Cooking For Crowds For Dummies book cover

Cooking For Crowds For Dummies

By: Dawn Simmons and Curt Simmons Published: 06-10-2005

Over 100 recipes, plus time-saving planning tips and sanity-saving suggestions

Serve terrific food confidently and calmly, and wow your crowd!

Panicky about cooking for a casual church dinner, a posh graduation party, or a holiday feast for 50? With terrific recipes plus tips for everything from planning menus to preparation and presentation, you can serve a hungry crowd without getting all steamed up about it. You'll quickly grasp the basics you need to know to cook like an experienced pro.

Discover how to

  • Serve great dishes, from appetizers through desserts
  • Determine food quantities when cooking for groups
  • Handle food safely
  • Add ambience with easy decorations

Articles From Cooking For Crowds For Dummies

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18 results
18 results
Cooking For Crowds For Dummies Cheat Sheet

Cheat Sheet / Updated 04-05-2022

You've committed to having a large group of friends and family over for a meal — but now what? The hardest part about cooking for a crowd is figuring out how much to cook. The quantity you make depends on how many people you're serving, of course, and whether appetizers are pre-meal goodies or the main attraction. Fortunately, experienced, crowd-pleasing cooks have figured out the quantity thing and are willing to share it with you.

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Peanut Butter and Chocolate Cheesecake Bites

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

This very rich and very creamy dessert is perfect for a crowd event. Cheesecake itself symbolizes holiday fun, but this recipe is great year-round. Because they're bite size, they're easy to serve — a big plus! Peanut Butter and Chocolate Cheesecake Bites Preparation time: 40 minutes Cooking time: 25 to 30 minutes Chill time: 1 to 24 hours Yield: 24 servings 1-1/2 cups finely crushed chocolate wafer cookies 1/4 cup butter, melted 2/3 cup, 2 tablespoons sugar, divided 24 chocolate kisses 4 8-ounce packages (32 ounces) cream cheese, softened 4 large eggs 1 teaspoon vanilla 1 cup chunky peanut butter 2/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips 2 teaspoons shortening 1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line 24 2-1/2-inch muffin cups (in pans) with foil liners. 2. In a small bowl, combine the crushed wafers, butter, and 2 tablespoons of the sugar. 3. Divide the mixture evenly among the 24 lined cups. Press it into the bottom of the cups, creating the crusts. 4. In each cup, place a chocolate kiss with the point facing up. 5. In a medium bowl, beat the cream cheese and remaining 2/3 cup of sugar until smooth. 6. Beat in the eggs and vanilla, just until blended. 7. Beat in the peanut butter. 8. Gently spoon about 1/4 cup of the cream cheese mixture over the kiss in each cup. The cup should be full. 9. Bake for 25 minutes or until the filling is set. Remove the pans from the oven and cool them on a wire rack for 30 minutes. 10. Melt the chocolate chips and shortening in a microwave on high power until smooth. 11. Remove the cheesecakes from the foil liners and place them on a cookie sheet. Drizzle the melted chocolate over the cheesecakes. 12. Cover the cookie sheet tightly with foil or plastic wrap and refrigerate it for 1 to 24 hours. Whenever you cook any kind of cheesecake, always use a water bath. A water bath is simply a pan of water that you place on the rack underneath your cheesecake. (The cheesecake doesn't actually sit in this water bath.) The water bath creates humidity in the oven and helps prevent the cheesecake from cracking on top. When you're cooking with a water bath, you may need to slightly extend the cooking time due to the added moisture.

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Simple Side Dish: Scalloped Potatoes for a Crowd

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Scalloped potatoes are standard side-dish fare, and we don't reinvent the wheel here, because the traditional dish is very tasty. However, this recipe yields enough for a crowd. (In case you're wondering, scalloped means to bake in a casserole with milk or a sauce and often topped with breadcrumbs.) Scalloped Potatoes for a Crowd Preparation time: 35 minutes Cooking time: 1 hour Yield: 24 servings 3/4 cup butter 3/4 cup flour 6 cups milk 1 cup chopped green bell pepper 3 2-ounce jars (6 ounces) diced pimentos, drained 2 cups (8 ounces) shredded provolone cheese 6 green onions, chopped 2-1/2 teaspoons salt 1 teaspoon pepper 12 medium baking potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced 1 cup breadcrumbs 1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Melt the butter in a large saucepan over low heat, and whisk in the flour until smooth. Cook for 2 minutes, whisking constantly. 2. Gradually whisk in the milk; cook over medium heat until the sauce has thickened and is bubbly. Make sure that you whisk constantly to ensure a smooth sauce. 3. Stir in the green bell pepper, pimentos, provolone cheese, green onions, salt, and pepper and cook for 10 minutes, and then remove from heat. 4. Grease three 13-x-9-x-2-inch baking dishes. 5. Divide the flour mixture, the bell pepper mixture, and the remaining ingredients — except the breadcrumbs — among the three baking dishes. 6. Cover the dishes and bake them for 35 to 45 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender. 7. Uncover the dishes and top them with breadcrumbs. Bake them for another 15 to 20 minutes, or until golden brown.

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How Much to Cook Up to Serve for Thanksgiving Dinner

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Nothing is worse than cooking Thanksgiving dinner and running out of food. It is important to err on the side of excess while sticking to your budget. There is no exact formula for cooking for a crowd, so you have to consider your crowd. Do they really enjoy eating? Will many children be present? Are most people in your crowd weight conscious? All these questions and similar ones impact how much food you prepare. Quantity planning for holiday appetizers Appetizers and drinks don’t have to be a pain in the neck, but planning them tends to be confusing. Because appetizers don’t lend themselves to a quantity chart per se, you can let the following list guide you: For appetizers preceding a full meal: Offer at least four different types of appetizers and six to eight pieces per person. For example, say you have 20 guests. In that case, you’d need at least 120 total appetizer pieces. The more variety you have, the smaller portion size each type of appetizer will need to have: Therefore, you don’t need to make as much of any one particular appetizer. When you serve appetizers to a crowd, always include bulk-type appetizers: Bulk-type foods are items that aren’t individually made, such as dips or spreads. If you forgo the dips and spreads, you’ll end up making hundreds of individual appetizer items, which may push you over the edge. To calculate bulk items, assume 1 ounce equals 1 piece. Always try to have extra items: Black and green olives and are great for extra filler. Quantity planning for holiday drinks The following list give you some general beverage-serving guidelines for entertaining: Soft drinks: One to two 8-ounce servings per person per hour. Punch: One to two 4-ounce servings per person per hour. Tea: One to two 8-ounce servings per person per hour. Coffee: One to two 4-ounce servings per person per hour. Water: Always provide it. Two standard serving pitchers are usually enough. Quantity planning for soups, sides, main courses, and desserts The following tables can help you determine how much food you need for some typical soups, sides, main courses, and desserts. If the item you’re serving isn’t listed here, you can probably find an item in the same food group to guide you. Buffet-style affairs typically figure at a lower serving per person, because buffets typically feature more side dish items than a plated meal does. Don’t use the quantity tables as an exact science; use them to guide you and help you make decisions for your particular crowd. If you’re serving a dish that you know everyone loves, make more than the table suggests. If you have a dish that isn’t as popular, you can get by with less. Soups and Stews Soup or Stew Per Person Crowd of 25 Crowd of 50 Served as a first course 1 cup 5 quarts 2 1/2 gallons Served as an entree 1 1/2 to 2 cups 2 to 2 1/2 gallons 4 gallons Main Courses Entree Per Person Crowd of 25 Crowd of 50 Chicken, turkey, or duck (boneless) 1/2 pound 13 pounds 25 pounds Chicken or turkey (with bones) 3/4 to 1 pound 19 pounds 38 pounds Turkey (whole) 1 pound 25 pounds 50 pounds Side Dishes Side Dish Per Person Crowd of 25 Crowd of 50 Asparagus, carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, green beans, corn kernels, peas, black-eyed peas, and so on 3 to 4 ounces 4 pounds 8 pounds Corn on the cob (broken in halves when serving buffet-style) 1 ear 20 ears 45 ears Pasta (cooked) 2 to 3 ounces 3 1/2 pounds 7 pounds Potatoes and yams 1 (medium) 6 pounds 12 pounds Rice and grains (cooked) 1 1/2 ounces 2 1/2 pounds 5 pounds Side Salads Ingredient Per Person Crowd of 25 Crowd of 50 Croutons (medium size) N/A 2 cups 4 cups Dressing (served on the side) N/A 4 cups 8 cups Fruit salad N/A 3 quarts 6 quarts Lettuce (iceberg or romaine) N/A 4 heads 8 heads Lettuce (butter or red leaf) N/A 6 heads 12 heads Potato or macaroni salad N/A 8 pounds 16 pounds Shredded cabbage for coleslaw N/A 6 to 8 cups (about 1 large head of cabbage) 12 to 16 cups (about 2 large heads of cabbage) Vegetables (such as tomato and cucumber) N/A 3 cups 6 cups Breads Bread Per Person Crowd of 25 Crowd of 50 Croissants or muffins 1 1/2 per person 3 1/2 dozen 7 dozen Dinner rolls 1 1/2 per person 3 1/2 dozen 7 dozen French or Italian bread N/A 2 18-inch loaves 4 18-inch loaves Desserts Dessert Per Person Crowd of 25 Crowd of 50 Brownies or bars 1 to 2 per person 2 1/2 to 3 dozen 5 1/2 to 6 dozen Cheesecake 2-inch wedge 2 9-inch cheesecakes 4 9-inch cheesecakes Pie 3-inch wedge 2 to 3 9-inch pies 4 to 5 9-inch pies

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Planning Thanksgiving Dinner on a Budget

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Cooking Thanksgiving dinner for a crowd can be expensive, so it’s important that you start out with a firm look at your budget. If you’re the one making Thanksgiving dinner, ask yourself the following questions: How much can you spend? You may be thinking goose or duck, when your budget calls for turkey. What are the age group and gender of the guests you’ll be cooking for? Teenagers, both girls and boys, can eat, eat, and eat some more. However, tots aren’t going to eat as much. What items can you borrow? Borrowing items can save you a lot of money. For example, if you’re hosting an upscale buffet served on china, you’ll certainly save money if you can borrow the dishes rather than rent them. What are you responsible for cooking? Are you cooking the appetizers, dessert, and everything in between? Or are you cooking only the main course? What can you borrow? You may need extra plates, tables, chairs, glasses, cooking tools, and such items. Borrow them. Don’t waste your budget on items that you’ll rarely use and can borrow from friends and family. Nothing is wrong with getting some help and borrowing things you need instead of buying them. Planning a budget doesn’t have an exact formula, because a number of factors come into play. Remember that your budget should be a relatively firm guideline for how much money you spend — not necessarily 100 percent set in stone. The idea is to come up with a budget that helps you have a great event without maxing out your credit cards. Keep these issues in mind: Before you start planning anything, think about your bottom line. Don’t start with what you’d ideally prefer and then see what happens with your budget — you won’t like the results. Rather, start with a reasonable budget and work backwards. Plan the event according to your budget, not the other way around. You want something really elegant, but your budget won’t allow you to prepare everything you want. Instead of overspending, find ways to compromise. You may spend more on the entree and try to find a few less expensive side dishes and appetizers to make up the difference. Remember, you can cook great food without breaking the bank, so think about how you can find a win-win resolution with what you want and what your budget will allow. Watch out for budget creep. As you plan, think about everything you need to buy so that your needs and budget are accurate. Be reasonable and flexible. You may try to tackle the world with the best crowd meal ever, but be reasonable about what you can spend and what you can prepare.

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Foods You Can Prepare before Thanksgiving

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Cooking Thanksgiving dinner is a big endeavor, but you can take a lot of the stress out of the holiday by preparing some foods in advance. Take some time to go over your menu and determine which dishes you can make ahead of time. Read on to see suggestions for tasks you can perform before the big day arrives. Thanksgiving preparation tips Cooking for a crowd is much more time-consuming than cooking a typical meal, so considering your time is really important. As you’re thinking ahead, take a close look at your Thanksgiving recipes and all the tasks you must accomplish and keep the following points in mind: Wash, dry, and cut up all the vegetables ahead of schedule. You can store them in individual plastic bags in the refrigerator to keep these foods fresh. Make dips, spreads, and sauces ahead of time and store them in the refrigerator. If the recipe allows it, make desserts ahead of schedule and store them properly. If refrigerator space allows, make anything that can keep overnight the day before the event. Box up all nonperishable items that you don’t need until Thanksgiving. Make-ahead Thanksgiving dishes Some foods actually taste much better if they’re prepared ahead and all the flavors are allowed enough time to thoroughly blend together. Here are a few examples of foodstuffs that benefit from early preparation: Vegetable platters Salad dressings Dips Most soups Punch bases Beans and some other side dishes Minicasseroles Some cold desserts Cookies Cheesecake Keep pre-made meals fresh Much of what you’ll prepare ahead of time will probably need to stay cold or frozen. Because foods absorb odors, make sure your refrigerator, freezer, or ice chest is thoroughly clean. Baking soda helps absorb odors that may be lurking around your refrigerator or freezer. After all, nothing is worse than chocolate cake that tastes like an onion. Just open the baking soda box, pull back the lid slightly, and let the sodium bicarbonate do its job. Here are some tips for keeping foods fresh: Avoid overloading your refrigerator. Be careful not to block the air vent in your refrigerator. The more the air can circulate around the food, the more even the temperature will be, and the fresher the food will stay. Good quality plastic bags are very versatile and are rather inexpensive. Reusable plastic storage containers are also very versatile and affordable. These storage containers come in a variety of shapes and sizes and can be reused for a period of time and then discarded. Many of them are microwavable, which is also a big help. Heavy-duty foil is better than a less expensive, lighter weight foil. The lighter weight foil tends to tear easier, which lets freshness escape. Plastic wrap is useful, but make sure it actually clings. If you use plastic bags or plastic containers, make sure you always press out the air before sealing the bag or container. The less air you have in the bag or container, the longer the food will stay fresh. Don’t forget about nonperishable food items. When you cook for a crowd, money is usually a concern; therefore, looking for sales on the items you need is always wise. As you’re shopping, make sure you pay close attention to the expiration date or the sell-by date on the package.

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10 Tips for a Stress-Free Thanksgiving Dinner

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Even the cook should get to enjoy a stress-free Thanksgiving. So, if you're hosting this year's holiday festivities, follow these tips to help take the stress out of getting ready to cook a Thanksgiving meal. Make a plan: Poor planning is probably the greatest stressor when you're trying to execute a large meal, particularly Thanksgiving dinner. If you want your holiday meal to run smoothly and keep you from aging ten years over the course of a week, you must plan the event carefully, well in advance. Organize: Make lists of everything you need to keep organized (ingredients, dishes, kitchen gadgets and accessories, guests, tablescapes, activities). Once you know exactly what you’ll need, you can round up the items, and organize them in a way that makes them accessible. Keep a general head count: Crowds tend to be ever-changing. At first, Uncle Joe and Aunt Juanita plan to come, then they decide they can’t, then they decide they can and ask if they can bring Joe's brother. Especially around holidays, the reality is that crowds often shift, so it’s up to you to keep an accurate head count as you move forward. However, don’t spend all your time trying to keep a solid count or you'll drive yourself — and your guests — crazy. Expect some changes on your guest list, just always err on the side of too much food than too little. Just try to keep a general head count running at all times so you know what you’re up against. Carefully determine your menu: It’s easy to get excited about a holiday meal and go overboard with your menu. Keep your head out of the clouds and think carefully about everything you must do to create each dish. Plan to have a few items that are more difficult and take more time and a few items that are quick and easy. Prepare some items in advance: A vital trick when cooking for a crowd is preparing as many items in advance as you can. The more items you can prepare in advance, the easier the big day will be. Here's a solid list of make-ahead Thanksgiving dishes you can prepare before the holidays. Don’t be afraid to borrow: Just because you're the host of a holiday dinner doesn't mean you should have all the pots, pans, dishes, and supplies on hand. When you cook for a crowd, borrowing items is perfectly fine. You don’t need to buy everything you may need, and you don’t need to suffer in silence, either. Create a workflow: A workflow will help you manage your tasks and ensure that everything gets done. Eat well, exercise, and sleep well: Everyone has gone into panic mode at some point. In those times, reality seems to go out the window, and you zone in on one particular task. As you’re getting ready for Thanksgiving, try to keep the same schedule. Eat the same kind of foods you normally do, get some exercise, and go to bed and get up at the same times as usual. If you keep your body in sync, you’ll keep a level head on your shoulders. Take a breather: Build some downtime into your Thanksgiving day. Your mind and body work better if they both can take a break, so don't feel guilty if you put your feet up, watch a parade, or read an article for 15 minutes. You’ll feel refreshed, and those overwhelmed feelings will remain at bay. Ask for help: The trick is knowing when you need help. As Thanksgiving day nears, be realistic. If you simply have too much to do, make some phone calls and get extra help. Your goal is to have a fun, successful Thanksgiving Day.

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Ten Ways to Prepare a Perfect Thanksgiving Dinner

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

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. See 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.

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Holiday Party Entrée: Turkey Pot Pie

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

If you are cooking for crowd this holiday season, consider this easy, inexpensive turkey pot pie. Serve this as the entrée at your holiday party with a salad to make a complete meal. Preparation time: 25 minutes Cooking time: 35 to 40 minutes Yield: 24 servings 12 cups cubed cooked turkey 4 1/2 cups turkey broth 4 1/2 cups frozen green peas 12 carrots, sliced in rounds 1 10.75-ounce can condensed cream of potato soup 2 10.75-ounce cans condensed cream of mushroom soup 1 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon pepper 6 cups all-purpose baking mix 3 3/4 cups milk 1 tablespoon garlic powder 1 1/2 teaspoons celery salt 3/4 teaspoon paprika Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a stockpot, combine the turkey, broth, peas, carrots, soups, salt, and pepper. Bring the mixture to a boil and stir it occasionally, then reduce the heat to the lowest setting. In a large bowl, combine the baking mix, milk, garlic powder, celery salt, and paprika. The mixture will be thin. Grease three 13-x-9-x-2-inch baking dishes. Pour one-third of the hot turkey mixture in each of the three dishes. Spoon one-third of the baking mix mixture over the top of the turkey mixture in each pan. Bake uncovered for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the topping is golden brown. Remove the pot pies from the oven and allow them to sit for 10 minutes before serving.

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Holiday Party Entrée: Turkey and Wild Rice Casserole

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Because turkey is cheap around the holidays, you can create the casserole this creamy casserole and feed a crowd without straining your budget. Try serving it with some green beans, salad, and crescent rolls for an easy and complete meal. Turkey and Wild Rice Casserole Preparation time: 30 minutes Cooking time: 1 hour, 5 minutes Yield: 24 servings 4 6.2-ounce packages fast-cooking long grain and wild rice mix 1/2 cup butter or margarine 8 celery stalks, chopped 2 large onions, chopped 4 8-ounce cans (32 ounces) sliced water chestnuts, drained 10 cups chopped cooked turkey 8 cups (32 ounces) shredded cheddar cheese, divided 4 10.75-ounce cans (43 ounces) condensed cream of mushroom soup 4 8-ounce containers (32 ounces) sour cream 2 cups milk 2 teaspoons salt 2 teaspoons pepper 1 cup breadcrumbs 4.5 ounces sliced almonds, toasted Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare the rice mix per the package directions. In a large stockpot, melt the butter; add the celery and onions and sauté them for 15 minutes, or until tender, not browned. Remove the stockpot from heat and add the water chestnuts, rice, turkey, 6 cups of the cheese, soup, sour cream, milk, salt, and pepper. Lightly grease the bottom and sides of two 4-quart baking dishes. Spoon half of the mixture into each dish. Top each casserole with 1/2 cup of the breadcrumbs; bake for 55 minutes. Remove the casseroles from the oven and top them each with 1 cup of the cheese and half of the toasted almonds. Return the casseroles to the oven and bake for 10 minutes, or until the cheese has melted. Allow the casseroles to set for 10 minutes before serving,

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