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Ideas for cooking for a large group?

I'm having approximately 30 people over for my son's first birthday. I would much prefer to cook as opposed to catering or buying something. Obviously I'd like something that is not too difficult to prepare or that I could somewhat prepare in advance. The only idea I have thus far is lasagna -- it's my go-to for big groups. Any other ideas? I looked for a similar thread but didn't come up with anything...

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  1. I am sure you will get TONS of responses from people who have much more experience cooking for large groups than I, but I have cooked for groups and two crowd pleasers which stood out:

    The Economical:
    -A large roasted bone in ham
    -Gourmet three cheese macaroni and cheese (find a good recipe and use high quality cheeses!!!!)
    -Haricos Vert with wholegrain mustard shallot vinaigrette
    -Croissants on the side.

    The Lunch:
    -Mini chicken salad sandwiches (served on little round crusty rolls) the key is delicious chicken salad easy to bite into…not too chunky
    -Filet sandwiches on croissants – topped with caramelized onions and mushrooms & then topped with arugula (horseradish, paprika mayo)
    -Smoked Salmon finger sandwiches on Eli’s Health Bread, with a cream cheese dill spread and thinly sliced seedless cucumber
    -A good high quality pasta salad
    -A fresh large green salad

    1. Lasagna or baked ziti is a great idea. (baked ziti is even easier) Add some Italian sausage, and/or meatballs served with a great salad and bread - Perfect!

      1 Reply
      1. re: NellyNel

        I agree that baked ziti is good. Another thing I've done is provide a vegetarian ziti as an alternative based on an asparagus, lemon, and goat cheese lasaga recipe.

      2. For big groups I like something like a risotto or a thick soup, where all you have to do is throw a lot of stuff in a pot and stir, no worrying about treating individual portions (ie no breading & frying 30 individual chicken breasts or making 30 individual sandwiches). A big pan of ziti or mac & cheese would have the same advantages.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Emmmily

          Come to think of it, I did those parties above BEFORE I had children…they took pre-work and for the second one I had help assembling the sandwiches the morning of the baby shower I was hosting. If you have a one year old...order pizzas or tell people to bring their own! Ha, Ha!!!

        2. My standard item for a group that size is Turkey Tetrazzini made with all thigh meat because it stays tender and moist forever. I make it using penne or some similar medium pasta that can be eaten with just a fork in case there aren't enough table settings to go around. It can be assembled well in advance and is chaffing dish friendly for buffet service. Make it in a couple of shallow pans instead of one big deep pan to facilitate heating. I serve it with an Antipasto platter and a big tossed salad.
          I learned how to make it at a cooking workshop from Chef Paul Prudhomme so it's quite tasty, but not hot spicy. It's in his "Seasoned America" cookbook.

          I get lots of compliments and requests for seconds.

          1. For a large crowd, I like to make pulled dpork sandwiches. They can be made ahead of time and even taste better when they are.

            Pulled Pork

            7 - 8 pound pork shoulder, bone in
            1 large onion, sliced
            8 - 10 cloves garlic, chopped
            1 and 1/2 cups water

            2 -3 cups barbecue sauce
            Coleslaw
            Kaiser rolls

            Now comes the hard part. Put all the ingredients in the crock pot and cook on low for about 9 hours. When finished, take pork out of the crock pot and separate/shred the meat away from the bone and fat. Put the shredded pork back in the crock pot and add about 2 - 3 cups of barbecue sauce. A couple good store brands are Sweet Baby Ray's and Bone Sucking Sauce or make your own. Cook on low for another hour or two. This only gets better as it sits for a day or so in the frig. Serve on rolls with a spoonful of coleslaw on top.

            Barbecue sauce

            This recipe is adapted from a Barefoot Contessa recipe

            1 large onion, diced
            4 cloves of garlic, chopped
            1/2 cup vegetable oil
            1 small can tomato paste - about 6 - 8 ounces
            1 1/4 cups honey
            3/4 cup soy sauce
            1/2 cup worcestershire sauce
            1 cup hoisin
            3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
            3/4 cup dijon mustard
            2 TB cumin
            1 tsp chipolte seasoning
            1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
            1 TB chili powder

            Saute onion and garlic in oil for about 10 minutes. Add remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Simmer for about 20 - 30 minutes.

            Coleslaw

            1/2 head green cabbage, thinly shredded
            2 carrots, grated
            1 apple, julienned
            3/4 cup mayonnaise
            1/4 cup sour cream
            3 TB 1/2 and 1/2
            1 TB honey
            2 TB vinegar (white wine or apple cider work well)
            1 tsp celery salt
            salt and pepper

            Mix mayo, sour cream, 1/2 and 1/2 honey, vinegar, and about a 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper in a small bowl. Combine cabbage, carrots and apples in a large bowl and add enough of the dressing to coat. Let coleslaw sit for about a half hour because the cabbage releases some water. Stir again and add more dressing if the coleslaw seems too dry.

            http://www.dinnersforayear.blogspot.com

            1 Reply
            1. re: eatmyfood

              we did this for xmas eve this year and and it a HUGE hit, I would absolutely do it again. you can make so much of it ahead, and the pork you get in the oven in the morning. I like my coleslaw best the next day, so I would make it a day ahead.

            2. How many kids and how old are the other kids. You need to cook for both kids and adults. If mostly adults no problem. We all don't like the same things some time. That is the key for me.

              I think a good pasta and use the corkskrews or a bow tie, just a bit different but all or 90% like mac and cheese. I Make the bechemel sauce in one pot and then divide. I add some good gruyere and cheddar for the kids and for the adults maybe a little blue, some scallions and sundried tomatoes which is awesome. Two pans but no longer to make. Give kids a chance to try both or adults for that matter.

              Love baked ham. Roast turkey is great and not expensive, Serve a honey cranberry sauce, some nice rolls for either sandwiches for the kids of just on the side and a honey mustard dip. Also love stuffed baked potatoes, again make ahead and just warm. I make simple just sourcream, butter and some chives and then put a side of bacon, extra butter, sour cream and cheese for those who want or make half and half, all stuffed and some without all the extras.

              A nice pork loin is good, but some don't like pork. You know the guests better than me. I love that.

              A great quesadilla I have found both adults and kids like, maybe just as an appetizer, depends what else you are having.

              I love seafood, but hard for me with a big group, especially for kids or adults who don't like seafood.

              It sounds like you want more dinner than appetizers. I make a great chicken and mushroom pasta which is rich and creamy. Pretty much made ahead and then reheated.

              For a great salad A simple 2 options. I make some roasted veggies the day ahead is fine, peppers, mushrooms and onions and tomatoes. Just roast with olive oil, s/p and roast. I let cool and then add to some crisp romaine with my oil less egg dressing or grill some halves of romaine hearts. Add some olive oil,s/p and grill (inside is fine) just 2 minutes per side and serve. Wonderful side salad.

              Seafood again, my hearty mussels and shrimp pasta that literally takes 15 minutes.

              A great hearty casserole that has pasta, fresh roasted vegetables, good cheese and chicken

              Or how about meatloaf rings. Yes I make meatloafs in rings out of turkey with a little mexican flavor but not much. A salsa topping and melted gooey cheese, very festive, make the night before and just bake, inexpensive and easy. A good maybe baked black beans and a nice romaine salad with my cilantro dressing and make some white rice for those less adventurous. Something fun but still easy.

              I also make stuffed bread which I love. This goes great with any grilled or slow cooked meat. Stuff some good baguettes with cheese and mushrooms sauteed with onions. Wrap in foil and bake. Amazing and simple.

              Even a hearty chicken stew is great, healthy simple, add some good dumplings and dig in, again easy and inexpensive and just reheat.

              A great side soup is also great, most make way ahead. So many easy creamed soups that are wonderful and take no time and are alot of fun served with the salad. A nice side to the main course.

              Let me know if you want any recipes, glad to post.

              3 Replies
              1. re: kchurchill5

                Kchurchill5, would love if you would post the 15 minute mussels and shrimp pasta recipe! Also, do you think it would hold up well for a buffet in a chafing dish, (if I replaced the mussels with something else, i.e. bay scallops, or chunks of lobster)?

                1. re: ideabaker

                  It should, because it is just staying warm.

                  I use fennel, onion, broth, white wine, garlic and cream. It is simple and just yummy.

                  1 use a large bag, probably 36 mussels (each store has their own weights and bag
                  sizes) I use about 8-10 per person
                  Shrimp 1 lb large shrimp peeled tail on
                  1 box (I used kitchen basics) of good seafood stock, chicken is just fine or veggie
                  2 cups white wine (I have also done 1 cup white, 1 cup sherry) also tastes good.
                  1 large fennel bulb thin sliced
                  1 large onion thin sliced
                  3 tablespoons garlic
                  1 lemon juiced and the zest
                  2 tablespoons butter
                  Salt and pepper
                  Fresh tarragon
                  Fresh parsley
                  1 small container of heavy cream
                  Pasta, I love just spaghetti but use your favorite for this

                  Cook pasta, while it cooks, add to a large pan the fennel, onion, garlic and a little butter, Cook 3-4 minutes, then herbs, salt and pepper and then the broth and wine. Add the mussels and shrimp and cover. It only takes 5-8 minutes until they lightly open and the shrimp pink, add the lemon juice and zest. Drain the pasta and add the seafood to the pasta, and add the heavy cream and toss. Simple Garnish with some fresh croutons crunched up if you want. Last time I used store bought (from the bakery) or you can just use some quality bread crumbs. Makes a nice topping but not necessary. It is hearty and simple. Green onions are also used at times for a garnish and I like lemon slices or wedges as well. Chopped tomatoes are also very pretty on this dish.

                  1. re: kchurchill5

                    Thank you for posting your recipe Kchurchill5, it sounds sooo good! (I especially like the addition of fennel and wine for extra flavor.) Will have to try this one out in the very near future!

                    Will report back when I make it, it sounds foolproof, versatile and delicious.

              2. Lasagna is my go-to as well :) it's a real crowd-pleaser, and with a salad fairly balanced. You could do a traditional and a white/four-cheese or mushroom option as well for that many people.

                That said, I've done a taco spread for groups too - whatever taco filling you like (ground or shredded beef, chicken, carnitas, etc.) which can be done ahead or kept in a crockpot, lots of nice toppings, chips/salsa/guac on the side or rice and beans. Pretty economical, colorful, and can be pretty balanced too.

                Just thinking as I go here - are hot sandwiches too casual for what you're thinking? I love meatball subs (crockpot, again) or italian sausage/peppers/onions. You could do salads and slaws on the side, or chips and dips to dress it up or down, and that gives you a lot of make-ahead possibility.

                Also agree with the reply about several sandwich options - I think sandwiches hold together best when they've had an hour or two to sit, assembled. Again, sides could go fancier or more casual. And I like to build on a loaf of ciabatta or other long, flat bread, then cut into smaller sandwiches.

                I think one of the best ways to make a meal festive is to pick a plan and go all out. If you do pulled pork, do a real southern BBQ - slaw, cornbread, pecan something for dessert, sweet tea. If you do cold sandwiches, go deli-style. Big kosher pickles, etc. Just doing something fun will make it special..... as if the little guy's birthday isn't enough! Above all, enjoy yourself and take lots of pictures! :)

                1. I'm not a fan of lasagna, I love it, but way overdone for me. I would hope you can find something else. Lots of other options. No offense, I love it but tired of it at parties. Too much always

                  1. I host about 25 pretty regularly and find that 2 or 3 big pots of homemade soup on the stove, homemade bread, some crackers and cheese, and some other munchy that works with the soups (so if the soups are really beany, no hummus, that sort of thing) are easy and really appreciated. Most soups are better made ahead and most people like them and don't get homemade soup that often. If there are a lot of kids I also have a pot of mac and cheese on the stove (my friends' kids prefer boxed instead of gourmet) and a bowl of clementines on the table. I make sure one soup is vegetarian, and I have learned that if I put out garnishes for the soups I need to label what goes in what.