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Dinner for 20-25 people - what to make?

I have foolishly volunteered to cook dinner for a bunch of 20-25 people. By the time the date of this event comes around, I'll have a 6-week old baby, so not heaps of time.

Any suggestions for what works well cooked in bulk for main course? Dessert and nibbles I can deal with.

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  1. Yikes! Do you already have the baby? Either way - I suggest lasagna several ways. You can make Bolognese, different vegetable or all cheese options. Plus - you can make them in advance if you haven't actually had the baby yet and stick them in the freezer!

    Sides are easy - just a big salad and yummy bread. The last time I did this I made two 9x13 pans of lasagna for about 12-15 people. So probably 4 would be plenty.

    1. I would suggest something like a braise because they are not very fussy and the bulk of the prep work is done ahead of time so you can actually spend time with your guests. I know you said you have your nibbles handled, but you could also consider making some appetizers ahead of time and freezing them so all you have to do the day of is reheat. This works well with so many recipes.

      1. Do you have a slow cooker? Williams Sonoma has a great Tuscan Chicken slow cooking sauce. All you need to do is brown chicken thighs and add apricots along with the sauce. It takes about 4 hours to cook in the slow cooker. Just FYI, the chicken turns into shreds. Looks beautiful and tastes fantastic. Can be served with quinoa or couscous.

        1. WOW! I am impressed (and sadly sounds like something I would do, too!) If you are going a little more "upscale", I would recommend Julia Child's Boeuf Bourguignon or Coq au Vin, as they are both elegant, delicious, and can largely be made ahead of time. (cookbooks: Mastering the Art of French Cooking or The French Chef - other variations can be found on the internet)

          If you are going for more casual and/or buffet-like how about: taco bar; lasagna; pasta "stations"; roast turkeys; prime rib/ standing rib roast; selection of gourmet pizzas; grilled steak sandwiches with chimichurri sauce (I love to do this b/c you can use a lesser-grade steak [like flank] and marinate it in chimichurri... it is sooo good. Serve on a high-quality crusty sandwich roll)

          1. What kind of event? Fancy? Casual? What time of year? Winter? Spring?

            Must it be hot food? Budget? Do you have enough oven space to reheat all at once?

            1. I like the idea of lasagna too.

              Also, a couple of good size, slow roasted briskets are an easy way to please a crowd. There's practically no cooking involved. Marinade. Wrap in foil. Roast. And depending on how elegant a meal you're shooting for, you can always dress them up with more attractively presented sides.

              1. With a 6wk. old baby, let someone else do it!

                1. Do one big protein like a turkey or a ham. For veg I'd roast a huge tray of vegetables (depending on the veg you can cut them up ahead of time) and/or make a salad with prewashed greens. Cut up potatoes could be roasted or make mashed potato ahead (a add a bit more liquid so they don't dry out later) and reheat.

                  The lasagnas other posters mentioned are a great idea too. "Fancier" stews like tagines or curries are nice do-aheads as well.

                  1. Thanks, all for your help!
                    Event is casual, although would quite like to do something hot - but ideally something that needs little prep in the first place, can be done in advance, and just needs to go in the oven. Will still be wintry weather so would be good to do something hot.
                    My partner will help so it's not like I have to do the whole lot myself.
                    Will probably head down the lasagne or similar route as can be done in advance and can also do a veggie one without too much trouble for the non meat eaters.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: pootle

                      Would you consider a sort of soup buffet? Make and freeze three soups in advance. One could be vegetarian, then you could do something hearty, like a split pea and ham, for the meat-eaters. Pick up assorted loafs of bread and slice them. Day of, make two huge salads, maybe one traditional green salad and one a chopped salad or bean salad?

                    2. Chili might be a great fit too. It's easy to make tons of it and reheats extremely well. Also, since it sounds like you need to have a vegetarian offer, there are a ton of delicious recipes for vegetarian chilis that the meat eaters will love too.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: mikefoody

                        http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo...

                        If you go with chili -- this chicken cashew chili recipe, with ancho chiles and chocolate, is absolutely divine. You can make a veggie batch too, just skip the chicken and add veg broth and more beans, maybe some black beans along with the kidney beans. YUM. Ratatouille would be excellent, too - maybe a vat of ratatouille and one of the chili? Both can be made in advance, both are delicious winter comfort food. You could have (homemade or not) tortilla chips for the chili (plus sour cream, cheese, avocado, cilantro, lime). To accompany the ratatouille, how about some oven-baked polenta? See COTM threads (Meat) for January. This is the easiest thing in the world to make -- mix 1 part cornmeal and 4 parts water and cook in 350 degree oven, uncovered in a casserole, for an hour and a 20 mins, fluff with fork, pop back in for 10 more mins.voila!
                        )Veggies and carnivores will both be delighted.

                        For a side: A big winter salad, maybe a wilted spinach salad (toast some hazelnuts and garlic in olive oil, and pour that over the spinach, slightly wilting it) with some crumbled cheese and dried cherries or cranberries. Easy, different, delicious, healthy, cozy.

                        Good luck!

                      2. If your guests eat meat, buy a couple of pork shoulders and make pernil. It's super easy - just marinate it overnight and then stick it in a very low oven for 5-6 hours. The flavors get infused into the meat and people go crazy for it. Leave the skin on so it gets all crispy and chewy at the same time. I made this for 75 people at a party last year and not one speck of it was left. I made a quinoa salad with it that had mango, red pepper, red onion, cilantro and a lime vinaigrette and it was awesome. Everyone there wanted to recipe for both!

                        1. Lasagne is a good choice. You can make it in advance and freeze it. Set in the refrigerator the day before to let it slowly thaw before baking. You will need to triple it at least for the number you want to serve. Here's a great recipe I use...everyone asks for the recipe.

                          1 medium chopped red onion
                          3 tablespoons vegetable oil
                          1 1/2 pounds hamburger
                          2 cloves garlic (minced)
                          2 8 oz. cans tomato sauce
                          1 6 oz. can tomato paste
                          1/2 cup of dry red wine
                          1/2 cup of water
                          1 teaspoon oregano leaves
                          2 teaspoons basil leaves
                          1/2 teaspoon of pepper and sugar
                          1 teaspoon salt
                          12 ounces of lasagne noodles
                          1 lb. ricotta cheese
                          8 ounces mozzarella cheese (sliced)
                          1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese

                          1. Saute the minced onion until soft.
                          2. Add hamburger and garlic to the onion. Cook until meat is browned.
                          3. Add and stir: tomato sauce, tomato paste, wine, water, salt, oregano, basil, pepper, and sugar.
                          4. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat. Cover and simmer slowly for 90 minutes.
                          5. Cook noodles according to the directions on the box.
                          6. Lay 1/3 of the noodles in the bottom of a 9X13 inch baking dish.
                          7. Cover with 1/3 of the meat mixture.
                          8. Top with 1/3 of the ricotta and mozzarella cheeses.
                          9. Repeat 2 more times so that all ingredients are used.
                          10. Sprinkle parmesan cheese on top.
                          11. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

                          This will make 6-8 servings.

                          Recipe from http://www.cheers2wine.com/cooking-wi...

                          1. Don't know your facilities or budget. But baked ham and boneless turkey or turkey breast are easy to fix. You might also check this out and see what workload would fit your needs:

                            http://www.angelfire.com/bc/incredibl...

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: mpalmer6c

                              Congratulations! Oh, my....with a six week old baby in your life, people should be cooking for you! I'd take a look at the "Best of Costco" threads and get some well recommended prepared foods, sturdy paper plates and enjoy!

                            2. In Europe you can rent Raclette sets from a good cheese shop. If you could do that where you live I would suggest you get 4 or 5 machines (it's basically an electric table grill) and let each guest cook his own meal at the dinner table. For Raclette all you need is sliced cheese (it doesn't have to be the Swiss raclette cheese as any hard skin/soft center cheese will be fine), sliced cured meats, jacket potatoes, sliced tomatoes and condiments like pickled onions, gurkins, beetroot, etc. Some even add eggs that guests then put on top of the cheese/meat and cook under the table grill. It's fun for the guests and requires only some shopping and skilful display on the table. Enjoy !

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: r.higgins

                                I would love to be able to rent Raclettes sets in the US! It was one of my favorite memories from Switzerland last year. I found raclette cheese at Wegman's and recreated the experience to some degree at home just melting the cheese in the oven in small oven-proof bowls. This is a great fun way to introduce your guests to something new.

                                1. re: Springhaze2

                                  I do that as well - though over the boiled potatoes. I have seen them for rent in the US - but don't remember where now.

                              2. In these situations, I resort to a pre-cooked spiral sliced ham that just has to be heated, with homemade scallopped potatoes on the side. As to vegetables, either salad or some sort of green vegetables -- steamed broccoli or grilled asparagus, say.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: masha

                                  Along the lines of lasagna, I like to make baked ziti. It's relatively easy and when served in large oval or rectangle baking dishes, it is a crowd pleaser. You could make three different selections, and you can make it ahead of time. Serve with salad and warm crusty breads. Some of our favorites are:
                                  ziti with chicken and broccolli, alfredo (you can find good prepared alfredo)
                                  ziti with chicken, sausage, marinara sauce, mozarella and fontina cheese
                                  ziti with vegetables(eggplant, mushrooms,onions), pesto and parmesan

                                2. Tonight trying to be healthy, and being a little lazy, I made a meal that I have to say was one that I'm going to make over and over. It was just terrific.
                                  I made a chicken dish with thighs, boneless breasts, and orzo. For a side, I had roasted cauliflower.

                                  In a shallow casserole dish, I placed the chicken. Generously, salt and pepper the chicken. Added 1/2 of a large can of diced tomatoes, just scooped them out placing the spoonfuls (juice too) on each chicken piece. Added 1 cup white wine, 3 garlic cloves, garlic powder. Then I took jarred pesto, (never used that before!) and drizzled spoonfuls of it over the chicken and tomatoes, not too much. I baked it at 350 for about 20 minutes covered in foil. When I pulled it out it was looking pretty juicy. So I sauted the onion, and some crimini mushrooms, and added about 1 cup of orzo, just stirred it in and covered the dish again with foil. Back in the over for 15minutes. During that time I roasted the cauliflower. Tossed it with a little olive oil, salt and pepper, it went in the same the chicken did, when I added the orzo, I flipped the cauliflower.
                                  When I served the pasta and chicken I cut up fresh basil and served it with parm.
                                  The orzo absorbed the juice, and this it was terrific! I can easily see doing this for a large group, it would be super tasty and super easy. I didn't even brown the chickenand it came out really nice!!!
                                  Yum!
                                  This dish can be gussied up, I can see adding fontina or your favorite cheese. The point, is It was so LOW maintenance, I couldn't believe it. The hardest thing I did was dice and sautee the onion! And the orzo was so full of flavor, and tomato. Really nice.

                                  The portion I would feed 6-6 comfortablly. The cauliflower can be cooked ahead and reheated. ( I did it)

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: chef chicklet

                                    Hi, Chef Chicklet, this recipe sounds amazing. Do you have the exact measurements? Thanks!

                                  2. I like lasagna, and you can make a meatless version. But it can be time consuming unless you buy canned sauce and get those noodles that doesn't need pre-boiling.

                                    Ziti with tomato sauce and blanketed with cheese is an easier alternative.

                                    Other comfort foods that can feed a crowd and can be done ahead of time are:
                                    - meatloaf
                                    - sheperd pie
                                    - pork chops (pan fried and use cream of mushroom soup thinned with a bit of water and sour cream, serve with noodles)

                                    Prime rib also works, just bake in oven, make horseradish cream while beef is in the oven.

                                    Actually I would suggest that you buy a honey baked ham, and just cook the sides and desserts.