March 4, 2010

Cooking School: Feeding a Crowd

Many apologies for the delinquency in posting anything new. I am working on a few ideas, but it's been a bit nutty sitting down to write these days. One of the things I often hear about from people is how difficult it is to plan multiple components to a meal and pull it all off at the same time. I must admit, I struggled with my efficiency in the kitchen until I went to culinary school, which in itself is an education on constant multitasking.

I recently took a cooking class at Chicago's Chopping Block, and the chef was so organized, he scared me. But in a good way! One of the things he pointed out is how in our minds, we think dessert should be done last. Well, that's the way we eat it, but when prepping for a party, you should actually do it first. It is typically one of those things that requires resting or rising a batter or dough, chilling something or the other, baking time, and cooling time. Probably the most time-consuming portion of the meal! So do it first and utilize the resting, baking, cooling, and all-around sitting-around-and-waiting-for-the-next-step slots in your schedule for other things.

Before you shove off, take a look at all your recipes and look for line items such as these, and when something is sitting around and doing nothing, do something else. If you need to bring things to room temp before working with them, then chop vegetables, shred cheese, or simmer or saute something in the interim. If something's gotta chill, then put something else in the oven during that time.

And it's OK to "cheat" with some prepared foods. Get the sliced mushrooms, canned diced tomatoes (no-salt-added versions are the best), shredded carrots or cheese, peeled and deveined shrimp--you name it. The possibilities are endless these days at the grocery store, as more and more food manufacturers are realizing you want to eat healthier and are less likely to buy preservative- and salt-heavy boxed meals but are more willing to buy prepped fresh food.

I recently put all the items in this picture together in 5-1/2 hours--enough to feed a party for 30. And I did this by simply starting dessert first and utilizing the downtimes for up times. You too can be this organized in the kitchen, and you will be ready for those guests, cocktail in hand, apron on the hook, and delicious food just waiting to be consumed!

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