Sunday, February 17, 2019

Feast Budget -Or- Calculating the Costs of the Feast

You have bit the bullet. You have submitted a feast bid, and have been chosen to put together the feast! Congrats!!! Even before you were given the bid, you were probably given some numbers that included the expected budgeted funds and the number of diners you were expected to feed.  Before we go into the budget and calculating the cost of the feast, let's talk about the expected number of diners.

Many times the number of diners you are given will not be easily divisible by the number of servings per table (usually 6 or 8). This can create a potential problem when it comes to serving your food at feast.  So please be sure to find out from the individual who is hosting the event how many diner's are expected to sit "per table" before you discuss budget. Most SCA feasts will expect tables of 8 diners,so the numbers of diners  you will be expecting to feed should be easily divisible by 8.
Budget $400
Expected number of diners: 60
Number of seats per table: 8
Cost per diner: $8.00 
Question: Does the number of expected diners include or exclude head table?  How many diners are you expecting at head table?

Using the example above, and assuming that number includes 8 seats for head table.  The expected number of tables that you will be cooking for is 7 1/2.  A half table? 😕

One of the tables that will be seated will only have four diners. This means it will only need half the amount of servings of food then the other 7 tables. To avoid this dilemma, you should ask the autocrat, or the person you are in contact with regarding the feast, to either increase -or- decrease the number of diners you are expected to serve.   By increasing or decreasing the number of diners to a number that is easily divisible by the number of seats per table, serving will be a breeze. There is no need to calculate for half a table, nor is there a need to worry about the half servings going out to the wrong table.

When do you calculate the cost of your feast? How do you calculate your costs, and what numbers do you need? What happens if you are over budget? Is there a way to offer the feast you want without sacrificing the menu?

Before you submit the bid it is always a good idea to do a preliminary cost analysis so that you have a rough of idea on what you will be spending. However, once you have been given the bid, you will want a much better set of numbers. Remember, at this point the menu proposed will not be the "finalized" menu.

My preference is to calculate my numbers after I have expanded the recipes and know what I need.  At this point in time my menu's are usually very fluid and are not concrete.  There are two numbers I rely on at this point to make sure I stay within budget; the cost per table and the cost per person. With these two numbers I have an easy way to check if  a specific dish will be within or out of budget.

Helpful hint:  When calculating costs, it is important to remember that approximately 25-30% of your budget will be items that are -not- food related.These items may include; serving plates, or serving ware, trash bags, first aid kits, kitchen timer's and thermometers, storage bags, aluminium foil, plastic wrap, dish washing liquid  etc.  which are not food items, but necessary to a successful feast.

At this point I have a rough idea of what I want to serve on the menu.  Menu planning is a class in and of itself so I won't be discussing it here. In order co calculate my cost per table and my cost per person, I want a detailed list of my grocery items, including non food items.  I always round up to the next available whole and I -always- calculate the cost of the items I intend to purchase at the full, not the sales, cost.

Ideally, when preparing a feast  there is at least two months lead time. Many vendors are happy to donate items to a NPO--but many require at least a six week lead time to get approval from home office.  The more lead time, the more availability of donated or discounted goods, the more you can offer on the menu.

Why do I calculate a cost per table and a cost per person? Some items, like bread, are easier to calculate on a per table basis.  I usually plan for 1 1/2 loaves of bread per table.  In our scenario above, 12 loaves of bread will be enough to feed the diners.  Other items, like meat are easier to calculate on a "per person" basis.  Roughly 4-6 ounces of meat, per course per diner is the usual allotment. To feed 64 diner's roasted pork in the second or third course, I would need roughly 16 pounds of roast pork, divided into two pound portions. 

Once I know I am within budget, I can finalize the menu, post it at least four weeks prior to the event, set clear expectations on a cut off date (usually two weeks prior to the event) for special accommodation requests, and post an allergen chart. Now the fun begins, purchasing the grocery items--take advantage of the sales, bogo's, donations and mark downs!

If you find that you are over budget and you don't want to sacrifice your menu there are ways that you can fall back into budget.  As mentioned above, sales are a good way to stay under budget, as are donations from organizations willing to donate to NPO's.  Another tip is to look within the menu for things you may have budgeted for but can make yourself.  For example, bread crumbs made from bread purchased on the mark down bin, or stocks that you make yourself. 

I often find myself planning ahead with an eye towards "the next feast".  Occasionally I have purchased items seasonally, prepared them and then served them later in the year at an event.  Examples of such items include vegetables or fruit bought in seasoned, prepared and then frozen or canned towards a future event.  A lot of dishes that are preserved get better with time. I have also purchased premium meats seasonally or on sale and kept them frozen with an eye towards the future event.

I have also donated items to an event.  I enjoy making jellies, pickles, fruit pastes, candies and comfits.  I find them relaxing past times and they make great gifts for family, friends, co-workers.  I almost always have some on hand.  I like rounding out my dessert course with a selection of sweets.

If all else fails, tweak the menu.  Remember that pork roast? There are times when pork roast can be cost prohibitive.  However, pair that pork roast (chunked or sliced) with meatballs made from ground beef, and you can use less pork per table then you expected to. Serving a high end cheese at the end of the meal, which was done in period, rather then at the beginning is also a budget saving strategy.  People will eat less of a premium item at the end of the meal then they will at the beginning. How you serve an item is as important as what you serve. Items that are pre sliced, or chunked look like there is more there then an item served uncut. Look at it--if it looks like it is enough, given it's placement in the meal, it probably is.

Cost per table: Budget/# of tables
Cost per person: Budget/# of diners 
Number of tables: Diners/Number of seats  
Number of servings: Number of Tables + Kitchen + Servers + head table 
Number of Diners should be divisible by Number of Seats per Table  

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Spice Conversions --Ounces to Tablespoons, Conversions and Substitutes

One of the most useful tables for measuring I have found.  I cannot claim this as my work. I keep misplacing it however so thought I would place it here.  Please take a moment to visit the website where this came from.  It is full of useful information, how to's and video's.  Additionally, they sell meat processing supplies including hog casings and seasonings.

Spice Conversions 

Additional information courtesy of The Cook's Thesaurus

Allspice, Whole
1 ounce = 4 Tbsp.
5 whole berries yield 1 tsp ground
equal parts cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg, all ground or, equal parts cinnamon and cloves, all ground or, equal parts cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and black pepper, all ground

Allspice, Ground


lovage (This also tastes like celery, and the stems can be candied like angelica.) or tarragon
Anise, Ground
1 ounce =4 tbsp.
fennel seed (This has a milder flavor and is sweeter than anise.) , or, star anise (stronger flavor; 1 crushed star anise = 1/2 tsp crushed anise seed) or caraway seed or tarragon
Apple Pie Spice

1 tsp = 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon, 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg, 1/8 tsp cardamom, and 1/8 tsp ground allspice

To make your own:  4 parts cinnamon + 2 parts nutmeg + 1 part cardamom, all ground
Basil Leaves
1 ounce = 8 Tbsp.
oregano, thyme or Italian seasoning, tarragon, summer savory, or  equal parts parsley and celery leaves
Bay Leaf, Whole
1 fresh = 2 Dry
¼ tsp. dried thyme or oregano
1 Dry = ¼ tsp. crushed
1 Fresh = ½ tsp. crushd
Bay Leaf, Ground
1 ounce = 5 Tbsp


spinach, escarole or burnet
Bouquet Garni

To make your own:  Tie together with a string or wrap securely in cheesecloth: 4 sprigs fresh parsley or chervil, 1 sprig fresh thyme, and 1 bay leaf. Variations if you're using cheesecloth: Add one or more of the following: orange peel, cloves, peppercorns, marjoram, fennel leaves, celery leaves

Substitutes: equal parts parsley, thyme, and crushed bay leaf OR equal parts chervil, thyme, and crushed bay leaf OR equal parts basil, marjoram, and summer savory
British Pudding Spices

To make your own:  Grind together 1 small cinnamon stick and 1 tbsp each cloves, mace, ground nutmeg, coriander seeds, and allspice berries  

Substitutes:   pumpkin pie spice, allspice
Caraway Seed
1 ounce =3 tbsp.
Dill seed (milder),  anise seed or cumin seed  
Caraway, Ground
1 ounce = 5 tbs

1 ounce = 5 tbsp

Approximately 12 pods, dehusked = 1 tsp ground cardamom

One pod yields 1/6 tsp cardamom.
equal parts ground nutmeg and cinnamon, or equal parts ground cloves and cinnamon , or, nutmeg or cinnamon
Celery Seed

celery (One tsp = 2 tbsps minced celery tops),  dill seed or celery salt (reduce the salt elsewhere in the recipe)

parsley + tarragon, or fennel leaves + parsley, fines herbs or dill

Green onion tops
Cinnamon, Whole
(preferably Ceylon Cinnamon)
1 3” stick = ½ tsp. Ground

Most of the cinnamon that's sold in America is cassia, which is cheaper and more bitter than the choice Ceylon cinnamon
1/2 tsp cinnamon  (creates different flavor profile)  = 1/4 to 1/2 tsp ground allspice, or ¼ to ½ tsp. Nutmeg or, equal amounts pumpkin pie spice
Cinnamon, Ground
1 ounce = 4 tbsp.

Cloves, Whole
3 whole = ¼ tsp. ground
can substitute equal amounts of allspice
Cloves, Ground
1 ounce. = 4 Tbs.

Coriander Seed
1 ounce. = 5 Tbs.
1 tsp coriander seeds = 1 1 /4 tsp ground coriander
equal amounts cumin, caraway,  or garam masala
Coriander Ground
1 ounce. = 5 Tbs.

Cubeb, Whole
1 ounce. = 3 Tbs.
1 tsp. Whole = ~1 ½ tsp. ground
equal parts allspice and black pepper, or quatre epices or schezuan peppercorns
Cumin Ground
1 oz. = 4 tbsps ground = 4 1/2 tbsps whole seed.

1 tsp. cumin seeds = 1 1/4 tsp. ground cumin
half amount the recipe calls for of caraway, coriander, chili powder, garam masala, curry or taco seasoning
Curry Powder

To make your own:  Combine equal parts ground coriander, ground cumin, ground pepper, turmeric, and ground ginger or 4 parts ground coriander + 2 parts ground cumin + 2 parts ground tumeric + 1 part ground ginger
Dill Seed

dill leaves, caraway seed or celery seed
Dill, fresh

tarragon (especially in sauces that accompany fish or eggs), fennel leaves (as a garnish; looks very similar)
Fennel Seed Whole
1 ounce. = 3 Tbs.
1 tsp fennel seeds = 1 1/4 tsp ground fennel
equal amounts of anise, cumin, caraway  or dill
Fennel Seed Ground
1 ounce. = 3 Tbs.

Five Spice Powder

To make your own:  Combine equal parts Szechwan (or black) pepper, star anise (or anise), cinnamon, cloves, and fennel, all ground   
1 ½ tsp. Powder is equal to 1 tbsp. chopped fresh
equal amounts of ginger with a pinch of cinnamon added
Garam Masala

To make your own:  2 parts ground cardamom + 5 parts ground coriander + 4 parts ground cumin + 2 parts ground black pepper + 1 part ground cloves + 1 part ground cinnamon + 1 part ground nutmeg

Substitutes:  equals parts cumin, pepper, cloves, and nutmeg, all ground OR curry powder (spicier, different flavor)
A head or bulb of garlic usually contains about 10 cloves. 1 clove = 1 tsp chopped garlic = 1/2 tsp minced garlic = 1/8 tsp garlic powder = 1/2 tsp garlic flakes = 1/4 tsp granulated garlic = 1/2 tsp garlic juice
can substitute onion, shallot or garlic chives
Garlic Powder
1 ounce. = 3 Tbs.

Garlic Granulated
1 ounce. = 3 Tbs.

1 ounce. = 3 Tbs.

Ginger Ground
1 ounce. = 4 Tbs.

1 tbsp fresh = ¼ tsp ground
crystallized ginger (Substitute 1/2 cup minced crystallized ginger for every 1 tsp ground ginger called for in recipe. Rinse sugar off ginger first. This is an excellent substitution in many baked goods.),  ginger root (Substitute 2 tbsps grated ginger root for every tsp ground ginger called for in recipe. For best results, substitute only half the ground ginger in recipe with fresh ginger.), cardamom, allspice, cinnamon , mace or nutmeg
Grains of Paradise

cardamom, black peppercorns
Herbes de Provence

To make your own:  Combine four parts thyme plus four parts summer savory, two parts lavender, and one part rosemary.

Long Pepper

black pepper (milder)  or crushed red pepper

equal parts parsley and celery leaves, parsley or chervil
1 ounce. = 4 Tbs.
nutmeg (sweeter and milder than mace) , allspice, pumpkin pie spice, cinnamon or ginger
Marjoram Whole
1 ounce. = 8 Tbs.
1 tbsp. fresh = 1 tsp. dried
oregano (This is very similar, but not as sweet and mild as marjoram. Substitute two parts of oregano for three parts of marjoram.) or thyme or sage or basil or summer savory  
Marjoram Powdered
1 ounce. = 8 Tbs.



fresh parsley + pinch of dried mint , or basil
Mustard Seed Whole
1 ounce. = 3 Tbs.
1 tsp mustard seeds = 1 1/2 tsp ground mustard
wasabi powder, or horseradish
Mustard Seed Ground
1 ounce. = 4 Tbs.

Nutmeg Ground
1 ounce. = 3 Tbs..
1/2 nutmeg = 1 tsp ground nutmeg
mace,  allspice, cinnamon, ginger
Onion Powder
1 ounce. = 3 Tbs.

5 medium onions = 1 pound = 2 cups chopped = 3 cups sliced
1 small onion = 1/3 cup = 1 tsp onion powder = 1 tbsp dried onion flakes
white bulbs of leeks, shallots,  green onions
Onion Salt
1 ounce. = 2 Tbs.

Oregano Leaf
1 ounce. = 9 Tbs.
marjoram (This is very similar, but milder and sweeter.  Substitute two parts of oregano for three parts of marjoram.) or thyme or basil or summer savory  
Paprika Ground
1 ounce. = 4 Tbs.


chervil or celery tops or cilantro
Pepper Coarse
1 ounce. = 4 Tbs.

Pepper Black
1 ounce. = 4 Tbs.
1 tsp. peppercorns = 1 1/2 tsp. ground pepper

Pepper White
1 ounce. = 4 Tbs.

Pepper Whole
1 ounce. = 3 Tbs.
coriander seeds
Pepper Red Leaf
1 ounce. = 5 Tbs.

Pepper Cayenne
1 ounce. = 4 Tbs.

Pickling Spice
1 ounce. = 3 Tbs.
To make your own:   Combine 1/4 C each mustard seeds, dill seeds, and coriander seeds, 2 tbsps each crushed chili peppers and bay leaves, and 1 tbsp each celery seeds and white peppercorns.
Pumpkin Pie Spice

To make your own:  Combine 4 parts cinnamon + 2 parts ginger + 1 part allspice + 1 part nutmeg, all ground OR equal parts cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, mace, and cloves, all ground
Quatre Epices

To make your own:  Combine 1 part ground nutmeg + 1 part ground ginger + 1 part ground cloves + 2 parts ground white pepper

Substitutes:   Chinese five-spice powder (especially in pates) OR nutmeg

Ras Al Hanout

To make your own:  Grind together 4 tsps each cumin seed and ground ginger, 5 tsps coriander seeds, 2 tbsps each black peppercorns and ground cinnamon, 1 tsp cayenne pepper, 16 whole cloves, and 20 allspice berries

sage or savory or thyme   
1 tsp threads = 1/8 tsp powder
turmeric (for color, not flavor; use 4 times as much), safflower (use 8 times as much; less expensive and imparts similar color, but taste is decidedly inferior),  marigold blossoms (for color, not flavor; use twice as much), annatto seeds (Steep 1 tsp annatto seeds in 1/4 cup of boiling water for 30 minutes, discard seeds. Reduce liquid in recipe by 1/4 cup.) or red and yellow food coloring  
1 ounce. = 8 Tbs.
poultry seasoning or rosemary or thyme   
Saunders/Red Sandalwood

Seasoned Salt

To make your own:  Combine 1 C salt, 2 1/2 tsps paprika, 2 tsps dry mustard, 1 1/2 tsps dried oregano, 1 tsp garlic powder, and 1/2 tsp onion powder
Sugar Brown
1 ounce. = 1-1/2 Tbs.

1 ounce. = 1-1/2 Tbs.


lemon zest + salt or (in salads) lemon juice or (in salads) vinegar

dill or basil or marjoram or fennel seed or anise seed or angelica
1 ounce. = 4 Tbs.
omit from recipe or herbes de Provence (This blend contains thyme.) or poultry seasoning (This blend contains thyme.) or Italian seasoning (This blend contains thyme.) or savory or marjoram or oregano     

turmeric (1 piece fresh turmeric = 1 tsp ground turmeric) or mustard powder or mustard powder + pinch of saffron