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Dinner for hungry skiers

Every year, a group of friends plan a weekend at a northern Minnesota ski area. Some folks ski, some snowshoe, some spend their time at the local bar. Everyone is responsible for some portion of the food - snacks, breakfast, appetizers, etc. For the last 4 years, my fiance and I have been tasked with the Saturday night dinner - the main meal for the weekend. In the past, we've done: lasagna, spaghetti and meatballs, (or eggplant balls), and a few varieties of baked ziti.

I'd like to solicit some different ideas. We could just do another duo of baked pastas, but that's starting to get a little boring.

Here's the logistics/constraints:
1) Group size will be about 18.
2) A few folks with dietary constraints, most notably no pork or red meat (so we've done both a chicken and pork based baked ziti, and spaghetti and meatballs with traditional and eggplant meatballs, and a vegetarian and meat based lasagna).
3) If possible, we like to have two dishes, for a little variety and to accommodate different tastes, but those different dishes are varieties on the same theme (to make things easy).
4) We'll have a kitchen to cook in (we renting a giant old house), and a pretty good one at that, but we do have to compete with others making appetizers, which usually means the oven is taken for a period of time.
5) There's a time constraint - we're coming back from snowshoeing and bar shenanigans around 4 or 5ish, and dinner is around 7, so whatever we make needs to be prepped ahead of time - meaning prepped at home several days in advance, and assembled as much as possible. (In the past, we brought assembled and frozen lasagna; cooked the spaghetti on site (and cooking enough pasta for that many people at once was a challenge, don't want to do that again); and brought pre-cooked ziti and pre-made sauces and vegetables from advance work at home, and assembled and baked on site).
6) There's somewhat of a price constraint - we don't want to go over $100, ideally under $75.
7) Mix of men and women, but all with hearty appetites after playing in the snow and a few drinks.
8) Ideally, leftovers would pack and reheat well. We (my fault, really) usually vastly overestimate how much food we need - I usually imagine that everyone has an appetite like mine, so we end up with about 30% leftovers, which is fine by me.

The pastas play well. The crowd loves them, which is why we get dinner every year. And every year, we try to go bigger and better. I don't think we'll do a pure meat-centric dish, like a beef and/or chicken stew, or chilli. A mix of starches with meat is good. To be honest, I just can't think of anything other than another pasta dish that fits all these constraints. I was thinking of doing another set of baked pastas, but bringing 2 crock pots and doing 2 meat roasts, maybe some bone-in chicken breasts and a pork roast porchetta style, but not really because we'd need the meat, but just to do something different. Thoughts?

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  1. Not sure if these ideas work with all of your constraints, but you could consider another carb as the starch element in your dishes - so that would open you up to rice-based casseroles, biryanis, etc. A big pan of saucy curry with rice would work well too. Couscous? A savory bread pudding/strata with plenty of meat? You might also think about warm lentil dishes, cassoulet, etc - no "starch," per se, but plenty of filling carbs from the legumes.

    2 Replies
    1. re: biondanonima

      If you want to stick with pasta - perhaps chicken, veggies in pesto cream? It doesn't matter how often I ski - pasta is usually the thing I want when I get back

      Some other Ideas: Turkey chille, green chicken chile (could be made before).

      Arroz con pollo - cheap and great for a crowd.

      One of my favs - Jerk Chicken sliders with cylantro citrus slaw.

      http://www.chow.com/recipes/27788-pul...

      With some black beans?

      Good luck, let us know which way you go.

      1. re: biondanonima

        Second the curry idea. It's so easy to mix and match ingredients for a curry. You could easily do a Thai chicken curry with chicken thighs and legs along with carrots, onions, and potatoes. And then do an Indian vegetarian curry with chickpeas and eggplant. Another choice is to go all American with two kinds of meatloaves. A turkey one and a beef one. Then make a pan of mac 'n cheese and a nice salad of bitter greens to cut the richness of everything else.

      2. I know you are avoiding chili,but i think it could be an easy dish to put together.
        Two versions- meat/bean and a veggie/ bean
        Serve with lots of toppings, everyone's happy

        Most of the prep work can be done in advance

        3 Replies
        1. re: cheesecake17

          If you put out some baked potatoes, those who are extra hungry could make stuffed potatoes with the chili and the toppings.

          1. re: baseballfan

            I like that idea. I've served chili over baked fries, but baked potatoes are easier

            1. re: cheesecake17

              We used to do this all the time when we had our ski house. It's easy to do the potatoes ahead and keep them warm and you can bake a bunch at the same. It's low cost as well when feeding a crowd. The teenagers used to love this and it was an easy way to do the impossible...fill them up!

        2. What about like a baked version of chicken/eggplant parmesan? You could do the breading etc ahead of time, and then just do a quick pan fry in batches to get the crispy outside then finish off in the oven. Serve w/ pre-cooked spaghetti or linguine or something. I've made a version of this http://www.realsimple.com/food-recipe... and it was pretty tasty. You could make your own sauce ahead of time of course.

          Also, I've made these lasagna "rolls" up that would be very easy to make ahead and just pop in the oven when you get back. http://traceysculinaryadventures.blog... Might be too similar to actual lasagna though.

          1. Some sort of hearty soup(s), accompanied by crusty bread (either purchased at bakery, or home-made no knead, started the night before).

            Rather than Italian, some other hearty ethnic fare that can be made in advance-- enchiladas (since you don't want to do chili) or some sort of curry.

            1. A ski expert here. Home-made chili is what is in my thermos. A hearty soup or stew also works great on a budget for a crowd. For dinner I would want a meal in a bowl. Simple, easy to eat, and warming. Good alternatives to chili are beef stew, bean with bacon, maybe a chicken or beef broth soup with lots of veggies. Many of us after a day of exercise do not want all the starch and cheese fat that would be in ziti, spaghetti, lasagna, etc. Individual salads made as each desires with lots of topping choices go well with a warm soup or stew of some kind.

              2 Replies
              1. re: smaki

                I take it you're not Italian! ;-)

                I ski with a mostly Italian group of skiers, and you should see how much cheese, pasta, polenta, prosciutto and porchetta we pack on our 4 day and 7 day ski trips! ;-) We only have broth soups as a first course, to be followed by risotto/pasta, then meat, then cheese and grappa.

                I would be disappointed if I came home from a day of skiing and all I saw was chili on the dinner table. They sell chili at most North American ski resort cafeterias, so a few skiers might be chili-ed out by dinner time! I became completely turned off chili a few ski seasons ago! :-)

                1. re: prima

                  Correct, not Italian. You are right chili is often everywhere and too common. I feel a good home made stew or soup with lots of meat and veggies works good on a budget feeding a crowd with limited time to prepare. Some sort of veggi-based side(s). Individual lettuce-based salads with lots of topping options and various home made dressing choices is an idea. Or could go with sides able to prepare ahead of time. Can easily make more than 18 can eat on an under $75 budget.

                  The worst for me would be to not get enough to eat at the end of the day and be wondering how to find healthy nourishment. Hate to be rationed food after a day on the slopes. To the OP, foreverhungry like me after a day skiing, would make sure you have more than sufficient to satisfy all. If pick right any extra will be good left over. Is better to toss than skimp on such a vacation.