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Help me plan a dinner for 100 people with $200~300


indesertum
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Alright. I've been a very long time lurker of this forum. I think I first came here researching knives 2.5 years ago and I come occasionally for learning and info.

Recently I've been put to task cooking for 100 people. Needless to say I need help.

The dinner will be held in a large basement. I get access to a decently large kitchen. 3 ovens, 8 burners, and a grill (the kind you see at diners), an island in the middle, 2 separate sinks, and counter tops.

The idea of the dinner is to be something formal. Like prom. You know the kind of dinners where ppl dress up (it's for valentine's day).

Here is a spreadsheet of all the costs.

http://tiny.cc/lyabO

Currently I have planned

Crostini with tapenade for 100

Simple Fennel Salad with Canteloupe shavings for 100

Bouef Bourguignon for 75

Winter squash ravioli with sage butter sauce for 25

Stewed pear for 60

Cheesecake for 40

The numbers are a rough estimate. We sent out an email survey and Right now 50 people are signed up for the Bourguignon and 10 people for the ravioli, but we're expecting more people to sign up after a reminder email.

I'm about $38 over budget and each person only get maybe 6 oz of meat (weighed before cooked).

I am also currently considering switching the ravioli for pea, tomato, pasta, but I don't want the dish to appear cheap/inexpensive/not well thought out. It's supposed to be a nice dinner.

Here's a test run of things.

The plates used here are not the plates I will use. The salad has nothing in it, but salad mix and balsamic vinegar. The pear was half eaten before I snapped a picture.

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I'm worried about portion size for the bourguignon. I ate it and I was pretty full, but the pieces of meat (although the meat pictured is only 4 oz) seem abysmally small.

Not sure what else I can cut off the budget.

Any help/general advice/methods to cut costs/plating advice would be greatly appreciated.

edit: crunched more numbers. got down to $320. -_-. helpppp

Edited by indesertum (log)
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A couple things I'm curious about off the bat...Where are you located? Some of your measurements seem...interesting. I.e "Beef stock: 5 magnums"

As for your beef, you did not take into account for trim. 75 persons, @6oz a person is 450oz, not net. You need to buy a bit more. Speaking of beef, which cut are you using?

And for wine, I noticed you're buying Magnums...perhaps a look at boxed wine? Cab or Merlot?

Those two items were the big bulk items that stood out the most, in regards to $$$.

Oh, another thing that caught my eye... Your stock: ~2gallons for ~28# of beef. Is that enough...?

Best of luck to you,

Jim

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Sorry misplaced the comments. the 5 magnums is for the wine.

That's an excellent idea I did not think about. I should go ask about box wines. Any in particular you have in mind? Any places to go for reviews?

The wine I'm using is Frontera cab-merlot. It's pretty good and I can get a magnum for $8

I was planning on 7 litres of wine, 2 gallons of stock, and fill the rest with water. I've been trying to save on costs and somebody suggested using water.

Also, I'm planning on buying 30 pounds of meat. Is that enough for trim? I'm getting a club package at wegmans. Not sure what that entails, but I think it's just a big chunk of meat

Oh and I'm using chuck roast. Couldn't think of a better more cheaper cut

Edited by indesertum (log)
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Magnum of wine = 1.5 L, $8 not too bad, not too bad... But, on a budget friendly alternative, a box of wine (say Franzia, popular brand) 5 L = $12. Click Me That should save you a few bucks.

30 pounds should be fine, but better to be safe than sorry.

For your braising liquid, instead of plain ol' water, could buy some bouillon/stock cubes. Think 1 cube yields a gallon of "stock". While not being the best stuff, better than water.

clicky here I'd hold off on this, taste your braise first and see if it needs it.

Jim

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would it be a better idea flavor wise if i mixed actual beef stock with bouillon cubes and water? or should i just go water and bouillon cubes. that could save me a little bit, but id rather not sacrifice taste.

ill check tomorrow to see if any store stocks franzia. any other box wines i should look out for?

btw thanks a lot for the advice. really helps.

edit: I read this. http://boxedwinespot.blogspot.com/2006/10/box-wine-guy-reviews-franzia-chillable.html

I know I can't be picky with my budget, but I dont like sacrificing taste.

edit2: lolz. -_- i read the comments

edit3: found out about oak leaf at walmart. if i can't find franzia, i'll look for oak leaf

Edited by indesertum (log)
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would it be a better idea flavor wise if i mixed actual beef stock with bouillon cubes and water? or should i just go water and bouillon cubes. that could save me a little bit, but id

Better than Bouillon could probably work for your needs. $8 for a jar of concentrate which will make about 15L/quarts of stock.

I regularly cook meals for 100 with a budget of about $300.

If you are able to do cash-and-carry/cash sales pick up at a foodservice supplier, you will be fine!

In your budgeting, what cut of beef are you using? You could probably use bottom round, and cut across the grain. With enough advance notice, maybe your local butcher can arrange for a discount, and will even cut it up for you. (worth every penny, IMHO).

What are you doing for refrigeration?

Karen Dar Woon

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would it be a better idea flavor wise if i mixed actual beef stock with bouillon cubes and water? or should i just go water and bouillon cubes. that could save me a little bit, but id

Better than Bouillon could probably work for your needs. $8 for a jar of concentrate which will make about 15L/quarts of stock.

I regularly cook meals for 100 with a budget of about $300.

If you are able to do cash-and-carry/cash sales pick up at a foodservice supplier, you will be fine!

In your budgeting, what cut of beef are you using? You could probably use bottom round, and cut across the grain. With enough advance notice, maybe your local butcher can arrange for a discount, and will even cut it up for you. (worth every penny, IMHO).

What are you doing for refrigeration?

what is a cash and carry/cash sales pick up and what is a foodservice supplier?

I'm using chuck roast. I'll ask about prices for bottom round. I'm also talking to the assistant manager for meats at Wegmans tomorrow to see if I can work a discount. I've checked meat prices at most places that sell meat around here and the chuck at wegmans is the cheapest at 2.50

For refrigeration we have two big fridges and individual fridges in our apartments.

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EDIT: I may have misread your post... perhaps you weren't looking for alternatives. Anyway, I'll leave that stuff there just in case.

I don't know if this is accurate, but I would expect more people to go for cheesecake than poached pears.

Also, I find cheesecake usually ends up being quite an expensive dessert, once you buy the cream cheese or other dairy. Not that it's super expensive, but i reckon there must be a cheaper alternative that is still classy, perhaps some kind of cake or flour-based thing (more filling with cheaper ingredient). What about sticky date puddings?

Or some kind of tart... pastry cream is pretty cheap to make and if you make it into a fruit tart (or individual tarts) it looks pretty and is special enough, I think.

Edited by stuartlikesstrudel (log)
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I'm somewhat open to alternatives.

But the deal with the cheesecake is that I don't have to deal with it. Another guy offered his cheesecake making services. He said he wanted $25 for 5 cakes (enough for 50 people) and that he'd be willing to cover whatever else on his end.

Also, according to the survey we sent out more people want the pears. I guess cheesecake doesn't sound too healthy

mmm sticky date puddings. i think i'll try at the next dinner.

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First off, have fun with this! You're going to have screwups no matter what you do, and your ambition is pretty big. If you treat it like a chore it will be; if you roll with the punches, it will be a blast.

A few specific comments.

Crostini: your bread in the photo doesn't look toasted at all, and imo it's cut too thick. Prepping bread without toasting it (see below) is going to lead to stale bread. Perhaps you should consider slicing the bread 1/2" or so, toasting it in a very hot oven or under the broiler (carefully!), maybe with a bit of olive oil and salt sprinkled on it. It makes more of a chip-like piece of bread, which you can prep well before service.

Salad: your ratio of parsley to the rest of the items seems off to me, but I don't know what a "huge bunch" is. I'd cut the cantaloupe and the "spring mix" -- a lousy combo of bland stuff around here -- and up the parsley. With the savings, I'd use a vegetable peeler to shave parmigiano reggiano over the salads just before service. And you'll be adding salt and pepper, yes? I hope? :wink:

Boeuf Bourguignon: I realize that everyone wants to try BB thanks to Julie & Julia, but it's a challenging dish to prepare at this scale if you've never done it before. Preparing the meat for the stew, which is critical to the dish's success, is going to take you a lot of time: drying, S&P, browning over high heat in small batches.... That can't be hurried and requires pretty constant attention. Also, you'll have major temperature control issues with such a large amount -- getting a low simmer takes time -- and that may extend your cooking time significantly.

So I strongly urge you to prep this a day in advance, remove it from the heat when the beef is just this side of done, cool it down properly in the stew (you can't stick it in a fridge, you know, so if you don't have a plan for that, ask), and reheat it the next day. No matter what you do, I'd drop the green beans, which will be pulp after all that.

One more thing about the dish: where's the starch? Or are you foregoing potatoes/noodles/etc.?

Ravioli: I hope you're planning to prep your stuffing ahead of time; better yet would be to make all the raviolis and freeze them until just before service.

Pears: that seems like way, way too much cinnamon to me.

Plating and garnishes: that slab of spinach and piece of tomato on the beef look, um, ungood to me. BB is supposed to be a hearty, satisfying plate, not a piece of 1980s art. Let it be, let it be.

You probably realized this, but unless you're going to thicken your sauces with something (not the time to learn that particular technique), swirling and edging won't work.

imag0075gg.jpg

That just looks messy. Let the food speak for itself this time around.

Spreadsheet: switching among weight and volume measures, even within a line item, freaks me out: there are too many opportunities for colossal math errors. I'd choose one (weight, myself) and stick with that; during prep, it's easy to confirm that you're scaling up properly.

Finally, what's your schedule? What are you prepping ahead of time? How are you planning to reheat the stew? (You know to cool the stew down in the liquid, yes?) What pots & pans have you for all of these big-batch items? There are some tricky spots in there -- don't juice your lemons too early; be sure to reheat the stew evenly -- that you'll botch if you don't have a plan. Or, at least, I'd botch 'em.

Good luck and keep asking questions!

Chris Amirault

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All the advice regarding the food has been good, but given that this is a "formal" event, I'm going to assume that this is going to be a sit down, plated dinner? Which means that you are going to have to plate each diner's dish up in the kitchen and then have food runners deliver the plates to the guests in the dining room. From a sheer manpower perspective, you'll need 2-3 people plating food and another 3-4 people running the plates out to the guests. Will the crostini with tapenade be a passed hors d'ouerve? Or are you planning on simply placing trays of them out and letting guests serve themselves? Toasting the crostini ahead of time is an excellent idea, but slathering on wet tapenade too early will cause even toasted bread to soften over time.

I'm sure on your budget you can get volunteers to help out with the plating and service issues. I just wanted to make sure you knew the enormity of serving 100 guests isn't just about successfully cooking in volume.

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I'm using chuck roast. I'll ask about prices for bottom round. I'm also talking to the assistant manager for meats at Wegmans tomorrow to see if I can work a discount.

Stick with chuck. Bottom round will taste like crap compared to the chuck. Unless you want your dish to taste like liver, that is.

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

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Thank you Chris Amirault. You gave pretty much exactly the advice I wanted to give and made it sound helpful, encouraging and not at all condescending.

Anyway, in addition to what Chris said, I'd add that you may end up wishing you'd went with a different vegetarian option when it comes to crunch time unless you have plenty of kitchen help available. Ravioli for 25 while dealing with everything else is going to be fun if it's just you doing the actual cooking. Overcooked or clumped together ravioli is unpleasant at best and may fall apart and leave you with noodles in squash broth at worst (or were you going to cook them ahead and reheat them in the sage butter?).

It's kinda like wrestling a gorilla... you don't stop when you're tired, you stop when the gorilla is tired.

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Crostini: your bread in the photo doesn't look toasted at all, and imo it's cut too thick.

...I'd cut the cantaloupe and the "spring mix" -- a lousy combo of bland stuff around here -- and up the parsley...

...Boeuf Bourguignon...Also, you'll have major temperature control issues with such a large amount -- getting a low simmer takes time -- and that may extend your cooking time significantly...

...you can't stick it in a fridge, you know, so if you don't have a plan for that, ask...

...No matter what you do, I'd drop the green beans, which will be pulp after all that

One more thing about the dish: where's the starch? Or are you foregoing potatoes/noodles/etc.?..

...make all the raviolis and freeze them until just before service...

...Pears: that seems like way, way too much cinnamon to me....

...Plating and garnishes: that slab of spinach and piece of tomato on the beef look, um, ungood to me. BB is supposed to be a hearty, satisfying plate, not a piece of 1980s art. Let it be, let it be.

You probably realized this, but unless you're going to thicken your sauces with something (not the time to learn that particular technique), swirling and edging won't work...

...Spreadsheet: switching among weight and volume measures, even within a line item...

...Finally, what's your schedule?...

Argh. I originally answered everything to quotes, but I guess there's a limit on how much you can quote.

I didn't actually toast the bread here. Just sliced. I was thinking of toasting the baguettes just beforehand so they're warm when they go out, but it seems like it'd be easier if they're served cold.

Also I was thinking of the crostinis as an amuse bouche. Small slices a bit of tapenade.

But I'm not sure how to garnish it. An olive on top (maybe even an olive bunny ala pepin?)? some sprouts? an herb?

cut the spring mix as in cut it don't use it cut it? Just have parsley and fennel as the salad? I'll try the parmigiano reggiano and yes i'm adding salt and pepper

I've done Bouef Bourguignon a few times before, one time with a 8 person dinner party. I was actually going to cook it a day or two in advance in just reheat it before the dinner. I felt that it was a good option because I could cook it the day before and all I'd have to do is reheat it the day of.

-_-; but I actually don't know how to store the BB. I was going to leave it out.

I was thinking of adding the green beans not into the soup, but as a side with the mushrooms (maybe between the mushrooms and the steak. I was planning on using the green beans instead of starch.

I did not think of freezing them. Would it be a bad idea to make them the day before and leave them in the fridge?

:) Yeah I didn't thicken the sauce as I didn't have time. I think I'm going to thicken the sauce with some corn starch and maybe more stock and wine before the dinner.

What I did was multiply the recipe for stewed pears for 4 by 15 to make 60 servings. I'm supposed to be using 3 sticks for 4 pears, but I figured if they're all stewing in 2 big pots it would be OK to down the cinnamon

The piece of tomato is actually a piece of carrot. Do you have any plating ideas?

If I have time I'll go back and fix the measurements

Alright. So the game plan is to cook everything but the mushrooms, the green beans, BB sauce, the Ravioli sauce, beforehand. That would be the tapenade, the crostini, the BB itself, the raviolis, the pears, the cheesecake.

That way there won't be a huge process/rush in the kitchen the day of and all we have to worry about is the plating and timing of the garnishes.

I think the BB would taste better after a reheat and same with the pears.

I did not know this about the lemons. When should I be juicing them? Is a day beforehand too long?

And do you have any advice for reheating the stew?

Thanks a lot

All the advice regarding the food has been good, but given that this is a "formal" event..

We have 8 servers and 4 guys (including me) in the kitchen. I think that's a good amount of help

The crostinis were planned as an amuse bouche/hors d'ouerve.

I did not think about the tapenade softening the bread and yes I do think I should make the toasts ahead of time, although I feel it'd be nice if they were warm.

Could I reheat them in the oven or would that make it too crackery.

Stick with chuck. Bottom round will taste like crap compared to the chuck. Unless you want your dish to taste like liver, that is.

I'll stick with chuck

Anyway, in addition to what Chris said, I'd add that you may end up wishing you'd went with a different vegetarian option when it comes to crunch time unless you have plenty of kitchen help available. Ravioli for 25 while dealing with everything else is going to be fun if it's just you doing the actual cooking. Overcooked or clumped together ravioli is unpleasant at best and may fall apart and leave you with noodles in squash broth at worst (or were you going to cook them ahead and reheat them in the sage butter?).

I was planning on making the ravioli beforehand and storing them (in the fridge? in the freezer?

I was going it to make it the day of, but now thinking about it it might be a better idea to make them beforehand so they can dry out. What would be the best way to do this ie how much in advance should I make them? How should I reheat them? Just saute them in the sage butter sauce? Would it be better to make the sauce in advance too?

Thanks a lot guys for everything. You guys are the best

Edited by indesertum (log)
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Do the ravioli ahead of time and place them in a single layer on a cookie sheet to freeze them. Once they are frozen, you can then just toss them into a zip bag (or some other container). If you let fresh pasta sit in the refrigerator, they will end up sticking to whatever they are sitting in and when you go to cook them, the pasta will have turned all gummy. To cook the ravioli, don't bother defrosting, just boil straight from frozen. Unfortunately, I speak from experience on the gummy refrigerated pasta. Plus, freezing the ravioli means that you could make them today and have them ready for when you need them. If you cook them from frozen, you want to boil them in salted water and then transfer them to a pan where your sage butter sauce is already prepared and toss them to coat. They won't get any color that way, but your only alternative would be to do them a batch at a time in a saute pan (which due to the delicate nature of the pasta can't be done in bulk).

For your crostini, toast them up the morning you need them, let them cool to room temperature, and just keep them in an airtight container until you are ready to spread the tapenade on. With only one appetizer and the amount of kitchen help you think you will have, you can probably get them done just prior to service. You probably won't need 8 people to pass one hors d'ouerve, have 3 of them preparing and plating the crostini and the other five passing them out to guests. I wouldn't worry about the bread not being warm for service. After all, you are making the tapenade ahead of time and keeping it refrigerated until the time of service, right? The cold would negate the hot.

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Do the ravioli ahead of time and place them in a single layer on a cookie sheet to freeze them. Once they are frozen, you can then just toss them into a zip bag (or some other container). If you let fresh pasta sit in the refrigerator, they will end up sticking to whatever they are sitting in and when you go to cook them, the pasta will have turned all gummy. To cook the ravioli, don't bother defrosting, just boil straight from frozen. Unfortunately, I speak from experience on the gummy refrigerated pasta. Plus, freezing the ravioli means that you could make them today and have them ready for when you need them. If you cook them from frozen, you want to boil them in salted water and then transfer them to a pan where your sage butter sauce is already prepared and toss them to coat. They won't get any color that way, but your only alternative would be to do them a batch at a time in a saute pan (which due to the delicate nature of the pasta can't be done in bulk).

For your crostini, toast them up the morning you need them, let them cool to room temperature, and just keep them in an airtight container until you are ready to spread the tapenade on. With only one appetizer and the amount of kitchen help you think you will have, you can probably get them done just prior to service. You probably won't need 8 people to pass one hors d'ouerve, have 3 of them preparing and plating the crostini and the other five passing them out to guests. I wouldn't worry about the bread not being warm for service. After all, you are making the tapenade ahead of time and keeping it refrigerated until the time of service, right? The cold would negate the hot.

Someone also suggested just buying frozen ravioli. I'll look into both options.

Also, shouldn't the ravioli be drained before I add them to the sauce? Is there a good way to do that?

What you said about the crostini makes sense. I'll do it in the morning.

Again thanks a lot

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If you are making your sauce ahead of time, then yes, definitely drain the pasta or you'll thin your sauce. If you end up doing a saute treatment to them after boiling, a little bit of pasta water will actually help the sauce to emulsify (note, a little bit of pasta water, not a ton). You're best friend for fishing out ravioli is one of those Chinese wok spider tools. It has a large surface area and lots of holes for the pasta water to drain through.

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I think that we have to pause here before giving you too much more information for you to get your work flow chart for the day(s) of prep and service.

Take your crostini questions. Right now, it sounds like bread service, not an amuse or appetizer. If you want to plate a la minute with a garnish, you could spread 1 T of the tapenade on the toasted bread, poke in a single parsley leaf, sprinkle gremolata atop it... lots of possibilities. (100 hand-carved olive bunnies? That sounds like a circle of hell.)

So the question isn't how to garnish it. The question is when do who do what? If you have ten people helping with plating, you can do something more sophisticated a la minute. If you're it, then you will have enough to do getting your mains taken care of; you don't want to spend 15 sec per plate arranging gremolata -- that's nearly half an hour on that one course.

The BB is a fine option, but you have to keep scale in mind here, too. You're going to have a massive pot of stew -- 10 # of beef alone, if I'm reading correctly. Think through your timing: I don't think you can brown more than a pound of beef in a pan, and each batch takes a good 10-12 minutes at least to brown it on all sides. That's two hours just browning the meat if you're alone and have one pan. Cooling it down takes time, too: you'll need to bring that stew down to a safe temperature by stirring it in an ice bath before you can stick it in a fridge, or it will sit at dangerous temps for hours and warm up everything else in there.

Some items are simple to handle. You can blanch your beans, shock them in ice water, and they'll hold a day or two in the fridge no problem, to be reheated at service: easy peasy. But some items are the sorts of things that cause a big meal to grind to a halt.

One more thing. I strongly, strongly urge you to take great care with corn starch as a thickener unless you are very familiar with its effects. It can easily lead to glossy, gummy glop that overpowers the flavors you've so carefully built. Better to serve a tasty if thin sauce.

Chris Amirault

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I am one of those expect the worst and hope for the best personalities...but I think you will end up spending far more to feed 100 people. The prep list seems to lean dangerously close to the side of shortage. Based on the spreadsheet it might be difficult to make 100 crostini with that amount of tapenade (less than half an ounce per crostini?) or feed 100 with 4 lbs of salad. The price of the olive oil does not appear to be factored in.

If it is not too late, consider making a soup which will be more consistent and easier to serve; perhaps a root vegetable soup with water, aromatics and such puréed. Root vegetables are cheap and will thicken the soup nicely once cooked in butter with onions and some herbs, couple slices of bacon and so on. I'd ditch the stew and get 2 whole sirloins cut into thirds lengthwise and grill them instead, then cut slices and serve veg on the side and make an herb butter or something. Bourgignon is a waste of wine on your budget and you'll need significant kitchenware (rondeau or hotel pan) to do it properly.

Perhaps save the wine from the pears for your guests to drink and poach them in spiced syrup (sugar, water, cinnamon, clove, allspice...etc) and serve half a pear with a small scoop of decent quality ice cream.

In my estimation and experience, college kids would rather drink wine than eat it.

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I am one of those expect the worst and hope for the best personalities...but I think you will end up spending far more to feed 100 people. The prep list seems to lean dangerously close to the side of shortage. Based on the spreadsheet it might be difficult to make 100 crostini with that amount of tapenade (less than half an ounce per crostini?) or feed 100 with 4 lbs of salad. The price of the olive oil does not appear to be factored in.

If it is not too late, consider making a soup which will be more consistent and easier to serve; perhaps a root vegetable soup with water, aromatics and such puréed. Root vegetables are cheap and will thicken the soup nicely once cooked in butter with onions and some herbs, couple slices of bacon and so on. I'd ditch the stew and get 2 whole sirloins cut into thirds lengthwise and grill them instead, then cut slices and serve veg on the side and make an herb butter or something. Bourgignon is a waste of wine on your budget and you'll need significant kitchenware (rondeau or hotel pan) to do it properly.

Perhaps save the wine from the pears for your guests to drink and poach them in spiced syrup (sugar, water, cinnamon, clove, allspice...etc) and serve half a pear with a small scoop of decent quality ice cream.

In my estimation and experience, college kids would rather drink wine than eat it.

This is excellent advice and somebody else mentioned french onion soup prepared a day before. I think most of the flavor in the soup comes from the carmelized onions and I think we could use bouillon cubes or a stock base to help it. It should cost next to nothing as I can get 3 lbs of onion for 1.69

Also we tried to sirloin thingy a year ago and it was a huge mess and it was very difficult to time for 60 people (which was the amount last year). I'd rather not do that again. A braised beef option just seems so much more easier in past experience.

Also this is a no alcohol event. :( sad but we got underage minors also.

I was thinking a tablespoon tapenade per crostini and that's what I calculated for.

I like the tip about gremolate, but I'm not sure I want to add more costs to the menu. I was thinking about just a leaf of parsley on top -_-;

Also looking at all the advice about not doing ravioli I was thinking about doing this http://find.myrecipes.com/recipes/recipefinder.dyn?action=displayRecipe&recipe_id=1011294. Pasta with chickpea and grape tomatoes. It should be a bit more cheaper.

Need to check out more prices.

Thanks for all the advice. I'm going to have sit down tomorrow and get crackin on a work flow chart.

Edited by indesertum (log)
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Nice thing about boeuf bourguignon is that it's better the second day, so it's definitely something you can do in advance. To chill a large batch quickly, you can freeze one or two quarts of salt water in bottles in advance, put the whole pot into a sink full of ice water if possible, and stir the stew with the bottles of ice water and it will cool quickly. I do this for large batches of stock. Restaurants use larger "Rapi-Cool" paddles that do the same thing, particularly with large kettles that are too heavy to move when full.

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This does sound like a fun project :smile:

Boeuf Bourgignon - you don't have any fat pig meat in it. On a budget, you might even consider 4 pig trotters cooked in the stock beforehand, to give the sauce more body. You could mix in up to 50% of bottom round to bring the cost down - IMO the strong-flavoured meat works with the strong-wine-flavoured base, certainly if it's less than half.

I think the idea of a stew is a good one. Mind you, looking at your spreadsheet I see your main course for the beef eaters is 2.16 a head; the ravioli is only 1.13. Could you do 'coq au vin' - one whole chicken leg each (some diners will prefer breast), say - more cheaply ? To me, 2.50/lb isn't cheap meat, anyway. I'd be looking at pork or chicken, for sure, but I'm not even in the USA.

I agree that the lack of starch in the beef menu stands out. There are plenty of starchy desserts you could provide to redress the balance. Your menu doesn't seem to use the ovens - a couple of pieces of roasted potato might also go down nicely, if you could find space in the budget - (even simple boiled spuds fit with the stew).

Good luck, and do let us know how it works out.

Edited by Blether (log)

QUIET!  People are trying to pontificate.

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This is excellent advice and somebody else mentioned french onion soup prepared a day before. I think most of the flavor in the soup comes from the carmelized onions and I think we could use bouillon cubes or a stock base to help it. It should cost next to nothing as I can get 3 lbs of onion for 1.69.

I’ve made 5 gallon batches (6oz x 100) of French onion soup and it required a 50lb bag of onions, along with a tilt-skillet (for cooking surface area) to cook them. Onions are mostly water and after caramelizing they reduce by far more than half.

If you are trying to make a silk purse from burlap, look for inexpensive ingredients that expand and thicken upon cooking, rather than reducing and throwing water. Barley, beans or lentils will double in volume and thicken a soup base as well as being appropriate for winter. Furthermore, 5 oz of such a soup will be more filling that 5 oz of bouillon cubes or stock base which will offer more salted water than flavor and absolutely no viscosity. A few calves/pigs feet, raw pork belly with skin or some chicken legs will indeed give the stock more body; the chicken leg meat can be picked and thrown back into the soup.

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