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Help am suddenly catering cocktail party for 50!

so I love to cook and often entertain with the help of my good friend. so when another friend asked if we would help her by catering an engagement party for one of her friends we discussed and then said sure!

My own engagement party was a small elegant affair - 20 people at they cooking buddy's house, lots of lovely snacks themed to me and the hubbies relationship - sushi rolls as we had that on a first date, mini puff pastry pizzas as hubbie loves pizza, lobster/citrus salad in endive leaves as we went on a vacation to the east coast and ate our weight in lobsters etc etc. I thought it would be a snap to do something similar.

Well after confirming the date we have discovered there are 50 to 60 guests. And she wants an open house with people coming and going from early evening into the night. I'm panicked. Neither of us has done an event of this size. And my instincts tell me an open house means people will want to eat more than if it was a cocktail party with a set beginning and end.

So chowfriends I'm looking for advice - ideas of things to serve, that hold well at room temp over a long period of time, quantities to think about for an open house vs traditional cocktail party websites that tell you how to cater your first gig - my google search has come up dry.

What have I gotten myself into?

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  1. I used to be a caterer and am still called on by friends to do stuff like this in my non-professional kitchen.

    Time of day will matter greatly in terms of quantity of food. I.e, does the open house overlap with a mealtime? If so, you'll probably need to figure on 8-10 pieces of finger food (total) per person. If it's an off time, 3-5 is probably plenty.

    I'm sure others will have lots of specific recipes, but in terms of general directions to start looking:

    spinach triangles and other filo-wrapped finger foods can be baked up to a week in advance and frozen on their baking sheets (well wrapped in plastic) then go directly into a 350 oven for 15-20 minutes of reheating.

    Frozen puff pastry dough from the supermarket is your friend. Think parmesan cheese straws, use mini-muffin tins to shape squares of it into baskets that can be filled with all sorts of yummy stuff, roll cut and fold into turnovers again filled with sweet or savory whatever-strikes-you. Like the filo these can be baked off, frozen, and reheated directly from the freezer.

    In general look for things that can be assembled, or mostly assembled, ahead of time.

    Identify available refrigerator, freezer, oven, and burner space and plan accordingly.

    Make yourself a game plan, identifying each dish, your full shopping list, what needs to be done each day, where everything will be stored before the party, and what it will be served on and with. Make a separate, detailed plan for the day of the event to be sure you have plenty of time to get everything done. Be generous with your time estimates. Nothing is "just thrown together" in these quantities--it'll all take longer than you think it will.

    Take a deep breath. Get organized and stay organized and you'll do great!

    1. I don't know how casual this event is, but I was asked by a friend to do the food for a baby shower for 40 people last year. I made an assortment of rectangular pizzas - spinach and artichoke with goat cheese, caramelized onion and smoked gouda, pancetta and potato, anda couple of others. I cooked them partially then took them to her house stacked and ready to reheat there. I cut them into smallish squares and served those with a nice, big antipasto platter and an assortment of brownies. Everyone raved about the food and had gracious plenty to eat. And it wasn't fussy to make and most could be done ahead of time.

      Another friend asked me to cook the food for her wedding reception. It was at 2:00 in the afternoon and was not TERRIBLY formal, but it was still a wedding. This was for 100 guests. For that, I did an assortment of tea sandwiches - smoked salmon on rye, watercress and goat cheese, egg salad and a couple of others. Then I did some roquefort grapes (Martha Stewart - grapes rolled in roquefort cheese, then crushed nuts), proscuitto wrapped asparagus and an assortment of cookies - almond crescents, biscotti and something else I forget now. That was on the lighter side, but again, everyone enjoyed it and she was very happy with it.

      1. In addition to passed hd's, we served a huge antipasto and a fabulous cheese plate with james, chutneys and truffle honey for about 40 over the holidays and it was well received.

        White bean dip
        Imported bread sitcks
        Cured Meats
        Fresh Roasted Peppers
        Marinated Shrimp
        Buffalo Mozz, etc.

        These are things that can be left at room temp for a period of time with replenishing when necessary.

        I also like to use the pre-baked phyllo cups for various cold and room temp items like stilon and apples with balsamic glaze. Or crab salad.

        No matter how trailer trash it is.... homemade pigs in blankets are ALWAYS the hit of any party no matter how formal or casual. We serve with fancy ketchups and mustards.

        Lastly, any type of cold seafood. I usuually make marinated grilled shrimp (another good room temp item) with chili-lime aoili (a Martha recipe. It's a great dip for shrimp and crab cakes.

        Good luck! It sounds like its going to be a challenge!!!

        1. I was dragged into helping cater a wedding for about 100 and still feel traumatized by the experience 3 years later. I would suggest that you make things easier on yourselves by buying some of the eats so you're not overwhelmed by the work. Frozen canapes aren't budget busters and are easy to heat and serve. I just sampled some mini-meatballs at Trader Joe's which were tasty and could be kept in buffet trays.

          I would concentrate on making things which can be served at room temperature to avoid trying to keep everything warm or cool during the open house. I like the idea of tea sandwiches and antipasti which can be made and laid out in advance so you're not trying to cook as guests arrive. Visit your local deli counters to see what you can buy.

          1. A friend of mine asked me to help her with a party like this and specifically asked for pigs in a blanket. Though I hate to admit it, I went an bought some of those frozen pigs in a blanket because the thought of assembling enough to feed a crowd just exhausted me. Everyone loved them. Not room temp, but pretty much if the door opened, I put another pan in the oven.
            The rest of the stuff I did myself--the same kind of enormous antipasto and cheese platter idea. Plus:
            Chicken sausage nuggets on skewers served with mustard,
            Cubes of marinated and roasted cubes of beef tenderloins on skewers, served with a horseradish-sour cream dipping sauce,
            (don't laugh) chicken "fingers"--some with Buffalo wing sauce, some marinated in soy-lime-ginger, some curried
            All were fine at room temp for a while, though I refrigerated most of them in one of those sheet cake carriers.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Elizzie

              If you go with the frozen pigs in blanket, definitely go with the Hebrew National. The other brands seem to be greasier...