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Buffet dinner for 14-16

I'm planning a holiday dinner party for 14-16. At this point, I'm not sure if I'm going to set up two tables or if people will be eating in their laps. Anybody have any suggestions for main dishes? I'd like to go more traditional and it's as formal as a buffet where you might eat in your lap can be. :)


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  1. I really think you need to decide between laps and tables before choosing your menu. If it's laps, I'd go with a big baked ham or a roast turkey (or breast), since they aren't prone to dripping or sloshing around on the plate. People love Honeybaked Hams and a big crowd's a great excuse for buying one (don't forget to make pea soup afterward, with the bone).

    Table seating allows you to choose from the complete range of textures. I know you said formal and this is anything but, however, it's fun and different from the typical holiday round of parties people attend: a soup buffet, including purees, chowders, and chili. A selection of rolls and/or crusty bread, a green salad, and a variety of garnishes including croutons, oyster crackers, shredded cheese, pesto, sour cream....

    1. Well - I like tables, not laps, because it frees up your food choices quite a bit. One nice fairly formal option is to do several different types of roasted meat/poultry, and set up a carving station. People can choose any or all of it; if portion control is at issue, you can always ask a friend to supervise the carving aspect. Virtually any side dishes will go with this, so it can be as fancy as you wish, foodwise.
      Have a great time! Enjoy!

      1. One of my favorite dishes for dinner parties is to oven "poach" a side of salmon - it looks beautiful at presentation, works for tables and laps (sorry - I think cutting slices of ham on my lap is a recipe for disaster), you can sauce with whatever your fav sauce is (dill mayo, pesto, etc) or just seasonong (lemon pepper after poaching)

        1 Reply
        1. re: Bigley9

          +1 unless you put your ham and turkey on a little roll it is a difficult lap food. Stuffed shells is a great lap food because you can cut with your fork. Fourteen to sixteen is ok for two tables. I think large party is more difficult but it depend on your resources.

        2. I definitely think you can pull off an elegant buffet with "lap" eating. I agree with the above posters that you def need to decide between laps or tables before planning the menu. For the "lap" menu, I'd do tenderloin crostini, and a lot of them. You get the look of elegant finger food, but the heft of a meat dish, all with no knives and forks needed. Peeled cocktail shrimp is another good one for finger food with panache (I love to boil mine with coriander seeds and serve with a flavored mayo). Skewered veggies are easy to eat from your lap. Basically I think if you do a lot of elegant finger foods using traditional ingredients, you could definitely make this work. Think upscale cocktail party.

          8 Replies
          1. re: charlesbois

            My husband suggests rack of lamb...which he swears people can eat with their hands. We always disagree about this. :)

            1. re: KateMW

              Nice! And you really really can - especially if you do the "lamb lollipop" method, which means just using a very sharp paring knife to scrape the meat from the bottom of the bone up to the meatiest part, creating a groovy, bare little handle. Love lamb, and people really like these.

              1. re: mamachef

                So you wouldn't totally hate the idea of eating them with your hands? I like the idea but I don't want to turn people off. I was thinking I could do half lamb and half tenderloin crostini with a couple of sides like mushroom bread pudding or sweet potato gratin.

                1. re: KateMW

                  I'd have no problem at all with it, especially with the above method. Just provide nice big napkins, which I'm sure you would anyhow. Those crostini sound lovely, maybe with a little schmear of caramelized onion or tomato jam and a dabby of horseradish whipped/sour cream atop. The sides you mention sound delicious as well - you could even do the bread pudding (or the gratins) for that matter, in muffin cups, even the mini-cups, for ease in serving. Savory kugel can be done that way as well, with any variety of add-ins.

                  1. re: KateMW

                    Oh no, I love lamb lollipops! Eating them with fingers is perfectly ok - like mamachef said, just provide big napkins. You could also create some type of fun little wrapper for the ends of the bones out of parchment or foil.

                    1. re: biondanonima

                      Great idea, lamb chop finger food is a definite OK in my book.

                    2. re: KateMW

                      paper frilly "panties" are for this porpose, and can usually be found at higher end meat markets. They are specifically made for chops that have been "Frenched", or trimmed of all fat and meat above the medallion.

                2. re: charlesbois

                  I agree, that if you are going the lap route, go for heavy hors d'oeurves as a cocktail party. There's a huge plus to that, which is people can mingle and won't be trapped next to one person all night. I love elevated pigs in blankets - merguez wrapped in puff pastry like a pig in blanket. Also, prosciutto wrapped figs and bacon wrapped dates. You can even do elevated sandwiches - turkey with cranberry compote on brioche, the aforementioned tenderloin crostini (maybe with a dollop of horseradish sour cream), smoked salmon on dark bread with coarse mustard and thinly cut red onion and capers.

                3. I like to make a large chicken pot pie and use poultry seasoning in it. I use a recipe from Cooking Light. It`s traditional and feeds a crowd. Comfort food connects with a crowd.

                  1. IMO, while large cuts of meat like roast beef, ham or roasted turkey looks nice on a buffet, trying to cut meat on your lap with other foods shifted about on the plate in your attempt is frustrating. Guests will spend time trying to keep the other items from falling off the plate as well as the silverware when laid down to pick up an item with their hands. Not to mention juggling plate and a glass of beverage on their laps. I suggest either doing the large cuts and making it a sit down dinner or doing a nice selection of appetizers/finger foods that require no silverware so that it's easier to handle on your lap.

                    1. Went to a buffet w/ table seating two years ago where roast pork shoulder & grilled cedar plank salmon were served. Host did a fantastic job. Meal was fairly easy to serve ourselves & I'm sure would have been fine for laptop eating

                        1. Only if OP does table obviously, but any tips for keeping dinner plates warm. I don't have an oven warmer or a plate warmer setting on my dishwasher and so usually heat up plates in the microwave with a cup of water for 2 minutes. For dinner parties, I usually use standard run of the mill porcelain white plates but can't seem to keep them warm long enough. They come out pretty warm but cool off fairly quickly thus defeating the purpose. Would it be OK to nuke them longer? Also OP, you might consider a casserole of some sort which would be easier to eat on a lap. I would avoid anything that requires cutting unless you plan to also offer serving trays.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: fldhkybnva

                            You can set your oven to its lowest setting (170 on my oven) and put them in there. They'll be a little too hot when they first come out, but as you mentioned, they cool off quickly.

                            1. re: biondanonima

                              Perfect, thanks. I assume this is safe for porcelain.

                          2. I think I've decided to go the Italian route. I'm going to make Marcella Hazan's baked polenta with bolognese and a butternut squash lasagna. Now just to figure out what to make on the side.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: KateMW

                              Sauteed greens w/ garlic? Big salad, I think, is a must here. Definitely excellent bread. :)

                              1. re: mamachef

                                Bread is a given. ;) I'm thinking just a big arugula salad with yummy dressing. I personally never eat much except the main dish when it's pasta, so I think everybody should be fine.