Cooking for a crowd has its exhilarating moments, especially when efforts are rewarded with resounding success. It also has its hazards, as the many cooks who have tried to increase some recipes by multiplication have realized--often too late.
One home cook, thinking that the two cups of dry beans called for in the recipe for six servings was hardly enough for one person, much less the eight people she was planning to serve, multiplied the recipe by eight. Little did she realize that beans swell to near triple their size upon cooking. She ended up having to hire a cleaning crew to sweep up the mess of beans that had expanded and oozed out of the pot, inching onto the kitchen floor and toward the door, a ferocious army on the march.
Yes, it does take a knowledge of ingredients, the proper equipment and a sense of recipe development to be a large-scale cook. Quantity cooking is not just a matter of multiplying a recipe. Often, expanding a recipe can lead to flavor, texture and balance problems. Some foods, such as baked goods, jellies, jams and candies, are particularly fragile in their chemical makeup and require special formulation to accommodate the chemical changes that occur during cooking--even when the recipe is minimally increased.
If you have the equipment, the proper facilities and feel capable of handling quantity recipes, consider it the better part of valor to follow recipes already formulated to quantity size amounts. Without the proper equipment and know-how you are better off sticking to home-size recipes and cooking several batches.
Readers who write to us about problems related to quantity size cooking are those who, of necessity, occasionally cook for club or other functions and need help with recipe ideas and amounts of food to purchase. "I need to plan 100 turkey salad sandwiches in pita pockets and fruit carrot salad but can't determine the uncooked weight of turkey for 100," wrote Gloria L. Wise of Rolling Hills Estates.
But organization and recipe development is not the only problem. Another may be cost.
There are two camps of thought on cost, we found.
One quantity cook opts for roasts in lieu of casseroles. "People don't realize that by the time they buy all the ingredients and put it all together that they are probably putting more money into a casserole than it would take to buy and prepare a simple roast. In addition, most guests prefer roasts with simple side dishes to fussy casseroles. Besides, you often get a better buy when purchasing meat in a larger size and doing the cutting yourself," said Times food news editor Marge Powers.
Roger Starr of Highland Park, on the other hand, is satisfied with one-dish meals, such as turkey-noodle casserole or meat loaf, which he said work well when quadrupled and are relatively inexpensive. "Of course, such recipes are the exception," he wrote. "For one thing my budget is limited to a moderate $3 to $4 per person, paid at the door (and we also serve wine and soft drinks, as well as hors d'oeuvres and coffee)."
Once a month, Starr is called upon to prepare dinner for anywhere from 40 to 60 members of a social organization to which he belongs. Since he must complete all preparation and cooking at home in his kitchen and transport the results to the homes of a revolving series of hosts, he is limited to one-dish meals, salads and desserts, alternating with the occasional ham or turkey.
This brings us to some of the problems one may encounter and ways of solving them when cooking for a crowd.
EQUIPMENT--Check the equipment and utensils available well in advance, then borrow, rent or purchase any items that are required for preparation of the meal. Your local church, community center, school, catering establishment or restaurant may have large utensils they will lend or rent for the occasion. If you have an opportunity to purchase new equipment for a community kitchen, suggest that cookware made for restaurants and institutions be used, not home-size pots and pans. However, be certain that the equipment will fit the ovens and sinks.
INCREASING RECIPE SIZE--A good rule of thumb is to multiply a recipe for six by four times to make 25 servings; by eight to serve 50 and by 16 to serve 100. Don't attempt to increase recipes for baked goods, candies and jellies.
SEASONING ADJUSTMENT--When preparing recipes in quantity, seasonings must be adjusted accordingly. When making two times the recipe, use one and one-half times the amount of herb or spice called for. When the quantity is three times the recipe, use two times the amount of herb or spice; when making four times the recipe, adjust the herb and spice to two and one-half times the amount called for.