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seeking less expensive party recipe recommendations

I am giving a party at which I expect about 100 people--could be 150 but I'll know a week ahead how many. I am looking for good ideas for less expensive foods to make. The expensive ones I can think of myself! ;)
Some make-aheads would also be good. I was already thinking creamed mushroom tarts (not cheap), baklava, hummus, and focaccia (not a make-ahead). These are kind of my hit parade. I'm planning on both savory and sweet. I don't like chick peas but it is an easy, cheap, healthy thing to include. People who tell me they love hummus come to my parties and the other stuff is vacuumed up, and the hummus is never all gone! I've made roasted garlic hummus, also roasted red pepper. That gets $$$.

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  1. Palomalou,

    A big block of cheddar, cut up, on a tray with kielbasa, cooked, and served at room temp, with rye/pumpernickel, dill gherkins, mustard.

    Cold cut platters, augmented with olives, roasted red peppers.

    A few different kinds of fritatta (veg, cheese, ham), sliced into finger-food sized and served at room temp.

    Wraps with plenty of veggies, cut up.

    Vegetarian lasagna.

    3 Replies
    1. re: pinehurst

      I've used a frittata recipe containing zucchinis and other veggies and cheeses for potluck parties, and it goes over quite well. It's cheap, easy, can be made ahead and served cold, is not messy to transport or to eat, and can be cut into any size pieces. A doubled recipe fits nicely into a lasagna pan.

      I haven't found anything to get the job done better.

      1. re: Sharuf

        Absolutely. The ease-factor is unbeatable.

      2. re: pinehurst

        I'll be back with a few easy, make ahead ideas, but a la minute, I can't stress enough the importance of hiring someone(s) to help you plate, put out fresh platters of food and clean up. If you have no idea where to find someone, a local college likely has an employment service where its students register. I'd hire a bartender through a service (they'll be bonded!) as well.

      3. i can get pork butt very cheaply and that can be made several days ahead and simply re-heated day of.

        making any kind of tarts for 100+ is too fiddly for me, so i'd make big pans and cut into smaller pieces. mushrooms can get spendy, so pick another sort of veggie, say zucchini, and roast it, then toss with cream, cheese and eggs for savory tart filling.

        various flavors of fritatta or quiche, with/without meat, and these are just as good room temp and can be made ahead.

        personally hate hummus and also don't like serving dips to big groups. messy and too much potential for double-dipping and such.

        kielbasa or sausage, grilled with peppers and onions.

        roasted chicken legs or satay-style on skewers.


        vegetarian chili.

        cookies, brownies.blondies.

        1. Do you plan to have a theme (Mediterranean, Italian)?

          Pasta salad (maybe cous cous or orzo based)
          Corn and bean salad
          Onion tarts
          bruschetta bar

          For sweets, cookies (can be made ahead and frozen)... oatmeal cookies and brownies are my favorites.

          1. What kind of party? Is it lunch time, afternoon, evening? Will there be cocktails? Indoors or out? Will it be buffet or will you have help passing food? Finger foods only? Or meal type ok?

            100 people is pretty big, do you want everyone to be able try everything? "Cheap" can be come $$ times a 100..

            Deviled eggs are cheap especially if you buy medium sized

            Big box stores sells large containers of peanuts-you could make spiced peanuts.

            Again- from big box stores you can get a spiral ham and put out mini rolls and mustards

            A large lasagna or pasta bake can be made for pennies per servings.

            A large chafing dish of cocktail meatballs

            Large platter of less expensive grocery stores cheese-cheddar, jarlsburge, red wax Gouda along with crackers. Maybe a few summer sausages.

            1 Reply
            1. re: foodieX2

              +1 on the spiral ham and rolls or biscuits. That was my first thought although I truly have no concept of feeding 100+ people. That is way out of my league and cookware / kitchen.

            2. Good questions! It's not dinner, it's indoor/outdoor, it's at 7 pm (praying for no RAIN). Deviled eggs are a great idea. I just served deviled eggs with crab at my last party, and they went fast. But can do it without the crab!
              No theme--it's retirement party for our boss.
              There will be wine and perhaps other alcohol-type drinks--that's what folks are bringing.
              Blondies, brownies and bar cookies are also a great idea.
              Meat and cheese are getting kind of into the price range I'd rather avoid. But you gave me a great idea--I can get cheap bulk sausage and make little biscuit sandwiches. My biscuits are good, and they are cheap. Cheese straws.
              Thanks! You are a big help-- keep those ideas coming!

              5 Replies
              1. re: palomalou

                i love deviled eggs and make them often when i have under 20 people. but you'd need to make at least 200 for this, which, again, would be way too fiddly for me. :)

                unless everybody coming is vegetarian, people will expect some kind of protein -- it's a dinner-time party.

                1. re: palomalou

                  cheese straws/biscuits are indeed awesome and easy.

                  at the risk of turning in my 'chow' creds, Costco has some fairly good frozen spanakopita among other things. it's a last-minute effort but really just pulling in and out of the oven (ya' have any friend with a sullen teenager willing to make a few bucks doing that?).

                  1. re: palomalou

                    If I got an invitation for 7pm, I'd assume that it was for dinner. I'd go with desserts and make it clear on the invite that was the deal.

                    In addition to cookies, you can add in fresh fruit desserts for those who don't want all the refined sugar.

                    1. re: 512window

                      I agree - I would assume a 7 p.m. invitation was for dinner.

                      1. re: Terrie H.

                        You know, I would too, unless the invite said "join us for snacks" or "join us for dessert".

                  2. A batch of pulled pork sliders, and although not "cheap" but thrifty, and easy is steamed shrimp with various cocktail sauces.

                    1. Food52 recently had a contest called "Your Best Cheap Feasts". You might take a look and see if anything appeals. The winning recipe, "Greek" Lamb with Orzo, is certainly on my list to make! http://food52.com/contests/330-your-b...

                      I adore devilled eggs but cannot fathom making them for 100+ people. Just my two cents.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: GretchenS

                        hey GS, then how about crab-devilled quail eggs, stuffed inside hollowed cherry tomatoes, and re-assembled on a toothpick?

                        that would be easier. right?

                      2. Not healthy, but breadsticks wrapped in bacon, and baked. Roll in parmesean cheese when out of the oven. Straight from Paula Deen, y'all.

                        1. Everyone's got great suggestions, and I throw a lot of cocktail/appetizer parties, but usually under 20. So that means answering this is rather tough.

                          If you're doing it up for 100, remember your crockpot is your friend.

                          I have 4 crockpots in varying sizes. You could have the hot stuff in your kitchen and the rest on a buffet table outside.

                          Meatballs, mini sausages in a sweet and sour sauce, cabbage rolls, the standard cheese/salsa hot dip. I've found, not only are the crockpots dishes NO WORK for you once the party begins, guests, especially if they've had a few drinks, appreciate some solid hot food.

                          1. Make your own cheese "tortas" for an eye-catching, tasty inexpensive cheese option; mix 1/2 butter with 1/4 cream cheese & 1/4 soft goat cheese (TJ's and costco have reasonable options for larger logs of goat cheese) and beat until soft and well combined.

                            Line any mold/bowl/plastic container with damp cheesecloth - layer pesto, crumbled blue cheese, chopped sundried tomato, toasted nuts, minced dried fruit, fig jam (sky is the limit for combos) with layers of the butter/cheese mix. Chill to firm. turn out onto a platter and serve with crackers, grapes, etc. A cheap 'fancy' caterer's trick!

                            Here is a pic of examples: https://www.google.com/search?q=homem...

                            Do Spanish 'tortilla' basically flavorful fritatta with sliced onions/potatoes. cheap, filling, can be served at room temp.

                            Make a spanikopita-style hors d'oeuvre; layer phyllo dough into a large (disposable?) flat foil pan with low sides, cutting the butter to brush each layer with part oil to make less rich/less expensive. After about 6 layers of phyllo, add a filling; cheese (cream, cottage, parm, feta,garlic, parsley. Or spinach, feta,cottage, dill, sauteed onion. Or mushroom duxelles, cream, eggs, breadcrumbs, garlic, onion. Put more phyllo on top - bake. Cool. cut in small squares for an elegant bite with rich filling and crunchy outsides.

                            Steamed tiny new potatoes served with romesco sauce to dip. Trust me - filling, and a HUGE hit. Perhaps add raw veggies or sliced baguette to round out the platter.

                            Some make-ahead inexpensive ideas:) All can be served at room temp. and be great!

                            1. If I'm having a lot of people over I often make bulgar wheat with green beans and toasted flaked almonds which usually goes down well.

                              I normally cook the bulgar in stock (mainly chicken sometimes veggie). Toss in sliced cooked green beans and then scatter toasted flaked almonds on top and dress with extra virgin olive oil.

                              This can be made ahead of time and served at room temp.
                              I always add the almonds and olive oil just before serving it ahead.

                              1. I've done quite a bit of volunteer cooking for large crowds (school functions, non-profits, etc). I serve anywhere between 75 to 225 people and I've probably done this 50 times in the last 6 years. Due to the nature of these undertakings, it always has to be done on the cheap. Also I should add that I'm not in the food service profession but I read a lot in order to (hopefully) prevent the transmission of any food-borne illnesses. Keeping foods at safe temperatures can be tricky especially when you're talking about large quantities and using refrigerators and ovens that are not designed for commercial cooking. I'm not suggesting that the OP or anyone else is unaware of the concern, I just like to see it mentioned whenever one of these "large scale" cooking projects is discussed online.

                                My suggestion is baked pasta - three kinds, together with green salad, good bread, etc. I typically do a chicken/cream sauce, meatball/red sauce, and a veggie pasta bake. Something for everyone. If you splurge on excellent cheese, this actually makes a very nice meal. Fresh vinaigrette. People go nuts. You'd be surprised how many people have never had salad dressing that didn't come out of a jar, or a sprinkling of good cheese on a simple pasta.

                                If you shop at a big box store, you can buy disposable hotel pans as well as disposable chafing set ups (although if you can afford it, I'd rent chafing dishes). One full hotel pan is approximately 25-30 adult servings.

                                I have created Excel spreadsheets for a lot of my menus that can be scaled up or down to create a shopping list. I've found it helpful to set a portion size, e.g., 2 oz. dried pasta, then calculate how much you need in total. So 100 guests would require 200 ounces dried pasta (12.5 lbs or 2 of the 6 lb bags of pasta commonly sold at the big box stores). There are lots of websites that allow you to scale recipes and/or are specific for large quantity cooking. Here is one example: http://www.cdkitchen.com/recipes/holi...

                                If I'm preparing everything myself, with no help, I try very had to delegate drinks and desserts to someone else. I find it is not hard to recruit assistance for those two items.

                                Finally, if the pasta idea doesn't suit you (I'm not offended), there is a thread over on Egullet by Chowhound Calipoutine about cooking for 50 seniors @ $3/pp. She had that job for quite awhile and she blogged about all of her menus. You might be able to get some ideas there. Here is a link: http://forums.egullet.org/topic/97559...

                                Good luck to you and I think its very nice that you are giving your boss a retirement party!!

                                1. Great looking and inexpensive - 2 Cucumbers peeled/ sliced 1/4 inch thick into rounds, on party- rye bread squares or round crackers (almond nut thins are great, too), spread with a combo of 8 oz cream cheese / 1/4 C. ranch dressing. Double for your group of 100.

                                  Can make ahead and refrigerate or assembled in about 15 minutes prior to (or during) party. Assembly technique that works for me is to lay out the bread/crackers on serving tray, use a zip-bag with corner cut to squirt 1/2 tsp. dabs of the cream cheese mixture on each slice, top with cucumber round and press firmly to spread cheese to edge of bread/cracker. Can layer 2 or 3 deep on the serving tray, placing clear plastic wrap between the layers

                                  1. - 'Soup Kitchen Party' with several crock pot/slow cookers. Pots of chili, meat and vegetarian or Cincinnati Chili with spaghetti or Frito Pie; minestrone; pasta e fagioli; Rebollita; Italian Wedding soup; lentil soup; pumpkin soup; mushroom soup; tomato soup; corn chowder; split pea and ham soup; tortilla soup; gazpacho. Baskets of breads, crackers. Bowls of grated cheese, chopped parsley, olives, hot sauce, chilies, green onions, chimichurri, couscous.

                                    (the 'soup kitchen' is a tongue-in-cheek retirement joke. You're too young to sing "Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?".)

                                    I'd suggest lasagne, but my lasagne costs an arm and a leg to make... and, trays of half-eaten lasagne are not a pretty sight. It always annoys me. It's a party, not a cafeteria. I'd insist on a server to cut 'squares' and serve the lasagne.

                                    - Make your own Pho: crockpot of broth with additional bowls of noodles, chicken, beef, shrimp and garnishes on the side. It's even better to have a server at this station to make the pho for individuals.

                                    - Crockpot of pulled pork; basket of small sandwich buns for Sliders; bowl of coleslaw. Assortment of pickles and mustards.

                                    1. Hmm...these are some good ideas, but I'm in need of finger food, since its not dinner. Hors d'ouvre (sp) kinds of things.

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: palomalou

                                        with a 7:00 time-slot, you will need to figure "finger food" at 6-7 pieces per person. is anybody helping you? that's 600-700 portions. you won't need 600 of each thing, but 600 or so pieces total.

                                        will you be heating stuff on-site? does anything need to travel? access to chafing dishes?

                                        pulled pork or chicken sliders are cheap and easy make-ahead.

                                        sausage rolls


                                        pinwheel sandwiches

                                        flatbread pizzas

                                        room-temp crustless quiche, cut into small slices

                                        chicken/rice bake -- use a bit of cheese and egg as binder, so it's not gloppy

                                        spring rolls, each cut in 1/2

                                        any veggie can be steamed and pureed with a bit of olive oil or butter, then piped onto bread slices or rounds. use colorful ones, like broccoli or carrots, and amp up the flavor with ginger/garlic/ etc.

                                        couscous or bulgur salad with lots of lemon and fresh herbs

                                        sesame noodle salad

                                        chopped cobb salad

                                        teriyaki chicken on skewers

                                        trays of olives and nuts

                                        egg/chicken salad in endive or butter lettuce leaves

                                        mini sandwiches of chicken salad, almonds and grapes

                                        mini sandwiches of turkey, cheddar and granny smith apple

                                        1. re: palomalou

                                          Actually, a "soup party' can be very walk-around friendly if you buy short clear small disposable cups and also have plastic spoons for anything with 'bits' in them, but 2-3 short cups of soup plus a board of assorted breads and crackers (and a few of my inexpensive cheese tortas explained above) would be a great themed party.

                                          If you do a couple of cream soups (asparagus, and perhaps smooth borscht with sour cream for an awesome PINK soup), plus perhaps tortilla soup (with SMALL chopped ingredients, tortilla shreds, etc), and say a fine-cut soupy chili or other beef soup, you would be in pretty good shape.

                                          Agree with comments by several posters about care with refrigeration, making sure you have proper serving equipment (disposable chafers, or rented real), and making sure guests KNOW they are not coming for dinner.

                                          Even still , there is no avoiding the hunger of the body-clock, and most people will not eat dinner before coming to a 7pm party, whether you wish they would or not.

                                          If it must be individual hors d'oeuvres, then you do have your work cut out for you. Hope some of our suggestions help.

                                          1. Polenta is cheap & easy to make for a large crowd. You can do it in sheet pans & top with a number of things - pesto, tapenade, tomato sauce, mushroom ragout, ratatouille, spinach & feta; harissa, herbed goat cheese or ricotta - and just cut into squares. Pressing a second layer of polenta on top turns them into a nice twist on finger sandwiches.

                                            Baba ghannoush and Moroccan-spiced carrot dip are great alternatives to hummus.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                              I was just going to suggest baked polenta in squares, with topping variety...something for everyone that way. For serving ease, make a "polenta bar" and have everyone choose their own topping combos.

                                              Dips with veg and crackers would round it all out.

                                            2. I would think one of your party perhaps knows someone that can get you into resturant depot or similar? that will drop the price of food dramatically.

                                              Some Ideas:

                                              Deviled Eggs come to mind. I make a head, cover the stuffing well and pipe into the eggs at the last minute. You can make them fancier in any number of ways on the cheap (roasted garlic and some of the pickling liquid, Wasabi, etc).

                                              Jerk Chicken Sliders - diffrent sweet spicy and Guaranteed a hit. Use Chicken quarters or theighs - can be made a head and served out of a crock pot with the citrus slaw


                                              Not as cheap as Hummus but Taszaki - with cucumbers, garlic and Dill. Goes great with either vegs or toasted pitas.

                                              Perhaps a Mexican black bean dip....

                                              For a big crowd, I like to pass stuff - Grill some killbasa, put some spicy mustard and tooth picks and past to the crowd...it works pretty well to take the edge off the hunger than you can pull out the more expensive stuff.

                                              Then a tri-tip etc... (fill them up on the cheaper food - save the good stuff for toward the end).

                                              A couple of big spanish Torilla Espanola's - can be done the day before - great at room tempeture.

                                              A strata - served at room tempeture.

                                              Not sure if this is the type of food you're looking to serve?

                                              1. Just thought of this... easy tasty and Cheap..

                                                mujadara/mujadarra/mujadarah - lentils, Rice and Carmalized Onions.. Not spicy and I think will go well with just about anything.

                                                Arrti Squeria (sp) also has a great recipe for this on FN site...


                                                1. Seasoned popcorn -- offer a few varieties depending on what you have on hand -- salt and pepper, garlic butter, cinnamon and sugar,, lemon pepper, five spice powder, curry, Cajun seasoning, Old Bay

                                                  Mashed potato bar

                                                  1. I know many people have suggested various types of "bars" but I would really think twice about that if you are going to have close to 150 people. Unless you have someone stationed at it it will get messy and unsanitary quickly. Think about the last buffet wedding you went to or buffet style brunch/meal. 100-150 people all reaching for the same condiments, chafing dishes, mixing serving utensil. It is a recipe for disaster if left unattended.

                                                    However if you are going to have people helping (you have yet to answer that) then various "make your own" bars can be a way to serve more substantial type food.

                                                    The way I look it, putting the food issue aside you are going to need the following at the every least:

                                                    Professional bartender (bonded)-even if though the party is "off site" there are a some pretty tricky legal issues with alcohol. This could easily be considered a "work function" since its a retirement party. The last thing a company, or you as the host, needs is to be held liable for an alcohol related incident. A bonded bartender will help with that but still no guarantee. If nothing else make sure to look in your local "host" laws. Around here they are VERY strict.

                                                    5-10 servers- 100-150 people are going to generate a lot of "trash". Assume you are using disposable cups/plates/silverware? These folks should be responsible for:
                                                    *staying on top of the trash receptacles
                                                    *clearing leftover plates of foods, cups, etc
                                                    *monitoring the food stations. Making sure they stay clean/sanitary, refilling as needed, removing once food is gone.
                                                    -Some tables should have someone stationed there during the height of eating of the eating.
                                                    -possibly passing various finger foods to keep the lines down on the other tables and to keep the flow traffic moving.

                                                    Bonus would be a dedicated "clean up" crew who can be working behind the scenes as the party begins to wind down. Bagging trash, cleaning up chafing dishes/platter/serving utensils. Staying on top of it will make the end of the night much more pleasant.

                                                    The most I have every entertained in my home was 30 (my son's christening) and I hired "teens with trays" so that I wouldn't have to deal with serving and clean up. Worth every single penny.

                                                    Lastly-this is your home right? Can your bathroom/septic handle 150 people? Make sure someone is in charge of staying on top of those too-they can get messy pretty quick.

                                                    1. If you can make your own bread - it is very tasty, cheap and you can top it with simple things like radishes, cucumbers, etc (like an English Tea). Also, if you can make your own pizza dough - very easy - you can make it in advance, freeze small/tiny balls and then take each one out and roll it into small mini pizzas (and serve with very cheap authentic Italian toppings like slices of potatoes, tomatoes - or just serve with tomato sauce - because cheese can be expensive); Mini potato pancakes; Tiny potato halves topped with green onion and cheddar cheese; tiny wontons or egg rolls (you can make your own dough which will reduce the price) and you can fill them with anything from meat to cabbage to mushrooms to chocolate - (they are a crown favorite); tiny fried eggplant slices with a small soy/green onion dipping sauce on the side; if you want more expensive things, you can have beef/chicken sliders, boneless chicken wings wrapped in lettuce or tofu wrapped in lettuce.