Cooking For Crowds For Dummies
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Cooking for a crowd on Thanksgiving is always a little stressful. But with a little planning, your Thanksgiving dinner will arrive on the table without incident. Keep these tips in mind to run a smooth kitchen, which is especially important for a big holiday meal:

  • Check what you need before you start cooking: Nothing is worse for a cook than being halfway through a recipe and realizing that you’re out of a key ingredient. Before you ever start working on a recipe, check all the ingredients, pans, tools, and anything else you may need and be sure you have them all on hand.

  • Follow the recipe: The best way to ensure that your dish will turn out right is to follow the recipe exactly. When you’re cooking for a crowd, you don’t have time for experimentation, so now isn’t the time to exercise your creativity.

  • Be careful with substitutions: Substitutions often work great, but err on the side of caution at Thanksgiving. If you want to make a substitution in a recipe, make a small-portioned size of the recipe and try it out before you make the crowd-sized serving. You don’t want any surprises on the day of your event, and substitutions can get you into trouble if you don’t test them out first.

  • Use parchment paper: Parchment paper is a grease- and moisture-resistant paper used to keep things from sticking. It’ll save your cheesecakes, sausage balls, rolls, cookies, and other baked items from sticking to the pan. It also makes cleanup much quicker and easier. Parchment paper is inexpensive and available at most grocery stores.

  • Tightly seal all containers: When you cook for a crowd, you need to make some foods in advance and store them in the refrigerator. Yet, refrigerators can easily cycle odors, and you may end up with foods that have absorbed tastes and smells that you don’t want.

    Make sure all containers and bags are thoroughly sealed when you store food in the refrigerator. Use heavy-duty storage bags, and double and triple the bags to make absolutely sure no odors can get in or out.

    If you need to store onion in the refrigerator, here’s a quick tip. Get a canning jar with a sealable lid and store the onion in it. Glass doesn’t breathe, so no odors will escape into your refrigerator.

  • Avoid last-minute preparation: Some dishes can be made at the last minute, and some can’t. For example, sauces, dips, marinades, and other foods with combined ingredients often need time to chill and set. Plan, plan, and plan some more. Make sure your last-minute food preparation is reserved for foods that you really can and should make at the last minute.

  • Wash your hands religiously: Raw meat and eggs often contain germs and bacteria, such as salmonella. Mix a little salmonella in your Caesar salad, and you’re asking for trouble. Because proper cooking kills germs and bacteria, your meat and eggs won't make you sick; however, you always run the risk of cross-contamination, which happens when you don’t wash your hands, the counter, or utensils with hot water and antibacterial dish soap before you use them on another food item.

  • Avoid having too many recipes in the works at once: Cooking for a large group requires more focus than a typical family meal. As such, avoid trying to do too many things at the same time.

  • Be aware of what you can’t do ahead of time: You can’t make everything in advance, so plan carefully. That chocolate soufflé will fall if you make it much in advance, and other desserts and dishes will have similar repercussions. In short, prepare what you can ahead of time, but if the dish doesn’t allow for it, then don’t.

  • Be attentive to personal hygiene: Personal hygiene does matter, because the consequences are very embarrassing. So play it safe. Use a hairnet, or at least put your hair up if it’s long. Keep your fingernails short and don’t wear any jewelry when you’re preparing food.

About This Article

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Dawn Simmons is a professional caterer and teaches online catering courses.

Curt Simmons is the author of more than 50 books, including iPhoto For Dummies.

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