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Cooking for 26!


jrshaul
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My other strong suggestion is to start simple. You can work your way up to impressive and fabulous as you gain knowledge and expertise as to what works, what's do-able, what's well-received.

If you start off overly ambitious and try to wow them right out of the gate and it goes awry, you'll have to get beyond that first negative impression.

But if you start off really simple until you get your bearings, you'll have nowhere to go but up.

I don't understand why rappers have to hunch over while they stomp around the stage hollering.  It hurts my back to watch them. On the other hand, I've been thinking that perhaps I should start a rap group here at the Old Folks' Home.  Most of us already walk like that.

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For some reason, chicken thighs at $0.88 to $1.30 are available perpetually at at least one local grocery store. Sometimes it's the whole leg-and-thigh section.

It's about paying (or not) for bone. If you can find a good buy on whole chickens I'd do that and roast them whole.

If I were doing this I would do that and then set the second priority on a big batch of rice. If you accomplish only these two things well, it won't be a complete disaster.

As both of these may take some time, I think I'd work myself from vegan sauces and ingredients, through to vegetarian, and then to proper chicken gravies.

Serve in a buffet ala carte style and let people take what suits them.

Edited by IndyRob (log)
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I'll deviate from the route of the other posters about giving general advice (mostly because I nearly never cook for enough people to give really useful advice).

You said that chicken thighs would be ok. An idea into that direction could be braised chicken thighs:

Take the thighs, crisp up the skin (in steps, a few at a time). Sauté some sliced cremini mushrooms, add some flour and deglaze with some red wine or balsamic vinegar. Put mushrooms, thighs and chicken broth into a roasting pan. Roast in the oven, while it is roasting prepare creamy polenta.

The recipe is not my own, it's 'stolen' from here.

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If I were thinking chicken thighs then I'd probably do David Lebovitz's recipe for Chicken with Caramelized Shallots. I use all thighs rather than the whole cut up chicken he suggests. I'd use the huge shallots to make slicing large quantities easier.

A nice big pot of white rice and some roasted or steamed veg.

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Gumbo and rice - use cheap chicken parts and de bone them - and a few shrimp or even better cooked crawfish. For equipment all you need are two large pots - like 16 guarts.

PS save the bones for stock.

The Philip Mahl Community teaching kitchen is now open. Check it out. "Philip Mahl Memorial Kitchen" on Facebook. Website coming soon.

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I would do a big sautee of sweet and hot Italian sausage, red and green peppers, onions, seasoned with salt, pepper, basil, and oregano, and serve it over a big plate of rice cooked in stock.The sausage is cheap and goes very, very far; you could probably get away with 4 lb. A salad and some bread, and you're good.

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Several of us here are planning fiends, using tools like google docs to organize big meals/events with shopping lists, prep and cooking timelines, needed tools, etc. (I'll send you a sample if you PM me.) There's something very reassuring about having everything down on a couple of sheets of paper or your computer screen, knowing you have every ingredient when you start cooking, knowing that if you stick to your 15 or 30m goals you'll get the job done.

Keep us posted! As you can see, we're an (excessively?!) helpful bunch.

Holy smokes! Cooking at the ICH is generally pretty casual - people make a big casserole or some pasta, maybe a salad, and put it out on a table. I'd definitely be up for suggestions, though. (And maybe those spreadsheets?)

Jrshaul,

ScoopKW and Chris have it right. Dinner for 26 is mainly an exercise in logistics more than anything else. Plan out the menu, then break each item into logical steps. Have everything prepped and ready before you do it.

By the way - the place you'll want to spend a good portion of your money is an Indian Grocery. It looks like there's a place called Bombay Bazaar at 753 S. Gammon Rd in Madison. Usually, places like this will have good stuff, and cheap. If you have extra money, you'll be able to buy frozen naan and just warm them. If you have the money (and remember... you should buy the best spices you can - they provide tons of flavor for the volume you use), find a Penzey's and buy a small jar of Sweet Curry powder.

Cooking for this particular venue are somewhat complicated. I'm required to have a vegetarian option (I can stir-fry tofu at lightspeed in the event I can't do a meatless version) and the budget is tiny: I'm limited to $13 plus the contents of the pantry, which are highly variable. There's a pretty wide spice rack, though nothing fancy. Anything other than pulled pork or chicken is almost an impossibility outside perhaps of a soup; fish is pretty much out of my price bracket.

Also, there's not much equipment. I have a stove, a blender, and for some inexplicable reason, no mixer. There's a tiny French girl making bread every week; I'm really glad I'm not her.

One option I've been looking at is a nice cheese sauce. I can get 2lbs of Trader Joe's parmesan and some heavy cream for $13. Pasta always goes over well, and it's certainly vegan. Is there anything I should know before making one on this scale?

Indian or middle eastern food isn't guaranteed to be a hit unless you have an adventurous group. Out of 26 college students there might be a few who will only eat mac and cheese with hot dogs LOL. I'd do a poll and see if there are any hated cuisines among your audience.

In this case, I happen to be in luck. Most of the residents will eat almost anything, and the remainder will politely make themselves peanut butter sandwiches. Compared to the "Mysterious Mystery Meatless" some of the less skilled cooks make, I can't go wrong.

If anything the army taught me the brilliance of a one-pot dish. If you have no aversion towards anchovies, combine raw potatoe that've been cut to sticks with chopped onion, anchovies and mix the oil from the anchovies with cream enough to cover the potatoes. Put all this in a bain marie and bake in the oven on medium heat until the potatoes are cooked.

I've never done this before, but I'm definitely going to try it. Any other suggestions?

Edited by jrshaul (log)
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One option I've been looking at is a nice cheese sauce. I can get 2lbs of Trader Joe's parmesan and some heavy cream for $13. Pasta always goes over well, and it's certainly vegan. Is there anything I should know before making one on this scale?

Sorry, pasta with cheese and heavy cream is certainly not vegan. Vegetarian, but not vegan.

I cook weekly for 120 ppl, with 4 hrs turnaround (for 4 people) from supplies in the door to dinner on the bench, for cafeteria style dinner service. Our budget is $3 pp, in western Canada. We tend to cook meat meals 75% of the time, as many of our guests are cash-strapped carnivores. So, I have served: meatloaf/rice/tossed salad/apple cobbler/cooked vegetable; turkey ratatouille, rice, salad, puffed rice squares; savoury bread pudding with s.d. tomatoes and pesto/fruit salad; chick pea and root vegetable curry with coconut and rice; roast chicken legs with mashed potatoes and frozen veg. Not very inspiring food choices, but basic fare, which the guests seem to want.

26 ppl for dinner is my immediate family, their kids and partners, plus one or two neighbors. i.e., Christmas Eve supper.

Karen Dar Woon

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Ooh! just rereading this thread, and mention of peanut butter... what about warm-ish cooked veg (can blanch and shock the day before) with peanut sauce, hard cooked eggs for those who eat them, and brown rice? With chili paste/hot sauce condiment. Rice and peanut sauce are warm, everything else is room temp. Holds well :) There is an Indonesian name for this sort of dish, but I don't recall right now.

Karen Dar Woon

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I've never done pasta y fagioli. Anyone have a preferred recipe?

Also, any sort of gourd-and-peanut stew would be excellent. I've had some at restaurants that are extremely palatable, but the homemade recipes I've found are universally awful.

The banh mi are a good idea. It's usually more trouble than it's worth to assemble all the ingredients, but for 26, it's no trouble.

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Also, any sort of gourd-and-peanut stew would be excellent.

Try this African Groundnut Stew. It's delicious, and has the added advantage of being vegan. The entire menu is very good and well-matched, BTW, if you're feeling ambitious.

http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=132458436794270

I've cooked this menu at least a couple times that I can recall. No problems that I remember, except that I started munching on the roasted cauliflower and had to put it away so there would be enough for the stew.

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Ooh! just rereading this thread, and mention of peanut butter... what about warm-ish cooked veg (can blanch and shock the day before) with peanut sauce, hard cooked eggs for those who eat them, and brown rice? With chili paste/hot sauce condiment. Rice and peanut sauce are warm, everything else is room temp. Holds well :) There is an Indonesian name for this sort of dish, but I don't recall right now.

Gado Gado? I think that's a brilliant idea, especially if you have rice. You don't have to cook all of the veg either. I've actually enjoyed it more with just the cooked potatoes and everything else raw. Use whatever veg you find give best value. You could do some seasoned oven baked chicken thighs on the side for carnivores. If you plan on offering dessert, a very inexpensive and vegan thing might be sago/tapioca with coconut milk and brown sugar syrup (and would also go with a vaguely Indonesian/Malay theme).

I don't have loads of experience cooking inexpensively for a crowd, but some things that come to mind:

Meatballs & spaghetti: I find baking meatballs is easier and less time consuming than frying them. I have often just made Marcella Hazan's tomato-onion sauce to go with meatballs. Use olive oil instead of butter to finish the sauce and serve it separately from the meatballs and it's vegan. Add garlic bread made with olive oil instead of butter and that's vegan too (although not gluten free). Plus salad...

Veg Soup and substanial dessert: I make a 3-4 litre pot of a simple veg soup using 1 medium onion, 2 carrots and 3-4 sticks of celery (plus some of the leaves), all cut into small dice. Saute them over medium-high heat in oil until fragrant and a few pieces are showing colour, then add a 450 gram tin of plum tomatoes (squished through fingers to break them up) and about 3 litres of water. Season with salt, pepper and dried savoury and simmer until the vegetables are tender. I often add some small-dice potato after the soup has come to a simmer, but you have to be careful not to overcook. This is brothy soup rather than a thick one, but it's light and refreshing (and cheap and vegan). Other good soups would be gingered pumpkin or carrot, green pea or split pea (no hambone if you keep it vegan). Borscht would work too if you are sure there are no beet issues in your group. I never use stock in soups unless it's going to be a dominant flavour and it's always nice. Add some herb bread followed by a more substantial dessert. Something like a semolina pudding or an indian pudding would work, or maybe an apple crisp or brown betty (using a vegan marg instead of butter).

Baked potatoes: You could bake a lot of potatoes and offer a few toppings - no doubt someone will have some interesting ideas.

Spicy Chicken Thighs: Maybe make a pan with eggplant instead of chicken for the vegans, serve with rice and a vaguely asian coleslaw (this recipe seems to turn up at every barbeque, but it is nice.

Also, has anyone mentioned mapo tofu yet?

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One more thought: Can you convince the group to purchase more equipment? If it was up to me, I would add a couple of rice cookers to the kitchen (my feeling is it's probably cheaper to get two regular domestic ones than a larger commercial one). They really make life easier - no sticking, no room taken on the stove and a keep warm function and it means you can expand the menu. I can find them here for under $30 - no doubt you can find decent ones for less in the US.

Also, if you ever do decide to deep fry, japanese fried chicken is a great use of thighs: it doesn't have to be served piping hot and because you cut them into small pieces you can make the chicken stretch further.

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Salad Rolls to accompany the banh mi; they are another "It's usually more trouble than it's worth to assemble all the ingredients" item and can be made vegan by using a firm (pressed/baked) flavored tofu for the protein. Serve the peanut sauce as well as the fish sauce-based one.

Butter Chicken - see the link I posted in the "Recipes that Rock 2012" thread. The sauce is made in a slow cooker, freezes well, and is delicious. The cut-up chicken thighs are cooked in the sauce just before service. To another pot of sauce, add chickpeas, cooked potatoes, and peas for a vegetarian (not vegan) version. Serve both over rice.

Chickpeas and Pasta - cook chopped onions in butter or olive oil with a bit of garlic. Add chopped or crushed tomatoes - canned are fine - and about half that volume of chickpeas. Cook briefly; maybe 15 minutes...while you are boiling some ditalini or tiny shells. Drain the pasta and mix it in; this should be chunky, not overly sauced. Serve grated cheese on the side.

Potatoes and Stringbeans - cook chopped onions in olive oil with a bit of garlic. Add lots of chopped or crushed tomatoes - canned are fine - plus cut-up potatoes and green beans (if fresh, cut about 2" long. Frozen beans will work as well.) Cover and simmer until vegetables are very tender. If you want an African twist, add some turmeric at the start.

I second the recommendation for more equipment. A large (at least 6-quart) slow cooker and rice cooker (10-cup*) or two would be of great help.

*For reference: 10-cup refers to raw rice; the Asian cup is .75 of a US cup

Edited by baroness (log)
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How about stir-fried tofu and veg with spicy peanut sauce? Rice. Easy lettuce salad with "japanese" dressing -- the thick kind made in the blender from veggies and mirin.

It's nice and hearty and vegan all the way. Of course, you have to worry about whether anyone in the group has peanut allergies.

Stir fry tofu in oil with garlic and ginger and red pepper. Add veg and stir fry. Make sauce in a bowl with peanut butter, hot water, soy sauce. Once pb softens, add to stir fry. Adjust seasoning (add more pb or soy, as necessary, finish off with a bit of sesame oil and hot sauce if necessary to jack the spicy/nut flavors up. Super easy, generally liked.

Edited by SylviaLovegren (log)
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I was just re-reading your post. Is your budget 50 cents per person? Also, what are the contents of the pantry likely to be? substantial foods or just salt and pepper? And does your veg option have to vegan or just meatless?

Another idea came to mind: boiled eggs in sauce. We ate sliced hard boiled eggs in a dijon-flavored white sauce over potatoes a couple of times a month when I was growing up, and with a green veg it's rather nice. I know many people here who ate the same thing in a curry flavoured white sauce over toast, and I've seen a few recipes around for eggs in spicy tomato sauces that are meant to be served over rice.

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The eggs idea is a good one. Anyone have a good shakshouka recipe? I've never made it.

I was just re-reading your post. Is your budget 50 cents per person? Also, what are the contents of the pantry likely to be? substantial foods or just salt and pepper? And does your veg option have to vegan or just meatless?

Another idea came to mind: boiled eggs in sauce. We ate sliced hard boiled eggs in a dijon-flavored white sauce over potatoes a couple of times a month when I was growing up, and with a green veg it's rather nice. I know many people here who ate the same thing in a curry flavoured white sauce over toast, and I've seen a few recipes around for eggs in spicy tomato sauces that are meant to be served over rice.

The pantry in this case includes a generous cache of root vegetables and irregular produce deliveries. There's also milk, supermarket cheese, yogurt, tofu eggs, and for some unknown reason, huge quantities of sour cream. Groceries are purchased in bulk and somewhat irregularly, which is why I'm saving all of these recipes; I have to combine what's on hand with the $13 budget. Most co-op members live in a sort of hippie dorm, hence the unusual cooking arrangements.

It's a bit like a low-rent Iron Chef.

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You didn't mention these ingredients in the pantry, but do you have:

pasta?

beans?

any grains?

When it comes to improvising from what you have, you can check out the original hippie cookbook, Tassajara Cooking (not the Tassajara Cookbook, which is different). It gives formulae and guidelines for cooking soups, stews, and casseroles from common, economical ingredients.

Edited by djyee100 (log)
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You didn't mention these ingredients in the pantry, but do you have:

pasta?

beans?

any grains?

All of these are highly variable, which makes the whole affair something of a headache. Aside from processed cornmeal and all-purpose flour, there's whatever pasta is currently available and miscellaneous dried beans of unknown cultivar. Quinoa and similar grains are a rarity, I suspect mostly due to price.

Do you have to do a vegan option, or just vegetarian? I have a couple of ideas that could work, but not if you must do a vegan version.

Vegetarian, thankfully. There's one hardcore vegan, but she generally just eats toast and salads.

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