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Nov 18, 2008 09:52 PM

Cooking to Impress: Big Bang for Small Money

Hey All;

I cook occasionally for a group of 12-15 people. They love my food (usually it's one pot stuff like stews, pot roast, braised meats) but I want to step up my game. I want to create a "Wow!" menu (one each of entree, veg, dessert) that:

-Can be prepared and cooked off-site at my home and transported 15 minutes to the venue,
-Does not require bizarre or incredibly expensive ingredients (no kangaroo blood or white truffle),
-Can be held for 1-2 hours at the venue where the most heat I'll have is a sterno chafing dish,
-Doesn't require me to take out a second mortgage to afford it.

No one has food allergies or strong preferences. Everyone likes meat.

Am I asking the impossible? Any ideas?

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  1. Your main is pretty easy. A dish like shortribs or potroast or pork belly or pulled pork or even a ham or brisket or tritip or a beef stew or anything like that can be prepared in advance and then warmed up slowly. If a sterno chafing dish would burn, you can heat in a water bath or bring a crockpot or slow cooker and plug in. the problem is your starch or accompaniment -- noodles will clump and stick and get gummy if prepared in advance, and i don't know quite how you are going to prepare potatoes in advance and rewarm. rice may work. if you are doing a braised meat of some type you can chop some root vegies and aromatics (carrots, onions, celery, potato, bell pepper, zuchini, etc.) into a very large chunk (about an inch square) and add to the braise a few minutes before removing from the heat -- the holdover heat will soften and almost blanche and then the vegies will cook thru when rewarmed over the sterno or preferably in a crockpot or plug-in slow cooker.

    2 Replies
    1. re: nosh

      I was going to suggest short ribs as well as tri tip. I just made a 1.5 lb. tri tip, well marbled, natural (not grassfed though), and it was only $11. Its a really good cheap dish.

      1. re: nosh

        Use soft polenta to bed your short ribs (or other braised meat). You can reheat and assemble on site. Polenta's pretty durable.

      2. My go-to dish for such events is chili. I make a very spicy but very flavorful version that always gets raves, even from people who don't normally eat very hot food.

        Recipe is at

        1. What about gumbo? Serve with salad, french bread? Maybe bread pudding with rum sauce for dessert?

          1. My first thought was a roast pork - realtively cheap and what beats pork fat! But seeing the restrictions, this may not be the best route (or perhaps any type of roast). Then I thought of Paella, but I don't know about the quality of the goodies and rice after a coupla hours.
            You're right - you're previous meals of stews and pot roasts and braises work great for the conditions you describe.
            So, maybe a twist on a meal like that, or an ethnic version.
            Razor's gumbo suggestion sounds very good. A few suggestions on my part;
            a fish stew (kinda like ciopino or Basque style fish) can be prepared even a day in advance and warmed gently - serve with rustic bread.
            French bistro style chicken or coq au vin or beef bourgignon.
            Osso Bucco. Yeah basically a braise, but individual, bone-in servings can have a WOW factor. Forego the veal and use beef or pork to save a few $.
            Choucroute garni. Done well can be outstanding (can surprisingly break the bank as well, so careful planning...).
            Enchiladas with chilaquiles accompaniment/beans/rice/tortilla soup.
            Cochinita pibil. OK not cooked in the ground, but you can get plenty of WOW with a cheater oven-made version. Served chunk style, or shredded, with fresh rolls and onion salsa for a sandwich option (sides as above).

            1. i would suggest a potato gratin for your starch, as its easily made for a number of people, in a hotel pan and easily reheated....