Thursday, June 4, 2009

Cooking-for-a-crowd tips

Staying at the Browns always reminds me of cooking breakfast for at least a dozen people, and if you’ve ever worn yourself to a frazzle trying to cook for more than eight people in the morning, here are some tips to get you through your next big event.

  • Toast: Forget the toaster and those fancy racks that we like to refer to as the “toast cooler.” Turn on the oven to 350 degrees. Put slices of real bread (the kind that doesn’t have a lot of preservatives; if you’re using Wonder Bread, you’ll probably need a rack, too) on cookie sheets. When the oven is preheated, slide the sheets into the oven and cook until the tops are light brown or you can smell the toast. Remove and flip the slices. Toast for a little less time than the first side, turn off the oven, remove the toast, put on a pat of butter, and slide back into the oven until the pats melt a little. Serve immediately.
  • Eggs: Scrambled are great for a crowd, but you always have to use so many eggs per person to make them look like a goodly amount on a plate. Poached look fancier, and my friend Elaine Corn has the easiest way to make them ahead in her cookbook, “365 Ways to Cook Eggs.” But the best way to make eggs for a crowd is to make a strata (kind of a savory bread pudding that, without crusts, looks more like a souffle; click on the word for a recipe) and top with great sauce (my favorite is marchand de vin).
  • Bacon: Oven-fried is the only way to go. Line a lipped baking sheet with foil, or make half-inch sides with the foil. Does not need to be quick-release. This will make cleanup easier. Separate bacon slices and put them in a single layer on the foil. Put in a cold oven (DO NOT PREHEAT), then turn it on to 400 degrees. Check the oven 15 minutes later. As soon as the bacon is golden brown, remove it (it will continue to cook as you take it out of the oven). The exact time will depend on the thickness of the bacon slices, but it shouldn't be more than 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and drain on paper towels. Strain the hot grease through cheesecloth if you are saving it for another use, otherwise let it solidify and toss it and the foil together.
Of course, the easiest and healthiest of all is fruit and cereal, but somehow, that just doesn't say "company" to most people.

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