Cooking for a crowd is kind of our thing. We had a restaurant and catering business years ago and when I ran a non-profit I used to cook lunch for all of our clients every week so I actually enjoy cooking for groups of people. This week we are cooking for the SILs and their friends and while everyone is kind of low-maintenance, one of the SILs is not eating bread or rice for Lent. The no rice thing has been a bit of a challenge since most of our meals are some sort of Asian food but we persevere. I have several tricks for cooking for a crowd which include:
- Cake mixes are quick to whip up and are very little work to make yet can be an easy way to make dessert for a crowd.
- Cookies are also easy to make. A couple of tips--if you don't have a lot of time, put the entire bowl of cookie dough into a sheet pan and after is has baked, cut up into cookie sized pieces. Also, when I make chocolate chip cookies I only use one third of the package of chocolate chips per batch, it doesn't look like the cookies are short on chips and I can make three times the amount of cookies for the price of one bag of chips.
- A simple meal of pasta with sauce, garlic bread, and salad can stretch a few dollars into a pretty big meal for a crowd.
- The same is true of those rotisserie chickens at Costco or the grocery store deli. From one chicken you can make chicken Caesar salad, white chicken pizza, chicken and dumplings, and many other meals. Instead of serving fried chicken which serves about four people per chicken, picking the chicken off of the carcass and using it in casserole/salad/pizza recipes can make the one chicken feed a dozen people! Note that you can then use the chicken carcass to make chicken noodle soup from scratch.
- Making a giant salad is another way to make a few ingredients stretch for a large group.
- Taco bars are also popular at our house. Simply make/cut up the parts of the taco (meat, beans, lettuce, tomatoes, salsa, etc), heat up some tortillas, and have everyone make their own tacos.
- We cook a lot of Asian food and many of the dishes are an inexpensive way to feed a crowd--fried rice, noodle dishes, spring rolls, and big stir frys are full of inexpensive ingredients that can feed a lot of people for very little money.
- We also cook more than enough food so we have lots of leftovers. Our guests usually come and go at all hours so this way if they are hungry, they can just look at the leftovers in the fridge and help themselves when they are hungry.
- We keep plenty of whatever fresh fruit is in season on hand so everyone will have easy snacks to grab.
- We hard boil eggs and boil up a bunch of potatoes to have on hand as well (this makes for a quick breakfast, an easy potato salad, or egg salad sandwiches, etc.).
- We also check the loss leaders at the grocery store to see what's on sale then make something using these ingredients. One rotisserie chicken on sale, a bag of hamburger buns from the clearance rack, a 10 pound bag of potatoes for 99 cents, and a head of cabbage which was also on sale became pulled chicken sandwiches, homemade French fries, and coleslaw for lunch a couple days ago.
The bottom line is to use what's on sale, cook from scratch instead of treating everyone to meals at a restaurant, and pick recipes that make your food--especially meat--stretch (one friend always does seafood boils when she has a lot of guests and it looks like she spends a fortune on crab, clams, oysters, etc. Yikes!).