When cooking for a crowd, plan ahead

posted May 30, 2017 12:00 a.m. (CDT)
email article print
font size - +
by / Janelle Thomas

Summer is creeping in, and with it comes many reasons to hold large gatherings. Graduations, weddings, reunions, fairs, community celebrations and neighborhood parties all mean fun times and hungry guests. Depending on the circumstance and your willingness to volunteer, you many just find yourself in charge of feeding that crowd.

We have a graduation party coming up in our family. We are excited to celebrate the event with our friends and family. We also are really excited to celebrate all our son’s friends’ graduations as the invitations fill up our kitchen cabinet. The talk among the moms at the high school baseball games this spring has been all about party planning and menus. It is fun to hear about all of the creative food choices the graduates and their families have selected.

One graduate is having a brunch with waffles, scrambled eggs and fruit. Another group of four is joining forces to have a taco bar with all the fixings. Yet another young man wants pulled pork, cheesy potatoes and cotton candy. One of the baseball buddies is sticking with that theme by having a ballpark menu with hot dogs, nachos, Cracker Jack and lots of chewing gum scattered on the tables. I love how the parties are customized to each graduate.

One of my favorite ideas for a crowd is a baked potato bar with toppings that include chili, steamed broccoli and the traditional butter, sour cream and shredded cheese. We tested out baked potatoes at a basketball concession stand this spring, and the results were perfect.

We made the extra-large potatoes in a roaster that morning, making sure they were scrubbed and dried, but not pierced, before wrapping them in foil and placing them in the roaster for several hours. Piercing them causes the potatoes to have large, dark spots anywhere they are pierced. We filled the roaster with about 30 potatoes and offered bacon bits, shredded cheese, sour cream and butter as toppings. They sold out shortly after lunch and were a nice money maker.

Whatever the reason for the gathering, make sure to plan a menu that is easy to prepare and serve over a period of time. Many events run over the course of several hours, so keeping hot food hot and cold food cold should be a priority in the planning. Make sure to plan for extra roasters or slow cookers and enough large serving utensils.

Also think about the electrical needs for those appliances. I was involved with a school food stand that was a small nightmare because we couldn’t have our three roasters plugged into the same circuit. Extension cords saved the day after a moment of panic when we realized nothing was heating up. Planning for that will take away the stress of last-minute blown circuits. Planning for leftovers by having large zipper-top baggies and covered containers will make cleanup fast and easy. Garbage bags, rags, dish soap, wipes and paper towels will also aid in your cleanup efforts

Keep in mind that the recipes on this page can be halved or doubled, depending on your crowd size.

Thomas can be reached at janellethomas@charter.net.