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Ideas for a large-crowd dinner?


nancypantzie
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I have lurked for years. I became a member last year, but only posted today for the first time. I have learned so many things from so many of you. Please respond if you have time – I welcome any input!

Each year my husband and I host a reunion party at our home for our college friends. This will be our 12th party as hosts. It’s just basically an excuse to see our friends every year, and they visit our home because we live in a central location (Chicago suburbs, northwest). I mention the location because I have access to good groceries.

We don’t meet because of the food, but it’s important. We tend to imbibe more freely than normal, so the food is typically heartier than normal as well. Over the years our palettes have evolved from beer, brats & chili to good wine, cheese, good beef (or pork) and salads.

My question? Really it’s a plea for help… I’m exhausted of ideas for lunches and dinners. We typically feed 25-35 (more for dinner) every day for three days. Yep, it’s a passel of people, and it’s a long, but FUN weekend. We also do a continental style breakfast bar each morning and prepare a brunch on Sunday morning.

Over the years I have amassed a decent amount of cooking supplies. I can give details if you want, nothing exciting. Most importantly I’ll mention two ovens, a large grill, a bullet smoker and a wood burning upright chimney smoker.

We have options of cooking methods and some (not too much) storage for early prep work. I prefer to cook fresh foods, and try as hard a possible not to throw out store bought jars of salsa or premade sauces, etc.

In the past we’ve had pulled pork sandwiches, smoked chickens with BBQ fare. I’ve served Italian with homemade lasagna, and Braciole. We’ve roasted prime rib. One year the local pizza place sold me crusts only with the sauce on the side and we topped 10 pizzas with all kinds of fresh ingredients. I was thankfully able to borrow pizza stones, for crispy crusts. I even served Osso Bucco once, which I will never, ever try to serve to that large of a crowd again.

I’m hoping for ideas for large quantity, easily stored, quality recipes. I would also like (in a perfect world of course!) something that is easy to clean up, as I have to use the same pans again tomorrow! Dishes are a drag with a large crowd.

Most of our friends are skilled in the kitchen and are willing to help, so a recipe with lots of prep isn’t the problem, it’s the ‘how do we get all the stuff ready at the same time, without resorting to slow cookers’ that trips me up. I’m not opposed to pre-cooking and freezing parts of the recipe.

If any of you fine people have suggestions – I’m all ears, or in the case all eyes! – Thanks, Nancy

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Gumbo, shrimp boil, jambalaya, shrimp creole---nearly everything Cajun or Creole is suitable for large crowds.

Chicken or beef enchiladas in large foil pans with big pots of Mexican rice and charro beans. Guacamole, salsa and chips, and tubs of beer.

Briskets, baked beans, potato salad, and coleslaw.

Grilled salmon and wild rice salad or a pasta salad.

Huge cauldron of hearty soup with crudites.

Muffelatta about six feet long for lunch.

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Nancy - welcome, welcome, welcome! I did the same as you - lurked for years until I felt like I knew these folks and finally got up the courage to dive in!

When is this shindig? Time of year is important. (And don't tell me next week, because I will faint :wink: ). Mark's ideas sound good to me, too!

Kim

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Nancy, you're a trooper. Your logistics stagger me.

Off the top of my head, why not some give them some Chicago cookin'? An Italian Beef sandwich, with "Sweet and hot" of course. It could be a lunch or a dinner.

Margaret McArthur

"Take it easy, but take it."

Studs Terkel

1912-2008

A sensational tennis blog from freakyfrites

margaretmcarthur.com

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Thanks to all of you for your help!

Since this is a short thread and I'm new at this, I'm going to respond to all of your posts together.

Kim, the event this year is the last weekend in March. I still have time, I just like to plan the menu as early as possible. That gives me the rest of the time to work on the other logistics - we typically have 14 guests that stay here that weekend.

Markinhouston, thanks for your great ideas. I'm seriously thinking of Jambalaya. I do have to tone down my spices for about half of the crowd, so maybe I'll make it mild, split it and spice up half. Soup(s) with toasted cheese sandwichs, sounds good. We've been studying cheese lately, so maybe I'll make up a great recipe.

Maggiethecat, I tried to make Italian Beef once, and I think I got the 'gravy' right, but I couldn't get my beef sliced thin enough - even with my slicer. Do you have any suggestions? I might just resort to buying the meat from one of the local stand-bys.

Devinl, WOW! That Pernil looks amazing. think I know a little bit about cooking, but that one is new to me. I'm going to try that this weekend. We typically smoke the shoulders, but I do get tired of the smoked flavor. Another winner!

Lastly, Thank you Markinhouson for freeing me of my need to bake in my "good" pans. I think it's fine to use giant foil disposable pans for big jobs. I always thought that they didn't cook as well, but boy will that save time!

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Nancy: We've had great results with our meat slicer. Are you slicing the meat warm, by any chance? We slice it cold, then bring it up to speed in the jus. It's better than Scala's by miles. But you could buy the pre-made stuff -- it's good. Scala's. Portillos ...they're reliable. Just don't forget the Gonella rolls!

Margaret McArthur

"Take it easy, but take it."

Studs Terkel

1912-2008

A sensational tennis blog from freakyfrites

margaretmcarthur.com

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Chili! Loads of it, corn bread, mix-ins, Margaritas. Only spice up about 1/2 the chili to the "Hotter By Gotter" level, and leave the other half more subtle; let the guests mix the hot stuff with the milder to suit their own tastes. :biggrin:

HTH!

ET fix typo...

Edited by judiu (log)

"Commit random acts of senseless kindness"

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My meat was cold. Hmmm... I'll try again someday. I agree about the rolls, that's possibly my favorite part.

Speaking of Portillos - I discovered last year that they sell their chopped salad dressing by the pint. I buy it for one of my salads over the 'big' weekend. Last year I was in a hurry so I went to the drive through and ordered one pint of dressing - nothing else. They didn't even look at me funny!

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I second the Cajun suggestion---a shrimp boil is a wonderful, participatory dinner for a crowd. And cleanup is a matter of rolling up the tablecloth (black garbage bags or a sheet of visquine covered in layers of newspaper) and throwing everything into the trash.

And it's FUN. You cover the tables, get the gas burners going outside or a BIG stove within, fill up a few big pots with water and Cajun seasonings, and start adding layers: Whole baby potatoes, skins on, first, for a few minutes, then some bags of baby carrots and some small peeled onions. Throw in a couple of dozen eggs to boil if you like.

Lots of those little short ears of corn go in next, after the liquid has reached another good boil.

A bit more cooking time, then add hunks of Kielbasa or Andouille other hearty sausage, then a quick drop of chicken tenders for a short simmer, and last of all the shrimp, just for that quick minute til they're pink.

On the table, have dishes of soft butter, hearty loaves of bread to slice or tear, and bowls of coleslaw. All up and down the table, set smaller dishes of cocktail sauce, tartar sauce, and lemon wedges. Salt and iced tea and beer.

Drain the hot pots and distribute all the food onto big platters ranged up and down the tables, so that some of everything is on every platter, for easy reaching.

And the best dessert with this is a Sundae bar with all sorts of toppings and sprinkles.

Lots of rolls of paper towels for napkins, and all the debris goes right onto the newspaper, to be rolled and tossed.

Oh, My. I can't wait for Spring.

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Rachel and I are on the same wavelength - I was going to suggest Frogmore Stew and slaw :laugh: !

Something that has worked well for me in the past for brunches is to do a "french toast station". You just set up a few fondue pots, with bread cubes, a bowl of eggs and cream and all the toppings. People just do their own. Everyone loves this for some reason!

And I love serving quiche for breakfast, because it doesn't have to be piping hot.

Kim

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If you have a turkey fryer, you can easily whip up a batch of fried chicken for a crowd. Or do a fish fry. Either option is extremely popular. You'd be surprised how far people are impressed by simple, homemade fried chicken. Serve with slaw, biscuits, etc.

If you have hotel pans, you can easily prepare casserole dishes such as arroz con pollo, lasagne, mac and cheese, etc. for a crowd. I figure that each pan serves about 25-35 people with average appetites.

Another popular option is a "quesadilla fest" where you line up a bunch of fillings (veg, meat, seafood, etc.), assemble and grill. Since they only take a couple of minutes on each side, it's easy to make a whole bunch quickly. Serve with typical tex-mex side dishes and drinks.

Also for breakfasts, don't forget casseroles like breakfast strata and overnight french toast.

When I'm serving crowds for extended periods, I try to give each day a theme, such as Mexican, seafood, comfort food, soup fest, etc. Once I decide upon a theme for each day, it makes planning the individual day's menus easier.

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I love Cook's Illustrated's recipe for Chicken Fajita's. It makes a lot and can easily be doubled or tripled.

And since you're new, have you seen the Heartland Gathering thread here, its being held in Chicago in August. We'd love to meet you.

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I second the Cajun suggestion---a shrimp boil is a wonderful, participatory dinner for a crowd. And cleanup is a matter of rolling up the tablecloth (black garbage bags or a sheet of visquine covered in layers of newspaper) and throwing everything into the trash.

I will DO that at a later date. Yum. Unfortunately, our weather in March is so unpredictable. Typically it's raining or cold here when we host the party. I wish it was a little later on the calendar, but so it goes.

Chili! Loads of it, corn bread, mix-ins, Margaritas

Always good, especially spicy chili on a sweet cornbread base.

I love serving quiche for breakfast, because it doesn't have to be piping hot
Yep, that's good too. And I'll investigate the "french toast station" - who doesn't love french toast?
If you have a turkey fryer, you can easily whip up a batch of fried chicken for a crowd.

We do have a turkey fryer and we're not afraid to use it! I am lacking a good batter recipe though. I've tried many, but the one I looking for is the crispy, CRUNCHY, batter dipped chicken fingers like the the Village Tavern (Chicago people! if you know it, spill it. Please) makes. I hate to be so... whatever, but it's like Long John Silvers, but crispier and CRUNCHIER.

And since you're new, have you seen the Heartland Gathering thread here, its being held in Chicago in August. We'd love to meet you.

Thank you for the link - I read the thread. I'm new as a poster on the egullet site, and I feel so welcome already. I hope to meet you too!

Also... I promise once the "I'm talking to the cool people" buzz wears off, assuming it does, I'll contribute knowledgeable stuff as well.

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If you have a turkey fryer, you can easily whip up a batch of fried chicken for a crowd.

We do have a turkey fryer and we're not afraid to use it! I am lacking a good batter recipe though. I've tried many, but the one I looking for is the crispy, CRUNCHY, batter dipped chicken fingers like the the Village Tavern (Chicago people! if you know it, spill it. Please) makes. I hate to be so... whatever, but it's like Long John Silvers, but crispier and CRUNCHIER.

I think beer batters are the best when you want something crispy and crunchy. I don't know amounts at all, but i do some flour and corn starch (about 3:1, I think). with just enough beer to make it a bit thinner than paste. Dust the tenders/fingers with a bit of flour so the batter sticks well, batter, and fry away.

"Life is a combination of magic and pasta." - Frederico Fellini

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Arista alia Fiorentina (Roasted Pork Loin With Garlic and Rosemary)

First got turned on to this watching Biba Caggiano years ago. Very easy & can be served hot or cold. I've prepared this with up to a 12# loin with good results.

Tasty with small roasted potatoes- Can cook in the same pan(s).

TN

"A good dinner is of great importance to good talk. One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well." Virginia Woolf

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Nancy - if you want to serve cold fried chicken, here is a good recipe and some tips.  I did a huge fried chicken dinner for July 4th one year and I found a recipe specifically for cold fried chicken and did it in a turkey fryer.  Worked great and no last minute mess!

Kim

Kim - can I nose around ALL of the recipes on your page? :rolleyes: I opened the appetizer index, saw good sounding recipes, but I felt like I should ask before looking farther.

I'm starting to plan the super bowl party for next weekend!

edited because I repeated repeated myself :raz:

Edited by nancypantzie (log)
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One tried and true recipe for a large group is Chicken Marbella from the Silver Palate cookbook.

It is foolproofly simple and really delicious

here's a link to the recipe in case you don't already have it--

http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2005/11/11/...in1040276.shtml

I love it with lots of parsley on top and served with orzo and butter and more parsley--you have some good bread and some kind of a special salad--Zoe

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It's around St. Patricks day so you could probably get a good deal on corned beef and make Rubens for lunch.

Spiral cut ham with rolls

Choucroute Garnie

Soup Bar - you can make several types of soups ahead of time, and serve w/ several types of garnishes (depending on the soup - oyster crackers, gold fish, chives, cream, nuts, croutons, chesse.......) eat out of cups - this way people can sample more than one soup, and it's easily carried.

Quiche/Savory Tarts - breakfast or lunch item or an egg casserole.

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Nancy - if you want to serve cold fried chicken, here is a good recipe and some tips.  I did a huge fried chicken dinner for July 4th one year and I found a recipe specifically for cold fried chicken and did it in a turkey fryer.  Worked great and no last minute mess!

Kim

Kim - can I nose around ALL of the recipes on your page? :rolleyes: I opened the appetizer index, saw good sounding recipes, but I felt like I should ask before looking farther.

I'm starting to plan the super bowl party for next weekend!

edited because I repeated repeated myself :raz:

Nancy - I'd be honored. I keep all of those online for my own benefit, but also for anyone who would like to use it. It isn't private at all! For one of our Super Bowl parties, I did the Buffalo Chicken Dip Wontons and people just stood and ate them until they were gone - amazing things!

Kim

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Kim - can I nose around ALL of the recipes on your page? :rolleyes: I opened the appetizer index, saw good sounding recipes, but I felt like I should ask before looking farther.

I'm starting to plan the super bowl party for next weekend!

edited because I repeatedly repeated myself :raz:

Nancy - I'd be honored.  I keep all of those online for my own benefit, but also for anyone who would like to use it.  It isn't private at all!  For one of our Super Bowl parties, I did the Buffalo Chicken Dip Wontons and people just stood and ate them until they were gone - amazing things! 

Kim

THANK YOU KIM!

I made a sample portion of the Buffalo Chicken Dip Wontons, sampled a few, and they were amazing! My husband said he never wants to eat a regular "sloppy" wing again. I agree.

I know I'm veering more off-topic, but I want to share a recipe that I just submitted to RecipeGullett: http://recipes.egullet.org/recipes/r2095.html

Back on topic - I appreciate the ideas that all of you have submitted. I'm hoping to square up my reunion menu next weekend (not this upcoming one, the next one) and I'll post it for anyone that's interested.

Edited by nancypantzie (log)
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Nancy there's a slow roasted pork shoulder recipe in the last edition of "The 150 Best American Recipes" that is simply amazing. I made it last weekend, and can't wait to make it again. You rub the roast with a mix of chipotle pepper powder and kosher salt, and roast it, covered, low and slow and long. The meat just melts, and then you shred it and make soft tacos from it. The only thing about the eG forums I haven't figured out is how to post a link, and I'm not even sure if the recipe from the book is linkable, so shoot me a PM if you want the recipe. So easy and the best shredded pork I've ever eaten. (insert drooling smilie here....)

--Roberta--

"Let's slip out of these wet clothes, and into a dry Martini" - Robert Benchley

Pierogi's eG Foodblog

My *outside* blog, "A Pound Of Yeast"

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