Cooking for a Crowd by Lynn Dugan

Fifteen people were coming for dinner in 2 short hours. I hadn’t finished grocery shopping and hadn’t ever cooked in the kitchen I was using. My husband and I were in Buenos Aires, renting a 1-bedroom apartment while visiting our oldest daughter who is studying abroad this semester. She plays for her Argentine school’s soccer team and invited her teammates for dinner.

We planned a dinner to reflect tastes from home: Antipasto, Tossed Green Salad, Chicken Cacciatore with Spaghetti, and for dessert, Lemon Cake with Fresh Berries. We were in the grocery store at a peak time and there was a line in every department to weigh and bag most of our shopping list. Luckily, my daughter, her friend, my husband and I divided the list and made it out of the store in under an hour.

CookingForACrowdLynnBack in the kitchen, I knew I had the skillets and saucepans I needed for this large batch of cacciatore. What I didn’t realize was that the stovetop wasn’t large enough to fit more than one large pan at a time. So, while my sous chefs prepped the antipasto and salad (and googled “how to light the stove”), I quickly prepped and simmered one batch of cacciatore and began to warm the oven. As soon as I could, I transferred the skillet’s contents onto a baking sheet and placed it in the oven. I did the same with my 2nd batch of cacciatore to make room on the stovetop for the large saucepan to cook the pasta. The timing was surprisingly perfect because as the 15 friends arrived for dinner, they enjoyed the antipasto and a televised fútbol match (their favorite team was playing). When the game ended, dinner was ready!

Here are my 5 tips for “Cooking for a Crowd’…just in time for the holiday cooking you will be doing for your own crowd! Enjoy!

  1. Begin with a menu. Preferably, build the menu from dishes you are already comfortable making. Since it can be stressful to cook for a crowd, adding a new recipe is a risk you may not want to take.
  2. Create a shopping list. Remember to include beverages and condiments, and things like lemons & limes for garnishing and creamer for coffee.
  3. Write a schedule. Look at your recipes and sort out what can be made days ahead and stored (in fridge or freezer). Next, for the day of the event, plan the time you need in the kitchen.
  4. Solicit help. Is there anyone that can help you prep and cook? Your family members or friends? Or, can you modify your menu to incorporate some pre-prepped items like already washed and prepped produce.
  5. Take a deep breath and enjoy! There is such joy to be found when friends and family gather to share a meal together. May you be Blessed!
Chicken Cacciatore
Serves 6
  1. 1-1/2 pounds of boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into quarters
  2. 1 T. olive oil
  3. 1 clove garlic, minced
  4. salt and pepper
  5. 1 green bell pepper, cored and sliced
  6. 1/2 pound white button or cremini mushrooms, cleaned and halved
  7. 1 small onion, sliced
  8. 1 can (15 oz) diced tomatoes
  9. 1 can (15 oz) tomato sauce
  10. 1/3 cup red wine
  11. 3 bay leaves
  12. 1/2 can pitted black olives, drained (optional)
  1. Heat oil in a large saucepan. Add garlic and chicken pieces. Salt and pepper the chicken in the pan and brown on one side, about 2 minutes. Turn chicken, salt and pepper again, and brown for an additional 2 minutes. Add green pepper and onion. Sauté for a few minutes, scraping the pan for any brown bits. Add mushrooms, undrained tomatoes, sauce, wine and bay leaves.  Cover and slowly simmer for 30-40 minutes. Add optional black olives at the end of cooking.  Enjoy over cooked pasta.
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