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Apr 4, 2011 08:48 PM

Developing game plan for big meal

Hello! I am making food for a surprise party. I originally agreed on serving food for a reasonable number of people (like 15) and this has kind of spun out of control and now I am feeding about 27-30 people (invite has been live about 3 days and I have 19 RSVPs).

I am 25 and a novice home cook. I am pretty good...amazingly good for someone my age when my peers still rely on frozen food from Trader Joe's, but I'm incredibly nervous and still very inexperienced. Here is what I am thinking of doing. I need a lot of tips and feedback. Also, some questions are posted below.

Day Before:

1. Make Ina Garten's Fried Onion Dip (store in fridge overnight)
2. Make Ina Garten's Herb Dip (store in fridge overnight)
Oven roast pork shoulder/Shred. Questions: If I buy a 17 lb pork shoulder at costco, is that enough to feed 27-30 people. It is boneless, so could I cut it up to cook it? I made pulled pork a few weeks ago (on bone, 5 lbs) and it took 6 hours to cook. Refrigerate overnight.
3. Bake 1 red velvet cake (11 x 13 pan). Frost, cut, flash freeze so frosting firms up, stack up in tupperware containers in freezer overnight. At party, unstack cake and let set at room temperature.

Day of party:

1. Bake second red velvet cake. I need to travel about an hour to the party (accounting for traffic), so I want to frost at the site. Questions: If I do a crumb layer and then freeze for a few minutes before doing the second frosting, should that be okay? My mother says it is impossible to frost a cake several hours after baking (she says you must do it just after cooling).
2. Mix cole slaw.
3. Make baked beans (not from scratch, but from canned beans so I can do it all in one day)
4. Make mac & cheese. Question: Should I half-bake it at home and then finish it off on site (again, I will travel about an hour in traffic)? Or should I bake it entirely at home and keep in warm oven at site before party starts?

At party:

1. Defrost cake no. 1.
2. Keep warm mac & cheese (see above).
3. Place pulled pork in slow cooker to warm up (do I need to conserve some pan juices for this? Or just pour in BBQ sauce?)
4. Frost cake no. 2.
5. Warm baked beans in low oven.

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  1. I'm not sure on your freezer space, but I would make as much ahead of time and freeze. I would make the pork a week ahead of time and freeze that, and you could make the cakes earlier too. Do you have help at all? And how much space/what equipment do you have at the party site? Make sure you have enough oven space for everything. You could keep the pork in an electric roaster and beans would do just fine in a crock pot. I know there are other, more expert voices around that will certainly have more advice. Good luck and have fun!

    1. If I was doing the pork, I would want to let it simmer in the bbq sauce for a while. I usually make bbq beef instead of pork(did over 40 lbs. for a family reunion) and I like for the meat to cook in the sauce, as my son was known to say "he wanted it to suffer for a little while".With that we have baked beans( I would start with Van Camp's pork ' n beans, add onion, dark brown sugar,molasses,whatever you like because I think those Bush's baked beans are terrible.) Since you have an oven, you could put the pork and sauce in the oven(covered) to warm when you do the baked beans. I would personally have tater salad and cole slaw with this meal,both foods that can be made ahead.
      It sounds like you've got things really well organized. You'll do fine with whatever you decide to do. Frosting the cake at the site is such a good idea. I went through several years of being a room mother and trying to decorate the cupcakes for school parties and not have maimed frosting. Then,when we were doing Girl Scouts, the other leader brought the cupcakes and pulled out a can of frosting and frosted the cupcakes there. I stood there wondering how much longer it would have taken me to figure that out.Sometimes the obvious eludes me. Good luck and have fun!

      1. You can totally do this and sounds like you already have an excellent plan in place! I'm not sure how much time you'll have, but I agree with previous posters that the earlier you start the better off you'll be. I would do the meat up to 3 days in advance and think you're about right on amount. I would also do things like shred cabbage for slaw a few days before, too. If I were you, I would make both cakes at the same time so you only have to mix batter once. Freeze the cakes wrapped in plastic and foil, and then they can defrost on your car ride and you can frost on site. I would assemble the mac and cheese in advance (even the day before) and then fully bake it once you get there. I don't think it would work to half bake because the outside will get double cooked and the inside not at all, know what I mean? But hopefully you'll have time to cook it all there. I agree with the crock pot for beans, too, which doesn't take up valuable oven space. Good luck and knock em dead. It sounds like you have a great strategy. Have fun with it!

        1. I think with your other foods, 17lbs of pork is good for 27-30 people: thats a tad over 1/2lb each. I agree with MM, cook with liquid (sauce) and keep wet - it'll stay moist through re-heating. I'd say cut it up beforehand, but leave in BIG chunks, so you have a good shred later. I'm not sure how you're going to serve the pulled pork, but hows about offering some rolls so people can make sandwiches if they want?
          I agree with MM again with the potato salad (but I'm a sucker for potato salad).
          I'd suggest making the beans at least the day before, even 2-3 days. Not only does it free up your pre-game time, but the beans get better with a bit of aging.
          Keep in mind other logistics: serving spoons, cutlery/plates/cups/napkins/condiments. I'd get 2 slow-cookers and transport the pulled pork and beans in dollar-store turkey pans. When on site, throw the pans in the oven to warm and into the slow-cookers to serve. I'd probably use dollar store pans for the mac&cheese as well.
          Make haste slowly and have a good time.

          1. Sounds like you have a good game plan. A few additions:

            1) I'd have rolls to serve the pulled pork on. Sandwiches will make the pork go much further. Nothing like pulled pork and cole slaw sandwich.

            2) Heat the pulled pork w/ the sauce, save some for the side but make sure to give yourself enough time for it to heat up in a crockpot, if you're going that route.

            3) Make the velvet cake in a sheet pan and frost in the sheet pan. It'll make transport much easier and you can frost before, if you want. Frosting there would be harder if you don't have a mixer to make sure it's the right consistency. If you do want to frost there, put it in a ziplock bag, squish before using, then clip a corner to put on cake. Smooth w/ spatula.

            I also think two 9x13 pans, if you don't want to do a sheet cake, would be big enough and you don't have to fool w/ proportions to make an 11x13 pan.

            4) I find mac and cheese dry if made before, whether baked or not. I'd probably do Alton Brown's stove top recipe which is quick and easy. Bring the eggs, mix the milk, etc. in a zip lock bag, cheese in another bag. It's ready to use before the pasta is cooked.


            1 Reply
            1. re: chowser

              Wow! You sound ambitious, and really organized! Don't forget to recruit some helpers so that you don't end up completely frazzled. An old Marth Stewart trick that helps me with big gatherings is to set out the serving dish/utensils/tools for each thing you are going to be making (with a sticky note, or such) so that you don't miss everything. Maybe your young, fresh brain doesn't need this help. I also go very carefully through each recipe and make one big grocery list, to prevent panic or last minute trips to the store! Frosting the cakes onsite is a great idea, and the sheetcake idea above will certainly make it easier. If you are also responsible for cleanup, throw in a few BIG, tough trashbags.