Cooking party ideas
Everybody experiences occasions that cry out for a crowd to help celebrate. Milestone birthdays, anniversaries, promotions, holidays, and family reunions become extra special with many friends and family members gathered around. This course is designed for those who want to prepare and share food at home while creating an occasion that is a little special.
Surveys have shown that many people regard entertaining as stressful as having a root canal, especially if you don’t regard yourself as an expert chef. To avoid the trauma, you can hire a private chef or caterer, or take everyone to a restaurant or function hall. But sometimes these options simply don’t work– whether due to cost, or space availability, or more likely that you want your guests to feel an intimate, at-home ambiance.
So you draw up the guest list, send out the invitations, and bask in anticipatory pleasure. As they respond, guests congratulate you for taking on such a daunting challenge. Then the date approaches and panic sets in.
There are some easy ways out. Make the party a potluck event or call your local deli and order meat platters or hot trays of pasta. There’s nothing at all wrong with that, but you have a real desire to give a gift of your own time and talents and make it your own special achievement.
The course picks you up at the point of panic, but before you fall back on the tried and true. We’ll show you how to select recipes that produce great food but don’t require extraordinary culinary skill. If necessary, we’ll super size them. We’ll walk through timetables that don’t rush you. We’ll calculate how much food to serve. We’ll work out a beverage plan. You’ll have a road map and checklist for the preparation and cooking, as well as advice about hiring help. We’ll discuss food safety. Topics for discussion will be proposed, and hopefully we’ll share ideas and experience. At the end, you’ll enjoy the compliments.
Let’s take one example. You’re having a large birthday party and the cost of a bakery cake to feed 75 is exorbitant. But baking is not one of your specialties.
Here’s a road map for dessert. First, select an appropriate cake. A carrot cake is ideal – people love it and it’s rich, so you can satisfy people with a single layer. Carrot cake doesn’t require the finesse of a genoise or angel food cake. You don’t need special equipment and the cake isn’t fussy about a little variation in baking time or temperature.
You can prepare the batter a couple weeks ahead of time. The only time consuming part of preparing a carrot cake is peeling and shredding all those carrots. The easy solution is to use jars of baby food, as the carrots are wholesome and already prepped.
Refrigerate the batter until you’re free to bake three layers, which you can do at one time or at different times. Make each layer in a 13 x 9” pan. If you don’t own one, you can buy foil ones cheaply at the grocery store. After baking, wrap each layer and freeze them separately. Carrot cake freezes very well.
Sometime during the week before the party, make a simple cream cheese frosting and refrigerate. On the day of the party, lay each cake layer side by side on a large piece of cardboard or boarding that is wrapped in aluminum foil. Frost the top, sides, and cracks between the layers. Decorating can also be simplified. Buy or pick fresh flowers (no pesticides used) and decorate the top. If the guest of honor is older, you’ll have lots of room for candles.
So sit back, relax, and join the course. Not only will you enjoy the kudos at the end of your party, but you’ll even have time to enjoy it yourself.
Getting Organized The best way to get organized, especially for those who don’t cook for a large crowd very often, is to write lists. I have found four lists to be absolutely crucial. Don’t rely on memory. Draw these forms up at the beginning, and keep them always at hand to modify or consult as needed:
- The Equipment and Food List
This list will have a section for each dish to be prepared. You will provide under each dish title three sub lists. The first sub-list is all the ingredients and their quantities required to make the dish. The second sub-list is the equipment needed to make the dish, including pots, utensils, oven time – everything. The final sub-list will identify the serving requirements required for that dish, including whether it needs last minute heating and hot plates, platters and serving utensils, any decorations for the dish. See the bibliography for a source to see a format for this list type.
- The Grocery List
Once the first list is completed, you can make up a grocery list from the ingredients mentioned under each dish. Note especially that you may have more than one dish that requires the same item, e.g. butter, lemons, or milk. By listing the quantities, you can make sure that you are not only buying the item, but enough of each item.
- The Preparation Timetable
Your timetable has two parts. The first identifies which days you’re going to shop. You will probably need to shop two different days. The first day is to buy ingredients for the recipes that can be made ahead. The second is when you are buying foods that need to be fresh on the party day. These two shopping days will bracket the preparation days.The second part of your timetable shows you how to spread out preparation time. Look back on your equipment and food list, and you can see which dishes may require the same equipment, or oven time, etc. Using the recipes and that list, you will be able to plan effectively how to complete each dish.
- The Specific Party Day Timetable
This timetable is for the day of the party and should be as specific as possible. Include especially when the food should be plated and set out. This will prevent the awful experience of preparing a dish a few days ahead of time, and then forgetting to set it out. It will also really help any assistants you have.
Do not prepare the lists and then ignore them. Print them out and keep them with you. You will, over the course of preparation, come up with new ideas or realize you’ve forgotten something. Write on the lists and keep them updated.
As with almost every project, the hardest part is getting started. When cooking for a crowd, getting started means choosing which food you want to serve. This point is where you’re tempted to fall back on the tried and true – the recipes that you’ve used time and again – or buying prepared food.
There can be a place for both of those approaches, but the purpose of this course is to encourage you to be a little experimental, have some fun and be unpredictable. To successfully branch out, however, you initially need to set some parameters. You need to define the type of party, set the budget, begin to zero in on food choices, and get organized.
The first choice to make is whether you need to feed people a full meal. This choice is really driven by the time and nature of your party. A shorter afternoon event is the most flexible time of day. You do not have to offer a balanced meal; an all dessert offering is reasonable, or you can just serve salads and desserts. If you have people coming for a 1-2 hour cocktail party, you an also just offer basic hors d’eourves. For this kind of party consider serving only food that can be served at room temperature.
For an evening party without a specified ending time, people will come expecting to eat enough to avoid having to cook dinner at home. They will be disappointed otherwise. Also, regardless of the time of day, for major milestone occasions such as weddings, 40th birthdays, or 25th wedding anniversaries, people will also expect a full meal. Such occasions require a combination of both hot and cold dishes as well as a finishing dessert.
Having identified the meal type, you should make the following assumptions (unless you know your crowd extremely well):
- Somebody will be allergic to nuts or shellfish.
- Somebody will be a vegetarian
- Somebody will be on a diet or have special dietary limits, e.g. Kosher or salt free
Because of these factors, you will need to provide a sufficient number of different dishes so that anyone who falls in these categories will still have a choice.
Next, decide on the method of service. Realistically, if you are feeding more than 12 people, serving food on a plate to people seated at a table is above the skill level of most non-professionals.
That leaves two viable serving alternatives. First, you can put all the food out on a buffet and let people choose when to come to eat. Alternatively, you can initially place some dishes around the room for people to choose from, but also pass food during the course of the party. Should you choose this second alternative, the passed foods will be finger foods which must be bite size, lack a dripping sauce, and do not crumble.
Now, think of your invited crowd and try to categorize their approach to food. Are they an adventuresome or sophisticated group that would appreciate something out of the ordinary, or are they more comfortable with familiar food? The elderly and the young are generally not as adventurous in food choices. Or is it a mixed crowd?
Another reason to look at the age group is to get an initial feel for food quantity. You will need a lot more food for teenagers than an elderly gathering.
Finally, evaluate the season. It is always better to feed a crowd with seasonal food that is temperature appropriate. Not only will it taste better, but also the foodstuffs will be easier to find and generally less expensive. You wouldn’t choose large pots of stews and hot soups for a July party, just as a December event requires heartier foods than just a light salad and fruit.
Before you even think of selecting the food, you need to set a budget. As a starting point, assume food costs of $5.00/person, before adding the cost of dessert. If your taste runs to more expensive food, increase the amount.
Be careful about falling in love with a food idea that may limit your possibilities. For example, many people always think of passing large platters of shrimp. Shrimp are easily prepared and very popular. But at $15.00 a pound, you will have spent $150 feeding 40 people just one dish.
Desserts should be budgeted separately. Desserts are the most labor-intensive part of any meal and the one dish that is supposed to wow everybody present. Despite the fact that half of your crowd will insist they’re on a diet, they will expect dessert and want to nibble.
Desserts often are the one item that it often makes sense to purchase ready made. An elaborate birthday cake that feeds 50 is difficult to prepare in a home kitchen. Less elaborate cakes can be made – in the introduction to this course I suggest an approach to a carrot cake – see the bibliography for the Web site where the actual recipe can be found. However, if time is limited, a bought dessert from a great bakery will gave you maximum impact for your money.
When you set the food budget, also remember the other costs of your party. Generally, these are broken down as follows:
– Rental equipment, e.g. chairs, china, glasses, linen, catering items like hot plates or chafing dishes. Don’t immediately discard the idea of using rental equipment. Most places will pick up and deliver. Further, the dishware just needs to be rinsed and re-stacked. You may save money on help if you don’t have a big load of dishes to wash. At the very least, you’ll save effort at the point you’re most exhausted – after everyone’s gone.
– Decorations, e.g. flowers or banners. Please consider using decorations, especially for the buffet table. Flowers or other decorations really help a table seem inviting and food more colorful. See the bibliography for a link to a great web site for decorating ideas.
– Added help, e.g. people hired to pass hot items, help clean up, and assist in cooking. We discuss guidelines for help
– Beverages, which will also be covered
Zeroing In On Food Choices
The next initial task is to begin to limit your food choices. However, here you want to start to narrow the choices.
In general, you do want to choose a menu that considers the following:
- Avoid flavors that clash, (think of garlic overpowering a subtle asparagus salad).
- Try to avoid color similarities, i.e. monotones. The various dishes should have lots of different colors, unless you’ve chosen a color theme, (see below).
- Avoid using one cooking technique too much – think of how weighty a meal with four different fried foods would be.
- Limit the dishes that require last minute attention. If you haven’t specific kitchen help, it is best to have at most two dishes that require last minute attention.
My professional experience is that a party giver finds it easiest to narrow choices by picking a theme. Themes can be anything; below are some ideas:
- Choose food from one region, e.g. Mediterranean, Mexican, or Southern United States – maybe from where an anniversary couple honeymooned or met. Dishes from these areas are inherently sympathetic to each other, but still offer a large variety.
- Celebrate the passion or interest of a guest of honor. A party for a baseball fan could offer food found in a baseball stadium.
- As mentioned above, a color theme could be chosen. For a graduation, design a menu around school colors.
- Plan a theme around a popular current or cultural event. I once designed a dinner based on The Lord of the Rings. The menu only included foods mentioned in the book.
- Look at your guests and their professions. A newly ordained minister could be honored by foods found in biblical areas.
- Celebrate a season like Spring or the first snowfall.
- A housewarming theme could be comfort food, particularly favorite foods remembered from your childhood.
- Prepare the favorite foods of the honored guest,
Obviously a theme can’t be too narrow or limiting – it would be hard to honor foods indigenous while a Prairie theme brings a number of ideas to mind. But by concentrating on the purpose of the party or the guest of honor, a lot of ideas will suggest themselves.
Choosing Dishes & Recipes
Having finished the first task, you’ve decided on the type of party, the budget, zeroed in on food type, and prepared your lists. With all these parameters in mind, you can now determine how many different dishes you will need to prepare.
Then you can choose recipes using suggested guidelines. These can be from your own favorite books, a couple of books I suggest, or use some of the recipes on my Web site for which I’ve given you the address. You can also create your own dishes by following a couple of suggested techniques. I’ll also point you to WEB sources for recipes specially designed for large parties.
Calculating the Quantity of Dishes
The type of party determines the number of different dishes you need to serve.
Let’s first look at a sampling party, i.e. a party that is not designed to provide a full meal. Examples are afternoon teas, cocktail parties, or dessert parties. The length of the event determines the required number of different dishes. For a party not expected to last longer than two hours, plan on providing at least four different prepared dishes. For a party that will last longer than two hours, plan on at least six different prepared dishes. In addition to prepared dishes, you should add two standard nibbles which do not require any preparation and which almost everybody likes. These could be nuts, olives, pretzels, or candies.
For an occasion in which you are presenting a meal, whether lunch or dinner, you will still need appetizers to keep the crowd happy until it is all assembled and the last minute dish preparation has been finished. However, if the appetizers are well chosen, they can also supplement the side dishes to be served with the entree.
For such an occasion, if the crowd is below 25 people, I recommend three appetizers, plus the nibbles referred to above. For a crowd above 25, I recommend four appetizers, including at least one nibble. Any uneaten appetizers can be put on the buffet table when the main dishes are offered.
After the appetizers, you will need to provide two entrees and four side courses. Make one entree a vegetarian selection. Most guests will take some of both entrees, so the additional side courses can be very simple. These can be any combination of vegetables, salads and breads.
Regardless of what kind of party it is, dessert or some sweet will need to be offered. If serving anything with nuts, you will have to provide a non-nut option. In general, however, I almost always provide two options to satisfy everyone. One choice should be nice and caloric like a cake or chocolate truffles. One should be a lighter alternative like meringue cookies, or fruit on a skewer.
To illustrate the above recommendations, I’ve provided two sample menus that have worked well for parties. Additional sample menus can be found in the resources listed below-
- Cocktail Party for 50 (this was for an adventuresome crew – the theme was international with each dish to be from a different part of the world):
- Platters set out before the party: Gravlax with sliced bread, capers and mustard sauce; cheese plate with crackers; crudites platter with two different dips; herded foccacia; spiced nuts; and olives.
- Hot appetizers to be passed: Stuffed mushrooms, beef sate, and spinach triangles.
- Dessert: Bakery bought chocolate cake and meringue cookies.
- Dinner Buffet for 40 (Generally a Mediterranean theme, with roast beef added due to the guest of honor’s preference
- Appetizers: Spinach Triangles; Tapenade with Pita Toasts; Crudites Platter with two different dips; spiced nuts, and pretzels.
- Main Course: Roast beef with horseradish sauce served on a cabbage slaw lined platter; garlic mashed potatoes; roasted pepper lasagna; green beans; and pumpkin rolls.
- Dessert: Birthday cake and assorted cookies.
Choosing Recipes to Match the Theme
Having determined the number of different dishes you need, your next step is to look at the theme of the party and write down as many food ideas as the theme inspires.
For example, suppose you’ve chosen a Mediterranean theme. You could write down pasta, lamb or chicken kebabs, spinach triangles, hummus with pita bread, souvlaki in pita pockets, Greek salad, fruit salad with mint, tabbouleh, and moussaka. Divide your ideas into appetizer and entree categories.
Then, evaluating your kitchen equipment, available time, and culinary skill, balance the choices as follows:
- dishes that can be bought ready made and still be good
- dishes that can be prepared up to several days ahead and frozen or refrigerated
- dishes that are prepared in bulk and those that require you to make lots of little items
- dishes that are cold and can be set out in advance
- dishes that can be cooked earlier in the day and rewarmed
- only two dishes that require last minute preparation
For example, look at the menu for the cocktail party for 50.
Gravlax is remarkably simple to make. It requires about 15 minutes of work four days ahead of the party, and can then be sliced and put out. It does, however, require refrigerator space.Cheeses are essentially bought ready-made and can be very impressive if you serve some unusual cheeses. Further, cheese needs to sit at room temperature or several hours before service.
Vegetables can be bought ready cut. If not, cut the vegetables ahead of time and keep them fresh in a bowl of cold water.
Dips can be made several days ahead.
Find a good bakery to buy the foccacia.
The mushrooms can be prepped in advance and the stuffing made a few days ahead of time. Just combine and bake for 15 minutes at the time of the party.
The sates are sliced and marinated in advance, but they do need to be skewered and grilled – about a minute on each side – before serving.
The spinach triangles are made well ahead and are frozen. They are then baked from the frozen state.
Most of the work involved in this party can be done the days before the party. With proper organization, the entire preparation will only require a modest amount of time spread over several days.
On my web site (see bibliography), I have included four of my favorite party recipes: stuffed mushrooms, gravlax, goat cheese stuffed tomatoes, and spiced nuts. These are all very easy to do, almost fool proof, everyone seems to like them, and they can be prepared well in advance. They are a little out of the ordinary, so they have a good wow factor.
Otherwise, to find recipes I would suggest the following resources:
- Aloni includes over 150 recipes in Secrets From a Caterer’s Kitchen. I’ve tried several and they work well.
- The Culinary Institute of America has produced a great all-purpose cookbook called The New Professional Chef. Not only is this book very helpful for basic cooking techniques, but all the recipes are sized for 10 servings, which make them very amenable for crowd cooking and easily supersized. The recipes are generally not complicated; they are designed for the competent home chef. Look for the book in the library.
- There are a number of Web sites that have a lot of recipes for large scale cooking. I have included these in the bibliography.
Techniques For Creating Customized Dishes
For those of you who are adventurous and want to create your own customized dish, I recommend that you focus on a couple of cooking techniques and then let your imagination go loose.
- If you are comfortable working with FILO dough, you can stuff FILO with almost anything, freeze it and bake it frozen. If you’re not, see fun with Filo Dough, and then try something. The stuffed mushroom filling that I list in the bibliography makes a great FILO filling.
- Another fun technique is to play with won ton wrappers, stuffing them with anything you might like were you to order ravioli. For example, the recipe below shows how to make crab ravioli with relatively little effort and at your convenience:
8 ounces lump crab meat
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup leek or spring onion, chopped
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
salt and pepper, to taste
1/4 cup water
2 teaspoons cornstarch
2 packages square Wonton wrappers. They can be found in almost any grocery store, usually in a refrigerated section with Chinese vegetables. Each package usually has 50 wrappers.
- In a medium bowl, combine the crab-meat, cream cheese, leek or onion, and Worcestershire sauce. Taste for seasoning, and add salt and pepper as desired.
- In a small bowl, combine the water and cornstarch.
- Put a rounded tablespoon of the crab filling in the center of a wonton wrapper. Brush the edges with water and cornstarch, and place a second wrapper over the first, pressing to seal the edges. Trim the edges as desired with a pizza wheel or sharp knife, or seal by pressing the edges with the tines of a fork.Prepared raviolis can be frozen on single layers; protect each layer with a sheet of waxed paper. When frozen, remove the raviolis and store in the freezer in a freezer plastic bag. Cook them from the frozen state.When you’re ready to cook them, bring a large amount of salted water to a boil in a four-quart pot. Lower the heat so that bubbles barely break the surface. Lower 6 of the ravioli gently into the water, and let cook for 2 – 3 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon. Drain and place in a single layer on a lightly greased baking sheet. Cover loosely with foil. Keep cooked raviolis warm in a 300-degree oven.
For an incredibly easy sauce, top with a light sprinkling of olive oil and chopped fresh tarragon.
Food to prepare
In this section, I first present guidelines and rules of thumb that should be followed in order to calculate how much food to prepare. You don’t want to overspend on too much food, but you also don’t want to run out of food.
Second, I’ll discuss super sizing recipes. Logically, if you have a recipe that feeds four people, you might think all you need to do to get enough food for 40 is to multiply the recipe by 10. Unfortunately, it’s not quite that easy. The advice here should help you get the end result that you really want.
Before we specifically calculate how many portions of each recipe you need to prepare, it’s useful to review the following general guidelines and exceptions:
- Starches, meats, and fried foods are more popular than vegetables and salads.
- Expensive foods like shrimp, caviar, lobster, oysters, crab will be all consumed, no matter how much you put out. Portion estimates don’t count.
- On a buffet, people will want to try a little of everything. Since you have more choices on a buffet, i.e. appetizers, two entrees, and four side dishes, assume that people initially will take smaller portions than they would if you gave them food on a plate. In general, for buffets, a portion size is about half of what is considered a normal portion for a routine meal.
- People eat more food when it is set out on a platter and easily accessible than when the food is passed around. To control the quantity of passed appetizers that are consumed, bring the platters back to the kitchen after passing – don’t leave them out in the entertaining area.
- People will protest that they don’t want dessert, but will inevitably want to try some.
- Portion guidelines listed in books or on the WEB assume that you have an “average” crowd composed of various generations as well as married and single individuals.If your guest list is weighted as follows, you will need to add at least 20% more food than is in the following specific guidelines:
- Your crowd is weighted to younger people, especially teens.
- You have more singles than couples. Singles tend to avoid cooking, so they will skip meals at home and eat more at a party.
- You either have friends who love to party, or the event encourages lengthy attendance. The longer people stay, the more they eat.
Alternatively, if the crowd is composed of the opposite categories, then you could reduce the portion size by 10%.
The rules of thumb for quantities are as follows. The rules use the catering term “bite”. The definition of “bites” is obvious for things like stuffed mushrooms or spinach triangles; each individual piece is a bite.
For appetizers such as dips and cheeses that are not prepared in pieces, assume one ounce equals one bite. Nibbles (as defined in Lesson 2) are extra and not included as bites.
- Assume during a short, one to two hour cocktail party to be followed by dinner, that everyone will eat 6-8 appetizers. That means if you have three types of appetizers, you need to make enough so that each person can have two bites of each appetizer.
- For a longer, three-hour+ cocktail party without a meal to follow, assume that people will eat 12 to 15 bites/person. So if you have four types of appetizers, make 3-4 bites for each person of each appetizer.
Page 100 of the book, Secrets from a Caterer’s Kitchen lists very specific guidelines as to portion amounts to prepare for various sized parties e.g. buffets serving 12, 25, 50, 75, and 100 groups. She also includes suggested portion amounts for sit down dinners where you serve plated foods to your guests.
The author covers dozens of specific types of salads, soups, meats, vegetables, starches, and desserts. I have summarized below buffet portion allocations for the most popular general food types:
- Romaine or iceberg salad – 2 heads for every 12 guests
- Soups – 1 gallon for every 12 guests
- Potato salad – 2 ½ potatoes for every 12 guests
- Boneless poultry – 4 pounds for every 12 guests
- Bone-in roasts – 7.5 pounds for every 12 guests
- Boneless roasts – 4 pounds for every 12 guests
- Peas, Corn and other vegetables – 2 pounds for every 12 guests
- Rice – 2.5 cups for every 12 guests
- Dry pasta – 2 pounds for every 12 guests
- Cheesecake – one 9” pie plate for every 12 guests
- Cookies – two for every guest
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Super sizing Recipes
If the party is large, and if you aren’t using a food service type recipe (already sized), you will probably need to super size your recipes. If you have a recipe to super size, take a look at the Washington fruit web site, This site has a built in computer program that allows you to type in your original recipe. The program will then recalculate the amount of the needed ingredients and allow you to print out the revised recipe.
Also, there are some charts on the web site chef2chef that can be very useful. Specifically, these are:
- Yield and Food Equivalencies – this helps if your recipe says 5 pounds of potatoes and you want a pretty good guess on how many potatoes that is.
- Common Measurements and Equivalents – very helpful if you have a recipe in metric measurements
- Room capacity calculator
Following are some keys to successfully super sizing recipes:
- Most recipes can be successfully super sized without further adjustment up to four times the serving amount of the original recipe. Super sized in this case means the recipe can be multiplied and still prepared in one batch. If you need more than four times the recipe amount, it is advisable to prepare the recipe several times over.
- Never double (or triple, etc.) the amount of salt and fat in a recipe. If the fat is required to coat the pan, only use enough to cover the bottom of the pan. With salt, if you’re doubling the recipe, only add 1.5 times the amount of salt originally called for and then taste. In general, always taste for seasoning before adding salt and pepper.
- When the ingredients in a recipe are sensitive to proportions, most well written recipes include the required weight of each ingredient along with more conventional measurements. For example, a pie recipe may give you the choice of using either 1-pound of sliced apples or 4 sliced apples. When the recipe gives you this option, using a scale will be more accurate. Weighing ingredients also often gives more accurate results than using measuring cups. Since any inaccuracies increase proportionally when you super size, it is best when possible to buy a scale and super size by weight.
- Scales are also useful if you are making one large batch of a dish that you will then divide between two or more pans. Instead of trying to eyeball the portions, weigh the entire batch, then divide the weight by the number of pans and weigh out that amount for each pan. If the portions are not equal, when they are cooked together, one pan will be finished at a different time than the other pan.
- If you’re cooking two or more items together in the oven, rotate and switch the pans halfway through the cooking time. No oven has a uniform temperature.
- If you need to use more than one pan for a recipe that needs to be served immediately, check to make sure that you have the number of pans and cooking space to cook all the pans simultaneously.
- Whenever you have super sized an item that can be overcooked, like meats or breads, always test whether the item is done by thermometer. Do not use the estimated completion time in the recipe as the oven time will be very different for a larger than for a smaller item. Also remember that with larger single items in the oven, like a 6 pound roast versus a 3 pound roast, the temperature will continue to rise longer after you’ve taken it out of the oven. You should remove the larger roast at a lower temperature than you would a smaller roast.
- Be very careful when super sizing any baked goods. Generally, the amount of salt and leavening (baking powder, baking soda, etc). is not doubled when the recipe is doubled. With larger pan sizes, less leavening is required to achieve the same rise.If you’re using a food service baking recipe, the recipe probably uses a formula called the “Baker’s Percent”. For this type of recipe, the baker assumes that flour is 100% and then he calculates the rest of the ingredients as a % of the flour, by weight. In order to successfully follow this type of recipe, you will need to weigh the ingredients, not measure them.
- In general, due to the difficulties discussed above, unless you have a food service baking recipe, it is advisable to make the usual recipe several times rather than try to bake a super sized recipe. However, for those of you who really want to make larger baked goods, especially cakes, there is a good resource. Rose Levy Berenbaum’s The Cake Bible has a chapter that has calculated the baker’s percent for many items. She includes a specific chart for super sized butter cakes, cheesecakes, pound cakes, and icing.
- If you’re making lots of cookie dough at once, keep the dough that is not being baked in the refrigerator. If cookie dough is too warm, the cookies will spread too much in the oven.
Beverages, Help & Food Safety
This section will help you choose beverage types and assist you in calculating the necessary amounts.
I’ll also give some advice on how much and what kind of help you’ll need.
Finally, understanding that no host wants to make any guest ill, I will help you focus on some of the safety issues involved with preparing and putting out food. It is especially important to remember these issues when dealing with a large amount of food that will be set out for a long period of time.
The selection of appropriate beverages is driven by three factors:
- The time of day for the party
- The makeup of the guest list
- The budget
Considering these parameters, the first decision to make is whether to serve alcohol. The host can usually judge from their invitation list whether guests would prefer to have an alcoholic option, although for business and cocktail parties, a full bar is usually expected.
It is perfectly reasonable, especially for daytime events, to limit alcohol. If you don’t want to eliminate alcohol entirely, one option is to serve a punch in both an alcoholic and non-alcoholic form. Alternatively, you can pass trays of a premixed drink with a limited alcoholic content, e.g. as sangria or frozen daiquiris.
A very popular choice is also to serve only beer and wine. The advantage of this choice, as opposed to offering a full bar, is limiting the variety of beverages you have to buy. Believe it or not, however, it can be more cost effective to serve a full bar if you’re serving over 20 people.
Many people drink mixed drinks more slowly than wine or beer. For this reason, also, you cannot assume that a beer and wine party will limit the liability and danger of an inebriated guest driving away.
Having made the choice about alcohol, there are some standard guidelines as to amounts to serve. Caterers use the assumption that there are 16 drinks in a 750ML bottle of liquor and that there are 5 drinks in a bottle of wine.
Given these figures, the following is a basic shopping list for a party of 30 that is expected to last about 3 hours. For a longer party or particularly festive event, add 25% to this calculation. For a wedding, you will need to almost double the amount and add enough champagne for every guest to have some to toast the happy couple.
Beer and Wine only:
– 12 bottles of white wine
– 12 bottles of red wine
– 12 quarts of water, half of which are sparkling
– 10 quarts of soft drinks
– 1 bottle rum or tequila (based on geographic or personal preference)
– 2 bottles gin
– 3 bottles vodka
– 1 bottle Scotch
– 1 bottle Bourbon
– 9 bottles white wine
– 6 bottles red wine
– 6 quarts of soft drinks and mixers
– 12 bottles of water, half of which are sparkling
– 12 bottles of beer
– lemons and limes
– green olives
- It is more cost effective to buy wine in cases. If you drink wine normally and don’t mind extra, I would almost always suggest buying a full case of white wine and red.
- If you’re serving a full bar, buy brands that you like or would want to give away as a gift.
- Remember that different parts of the country have different beverage preferences. Tequila is more popular in California than Massachusetts; bourbon is likely to be more popular in the South than in other regions.
One comment about chilling beverages. Bottles chill more quickly on ice than in the refrigerator. By chilling them in a tub or a cooler with ice, they won’t take up needed space in the refrigerator. I would suggest buying at least 40 pounds of ice for both serving and chilling beverages.
Advice on Help
For any party of more than 10 people, it is extremely useful to have arranged for help, even if just to do the dishes. There is nothing better, after a party than, to look around at a clean house. For help guidelines, I have generally found the following to be realistic:
- For any party over 10 guests, you should have someone who is comfortable putting food in and out of an oven. For over 50 people, it is good to have two full time people in the kitchen.
- Additionally, you will need all-purpose people to pass trays, check on whether platters need refinishing, do last minute kitchen chores, and wash the dishes. For a 10-20 people party, one person is sufficient along with the cook. Over 20 people, you need at least two people.
- While these people do not need to be professionals (teenagers are excellent), one of these helpers should be capable to be a “gofer”. This person should be able to drive and able to rush out for any last minute item that has been forgotten.
- Especially if you’re having a full bar, it is advisable to have a bartender. Not only will a bartender provide portion control, but also he can alert you to any concerns about whether some guests might be too drunk to drive. Please remember that any drunk driving accident will be the host’s liability.Also remember that various areas have different restrictions on who can serve alcohol. If you’re using teenagers under 18 to help, it is probable that it is illegal for them to be opening wine bottles or refilling glasses.
- If you’re having a party with children, it can be a lifesaver to have one person assigned to entertaining them and keeping track of them – their parents will have a much better time.
- Volunteer help can be tricky. Some people love to have lots of people in the kitchen helping out and others do not. If you’ve hired a cook, they will not want to have people in the kitchen. However, there are great uses for a volunteer away from the kitchen, i.e. to be a second set of eyes watching whether there is Kleenex in the bathroom, whether coats are placed inappropriately, and all the other little details.
The following is a list of commonsense food safety practices. Especially if your party includes people in a High Risk Group – defined as the elderly, infants and toddlers, and anyone with chronic disease affecting the immune system – please read up thoroughly on food safety. The government site listed in the bibliography is an excellent resource.
- In food safety, there are two important numbers – 40 degrees and 140 degrees. Between these two limits is the danger temperature zone at which bacteria multiply really happily. Remember “life begins at 40”.When perishable food is out of the refrigerator or off heat, remember this temperature zone. You don’t want the food to stay in the zone longer than 2 hours, conservatively, or for 3 hours at a maximum.
- If you’re serving hot food on a buffet, keep it warm in a chafing dish or on a hot plate, and check to make sure the temperature is being held over 140 degrees. For cold foods, either serve cold them in batches, keeping each batch cold until needed, or keep the food over ice. Check with a thermometer.Also, it is good practice to check your refrigerator and freezer temperature. The refrigerator should be at 40 degrees or below. To keep food properly frozen and in optimal condition, the freezer should be 0 degrees or lower.
- You also need to cook food thoroughly. While there are a lot of bugs out there, a few foods cause the most problems in the home kitchen – poultry and eggs, ground beef, pork, and fish. It’s good to remember the temperatures these foods need to reach to disarm any bugs.Cook poultry to 165 degrees in its thickest part, any ground beef dish to 155 degrees, pork to 150 degrees, and fish to 140 degrees. Eggs should be cooked until the yolk starts to firm. Please test with thermometers.
- Besides temperature, you need to concern yourself with cleanliness and cross-contamination any time you handle food. First, foremost, and always, the single best thing to do to keep food safe is to wash your hands in the hottest water you can stand. If you like – especially when cutting raw meat and poultry, garlic, and hot peppers – use latex gloves. They’re easily found in the drugstore; the ones with talcum powder come off easily.
- Cutting boards are a common source for cross-contamination. My advice is to buy two, making at least one a plastic board that can fit in your dishwasher for sanitizing. Wooden boards should not go in the dishwasher. Using a laundry marker, or other permanent ink pen, mark one board for meat and poultry, and use the other for vegetables, fruit, etc. Or, if you like a wooden board, use it for any food that can be served raw, and use a plastic board for your meat, poultry, and fish.
- Be aware that cross-contamination also occurs with knives and other utensils, kitchen counters, towels, or your bare hands, so these need to be washed between uses.