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Critique my 4th Menu

We'll have between 25-40 and I'm the mother to 2 young children so I'm trying to keep it simple (this year) but I'm open to more creative options. I'm cooking for all ages in a fairly traditional area (caprese is okay with this group, carpaccio, no)


Veggie tray (brought by guest)
Fruit tray (brought by guest)
Clam Dip (family tradition)
Chips and homemade pico de gallo (or cheese straws)

Smoked, pulled pork BBQ sandwiches
Tyler Florence's Potato Salad
Caprese Salad (brought by guest)
Fannie Farmer's Mac N Cheese
Pioneer Woman baked beans

I could sub in a quinoa salad or a nice chopped salad- I feel like the menu could be too starchy?

Dessert is
Chocolate icebox cake (brought by guest)
Either a vanilla/strawberry icebox cake or banana cream pie

Thoughts? Suggestions?

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  1. Add a chopped salad (greens and veggies), the rest sounds great.

    1 Reply
    1. re: wyogal

      I agree w/ WyoGal - I would add a chopped salad and let guests add on what else they like (onions, dressings, olives, etc). But in my world, I'd skip the cornbread unless you know it's going to get eaten. I only use the cornbread when something SCREAMS cornbread, like chili. I'd stick with the chips and homemade pico de gallo ilo the cheese straws. Less work and a cool "crunch" for the summer time.

      Bless you for hostessing. Gah! 25 - to 40 people AND wee ones!

    2. I don't think two cakes are going to be nearly enough for 25-40!

      1. Maybe something green?

        -Cold szchuen green beans. Easy to make ahead and all done in the micro. Easily doubled. Adjust the spice level accordingly.
        -cold cucumber/red onion salad. Thinly slice both, toss with sherry or champagne vinegar. The longer they sit the sweeter they get.
        -big mixed green salad with shredded carrots, cukes, cherry tomatoes, etc. Dressing on the side so it stays fresher longer.
        -platter of grilled roasted veggies: broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, egg plant, zucchini, etc all tossed with olive oil and fresh basil

        Agree that 2 cakes or 1 cake and a pie are not enough for all those people. Are they those big sheet cakes? That might work. Maybe add a platter of assorted cookies

        How many kids are there? Could you add a cooler stocked with ice and hoodsie cups for them?

        1. Pretty much nailed it IMHO. Personal preference is for jalapeño & cheese cornbread. And since you have slaw, no need to feel compelled to add a lettuce salad -- never sells much at these things anyway.

          1. Work on your Cole Slaw. There are many regional variations. Make it festive. Purple, Green (cabbage) and gold. (carrots). Some onion and pepper rings if you like, With a festive and tasty slaw there is no need for a Salad. ~~ Cornbread? Meh. If you do make it don't make a plain bread. Think Broccoli or Mexican, or.......

            1. Thank you all! Follow up question: I definitely do need another dessert. I have a ton of local strawberries hulled and halved- any favorite strawberry desserts?

              8 Replies
              1. re: MNkateo

                It would be fun to do a red, white, and blue dessert with your strawberries and some blueberries. Layer vanilla pudding and berries, make a trifle, make the good old flag cake.

                1. re: Tara57

                  How about poke cakes, one strawberry and one blueberry. I use mostly fresh berries with just a little jello.

                2. re: MNkateo

                  This is so retro but I love Strawberry Fluff at a summer picnic. Or . . . go all out and putoone of the men in charge of handcranked strawberry ice cream?

                  1. re: MickiYam

                    Plus one to the strawberry fluff!
                    And maybe a watermelon or two
                    But some people will do the fruit tray for dessert.
                    I always make ch chip cookies when kids are involved but they have to beat off the adults!
                    Speaking of kids...do they all like pulled pork? I always keep a pack of hot dogs and bun in case

                    1. re: MickiYam

                      Oooh, what is strawberry fluff?? Also, any good strawberry poke cake recipes?

                      1. re: MickiYam

                        I had dessert inspiration during the night- 2 layer tres leches cake with a strawberry whipped cream layer and topped with strawberries and blueberries to make it look festive. I don't know how the tres leches will go over with this crowd but I LOVE it :) Any favorite tres leches recipes?

                      2. re: MNkateo

                        This recipe is absolutely killer. The shortbread crust is super easy, and if you don't want to make a tart, it works great as parfaits, which you could do as self-serve or in a big trifle dish (or, heck, a bowl, if you wanted to). If you wanted it to be red, white, and blue, adding blueberries would be great, too. I just made it this weekend and people RAVED. (Ganache is totally optional if you don't want to add the extra effort.)


                        Here's the recipe, if you have trouble with the links.

                        Toasted Oatmeal Shortbread

                        Makes one 9-inch tart crust; 16 cookies or 1½ cups crumbles


                        • 1/2 cup old-fashioned oatmeal, uncooked
                        • 1 cup all-purpose flour
                        • 1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
                        • 1/2 teaspoon salt
                        • 1/2 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces (1 stick



                        Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread the oatmeal on a rimmed baking sheet and toast in the oven until lightly golden and fragrant, about 5 minutes.

                        In a food processor, add the oatmeal, flour, sugar and salt. Pulse until combined and the oatmeal is chopped. Add the butter and continue to pulse until the mixture looks crumbly.

                        To make tart crust: Pat the dough into a 9- or 10-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom. Use the back of a measuring cup to help spread it evenly. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until golden brown.

                        To make cookies: Pat the dough evenly into an 8-inch square baking dish. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes. While still warm, cut into squares.

                        To make crumbles: Pat the dough into an even 1/4-inch layer on a baking sheet. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes. When cool, break the shortbread into crumbles.

                        Chocolate Ganache

                        ½ cup cream
                        ½ cup chopped chocolate
                        Melt ingredients together in a double boiler and whisk until smooth.

                        Rich Mascarpone Cream With Dark Chocolate Bits

                        Makes 6 servings


                        • 1/2 cup whipping cream
                        • 2 teaspoons vanilla
                        • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
                        • 1 cup mascarpone cheese
                        • 1/3 cup coarsely grated dark chocolate (we used a Microplane tool)


                        Place the cream and vanilla in a mixing bowl and beat at high speed until cream begins to thicken. Sprinkle in the sugar, and continue beating until stiff peaks form. Fold in the mascarpone cheese. Stir in the chocolate. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

                        Strawberry Topping

                        1 pound strawberries, halved
                        2 TBS sugar
                        (optional – 1 TBS or less balsamic vinegar)

                        Toss strawberries with sugar and vinegar, refrigerate 2 hours.

                        To assemble – bake tart crust as described, let cool. Spread ganache over crust, let cool. Fill crust with mascarpone cream and chill completely. Top with strawberries.

                      3. I'd do some other protein/meat as well. Not everyone eats pork (maybe in your group they do- in which case disregard this).

                        Perhaps something as simple as grilled hamburgers of hotdogs? Or maybe a smoked beef brisket?

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: tzurriz

                          I agree. I assume there will be kids in attendance so I'd do hot dogs or sausages. Almost everyone likes those.

                          1. re: tzurriz

                            Or maybe have a few turkey, salmon or veggie burgers on
                            hand as an althernative "entree" - unless you know the group
                            very well and don't anticipate the need.

                          2. I'd add a non-starchy salad. Two of my favorites are greek salad - cukes, tomatoes, sweet onions, oregano, feta and maybe black olives. Or "asian" slaw.

                            1. I'm not exactly a Martha type, but one year, I made a sheet cake with sliced strawberry stripes and blueberry stars corner. Really easy, really beautiful. Just don't want to add sliced berries till ready to serve; drippy. Or use whole berries.

                              It can be big enough to feed everyone, and it's theme appropriate.

                              1. i too would skip the cornbread and would make a very vinegary, tangy cole slaw -- not the mayonnaise-y kind.

                                add another crunchy kind of side, chopped cukes and carrots with basil and lemon, for example. or steamed, chilled snap peas dressed with mint and sesame oil.

                                don't think you need 2 icebox cakes, but if you've got fresh lovely strawberries than shortcake seems a no-brainer!

                                cookies/blondies are good hand-held desserts for running-around kids and i'd also offer just simple fresh fruit.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: hotoynoodle

                                  A guest is bringing a fresh fruit tray, so she's set for fresh fruit, especially with the strawberries.

                                  Agree with others you might want to offer some turkey dogs or turkey burgers for those who don't want pork.

                                  1. re: Dirtywextraolives

                                    thanks! it wasn't with the other desserts, so i blipped on it. :O

                                2. We host a July 4th party every year and the first year I started making ribs but I was afraid that some might not eat them (or they would be terrible since I never made them before!) so I got some roast chickens from Costco and cut them up. Honestly, everyone ate the ribs and there was TONS of chicken left over.

                                  So while I sort of agree with others about having some alternative for those that might not eat pork, burgers or hot dogs require someone standing in front of the grill. Instead, I only make ribs but I get a large tray of chicken tenders for kids (and adults) who might not eat the ribs. Trust me, nobody leaves hungry.

                                  In place of coleslaw, here is an Asian Slaw that I am making this year. I think it sounds good...and easy. I am going to make the slaw and the dressing separately the day before, and assemble before the party.


                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: valerie

                                    I've NEVER known a kid who didn't like chicken nuggets!!! And Costco has these adorable ones in the shape of T-Rex :)

                                  2. What about doing a bunch of corn in the "cooler method " ...easy!