by Tara Davis

Around here, if you hadn’t noticed, we socialize a lot.

Festivals, parades, art walks, live music events, holidays, beach days. We need no excuses.  And we always, without fail, feed people during any social occasion. Always.

We have mastered the art of mass production in giant pots – gumbo, red beans, jambalaya, boiled seafood.  An important cultural mastery, indeed.  But what about those times in which people {GASP!} might not want that kind of food?  Or are allergic. Or you want to make things pretty as well as tasty.

It’s an easy fix, with the sky as your limit friends!  Today I’ll give you some insight into the numbers of it all, from portions and preparations to budget.  May your potlucks and backyard dinners be even happier for it!

People often make the mistake, in cooking for a crowd, of planning to offer full portions of every item for each individual slated to attend.  Truthfully, most people fall into one of two categories: The Picky Eaters and the Try a Little of Everythings. Sure, there are a few Eat a Metric Ton of One or Two Things, but I maintain they are not to be pampered in a group setting, unless they are guests of honor. It is important to let their poor manners be addressed by the masses, not the cook.

Typically, if there are multiple choices,  I say plan to offer portions for 1/2 to 2/3 of your guests of each item. For example, if you have three side items or two to four appetizers, and 20 guests, plan to make 10-15 servings of each dish.  If you have 2 or more choices of entrée protein, plan only 1/3 to 1/2 the amount of serving per total guests. (20 guests, 2 proteins= 10 servings of each protein.)   This way you are not over prepping, overspending or overwhelming people with volume and choices.

Speaking of overspending, it is well worth it to shop around!  Keep your eyes open for packaged deals on meats and seasonings (Claiborne Hill often offers picnic packages in larger amounts at a discounted price). Make a comprehensive shopping list and see where you need to double up – often buying produce by the pound is more cost effective this way.

Generally, feeding a group becomes easier when you can cook in bulk amounts. Look for ways to cook large amounts of one item that can be used for multiple dishes – such as baking, grilling or boiling enough chicken for both chicken salad and a platter with other proteins or cheese and fruit.  Chop all the vegetables you will need for your side dishes and appetizers at the same time – I particularly like to chop a whole bag of onions, then use what I need as I go along.  These kinds of simple things will make your kitchen life easier in the long run, no matter what you cook.

Some of my tried and true, feed 10 people or more recipes:

Chicken Salad – Boil 5 lbs chicken (your choice of cut) until fully cooked.  Shred by hand while still warm.  Mix with 1 cup grapes, halved, 3 (or more, if needed) cups mayonnaise, 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar, 1/4 cup honey, salt and pepper to taste. Add chopped pecans if desired.  Serve in mini croissants for pretty presentation.

Tomato Salad – Dice 12 roma tomatoes and 2 white onions. Grill 2 ears of corn, then cut off the cob.  Slice 3-4 green onions.  Mix together 1 cup olive oil, 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar, garlic, salt and pepper to taste.  Toss dressing with all ingredients. Serve cold or room temperature. Serve over lettuce greens.

Snack platter – Slice 2-3 kinds of cheese, 2-3 kinds of cooked meats, (1/3-1/2 cup total of each) & fruits of your choice (2 cups total).