Archive for Good Food

Large Group Hospitality: Lasagna for 30


My husband’s family is Italian, so of course we signed up to do Italian on our dinner night at the reunion.  You can do frozen store-bought lasagna or jarred sauce, of course, but homemade is totally worth the extra time.  As all of you with handwritten recipes from the Old Country know, it’s really all about letting the sauce simmer and pick up the flavors of the meat.  So ideally, you’ll make up the sauce on a day you’re home to stir it all day and then stick in the fridge to assemble the next day, but you can also get the supplies together after breakfast, simmer all day, and then assemble your lasagna mid-afternoon.  Yes, it’s a time-consuming meal, but it’s not that much harder to do two or three at a time, and my husband (who does all the Italian cooking in our home) always does two–one for dinner and one for the freezer.  I also prefer company meals where I get to do the fussiest part of the prep plenty of time before people start arriving.  Since this bakes for an hour, we can assemble and then wash up the dishes, pull together a big tossed salad, and stick the garlic bread in to bake for the last 15 minutes.  By the time company arrives, all I have to do is set the table.


The Menu

Lasagna, garlic bread, green salad


105 oz can crushed tomatoes (available at stores like GFS, Costco, Smart & Final, or use four of the smaller cans to add up to about 105 oz)
46 oz tomato juice
1 lb ground sirloin
1/2 lb sweet Italian sausage (my in-laws use ground pork)
1 head garlic
Italian seasoning
Dried basil
Dried oregano
Dried parsley
Salt and pepper
1 tsp sugar
pinch of baking soda
olive oil
three boxes no-boil (“oven ready”) lasagna noodles (it tastes better with fresh, homemade pasta, but if you make your own pasta like my husband does, you probably don’t need me to tell you how to make lasagna)
4 lbs part-skim ricotta cheese
5 lbs shredded mozzarella cheese


Sauce: Lightly coat bottom of your largest (8 qt?) pan with olive oil.  Lightly brown crushed garlic.  Brown sirloin and sausage.  Season with spices.  Add crushed tomatoes and juice.  Depending on the thickness of the crushed tomatoes and how long you plan to simmer, you may need more or less juice.  The longer you simmer the sauce, the more juice you’ll use.  Season to taste, and add sugar and baking soda. Simmer at least three hours, but ideally all day, stirring occasionally.

When sauce is done, lightly coat the bottoms of three 9×13 pans with a tablespoon of olive oil and a teaspoon of water in each.  Layer noodles, ricotta cheese (use the spoon to dollop and your fingers to spread it out over the noodles), shredded mozzarella, and sauce.  Depending on the depth of your pan, you’ll be able to fit 3 or 4 layers. Finish with a layer of noodles, sauce, and mozzarella.  You will use up all of the cheese and sauce.

Spray aluminum foil with nonstick spray and lightly cover the pans, cutting a couple slits to allow steam out.  Bake at 350 for at least 45 minutes to an hour (longer if your oven is full of three pans of lasagna plus garlic bread)  Watch carefully for excess liquid and allow to sit for 10-15 minutes before serving.

Serves 30 normal people with average appetites or about 50 Southern Californians. =)


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Hospitality for a Crowd

I am firmly convinced that hospitality is essential for creating community.  Whether it’s inviting another mom from church over to your (not-perfectly-clean) house for lunch or having another family over for dinner or hosting a weekly Bible study, hospitality is how we build those deeper relationships with each other.  If we haven’t done it much, even having another family for dinner can be nerve wracking.  I’ll never forget my greatest newlywed hosting failure, when we had our friends Jonathan and Jackie over to our tiny apartment and the stinking pork loin I’d selected with pride took an hour longer to cook than I’d expected (because I hadn’t totally defrosted it ahead of time).  Or the time we brought lasagna over to friends with a new baby and it had to go back in the oven at their house for another half hour because it was still frozen in the middle.  Or the time I got ambitious and tried to make homemade tortillas AND homemade refried beans for a bunch of my college girlfriends and the tortillas were totally messed up and we basically sat around our card table eating pieces of dry cracker-like substance with beans.  I could go on.  The point is, I’ve made lots of mistakes, but all the people to whom I’ve fed sub-par food are actually still my friends.  They know I’m not the perfect hostess, and thankfully, they don’t care.  All of this is to the young housewife to keep trying her hand at hosting.  And if you’ve mastered one family, how about inviting over a whole group?


Since my husband is a professor, we’ve become pros at groups, but I think we had our largest gathering to date this summer, when about 30 lawyers from the same Christian organization gathered in our home.  Fortunately, my friend Janelle and her husband are part of the group, and she volunteered to co-host with me.  Since she works part-time, she was in charge of the shopping, and since I’m home full-time, I did the cooking.  We did Mexican food, with two tortilla options, two meat options, and beans, rice, chips, and toppings.  I bought a second crock pot for this event (and because we’re going to be hosting a weekly small group in our home this fall), and it really was pretty easy!  Paper products made clean up a breeze.  With Janelle and her husband to help with last minute prep and hosting during the evening, I wasn’t even frazzled.  We were crowded, but everyone felt welcome.  We’re looking forward to doing it again next year.

Sometimes it’s hard to actually visualize how it all might work, but we are here to help you with that!  At our E2S Founder’s Reunion this summer, each family was responsible for feeding the 25 of us for dinner one night.  Since we’ve all hosted large groups in the past, each of us did a tried-and-true crowd pleasing meal, and they were all so good that we promised each other we’d share our recipes.  And if we’re sharing them with each other, we might as well share them with you!  Stay tuned for those yummy recipes in the days to come!

In the meantime, what’s the biggest crowd you’ve fed?  Any group meal themes or crowd recipes you can share with the rest of us?  I’ll be taking notes!

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Hospitality and Houseguests

hospitality and houseguestsBethany and her family were in town this past weekend!  Besides my parents, who came out to help us settle in, they were our first overnight houseguests in our new house, and we made many happy memories here together.

I’ve shared about hospitality many times before, but I never talked about the having-overnight-houseguests kind because Bethany and Anna both do it so well and could write about it more eloquently and because I’m still holding out for Christina to come back and guest post for us on how she sets up her guestroom (I’ve stayed in three iterations in different houses, and every time, I was so inspired).  But I’m feeling the need this week to convince all of you to invite old friends to come visit you (or invite yourself to stay with friends–we have a guest room!).

I really do believe that for me, road trips to visit likeminded friends (my childhood best friend and a handful of our best college friends) are what keep my husband and me energized in this single income, stay-at-home mom, homeschooling life we live that is so very different from even the other families in our church.  It is not particularly convenient for people with large families and/or young children to share a small space for even a weekend, but it is still so worth it.  I’ve told before how Anna and her husband and two kids came to visit us when we lived in a one bedroom apartment in grad school.  It was such a sweet weekend, even though my husband and I were sleeping on an air mattress in our living room!  In a pinterest-and-facebook culture, it’s so easy for us to have slightly warped views of how even our dearest friends have everything together if we’re not local and stopping by to see the little lego pieces everywhere on each other’s floors on a regular basis.  The Real Housewives of E2S Project is Anna’s and my online attempt at transparency in this area; we aspire to be neat, tidy, and organized, but our lives are often anything but.  When you’re in someone’s home, you see that she has legos and cheerios hiding in nooks and crannies in her house, too.

Does it sound overwhelming to have people in your home for an entire weekend?  I’m an extrovert, so it appeals to me to begin with, but I’ve also taken notes from my hospitable friends and have a plan down for hosting.  I always try to start off the weekend with a clean slate–everything is freshly swept, vacuumed, and toilets and bathtubs scoured.  Toys are organized and put away so that when a million things are inevitably pulled out, it’s fresh chaos, not chaos on top of chaos.  This is work, but it is the kind of work I should do on a weekly basis, anyway.  I try to plan ahead of time to have meals (breakfast/lunch/dinner/snacks) plotted out, something I do, anyway.  When Bethany’s family was here, I grocery shopped the day before, spent the next morning making a double batch of granola and fresh crockpot yogurt for easy breakfast options, baked my normal four-loaf batch of bread for PBJ sandwiches for lunches, and did my most time-intensive meal (homemade pizza) that first night.  The second day, we did crockpot chicken tacos that I threw in at lunchtime so all we had to do at dinnertime was make the rice and warm up the tortillas.  I assigned my husband dinner duty on the third night while Bethany and I got out by ourselves for a couple hours, and he made the yummy homemade spaghetti that we’re eating in the picture above.  During the summer, he might grill out instead.  That’s pretty much our set weekend-company-meal plan, tweaked if people have food allergies or whatever.  Bethany’s kids, like mine, cheerfully eat tons of produce, so snacks were carrot sticks, red pepper strips, and cucumber slices in the afternoons and sliced up apples, pears, and oranges in the mornings.  Easy peasy!  I’d made a large batch of pizzelle cookies for a potluck last week and saved enough for us to have those for dessert one night, and I pulled cookie dough balls out of the freezer for an easy fresh cookie treat another night.  Feeding 11 people can be expensive, but since all of our meals were from scratch, each meal was probably less than $1/person.  A meal out would have easily been over $100 for our crew, so we didn’t go out.  We ate well at home.  As far as mess goes, three extra children do pull out different toys than mine would on a given day, but we also had all the extra sets of hands helping clean up every night.  All the adults pitched in with cleaning up the kitchen and wrangling kids.  It was a very low-key weekend, overall.


Do you host out-of-town friends in your home?  Did you grow up doing that?  Do you invite yourself to out-of-town friends’ homes?  Do you feel comfortable doing that?  Malibu is a beautiful place to visit, and did I mention we have a guest room?  Just sayin’.

Posted in Friendship, Good Food, Hospitality, Practical Housekeeping | Leave a comment

Hidden Art Friday

Things that are uncomfortable may make a good taleThe kids and I have been listening to a lot of audiobooks this week, and this line from Chapter 3 of The Hobbit really struck me as applicable to the life of a stay-at-home mom.  So much of what we do doesn’t really make for good blog posts, because it’s just nice, normal, everyday life.  The crazy stuff makes better stories!  As Anna and I ponder the future of this blog, we’re wondering how many times we can write about the value of staying home with our kids before it just gets redundant.  What do you think?


On a personal note, I want to give a little ray of sunshine to moms who are in the thick of juggling diaper changes, potty accidents, and naps.  In the past few days, I’ve had to drive to the next town over not one, not two, but FOUR times to get some things fixed on my minivan.  I accidentally triple scheduled myself yesterday, and we were out of the house basically all day long.  Here’s what I’ve realized: I am finally free of the after-nap chains!  My youngest still needs an afternoon nap, but at two and a half, she is now flexible enough that she can go down at noon if I need to leave the house early afternoon or can hold off until 2 if I’m returning a rental van, transferring four carseats in the parking lot of a car dealership, and running errands that can’t wait until my husband gets back from his work trip.  When all my other children hit this flexible stage, I had a new baby coming up whose sleep schedule required us to be home more consistently or pay a terrible price in overtired baby screams the rest of the day. I still believe in predictable nap routines, but I am appreciating the freedom to stay longer at park day without worrying about transferring a sleeping toddler into bed while hobbling on a yet-unhealed broken foot!  I’m still in the little years for the most part, but I’m also starting to believe in the light at the end of the tunnel.


Remember my 50 pound back of oats?  In addition to our morning oatmeal (with mini chocolate chips), I’ve been making oatmeal bread, oatmeal cookies, and lots of granola.  Last week, I bought a bunch of bananas that no one ate, so I tweaked a few recipes I’d had on hand to make banana bread granola.  Everyone loves it so much that I quickly started doubling the recipe and have made four batches so far!  We have it for breakfast over yogurt, dry for a snack, and with milk after dinner for dessert.  While I kept the oil from my starter recipes (attempts to sub with water or applesauce make the granola substantially less crispy), I cut back on sweeteners, since I was adding extra banana and sweetened coconut flakes.  If you added in dried fruit, you might be able to cut the honey back to 1/3 cup.  I didn’t have nuts on hand, but they’d be yummy.  And when we eat it for dessert, I might be known to sneak in some chocolate chips…

Banana Bread Granola

7 cups oats (half rolled, half quick oats)
1 tsp. sea salt
1 Tbsp. cinnamon/pumpkin pie spice
¼ cup flaxseed meal
1 cup sweetened shredded coconut
3 mashed bananas (about 1½ cups)
½ cup oil
½  cup maple syrup and/or honey (I use about half of each)
2 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 275 F.
Mix dry ingredients in large bowl.
In microwave safe bowl, warm up maple syrup/honey until very thin (15-30 seconds) and mix with other wet ingredients. Stir into dry ingredients and mix thoroughly.
Spread evenly on two cookie sheets. I like to use my baking stone because it prevents burning. If using metal sheets, line with parchment paper to prevent sticking/burning and for easy clean-up.
Bake for 45 minutes, stirring a few times midway to break up clumps. Turn oven to warm and bake for 15 more minutes. Turn off oven and leave granola in oven until oven cools off, another 30 minutes or so. Lengthen bake times for crispier granola, shorten for softer granola.

Posted in Good Food, Hidden Art Fridays | Leave a comment
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