Stress-free cooking for 20

Stress-free cooking for 20

©iStockphoto.com/Aleksej Vasic Image by: ©iStockphoto.com/Aleksej Vasic Author: Canadian Living


Stress-free cooking for 20

Though you might be able to hold down the fort with ease when it comes to cooking weeknight dinners, chances are that cooking for 20 may be a bit of a challenge. Where to start? How to plan? And what if you (gasp!) run out of food? We turned to food and lifestyle expert Trish Magwood to get some tips and advice on how to cook for a crowd.

Menu planning when cooking for 20
Start your game plan a few weeks in advance. When selecting recipes, try not to choose anything that is overly complicated or calls for several stages. Opt for feed-a-crowd favourites such as casseroles, lasagnas and hearty salads.

"Don't leave yourself with a menu where you're doing sauces and all sorts of things at the last minute," says Magwood. "Always pick make-aheads. Spaghetti and chili are big ones for our family, and pasta bakes are always good. I do a big mac-and-cheese bake and fill it with tons of vegetables. That's something that's easy to freeze."

Tomato and bread salad and orzo spinach salad are some of Magwood's other favourites. "They're amazing make-aheads – even marinating them in their vinaigrettes the morning of the event is fabulous," she notes.

Instead of struggling to keep hot dishes hot (and cold ones cold), opt for meals that you can serve at room temperature.

"I do a potato salad, but it's not cream-based," says Magwood. "Think of things like this that can be made and served at room temperature."

And don't think you have to tackle the menu planning alone. Ask family members and friends to help out rather than telling them to simply bring themselves.

"If you want people to bring something, delegate and say, ‘Sure, you bring a salad and you bring an hors d'oeuvre,'" suggests Magwood. "My sister-in-law is really great at desserts and a killer baker. Know who your audience is and don't be afraid to ask the ones who you trust to help out."

Page 1 of 2 – Find more great tips to help you cook for 20, plus delicious recipe options on page 2Doubling and tripling recipes
If a recipe feeds four, you may think you can simply double or triple the ingredients and achieve the same results, but this is not always the case. Recipes that are good for multiplying and cooking in batches are usually labelled as such. And when it comes to baking, take heed.

"The more delicate or baking-focused the dish is, the more difficult it is to multiply. Baking is trickier because it's a bit more of a science," says Magwood.

"If it's something like a marinade, you can absolutely double it. If it's something like a soufflé – no way. If it's something delicate, it's better to do it in two different containers instead of trying to multiply the recipe."

Below are some recipe suggestions that can be easily adapted to feed a group.

Salads and Sides

Party Parmesan Pasta Salad
Curried Lentil, Wild Rice and Orzo Salad
Chickpea Salad with Hint of Lemon Dressing

Chilled Asian Noodle Salad
Curried Potato Kale Galette
Mediterranean Orzo Salad
Potato and Spring Vegetable Salad

Sausage Cabbage Rolls
Leek and Potato Flan
Easy Chicken and Rice Casserole
Chunky Chili con Carne
Grilled Flank Steak Salad
Zingy Drumsticks
Vegetarian Tortellini Bake

No-Bake Lime Cheesecake Squares
Two-Tone Chocolate Espresso Panna Cotta
Make-Ahead Raspberry Torte
Strawberry Granita
Honey Baked Apples
Glazed Lemon Pound Cake

Figuring out food quantities

It's always a good idea to over-estimate how much food and drink each of your guests will consume, and there are some easy rules to keep in mind when figuring out this quantity.

"Half a pound of meat feeds a really hungry man," says Magwood. "As a caterer I would always allow for half a pound per person, which is too much, but better than not enough."

"If I'm catering, I literally buy a bottle of wine per person, because it's for an entire night. You're not going to invite people for an hour. They're going to come at five and leave at eleven. So, I would allow for a bottle per person."

When it comes to cocktail parties, Magwood advises planning on at least one cocktail per person per hour. "If your party is for three hours, you'd allow three drinks per person. But err on the side of generosity," she says.

If you do find yourself with a surplus of food at the end of the night, send guests home with doggie bags or freeze leftovers for lunches later in the week.

The final extras

The type of party you're throwing will help you determine your setup. If you're hosting a cocktail party, the goal is to have guests circulate, so it's fine to have fewer chairs than the number of attendees. If you're having a casual event, poufs, stools and large cushions make for quick additional seating options. Keep your menu filled with easy to nibble bites that can be eaten with one hand.

If you're hosting a buffet-style dinner, borrow extra chafing dishes or pick up inexpensive ones from discount department stores. You may also want to purchase some additional dishware and cutlery from the dollar store if you don't want to go the disposable route. Set plates at the beginning of buffet table and then place condiments and cutlery rollups (napkins rolled around knives and forks) at the opposite end of the table for easy access.

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Stress-free cooking for 20