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Keeping food warm

post #1 of 15
Thread Starter 

When cooking for a big group of people (well big to me anyway) about 8-10 people how do you go about keeping the food warm?  Keep in mind this isn't a catering deal where you have warmers and stuff just cooking family dinner for Easter for example at home. 

 

I did rack of lamb, mashed potatoes, and asparagus for Easter dinner this year.  By the time we cut and plated the lamb, got the kids plates ready, and passed the sides around (did those family style) the lamb and asparagus were cold.  Same thing happened at Christmas dinner.  The potatoes hold heat well so they were fine.  I'm just not sure how to keep other things nice and hot at bigger dinners like this. 

post #2 of 15

A delicate question. Some ideas:

 

1. Warm the plates. Microwave works great for this.

2. Undercook the lamb. Finish at the last minute. Anyway you should let the lamb rack to rest a while.

3. Cover with aluminium foil. Keep it in a mild oven.

 

But the last time i cooked for 25 persons (my birthday, 20 years ago) i made such a mess than today if we invite, we never cook for more than 6-8 guests. 6 better. My admiration to pro chefs!

Gebe Gott uns allen, uns Trinkern, einen so leichten und so schönen Tod! Joseph Roth.
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Gebe Gott uns allen, uns Trinkern, einen so leichten und so schönen Tod! Joseph Roth.
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post #3 of 15

Without using catering style gear, and assuming you have just one oven that you need to finish things like dinner rolls, a good option is a large cooler. Just as they are able to keep cold things cold they can keep hot things hot. In catering they make them as holding boxes but they are essentially just coolers. I'd recommend using containers that have rigid tops so that you can stack your hot foods. You don't have to, but you could even pre-heat the cooler with a shallow layer of boiling water.

post #4 of 15

If you have more than one oven, you can always turn it down to 100 degrees Celcius, perfect temperature to keep food warm without ruining it.

If you are wanting to keep meats warm, make sure they are slightly undercooked otherwise they will be ruined in no time.

post #5 of 15

This is a very important topic for me too.  It is my biggest pet peeve to serve my food at an inappropriate temperature.  Salads need to be cold, meat needs to be warm/hot, potatoes need to have steam rising from them. 

 

First, you have to prioritize. Even at a restaurant asparagus that arrives at your table will be cold within 1 minute.  No need to torture yourself about that.  Keep your oven on and right before you serve the asparagus zap it into the oven if it's important to you.  For me, roasted veggies can be served at room temperature.

 

Meat - sounds like you did individual plating.  That's the biggest mistake.  Meat too will go cold within a couple of minutes and it certainly takes a lot longer than that to plate 8 servings.  Keeping the plates warm will help.  I never do plated servings because of that.  I always serve family style.  A tenderloin or a prime rib for example is carved like a loaf of bread, allowing each of the slices to fall onto eachother ( I mean, I do not carve and remove each slice one by one to the plate - this allows too much exposure to the cool air and instantly cools your meat).  Then I gather the slices in one swoop and arrange on a platter more or less still looking like a loaf of meat.  Keeping the slices together like this maintains their temperature, I hope I'm explaining that right.  Further more, you can drizzle it with hot (keep it on the stove) jus right before serving, and serve the gravy/jus/sauce piping hot when it hits the table.  That way when a guest serves themselves the sauce will add warmth.

 

Also, I tend to leave some of the cooking until the last minute.  For example I try to time it so that the roast comes out of the oven at the same time the guests arrive and allow it to rest until we sit at the table.  If I'm frying something it doesn't happen until all the guests have already arrived. 

 

Good planning has a lot to do with it.  If you plate your lamb and then start chopping a salad then of course that's silly.  Everything cold should be prep-prepped and at the table, meat and hot stuff comes out at the last minute after everyone is already seated.  Appoint one person for meat only, others can take care of dressings, sauces, beverages, etc.

"You are what you eat, so don't be fast, cheap, easy, or fake."

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"You are what you eat, so don't be fast, cheap, easy, or fake."

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post #6 of 15

Does anyone know a good way to warm plates without the microwave?  Mine won't fit.  I'm a little nervous about putting them in the oven.  I also usually set the table in advance, is it strange to set everything except the plates and bring them out at the last minute if I'm serving family style?

"You are what you eat, so don't be fast, cheap, easy, or fake."

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"You are what you eat, so don't be fast, cheap, easy, or fake."

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post #7 of 15
Let them sit in a tub of hot water.
post #8 of 15

As is fairly typical, many of our plates don't warm in the microwave, or at least not much.  It's a function of the composition of the ceramic.  Some do, some don't.

 

The problem with using a warm water bath is that the plates get wet.  Or, at least ours do.  YMMV. 

 

Here at the  Monrovia Home for Wayward Girls / Men's Asylum, we find the best way to warm plates in a home kitchen is a couple of minutes in the dishwasher's drying cycle. 

 

Eight to twelve people is a great size for a dinner party, but it's also very challenging for a host or hostess who wants to put out great food.   

 

We find that getting people to the table, kitchen time management, and extra hands are the three most important things for getting food to the table hot. 

 

Kids (oy the kids):

  • Fill the kids glasses before seating otherwise begins;
  • Have something for the kids to do while the grown ups are finding their own seats, this can be a special, just-for-kids appetizer, an early "party favor," or an adult assigned to pre-prandial kid duty.  Best is all three. 

 

You and the Other (hah!) Adults: 

  • Do whatever can be done ahead of time ahead of time.  What can be done the day before, do the day before.  Get your knives sharpened, your serving ware polished, your center piece down, work areas cleared, etc., etc.;
  • Stay as neat and organized as possible during the cooking process.  If your friends and family are like mine, you'll have a brigade crowding the kitchen, and claiming to "help."  Use them to actually help.  Wash anything which can be washed. Put things away as soon as they can be put away.   Keep the sink as empty as possible.  Keep the counter tops as clear and clean as possible.  If anything is key, it's keeping control of the space;    
  • When everything's nearly ready, kick all but one of the klatch out of the kitchen, keeping one person who will actually work and not lean, drink, and gossip; this will enable you to  
  • Get the kitchen completely clean and organized before plating so you can plate as many plates or arrange as many platters as possible at the same time;
  • In the meantime, those who left the kitchen can get the kids to wherever they're going;
  • If you use someone else to carve (good idea), have a carving board (with a juice channel), a proper fork, and a sharp knife at the ready.  Keep the carver out from underfoot.  If your kitchen crowds easily, remember that there's no law which says the meat must be carved in the kitchen or at the table.  Anywhere with a large-enough clear space will do;
  • Speaking of helpers, assign someone other than the cook/plater to carrying out the plates (don't always pick women); and
  • Get everyone seated table before whoever's left in the kitchen starts plating.

 

As a side benefit, you'll find that all of the obsessive organization not only improves your cooking but -- after you get the hang of it -- you and your guests will enjoy your own parties more.  People feel valued when they're put to good use. 

 

Finally, MOST MEAT REQUIRES RESTING before carving and serving, it can't and shouldn't be "piping hot."

 

BDL  


Edited by boar_d_laze - 4/5/13 at 8:21am
post #9 of 15
Quote:
Originally Posted by Zydrus View Post

When cooking for a big group of people (well big to me anyway) about 8-10 people how do you go about keeping the food warm?  Keep in mind this isn't a catering deal where you have warmers and stuff just cooking family dinner for Easter for example at home. 

 

I did rack of lamb, mashed potatoes, and asparagus for Easter dinner this year.  By the time we cut and plated the lamb, got the kids plates ready, and passed the sides around (did those family style) the lamb and asparagus were cold.  Same thing happened at Christmas dinner.  The potatoes hold heat well so they were fine.  I'm just not sure how to keep other things nice and hot at bigger dinners like this. 

 

Koukouvagia's right. Veggies can be at room temp, and lamb jus/ sauce can be hot. How did you cook the asparagus? Timing is everything, and depending on the thickness, you could do them at the last minute while helpers assist in seating, sides, drinks etc. When I do grilled asparagus I time it, including letting them sit on the grill pan with the flame, off while I plate.

 

Serve the sides and drinks first, and cut the meat at the table family style. Mashed potatoes shouldn't be warmed on a flame or heat for too long, otherwise they get gummy. Put in an appropriate serving bowl with a lid. It'll stay warm through dinner.

 

Quote:

Originally Posted by Koukouvagia View Post

Does anyone know a good way to warm plates without the microwave?  Mine won't fit.  I'm a little nervous about putting them in the oven.  I also usually set the table in advance, is it strange to set everything except the plates and bring them out at the last minute if I'm serving family style?

Use chargers if you have them with napkins and the table is looks great.

post #10 of 15
Quote:
Originally Posted by Jake is a View Post

Use chargers if you have them with napkins and the table is looks great.

 

Chargers is a good idea but a little formal in my mind, maybe for a holiday part.

"You are what you eat, so don't be fast, cheap, easy, or fake."

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"You are what you eat, so don't be fast, cheap, easy, or fake."

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post #11 of 15
Is it strange to set everything except the plates and bring them out at the last minute if I'm serving family style?

Yes it would be strange.  Not only would it be strange, but it would no longer be "family style," nor would it serve much of a practical purpose.  Warming the serving pieces in the kitchen, plus the sheer amount of food served in them, should be enough to keep the food hot -- at least for the first go around.  Warm plates are useful for getting food from the kitchen to the table, and until enough of the table is served that eating begins.  But they don't do much to keep it hot once its on the table.  On top of that, the "good china" loses heat more quickly than the everyday heavy porcelain because it's so thin.

 

Family style means the table is served, not the individual diner.  Not only would it mean extra trips for the people making and serving dinner, but if the plates were brought to the table hot, they would lose most of their heat while waiting for the food to be brought to the table and then attacked passed.  So, on top of everything else... pointless. 

 

In my experience carving at the table is almost always worse than carving in the kitchen (or wherever) and plattering the meat before bringing it to the table.  Most festive tables don't enough room for a carving board, carving directly on a platter instead of a board screws up knives and platters, and it takes so long to pass the plates and load them with meat that the flow of dinner is broken up.  

 

It's not easy to make it look good, either.  A hundred years ago, upper and upper-middle class men used to take classes on how to carve gracefully; but unless you really know what you're doing it's not an easy task in front of a room full of hungry diners -- especially with something as difficult as a bone-in leg of lamb.  On top of that, very few homes have sharp knives or the right kind of carving board (big enough, with a channel to catch the juices). I worked my share of carving stations when catering, but could never make carving at table work at any of my own parties. 

 

Back in the day, chargers insured the diner never saw an empty place nor an empty plate.  The old etiquette was that when the charger was removed, it was immediately replaced with a full plate.  The new etiquette is slightly different.  Frequently, all or part of a clean dinner service is placed on top of the charger, giving the diner the opportunity to appreciate the beauty of the clean china.  But service itself is not much different.  The entire, clean setting, along with the charger is removed from the table as the first course is served. 

 

New etiquette or old, chargers are not "family style."  Because chargers need to be removed from the table so soon before the food is served, they require waiters of some sort.  And unless we mean radically different things by "family style," even if your sister acts as waitress, people running around doing stuff like pulling chargers and replacing them with warm plates after the party is seated isn't in it.  And if the chargers are replaced before the diners sit than the plates will be cold by the time the food is brought to table.

 

Etiquette shmetiquette.  This ain't charm school, I ain't Miss Manners, and you're free to make your own rules for your own friends and family in whatever ways please you.  If you want chargers, use chargers, says I.

 

The first part of successful entertaining for an over achiever is not getting food to the table hot, but learning to cut yourself some slack.  Everything will not be perfect.  Some things cannot be perfect no matter what you do.  Hold on to some perspective and remember that even at Downton Abbey, with a full compliment of footman carrying the "family style" platters to each guest, food got cold.  It's your party, enjoy it.   

 

BDL 


Edited by boar_d_laze - 4/6/13 at 9:29am
post #12 of 15
Quote:
Originally Posted by boar_d_laze View Post

 

In my experience carving at the table is almost always worse than carving in the kitchen (or wherever) and plattering the meat before bringing it to the table.  Most festive tables don't enough room for a carving board, carving directly on a platter instead of a board screws up knives and platters, and it takes so long to pass the plates and load them with meat that the flow of dinner is broken up.  

 

It's not easy to make it look good, either.  A hundred years ago, upper and upper-middle class men used to take classes on how to carve gracefully; but unless you really know what you're doing it's not an easy task in front of a room full of hungry diners -- especially with something as difficult as a bone-in leg of lamb.  On top of that, very few homes have sharp knives or the right kind of carving board (big enough, with a channel to catch the juices). I worked my share of carving stations when catering, but could never make carving at table work at any of my own parties. 


BDL 

I'm not a caterer, and don't have much experience with that, but did you ever try pre-carving in the kitchen before bringing it out to the table for home parties?

 

Also, I simply suggested charges because koukou thought the table would look empty. I personally don't heat plates, but I do use chargers because I think they look good. I also don't remove them like they used to. Very informative post, though.

post #13 of 15
I'm not a caterer, and don't have much experience with that, but did you ever try pre-carving in the kitchen before bringing it out to the table for home parties?

Did many times, and still almost always do. 

 

The closest thing to an exception at our house is when we serve buffet style; which, because our dining room table isn't very long, we usually do for groups larger than six.  And then, carving the meat on the buffet table isn't so much an exception as a way of getting it off valuable kitchen counter space and keeping the kitchen clear.  I'm a pretty good carver (as those things go); know how the bones run in hams, legs of lamb, and whatnot; have the right very sharp knives for just about any purpose; have appropriate carving boards in a multitude of size; have a wide table, etc., etc.  And with all of that, carving at table for a sit-down dinner is something I prefer to avoid. 

      

Chargers look great, no question about that.  The only problem is getting them off the table and the appropriate first plate on quickly enough to work for "family style." 

 

As to either thing, one person's answers won't be the best choices for everyone. 

 

BDL

post #14 of 15

Silly question here....what on earth are "chargers"?  We is unedjukated down in these here parts...

Does it mean placemats?

 

For keeping plates warm, I tend to soak them in a really hot tub of water, dry off and immediately stack them together and wraps a couple of towels over them.  I stack them on a wooden board to help keep the heat rather than a bench top.  Works for me anyway.  I'm talking about 8-10 people max, don't know how it would go with bigger number of guests.  Also, if I have a hot bowl of sides which will keep and are suited to covering, I put it on top of the stack of plates for extra heat.  Usually with a towel under it to keep plate clean.

 Don't handicap your children by making their lives easy.
Robert A. Heinlein

 
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 Don't handicap your children by making their lives easy.
Robert A. Heinlein

 
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post #15 of 15

Plate chargers are decorative plates used to set the table.  Most often they are removed from the table when dinner is served and replaced by real dinner plates.  Or you can put the dinner plate on top of it. https://www.google.com/search?q=plate+chargers&hl=en&newwindow=1&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ei=kJhmUaqnEorhygHM-IHQBg&ved=0CAoQ_AUoAQ&biw=1366&bih=631

"You are what you eat, so don't be fast, cheap, easy, or fake."

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"You are what you eat, so don't be fast, cheap, easy, or fake."

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