At some point in your life, you'll probably have to do some cooking for crowds of people. Whether it is for a holiday meal for friends and family, a wedding, birthday or anniversary party or a potluck dinner your favorite charity, club or church, there's always a reason for a celebration, and most special occasions are more festive with great food. While it takes a little bit more time and planning when cooking for a crowd of 100 or more than it does for two or three, you use the same planning techniques.
Cooking for a Dinner Party?
Some Important Questions to Answer
In addition to planning easy quick meals that taste as good as they look, you'll want to have menus that contain complementary foods whose flavors go well together. Next, think about how to keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold until serving time. How much food will need to be purchased, and how can it be prepared quickly and efficiently? Some other questions to answer in advance are:
- Will all the food be prepared in one kitchen or will others be preparing food in their own kitchens and transporting it to a central location?
- How will you serve the guests? Individually plated servings need more planning and serving staff than buffet or family style meals do.
- Will it be possible to prepare some foods in advance using quantity cooking techniques and freeze them to make preparing the meal easier and less time-consuming?
- Are there enough serving pieces, chafing dishes and so forth or will more items need to be borrowed or rented?
- If serving pieces are borrowed or rented, how will they be returned after the event?
- Who will be the person in charge of organizing all the details?
- Who will do the cleaning up afterwards?
Once you have the answers to these questions, set the menu and make your shopping list. Figure out all the necessary duties - cooking, serving, cleaning and so on - and delegate them before the big event. The one thing you can absolutely count on is that something unexpected will happen, so be sure to have some contingency plans in place. For example, you may want to have some easy casserole dinners prepared and frozen in case someone who was supposed to cook and bring a dish is ill or unable to attend the party.
Menu Planning for Quantity Cooking
Decide on the main entree or meat dish first and then choose side dishes to complement it. Pasta and meat sauces can be very inexpensive if you are a smart shopper and use coupons and store sales to plan your purchases properly. Other delicious dinner ideas are one dish meals that include a meat and vegetables, salads, dessert and coffee or tea. Poultry or large cuts of meat may not be economical because of the waste factor (bones).
Dinner party recipes for quantity cooking usually include a guide to help you decide exactly how much meat you'll need to buy, or how many servings a casserole will yield.
Crowd Friendly Side Dishes and Desserts
Fruit cobblers and crisps are easy and inexpensive for quantity cooking purposes, and they are guaranteed crowd pleasers. Apple cobblers are always a good choice as are peach or berry cobblers. Make them up in large pans and then scoop out and plate each serving as needed.
Baked beans, green beans, and mashed potatoes are economical comfort foods that appeal to most when cooking for crowds. Keep menus simple and focus on exceptional taste and exquisite presentation to whet the appetites of your guests.
Convenience Foods Equal Easy Quick Meals
It is inexpensive to feed large groups are by using frozen or canned foods. They are easy to prepare and very nutritious. The quality and amount of edible food is a given. Finally, it is easy to calculate the cost per serving. Look for foods such as green or baked beans, which can be purchased in industrial size cans, which makes cooking a breeze and calculating quantities quick and easy.
Keep Salads Crisp and Cold
Nothing is less appetizing than a limp, warm salad so keeping the salads cold is a priority. For best results, serve dressings on the side so they can be added to the salads at the table. Here are some important things to keep in mind about salad prep:
Chop the greens into bite-sized pieces; it makes the salad neater and easier to eat. A good way to do this is by removing the core from the lettuce and placing the entire head into a clean, large bowl or container. Cut into quarters, and then use kitchen shears to chop into smaller chunks. If you are using mixed greens, prepare them the same way. Cover and refrigerate until about 20 minutes before serving.
Chop, dice or grate the vegetables to be added to the salad and marinade them in the dressing to enhance their flavor. Good choices are carrots (grated or julienned for easier eating), cherry tomatoes (halved or quartered), and green, red or yellow pepper chunks. When it is time to assemble the salads, drain the vegetables, toss with the greens and plate the individual servings.
Gelatin based salads are attractive, inexpensive and make good salads for group meals. Serve them on a bed of lettuce or greens. To keep the preparation time down and simplify the process, prepare them in large pans and cut into squares or diamonds for serving.
KISS - Keep It Simple for Success
The key to planning and serving a wonderful meal when cooking for a crowd is simplicity. Keep the menu simple - spaghetti and meat sauce, crisp green salad, garlic bread and fruit for dessert, for example. Count on foods that are easy to prepare and keep at the proper serving temperature, and don't be shy about asking for help or drafting volunteers. By doing this, you can manage the preparation of any meal, whether you are cooking for a crowd of 100 or preparing an intimate meal for just two.