dinner party for 16! help!
what do you think would be a good menu for a dinner party for 16 hungry people?
oven and stove space is somewhat limited (although i do have use of two ovens)
maybe something that doesn't have to be sauteed because its for so many people. a braise? roasted? help!
You absolutely want something you can make ahead. Best is something that actually improves overnight when I'm feeding a crowd. But before offering suggestions, what tone, or atmosphere, do you want to create? Casual affair, like grab a bowl of chili and watch a ballgame, or a more elegant sitdown dinner with your best linens? Buffet? I gather from your mention of a braise, you're thinking meat, and won't need to accommodate vegetarians.
Something that is affordable, a crowd pleaser, and an easy make ahead is lasagna. You could make a couple different variations, like a traditional and then maybe a veggie with a white sauce for those non-carnivores. Pair it with some good wine, a nice crusty bread, and a big fresh salad and you really cannot go wrong.
Pasta, pasta, pasta....lasagna or baked ziti or rigatoni. Salad and garlic bread and even an antipasta and Voila! dinner.
I did a dinner party for 13 a couple of months ago with limited space. This was the menu:
Assorted Cheese, Olives, Bread, Crackers
Butternut Squash Soup with Apple Cider Cream
Mixed Green Salad with Candied Spiced Pecans and Cranberries w/Shallot vinegrette
Spinach and Mushroom Lasagna with Gorgonzola Sauce (rolled lasagna for presentation)
Roasted grape tomatoes
Assorted Chocolate Truffles
I made almost everything ahead of time. For the lasagna I made the filling in advance but put it all together with the sauce the night of the party (didn't want noodles to dry out/get tough), and I roasted the tomatoes the same night, too. Oh, and the whole meal was vegetarian (more than half the guests were, I'm not).
A few ideas -
When I have a ton of people over I usually make some sort of baked chicken dish like chicken with apricots and currants or chicken marbella, another option is a whole salmon stuffed with fennel (I think Barefoot Contessa has a recipe). If you feel like spending the money you can always do a tenderloin (maybe two for the amount of people) with a nice sauce like gorgonzola.
For veggies I would do a roasted one, and this can be any vegetable, asparagus (because it's spring finally!), squash etc. or you can do this potato apple gallette I made for one of my dinners (it was a hit, I don't like potatoes so I wasn't in love with it but I got asked for the recipe by a bunch of people):
I also like to make sorbet - so easy and everyone's always impressed.
I have a recipe by Nigella Lawson for this amazing baked rigatoni with a mushroom bechamel. It feeds like 20 people or something and is easy to assemble ahead and bake at the last minute. If you're interested I can post the recipe. I don't know how formal it is...but an easy make ahead dessert that most everyone likes is ice cream sandwiches.
It serves exactly 16.
Three 1 lb. packages rigatoni or other big pasta
1 1/2 sticks butter
1 cup AP flour
8 cups milk
freshly grated nutmeg
For mushroom mixture:
3 oz. dried porcini mushrooms soaked in 2 cups boiling water
3/4 stick butter
1 Tbs. vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups parsley, chopped, plus more for decoration
1 tsp. dried thyme
3 big garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 lb. mixed mushrooms, chopped (about 12 cups)
1/2 cup Amontillado sherry
2 cups parmigiano-reggiano, freshly grated
fresh thyme for decoration
Soak porcini in boiling water in a small bowl. Melt butter in a saucepan and add flour; cook gently to make rouz and then whisk in the milk off the heat. Turn heat to medium and stir bechamel until begins to thicken and come to a boil. Let bubble for 5 minutes took cook out floury taste. Remove from heat and season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Preheat oven to 400. Heat 1/3 of butter and all oil in a large wide pan. Drain porcini, reserving liquid, and chop before adding to pan with half of chopped parsley, dried thyme and minced garlic. Stir for a few minutes then add remaining butter, let melt, and then add chopped mushrooms and stir for 5 minutes. They'll look dry but will begin to give off liquid after a few minutes. Add porcini soaking liquid and stir, then add sherry while continuing to stir. Turn off heat when you have a "bronzed, syrupy stew". Stir mushroom mixture into bechamel, add half the parmigiano and remaining half of chopped parsley. Bring a large pot of water to boil and salt well. Cook pasta until a bit before al dente (it will continue to soften in the oven). Drain and add to the mushroom/bechamel sauce and stir to coat. Turn the pasta into a large roasting pan (12 3/4 by 16 1/2 inches). Sprinkle over the remaining parmigiano and bake for 30 minutes or until the top begins to turn golden in places. Before serving, sprinkle with fresh chopped parsley and thyme.
I also halved the recipe and it worked very well.
My mother was a caterer in London in the 80's, kind of a food wasteland at the time, but her food was considered pretty darn good in certain black tie circles. Her main clients were embassies and HOP types. Of her two tried and true recipes and most requested dishes, one I hated, one I loved, and both were do aheads. The one I didn't like was chicken fricasse, it was chicken breasts prepared with a white sauce with sliced mushrooms. She always served it over a rice pilaf. I can't stand flour-based, white sauces, so I hated this as a teen. The other was boeuf bourguignon, which is essentially a beef stew with something a little fancier going on. What I always loved about it was finding whole button mushrooms (whole criminis would be good too) and whole pearl onions, the fact that these were not chopped up made the the presentation much more elegant and refined...use a good red wine too. This recipe is very much like my mother's... http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/rec...
I think a nice update to this as an accompaniment would be to serve with fingerling Yukon Golds either roasted or boiled. My mother served with regular ol' boiled potatoes.
For a light soup course, how about a borscht with a spiral of cream drizzled in? In my house we used to go all out and ferment our own beets etc etc, and then my mother discovered a quick and easy substitute that is perfectly delicious. Beet juice is sold in most Eastern European shops, if you have one in your area, it's usually sweetened with a little apple juice, which is fine for this. Warm up about equal portions of beet juice and mushroom stock (Knorr makes a good mushroom cube), let it simmer for a bit (add a smashed semi-whole garlic clove if you like, but pull it out when you're done simmering) and serve in soup dishes with sour cream. Trick: thin out the sour cream with a little milk or water, put it in a squeeze bottle and drizzle in a spiral pattern, it looks gorgeous and is very difficult to mess up. If you like borscht or beets, this is a very light soup with quite an elegant flavor and is ridiculously easy to do, and makes a wonderful first course. We serve this in my house on Xmas Eve with tiny mushroom pieroszki (tortelloni are a good sub), it's a traditional Polish dish.
For dessert everyone clamored for my mother's chocolate mousse. To make life easier for herself she would make it in one large dish (like a trifle dish) and decorate with little rosettes of fresh whipped cream.