Highland Lakes Service League member Merrill Laurentz displays a casserole she prepared for the Highland Lake Crisis Network’s summer family feeding program. The network anticipates needing 300 casseroles this summer. Staff photo by David Bean
Summer snack bags for stay-at-home kids now come with a family-size casserole prepared by Highland Lakes Crisis Network volunteers. Along with individual casserole cooks, at least two groups have gotten together to help provide the 27 dishes being delivered each week to area homes this summer.
One group of 22 women who attend the same Bible study group at First Baptist Church in Marble Falls learned about the program from Pat Hatch, the Client Services director for the Crisis Network.
“(Hatch) encouraged us to do it,” said group member Cathy Wolfe. “She told us they wanted to up their casserole emphasis to be able to hand families hot meals occasionally.”
The Crisis Network delivers a week’s worth of snacks to families who can’t get to Highland Lakes Elementary in Granite Shoals or Marble Falls High School for the summer free lunch program. They decided to add a kid-friendly casserole each week that the whole family could heat and eat together.
The First Baptist Church group began signing up volunteers and planned a “cook-together.”
“This was a good fit because we ladies like to make a good casserole,” Wolfe said.
On the day of the first bake, the team divided a list of ingredients needed among themselves and made for the market.
“Everybody brought some of the ingredients, and then we combined them,” Wolfe said. “We all brought chicken and a can of soup.”
Back in Wolfe’s kitchen, the women broke into groups and began preparing the meal of the day.
“We made chicken and rice casserole from my mom’s cookbook that she put together,” Wolfe said. “Most of these casseroles go to young families. It needed to be something kids would eat. That was the goal. Something that was easy for kids to enjoy.”
Members of the Highland Lakes Service League are also cooking casseroles. Although organized as a group, they cook in their own kitchens and bring together their frozen meals, all properly marked with ingredients and cooking instructions.
The Service League has long been devoted to the project, said member Merrill Laurentz.
“The Service League provided the Crisis Network with a grant to buy the freezers where these casseroles are stored,” she said.
Now, several of the members cook non-spicy, kid-friendly dishes that are easily frozen and heated. They favor chicken spaghetti without any extra ingredients like olives or peas.
Wolfe said the Baptist church group is fairly new to the operation. They were inspired by the reaction from Crisis Network officials.
“They were so happy when we brought in (the 22 casseroles),” she said. “That’s when we found out they hand out 27 a week!”
To account for the need, the group is altering its plans.
“We’ve passed out pans and we’re seeing how many we can get by just encouraging them to do it in their own kitchen and take them in on their own,” she said. “So far, we’ve gotten quite a lot.”
Anyone can join the effort, and with that in mind, DailyTrib.com is sharing favorite recipes (see below).
“I think it’s so cool that you can share your love of cooking with your love of your friends and then make such a difference in the community,” Wolfe said.
The Highland Lakes Crisis Network looks to receive more than 300 casseroles from donors over the summer months.
Rules for casserole drop-off are:
list ingredients on each dish
include cooking instructions
use aluminum pans that fit in average-size ovens
If you’d like to donate casseroles or sign up to volunteer at the nonprofit, email email@example.com. To join the food drive’s list of households, call 325-423-3662. Use one of the recipes below or bake your own!
GRAN’S CHICKEN SPAGHETTI
1 pkg rotisserie chicken breasts
1 can cream of chicken soup
1 can cream of mushroom soup/OR cream of celery soup
1 can chicken broth
1 can mild Rotel tomatoes
8 oz. Velveeta, cubed
12 oz. thin spaghetti (less than a lb.)
Break spaghetti in thirds and boil in salt water according to directions on the package.
In a saucepan heat and blend soups, Rotel, chicken broth and Velveeta.
Using pot that spaghetti was cooked in, mix all ingredients together.
Spray 9-inch-by-13-inch foil casserole pan.
Bake uncovered for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.
If frozen, thaw in refrigerator for at least a day.
KID-FRIENDLY MACARONI and BEEF CASSEROLE
8 oz. elbow macaroni
1 lb. ground beef (80/20)
1 cup onion chopped, or ½ tsp. onion powder, or ½ tsp. dried minced onion
½ green bell pepper, chopped
½ tsp. garlic, minced
½ to 1 tsp. dried Italian seasoning (optional)
24-oz. jar spaghetti sauce
2 cups shredded cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Grease a 9×13 baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.
Fill pasta pot with cold water over medium-high heat. Bring to boil and add salt. Cook for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, add ground beef and onion to a skillet over medium-high heat. Break up the meat as it browns for 10 minutes. A few minutes before the meat is done browning, add the minced garlic.
Spoon out excess fat as needed.
Next, mix the spaghetti sauce and let it heat until warmed through.
Taste the sauce and beef mixture and add salt and pepper as needed along with Italian seasoning, if desired.
Pour pasta into sauce and meat mixture.
Stir to blend.
Transfer half of the mixture to baking dish and top with half of the cheese. Add the remaining mixture and top with remaining cheese.
Bake for 20 to 25 minutes.
If frozen, defrost in the refrigerator and then bake at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes until hot, or bake right from frozen at the same temperature for a bit longer, until completely hot.
GRAN’S ITALIAN SPAGHETTI CASSEROLE
8 oz. thin spaghetti
1 lb. ground beef
1 onion chopped
1 T. chili powder
2 cloves minced garlic
* Optional: 1 can of mushrooms, drained
1 can diced tomatoes (Italian are good)
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 can cream of chicken orcelery soup
Sharp cheddar cheese
Break up spaghetti into thirds before boiling. Boil and drain
Brown ground beef with onion, garlic, chili powder, salt, and pepper. Use Italian seasoning if you do not use Italian tomatoes.
Add next 4 ingredients and mix together.
Pour into a 9×13 pan and bake covered for about 20-30 minutes at 350 degrees.
Uncover and add cheese. Bake about 10 more minutes until melted.
TATER TOT CASSEROLE
1½ lbs. ground beef
1 pkg. dry onion soup mix
1 can cream of mushroom soup
¼ to ⅓ can milk or water
1½ lbs. grated cheddar cheese
1 medium bag of tater tots
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Brown ground beef in a large skillet. Drain off excess oil.
Mix in dry onion soup and cream of mushroom soup.
Add just enough water or milk to allow ingredients to mix well.
Add in ¾ cup of grated cheese.
Stir mixture well, then place in large baking pan.
Add one layer of tater tots, covering all of the meat mixture.
Place in oven for 15-20 minutes, checking tater tots frequently for browning and heating thoroughly.
Remove from oven. Sprinkle remaining cheese over all and return to oven for just enough time for cheese to melt.
Suggestion: Top with a favorite steak sauce or ketchup before eating.