How to Feed a Crowd and Not Go Broke

Graduation parties, rehearsal dinners, family reunions—it’s the season for large gatherings. If feeding lots of people has you in a panic, relax. I’ve got you covered with great big recipes for enough fabulous food to feed a crowd that won’t bust the budget.

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Crockpot Chicken BBQ

  • 4 pounds chicken breasts (skinless, boneless)
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 3 tablespoons vinegar (any type)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 28 ounces (3 1/2 cups) bottled
  • barbecue sauce
  1. Place chicken, water, Worcestershire sauce, vinegar and cumin in slow cooker set on “Low.” Cook for 6 hours. Drain juices. Shred chicken right in the slow cooker using two forks to pull it all apart. Pour in barbecue sauce, stir to combine. Cook on “Low” for an additional hour. Serve on buns with coleslaw. Serves 16.

Easter Brunch on a Budget

It seemed like such a great idea several weeks ago when you invited the entire clan to your place for Easter Brunch. And now as the time draws near, you feel yourself beginning to panic.

How on earth will you ever come up with a menu you can easily fit within your spending plan that will feed an extra dozen or so hungry guests? Easy.

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Follow this menu that is curiously meat-free and depends on eggs, which are priced cheap around Easter—plus bread, potatoes, cheese and a few other fairly ordinary pantry items.

Add a big green salad, a plate of fresh fruit pizza (start with a slice of watermelon, top with a variety of fresh fruit bits and Feta cheese), and a basket of crusty bread to your gorgeous spread and you’re good to go.

If you feel you need dessert, delegate that to the first person who asks if they can bring something.

Fitness on a Budget

Recently I got a frantic letter from Barbara, who lives in Florida. It seems that her teenage son has taken up bodybuilding and her husband is adhering rigidly to the Atkins Diet, both of which are protein heavy. Barb got through the first week with a major case of mixed emotions: Her husband lost 7 pounds, her son gained 4—and her food bill doubled!

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Can Barb keep her food costs down while still supporting her family’s eating choices? I know she can. Special diets don’t have to be budget-busters. In the same way her son and husband are adjusting their way of eating, Barb must adjust the way she shops.

Don’t pay full-price for protein. Tuna, chicken breasts and lean beef cuts are always on sale somewhere. If you don’t want to store-hop, you can always find some cut of meat, fish and poultry on sale in your favorite market. Eat what’s on sale and if it’s a loss-leader (that means dirt-cheap in an effort to entice people through the door), stock up for the coming weeks. Grab up the items that are marked down for quick sale and then freeze.

Buy carbs in bulk. Find a warehouse club, ethnic market, health food store or food coop that offers rice, beans, oatmeal, nuts and legumes in by the pound. Store dry items in the freezer to retain freshness.

Shop with a list. Buying on impulse can blow a budget and a diet. So can arriving at the store hungry. Eat before you get there, stick to your list so you leave nothing to chance.

Venturing Out Into the World of Greens

I must admit to being a wimp when it comes to shopping for salad produce. I glance momentarily at the cast of greens available and then settle back into my iceberg lettuce rut. Other greens look quite tempting, but I’m never quite sure what’s what, so I stick with my old standby. But that’s going to change. I’m determined to branch out.

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There are hundreds of lettuces and salad greens beside the standard lettuces like iceberg, romaine and spinach. Many of these greens are sold in grocery stores, farmer’s markets and gourmet stores. Most are also easily cultivated, so if you have the space, you might try growing your own specialty mixes of different plants and varieties.

Butterhead Lettuces. The most common in this group are Bibb and Boston. The leaves form a head but are very loosely packed around a small center core. Butterhead lettuces have soft delicate leaves that are nearly melt in your mouth and work very well with vinaigrettes and light dressings.

Leaf Lettuces. These lettuces often have crinkled leaves that do not form a head. Some common types are green leaf, red leaf and Lollo Rosa. Because leaf lettuces are so beautifully colored, they add interest and unique texture to a green salad. Best served with light dressings and vinaigrettes.

Chicories. This group of greens that includes endive, escarole and radicchio have a strong, slightly bitter taste. I’m not sure these will show up in my shopping cart anytime soon, but I’m trying to keep an open mind. Chicories work best when mixed with other strongly flavored ingredients like bleu cheese, citrus fruits, nuts and heavy dressings. They also brighten the flavor when mixed butterhead and leaf lettuces that tone down the flavor.

Of Meatloaf and “Homade” Chili Sauce

My sweet mother-in-law loved chili sauce. But not any ol’ version. It had to be Homade Chili Sauce,  which for the longest time I thought was her personal spelling of “homemade.”  But she was right. Homade Chili Sauce it is.

She’d put it on almost everything, which surprised me. I’d always thought chili anything meant spicy hot. Her chili sauce was not that way at all. In fact, I’ve come to love it, too. It is slightly sweet, perfectly spiced and yummy delicious.

Photo Credit: Ravenousfig

Photo Credit: Ravenousfig

When Gwen couldn’t bring herself to buy as much Homade Chili Sauce as she wanted (by the case) because it could be pricey if not on sale, she set out to make it herself. After many attempts, she nailed it.

From then on it become properly spelled, “homemade” chili sauce,  and stored in the refrigerator in any size container available—even in a few of those cute chubby jars the real stuff comes in.

My mind flooded with memories of my mother-in-law one day recently when I heard from reader, Janie S., Florida. She was kind enough to send us her family’s favorite meatloaf recipe, which to my amazement lists “Grandma’s chili sauce” in the ingredients, along with a note that “homemade from Ball Blue Book Recipes using garden tomatoes also works.”

Cooking Under Pressure

I’m a big fan of pressure cooking because I can make an entire meal in just a few minutes. Pressure cooking is crazy fast which means I save a ton of time—and energy, too. I do find this fact rather amusing as I am equally fond of slow cooking.

I have come to love and adore my 5-quart Kuhn Rikon Duromatic pressure cooker and I wanted you to see it.

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I don’t know how I could manage my busy life without my pressure cooker. There are cheaper models out there, but this Duromatic stands head and shoulders above the rest. This cooker comes with an excellent manual and recipe book. Totally safe and idiot-proof, this pressure cooker is known as Einstein in my house. That’s because it makes me feel like a genius.

Pressure cooking saves me time and money helping me to prepare delicious meals that retain nutritional values often lost in other cooking methods. Pressure cooking does require some adjustments, however. Follow these tips for the best pressure-cooking results:

Brown meats, poultry and even some vegetables like chopped onions, peppers or carrots in the pressure cooker first. This is the secret to producing intense flavors and beautiful color. In a stove-top model (like my Kuhn-Rikon) add a small amount of oil then heat uncovered over medium-high heat. Remove the food to a bowl and set aside. Now loosen up and remove those delicious cooked on juices and bits by eglazint eh pot with a small amount of wine, broth or water. Return the food to the pot and you’re good to go.

Go easy on the liquid. Because food cooks in a closed pressurized atmosphere, your liquid will not reduce. You must use some liquid however, so a good rule of thumb is to at least 1 cup of liquid. Never fill the pot more than halfway with liquid.

Simple Ways to Wake Up a Cake Mix

If I didn’t know better I’d swear that boxed cake mixes reproduce in the dark of night on the shelves of my pantry. One day I counted 18 boxes of cake mix.

Chocolate Cake

Here’s how that works: Cake mixes go on sale routinely. One week it will be Duncan Hines, then Pillsbury takes its turn and so on. The typical sale price for a cake mix is typically $1.50 or less. I hold onto my cake mix coupons until that particular brand goes on sale. With a $.75 or even $1 off coupon, rarely do I pay more than $.50 for a cake mix.

The challenge for me has been to find better ways to make a boxed cake mix taste homemade. 

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photo credit: BakedBree

Check these quick hits plus five of my favorite recipes that use a cake mix as one of the ingredients:

Forget the water. Use whole milk (or even buttermilk) in place of the water called for in the package instructions.

Devil’s food. Any kind of a chocolate mix will really perk up and take on that wonderful homemade taste when you use strong brewed coffee in place of the water, and toss in a handful of chocolate chips, too.

Counteract the sweet. Cake mixes are very sweet with a distinctive “cake mix” taste. Adding 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1 or 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice to any white or yellow cake will counterbalance the sweetness and hide the tell tale taste of the mix.

Butter is better. Instead of the oil called for in the box mix instructions, substitute with melted butter.

One Recipe, Endless Uses

Last week, a friend called asking me to send her “That Recipe!” Of course I was puzzled, but it didn’t take long to figure out what she was talking about when she mentioned,  “homemade Biscuits with freezer jam.” Apparently, I served that for breakfast the last time she visited.

photo credit: flouronmyface.com

photo credit: flouronmyface.com

That Recipe is my Master Mix. The recipe below makes a lot, and keeps really well. Because it contains dry milk, all you add at baking time is water. And while it makes fabulous biscuits, it’s an all-purpose mix to make everything from dumplings to coffee cake and shortcake.

This mix makes a lovely addition to a Biscuits and Jam gift basket. Simply package a supply of Master Mix in a tightly covered container or bag, adding a tag that describes the contents. A nice idea would be to include the following options for how your recipient can use its contents. Your friend or loved one will probably appreciate the Master Mix recipe as well.