This is post number 1 in the Series about cooking for a crowd, I’ll have more menus as the weeks go on…….

When I am cooking for a crowd there are a few things I keep in mind:

What is the regional taste and what recipes will I use?
Are there a good number of folks who don’t like certain things?mammys pie
Should I offer an alternative to some people?
Are there enough folks who need sugar-free desserts to make one?
How many children under 12 will there be?
What meat is on sale and can I plan around that meat?
How many people will I be cooking for?
What time will everything need to be ready?

Whew! That’s about it I think. Its a lot to think about, yes?

Here is how I plan for a meal for 25 people or more. I hope this is helpful to you if you are planning big meals.  If you have questions, I hope you’ll ask!
1. Find the recipes.

You may already have some tried and true recipes on hand that you’d like to use for large crowds. For the most part, any recipe that you make for your family can be converted and made for a crowd. Not every recipe is cost efficient though and that can be a really big thing when you are cooking for a crowd. All Recipes is a good place to look for recipes and they have a converter right on the site so that you can make the recipes for how ever many you are expecting.

Don’t experiment on your diners.  Only use recipes that YOU have tried and know are tasty. Don’t try to use exotic ingredients or ingredients that are not normally used in cooking in your area of the world. After all, you want this to be successful and every one may not have the same exotic taste as you do.

A good place to find recipes is your own menu list at home. If you regularly plan and cook for your family, chances are some of your menus will be great for use with a crowd.

You can use Recipe Convertors to see how much of each ingredient you will need to use for a crowd. Here is a good one: Online Recipe Converter. Be sure to read and follow the instructions carefully. Or you could just convert your recipe by hand and brain power like I usually do.

You may not be old enough to remember little neighborhood restaurants that offered “Meat and Three”. That means a meat and three vegetables. I don’t usually offer three vegetables at my meals but I do keep in mind that simple equation. I usually make a simple meat, one or two vegetables and offer a fresh green salad. Then added to that are desserts, breads, beverages.

Casseroles with many ingredients are usually not good candidates for crowds. Casseroles can be expensive, time-consuming to prepare and you run the risk of messing with food allergies and the more finicky of eaters the more ingredients that are in a recipe. My list of foods for crowds are examples of the best kinds of meals for crowds. So keep it simple and delicious.

2. Make A Grocery List and Shop

This is a very important part of the process because this is where you either make or lose money. Buy in bulk when you can, but only when you have planned to use up what you are buying and have a place to store the product.   For some of this you have to guess and learn as you go. For example: I was buying two BIG bags of salad for my group. They were only eating part of ONE bag so for the next weeks I only bought one bag and took the rest of the bag home for my family’s meals.

Check serving sizes when you are purchasing food. A 10# bag of chicken thighs and legs (quarters) says it has approximately 29 servings.  When you open the bag it has about 10 quarters in it so what the manufacturer has in mind is that you will cut the thighs from the legs and have one piece of chicken for each serving. Most of my folks will eat two pieces so I need to buy two bags of chicken and have enough left for seconds at that particular  meal.

Check serving sizes when you are purchasing food. Not a typo, its that important.  The package of frozen lima beans says that 1/2 cup is a serving.  That’s about right for my folks and most people so a package that has 2 cups of beans will serve 4 people.  I’ll buy a little extra so I will have second servings for those who might want them.

Buy paper products; napkins, plates, forks, spoons, cups. Try not to be the cheapest of the cheapest but something mid-range that will not fall apart or collapse once full of food or drink.

Make sure you have plenty of seating space and tables.

make sure you have a large garbage can with a liner.

3. Do All The Pre-Prep You Can

Everything you can do ahead, should be done! You will be really busy the day of the meal so get all the pre-prep stuff done. Think of everything you can do ahead. Example: When I make Oven Fried Chicken I cut the chicken pieces and wash them, then place them in fresh water with lots of salt, cover the pan and place it in the frig. The salt water draws out blood and seasons the meat.

Next, I make desserts ahead.  I make desserts in large bowls or pans and then serve it up later. Sometimes I allow the diners to serve themselves.

Peeling potatoes takes longer than you think, so add 30 minutes to your total cook time for peeling.

Which brings me to this: you must know about how long it takes to cook particular foods. With the Oven Fried Chicken I am preparing Stewed Potatoes and Lima Beans.  I know that it takes a while to peel 10 pounds of potatoes and it takes about 25 minutes to make the Stewed Potatoes, so I will give myself an hour for that. If dinner is at 5, then those potatoes need to be done by 4:30.

If the potatoes need to be started by 3:30, and the Limas by 3:30 and the chicken needs 2 hours so should be started at 2:30…. then I need to have my chicken dredged in flour and the oven HOT by 2:30.  See how I did that?

Set out paper plates, cups, salad bowls, dessert plates, forks, spoons and napkins. These items are something else you need to spend money on so be sure to include them when you decide how much money to charge for your dinner.

Set out salad, dressing and any toppings about 15 minutes before the meal.

Set out drinks and a bowl of ice with a scoop.

Make coffee, if using, just before the meal or just after the meal begins.

4. Arrange Your Serving Area

If you don’t have the luxury of serving pans and sterno cans and you are planning on cooking for a crowd regularly, you should go ahead and invest.  otherwise it becomes really difficult to keep food warm and free of bacteria.  I keep my foods as hot as I can right up to the point of serving. They taste better and they are less likely to make people sick. There is nothing like a stomach bacteria to drive your customers away in droves.

You’ll want to keep your food hot, wear plastic gloves to serve, use long handled serving utensils because they are easiest and have your food set up so that serving it is convenient for you and the diners.

I place dessert and salad on separate tables for self- service.  I place drinks and ice separately for self-service too.

If there are items that you are concerned some folks might take too much of and not leave any for others, then dish those up ahead of time so that each person can take away one serving.

Always offer salt and pepper. If you do not have multiple salt and pepper sets, place one set near the serving area to be used by everyone.

5. Clean Up
I clean as I go and so I don’t usually have a huge amount to clean up after a meal….. and that is a very GOOD THING. I am really tired after making and serving a meal. It takes from 2 to 4 hours to prepare a meal for a crowd not including the pre-prep time. Helpers are a good thing too, those blessed folks can make your life so much easier. So get yourself some willing helpers to wipe down tables, wash pots, put away things and sweep and mop.
Store your prep items together if possible, it will make next time a breeze.

Menu For This Week:
Oven Fried Chicken
Lima Beans
Stewed Potatoes
Yeast Rolls
Green Salad
Chocolate Pudding with Cappuccino Cookie Crumbles
Sugar Free Chocolate Pudding

On Tuesday night I cut up the chicken and place it in salt water in the frig to soak.

I start the yeast rolls first thing Wednesday morning. Bread is expensive if you buy it in the store, so making it is the best way to go. If you don’t make bread, see if there is someone in your Church, family or organization who will make it for the meal.

On Wednesday at 2:00 I dredge the chicken in flour and season with either seasoned salt or salt and pepper. I put large baking sheets covered with foil in the oven on 350*F with a mixture of butter and cooking oil on them. Once they are hot I place the chicken pieces on the sheets and put them back in the oven to bake about 2 hours. I want the chicken to be brown, completely done and almost falling off the bone.

On Wednesday afternoon around 3:00 I put the Limas and potatoes on to cook.

When the Limas are done, I drain them, add butter, salt and pepper to taste turn off the heat and keep them warm over a sterno can.

When the potatoes are done, I drain off almost all the water, add butter and salt to taste, add flour to make a sauce, cook the flour til its done, then add some hot milk. Taste and re-season, cover, turn off heat and keep warm over a sterno can.

By now its 4:30 – 4:45 so I put out drinks, ice, salads, desserts. I bring the chicken over to the prepared pan with a sterno heater under it and transfer the chicken into that pan, cover with foil.

Everything is ready to serve!

Got questions!  Got ideas? Please share!