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Self-Catering an event - tips? Recipes?

I am having an event that I would also like to cook for.

It should be for around 70 people. I'd like to be able to make many of these dishes ahead and re-heat them on the day of.

One idea I had was prime rib/beef roast - getting a large roast or two, cooking it to rare the day or 2 days before and heating it up to about medium-rare/medium day of. Can this work?

Have any good catering tips/ideas for appetizers or mains?

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  1. This topic has come up a few times on this post before so look back a bit for ideas... but your beef/rib roast should be done the day of the event- at least I always find it tough to get meat re-heated just right.

    Have a few special items like beef roast that you can concentrate on the night of the event and then select some cold or room tempurature recipes (like quiche or sushi) that you can make ahead and will be almost effortless the day of the event, then pick a few that cook similarly (i.e. all bake at 350) so you can cook multiple items once.

    2 Replies
    1. re: lhb78

      Beef roast as said might be a problem. My favorite thing to make ahead is Chicken Marsala. Yum! I make a ten layer salad or some Raman noodle slaw to go with it. Add some wild rice. Easy to heat up. Easy to cook. I've done it for 80+...with two toddlers and little or no help other than night of serving from my husband. The microwave was wonderful! Worked like a dream! Also served some very basic green beans almodine. Good luck with your party! I do stuffed shells a lot too. Easy to make, easy to transport... pulled pork isnt hard to make ahead, but you'd need a lot of crock pots to get it made adead of time effiently unless you're freezing it.

      1. re: nancyv

        Did you do a baked marsala? or just regular marsala and re-heated it. Also, did you freeze it?

    2. I would not precook a roast beef. I have catered many, many events and that is one dish that I do on the day of the event. It will never be juicy or cooked the way it is when it is done the day of. You can cook it earlier in the day and let sit at room temp.

      I catered my daughters baby shower (80 people) and did it all weeks in advance so the day of all I had to do is heat it in oven.

      I made chicken cutlets - breaded and froze them before cooking. Day before cooked them all and put into trays with sauce and cheese to be ready for oven on day of.

      I made stuffed shells- a month before. Stuffed the shells and froze them (without cooking). Night before defrosted and day of covered with sauce/cheese and cooked.

      Eggplant was breaded and placed in trays, covered with sauce/cheese and frozen until day before event when it was defrosted and baked.

      A day or two before I made a gigantic batch of marinara sauce with meatballs, sausages, chicken and pork. Stashed in fridge and day of kept it in a crock pot for serving purposes.

      Day of made salads, garlic bread made with fresh garlic and butter on french bread loaves, and then baked all previously made items and enjoyed my day!

      People still can't believe it was all done by one person.

      Organization and planning is key.

      1 Reply
      1. re: MeffaBabe

        wow that is impressive. im assuming you served pasta with the marinaria. also, was the eggplant still crisp even though covered it with a sauce beforehand? I would have thought the moisture would have made them soggy. The whole sounds fantastic though. I have always toyed with the idea of catering my own wedding although it scares the bejeezes out of me.

      2. What kind of event? Brunch or a light meal? Full on dinner?

        In cooking for 70 without a caterer - you'll need to enlist friends, especially those that are talented around a knife, and lots of them, if you value your sanity. That's my biggest piece of advice.

        Two beef roasts/prime rib will take up your entire oven all day - do you really want that? Who will slice and serve those two huge beasts once they are out?

        As appetizers, cheese/crackers, roast/fresh veggie platters, and antipasti are probably your best options. These can be assembled quickly and only require piling ingredients (artfully, in colorful arrangements) onto platters. Also, only the cheese and any meats will require time in the icebox, which will fill up faster than you can imagine. Plus, people can serve themselves.

        As sides, pick things that do well served room temperature and can be served in big, pretty bowls: White Bean and Rosemary Salad with arugula, Turkish Parsley and Onion Salad, Curried Chickpea Salad. Again, you'll need lots of space in the fridge, so save space where you can.

        Have your bread pre-sliced at the store, or better yet, buy really good rolls (so you won't have to heat them to make them palatable). Serve with butter sprinkled with some sea salt.

        Buy dessert, or make some half sheet pans of lemon bars, brownies, and fruit bars. Maybe make a huge batch shortbread and drizzle with chocolate. The reason I say this is that all these cookies keep well out of the fridge/freezer and can be made days ahead.

        1. I admire your intentions to prepare all the items yourself for the event. I have been in your shoes many times hosting parties for my son's special days growing up and all the Family Holidays. I always did it because I enjoyed the challenge and I knew I could prepare the foods better than any outside caterer.

          The first thing you must do is prepare a menu and consider all the purchases necessary to complete the dishes. My first rule for any dish decided on for the table is......If you cannot make it better yourself, buy it already prepared.....even if it means you must take Sandra Lee's approach to dress up the item with your own special touch. As a matter of practicality, it makes sense to follow her lead and save costs in the long run. Examples of what I mean, and suggestions for your party, are:

          Fresh Mozzarella Bocconcini...........buy a prepared tub that includes the Olive Oil and improve it with Fresh Basil, Roasted Red Peppers and etc.

          Italian Antipasto....... A good brand of Artichokes. Olives, Giardiniera and Cherry Peppers and Roasted Red Peppers.......Salami or Pepperoni.

          If you have time, slow roasted plum tomatoes infused with basil and olive oil is always a winner at my parties. Very intense flavor. Roasted or Grilled Vegetables are a good choice as well

          Saving time and steps is imperative for your time management. Cooking food a day before and reheating the next day is time consuming and quality suffers. It's better to take the approach to prep all your items the day before and put the dishes together in the hours before your party begins. If it is cool outside, you need not worry about spoilage, as it may be colder outside or in your garage, then in your actual refrigerator.......An example would be if you had a Sea Food Salad planned. Clean the fish the day before....or even poach, though I would not recommend myself, then the next day a couple of hours before the party guests arrive, you put a pot of water on the stove and bring to a boil. cook the fish is steps, First the shrimp, then the calamari, scallops and say mussels. Chop some celery and red onion and put it all together with Olive Oil....no lemon or vinegar, otherwise it will continue to cook....lemon wedges available is better.

          Stove time and oven time is your biggest obstacle, so I will address the Roast Beef specific. cooking it the day before and trying to recook it the next day could be problematic and not recommended. Instead of serving it hot, consider serving it slightly warm or at room temperature. Plan your day time wise and put the roasts in the oven in the morning, cook to desired temperature and let rest up to two hours before the start of the party. this will save you from having it in the oven twice. A good idea would be to plan a good portion of your menu to be served at room temperature.

          I hate to seem like I am recommending an Italian themed menu, but my experience is it is generally well received. If you are making a pasta dish, prepare your sauce the day before. If you are planing a Primavera type dish, cut your vegetables the day before. On the day of, reheat the sauce, place a large pot of water and bring to boil. Precook the vegetables 50% and remove......cook pasta and 2-3 minutes before the pasta is ready, throw in the vegetable to finish cooking......drain and add any sauces......You have now made a hot dish in 20 minutes and it will be fresh and not dried from cooking twice.

          My last recommendation is to consider Fried Chicken from your favorite local place. Mine is from PopEye's and i have been including it for the last few years and it is a winner. No fuss, no muss and at less than $1 per piece, very reasonable without any effort. You can plan this for hot or again at room temperature.

          I'll let some others give you some ideas now, but if you would like more, do not hesitate to ask again.

          1 Reply
          1. re: fourunder

            Actually, I would offer that the first thing you need to consider is your cooking options - i.e., do you have one oven, two ovens, a grill, how many stovetop burners, etc. That's always the first consideration for me. You can't make three baked or roasted dishes which need to be served hot if you don't have the oven space to accommodate them. Don't overlook your slow cooker to keep things warm - they can be a tremendous help. Plan a menu that will fit your cooking units.

            I second foreunder's suggestion of buying a few prepared items. Unless you have lots of help and lots of space, you'll have a hard time doing it all from scratch. If you buy good quality items, no one will notice.

            Once you have determined a proposed menu, look at it and cut something out. Everyone tends to overplan, and I always find that no one missed the dish or two that I cut from the menu.

            Finally, take the time well in advance to make (1) a detailed list of everything you need to buy and (2) a time line. To create the time line, I work from the end (i.e., out of the oven at 5:00) to the beginning with each dish, estimating (generously) how much time each step (i.e., 10 minutes to chop the onion, etc.) will take, thus bringing me to a starting time for each dish, and making note of what can be done a day, two days, a week or more ahead of time. Then I integrate all of the time lines for the individual dishes into one master time line, noting the time I have to start each step and how long it should take me. This never fails me! You always know whether you're forgetting something and whether you're on time or running late. Include the serving items you will need for each dish, and don't forget to build in some time for freshening up.

            Here's one of my favorite party hors d'oeuvres recipes: buy jarred marinated artichoke hearts and lightly puree them in the food processor with a bit of the marinade oil. Make bruschetta toasts in the oven, remove from oven and while warm, rub with a cut piece of garlic. Spread the artichoke puree on the toasts, top each with some cracked pepper, a basil leaf and a parmesan cheese curl.

            Good luck and enjoy the day!

          2. For an event that size, I would NOT serve something that needs to be cooked for a long time in the oven right before serving. I would reserve the oven for heating pre-made appetizers/dishes which only need to be in there for a short while.

            I usually try to make most of the dishes to be things that can be served cold or at room temperature, and always do it buffet style, so that you don't have to get dishes out all at the same time.

            Having friends that can help you prep, cook and serve is a must under these circumstances.

            Give us an idea of budget and time of day/kind of meal you want to serve and then it will be easier to make suggestions on food.

            In the past I've done parties of this size with themes that included Greek, Italian, Tapas, and Polynesian/Hawaiian, to name a few.

            1. Great suggestions above. Maybe a few more.

              1. Determine if you need to have a special menu for kids. More work and planning if you do.

              2. Plated or buffet? More work, but more kudos for plating.

              3. Carefully detemine your prepare-ahead items (and you should have a few): dishes based on steamed chicken, chili, beans, lasagna, tamales, curry, some soups, gumbo, doro wat, braised ribs, slow cooked meats, slow cooked sauces for pasta, gravlax, marinated salads (e.g., Japanese cucumber, carrot and daikon, eggplant salads), sauces, ice cream, pies, cakes, cookies. Select some of these types of dishes to prepare ahead of time.

              4. Carefully determine what needs to be prepared on the same day: e.g., your roasts, some potatoes, sushi (rolls), and other things you get started the morning of the day of the event.

              5. Carefully determine your dishes to be prepared slightly before the event and plan accordingly: Your famous Beijing duck and steamed filled buns, momo, empanadas, carpaccio, ceviche, sashimi, fresh salads, most vegetables, fish en papillote, rice, fixings for make-your-own soft tacos, ... These are the most numerous and trickiest--and include other foods you will use if plating (for which you're need some help or volunteers with some preliminary instruction). Timing is everything. This category also includes appetizer plates.

              6. Overlapping with 5 above, determine if you're going to do some live cooking/grilling: steaks, sausages, grilled chicken, tempura or other deep fry-and-eat-goodies, grilled vegetables, ... in this case you're need qualified volunteers to man the grills or Fry-o-latr.

              How does this work in practice? An example:

              Appetizers: gravlax with bread, crackers, capers, chopped onion, and cream cheese; and/or carpaccio with shavings of a good hard cheese; and/or tempura vegetables.

              Starter: carefully plated (bowled) Thai fish soup (e.g., tom yam pla dok) and/or Japanese vegetable salad and/or light pasta salad (plated).

              Main: Sky's the limit if you've successfully arrived at this point. The grill and/or deep frying is appropriate to buffet. Your roast--as well as such things a stuffed chicken, meats, peppers and the like--can be plated or served at the buffet line. Stuff like curries, stir-frys, cassoulet, chili, ceviche are best buffet.

              Dessert: best plated--can be the impressive touch. Here you can use your refrigerated small plates (put in when the last of the other food was taken out) and your squeeze bottles.

              Finally, if you in any way do a buffet, make sure you have a million small plates if the alternative is mixing sashimi or carpaccio or ceviche with some baked beans or a steak or...

              1. If you didn't get enough advice... make sure you have enough refrigerator/freezer space, even if you have to borrow part of someone's freezer. I'll go to put things in and not have enough space, have to clear out my food and get rid of it. The few days before any event, preparing my own meals goes out the window because I don't have enough room in the fridge for both my food and the big dinner. Same goes with the freezer.

                1. you've gotten some great replies - I almost think mine is superfluous! I have done this a bunch of times and here are my biggest pointers (since you already have recipe and specific item suggestions): pick a few things that will "star" and focus on those. Some things such as salad, fruit tray, crudites can be outsourced to people who want to help - they are hard to mess up and it makes others feel good when they can contribute. And third: a la the Sandra Lee impersonator: pick some items you can "doctor." My personal favorite is the mesclun salad mix from Costco tossed with orange-scented cranberries, candied pecans and goat cheese from Trader Joe's. Presto - gourmet salad! Also, don't make yourself nuts: I find that I ALWAYS run out of time to make the countless items on my menu, so focus on the must-haves first, and the elective stuff afterwards. To give you an idea: I just catered a family bridal shower, and just ran out of time and energy to make the appetizers. The boxed ones worked just fine when I realized I wouldn't make it.

                  oh, and as for a main: my go-to advance prep meat dish is brisket.

                  1. I am self catering my daughters 18th birthday in 2 weeks. And shes vegan...
                    To honor her I have decided to be totally vegetarian for the party ...I tried to think up a menu that she would be able to eat and that people who are not used to eating veggie would like. I have already frozen 2 very large pans of eggplant parmesan. I didn't fry the eggplant but cooked in oven til soft and then layered with already shredded cheese from Trader Joes. AND Trader Joes canned marinara is really good has NO fructose and passes the muster with my daughter. I made a small soy version for her.. ALSO already frozen is enough pesto for about 5 lbs. That will be at room temp although I could also heat I have frozen some veggie chilli and will make another batch and serve in crock pot although I totally lucked out at the thrift store and found 4 wire catering trays along with 6 large tin pans. I can buy small cans of sterno and put on table...I am also making small felafels that I can serve with small pitas and hummus. I have frozen felafels before and they can be reheated and taste ok..I will have a big salad with vvith various dressings and an assortment of breads...Some of which I will bake ahead .I froze home made pound cakes and will also make brownies. By the way I love to bake but I tried the Ghiradelli brownie mix and you cant tell the diff.

                    1. I did a wedding rehearsal dinner as a present to the children of some friends of mine. The groom wanted a Southern BBQ and it was done as a buffet. It was for 70 people and as a further challenge I had to prepare it in PA and transport it to VA and finish it off in a B&B where the event was held with limited kitchen access. Here's what I did:

                      Appetizers: Cheese plate, veggie tray and dip: all cut in advance and bagged, dip made ahead. Boxes of good crackers

                      devilled eggs, boiled, shelled and cut in advance, arranged in final serving trays for transport, yolks deviled and sealed in a ziplock so I could snip the corner of the bag and stuff eggs at the last minute

                      Stuffed grape tomatoes: scooped in advance, smokey bacon/cheese stuffing bagged like above

                      My homemade bread & butter pickles off my shelves.

                      Main course: BBQ Pulled pork made days in advance put in aluminum trays and frozen to be warmed on site

                      Baskets of various rolls

                      Coleslaw made in advance and toted in ziplocks

                      BBQ chicken, par-baked and then finished on grill on site

                      Baked potatoes, washed and foiled in advance and baked on site

                      Roasted corn, husked, buttered, wrapped in foil and then grilled on site

                      Baked beans made in advance and crock pot warmed on site.

                      Dessert: Purchased plain cheesecake with sides of fudge sauce or raspberry sauce

                      Apple crisp: The only thing I did from start to finish on site, but had the topping already made and bagged to spread on right before baking. It baked while guests were eating their way through dinner.

                      The day of the dinner mky time was mostly spent just warming things up and stuffing other things. I grilled the chicken about an hour before service and the corn went on as the chicken came off. The corn took about 10-15 min per grill-full. Other than the mother of the groom helping me to move stuuf to and arrange the buffet table, I did it totally by myself.

                      The guests loved it and some tried to hire me for catering their own events thinking I was a professional. Also got accosted by a guest that turned out to be a chef at a resort in Blowing Rock, NC for recipes!

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: morwen

                        "devilled eggs, boiled, shelled and cut in advance, arranged in final serving trays for transport, yolks deviled and sealed in a ziplock so I could snip the corner of the bag and stuff eggs at the last minute"

                        That is genius! I always try to arrange prefilled deviled eggs and the filling ALWAYS get smushed around during transport, leaving them not so lovely.

                      2. My fiance and I hosted a Christmas party for 85 last year and made all the food ourselves. Menu was: stuffed pastry with olives; spinach "brownies"; mushroom stuffed pastry; slow-roasted shrimp with either yogurt or chipolte mayonnaise. These were passed, all were great except for the mushroom stuffed pastry. The shrimp was an especial hit and is served room termperature. We had gravlax with black bread and several condiments, as well as ham with biscuits, mustards, etc. Cheese and crackers, nuts were scattered around. Everything was made in advance and served at room termperature.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: pobo

                          Okay, what are spinach brownies? Always looking for a new finger food.

                        2. Many thanks to you all! Everyone, you have helped me out so much!

                          After all of your replys, I will not do a beef roast. I really like the idea of curry, baked chicken as a main. I will not be in my home and transporting all food over, so the oven will only be used to re-heat things.

                          Buffet is also the serving method.

                          You've all also helped me clarify my menus. I was putting all of my eggs in one basket, so to speak, and it seems much more do-able with a simple main and perhaps fancier sides and apps.

                          I am going to get a club membership for some of this - some of the apps could be very useful and quick to re-heat. I would really love to do tapas/just appetizer type foods (although tons of them, so it would take the place of a main course), but am a bit daunted at making them myself.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: yumcha

                            Yumcha - I've done this - all apps and it is way more complicated than doing a traditional meal. For one, you need a ton of variety. Second, apps tend to be labor intensive. Third, they disappear quickly AND you usually need to keep them warm - plus they don't always lend themselves to the sterno-heated buffet trays. Stick with the more traditionally-structured menu this time around! Best of luck.

                            1. re: doc_k55

                              One more thing: be good to yourself and go to someplace like Abby Party Rents for all your china, glassware and silverware. I did this once for a huge party --70 or so guests-- and it was a lifesaver. When you're done with dinner you pack the dirty dishes back into cardboard boxes and they pick them up the next day as is. And it wasn't very expensive relative to the angst it saved me in the end. No dirty dishes to clean, no grumpy hostess when everyone had gone home. It's worth it, believe me. At least look into their prices.

                          2. Appetizer suggestion: Phyllo pastry cups filled with a dab of fig jam and topped with crumbled gorgonzola, put in over to melt cheese and heat. Serve. Fast, easy, very gourment w/little work, and the hardest part if finding fig jam!

                            1. someone mentioned brisket. I heartily second that suggestion. Make the brisket (s) a day or two ahead and refrigerate (I cook in cooking bags). On the day of the event, removed from the bag and remove all fat. Now you can slice into thin beautiful slices and reheat in au jus ( or barbeque sauce). Always a hit.
                              I would have that at one station with a baked mac and cheese

                              At another station I would have a spiral sliced ham with potato and macaroni salads

                              At a third station I would have two or three vegetable salads (such as corn and black bean; or green beans with almonds) and maybe a slaw. Also biscuits, cheese, garlic bread, rolls, condiments (including some nice mustard)

                              Then a dessert station.

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: laliz

                                I think the OP's party is long over....

                                1. re: GretchenS

                                  Perhaps,but it can still help other folks with the same issue, can it not?

                                  1. re: twodales

                                    I agree twodales - I am on the hunt for any ideas possible in helping a niece who would like to self cater - meaning family and friends will be preparing the food and we are looking for all the advice possible! One thing I learned is that planning is the key and anything that can be made in advance, frozen, then rewarmed is helpful.