Sunday, November 14, 2010

Party Cooking - Tips

I have three older sisters. Except the oldest of them, the other two are not interested in cooking. All they keep telling me is not to do so much when it comes to cooking for the parties. A simple gathering at my place will have at least 10 people and the big party has gone up to 50. And, yes I have managed to cook everything by myself for all the gatherings at my home so far. In fact, the biggest party I have ever cooked was to feed 80 people that too traditional Iyengar festival food. It was for a religious occasion and nothing was prepared the previous day except for non-perishable sweets like Laddoos and savory items like murukku/chakli, sev.

When I write this post, I do understand that cooking itself is not everyone's cup of tea. And cooking for a big crowd is definitely not everyone's cup of tea. And don't think that it is cheaper to cook at home for a party. If you charge yourself minimum wage, it comes out expensive than getting it catered from an expensive caterer. But, no caterer can cater you the menu you put together. They usually have standard menu - samosa, cutlet, dal wada, pakoda for appetizer. Rotis with couple of standard side dishes/subzis. Pulav or some jeera rice or lemon rice kind of rice for main menu. Rasmalai, Gulab Jamun, carrot halwa, rawa kesari and things like that for dessert.

I am not saying everyone should start cooking for the parties. How should the caterers survive then? I am not against getting food catered. I just am very picky and my menus are totally different from what the caterer can offer and it is different every time too. (I do repeat some of the items but not very often)

Then you will probably think why is she writing about it? My intention is to let you all know that it is not hard to cook for a crowd. All you need is planning. That's all. The pleasure of serving your friends and family home made gourmet (like) food is something totally different. I enjoy that feeling and if you do too, but are scared, here is something to read. If not, wait for my next post where in I will post a recipe.

My lunch or dinner menu usually has the following: (It might look too much food to some, but this is how I have been doing for the past 11+ years. Cut it down as per your needs.)
Appetizers : two kinds
Main Course: One kind of wheat flat bread with two side dishes. I make chapathis/rotis myself, but it is much easier to buy it from someone.
Side dishes: Two to three side dishes to go with the rotis/chapathis.
Rice dish: At least one rice item. It could be any kind of rice with or without an accompaniment like Raita.
Dessert: 2 desserts unless it is a birthday party wherein you are serving cake as one of the dessert. Then you can just have one dessert.
Drinks: I neither drink nor offer anyone soda. So, all I have at any of my parties is water, fruit juices, homemade lemonade, milk shake etc.

Let's take an example: (It is just an example and not a rule)
Make a soup in advance. You can simmer on low heat when guests come and serve with either crackers or croutons.
Toast some pita bread in the oven to make chips. This can be done in advance too. Make Guacamole or hummus or a dip to go with it. If you want to fry something, make sure you have someone who can take care of frying when guests arrive. For me, it works like a barter system. I help out some of my friends at their parties and they return the favor when it is at my place with frying. You are done with appetizers.

Get rotis from someone. Don't go crazy like I do and make it at home. When you make two side dishes, make sure you are using frozen cut vegetables for one of them unless you have some help with cutting the veggies. The other one can be lentil based or some legumes like black eyed beans or garbanzo beans. Pressed for time? Use canned ones. You tackled the part of the main course.

Making rice is no big deal at all. So, I wouldn't specify anything except if you are pressed for time, use cut frozen vegetables here too. If you are making a rice where you have to grind the spices, you can grind the masala or the spice powders in advance and keep them in the refrigerator or freezer. If spice powders, then you can leave them in an air tight container at room temperature. All you do is cook rice, saute vegetables if using with masala/spice powders and mix the rice to it. You are done with main course.

When you choose two desserts, make one fruit salad or something which is healthy and go for a rich dessert as the second one if you prefer. Most of the Indian desserts can be made in advance. Make sure you have at least one dessert ready 2 days in advance. You could either make the second one early or on the day of the party if it is quick and simple.

When I think of why people are intimidated by cooking for a crowd, I realized that many people are scared because they can't estimate how much food is needed. Here is how I calculate.

Anyone who is 12 and above in age I count as a person. Kids under 4 are not counted at all. Kids above 4 but under 12 are considered as half a count.

Appetizers: Assuming 2 appetizers are present, most of the people take 2 - 3 pieces of the small ones and 1 - 2 pieces of the big ones. You will have to use your imagination here since we are not talking about a particular kind of appetizer. If one of the appetizers is standard sized samosas, 1 samosa is one person's serving. Whereas pakodas will be 2 or 3.

Rotis: Homemade rotis/chapathis are a little bigger than what you can get from outside. I have seen people go for the second one (home made) unless they don't want to eat too much of rice. But the bought rotis are so thin and small, everyone will probably take 2 rotis. Plan as per the number.

Side dishes: General rule of thumb is each person eats about a cup to cup and a half of side dishes. You can average it to 1 cup per person. If you have 20 people, your combined side dishes should be about 20 cups. This calculation is not accurate and there usually will be some left over.

Rice: When served with rotis, each person will eat about 1/2 - 3/4 cup cooked rice. So, plan as 1 standard measuring cup uncooked rice to serve 3 - 4 people. Again, it is better to add a cup extra to make sure that you have enough.

Dessert: It is the simplest to calculate. Every person gets one serving. Even when some eat more, there are some who don't eat any. So, you will be good if you aim at the number exactly here.

You could go totally the other way round and make all of them rice items like some of my relatives do. Then you will need 2 kinds of rices with masala/vegetables and plain rice, rasam and or sambar, papad, and some side dish to go with rasam and rice. That would totally different menu too, but easy to make compared to the elaborate menu I have explained above.

I hope this has given an insight to at least some.

Enjoy!! Pin It


  1. Very very informative post. Even I love to entertain at home. But I'm intimidated if the guest list is beyond 20. Through this post I think I can manage to cook for more. Thanks a lot :)

  2. all your tips are always so useful
    Champa. I religiously follow your baking tips. these rae more or less the things that I follow while throwing a party. but this measurement ideas are too good. am writing this in my diary to do away with a lot of left over.

  3. Love these tips. I love all yur posts...Kudos to all yur harwork...and sharing cooking tips and anecdotes gives girls like me an opportunity to let off our fears of party cooking and cook and serve with good enjoyment and zeal. Thanks for sharing this post...

  4. A treasure to be bookmarked, thanks for sharing ur tips..

  5. I throw parties too for a crowd of 20 usually and I make almost the same kind of menu but the estimates are very useful as I always end up with leftovers! (Of course I always distribute 'to-go' packets in the end!)

  6. really a nice write up for the party dear.... will follow urs surely....

  7. thanks for sharing such an informative post!!

  8. very informative sure this will help me to throw a party...thanks a lot!!

  9. I so love all your such informative posts. I cherish them really well and keep them safe :)

  10. I really liked the article, and the very cool blog

  11. Very informative..Got some idea for the party we r about to throw..


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