Guest Series: Cooking for a Crowd: Cooking & Serving

If you missed the first two posts in this series go check them out here and here to find out why the heck I’m talking about cooking massive quantities of food. Just as a tiny disclaimer, there is SO much content I could cover, but for this series I am doing a quick and dirty primer! If you want to continue the conversation – I am on Twitter and Instagram @ajmilad. Sarah can confirm – I can talk for days!

Friends! It’s finally cooking day! Ready for your party!?

The actual cooking portion of this series is a little hard to put into words because it’s so much about practice, practice, practice. Instead of talking you through cooking each of your dishes, I am going to outline some tips for staying organized, keeping the kitchen clean and having FUN!

First, find a friend. Can you do it alone? Absolutely! Should you? Nah. It’s not half as much fun and it’s twice as much work. That being said, find a partner who you trust and who knows what they are doing. I started cooking alone, and in my second year had a friend – C – help out. He is an amazing cook, has worked in restaurants, and really knows his way around the kitchen; having C’s help made it so much more fun. It made the work go more quickly, especially the tedious work of cooking like peeling and chopping. If you have someone in your life you trust, bring them in.

Before you start cooking, make a list of all the things that have to be done. Once you figure out approximately how long each task will take you’ll have a better idea of how to pace out the day. This is also a good time to figure out what containers and utensils you’ll use to serve the food – it’s so much easier to do it now than when you’re scrambling with five minutes to go before dinner.

Once I’m in the kitchen, and the oven is pre-heating, I like to do is make sure I have a clean, organized area to prep and cook. This is when I set out my favorite non-cooking tooI — a package of kitchen rags that I love; they’re cheap, can be bleached, used for oven mitts, cleaning up or makeshift trivets and it makes me happy to not use a ton of paper towels. The rags and a bottle of cleaning spray are always at hand so I can continuously clean up.

Set out bowls of salt and pepper, and a cup of tasting spoons so you can season and taste as you go. Keep lots of spoons on hand – no double dipping, kids!

Now one more time, scan over each recipe and make sure you have all the ingredients and tools – dig out the vegetable peeler, have an empty trashcan ready for scraps, make sure you know where that tiny spice jar is – the panic of looking for an ingredient in the middle of cooking is basically the worst. The French call this organizing of ingredients mise en place. I call this “figure it out now or be hysterical later.”

All organized? Time to get cooking! First, get started on the protein, especially if it’s one that needs a long cook. When protein is cooking I do my vegetable prep for any side dishes that will go in for a roast once the protein is out and resting. If you didn’t recruit a kitchen partner, you’ll regret it around your tenth pound of carrot peeling, but if you’re flying solo, let me recommend this podcast.  Or this one.  Or maybe this one.  (Who wants the next series on podcasts from the #podcastjunkie?!)

As you work, keep the space clean because once things start to come out of the oven and guests start to arrive, it is chaos, no matter how organized you have been until this point. Truly, it’s madness. If you have a long, slow braise going, be sure to check on it regularly so that you aren’t thrown a curve ball when you pull it out and it’s not done – always get those dishes in the oven extra early. It is so much easier to re-heat than to cry over 30 pounds of half-done beef stew. The only thing I save for the very last minute is the salad. I make the ahead of time and moments before service I pull out the greens so they are cold and crisp.

Everyone is arriving and it’s time to set out the buffet! If room allows, I love to do a double sided buffet because it lets everyone get their food quickly so they can sit down and eat together instead of one person being done while people are still in line. If you do have space for a double buffet, make sure you have two sets of utensils at each dish – so people on both sides can access the food. Usually I don’t serve all the food at once, so I have to hang out nearby to refill any dishes that are running out, but no matter what I make myself a plate and enjoy a few bites while the food is still hot. This is the only requirement: Enjoy the fruits of your labor. Food is about community, so leave the kitchen dirty for a few minutes and talk to a friend. Drink a beer. Relax.

YOU DID IT!!

If you aren’t totally bored of me yet, come back next week for the final installment: recipes. I’ll share a few of my favorite large-scale recipes including my taco-night salad dressing that is always a big hit!

 

amanda

Amanda is a wife, dog mom, and avid home cook. She loves the outdoors, books, and would always rather be at the beach.

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