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cooking for a crowd
by Yee-Fan Sun |
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continued from page 2

bulking up: choosing and multiplying recipes
Many family-size recipes can be safely doubled without any major changes in the directions, but once you start working with volumes much larger than that, you find that adjustments become necessary. Fortunately, there are ways to minimize the guesswork. To begin with, you can look for recipes that are specifically created for large volume cooking. A quick internet search for "cooking for a crowd" should turn up plenty of potential candidates; you can also go old-school, and prowl your friendly neighborhood bookstore or library for books geared specifically at cooking for the masses.

But what if you have a favorite recipe for a very special dish, and you're dying to show it off to the crowd? Here's where you just have to use some common sense. If the dish is somewhat involved to make even for a party of six, things will only get more complicated once you expand that recipe to try and accommodate twelve, twenty-four, or more. If it's the sort of dish where other people could easily help you prep and assemble, this might be just fine -- a lasagna, for example, where you could enlist some eager sous-chefs to help out, or a big batch of chili, where once the myriad ingredients have been prepped by your helpful kitchen team, you just have to throw everything in a pot and let it bubble away. But if the dish requires some special piece of equipment or some tricky technique that only you alone can properly recreate, you're probably better off choosing some other recipe for this particular event.

Once you've decided your special dish actually is appropriate for feeding the hungry hordes, there are few things to keep in mind. First of all, a recipe that generally feeds six may feed more than 12 when you double it, and will almost certainly feed more than 18 when you triple it. Part of this, of course, is due to the fact that your party menu will probably include more appetizers, sides and salads than you'd offer at a regular dinner.

Second, you'll find that quantities and cooking times don't necessarily increase at the same factor as the overall volume. You generally don't need to quadruple the amount of cooking oil, for example, even when you're sautéing four times the regular amount of stuff; generally, as long as the bottom of the pan is sufficiently well coated, you're good to go. And while cooking times definitely have a pesky tendency to get longer once you've increased ingredient quantities, they won't necessarily double or triple just because you've doubled or tripled your recipe. A taste test is the best way to judge anything where ingesting it undercooked won't put you at danger of food poisoning, while a thermometer is the sensible way to judge stuff like meat, poultry and fish.

Last but not least, some dishes just become unmanageable when you attempt to work them in portions much larger than stipulated in the original recipe. If you're making anything that needs to be kneaded or otherwise manipulated with the hands -- piecrusts, for example -- you'll generally find that it's easiest to just repeat the recipe in its original form rather than multiplying the quantities and creating one great big unwieldy mass. Yes, it might seem like it would take more time to create six separate piecrusts than to make one huge monstrosity of a piecrust, but trust me, no matter how much you've been working out lately, there is pretty much no way you'll be able to handle that quantity of dough.

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