Cooking for a Crowd

This Taste of Home reader loves to cook for a crowd with a menu that includes Hens with Apricot Rice Stuffing, Orange ‘n’ Red Onion Salad, Bacon Squash Saute and Banana Cream Pie.

Cooking for a crowd came naturally for my mom, Antoinette D. She grew up in an Italian family in Iowa, the youngest of six children. And she raised eight children of her own—I’m the youngest.

With such a large family, huge gatherings were the norm. Mom loved to entertain, and we often had dinner parties for 30 people or more. Whether she was serving family or guests, she always set a beautiful table with crystal stemware and good china.

When I was a child, Mom always seemed to be cooking. My favorite days were when she was making homemade spaghetti sauce. I’d come home from school and eat a bowl of it like soup!

My mother has always cooked from scratch, and since she was a child of the Depression, she learned to be creative with every bit of our garden produce and leftovers.

My favorite meal has to be her Bacon Squash Saute, Orange ‘n’ Red Onion Salad and Favorite Banana Cream Pie.

We all love apricots, so Mom tried to work them into any recipe she could, including her tender stuffed hens. The sweet apricots and sauteed mushrooms make the wild rice stuffing so moist and flavorful. As a child, I enjoyed having a “whole chicken” all to myself.

Bacon Squash Saute is a delicious way to use up homegrown squash and zucchini. And Mom’s pretty onion salad is a pleasing mix of sweet and tangy.

Cream pies are my mom’s specialty, and Favorite Banana Cream Pie, with sliced almonds sprinkled on top, is the best. My late husband requested this pie often.

When I was young, my parents owned a cafe in St. Paul, Minnesota and did all the cooking. Later, Mom worked as a cook for the school district and decorated cakes for clients. She moved to Missouri after my father died.

Mom still cooks every day, but now for only two or four people (her eight children, 27 grandchildren and 28 great-grandchildren are scattered across the country). She and my stepfather live near me and my son, Kirsch, and the four of us eat together on weekends.

Potatoes Mt. Vesuvius

Mom Antoinette D.

Mom has instilled me with a love of cooking. I’m a second-grade teacher and prepare at least one recipe a month with my students.

This dish, one of Mom’s “inventions,” is always popular with my students.

First, we mound up leftover mashed potatoes on a baking sheet to resemble a volcano and hollow out the middle. Into the hollowed-out area we pour a mixture of an egg, some melted butter and cheddar cheese. Then, we sprinkle bread crumbs around the “mountain” to look like sand and dirt. The volcano is baked in the oven until the cheese mixture bubbles and oozes out over the sides (the mixture should reach 160° on a cooking thermometer).