When you live 10 minutes (walking) from the beach, family and friends are much more likely to visit you. Fortunately, I have the kind of family that you like to have come visit, and friends that are like family. My dad gave me a great compliment when he was here ... "you make it look so easy".
And for me, cooking for family doesn't seem that hard. In part because I like to do it, but I know a more than a few people that have decent cooking skills, but really struggle to be comfortable cooking for a crowd. Here are a few tips..
How much? When you are used to cooking for 1 or 2, having 4 or 6 or more active people to feed (for days) will take a lot more food than usual. But don't go overboard, cooking way too much food is just extra work and makes it harder to cook because you can't find anything in the refrigerator. Some rough guides on what's enough (so everyone is full, and maybe a few leftovers):
- Lean meat or fish: around 1/2 pound per person.
- Fattier meat (like ribs or steaks) or whole birds (like turkey): about 1 pound per person.
- Pasta: I generally figure that 1 lb will make 4 to maybe 5 servings, depending on appetite and what else is being served.
- Most grains (like rice): each cup (uncooked) will serve 2 - 3.
- Potatoes: For my side of the family, it's about 1/2 lb + per person. It's less for other families.
- Veggies, like green beans or broccoli: This is a tough one for me, because I normally eat about 1/2 pound (or more) on my own. But more normal people will eat much less. Generally a "bunch" of broccoli or kale, or a pound of beans or squash will serve about 3 people if you are steaming or sauteing. Asparagus is about 2 people per bunch. If you are roasting or grilling, people will eat more.
- Pizza: For my recipe (12 ounce ball of dough) I figure 1 pizza for two people.
What? First of all, cook food you are comfortable cooking. If you want to try a new recipe, fine, but make sure it's just a riff on what you know how to do, not a shot in the dark. I like things that don't generate a ton of dishes, like things off the grill. Or pizza. Burritos or taco's. Roast veggies. Salads. Sometimes its handy to make things that you can do ahead, but it needs to be way ahead.. I'm at the beach too.
- Anything that you do make ahead, put in baggies when ever possible to minimize dishes. Marinate meats in baggies. Store blanched vegetables in baggies. Put any pre-sliced or chopped things in baggies.
- Put something simple out for people to munch on... cheese, nuts, olives, hummus, cut-up veggies, chips and guacamole. Generally just 2 or 3 things.
- Get help... think ahead of things for people to do when they ask "is anything I can do". Salads are a good choice for help - just get out everything you want to go into in, or peeling potatoes, or anything you happen to know the person is good at (again, this works with family and good friends). Roy (who gets no credit) is my secret weapon. He takes care of getting wine out, setting the table, does the grilling.
Here is an example of side that works well for a crowd and can be mostly be done ahead. And if you don't have green beans, it works equally well on asparagus or broccoli. The dressing is also excellent on salads.
Green Beans with Mustard-Soy Dressing
2 pounds green beans, ends trimmed
1 teaspoon salt
Blanch the beans: bring a pot of water to boil over high heat, and fill a bowl with ice and water. Add the salt and beans to the boiling water. Cook for about 4 minutes. Pull one bean out, swish in the ice water and taste for doneness. Do this every minute or so until the beans are just done. Using tongs, quickly pull the green beans out of the boiling water and into the ice water (the ice water part is important to keep the bright green color). When cold, drain the beans. Can be done up to 1 day ahead, store in plastic bag in the refrigerator.
3 ounces lemon juice
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon soy sauce
5 ounces olive oil
Mix lemon juice, mustard, and soy sauce in graduated container with immersion blender. Slowly add oil with blender running, add enough oil to have a nice thick dressing. Can be done a few days ahead and refrigerated, let come to room temperature to use (the olive oil will get thick... or use a more neutral oil like grapeseed that does not get hard in the refrigerator).
Garnish (take your choice):
Roasted almond slivers or slices
Thin strips of red or sweet onion (soak in cold water to take some heat out if needed)
Thin strips of red pepper
Thin slices of radish
To assemble: Toss the beans with dressing (it might not take all of the dressing.. start with half or so). If the beans are in a baggie, just add the dressing to the baggie and squish around. Place on a serving dish and garnish.