Help me feed a crowd of hungry wedding goers.
May 24, 2010 8:50 AM   Subscribe

We're hosting a small, casual wedding reception for about 30 people and I need some ideas for food. Ideally, the recipes will be make-ahead (some reheating or finishing touches are ok), easily expandable, relatively simple, and will hold well room temperature or in a crock pot.

The reception will be at my mom's house so when I say casual, I really mean it. We will have some vegetarians and some carnivores so ideas for both would be appreciated. I know how to cook, so by "simple" I mean not too work intensive, not a lot of ingredients, and not ingredients I would have to go to exotic stores to get. What has worked for you when cooking for a large number of people?
posted by Kimberly to Food & Drink (20 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Not all of these will be appropriate for every circumstance, or with each other, but....

I find that when having a party for a large number of people that isn't specifically a dinner party, having a lot of little hors d'oeuvres or tapas type dishes works better than making a huge batch of one or two main courses. Here are some ideas:

- (vegan) Mango and black bean salad (for four big servings you just toss together one diced mango, one drained and rinsed can of black beans, two chopped scallions or 1/4 cup minced red onion, 1/2 minced red bell pepper, juice of one lime, and salt and chili pepper to taste.) Serve with tortilla chips.

- (vegan) The inevitable hummus and pita/vegetables, only dress it up a bit. Or make a variety of dips for the pita and/or vegetables: a couple different flavors of hummus, or even some totally non-hummus dips included (baba ganoush? some sort of pesto-flavored thing? whatever!)

- (possibly vegetarian) Quiche (make ahead)

- (meaty) Plate of prosciutto or other dry-cured ham, sliced thin and served with some nice cheeses and maybe some fruits (cut melon, grapes, fresh figs would all be terrific)

- (meaty) Make-your-own lettuce wraps (some of the ingredients might not be available @ local grocery, but you could get them pretty easily ahead of time)

- (possibly vegetarian, depending on what you include) Big antipasto-type platter: roasted red peppers, marinated mushrooms and/or artichoke hearts, giardiniera vegetables, fresh mozzarella, maybe some nice Italian sausages (sliced salami, sopressata, etc.)

- (OK for everyone depending on how you arrange/time the grilling) Skewers of grilled vegetables and/or meat. Maybe spice it with some cumin and coriander and serve it alongside a spicy harissa dip and a cooler yogurt and mint dip. Probably wouldn't be easy to do ahead, but it could be a fun thing to do at a party: everyone loves fire and the smell of cooking foods.

- dessert foods instead of or in addition to a wedding cake: big fruit salad, cookie plates, chocolate-covered fruits (pretty easy to make a day or two ahead, esp. if you have a double boiler for the chocolate)

Also, we had a huge and informal reception when we got married. We had it catered from a mobile barbecue pit, but we did the beverages ourselves. We just got a bunch of galvanized washtubs, filled them with ice and beer/white wine/soda/water, and positioned them at strategic intervals throughout the reception site. It worked really well, cut down on bottlenecking at the tiny bar area, and looked way prettier than coolers would have.
posted by kataclysm at 9:08 AM on May 24, 2010

Shrimp and cocktail sauce is so easy, healthy and filling. They sell platters now that you just thaw and poof! All ready to go!
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:09 AM on May 24, 2010

Honestly the easiest things I've found for parties/gatherings are large packs of precooked items at Costco. Swedish or teryaki meatballs work great in a crockpot, as do cheesesticks, mini-quiches, breaded green beans, puff pastry hors d'Ĺ“uvres and other small breaded items on a warming plate. Plus they're really easy to prepare. If you want to make them yourself rather than buy premade you can find recipes for them around the web.
posted by msbutah at 9:09 AM on May 24, 2010

Tortilla roll ups are very easy to make, and it's easy to control costs. Buy 3 different types of tortillas - plain, spinach and tomato - for the different colours. Make one colour fish, another deli meat, and the third vegetarian. My favourite type is smoked salmon, capers or green onions, and baby spinach on a cream cheese/mayonnaise/lemon juice/honey mustard base. You can substitute canned salmon with a bit of liquid hickory smoke, though it won't taste as good. For vegetarian, use the same base and add sundried tomatoes and/or grilled/roasted vegetable. An easy deli meat is roast beef, mustard, and pickles. You could also use egg or tuna salad as the filling.

Once you've spread a tortilla with ingredients, roll it up very tightly, wrap in plastic wrap, and stick in the fridge (so you can easily make them ahead). Just before you're ready to serve them, slice them up and arrange on plates. No cooking required.
posted by Anali at 9:22 AM on May 24, 2010

Bacon Fruit Cups
posted by T.D. Strange at 9:45 AM on May 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

This may be a little TOO casual, but barbecue is great for a crowd and keeps well in a crock pot.
posted by spinto at 10:00 AM on May 24, 2010

Braised pork belly

Smoked salmon on toast points with cream cheese whipped together with chives and dill and finely cut red onion, with a caper on top.

Tomato/basil/mozz toast points

Tenderloin carpaccio with balsamic braised beets and a little goat cheese, wrapped up and tied together with a chive.

Proscuitto wrapped melon with balsamic reduction (pretty ordinary, but it's easy enough to do).

Bruschetta with cheese/honey/figs
posted by TheBones at 10:02 AM on May 24, 2010

Tacos. My easiest-possible crock pot recipe for chicken tacos is raw chicken breast or thighs and veggies in equal parts salsa and water. The salsa will poach the chicken, making it nice and moist. After about 4 hours, it will basically shred itself. Let guests scoop it with a pair of tongs into a hard shell and add shredded cheese and lettuce.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 10:03 AM on May 24, 2010

nthing Costco or Sam's Club or Gordon's Food Service. The sweet n' sour meatballs are always a hit. Also the bite size egg rolls.
posted by Lone_Wolf at 10:10 AM on May 24, 2010

When we feed a crowd, we look at each dish. Can it be made simpler to prepare or replenish during the day? Is this a spot to add some zip for zero effort. Simplify where it'll make a difference to the workload. Add some jazz when you can do it with almost no effort.

Simplify - You can do a lovely cut fruit salad or you can serve a bowl of green, red and black grapes. Either way, you've got some healthy fruit on the table, but grapes are easier. After awhile a fruit platter looks "picked over" and you need to rearrange it during the party. Grapes are dumped in the bowl.

Jazzify - Bread basket. You're at the bakery getting the rolls anyway. Pick up a variety of breads and add some bread sticks. It'll add color and dimension to the presentation. Plus people like to have some choices.

The other thing, don't leave the same food out during the entire party. Mentally plan that you'll have some lighter stuff (appetizers), then the heavier foods (dinner). Then sweets and cheese and fruit during the cake cutting time.

For foods, the day before I'd grill up some chicken and pork and a heap of veggies. Those are all yummy cold in sammiches. Fully chill the meats after cooking and slice it thinly. Serve with a reduced balsamic vinegar for tasty flavor that's a bit different from mustard and mayo.
posted by 26.2 at 10:31 AM on May 24, 2010

Bean tacos -

open a bunch of cans of beans, whatever ratio and kind suit you (we have done all variations over the years, usually one can each light and dark kidney, one garbanzo, one great northern, 2 black) (you can use dried, of course, but it takes longer and doesn't seem it ends up tasting as good)
dump into a pot or crockpot (using bean juice is optional, usually we dump most of that and put in a small amount of veggies broth)
add at least a can of black olives (olive juice usually dumped out) (optional)
we add a bunch of sliced jalapenos - it doesn't make it very spicy, but we like spicy, so maybe put those in the fixins bar
feel free to add onion or pepper - if so, precook them a little because the beans don't need as long
put in seasoning - you can use prepackaged taco seasoning or experiment with your own (less salt that way as well)
heat up
serve with a bar of shells (soft and hard) and fixins

It's veggie (usually vegan as we make it) and pleases a bunch of people, and everyone can customize with the fixins bar
posted by mrs. taters at 10:43 AM on May 24, 2010

We had a cold buffet at our reception, followed by pulled pork BBQ in the evening and it worked out well. We fed about 50-55 people. I've uploaded our whole reception menu here from the caterer (we chose from this list) - everything was served at room temperature and was gorgeous. It all sounds fancy but is really quite simple food. The big hits were the potato salad and ham, and I also got them to make devilled eggs, which were brilliant!

The BBQ works great in a crock pot and can be one of those things that you prepare the day before and just re-heat that day.
posted by ukdanae at 10:48 AM on May 24, 2010

What you are looking for is lasagna.

It holds beautifully, is even better reheated than if you only cook it once, can be made in veggie and meat versions and still feel like just as much of a 'main course' for both veggies and non. In fact, if you make a really good veggie lasagna, some of your meat eaters may choose it.
posted by jacquilynne at 11:04 AM on May 24, 2010

I was at a reception where they did a taco bar. BEST. RECEPTION. EVER. You can put out beef, chicken, and beans at the "protein" filling, various hard and soft taco shells and nacho chips, and then lettuce, shredded cheese, various other toppings -- onions, jalapenos, salsa, sour cream, warm queso -- include salad bowls for the salad eaters, etc. Prep work is all chopping (done ahead), cooking the fillings (done ahead) and reheating them, and then putting out the bowls and platters.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:13 AM on May 24, 2010

Roasted marinated vegetables were pretty easy and a big hit at our self-catered wedding, and are tasty cold, with crusty bread.

Here's one not-too-complicated recipe (for herbes de provence you could substitute your choice of herb blend, like Italian seasoning blend, e.g.)

Here's an approach geared for a crowd that offers a lot of flexibility (a little confusing to follow, though).
posted by drlith at 12:14 PM on May 24, 2010

Ha I was coming here to suggest tacos too. If it's truly as casual as you state, make-your-own-tacos/salad bar has been my go-to choice for large casual gatherings of people with varying dietary requirements. The vegans are happy, the vegetarians are happy, the don't-eat-four-legged-animals people are happy, the Atkins people are happy, the "Lutherans" (i.e. members of my extended family with a phobia about seasonings) are happy, the people with sensitivities about a specific ingredient are happy, and all the prep work is done in advance so you aren't scrambling last minute. People can put it together exactly as they like. Leftovers are easy to deal with and the next day you can make yourself the best damn nachos exactly how you like them.
posted by ambrosia at 1:36 PM on May 24, 2010

Empanadas can be built to feed a number of dietary needs. Just make sure to mark which ones have meat in them. You can also offer a variety of dipping sauces.
posted by pickypicky at 1:54 PM on May 24, 2010

My aunt hosted my cousin's wedding rehearsal dinner with crockpots full of tamales! Or maybe they were a different variety of electrically heated food reservoir, but it was a lot like a crockpot. They are, as you requested, delicious delicious food that you make in huge batches far in advance (freeze), and that just gets better as they sit in moist steam waiting to be eaten. Would also fit well with the tacos suggested above.
posted by aimedwander at 7:05 AM on May 25, 2010

These are all really great answers. Thank you!

I floated the Taco Bar idea to the family and everyone is really excited about it. My mom also wants to roast a turkey for some reason, so we're doing that too.
posted by Kimberly at 9:22 AM on June 1, 2010

So I went to Maryland for the wedding and I got sick and was in bed the entire weekend. Missed the wedding, couldn't help with the reception, didn't really eat anything all weekend.

The taco bar was a huge hit though and fairly easy to pull off. We managed to talk my mother out of roasting a turkey (although the high heat and humidity paired with an a/c on the fritz did most of the convincing for us). Taco bar was dinner for the next two nights as well, which worked out great in terms of feeding all the family in town--even if I didn't get to eat any of it. My big meal of the weekend was a piece of toast and a scrambled egg.

Thanks for all the suggestions!
posted by Kimberly at 12:43 PM on June 24, 2010

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