Last month, we went to our neighborhood block party and met a bunch of new families with young children like us. When we first moved into our home six years ago, there were really no young kinds around, but fortunately that’s really started to change in just the few years since we’ve become parents.
At the neighborhood party, a group of us decided that we wanted to start more regular meet ups for those of us with kids so our children would have lots of friends within walking distance as they get older (and so will we!).
We’ve made friends with a number of our neighbors, and there is something extra awesome about just walking down the street to meet up with someone instead of having to take transportation into account. Bonus, if you forgot something, you can just run home for a quick minute!
So I set up our first “parents and kids” neighborhood get together last night at our house to take advantage of the last of the summer weather and our giant sandbox. Our house isn’t exactly huge but our front yard is plenty big for a gathering, so I figured I would host the first night when we wouldn’t have to worry about cramming everyone inside.
Since I knew I would be cooking for 6-10 adults and a handful of kiddos, I wanted to cook a dinner that I knew most people would enjoy but also wouldn’t cost an arm and a leg. I settled on an adaptation of this Cajun red beans and rice recipe. It’s been one of my favorite crock pot meals for years now and one that can easily be scaled up for a larger group.
Cajun Red Beans and Rice (adapted for 12):
- 1lb package of dried red beans $1.62
- 1 can kidney beans $0.89 (or don’t be like me and plan ahead and buy more dried beans)
- 3 small sweet onions $1.00 bulk (or FREE from the garden)
- 1 large red bell pepper $2.00
- 5 small bell peppers $2.50 (or FREE from a coworker’s garden)
- 32oz organic chicken broth $1.99
- 5 garlic cloves $0.10 (or FREE from the garden)
- 3 TBSP* $0.05 Cajun seasoning (I use this recipe)
- 2lbs hot italian sausage $4.99
- 1 TBSP olive oil $0.05
- 8 cups of water
- 4 cups rice (uncooked) $0.99
*I use a locally smoked paprika and solar evaporated sea salt, which I really think adds extra flavor. I also usually add more than 3 TBSP and go heavier on the red pepper flakes and cayenne, but since I was feeding more people than just our family, I wanted to make sure I didn’t make it too spicy.
Soak the dried beans the night before (I put them straight in the crock pot so I have one less dish to clean). The next morning, add in chopped onions, bell peppers, garlic, chicken broth, and water and cook in crock pot on high for 6 hours.
I then cook up the sausage in the evening about 2 hours before dinner, though you could do this the night before and just add them in closer to the end. I cook the sausage separately in a bit of olive oil so that there isn’t a ton of extra fat in the meal, but it also works well enough to just drop them straight in the crock pot first thing in the morning with the rest of the ingredients. Once the sausage is mostly cooked through, cut up into small pieces and add to the crock pot.
About an hour before eating, add the Cajun seasoning. For whatever reason, the seasoning seems to get diluted the longer it’s in the crock pot, so I find I can use less of it if I put it in near the end. Now cook your rice in a separate pot. When the rice is done, serve red beans and sausage on top of the rice.
We ended up having 8 adults and 6 kids for dinner (4 of the kids were old enough to eat food) and this meal made PLENTY for all of us. I did request that the other families bring something to share, so we had cornbread and veggies and hummus dip to supplement the meal. Even without those adds, though, this would have been more than enough for all of us to have a satisfying meal. There ended up even being enough leftovers for four more generous servings, so I got to have this meal again for lunch today.
Total cost for 16 servings: $12.58 (or $16.18 if I bought all ingredients from the store).
While I know there are plenty of recipes out there that work out to less than $0.79/serving, it’s a quick and easy way to feed a large group of people without worrying about the cost of the dinner. You could also make it cheaper by leaving out the meat (blasphemy in my house!) or adding in more vegetables. I usually include celery but I didn’t have any and didn’t want to make an extra trip to the store. I love this meal and it’s never any kind of sacrifice to eat it again for lunch the next day 🙂
We pulled out our folding table (that was still covered in dirt from our camping trip two weeks ago) and set up the food buffet style. Everyone served themselves and the adults sat around in folding chairs while the kiddos alternated between eating on our large, foldable picnic blanket and playing in the sandbox and other toys in the front yard.
We all sat around and talked until it started to get dark and cold and the kiddos needed to head off to bed. Everyone packed up their strollers and headed home down the street. Since no one had more than a five minute trip home, we were able to extend the evening until the very end.
I had a ton of dishes to do last night since we don’t buy paper plates, but it was worth it to feed everyone and get to know our neighbors a little bit better. While our hosting days are probably limited until the spring, we plan on house hopping to the other ones down the street for monthly gatherings through the fall and winter.
If we get lucky and have another good snowfall this winter though, our street is the place to be for sledding, and we have plans of setting up a hot cocoa table at the top of the hill, taking note from our older neighbors who used to set up a bonfire over the storm drain and have a bar for the adults to keep warm while the kids played in the snow.