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Ideas for some economical main course at a 50th Anniversary party for at least 100.....

The problem is my sister and I are both pretty good cooks, our two sister in laws aren't, but they will want to pitch in to help. We will have a kitchen available at the club where my parents have chosen to have the party, but won't be able to get in to use the kitchen and decorate until 3 hrs prior to the start time of the party, so the food needs to be prepared in advance if possible. Since they have taken so much time deciding where they want to have the party, we are now down to less than a month and a half to plan it. We have a keg steamer/cooker that we can cook a large amount of food in over a propane burner if we come up with the right thing to prepare. We've cooked chili, jambalaya, and low country boils in it for large crowds before, but that's too casual for the occasion to me.

Here are some idea's we've come up with so far......

Lasagna, Ziti, or Spaghetti and meatballs (none are my mother's favorite but she will eat them if not given a choice.)

BBQ (my sisters idea of cooking pork loin in a roaster for hours with store bought sauce, that's not BBQ in my opinion, and awfully casual for a 50th celebration! We always do BBQ on the smoker.)

Coq Au Vin (our idea, but my sister say's it's too "frou frou")

Any suggestions would be appreciated!

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  1. Well, I don't know your family, but from my vantage point a low country boil and jambalaya would be totally great for big party like this! Festive, delicious and you guys totally know how to cook it, I don't see any downside. Upscale it maybe with some bubbly and cloth napkins. I think it would be a blast and certainly something your whole family loves.

    Other option is an afternoon tea/cocktail hour, which my in-laws did. Lots of tasty hors d'oeuvres, passed and also dips and shrimp, etc. and finger desserts, with passed wine and bubbly.

    A 50th is a FUN occasion, I'd go for all the good fun stuff to eat and I'm sure it will be so memorable.

    Interested to know what you end up with, so do please share the final menu!

    1. What are your parents' favorite foods? That might be a good jumping off point for a menu.

      1. When/where is the event taking place? Because I think the weather will also dictate what you cook. If you are in Chicago and it's 25F outside, a dish such as braised beef or lamb stew with mustardy mashed potatoes served on the side with some roasted vegetables would be appropriate.

        But if you are in Miami and it's 70F outside, then you'll want to serve lighter fare.

        1 Reply
        1. re: SeoulQueen

          We're in central Florida, so there is no telling what the weather will be in February. Two days ago, it was in the 80's, tonight, we're having freezing temps.

        2. Coq au vin is not frou-frou. Perhaps whoever made that comment simply doesn't understand. It's a hardy dish cooked in a pot. Perfect for your crowd.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Steve

            I agree completely, and tried to tell them that. My parents have even had Coq Au Vin here before and loved it. Maybe I should tell them it's chicken stew, and it would be better accepted. ;-)

          2. Perhaps whole roasted sided of salmon would work. They are economical, and almost universaly accpetable while providing some amount of spectical and occassion. They would cook quickly, but are acceptable to eat after it's been chilled a bit. Maybe cedar planked salmon sides, pickled cucumber salad, pasta salad, lemon-dill cream.

            1. When I am feeding a large crowd, I often go with baked ham for the main course. No glazes or special prep is necessary; just stick the ham(s) in the oven. Then you can get creative with side dishes. You can have some simple ones for your SILs to be in charge of, and some more complex ones for you and your sister if you like.

              1. If pork is okay, how about a roasted pork shoulder or something to that effect? Though I haven't made it myself, have had it at large gatherings and understand the meat is reasonably priced at Costco. Easily served with rolls and any number of sides.

                ETA: If pork is out, may be a beef equivalent?

                1. I live in an AZ "Retirement Community" and have attended any number of 50th Anniversary gatherings, Memorials, wakes, etc. Goes with the territory, and demographics.

                  I think that all suggestions are notable, but here, most are "light" lunches, us older folks don't eat much. Low Country boil stirs my taste buds, but your guests may have a different take. `Jambalaya, Ummm good! Much depends on whether you are serving buffet style, or plated.

                  Recognize, please, that your parents will want to have their children available to meet and greet their guests. They are undoubtedly proud of each one, and their respective families, so hiding yourselves in the kitchen is not a plus. This from someone who enjoyed two separate 50th last year in two separate cities. Hire a caterer, or, servers..

                  Also, I have observed that the success of most such gatherings is directly proportional to the amount of alcohol consumed.

                  1. I recommend Chicken Divan.

                    1. Chicken Marsala with mushrooms, or Chicken Piccata are very easy, and most people eat it. For the Marsala, you would need to use sweet Marsala wine and practice making the sauce at least once before the occasion. You can dredge the chicken and prep the sauce, with mushrooms, separately, and just assemble at the event. Chicken Piccata can be done similarly with its lemony sauce and elegant capers.

                      Another option is Paella. The secret to making it for 100 is not to make it the way you would make it for four. You would cook the large batch of saffron rice separately (a rice cooker and either saffron or Sazon Goya with saffron will give it the right color and base flavor), and then brown your chorizo/sausage, and chicken pieces, and cook before the event. Once at the event, the rice can be set up in half trays with the cooked rice, and arrange the cooked chicken and sausage in it. From there, add a bit more chicken broth to each tray and uncooked shrimp, mussels, clams in a single layer, pop it in the oven, and remove when the shellfish have cooked, usually just about 15 minutes. It will have the flavor and look, but none of the fuss. Yeah, not the authentic way, but even restaurants have tricks like this they never tell you about. Yes, the prep for four actually cooks it all in one pan, but you can't do this for a large crowd and have to try a different approach.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: RGC1982

                        I like the Paella option a well. You can go crazy with ingredients but you can also make it fairly economical as well and still keep the great flavors plus, as gingershelly mentions, it's fairly easy to eat.
                        For the SIL's who are not the best cooks: if you don't go the Paella route, you can do a risotto either as a main or a side. There's no better way of keeping a questionable cook busy and productive than by placing them in front of a big pan with the instruction "do not stop stirring".

                          1. re: RGC1982

                            To be done well, this would have to be done a la minute and that would be a HUGE amount of time and energy. Neither chicken marsala nor Chicken piccata hold up well in buffets.

                            Neither a good idea.

                          2. I worked in catering as a chef, then an event producer for over 20 years...
                            Some of the questions I have up front are; do you have seating for all guests to serve something bone-in like the Chicken Coq a Vin? This could also be awkward to eat, but would be delicious.

                            Something slightly elegant, but simple would be a casserole-style presentation of boneless chicken breasts with a mushroom/wine/artichoke sauce, over a rice base. Sides of green beans, a nice salad with perhaps tangerine segments, feta, toasted pistachios.
                            Or I like the suggestion below of whole baked sides of salmon with accompaniments. Easy to do for a crowd. Any dish like this, the trick is to NOT overcook. Each side can serve from 8-12 guests, depending on portion cuts and size of salmon.
                            Also second the suggestion of hiring some help; someone to manage the kitchen and replenishing, and a couple servers to bus, clean up, cut cake, etc. for you so you can enjoy your parents and the guests. Most communities have an agency you can hire from, or try posting on craigslist for service staff. Just ask for experience and a refference and this can work great!

                            Let us know how your plans come together:)

                            1. I think you could stick with what you know; the boil, the jambalaya, and dress it up a bit? But if names of food are at issue, could that coq become instead Chicken in Wine Sauce, and then not be too froufrou?You could likewise do boneless chicken breasts stuffed with spinach and feta, or apple/walnut stuffing. Made in advance, they do hold up pretty well, especially if you put them at the last with something like onion-herb pan sauce for the spinach, or a cider/rum sauce with the apple stuffing. Bon apetit. It'll work out. And as far as the sisters who don't cook? I bet what they want, more than to cook, is to be involved. So, who decorates well? And who has beautiful penmanship and can make the invitations and a display/souveneir menu? Who can you delegate to roll and tie that chicken, after the stuffings are made (by the other two of you, natch); to help store the food for holding?

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: mamachef

                                I agree with mamachef: I would either do the "Chicken w/ Wine Sauce" or do the jambalaya. My 1st choice would be the jambalaya since you've done it before. You could do (pass?) some elegant hor d'ouerves, the start w/ a green salad with some fancy toppings (fruit , nut and cheese are always popular), and then serve the plate w/ the jambalaya, perhaps w/ some sort of garnish to make it impressive.

                                I agree w/ the OP that low country boil is too casual, mainly because it requires you to use your hands.

                                Those chix breasts sound delicious, but I wouldn't want to have to roll 100 breasts.

                                I'll add my support to the idea of staff. I had a couple of helpers at my parent's party (swear to God, the venue called them servants) and it was fantastic. A totally new experience for me and it took me a minute to adjust...but only a minute ;-)

                                My parents liked the favors I had made (their wedding pic on a tin of mints) and I've noticed they always describe the favors to me after they attend a 50th. If you have not done so, I suggest getting started right away trying to (secretly) find some old pics from before/during and after the wedding. I used (scanned and printed on velum) to decorate and it was a hit w/ my parents. I even found a pic of my mom in a 50's era bathing suit on her honeymoon, photoshopped her thighs to perfection, and used that one too. Oh , the glories of technology!

                                1. re: danna

                                  Great ideas on the favors, danna!
                                  I do get the poster who commented 'wine sauce' is somewhat contraversial, and a thin sauce is less helpful with boneless chicken breasts which can dry out quickly; the idea of rolled stuffed breasts would help with this, as would a light creamy sauce (still vote for my idea of a creamy mushroom/artichoke sauce - elegant, without much wine, which MOST of will cook away if cooked for a good long time.
                                  You could crank out 100+ stuffed breasts easily in a couple hours with two or three people. These were a catering staple for us 10 years ago, and do stand the test of time.
                                  The Jambalaya is a great call, if you don't overcook the rice to the mushy stage:)!
                                  Do hire help, you will be so glad you did.

                              2. I'm loving reading all the responses and ideas; but one caveat ~~ I would never ever serve a chicken marsala or w/wine sauce to a group of 100. If this is your parent's generation, there are bound to be those with alcohol issues, especially no alcohol w/certain medications. I just would not do it. Also, will children be there? don't serve dishes based on alcohol to children, please.

                                And don't try to say that the alcohol burns off: I have been in recovery for 21 years and I assure you it does not ~~ that is a widely spread, but completely false myth.

                                Are the diners at round tables? I'm thinking 12 tables of eight. Put the appetizers on each table; and serve the main entree.

                                suggested appetizers ~~ endive spears stuffed w/shrimp salad; French Quarter Cheese Spread ( a cream cheese base with pecans in sauce over served w/crackers, I have the recipe if you want) tiny roast beef open faced sandwiches (w/horseradish cream); or brushcetta, although in my opinion it is SOOOOOOOOO overdone these days. Another idea that has met w/great success is cream cheese sandwiches cut into heart shapes with a cookie cutter. Ask your mother her favorite fruit and use that type of jam to mix with the cream cheese. Get thin sliced bread, make the sandwith, then cut into heart shape. I have learned this from experience. One more idea is to ask your mother what was served at her wedding.

                                I would serve a chicken entree that can be made ahead. I suggesed Chicken Divan because it is a great recipe, (ATK) although I do not cook the chicken in the rice, I cook the boneless, skinless breasts separately and serve, sliced, over the rice. I serve w/green beans amandine.

                                I would serve the table the entree. and have a basket of bread on the table.

                                Dessert will obviously be wedding cake, but a great addition is a cookie table. You will know people who will want to help. If only 10 or 20 people each bring a dozen cookies for the cookie table, you will have a nice assortment.

                                1. What is the average age of this group?

                                  If it were me, I'd hire caterers- having to do food for 100 old, cranky people with dietary restrictions is miserable. Let some professionals handle this and wash your hands of it.

                                  1. We have done whole roasted stuffed pork loins (the full loin, not just the tenderloin) for a group of 100, with very varied tastes and it went over well. Very easy to do and you can do most ahead. You can get pork loins at Costco for very cheap (we were pricing cheaper than hot dogs!). Stuff it with dried fruit mixture and then roast off. We served with au gratin potatoes and green beens and salad I think. My extended family are not adventurous eaters, but we wanted something nicer. This fit the bill. I think we got the idea from a Tyler Florence show once. Mind you this was 10 years ago, so don't know if his recipe (which we did not use) is still online.

                                    My church often does tri-tip or tenderloin for large crowds (400+). You can pregrill the tri-tip or bake the tenderloing, then bring it to temp in a bag in gentle simmering water (bring it to the temp you want the meat) so it doesn't overcook if you need to do it ahead of time.

                                    Braises are nice because you can do ahead and reheat.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: jsaimd

                                      For my Dad's 80th we did a basic chicken curry (the yellow curry powder kind, not spicy), rice and tons of side dishes. Actually the club's chef made the curry and rice and we made all the side dishes: cucumber in yoghurt, chopped egg, toasted coconut, peanuts etc etc. Add a store bought chutney. Green salad. The folks all ate a ton of it.
                                      Works in hot weather and cold.