Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Better than a Cold Bowl of Cereal (Part 2)

In yesterday's post, I outlined some basic ideas on how to throw a monthly breakfast for your neighbors. Today, we are focusing on the main event -- the food!

The $30 Feed-a-Crowd Breakfast Menu:

2 9X13 pans Breakfast Casserole*
2 pans Cinnamon Rolls (homemade or store-bought)
1 pan biscuits
Fresh Fruit
Bagels or Doughnuts
Jelly, Butter, Cream Cheese, etc.
Vegetarian, though not vegan, option: Spinach Quiche (homemade)
Orange, apple, or cranberry juice
Coffee and fixins

I've made all the above for around $25, minus the coffee.

Optional substitutions or extras:
Milk (I know milk is like gold around our house these days, but if you feel generous or have the extra funds, serve it up!)
French Toast Casserole
Waffles or Pancakes
Scrambled Eggs and/or Grits
Bacon Strips or Sausage, pre-cooked and kept warm on a platter

*Our Redd family Breakfast Casserole recipe uses bread, eggs, milk, sausage, cheese, mustard powder and Worchestershire sauce, but there are other versions using grits, ham, bacon, and even Rotel for some kick. Southern cookbooks, especially those from churches, usually have the best versions.

The breakfast casseroles come to about $4 each, even store-bought cinnamon rolls on sale can be as little as $1 each roll (I use 3-4), homemade biscuits cost pennies, but you can get the kind in a can on sale for $.50 sometimes (and through some experiementation, I actually found I preferred the store brand to Pillsbury, too!). Buy whatever fruit is on sale that week and make a salad -- it will last longer. Pick up bagels or doughnuts at the store (frozen bagels go on sale all the time, and if you let them thaw and then toast them, no one will ever no the difference) or from a local bakery.

(If you are really, really cheap and can keep a secret...you can get free or almost free baked goods from stores like the Atlanta Bread Comapany and Panera if you go right before they close at night. They are required to throw any leftovers away, so are willing to sell them cheap or sometimes give them to you. But maybe you knew about this already?)

Everything hinges on the presentation, after all. Even the most inexpensive meals can become the basis to a wonderful occasion with a little extra effort.

If you serve the condiments in pretty little containers no one will every know you used the store-brand jelly or cream cheese. Same goes for fruit juice -- serve the reconstituted frozen kind in a nice glass picther. We always had little juices and coffee provided by the office, and I'm not a coffee drinker, so if any of you have ideas on how to get really good gourmet beans on the cheap, please let me know!

I've found that you can make scrambled eggs or grits and keep them warm in a crock pot. We got two crock pots for our wedding, and these have come in handy many times!

For smaller groups, made-to-order waffles are an extra treat. If you have a griddle (or two), and you have lots of assistance in the kitchen, other breakfast options that work well for larger groups include assembly-line pancakes, eggs, and hashbrowns.

Most of our neighbors enjoy the treat of a (mostly) home-cooked hot breakfast. However, if you get tired of having the same thing month after month, have themes -- serve croissants for a French morning meal, or spice up the breakfast casserole or eggs with some green chiles, add some tortillas for wraps, and have a South-of-the-Border breakfast.

If you are planning for a smaller crowd, why not make it more of a mid-morning affair and only serve ONE item -- hot, fresh cinnamon rolls, or a platter of doughnuts and some fruit? Sometimes the more intimate gatherings are the ones with the best conversations.

If you enjoyed these ideas or have any suggestions of your own, please let me know! I'd love some community input! Also, if you have any breakfast recipes or ideas you'd like to share, please add them in the comments!

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