Friday, April 22, 2016

Cooking for Eighty with Great Aunt Katie

Well, maybe it wasn't exactly eighty people, but it was a lot and eighty rhymes!

When I was in college at Central Michigan University I became part of an amazing Catholic student group called Corpus Christi. While I had always gone to mass every Sunday growing up, attended youth group, learned about the saints, things like that, Corpus Christi helped me to be on fire for my faith more than I ever had before. I grew in knowledge of my faith and love for God during that time in ways I never imagined possible. I also gained amazing life long friends who have moved on to become priests, nuns, brothers, awesome married couples, and single lay people living out their calling from God.

One of the important parts of our weekly meetings was ending by enjoying each others company over a meal. Back in my college days the group was a little smaller, so one kind woman cooked for us each week. Since then the group has continued to grow and grow, a very good thing, but it definitely made cooking for everyone a much bigger task. The new arrangement became for many people to sign up to volunteer and take turns cooking throughout the year. I still live in the area and wanted to give back to this group that had been so important in my life. So I signed up and two or three times a year I get to cook a big ol' heap of food for a large group of hungry college students.

When I first started cooking, the count was closer to around forty than today's eighty, so I would experiment and make something different each time - corned beef in March, my great-grandmother's enchiladas in May.  The group continued to grow, I moved a little farther away, and the dance classes I teach got moved to the day that Corpus Christi meets. I knew I needed to come up with a new plan.   So considering everything I needed to come up with something that was:

1. Budget Friendly
2. Easily made in large quantities
3. Able to be made ahead of time. (No cooking on site, only heating up) 
4. Something that a lot of people would like

As it turns out, my Great Aunt Katie had all the answers! Without even realizing it, the two dishes that I picked to make regularly for Corpus Christi both came from her. The first is something I grew up knowing as Katie's Casserole. Others may know it as Hot Dish or Tater Tot Casserole. The second Great Aunt Katie dish I make for them is a dessert I have shared on the blog before - Katie's Rhubarb Cake. However, since rhubarb isn't in season during the school year I change it up a little bit and turn it into Katie's Peach Cake. I also chop up some lettuce and veggies for a salad side dish.

The great thing about using these recipes is that not only do they meet all of the above requirements, but if I do my cooking in disposable aluminum pans, I dirty a total of four dishes/utensils. Four! Cooking for eighty people! I get absolutely nothing dirty making the casserole. Everything goes right into the pan. For the cake I dirty one mixing bowl and one spoon. Then I also have to wash one cutting board and one knife after I chop veggies for salad.

Putting together the Katie's Casserole is so easy that sometimes I make it on my lunch break from work the day of. After I cook it, I let it cool, pack it up, and then warm it up in the ovens at church when I get there. Katie's Casserole is always a hit, I mean who doesn't love a good tater tot?

Katie's Casserole
The following quantities are for a single recipe. I sextuple it when cooking for Corpus Christi

1 lb ground beef
1/4 of an onion - diced
1 bag frozen french style green beans
1 can condensed cheddar cheese soup
1 bag of tater tots
salt and pepper

1. Press the ground beef into the bottom of a 9 x 13 baking dish, making one thin layer that covers the whole bottom of the pan. Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with diced onions.

 2. Add a layer of green beans and cover with cheddar cheese soup (undiluted).
 3. Top with tater tots and bake for one hour at 350 degrees - until the beef is cooked through and the tots are golden brown.

Enjoy! Don't forget that one of the benefits of being the cook is you get to steal a few tater tots off the top before you serve it everyone else. 

  Of course I also make the cake ahead of time, so I when I arrive at the church all I have to do is set it on the table with some cans of whipped cream! Easy and oh so delicious. I love desserts with fruit, and this recipe can be adjusted to use almost any type of fruit and jello flavor that you like.The original uses fresh rhubarb and either strawberry or raspberry jello. To peach-ify it I use frozen peaches and orange jello.

Katie's Rhubarb Cake - Peach Style
The quantities here are for a single recipe. When I cook for Corpus Christie I quadruple it. 

1 box of yellow cake mix
ingredients to make cake mix (eggs, water, oil)
1 bag of frozen peaches (I added a few blueberries this time too.)
1 box of orange gelatin
whipped cream for serving

1. In the bottom of a 9x13 baking dish mix together the peaches, gelatin powder, and little sugar.
2. Make the cake batter according to directions on the box, and pour over the fruit mixture.
3. Bake at 350 for about a 30 minutes (or check directions on cake mix box for a 9 x 13 cake) - cake should be golden brown on top and a toothpick should come out clean when stuck in the center.
4. Top with whipped cream and enjoy!
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