Jun 28, 2011

Cooking for a crowd: Lessons learned

Last Friday, we invited a rather large group of friends to a come-and-go open house. (I think I'm officially caught up on the "have-people-over-once-or-twice-a-month" resolution.)

It's hard for me to guess-timate food for a crowd bigger than a dozen. But then again, the pros struggle, too - I've never ordered catering that didn't way over-estimate how much food we would need for the number of guests I told them I needed to serve.

I fear running short, but I really hate wasting food, too. (I know the starving children in China can't eat what I don't, but it still bothers me to throw away food, so I try very hard to pinpoint how much to fix for anything, whether I'm cooking for two or 200.) Friday night was somewhere around 75 guests.

So what do YOU cook for a huge crowd? Since it was an all-evening event, I chose foods that would hold up as well as possible if they had to sit out for a few hours:

Pulled pork (heated up in batches), served with sauce and buns
An array of chips, pickles and fresh veggies
Cold melon and berries
A trio of bar cookies - million dollar bars, lemon bars and cheesecake square
Lemonade, tea and bottled water


just for the kids, of course...


What is a summer bash without some flaming-sticky-gooey-chocolatey goodness?

The menu is easy.  The quantities are where it gets dicey, at least with me as I try to shoot for Goldilocks.  ("not too little, not too much, but just right.")
  • I asked the butcher for 20-25 pounds of Boston butt; he gave me three big 'uns that totaled a little over 27 pounds.  It was about 5 pounds too much.  Like I said...20-25 pounds.
  • Twelve packages of buns were about 7 packages too many.  (Lots of low-carb folks, maybe?)
  • Four jars of pickles was one jar too many
  • Four bags of chips and two tubs of dip could have been cut in half.
  • Four bottles of sauce were just about right.
  • One watermelon, 3 cartons of strawberries and 2 cartons of blueberries - I shoulda cut up a second watermelon and bought more berries.  They went fast.
  • Two packages of baby carrots, two cartons of grape tomatoes and two heads of celery - more or less on the money.
  • Three huge trays of bar cookies were about two times too many.  (But we've somehow forced ourselves to take care of the extras :-)
  • A few too many Hershey's bars.  (tragic, eh?)
What did I learn? For the next big gathering (in a few weeks), I'll probably ramp up on fruit and veggies and lighten up on carbs.

'Cept the S'mores.  Because a few too many mallows and milk chocolate squares are never a waste.

Happy entertaining!