With a shaky hand, I wrote my first blog post three years ago. We were celebrating a friend’s birthday with an impromptu dinner party. I supplied the idea and the venue, and the celebrant’s friends came from near and far, bearing most of the ingredients of a great time. We were less focused on the menu and more excited about the memories. At the time, I didn’t dream the dialog would endure. I am grateful for this platform.
My pen is shaky three years later as I struggle to feel festive in this time of extreme hardship across southern Louisiana, yet a gathering of friends, old and new, can be restorative for all. As some of our communities go without water or electricity, as precious time is spent digging out and wiping up from this nightmare, as we reach out to our own who have lost everything, those of us who escaped unscathed can offer the table for gathering. We hunger to share. Food is our foundation, it connects us, especially in crisis when we need it most.
If the no-holds-barred barbecue is no longer part of your weekend plan, you can still fire up something delicious and feed the hungry masses. Dishes that can be easily multiplied to feed a crowd, meals that don’t require hours over a hot stove or grill, or that don’t rely on precise refrigeration are perfect in this situation.
I turn to pantry staples for simplicity, comfort, and sustenance. A hearty pasta dish with beans for protein and loads of colorful vegetables, farm-fresh or from the pantry, makes a delicious centerpiece of a communal table. A double recipe will feed a dozen or more, and leftovers make a tasty baked pasta. I’ll add a salad if fresh greens are available, or delegate this to a friend whose garden is flourishing. For a sweet ending, I’ll get the kids to make cookies. One of our favorites are Three Cookies in One, and they say I Love You in every bite. In times like these, the classic Beatles tune is a great reminder. “Oh I get by with a little help from my friends.” I wish you all a safe holiday!
Whole Wheat Penne with Black Beans and Vegetables
Adapted from the forthcoming collaborative cookbook from the American Heart Association and the West Virginia Farmer’s Market Association West Virginia Foods and Flavors, this recipe can be cooked on a campstove. It doubles or triples easily to feed a crowd, and is flexible -- substitute vegetables you have on hand or use canned if that’s what's handy. Leftovers, tossed with grated mozzarella and baked in a casserole, become a delicious vegetarian ‘baked ziti.’
Makes 6 servings
- 12 ounces 100% whole grain penne rigate
- 2 large tomatoes, chopped
- 1 small green bell pepper, chopped
- 1 small yellow onion, chopped
- 2 medium ears corn, cut off cob
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon pepper
- ½ teaspoon hot sauce
- 1 (15-ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained well
Prepare pasta according to package directions, cooking just until ‘al dente.’ Drain well and return to the pasta pot. While the pasta is cooking, combine the tomatoes, bell pepper, onion, corn, salt, pepper, and hot sauce in a medium saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Bring to a boil and cook until the bell peppers, onions, and corn are cooked, but still firm. Remove from the heat. Add the cooked penne and the black beans. Serve immediately.
Three Cookies in One
From Counter Intelligence The Best of April’s Kitchen, these cookies are 1-- peanut butter 2 -- oatmeal 3 -- chocolate chip and always a hit. Deliver a plate of cookies to a friend for an instant pick-me-up.
Makes about 4 dozen
- 1 stick butter (1/2 cup), slightly softened
- 1 cup peanut butter
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
- 3/4 teaspoon coarse salt
- 2 eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/4 cup PB powder*
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 3 cups rolled oats
- 1 cup dark chocolate chips
- 1/2 cup raisins or dried cherries
- 1/2 cup chopped walnuts or peanuts
Heat the oven to 350. Cream the butter and peanut butter together and mix in the sugars and salt. Mix well and add the eggs, vanilla, PB powder, cinnamon and baking soda, mixing to incorporate. Add the oats, chocolate chips, raisins, and walnuts and stir to blend.
Drop teaspoonfuls of the dough onto parchment-lined baking sheets about 2 inches apart. Bake for 10 minutes until golden (for a chewier cookie) or 12 minutes for crunchy cookies. Cool on the sheets for a few minutes before transferring to cooling racks to cool. Store in airtight containers.