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Large Christmas party buffet, over 100 people...need menu help please.

Every year we have a Christmas open house-type party. The party stretches from afternoon until the wee hours (last year the last guests left at 4:30 am.)! We do a buffet and I am constantly cycling trays from the oven to the table. This year, I have a serious illness and would like to take it easy on myself, even get out of the kitchen and have fun, but still serve great homemade food. Must haves on the buffet are:
Swedish meatballs (shortcut=Ikea)
a pasta dish (I like to change it up from year to year)
a tray of cold cuts
some other main dish and/or sides
I could use some help on the pasta (in past years I have done lasagna with wild boar bolognese and Pioneer Woman's mac and cheese), and some other main dish. Also, maybe some simple apps for a crowd.
Thanks in advance!
p.s. I put out a breakfast buffet around 11. That includes an egg casserole, bacon, sausage, muffins, bagels, homemade waffles if I have the energy.

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  1. Wow, you are amazing for tackling this any year!
    I can't say enough about a spiral ham and slider rolls.
    A shortcut for the pasta is baked ziti--just a bit less fuss in the prep.
    Do you put out a cold pasta salad dish?

    1 Reply
    1. re: monavano

      Ditto on the spiral ham and slider rolls -- add 3 or 4 interesting mustards and a couple of big hunks of cheese so people can add it it to their ham slider if they want.

      And also ditto on getting some helpers -- paid ones mean you can order them around more. :) Just give them really explicit instructions. Makes a HUGE difference.

    2. Nothing wrong with shortcuts, but my guess is there are folks who have been asking "What can I do?" while you've been sick. Utilize them, even if it's just for a couple of loaves of good bread. Use a slow cooker to keep soup hot; you can do that in advance and re-heat in smaller quantities on the stove, then transfer it. You can use cups and no spoons if it's a smooth soup like tomato bisque, and have a couple of bowls of assorted garnish (parsley? cilantro? popcorn?) around the mother ship of the slow cooker. Folks just fall out over my tomato soup every holiday I serve it. I know the food is sort of your trademark, isn't it? But my guess is folks come for the people and the fun more even than the food.

      1 Reply
      1. re: lemons

        I totally support the soup idea. Give yourself a break and do a soup bar. You can even do two or three ahead of time and keep them warm in crock pots. Get lots of loaves of bread and fixin's and you are all set. You can have helpers clear, wash and dry used bowls or just go with disposable.

      2. See if you can find a helper (high school or college student?--they can almost always use a little extra $$$) to take care of heating food, running platters to the table and clearing dirty/empty dishes and glasses from the buffet. It sounds like you still want to cook. Having extra hands (and feet) to help with the running and clearing should help.

        1. Me too for New Years Day, although I can't lay claim to having people here until 4:30 in the morning!

          Get a warming tray or portable restaurant chafing dish thing to save you having to reheat stuff. I have one that holds two 9x13 pans or three mini size hotel pans. It's a huge help.

          Personally, I think hot pasta dishes are a PITA for big parties. They don't hold well and are usually awful at room temp. Quit those in place of cold/room temp pasta salad or noodle dishes. I have done thai peanut noodle salad, asian (non-peanut) noodle salad and Italian style veg/pasta salads, all of which are room temp friendly.
          Quiches are great buffet food, IMO. They can be made and baked ahead, are good at room temp or hot, hold well and are infinitely variable.
          Chicken Satay is a good and popular room temp main.
          Swedish meatballs in can go in a crock pot.
          Pulled pork in a crock pot with a variety of condiments and homemade wee buns is one main that has been a hit in my past. Likewise with a platter of sliced tenderloin (room temp) if you're a big spender.
          Roasted seasoned nuts are an easy app item. I like rosemary-salt pecans, curry almonds, and spicy candied anything.
          For breakfast, I do a DIY waffle bar. Just make the batter and set out condiments and iron(s). People LOVE this. Yeast batter waffles and homemade compotes and whip make it special.

          1. I'd hit up an Italian caterer and go for baked ziti or stuffed shells, sausages and peppers and a couple salads, olive trays etc. Add some sub rolls and you should be good to go. Sounds like your breakfast could be easy to prep, just skip the waffles and add some sweet buns etc.

            3 Replies
            1. re: treb

              +1. Depending on your location, this can be a surprisingly affordable option. I say the former because if there are a lot of Italian places in your area, prices will be competitive. I got a tray of excellent homemade eggplant parm last year for cheaper than it would have cost me to make it....plus the bonus of the extra time to do other things.

              For the suggestion of quiche, I'm a fan of its Italian relative, frittata. Good hot, better at room temp, breakfast, lunch, snack and dinner friendly, and good for using up bits of meat, cheese, veg, etc.

              1. re: pinehurst

                I'm a fan of its Italian relative, frittata. Good hot, better at room temp, breakfast, lunch, snack and dinner friendly, and good for using up bits of meat, cheese, veg, etc.

                or Spanish tortilla, to go with my yet-unfulfilled wish to have a party that includes a whole bone-in jamon with the stand...

                1. re: splatgirl

                  spanish tortilla is excellent at room temp, just keep the eggs a bit runny. some jamon serrano and manchego cheese, romesco sauce, yum!

            2. Sounds like my kind of party!

              Cassoulet, for another main - a hearty bean and meat dish is always nice in the winter, it is substantial, holds well on a buffet, and can be made ahead easily. It also helps with the budget a little as beans are inexpensive - though you can easily make up the cost with the types of meat/sausage you include.

              Gnocchi instead of pasta this year? just something to change it up. You can do it as simply as with a sage butter and some parmesan or more substantial with some type of meat sauce (your boar bolognese made me think of gnocchi). They can also be made ahead of time, boiled, tossed with butter, held until the party and browned in a skillet the day of the party. I prefer them browned for a party as I feel it gives them a bit more of a "skin" so they hold up better in a buffet.

              Pate a choux - my favorite go to thing for a crowd for apps. Again easily done ahead, frozen, and reheated the day of the party. Easily filled (use a pastry bag/zip lock with a tip) with all sorts of things from chicken salad, to tuna salad, hummus, cheese spread, etc, etc for a "one thing turned into many other things" option.

              Those are what come to mind first, I'll keep thinking.

              If you're taking it easy this year - I'd skip the waffles this year, you'll be tired at that point and you'll have plenty!

              1. I would suggest a neighbor or family teenager as a bus person. Pay well as I'm sure it would be worth it.
                Soup in crockpot (tomato with toasted cheese sanwiches) served in mugs.
                Chili (easy to make ahead and hold until needed)
                Chick drumettes
                Make you own tacos bar

                1 Reply
                1. re: Gail

                  Definitely a bus person/ helper. He/she can remove dirty dishes, do heavy lifting, refill platters, take coats...

                  The drummettes are a fantastic idea. I've made them in a hoisin glaze for Super Bowl parties and served them hot and room temp.

                2. Ham always makes me want to head South, as in southern style. Here are some suggestions:

                  Deviled eggs
                  Pimiento cheese spread with crudites
                  Swedish meatballs
                  Vidalia Onion Quiche
                  Hot crab dip
                  County Ham or Spiral Cut ham
                  Martha Stewart's Macaroni and Cheese
                  Cold blanched green beans tossed with basil/black-olive vinaigrette
                  Fresh ambrosia salad (Not the creamy marshmallow kind. Paula Deen has a recipe)

                  For dessert, pecan pie, Jefferson Davis pie, sweet potato pie, Hummingbird Cake, maybe peach cobbler if you can do it with frozen peaches (I've never tried.)

                  I admit that fresh ambrosia for 100 would be a chore. It would have to be delegated!

                  1. Two weeks ago, I did something similar for 60 and had a great time at my own party!
                    #1 -- I had two in help, bussing plates/glasses etc to keep an eye on everything. Usually I try to handle it myself but this was a thousand times better.
                    Everything - and I mean *everything* - was prepped in advance. Zero last minute chores except to open champagne and smile!

                    We had a wide variety of ages and dietetic challenges so there was something to appeal to the carnivores as well as the vegans.

                    Do-It-Yourself Crostini Bar w/:
                    whipped feta cheese, chicken liver pate, tomato-basil business, tapenade, smoked salmon.
                    In addition to the crostini, we had a large focaccia.
                    The Crostini bar was in the library and only a short walk out to the patio for wine, beer, soda, water, etc. (kept everyone out of the kitchen while the mains were being set up)

                    Mains = A kitchen party with a Do It Yourself Grits Bar (LC goose pot filled w/ garlic-cheese grits kept warm in the warming drawer) with a choice of toppings:
                    Creole Shrimp, Port wine red onions & mushrooms, sour cream meatballs and BBQ pulled pork served in LC pots on the cooktop
                    A large room temperature platter of green beans w/ gremolata (+/- 8 pounds of haricots verts)
                    Pea, lemon, fennel pasta salad w/ lemon vinaigrette; Parmesan on the side

                    Desserts included:
                    Chocolate croissant (bread?) pudding
                    Apple ginger cake
                    Both served w/ a large bowl of Bourbon whipped cream
                    "Grown up Jello" -- Mimosa shooters and rum & coke shooters
                    A large platter of cheese and fruit

                    This was a departure for me from past events because I deliberately chose NOT to do any last-minute food. Brilliant! I wish I'd done myself this favor years ago.

                    Although this menu was for 60, it could easily be amped up to feed 100. I would probably add a sliced ham, a big basket of assorted breads and another vegetarian dish, leaving most of the rest of this 'as is'. My hat is off to you for tackling this with an illness. Hope that it is a roaring/smash success.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: Sherri

                      Sherri, you are a genius. When I use your suggestions for my husband's and my 100th (combined) birthday party next month, I'll put out a card saying "Catering by Sherri."

                      1. re: heidipie

                        "I'll put out a card saying "Catering by Sherri." Save the card, Heidipie as you'll be doing the work. If you have any questions, I'll be happy to answer. One thing of note, because I had to hold the grits for quite a long time, I made them a lot looser than I usually would. Instead of a 1:3 or 4 ratio, I was closer to 1:6 simply because they needed to wait for quite a while before serving. If I'd owned a giant Crockpot, likely I would have given this a try but I used the oven with great success.

                        Love the idea of a 100th Bday celebration! We shared a 50 1/2 anniversary celebration (two couples married 25 years and one new 6 month pair) but 100 year Bday is genius. Wish I'd thought of it sooner.

                    2. My suggestion would be to do a Baked Potato /Soup Bar. For the potato bar, use both sweet potatoes & bakers - These are so easy and they keep well in a chafer; you can make a couple of batches to start then cook fresh in the oven every couple or few hours as needed. You can also make a big batch and keep them hot in a cooler lined with foil. They stay hot this way a long time. Add three soups: something chunky vegetarian, something meaty or a bean soup with a smoky meat accent and finally, maybe a smooth bisque like butternut squash, pumpkin or spinach. Then set out toppings that would go with BOTH the potatoes and soups such as chili, shredded or grated cheeses, flavored sour creams and butters, bowls of seasoned & toasted nuts & popcorn, blanched chopped veggies, etc. Add some good crackers, rustic bread slices or assorted crostini (these can be made the day before and put in huge zip top bags).

                      To go with, set out a nice pickled/ fresh veggie tray and maybe some type of fruit and I'm sure everyone will enjoy the food. I'd make large cakes/tortes and maybe a couple of trifles instead of trying to do 200 individual desserts. Most everything can be made the day before with the exception of the potatoes.

                      1. I'm just wondering where the fruits and salads and vegetables are - ?

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: sandylc

                          Waiting for a furtive New Years resolution?

                          1. re: monavano

                            Ha. Perhaps! Just think that there might be more balance to be had. Plus, there are usually guests who are looking for such things.....

                            1. re: sandylc

                              Oh, I agree... was just kidding! I tend to graze and appreciate veg options to keep my hands and mouth occupied in between carbs, fat and booze.

                        2. I STILL remember several years ago going to a holiday party with miniature Reubens on party rye. They looked easy and were awesomely good. I also still remember a chicken salad with grilled chicken, mayo, sun dried tomatoes, pine nuts, and basil. Here in Austin fresh basil is still an option.

                          6 Replies
                          1. re: tim irvine

                            tim, I've thought of the small rye sandwich idea but how do you keep them fresh in a cocktail party situation?

                            1. re: Gail

                              I have a recipe for a reuben dip that's made and held in the crock pot if you're interested. It's fabulous.

                              1. re: splatgirl

                                Yes! Can you cut/paste it. Hate to ask you to type it out. Would love to have it for Christmas Eve.

                                1. re: Gail

                                  Crock Pot Reuben Dip

                                  1 can sauerkraut, drained
                                  8 oz cream cheese
                                  6 oz shredded swiss cheese
                                  6 oz corned beef / chopped
                                  2 Tbsp Thousand Island dressing

                                  Mix and heat in crock pot and serve with crackers or small rye breads
                                  As you can probably imagine, this is not at all pretty looking, but delicious and always gobbled up.

                                  1. re: splatgirl

                                    Thanks splat. I am concerned about the consistency. It doesn't sound spreadable, so how do you work with cocktail rye?

                                    1. re: Gail

                                      It is spreadable because the cheese and cream cheese melt once it's heated. You could adjust the consistency to your preference with some additional dairy or thousand island, I suppose, keeping in mind that if it's too loose the meat and kraut will probably sink.

                                      I have had it served with cocktail rye which would be great except that I think those stale little squares are awful. I am fickle about quality and freshness when it comes to bread products. I bake my own rye. Homemade rye crackers are the best, IMO. Then no worries about drying out.

                          2. Think it's time to call in the friends t help you! God bless !