Cooking for a crowd can be a little overwhelming when you need to consider different dietary needs, possible allergies and personal preferences. It's enough to make anyone just order takeaway and not bother!
Seriously though. how do you cook for friends, your family and everyone in between and ensure that all tastes can be met?
1. Ask some questions - if it is a dinner party and there are guests coming you don't know very well (extended family perhaps or new partners, friends of friends) don't be afraid to ask if there are any intolerance or allergies. Sometimes people don't eat seafood but aren't necessarily allergic so a little investigation can ensure a lot less embarrassment when the meal is served.
2. Do some research - with the rise in preferences for low sugar and gluten free intolerance's there are many meals and combinations that can cater to these needs without excluding these guests from the main meal everyone else is having. Gluten free pastas, breads and dessert ingredients are now readily available, the nutritional content of many recipes are also easy to find and even vegan recipes can be a great change from the meat eating norm for a dinner party. Have a browse through recipe books in a library, check out dishes online or ask friends their favourite techniques for inspiration.
3. Have fun making variations - what if you didn't need to make a whole new meal, what if you just changed one thing for one person? Now I know not everyone is keen on catering to meal time whimsy's and who won't eat what and how but you can allow personal choices with minimal effort with a little planning. How on earth I hear you say? Well here's the clincher of this blog - how to cook pasta for two who love fettucine cabonara and two that really don't like cream pasta. Read on and learn.
Cooking for one of my couple friends each week (we take turns doing dinner or dessert - kinda neat) has brought about some great creativity - they have different tastes, dishes, personal favourites to me and my partner. So what do you do when one of the asks for fettucine cabonara which my partner loves and myself and her partner really don't like? You diversify - I like pasta and so does he - so solution? Just different sauces. Dinner is at their place to allow their child to have his usual bedtime which means I have the opportunity to explore my planning skills.
Cabonara in advance? Pasta in advance? How? I hear you ask. Well you can cut the onion, bacon and in our case mushroom (they like it that way) and have it ready to pan fry and add the cream too, almost like a cooking show where the bowls are convinelty at arms reach! Even better, if you want to do dinner in a hurry, you can panfry the ingredients and have them ready along with the pasta pre-cooked and cooled so if it is for a dinner party you just need to warm the mix in a pan, add the cream, dunk the pasta in boiling water and they will all come together ready in 2-3 minutes. Easy! So what are myself and her partner having? Fettucine as well but our sauce is just a simple combination of the same onion base with the addition of cherry tomatoes, spinach and olives. Cutting the tomatoes and squishing them a little in the pan with some olive oil creates a light sauce together with the salty yum of the olives and spinach creates a simple and tasty dish without a lot of effort so everyone can eat well but eat what they want.
Of course, this sort of effort is completely up to you. For me I was chopping up the onion, bacon and mushrooms anyway so a little slice of tomatoes and shred of spinach wasn't anymore effort really. When the pasta is cooked I just divided it in two and one went in with the cream, the other the tomato and dinner was served. Easy peasy :)
So what other variations can you make:
1. No seafood - divide sauces (pasta or curry) in two and one half can have prawns for seafood lovers and the other chicken. Same sauce, different protein. Same with salads or sides. Same same but different protein.
2. Crumbles/tarts/pies - make individual ones so gf can have their variation without fuss
3. Vegetarian/vegan - have a meat protein on the side to add to the dishes for the hardcore meat eaters i.e grilled chicken, fish or a steak can be added to a salad, pasta or casserole
4. Sugar free or low sugar - check what they can have and create accordingly either for them or for all i.e sweet potato mash instead of plain potato, wholemeal flour for pasta etc etc
It does take a little planning but that planning means a lot less frustration and effort later and then you will create you own repertoire to have on hand when the moment arises if you least expect it. Let me know what variations you have discovered and how you cater for different tastes or food requirements in you household. Happy cooking!