Catering + Large Group Ideas

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Large Group Ideas

How Many?! How Much!?

cover_HowManyHowMuch175x226A Step-by-Step guide to cooking for a large group is designed to help anyone who is cooking or planning events for large groups.

Don’t expect a cookbook. It divides the process of feeding many hungry people into 13 easy-to-follow steps, making it useful to both the novice and veteran event organizer.

How Many?! How Much!? shares ways to prepare meals for 25 to 1,000 that are creatively planned, well run, priced accurately, and served hot and delicious. It includes chapters about menu planning, recipe costing, calculating expenses, recruiting helpers, designing a program, planning seating, plating and presentation, and more.

Author Jennifer Cole’s light-hearted, easy to understand style comes from 15 years of experience running a catering business and cooking for large groups in restaurants, summer camps and churches. Jennifer says, “I love cooking, I love cooking for large groups, and I want to share ways that make this kind of cooking easier for everyone.” Available online at www.reunionsmag.com or call 414-263-4567.

Cooking for large groups

Cooking for Large Groups is a Windows-based software program with over 1400 recipes that can be adjusted instantly to serve any size reunion. It also has extensive guidelines about institutional cooking and very useful conversion utilities. Details at www.cookinglarge.com. Cooking for Large Groups is customizable and bundled with hardcopy cookbooks.

Convert recipes from any cookbook into electronic format. The program can instantly adjust recipe ingredient amounts based on the desired number of servings, and it has a tool for converting within and between Imperial and metric units of measurement. An egg conversion utility calculates the number of medium or large whole eggs needed to yield a desired quantity of shelled eggs. Once a recipe is adjusted, results can be saved to your computer or printed.

Cooking for Large Groups is so easy to use that a manual is unnecessary. Contact OSHA DATA/CIH, Inc, 12 Hoffman St., Maplewood NJ 07040-1114; 973-378-8011.

System requirements: Windows 98/NT 4.0/XP, Intel Pentium Processor or better, 32 MB RAM, 20 MB free hard disk space, CD-ROM drive, SVGA monitor, keyboard, web browser (Netscape Communicator or Microsoft Internet Explorer), Adobe Reader, Window-compatible pointing device.

Feeding the reunion masses

by Denise Heinze

Rule number one in planning a successful family reunion is that everybody must eat. Sounds simple enough, but it is often the biggest challenge in pulling off the annual famfest. Talk great accommodations in a charming locale at an affordable price all you want. But, as food goes, so goes the reunion.

Believe me. I found out the hard way. I organized my first family reunion, a three-day white-water rafting trip in the Great Smoky Mountains. I made provisions for everything, except – you guessed it – the food. After rafting nearly all day on the river, we came back to our rustic log cabins famished, and with absolutely no idea what we were going to eat. There were no restaurants for twenty rugged mountain miles, no electricity or water in the cabins; heck there was nothing to fix. Lucky for me, my sister-in-law was able to scrape dinner together from the supplies in her well-stocked camper.

Called on again this past summer to do another reunion gig, I was not going to make the same mistake twice. This time, my seven siblings and their families were going to dine like the rich and famous, with a minimum of expense and effort.

Here’s how I did it.

My family voted in May to reunite at a North Carolina beach, any beach, in July, peak season. People book these places a year in advance and pay up the wazoo for a week’s stay. So I had two options: 1) tell my dreamy family they were nuts, or 2) pray for a miracle. Thanks to a flat economy, I got the miracle – two reasonably priced beach houses within throwing distance of each other at quaint Oak Island, off the North Carolina coast. Better yet, both houses came with fully equipped kitchens. Though hotel rooms would have cost roughly the same, we would have had to eat our meals out, an expensive and distasteful prospect.

Instead, we had the kitchens. All we needed now was food and chefs. The food was easy. My brother and sister-in-law had hosted the two previous family reunions and sensibly suggested we buy the groceries all at once, then divide costs per family member. But they ended up planning all the meals and doing most of the cooking. Obviously, that wasn’t much fun for them. So, how would we organize a week’s worth of meals, cook them, and then serve seventeen people without it all falling on one or two people’s shoulders?

I had a major bout with the obvious: we would take turns. I asked two of my sisters to buy breakfast and lunch groceries, stuff everybody would eat: milk, cereal, bread, lunch meat and canned soup. We would all chip in and prepare those meals on our own. But for dinners, each of us would sign up to cook one night and be responsible for buying the food, cooking and serving it. I figured that way, we would get appetizing, nutritious meals and a variety, since our tastes are as diverse as our personalities. In addition, no one person would be stuck in the kitchen the whole time. One large meal and – voila! – freedom from KP duty for the rest of the week.

They not only loved the idea, they one-upped me. One sister suggested we cook in teams, then have a prize for the best-prepared meal. So, in keeping with our competitive nature, we turned food preparation into a fun, exciting contest. But we weren’t finished. After a sister told her daughter about the idea, she suggested all the children be responsible for desserts, then have the adults vote on the best one! That way, the entire family would be involved.

If you think this was much ado about food, keep in mind my family sometimes simply forgets to eat. That’s why it took us many years to get that part of the reunion properly organized. Rather than worrying about our empty stomachs, we’d just as soon be boogie boarding at the beach or visiting the WWII battleship or gazing at sharks in the huge aquarium or playing our annual softball game.

And yet, when all was said and done, the best part, hands down, was the evening meal. Each night we gathered for cocktails, conversation and great anticipation of a home-cooked meal. We were not disappointed.

Seasoned beef and turkey tacos with rice pilaf and a fresh fruit medley.

Shrimp and chicken shish kabobs marinated in a honey mustard sauce, then grilled to perfection.

Italian spaghetti prepared as it is in the old country, with chuck roast simmering in the sauce until it is so tender it melts in your mouth.

An all-American meal of hot dogs, hamburgers and beer-soaked brats, garnished with flags and served on a table decorated in red, white and blue.

And, oh my, don’t let me forget the desserts. Two nieces went all out, gathering enticing recipes from the internet, organizing their cousins – boys and girls alike – then whipping up a chocolate cake with raspberries, Mississippi Mud Pie, and the best of all, a superbly executed chocolate mousse.

After it was all over, nobody cared who won, because we all did. What we learned is that food does matter. Carefully preparing and serving a delicious and healthy meal is an act of love, incomparable in its unique ability to provide comfort and sanctuary. Which is the very reason we make such an effort to come together at all.

About the author
Denise Heinze, one of eight children, grew up in rural Mt. Clemens, Michigan. In the early 1980s, she moved to North Carolina, where her parents had lived as newlyweds and started their large family. Denise organized a reunion in the state where it all began, a tradition that endures. She lives in Durham and teaches English at North Carolina State University.

Miscellaneous food/ menu ideas

Have chicken and pasta catered. Then, assign dessert, salads, casseroles, vegetable dishes and fresh corn.
Soak corn in water early in the day. Don’t bother shucking; just put the damp ears on the grill and let them steam-cook.

Make-your-own-taco bar. Everyone brings favorite toppings. You may need to coordinate to have a variety but several people can bring the same thing (salsa, for example) so you have enough.

Make-a-pizza bar. Again, coordinate everyone bringing favorite toppings. Use English muffins for little individual pizzas or loaves of French bread and let each family make a pizza. Have a contest for most toppings or most creative use of toppings.

Kid food is a big thing. Have simple things like cereal and juice available and understand that children have different appetites. Many planners erroneously think kids can be easily integrated into sharing an adults’ buffet, but this doesn’t always work. The list of what works for kids is remarkably consistent: chicken fingers, macaroni and cheese, PB&J and Rice Krispie treats are all hits. Offer a variety so even picky eaters can sit down with something on their plates.

Lower the kids’ buffet to their eye level — to milk crates that even the smallest diners can reach.

Large group measuring

Very few people ever have the responsibility to serve a meal for hundreds of people.

We found these interesting measures on the Kentucky Fried Chicken web site (www.kfc.com) along with other reunion hints.

KFC estimates your chicken needs for adults at 2 1/2 pieces of chicken or 6 nuggets each. Therefore, if you are expecting 100 adults and children, you will need 250 pieces of chicken and 3 1/2 gallons (28 pints) of side dish items. Remember, 16 ounces is a pint and 8 pints is a gallon.

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