Put your heart where your mouth is

Give the gift of food this season

Beef and noodles, chili on the right and rigatoni and beef.
Beef and noodles, chili on the right and rigatoni and beef.

At this time of year, we think about giving: giving to our family, giving to our friends. And, when we can afford it, giving to those who are less fortunate.

You drop a couple of dollars in a bell-ringer’s kettle. You buy a toy for a collection box.

So why not give the gift of food?

Every December for the last century, the New York Times has reminded its readers to “remember the neediest,” a sentiment that never goes out of date. As the holidays approach, you can cook up a big batch or two of food and give it to a local soup kitchen or shelter for them to serve to their poor and hungry clients.

And while you are at it, you can make up a batch for friends, giving them a gift both of food and an even more valuable commodity, time. Think of how appreciative they will be when they know they do not have to cook a dinner, they can just reheat a homemade casserole fresh from the freezer.

No one will mind if you want to give yourself a little gift, too. On a weekend when you have spare time, make yourself a casserole. Freeze it, and then reheat it on a day when time is more critical.

The best part is that you will have plenty of leftovers to spare.

For more than 30 years, The Claver House has been remembering the neediest with hot meals served year ‘round. Now located in the basement of St. Martin de Porres Parish, the organization uses an all-volunteer staff to feed an average of 60-80 people each day (and 114 this Thanksgiving,).

“I personally feel the need to serve the poor. I think the basic way to help people is to feed them. If I were a better Christian, I would tell you that Jesus tells us to feed and clothe the poor,” said Tom Dibling, who runs Claver House without an official title.

The volunteers at the “hospitality kitchen,” as the organization calls it, make their own soup once a week. Another day each week, they serve breakfast from eggs donated by Hertzfeld Poultry Farms in Grand Rapids (much of their food is donated by businesses, including Gordon Food Service and Pepperidge Farms). But the bulk of the food comes from the community.

Most area shelters and soup kitchens accept food that has been made in private homes, but a few with professional kitchens do not. Food banks and food pantries also are not allowed to accept food that has been prepared in homes. Be sure to call your favorite shelter or soup kitchen before bringing food you have cooked yourself.

Congregants at Corpus Christi University Parish and the Franciscan Academy periodically make and freeze casseroles to be served at Claver House, but the organization will accept cooked food from anyone. All they require is that the frozen food is covered in foil and labeled with what it is and the date it was cooked.

Corpus Christi has been using the same five recipes for several years. They are all variations on a theme: ground beef as a base, onions, and tomatoes — and all but one use some form of noodles. They date back to a time when ground beef was cheaper than it is now; Mr. Dibling said he would personally like to see more food made with relatively inexpensive chicken, and possibly a cream base.

The Corpus Christi recipes call for prepared foods such as spaghetti sauce, canned mushrooms or canned chili, so they are fast and easy to make. From start to finish, each takes less than an hour to prepare, and much of that time is spent chopping onions.

I tried three of the recipes, and was happy to discover that they are all actually quite good. They are old-fashioned, filling foods with plenty of protein, which many of the clients need to get through the day. The recipes are not fancy or overburdened with spices, because they will be eaten by a wide variety of clients with particular tastes. According to Mr. Dibling, each batch serves from 12-15 people.

If you want to make one for yourself or your friends, of course you can doctor it up any way you like. Green and red bell peppers might go well with any of them, and a bit of hot sauce would never hurt. Fresh garlic and herbs are always better than dried. And you might want to substitute fresh mushrooms for canned and your own spaghetti sauce for the stuff out of the jars.

I made all three recipes in one night after work, and that included going to the store first to buy supplies. The recipes are all similar, though slight variations yield significantly different results. You begin by browning together ground beef and chopped onion. Then you add tomatoes in one form or another, a small amount of seasoning, and another identifying item such as kidney beans for the chili.

Cook everything together for 15 minutes, which will give you enough time to boil noodles for the dishes that require noodles (providing the water is already boiling). Pour everything together in a large foil roasting pan — you’ll want a foil pan because you won’t be getting it back. Top it with cheese if the recipe calls for it, cover it with heavy-duty foil, and freeze it.

Whether you take it to a feeding program or just give it to friends, you know it will be greatly appreciated.

Contact Daniel Neman at: dneman@theblade.com or 419-724-6155.

Chili Con Carne

3 pounds ground beef

3 onions, chopped

3 (14-16 ounce) cans kidney beans

2 (14½-16 ounce) cans tomatoes, chopped

3 teaspoons garlic powder

1 teaspoon sugar

2 teaspoons salt

3 tablespoons chili powder

Brown ground beef and onion in a very large pot; drain. Stir in all remaining ingredients and heat to boiling, then lower heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Pour into foil roasting pan or large foil lasagna pan, cover with foil, and freeze.

Yield: 12-15 servings

Source: Corpus Christi University Parish

Beef & Noodles

1 pound ground beef

3 onions, chopped

1 tablespoon garlic podwer

2 (26-32 ounce) jars spaghetti sauce

1 (4-ounce) can mushrooms, drained

2 teaspoons basil (dried)

1 teaspoon sugar

1 (16-ounce) package medium noodles, such as fettuccine

8 ounces shredded cheddar cheese

Brown ground beef and onion in large pot; drain. Stir in remaining ingredients except the noodles and cheese, and simmer for 15 minutes. Cook noodles according to package, and drain. Pour noodles and the cooked sauce together in foil roasting pan or large foil lasagna pan, cover with foil, and freeze.

Yield: 12-15 servings

Source: Corpus Christi University Parish

Mostaccioli Mosta

1 pound ground beef

2 onions, chopped

3 (14½-16 ounce) cans chopped tomatoes

2 (8-ounce) cans tomato sauce

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon pepper

¼ teaspoon ground oregano

1 (16-ounce) package mastaccioli or similar pasta such as ziti or rotini

8 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese

Brown ground beef and onion in a large pot; drain. Add tomatoes, tomato sauce, salt, pepper, and oregano; simmer for 15 minutes. Prepare pasta according to package directions, and drain. Pour meat mixture and pasta together and mix together in foil roasting pan or large foil lasagna pan. Top with mozzarella cheese. Cover with foil, and freeze.

Yield: 12-15 servings

Source: Corpus Christi University Parish