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Dinner for a crowd -- preferably somewhat cheap!

In our circle of friends, we are the only ones with a place large enough to entertain and for everyone to get together in, and I am also known as the one who "can cook." We have a friend who is coming to visit from out of town this coming weekend, and our house has been designated as the location where we'll be having a party. That means that I'm tasked with providing dinner for about 10 people. I don't mind doing it, and I expect to spend several hours getting everything together, but I just need some ideas. I've done pulled pork bbq sammiches with coleslaw, corn bread, and baked beans before, BLT sammiches, tortilla soup, etc for them before. I don't mind going a little more complex, but strong ethnic flavors will probably scare these guys away. I'm basically looking for some rendition of man-food that can be served buffet style and will be delicious and somewhat inexpensive. I'd like to spend under $75 when all is said and done if possible. Dessert is cinnamon sweet rolls with cream cheese frosting and maybe some type of cookies or ice cream sandwiches made from said cookies.


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  1. Lasagna and baked ziti, with and without meat are always crowd pleasers, or eggplant parmesan.
    Or a big pot of chili with a lot of toppings and a big salad. All of these also have the benefit of being great make aheads that leave you social time with your guests.

    3 Replies
    1. re: mcf

      I'd love to do lasagna or chili, but I do not have any go-to recipes for these (and frankly have tried MANY for each) and I have had very poor success with these. I'm too scared of a flop to try something new on this particular occasion.

        1. re: c oliver

          It really won't. It's so good.

          If, however, making fresh pasta for company puts you off, I also use Marcella's Bolognese and Besciamella combo when I make baked ziti (actually, I use cavatappi--the same thing, only squiggly).

          I like it with a nice salad, also dressed according to Marcella.

    2. I made these chicken pot pies over the weekend and they were pretty good. I made 4 pies, but had enough filling to do at least 8. I froze the rest.

      Not exactly buffet style, but you can make them ahead of time and then bake them all at once when it's time.


      2 Replies
      1. re: Azizeh

        I'm not sure that I have enough of the right dishes for pot pies for all of my guests. And hubby doesn't like them. :(

        I'm so picky! Sorry!

      2. I would go with cut up Baked Chicken or Roasted Chickens....or a full Loin of Pork. both are inexpensive presently in the markets @ under two bucks per pound. Salad, Rice or Potatoes, Vegetables some nice Crusty Bread should easily bring you in under $75. If you really want to fool them, get some Popeye's Fried Chicken for a buck a piece.

        12 Replies
        1. re: fourunder

          I really like this idea! I was thinking of getting a pork loin at costco this week to make a bunch of irish bacon. I could just grab and extra and brine it beforehand.

          Then mashed potatoes, gravy, roast broccoli, a big green salad with goat cheese, olives, cherry tomatoes, and freshly made croutons, oh my!

          This is a great option. Any great recipes for pork loin? It's so lean you really have to keep on it, no? I have a gallon baggy full of hypodermic needles that I use to inject butter into turkey breasts. Perhaps I could use this method (rosemary infused maybe?) on the loin to help keep it moist.

          1. re: LaureltQ

            I'm a simple guy, so I like to use Kosher Salt and Fresh Ground Pepper mostly.....Rosemary and other herbs maybe, but my experience is there are many that fresh herbs are not enjoyed by most....especially guys. I also like to use dry rubs from the Szeged company, the Rib Rub specifically.


            For a whole loin, I cut it in half, season liberally over night if possible, then remove fro the fridge a couple of hours before I plan to roast.... I pan sear, then transfer to a rack over a sheet pan allowing as much separation as possible between the two pieces of meat.....roast low and slow @ 225 for about 2-2.5 hours or 150*,shut off oven and it rises to 160* .....comes out moist and tender and I see no reason to wet brine, as it's almost impossible to overcook the meat this way.. Cutting into two pieces of meat makes it easier to fit into the oven and it also makes it easier to slice on the cutting board. I like to slice into 1/4 inch slices and fan out on a platter with the vegetables in the middle. For Loin specifically, I do not mind a short brine of an hour or two, but I am not a fan of 12+ hour overnight brines....it turns the meat into a texture of delicatessen or boiled ham in my opinion and not preferred.

            1. re: LaureltQ

              Pork loin braised in milk keeps it moist, succulent, and offers a rich and creamy sauce that isn't very different from gravy in the end, too.

              1. re: LaureltQ

                This is from Ina Garten's "Parties!"
                Or, Marcella Hazan's loin of pork in milk (already mentioned here) is very good.

                1. re: LaureltQ

                  I posted a recipe for pork loin earlier today. You put it in a cooking bag and dump 1 Cup each brown sugar, dried apples, dried apricots, dried prunes, and 1/2 cup wine. Cook to desired doneness. Serve sliced on a platter surrounded with the fruit, with rice. I never make this any more, but it was always the first dish to disappear any time I served it or folks I gave the recipe did. Came from the NY Times magazine years ago. If you don't like sweet meat dishes for dinner, nevermind! <Emily Litella voice off>

                  1. re: mcf

                    Oh that sounds good -- perfect, in fact, for a winter dinner soon.

                  2. re: LaureltQ

                    I make Italian style pork loin, it's a family favorite:

                    Take your pork loin or your very long one cut in half so you have two.
                    Dip in beaten egg.
                    Bread in a mixture of bread crumbs/fresh grated parmesean.
                    Brown each piece on all sides in a pan with some hot olive oil.
                    When done, put in a deep pan, something like a turkey roaster. Cover very generously with either homemade marinara sauce or a good quality one like Rao's.
                    Cover with pan lid, or tightly with foil. Bake about two hours until done. Uncover, top with thin slices of mozzarella cheese and bake 10 more minutes uncovered until cheese melts.

                    When ready to serve, slice the meat and put it on a platter with some more grated parmesean on top.

                    Serve the sauce in separate grave bowls. Serve with pasta, green salad, garlic bread.

                    1. re: LaureltQ

                      LaurelQ - How do you make Irish bacon?

                      1. re: buttertart

                        The same way you'd cure normal pork belly Bacon, but use a pork loin. Its similar to Canadian Bacon but less freakishly round.

                        1. re: LaureltQ

                          Real Canadian "back bacon" is loin and isn't round. And it isn't that peameal stuff rolled in cornmeal or whatever either that some Americans are convinced is the real deal - that's a different item entirely. Do you have a recipe?

                            1. re: LaureltQ

                              Very interesting, thanks! If I can ever get space in my fridge, this will be on the list of things to try.

                  3. How about a "nostalgia" meal of sloppy joes on rolls with home-made tater tots and a nice crisp salad or cole slaw? Make the joes from whatever cut of meat is on sale this week, grinding it either at home or asking the in store butcher to do it for you.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: smtucker

                      I love making sloppy joes, but it feels like more of a weeknight meal to me. And I kind of feel like this is something my guests may make for themselves already, which kind of reduces the wow-factor.

                      1. re: LaureltQ

                        Ah, you didn't mention wow, just "man-food." I am impressed that your friends make their own tater-tots!

                        How about a polenta with a braised meat sauce over the top? Or a roasted turkey with all the sides that you like? A true Texas-style chili with cornbread and a few fresh salsas, and an avocado salad?

                        1. re: smtucker

                          Hahahaha, of course they don't make their own tater tots, I doubt they grind their own meat or even make the sauce from scratch, but it's still the same "meal."

                    2. Giada's Chicken Tettrazini is her husband Todd's favorite, she says. It's really delicious. I make it with penne instead of spaghetti. Add a large salad and crusty bread. It feeds a lot of people. Not quite sure it would go for ten, but you could make two platters.

                      1. Here are some of my favorite group meals. Lasagna, with Caesar Salad. Baked Ziti with meatballs and salad. Or just meatballs and fresh subs rolls. You can add a Pasta e Fagiola for a nice hearty soup. Sweet and Hot Sausage with roasted potato and onion or with Peppers and Onion for sandwiches. You can make a roasted, seasoned pork shoulder or pork butt, (Porchetta), and slice it up and let it sit in it's own juice for sandwiches. You can make chili with cornbread. Baked smoked sausage or Polish kielbasa and sauerkraut. You can make some baked, stuffed breads like pepperoni and cheese. You can do a Muffalatta.

                        Most of those are pretty easy and inexpensive to prepare and serve. Most will hold up to any buffets also.

                        1. Like you, I am the friend that "can cook". I find my expectations for myself are always WAY higher than that of my guests who are happy just to have real food. So I imagine you can go easier on your self than you imagine. I am learning myself how to lighten up a little.

                          Spaghetti with a homemade bolognese sauce is another good make ahead with salad and garlic bread.

                          This is the recipe that I have used to delight my friends. I have this cookbook and it is my go to. I started using Kendall Jackson Chardonnay back in the day when that was all I knew for the white wine and the results are so great I just stick with it. I follow the recipe exactly. I always double whatever I think I'll need though.


                          You can make the lasagne less expensive by making a Bechamel in substitute for some of the cheese.

                          Simple old fashioned baked chicken thighs and drumsticks with salt, pepper and dried parsley - makes even the pickiest connoisseur drool like I've done something magical. (Crazy I know - these are friends I've travelled the world with dining at some REALLY amazing places too.) With homemade mashed yukon golds with twice the butter you think you should use. You can make some cravy out of he chicken juices too.

                          Also, people LOVE a good meatloaf. I've cooked so many fancy and delicious dishes for my book club, but I get a lot of requests for my meatloaf.

                          I guess, at the end of the day, so many popele don't get homecooked food any more, that they really just LOVE great food - cooked well.

                          I'm sure you;ll get so many good ideas on this post and no matter what you choose, it will be a great night.

                          1. My suggestion would be oven baked BBQ tenderloins and some smoked sausages. You would need 4 tenderloins and about 3 pounds of sausage. You could serve potato salad and some beans. Maybe a sheet cake for dessert or in Texas, we serve banana pudding.

                            Another suggestion would be spaghetti and meatballs, salad and garlic bread. If you don't want the hassle of meatballs, you can add the ground beef and ground sausage to the sauce.

                            Another suggestion would be a casserole like shepherd's pie served in three 3 9x13 pyrex dishes.

                            1. since it sounds like they're a sandwich crowd, how about high-end grilled cheese? the possibilities for combinations of cheese and toppings are practically endless.

                              i was also thinking Banh Mi with Vietnamese meatballs, but you said this group doesn't go for the strong ethnic flavors...

                              1. These are the suggestions that I've offered the guys to choose. There's a poll on the local message board we're all on to stay connect (wow, what dorks).

                                A) Roasted pork loin with garlic mashed potatoes and gravy, some veggies, and a big green salad

                                B) Spaghetti and meatballs with garlic bread and a big green salad

                                C) Chicken pot pie with a biscuit topping(instead of traditional pastry) and a big green salad

                                D) Boeuf Bourginon over parmesan polenta

                                E) Pulled Pork Tacos with all the fixins

                                20 Replies
                                1. re: LaureltQ

                                  This is one of the funniest threads I've ever seen. After ONE HOUR you've already narrowed it down. What a hoot!

                                  ETA: And you let your guests VOTE. LOL :)

                                  1. re: c oliver

                                    You gotta love the Chowhound community!

                                    1. re: c oliver

                                      I just couldn't muster up any ideas in my head. We're admidst the planning stages of a kitchen remodel, flooring replacement, and are in the middle of knocking out part of a wall adjoining our dining room to another room. I feel like my brain is fried and I can't get into menu planning!

                                      1. re: LaureltQ

                                        Its easy to draw a blank when your mind id full Good luck with your remodel and let us know how dinner turns out!

                                    2. re: LaureltQ

                                      How come the boeuf borguinon doesn't get the big green salad?

                                      1. re: femmevox

                                        Dunno? I usually have it in a bowl all by itself. Woulda been great with a salad. Unfortunately, none of the guys seem interested with foreign sounding food. Looks like pulled pork tacos are on the menu. :sigh:

                                        1. re: LaureltQ

                                          Just have to ask. What is a pulled pork taco? Is it barbecue or Latino flavor? Soft or hard tortillas? Corn or flour? What are the fixins?

                                          And tell me why your guests get to vote? I entertain a good bit. My guests don't get to vote :) You cook what YOU want.

                                          1. re: c oliver

                                            Taco done with somewhat latino flavors. Pork butt rubbed with chili powder, brown sugar, etc. Cooked til tender, then shredded and topped with some lime juice. Served with warm corn and flour tortillas. Fixins include crema (creme fraiche), cheese, restaurant style salsa, guac, etc.

                                            If there's something they'd rather have, then I'll happily make that for them. If they don't want something, I'll make it for myself to eat and have leftovers! I don't care that much either way.

                                            1. re: LaureltQ

                                              So do your guests actually tell you they don't want to eat something? This is kinda freaking me out. I hear a family member say such things but not guests. Whew.

                                              1. re: c oliver

                                                Absolutely not. They are very gracious whatever I make. I just don't see the point of making one thing if they'd rather have another and I don't really care either way.

                                                1. re: LaureltQ

                                                  But if they don't 'protest,' how would you even know?

                                                  1. re: c oliver

                                                    I ask whether they'd like A or B. Their responses usually include "Well I don't know what that is, so I'll have the other thing." and even if I explain it to them, they'd still rather have something familiar.
                                                    I know that my tastes aren't generally the same as my peers (20 somethings who for the most part don't recognize food out of a box) and something that may be a regular meal for me is not something they're interested in. Of course I don't always ask what they want. Sometimes there's something specific I'd like to make, and if they don't want it, tough.

                                                    1. re: LaureltQ

                                                      Oh, I didn't realize that you and your friends are so young. It will change.

                                                      1. re: c oliver

                                                        I'm sure it will. I recently started doing a "cooking class" with 3-5 of the guys to teach them some strong basic techniques and recipes to build off of. Last week we did roast chickens. This week we're making beef stroganoff with homemade egg noodles.

                                                        Once they start feeling more comfortable in the kitchen, I'm going to work on broadening their horizons.

                                                        1. re: LaureltQ

                                                          I was just wondering about making homemade egg noodles. How would those differ from an egg pasta? Is it the same, or are there other, additional ingredients?

                                                          1. re: roxlet

                                                            Say, did you get around to trying the KA pasta attachment? Been meaning to ask.

                                                            1. re: roxlet

                                                              I make them just like normal egg pasta. Instead of using the cutter attachments though, I cut them into 1"x 2-3" sheets so they feel more like egg noodles from a package.

                                                            2. re: LaureltQ

                                                              That is very nice of you, LaureltQ! Obviously they are interested enough to attend "class" so I say good for you for taking their hands and helping them along.
                                                              Realizing that they can make delicious roast chicken and homemade noodles will open a world of possibility for them. Well done!

                                              2. re: LaureltQ

                                                Tacos were foreign sounding once--

                                                1. re: femmevox

                                                  In the early 1960s, a women friend of my mother's announced to the assembled group, "Ohhhh, Tarcos (sic), I wouldn't insult my stomach with them."

                                          2. Maybe not for this particular dinner, but I must tell you that Elie Krieger's White Chili recipe on foodtv.com is easy, not expensive, healthy and really quite good. I am NOT such a "Food Network" fan when it comes to making the stuff- although I LOVE to watch- but this one really turns out great!
                                            You can adjust the proportions for the size crowd you have. I make it w/ homemade cornbread, salad, fun drinks and wine and all different sorts of things for add-ins. You can also make it in advance and then have everything ready when your guests arrive-including yourself!

                                              1. re: MRS

                                                Thanks! I've been meaning to find a good white chili recipe. I LOVE chili, and would love to make it a bit healthier (I'd make it a lot more often if I didn't feel guilty eating it during the week) but most of the white chilis that I've had at restaurants have been a bit flat.

                                                1. re: LaureltQ

                                                  I find this one to be healthy, very flavorful and easy to "tweak" to one's own particular taste. On one occasion, I added portobello mushrooms to give it a different feel and enjoyed it that way, too.

                                              2. If they vote for chicken pot pie, this one is really good:


                                                Has a little ham along with the chicken and a biscuit topping with sharp cheddar.

                                                1. It's leaning toward burgers with sweet potato fries. QFC has pot roasts buy one get one free this week, so I'll buy a few and whatever I don't use for burgers, I'll feed to the dogs.

                                                  Fixins for the burgers (as of this point, and please give me suggestions) include:
                                                  sliced avocado rubbed with lime juice to stay fresh and sprinkled with salt
                                                  sliced tomato
                                                  butter lettuce
                                                  homemade bacon, fried until crispy on the outside and tender on the inside
                                                  sharp cheddar cheese
                                                  caramelized onions
                                                  sautéed mushrooms
                                                  homemade mayo
                                                  ranch mix added to greek yogurt

                                                  dips for the sweet potato fries will be:
                                                  garlic aioli
                                                  ranch mix added to greek yogurt
                                                  caramelized onion dip

                                                  5 Replies
                                                  1. re: LaureltQ

                                                    So A B C D and E are out? Is this a joke???

                                                    1. re: c oliver


                                                      I added "F" on a whim and it's ahead by 3 points out of 10 dinner attendees. You must think I'm totally crazy.

                                                      1. re: LaureltQ

                                                        You're dealing with a bunch of people who care nothing about food so it's not a surprise that they opt for burgers. Maybe you shouldn't try to make them Chow-worthy at this point.

                                                    2. re: LaureltQ

                                                      I know I shouldn't ask.... You're buying pot roasts for the burgers? I guess you are grinding them yourself?

                                                      1. re: TrishUntrapped

                                                        Yep. I use the Martha Stewart method of grinding everything on the coarse die, then grinding half on the fine. That gives you burgers that hold together but still have a great beefy texture.

                                                    3. Fajitas. Just grill some chicken (boneless thighs) and beef with chunky sliced bell peppers, onions. Have bowls of shredded cheese, sour cream, avocado (with chopped tomatoes, lime, chopped onions, cilantro, garlic) on the table..and a stack of tortillas. Everyone assembles their own taco. Definitely under $75 with room to spare for beer. Also, the avocado can double as a chunky guacamole dip with chips.

                                                      Of course, pizza and pasta never fails too...