Winston Churchill: First off, I’d like to welcome our Lou Merloni Visiting Lecturer in Middle Infield Studies, and Honorary Co-Patron for 2010, Marco Scutaro. I’ve only had the pleasure of knowing Marco for these past few weeks, but through a number of engaging conversations I’ve come to feel that we will all learn a lot from him this year, and I’m really excited to have him here today.
Marco Scutaro: Thank you, Winston. It’s an honor to be here.
Winston Churchill: So tell me — what do you say to critics who claim that a utility infielder is nothing more than a glorified, obscenely well-paid chimneysweep? And how do you take your scotch, old boy?
Marco Scutaro: Om, I don’t really understand the question. But it’s really good to be here and I’m looking forward to an exciting season in Boston.
Winston Churchill: We’ll say neat, in a rocks glass.
The finest opening day in recent memory aside, we include this excerpt by way of introducing our topic for the week: cooking for large (large) numbers. Though the challenge of cooking for eight to 12 friends can be a harrowing one, it is a welcome and manageable task — portions can be altered, broths thinned, extra snacks provided. Doubling that number, however, presents a very different task. All of a sudden, you’re cooking in bulk: shopping involves problems of scale, salt takes a leading role as your relative quantities of other flavors diminish, and high-quality ingredients become less feasible.
That said, should you find yourself faced with the task of cooking for 25 or more, we encourage you not to shrink (Chamberlain-esque) timidly from the task that history has laid at your feet, but to delve in with aplomb and derring-do. Take a page from Scutaro’s playbook: stick to your fundamentals but have a trick or two up your sleeve. Sometimes all it takes is a bottom-of-the-seventh single (and two for three on the night) to get things started. Some tips:
Plan: Although it shouldn’t need to be said, stick to simple concepts that can be scaled up. Shy away from rigidly prescribed recipes, as they’ll likely call for many different ingredients, unless you are comfortable triaging shallots or leeks in favor of the lowly onion (normally heresy, but such are the exigencies of war and cooking). If you are cooking for dietary restrictions (vegetarian, all-scotch diet), try to plan something modular so that meat can be simply left out or substituted, without making an entirely separate dish with distinct ingredients.
Ingredients: If ever there was a time to go cheap, it is now. Try to keep things as vegetarian as possible; lentils and beans are much cheaper and more filling proteins than animal flesh. If meat is requisite, try supplementing or replacing chicken breast with chicken thighs. They are cheaper and sneakily much more flavorful, but don’t broadcast your secret, as some people have an illogical aversion to them. If you’re going upscale, pork loin is a good option, as it is much cheaper per pound than beef, takes on flavors well, and is damn tasty. For veggies, pick a few and stick to them. No one’s going to notice the single bite of Jerusalem artichoke they get (or anything you say). Sweet potatoes, bell peppers, and onions are your main weapons, as they are cheap and flavorful. Stay away from fruits, they’ll f*ck your wallet.
Spice: Whittle your flavor pallet down to a few essentials, buy them in bulk, and use them liberally. Mexican? A big load of cumin and lime juice, with hot sauce passed along will do the trick. Asian? Soy sauce, brown sugar (maybe), and ginger. French? Just say no. Also, prepare to salt the crap out of stuff. If something is salted properly, it will taste good, whether or not you added saffron and truffle oil.
Emergency Sides: Like a well-hidden K-ration tucked in the bottom of your pack as you trudge through the muck, a loaf of olive bread with oil or a bag of Tostitos can be the difference between a miserable experience and a less miserable one. Make sure you’ve got something in store if preparation takes longer than expected (inevitable) or if your friends bring their friends (unacceptable).
Allies: Recruit some well-meaning lackeys willing to do your vegetable prep (as you show them!) in exchange for access to your good beer stash. This won’t be enough, though — you’ll need at least one knowledgeable and dedicated sous-chef who can take the helm when you inevitably are recruited to an emergency make-out sesh, get too drunk, cut yourself, wet yourself, or completely neglect dessert.
Drink: Lastly, get a bunch of cheap tequila (or beer or gin or wine) and ample low-quality mixers if necessary. Make sure drinks are poured before you’ve peeled your first onion, and keep them flowing. Get people drunk enough and you can serve them bulk cat food (which, coincidentally, is the name of our new alternative rock band).
Finally, remember this: there’s nothing like having a shortstop of Italian descent in Boston, Papi will eventually start to hit again, and A-Rod will never, ever be able to hit, throw, or prance himself away from his personality.