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Need your expert help figuring out party food!

So I'm throwing my parents a retirement party next week. They're great, their friends are great and it's not a huge party (like 20 people) but, well, they're great so I want it to be special. I don't have much of a budget and it's not in my house so I'll want to do things inexpensively and preferably as much in advance as possible. My dad also can't have much salt, so I'd like to prepare some food salt free too. To complicate things, the party will actually be at my parents' place so avoiding messy foods would also be good. There are two ovens and a grill outside at my disposal.

So far, I'm thinking short ribs, done in advance (in the slow cooker?), heated on the day with a big pot of polenta (the baked kind people rave about here?)

For the people who won't eat red meat, I was planning on grilling some salmon, which would also go with the polenta and salad. I'd probably make some of the salmon salt free for my dad, as I don't think I can make either the short ribs or the polenta salt free and good for a group.

I was thinking of also doing a big salad so there are greens. And just doing a cheese plate and crudites as appetizers.

For dessert, I was thinking of making some vanilla chocolate chip ice cream (my dad's favorite flavor) and maybe some hot fudge, since it's easy in advance and seeing if there's time on the day to make some pies.

My worry with the short ribs is that it might be messy, but at least no one will need to use a knife with it, it tastes good and may even be better done ahead of time.

Is there any other options that would be better?

thanks so much!

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  1. You seem to have it all under control. Great idea to cook a main that you will not have to tend to all day. Even the salmon can be made ahead of time and served cold if you like it that way. It's really about your parents, so if they like the food you are making, you have no worries.

    1. it all sounds good, but you may want to do a side of poached salmon instead of trying to grill pieces at the last minute. and yes, you can do the short ribs even a few days before.

      polenta absolutely needs salt or it's lifeless. this is true with most starches.

      instead of a salad, maybe some roasted green beans. you can do these ahead too and they taste fine room temp, cold or hot.

      and rather than pies, maybe a pan each of blondies and brownies? those are great with ice cream.

      15 Replies
      1. re: hotoynoodle

        Agree about the green beans (or other cooked vegetable). Neater to eat than a leafy-greens salad, and easier on the digestive system for those over 50.

        1. re: hotoynoodle

          Agree with you on all counts. I would actually not do short ribs because I find underseasoned beef to be not as tasty. Depending on the tastes of the the guests, you may want to do a roasted leg of lamb rubbed with garlic, rosemary and lemon zest. Lamb has such a strong flavor, I don't think you need any salt. A fun prep of green beens is tossed with a persaillade - coarse breadcrumbs, parsley, lemon zest and garlic. You can also do a roasted carrot salad with a orange vinaigrette.

          1. re: Dcfoodblog

            well, my dad can have *some* salt, and the idea would be that he'll probably eat the salmon instead, which I can prepare a salt free version of too (lots of lemon zest, lemon juice garlic, pepper and generous amounts of good olive oil make for a yummy salt-free salmon) so that the salt in the polenta is less of an issue.

            my dad strongly dislikes lamb, so I wouldn't make that as a lower salt alternative in this case though it's otherwise a great suggestion. I love the persaillade suggestion too.

            1. re: Dcfoodblog

              Is it common for people to not like polenta? I thought it was one of those things that most people like. I was thinking baked potatoes are a pain if you have to plan for 20 of them, and then you'd probably want to have a toppings bar, or at least have butter out for folks to use which can get messy.

              1. re: kazhound

                I haven't gotten my SO to like it. It was a side at a wedding we went to and he said "that's weird". I think if someone isn't used to having it, it is a little odd at first. I didn't have it until I was in my 20s. I'll keep trying with him though :)

                1. re: kazhound

                  It can be a consistency thing.

                  1. re: kazhound

                    I probably didn't read this carefully enough. But how are you doing polenta for 20 people? And, if this is a buffet, polenta doesn't sound like a good choice.

                    1. re: c oliver

                      I was going to do the baking method that's been talked about here a bunch. I have this bookmarked, for example:

                      http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/08/hea...

                      too difficult? I was thinking that maybe I would plate the polenta and the shortribs or salmon and pass out the plates. Shortribs and polenta don't look very appetizing on their own, I don't think.

                      1. re: kazhound

                        I have a 'classic' baked polenta CH recipe also. But it's for about six people max. Twenty??? If you don't want to do baked potatoes, how about mashed? I did some a few years ago that I reheated the next day in the HUGE slow cooker. Loads of butter and cream so it seemed special. Just a couple of thoughts.

                        1. re: kazhound

                          I agree that the polenta may not be the best choice for a group. I think a potato gratin, rice or orzo pilaf or even a seasoned couscous dish would be a better choice that would work better with the salmon especially.

                          1. re: biondanonima

                            I agree that polenta is not up everyone's alley. Pilaf is a great choice and can be made ahead. I like it made with both rice AND orzo, toasting the latter in a pan until it is golden before adding the rice, so there are two distinct colors in the finished dish. Then it's onion, spinach, chicken broth, and lots of butter.

                            1. re: greygarious

                              thanks. I'm now having a total crisis over the polenta. Can I make a giant (disposable) pan or two in the oven?

                              I'm worried about the grains of the pilaf or rice getting everywhere. But maybe that's paranoid panic talking. Can you make good mashed potatoes for that many people? I won't have a slow-cooker with me or I'd just make them in advance and warm them up there. What's the best accompaniment?

                              1. re: kazhound

                                the oven-method is fool-proof, be sure to add plenty of grated cheese for flavor. yes, you can make it in disposable pans.

                                i've never had people balk at eating it and it's a great match with short ribs.

                                mashed potatoes don't hold all that well, but you could roast chunks of small new potatoes.

                                1. re: kazhound

                                  My daughter made Hasselback potatoes for a Christmas dinner of roast turkey and prime rib in 2009. They were just beautiful there were about 18-20 people dining. She also makes an oven roasted potato *hash* with small cubes of white potatoes...sweet potatoes....seasoned with rosemary...chili powder...salt & pepper some cayenne and a sprinkle of brown sugar....coated in olive oil and roasted in a huge square casserole pan. Perfection but might not pair well with your spare ribs.

                                  1. re: Lillipop

                                    Hassleback potatoes are a great idea! They're so easy, but people always seem impressed when I serve them.

                  2. Are your parents and their friends polenta fans? If you're not positive, I'd suggest simple baked potatoes (they travel surprisingly well), a potato torte, or rice.

                    If you're feeling ambitious, a fresh fruit salad is colorful and usually popular. Fruits can be diced a day ahead and kept in separate containers, then combined in a glass bowl at the party.

                    1. You do seem to have this very under control.

                      I love this recipe for lamb meatballs - http://www.chow.com/recipes/13432-lam...

                      Very easy and I half the salt and add a salt substitute like Penzey's Murial of Flavor. but even so there isn't much salt in it and it's pretty flavorful. I serve it with whole wheat pita as well.

                      I'd add some cooked veggies to the entrees grilled, or some asparagus, broccoli, or something.

                      5 Replies
                      1. re: Sandwich_Sister

                        If it seems under control, it's largely to the credit of all of the years I've been reading this home cooking board!

                        Grilled asparagus is a great idea - so easy and good!

                        1. re: kazhound

                          I do enjoy asparagus with salmon. I'm sure your party will be fantastic!

                        2. re: Sandwich_Sister

                          Is that better than making the regular shortribs in advance and pulling the bones out?

                          1. re: kazhound

                            I assume this was directed to the post below and just misplaced :P

                            Better would be subjective here. Boneless shortribs will have much less fat/grissle to deal with, and you can portion them into lovely uniform servings. The drawback would be the loss of the bone in the braising liquid. I find braising shortribs on the bone gives the braising liquid a little extra oomph.

                            1. re: twyst

                              yep, sorry! is the gristle a big deal? I didn't really notice it too much when I made it las time. the fat will be easy to pull off since I'm making in advance

                        3. Sounds like you have it all worked out pretty well!

                          If you are worried about the mess of the braised shortrib, consider having your butcher cut you boneless short rib roasts. They average 2-3 pounds a piece and you would cook them the same way you cook the regular shortrib. What you would likely want to do is cook them a couple of days ahead of time and then cool them overnight. The following day remove all the solidified fat from the pot and take out the shortribs. Portion the shortrib roasts, while cold, into individual little squares/rectangles. Back into the fridge, and then the day of the party reduce the braising liquid to the desired level, then gently warm the shortribs in the sauce for service.