HOW TO COOK FOR A CROWD (without losing your mind)
A friend of mine recently complained that she has 19 relatives coming for dinner this Sunday, and she's in charge of cooking. She wanted to know, how was she going to pull this off with the help of no one other then her 12-year-old?
Easy, I told her. Cooking for a crowd really isn’t any more work then cooking for a few people. The key is planning, planning and more planning. If done right, the day of the party there won’t be much to do at all.
Start by making a schedule. When to clean the house, shop, prep and cook. Because almost all of your actual cooking will be done in advance. Then the day of will be more about food assembly, reheating and final stage preparation.
Remember that lists are your friends. Make a list for everything: The guest list, tasks to complete, items to buy and cross off as each item or task is complete. Don’t think for a moment that you’ll remember everything. You won’t.
When planning your menu, choose items that can be served at room temperature. This is a big one. The last thing you want to worry about is keeping food for 19 people piping hot! Poach or bake a salmon the day before or morning of. Greek, kale, pasta and bean salads all taste better when made in advance.
I save one item, like a roast, to be cooking as people are arriving so there is aroma in the house and something coming hot off the grill (or oven). A mixed grill is also a good option here; sausages (cut in half), ribs and marinated chicken pieces all work well. People love having cocktails around the barbecue before dinner. Or dishes that were made in advance and can be reheated, like chilli or lasagna are also excellent options.
Serve everything buffet style. Less stress for you and people get exactly what they want.
Fill in the edges of your menu by ordering fresh rolls from your favourite bakery and having bowls of nuts, olives and perhaps a store bought spread to serve with cocktails. There are so many delicious options in the prepared foods section at the grocery store – why make everything from scratch?
If you’re serving desert, of course you will have made it in advance. Or if you’re like me you serve a cheese board with chocolates, which took five minutes to prepare.
Take the time to plan through every single step, right down to cutting the rolls in half and stacking plates and cutlery on the counter the night before, to identify absolutely everything that can be done in advance. Because even a seemingly quick and easy task like roll cutting can cause stress when there’s a lot going on (and a lot of rolls to cut.)
As always, I recommend setting up the bar so that guests can help themselves. Put cold drinks in ice buckets on the counter and have wine bottles open along with lemons, limes, mix and ice easily accessible. And some of the smartest party throwing money I ever spent has been on a subscription to a streaming music service. Playlists are not my thing. Apple music is my thing.
And as for that 12-year-old? She (or he) is your secret weapon. If she likes cooking, she will happily become your slave. If she doesn’t, tell her she has to help anyway because you said so. Either way it’s a great opportunity for a young person to learn a bit about cooking. (Something too many kids today have no clue about.)
I often hear people say one should never try a recipe for the first time when guests are coming (and I may have said it myself). But in truth this is one rule I believe in breaking. As long as there are enough tried and true dishes, having one ringer that might steal the show or lead to a good disaster story is all part of the fun.