, and we are super happy to be able to serve fresh and organic fare.

                              1. re: momaH

                                I make something similar for our local soup kitchen. I make the base, chicken or turkey, frozen veggies, chunks of potatoes (or frozen hash browns) some canned cream soup (celery, mushroom, broccoli) add some broth or water, add to large dollar store foil pan. I allow this to warm up, stir if necessary to heat thoroughly, then about 20 min before serving, I cover the top with a layer of unrolled Pillsbury cresent rolls. Put back in oven till nice and brown... DELISH :-D

                                What else would you do with bones and skin... of course you make some broth, bring it in the next week, chop or use mandalin to chop up all your veggies (as much colour as you can) add some rice or pasta, a bit of seasoning, and another delicious meal

                            2. I've always wanted a copy of the book "Food for Fifty".......sounds like you could use one too. It's a great jumping-off point for bulk recipes. For instance, how much hamburger do you need to make chili for 50 servings.

                              If you could find someone to donate that book, plus some large chalkboards or white boards to track your incoming donations you'd have a leg up on the organizing part of your job. It's a tough thing to get all volunteers using the same protocols.

                              7 Replies
                              1. re: applgrl

                                I'm going to look for that book. The hardest thing for me is estimating amounts so this could be helpful. Once I know how much rice I need to cook for x-number of people, I can figure out a recipe of some sort. But I never know if it's 10 cups or 15 or what. Thanks for the suggestion.

                                1. re: Nyleve

                                  Try for Food for Fifty; you can get an older edition for about $40.

                                    1. re: mscoffee1

                                      There have been a number of editions of this book, and it's not immediately clear from the link which editions are being sold. However, you can use the ISBN to dig further.

                                      1. re: sr44

                                        The one above is 1989 edition. Since I've never seen the book it's hard to know how much of the content has changed. What I do know is that the way we eat has changed A LOT since then, though. Of course quantities etc., remain the same but there may have been a reliance on certain convenience foods we no longer like to use or an avoidance of things that would have been considered exotic (garlic, chilies, etc.). I should probably hold out for a more recent version. But thanks for the heads-up. The original price did stop me in my tracks.

                                        1. re: Nyleve

                                          yeah, the cost stopped me when I was a student and all these years later. I still look for it at the thrift shops tho....

                                2. re: applgrl

                                  I just checked out our small local library, and this book is available there for free!! I have it reserved for me to pick up tomorrow :-D

                                3. If you have a vocational school near you that teaches cooking, they might have an older copy of a textbook for "institutional" (large quantity) cooking.

                                  You might also find a caterer who would share recipes or techniques. The ones around here seem to be very good with finding stuff on sale and making great food, often at low prices. Maybe one around wherever you are has some ideas to share.

                                  If you have lots of bread, you might try garlic soup if you can get garlic. You basically need water or chicken stock, bread, garlic and some spices. You can add chicken or ham or whatever, some folks put in eggs (ala egg drop soup). Sometimes I top with cheese (and run under a broiler or salamander if I can. There are lots of recipes out there. Google's recipe search can be a big help. I'll bet it would be good with the peppers or mushrooms, too. It is a peasant dish so you can add whatever you want, really.