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Need ideas for a dinner party for 15 college kids!

My sister has just asked me to cook for 15 of her fellow college-aged (18-20 year old) interns on Friday night. I have been dreaming of having a big group to cook for, and now I have my chance! The best part--someone else is footing the bill, so I have some money to play with. She has requested Italian (read: baked ziti or chicken parm, but I want to take that and run with it). I would love to hear some of your suggestions on what to make. Here are the details:

-The food will be served buffet-style
-I am hoping to have some smaller bites for them to munch on when they first arrive
-I want to stay away from any sort of make your own pizza/ pasta bar type thing
-My sister is fairly picky, and I imagine at least a few others will be also. So I am hoping to find things that are fun and different, but that many people would eat.


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  1. 2 ideas for Italian for a lot of people (these are my stand-by's and they're always well received).
    Sausage & Peppers - Grill (or fry) the sausage the night before (to brown them). Cut up some peppers & onions (dependent on taste). Thrown them in a huge stock pot the morning with a bunch of Ragu (or your favorite sauce & add red wine and spices to taste) of the party and let them simmer for a few (i.e. 4 or so) hours (sausage & Ragu bought a Costco). Sausage always tender (never rubbery). Just be sure to keep it on low heat and stir occasionally as to not burn the bottoms.
    Lasagna – Using the no cook noodles I make & freeze these ahead of time (if I need the time and the room). I usually make 2 types. One meat (browned chopped meat, onions, mushrooms, parmasan cheese, shredded mozzerella) and one veggie (drained chopped thawed spinach, extremely chopped brocolli [I hate it so I have to not see it] onions, mushrooms, parmasan cheese, shredded mozzerella). Again, I just use Ragu as the sauce (because that's what's cheapest at Costco).

    1 Reply
    1. re: HunterJay

      How about bbq-cookout theme. Cooking pork butts for pulled pork, homemade bbq sauce, potato dish-something to bake in large pans(some kind of version of scalloped), cole slaw, dev eggs and chips and dips. And either rolls and/or wraps for the pork. On the appetizer plates-mini smokies wrapped in puff pastry with honey mustard dip and mini hamburgers. And vegge platters with ranch or onion dip. (some sorta retro dishes )
      I did this for Christmas-after every year of typical brunch items-all loved it. (the smokies were demolished and I made lots)

    2. I would start with a huge antipasto platter for snacking while everyone arrives. Have marinated artichoke hearts and mushrooms, salami and whatever meats you prefer, provolone cheese, olives etc.

      For dinner, I would have a meat lasagne, green salad, bruschetta. Or if you want to be fancier, serve in courses, green salad, spaghetti with evoo, parmesan and chopped green onions, main course (chicken, veal), dessert.

      Either plan should end with Lemoncello.

      1. I made a huge Italian fest for friends after they helped me move. My menu was as follows: eggplant parm (made in advance and then warmed in oven), a lasagna (also premade and warmed), gnocchi with gorgonzola cream sauce (gnocchi made except for boiling ahead), grilled chicken with pesto (pesto made ahead), and a veggie alfredo pasta. It made quite a spread and kept both vegetarians and meat eaters happy. Plus, this menu helped me to not run into an issue of "not enough burners" on the stove. The key is to have a mix of casserole type dishes and then things that need to be finished just before serving.

        I didn't do appetizers with this, partly because the food was so much and a little on the heavy side. But, perhaps a caprese salad offering, some bruschetta, or cheese and tapenade could keep their mouths happy while they wait for the main event.

        1. Smaller bites:
          Stuffed mushrooms have been a favorite with my (formerly college age) sons. Shrimp cocktail is still very big at family events - low fat!
          A cold Italian antipasto made of marinated vegies, olives, italian cheeses and meats.
          I have thrown an antipasto platter together after a quick trip to Trader Joe's.

          1. You could do some fried bocconcini (sp?) for an ap. They're fairly easy...if you don't mind the frying. I think lasagna's a good idea and easy. Vitello Tonnato would be seasonally appropriate. You could offer eggplant parmesan or zucchini involtini for the vegetarian crowd. I would also offer a big salad with the meal. For dessert tiramisu...or something else really italian and pretty easy to like is affogato - vanilla ice cream with shots of espresso poured over...or I guess whatever ice cream you want.

            1. The idea of an antipasto is terrific -- and will save you cooking time since most of it can be bought 'as is'. I would also add some good olive oil and bread for dipping. My friend serves the olive oil over slices of fresh cut lemon so that when you press down into the oil you get the spark of the lemon juice as well. It's fantastic. Fresh mozzarella, basil and tomato at this time of year would also be great.

              As for main courses, when I've cooked for a bunch of people one thing that has been a hit is "Italian Mac & Cheese". I use fontina, asiago, parmigiano reggiano, and a little fresh mozzarella, topped with bread crumbs before baking. I would think that would go over well with a bunch of picky eaters.

              1. I know she requsted Italian, but I find that kids that age love Mexican food. Lots of fun stuff to do with that theme too. Just another idea.

                1. If she requested Italian, I'd serve Italian. In addition to antipasti, you might serve Bruschetta. Trader Joes has a very good Bruschetta topping, if you don't have time to make your own. Just slice some bread, brush with olive oil & toast under broiler, and top with bruschetta topping. For a twist, spread goat cheese on the bread, and then top with the bruschetta mix. For dessert, I'd just go with brownies or chocolate chip cookies.

                  1. I was thinking that you could do a really great fresh vegetable pasta dish and then serve a secundi of grilled steak, chicken, or portabellos served on beds of arugula and drizzled with a balsamic vinagrette.

                    1. I did a similar party last month and it was a big hit. To start I served all cold apps: crostini with various dips (bruschetta topping, olive tapenade, white bean puree, eggplant spread), mozz and tomato salad, veggies and dip, cheese and crackers and one hot app which was mini bite sized meatballs. The meatballs were a big hit. For entrees I made a veggie lasagna and chicken parm. Also served a green salad and bread. For dessert I had choc strawberries and homeade cookies and vanilla ice cream and everyone made there own ice cream sandwiches.