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Help! I'm having a party for 40!

I 'have never had a party this big, and I am daunted by the quantities of food needed. I plan to feature a spiralcut ham, with biscuits and condiments (mayo, different mustards, pickle assortment), broccoli salad (from Sweet Tomatoes), and cake. I am OK getting the quantities of these and the drinks. What else do I need? I am thinking of an entree for those who do not eat/like ham, maybe a chicken and pasta salad? If I do that, can I decrease the amt of ham? Do I need a green salad? I will be passing some hors d'ouevres such as gougeres and stuffed mushrooms. The party runs from 4 pm Sunday afternoon. Any advice is most welcome.

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  1. The people who eat the ham will also eat the chicken and pasta salad. Just so you know.

    I don't know the broccoli salad from sweet tomatoes, but that sounds good.

    I'd do a fruit and cheese platter or three with crackers and breads. Serve nuts and olives.

    1. Maybe a vegetarian pasta salad as a side dish - that will cover vegetarians, and be good for non-vegetarians as well.

      1. Don't forget the "signature cocktail"

        1. No, don't reduce the amount of ham; the more choices you have, the more people will want to try everything if they eat what you're offering. Is it your intent that everything (other than the mushrooms) be cold?

          I do think you need other dishes because you are having the party pretty much during what will be considered dinner time so people will be hungry. I would offer a different meat in addition to ham like a lemon chicken salad (sticking with the cold dish theme) and some side dishes.

          Pasta salad is a good idea but I would make it with vegetables such as frozen & thawed peas, shredded carrot, red onions, seeded & diced cucumbers, zucchini & yellow squash, scallions, halved cherry tomatoes, etc tossed with a vinaigrette. You can also do a layered chopped salad with these same veggies and lettuce of choice.

          I would do potato salad and or sweet potato salad which goes well with ham & biscuits. It's soup weather so adding a chowder or bean soup would be nice and it's easy.

          6 Replies
          1. re: Cherylptw

            unless the party is sit down, i would not serve soup.
            standing trying to eat a bowl of soup is difficult, especially if you are also juggling a plate of other foods.

            1. re: westsidegal

              Smooth soups in mugs can work for a standing party.

              1. re: melpy

                But who has mugs for 40 people? Just messy / extra trash if using insulated paper cups to sip from.

                1. re: melpy

                  Rent what you need. You can return it unwashed.

                  1. re: sr44

                    $60 for mug rental? Spend the money on food and skip the soup.

            2. not an answer to your question, but iirc, the sweet tomatoes broccoli salad also contains pork.

              how about some vegetarian beans (either chili or baked beans) so that if a vegetarian, shows up there will be something for them to eat?

              11 Replies
              1. re: westsidegal

                Thank you. I looked up the recipe and see that the broccoli salad does indeed contain bacon.

                I will be serving a cheese and fruit platter. Forgot to mention it.

                I like the idea of doing a vegetarian pasta salad. But should I do that AND potato salad, or one or the other?

                I do want everything to be room temperature, so no soup or other hot dish, except for the gougeres and mushrooms -I'lll have enough to do!

                1. re: lattelover

                  you can leave out the bacon in broccoli salad. (this is the raw salad with a sweet-sour mayo based dressing? and raisins and nuts?)

                  1. re: alkapal

                    I would nix the meat in the broccoli salad- feel like pork overload

                  2. re: lattelover

                    Not that I think soup is an especially good idea but soup can be made ahead and kept warm or even heated in a crock pot. Very hands off for the day of. Minimum work. Carrot or squash seem to fit best with your menu.

                    1. re: lattelover

                      Yes, I would serve both potato salad and veggie pasta salad because it will give your guests some choices and from your post, you only have a broccoli salad decided on as a side and it has bacon. With 40 people to feed, I doubt it will go to waste.

                      1. re: lattelover

                        Here's a broccoli salad that is vegetarian and delicious - had it first when a friend made it for a cookout. While it does add another starch - it is very light.

                        Wild Rice, Broccoli & Cranberry Salad

                        1 (6-ounce) pkg long grain & wild rice mix
                        1 cup sweetened dried cranberries (I used Ocean Spray Craisins-1 pkg)
                        1 cup fresh broccoli flowerets, chopped
                        4 green onions, chopped
                        3 celery ribs, thinly sliced
                        1 (2-ounce) jar diced pimento, drained
                        1/2 cup sweet and sour dressing (1/2 cup orange juice & 2 tablespoons white vinegar)
                        1 cup dry roasted peanuts

                        • Prepare rice according to package directions; cool.
                        • Combine rice, cranberries, and next 4 ingredients; add dressing, and stir gently. Cover and chill at least 2 hours. Stir in peanuts just before serving.

                        I've doubled it for a covered dish meal at work - worked fine.

                        1. re: Jeanne

                          no oil or mayo?
                          hmmmm…. sounds good

                          1. re: alkapal

                            No oil or mayo alkapal - when I cook the rice I always put 1 T of butter in it - but that's it. It is very good - I first had it when my friend brought it to a summer cook-out at my sister's place.

                            It is really good - give it a try!

                            1. re: Jeanne

                              i love wild rice, so i think i will give this a try.

                              i still recall a smoked turkey and wild rice salad with cranberries that whole foods made in its deli YEARS ago. it had a mayo-y dressing, but it was so delicious. wish i had the recipe!

                          2. re: Jeanne

                            I, as well as many other people, try to stay gluten free. The broccoli salad recipe was sounding perfect until the dressing. White vinegar is not good for gluten free. A simple substitution of cider vinegar for the white and the recipe would still be yummy and now safe to eat.

                          3. re: lattelover

                            Vichyssoise (potato leek soup) can be served at room temperature, if your only objection to soup is that it would need to be kept warm . And it is drinkable from a mug.

                        2. how about a stromboli (calzone) with chicken and brocolli or a vegetarian version. they are fine at room temp, hearty, filling and fairly easy to eat.

                          1. I like the idea of serving a lasagna/baked ziti with the ham. I've seen this many times and it's something for vegetarians which can be made ahead. It's also a "main" for them, so they're not relegated to making a meal out of a side dish.
                            There are many choices of salads without meat; pasta, potato, slaws.
                            You mentioned "a cake", so I'm assuming this is the only dessert? If so, I'd offer another option for dessert. For example, if one dessert is chocolate, I'll offer one that's more tart etc.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: monavano

                              a vegetarian lasagne would be great. nice for this cold weather! and make-ahead!!!!

                            2. green salad - yes
                              keep the same amount of ham

                              wow -- stuffed mushrooms and gougeres -- both are fussy prep and have to be served hot (imho).

                              i like the idea of endive spears with blue cheese and chopped toasted walnuts or pecans sprinkled on. those could be on the table (buffet , right?)

                              a crudités platter would be nice, so people can tweak their food, and lighter eaters can pick.

                              after reading other comments, i like the idea of potato salad
                              and a layered salad is very pretty (the one you can make the day before and it rests, covered overnight in fridge)

                              i also think you need a vegetarian pasta dish. i like a tortellini salad with fresh peppers and peas with a greek-style vinaigrette (or plain vinaigrette).

                              what about sweets? any dessert?

                              10 Replies
                              1. re: alkapal

                                thanks. I'm making the gougeres and mushrooms because they are sort of my signature dishes and everybody expects them. I make the gougeres beforehand and freeze, just reheat before serving. I also make the mushroom in advance and heat before serving. That's why I want everything else to be simple and room temp.

                                So, I have decided on ham, broccoli salad, pasta salad, cheese and fruit, chocolate torte and berry crumble. Then I am wavering on adding green salad or cole slaw or potato salad or combination of these. Does this sound like enough? Do I need another protein? My husband offered to make spanish tortillas (egg with potatoes and onion), but I think that would be too much work given the quantity he would have to make. (I may add some small munchies such as nuts and/or olives.)

                                1. re: lattelover

                                  If Spanish tortillas are cut into 2 in squares instead of the wedge I think two large would be sufficient.

                                  1. re: lattelover

                                    i'd prefer a green salad over cole slaw since your broccoli salad has a similar dressing to the cole slaw. http://www.thespoonfulblog.com/2010/0...

                                    i always love potato salad.

                                    the spanish tortilla would be a nice additional protein. perfectly fine at room temp.

                                    1. re: lattelover

                                      This final menu sounds great but quite rich so I would add the green salad. Some may want it to keep their plate a bit lighter...although I have to say if I were there I'd be likely to only get a bite or two of salad and load up on the rest! I'd make it a simple one too as you already have plenty of work - spinach with cherry tomatoes, orange segments or strawberries, maybe pecans and a vinaigrette. Nothing too labour intensive.

                                      1. re: lattelover

                                        I agree with a green salad vs a potato or coleslaw. Maybe use some spicy arugala or other interesting greens with a mustard-y vinegrette.

                                        Spanish tortilla would be a great vegetarian protein choice. If that is too labor intensive a baked frittata with spinach and onion (or whatever veggies) is another option, just cut into squares for serving.

                                        Also, for the pasta salad i would avoid a mayo based dressing since the broccoli salad has one.

                                        1. re: Ttrockwood

                                          I can't tell you how much I appreciate all of your kind and thoughtful suggestions. Lots to think about. I am going to ruminate a little as I see exactly who is comng and will finalize the menu depending on their particular preferences. If anyone has any additional thought, please let me know. Again, thanks so much, everyone.

                                          1. re: lattelover

                                            I love the orzo salad from epicurious. It is a real crowd pleaser.http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo...
                                            I make spanish tortillas a lot and they are pretty labour intensive and messy. I saw this easy version and would be interested to try it.
                                            I also make gougeres a lot and I freeze them raw and then cook just before serving and they are terrific. I usually have 2 or 3 kinds in the freezer at all times. They can also be used as rolls for the ham a la Judy Rogers.

                                            1. re: Gloriaa

                                              I was going to suggest the same orzo salad. Or, I also love this one: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo...

                                              I do think you might need another protein, especially if you think you might have pork averse guests. Maybe a couple of roasted/sliced turkey breast to go with the same rolls/toppings as the ham?

                                              Or, here's a shrimp salad I've made for lots of parties. Use small shrimp and even cut them in half length-wise. You can make a little shrimp go a long ways and you can vary the other ingredients, depending on what you like:
                                              2 Cups Mayonnaise
                                              ½ C. well-drained horseradish
                                              ½ tsp. msg
                                              2 tsp. dry mustard
                                              2. tsp. lemon juice
                                              ½ tsp. salt

                                              1 lb. cooked shrimp, peeled and deveined
                                              1 basket grape tomatoes
                                              6 oz. whole, pitted olives (cut in half if large
                                              )1 can sliced water chestnuts
                                              8 oz mushrooms (small or cut in half/quarters if large)
                                              ½ head cauliflower, broken into flowerets or a mix of cauliflower and broccoli or equal amount of snow/sugar snap peas cut in half

                                              Drain all ingredients, mix with dressing and refrigerate 1-2 hrs. (or more) before serving

                                        2. re: lattelover

                                          Unless you have a commercial-size kitchen, keep in mind the size of your refrigerator and the size of your oven and do what's realistic. For a crowd that size, serve what you can prepare in advance. And factor in this: if you are serving any sort of alcoholic drinks, part of your kitchen has to be set aside as "bar" and that will take up space as drinks have to be mixed, even in pitchers, or wine has to be opened. Remember too that several guests will show up with flowers and you will be trying to get them in water in the kitchen while attending to culinary mayhem in the kitchen.

                                          Too many times I have let myself get carried away and have done what is too ambitious---the hard way I have learned the advice to KISS---Keep it simple, Stupid (I mean me, not you!). But don't be like the person who once posted on chowhound that she had invited 30 people to brunch and was going to serve waffles and had only waffle iron. KISS is a good rule to remember.

                                          lattelover, for what it's worth, I don't think you have enough food. You want to wow people a little.

                                          1. re: Querencia

                                            Q -- you got it goin' on!

                                            great advice, all round!

                                      2. I'll second the lasagna suggestion as a nice 2nd main to complement the ham. The fact that it can be prepped ahead of time is a big bonus.

                                        A *large* pan of Mac&Cheese would also work. It too can be prepped ahead of time. It might be a little tricky to gauge the sauciness and adjust with extra milk just before putting it in the oven when starting with chilled, made ahead sauce and pasta - but if you have a recipe you're comfortable with it should work.

                                        3 Replies
                                        1. re: BernalKC

                                          Lasagna? Wow, that's a lot of work when you're already stressed-out. Delicious, though.

                                          1. re: amoule

                                            Lasagna can made in advance and then is pretty hands off...

                                            1. re: amoule

                                              If you don't boil the noodles it's not that much work. Many ingredients can be ready to use like ricotta, pasta sauce, shredded cheese....

                                              It may take a short while to layer it all in and bake but it will feed a lot if portioned out well

                                              And you don't have to buy no boil noodles. Regular ones work fine too if you add a little more liquid in the bottom and sauce well. Can't think of the last time I boiled noodles for lasagna

                                          2. I think a baked meat free pasta dish would be fine for the vegetarians, and would also be appreciated by the meat eaters too.

                                            The chicken I would cook separately. Since it takes roughly the same time to cook as the ham, you could easily throw some baked chicken parts in the oven along with it.

                                            I think a green salad would be a nice "light" complement to the other items you are offering, which sound rather rich. If not salad, perhaps a simple steamed vegetable medley - orange and yellow carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, green beans & wax beans, etc... lightly tossed in some butter or olive oil and fresh herbs.

                                            Scalloped potatoes are also really easy to throw together - all you need is some heavy cream, thinly sliced potatoes, salt, pepper, and perhaps a little garlic powder & paprika.

                                            1. Or serve soup as shooters; no need to rent in this case, the OP can buy disposable shooter glasses like these and serve the soup from an insulated carafe:



                                              5 Replies
                                              1. re: Cherylptw

                                                I love soup, but we are in Florida and it may be 85 degrees, so soup will not be on the menu. Otherwise, it is a great idea. I dont want to do anything other than room temperature or cold, so some of your other great suggestions just wont work here.

                                                Right now I am thinking:

                                                Ham with condiments, spanish omelet, broccoli salad, green salad ( with strawberries, nuts, and maybe a little feta), cheese and fruit platter, banana pudding (Alton Brown's, with banana liqueur), Lindt chocolate truffles. I cant decide if I need the pasta dish. If so, I will do chicken or tuna tarragon, or maybe the orzo salad or shrimp salad mentionned above. I was thinking of making baking powder biscuits to go with the ham, but now I am thinking of making cornbread......

                                                I am so happy to be able to bounce these ideas off fellow chiwhounds. zi makes me feel more confident.

                                                1. re: lattelover

                                                  I would do as much ahead as you can. Buy things that won't go off early.

                                                  Pull your serving ware, wash it and label it if need be so any helpers can match up food with the platter or bowl you want used.

                                                  Consider if you have any vegetarians and might need a non-meat option.

                                                  Also, for that many people I mix catered or store-bought with homemade items. For example: Pillsbury biscuits are good and can be bought at Sams or Costco in bulk. Much easier than baking last minute and a good substitute.

                                                  I am also planning a big party and am thinking of catering some brisket from a great BBQ place. I won't have many places for people to sit so I need to keep my food choices easy to eat. (Not a lot of cutting required, for example.)

                                                  I will make a tortellini salad and a wild rice and orzo salad days ahead and keep them in gallon size ziplocks. I can turn them everyday and just dump them in a serving dish on the day of, adding any last minute garnishes which also have been prepped ahead.

                                                  Enlist help if you need it. Maybe someone to wash dishes, refresh the buffet and take out the trash and recycling. A responsible teenager that wants to make a few dollars perhaps? Good luck!

                                                  1. re: lattelover

                                                    How about gazpacho, served in cucumber "cannons?" Buy the English cucumbers, cut them to your desired length, then use a melon baller to scoop out the flesh. Fill the cukes with gazpacho or any other cold soup. The tall cukes can look very elegant on the right serving tray.

                                                    Altenratively, if you can find a cheap source of tall shooter glasses, you can use them for the soup and cold beverages when the occasion warrants. Smoothies in a variety of flavors/colors look great.

                                                    1. re: lattelover

                                                      Keep biscuits even if you have to buy...

                                                      1. re: lattelover

                                                        Another vote for biscuits - neater than cornbread which, while delicious, will tend to crumble and drop small pieces everywhere.

                                                    2. I'm late to this thread and know your menu is pretty set, but i have to suggest egg salad with a little mayo, red wine vinegar, plenty of dill, celery, a bit of sweet pickle relish and a wee dash of minced red onion. It would be so good with ham (on or off of a biscuit), delish on top of green salad or alongside the broccoli.

                                                      Allrighty, gotta go boil some eggs now.

                                                      1. Here is a good chicken and pasta salad with a teriyaki flavor: Cook some boneless skinless breasts and shred the meat while it is still warm then put a lot of soy sauce and garlic powder on it and mix it with cooked pasta that has a lot of surface, like spiral-shaped, to absorb the flavor of the soy sauce and garlic powder. Do this while the drained pasta is still warm so it will take up the flavor and also add cut-up pineapple, fresh or frozen if you can get it, otherwise canned, and a little red chili pepper, and some cashew nuts. Refrigerate 24 hours before serving.

                                                        1. If you are looking for a way to add more ballast to your buffet table, meatballs are easy to do for a crowd. Use the bought frozen ones and put your effort into the sauce, which can be curry or sweet-and-sour or Mexican or just about anything. Use a large crock-pot (and for 40 I would borrow another crock-pot and have it ready in the kitchen to come out when needed).

                                                          Also suitable and filling and easy to do in large quantity (and ahead of time) are tabbouleh, kidney bean salad, and potato salad. Devilled eggs are always popular. Is this party coming soon? Strawberries are in the market now from Florida at great prices and look beautiful on a buffet. Melon isn't the best now but it gives a lot of melon chunks.

                                                          For a crowd that size I have put a whole ham at one end of the (extended dining room) table and a large roast turkey at the other end and let people make little sandwiches, then in between the length of the table all the other stuff.

                                                          You mentioned cake. Does that mean you are serving coffee as well as drinks or wine or whatever? If so, set up your sweets (cakes, cookies) on a separate table, maybe your sideboard or buffet, or use a couple of card tables put together with one cloth over them, and have the coffee there too. For a crowd that size you will need a big coffee urn. If you don't have one, borrow or rent one (they show up at yard sales but you probably don't have time to go that route---one of these is essential for serving a large crowd).

                                                          Move furniture around to make it easier for a large number of people to move around the tables where the food is set out. You may have to move the dining room chairs and other pieces out of the room.

                                                          Absolutely do not decrease the amount of ham. Leftover ham is a blessing. If you don't have enough food you will be very embarrassed. If you have too much food you can eat it all the rest of the week. Easy choice.

                                                          1. My vote is for a huge baked mac and cheese. Don't change anything else- love your menu!

                                                            8 Replies
                                                            1. re: Berheenia

                                                              Could anyone tell me how much green salad and pasta salad I should make? When I google it, a lot of different numbers come up.

                                                              1. re: lattelover

                                                                Did your search find this quantity cooking site? Amount listed is for 100 guests, so cut in half I think, resulting in pasta salad made with 3 - 4 pounds dry pasta and tossed salad from 5-6 pounds of bagged greens or 10 12-oz. heads of lettuce.

                                                                1. re: MidwesternerTT

                                                                  Thanks. I did not see that site. Very helpful.

                                                                  1. re: MidwesternerTT

                                                                    one needs to consider also how many *other* things are on the menu. maybe it is just me, but 3-4 pounds of macaroni seem like a bit too much, considering the whole menu.

                                                                    on the other hand, you don't want to run out.

                                                                    just thinking out loud here.

                                                                    sorry for sowing doubt.

                                                                    1. re: alkapal

                                                                      The site I linked to assumes the salads are part of a multiple-choices generous buffet meal, addresses that "seems like too much" perception, talks about portion-sizes and also links to supporting statistics.

                                                                      After all the work and fun of hosting a party, I find it nice to have some leftovers to enjoy as mix/match meals during the following week.

                                                                    2. re: MidwesternerTT

                                                                      i had in fact looked at the page before i posted.

                                                                      and now, re-reading it, here is the only thing that addresses what i was talking about : "For side dishes you can figure a total of 1 gallon per 10 people. "

                                                                      1. re: alkapal

                                                                        Top of grid has the info and link , alkapal "These amounts are calculated to serve 100 on a buffet - they already include appropriate extra to allow for seconds.
                                                                        FAQ: Why do your amounts differ from other tables on the web? In the USA portion sizes have nearly doubled since 1980. These tables reflect CURRENT (2009) usage. Think not? Check out the portion distortion quizzes at the National Institutes of Health."

                                                                        Here's the updated link for the quizes (two boxes on right of the page) http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/publi...

                                                                        I'm with you in not quite buying in to the bigger portion sizes -- what gets dished out at a restaurant isn't necessarily what a person will eat in one sitting (we often split one restaurant meal) or serve to themselves if given the option.

                                                                    3. re: lattelover

                                                                      I personally would make a half a serving per person of mac and cheese. I find a one pound box of macaroni and cheese serves 10 people so I would make two boxes and use the milk cheese proportions on the box as a guide. You have a lot of other food going on so I wouldn't expect everyone to take much or possibly none.

                                                                  2. One thing I would recommend is making broccoli slaw. Most grocery stores sell broccoli slaw in a bag. It's basically julienned broccoli stalks with the outer skin taken off. I like to make it with a balsamic vinaigrette, dried cranberries and pecans. It get better as it sits and you won't have to worry about it wilting.

                                                                    6 Replies
                                                                    1. re: Dcfoodblog

                                                                      Yes, I am doing Joans Broccoli Madness recipe. The menu is bone-in ham, with buttermilk biscuits and different mustards, pickles etc., Spanish omelet, pasta salad, broccoli salad, green salad with strawberries, walnuts and feta, fruit and cheese platter with crackers, banana pudding and chocolate brownies. I will be passing gougeres and stuffed mushrooms before dinner.

                                                                        1. re: alkapal

                                                                          Thank you! I really appreciate fellow hounds input.

                                                                          1. re: lattelover

                                                                            Yum! I would love the whole menu!

                                                                            1. re: 16crab

                                                                              So the party was last Sunday. We had 36 who came, but four left before dinner, due to other commitments. So there were 32 eating.

                                                                              The gougeres and stuffed mushroom were a big hit, as they always are. I made about 5 dozen gougeres and 40 stuffed mushrooms. I had about a dozen gougeres left (I popped them back in the freezer. They reheat very well.) I also had three mushroom left which I ate for breakfast next morning.

                                                                              I had 6 lb. and an 8.5 lb. bone-in ham. I have about three or four lbs. left which I put in the freezer. I had taken the meat off the bone and cut the meat into small pieces, removing most of the fat. In retrospect, one large ham 9-10 lbs would have been enough. The pasta salad was hardly touched. The green salad ( 1 lb. spring mix mixed with walnuts, feta, and strawberries) was not eaten much either. I had to throw alot away. Of the 40 buttermilk biscuits, about 20 were left which I froze. The broccoli salad (party size from Sweet Tomatoes) was demolished. The fruit, cheese, banana pudding, and brownies were eaten, but there were leftovers, which we will eat later.

                                                                              Everybody raved about the food. In retrospect, I would have done the same menu, but made less. All in all, a success! Thanks, everyone, for your input.

                                                                              1. re: lattelover

                                                                                Thanks so much for reporting back. And, congratulations on your successful party.