It's all about the horseradish
December 27, 2012 4:35 PM   Subscribe

Please share your wisdom on cooking for a crowd.

I need to serve New Year's dinner to my wife's family, which means 15 adults and 7 children. They are all meat eaters. I love to cook and I'm at home in the kitchen but I have never served anything like this number of people before, at least not without using a barbecue or catering from our favourite Indian restaurant.

I've got some killer horseradish that I processed from my garden this summer and I'm planning around the condiment, partially because none of them have ever tried it (not popular here in Quebec) and that is a travesty. I was thinking of hitting Costco to buy one of the massive roasts they sell, and then serving this up (tenderloin? Or should I be looking for another cut?) with some form of potatos (Baked? Garlic mash in the crockpot to save oven space?) a bunch of salads and dinner rolls. I'd love to make Yorkshire pudding but I think that would probably be taking on too much. Probably chocolate cake and lemon cheesecake for desert, cheese, crackers, pâté, olives, crudities for appetizers.

My partner is terrified in the kitchen but will make the salads the day before. I'll do the deserts ahead of time too, but I'll be doing everything else solo the day of. My partner is the baby of the family and it is really important to her that we pull this off with aplomb. She'll be taking care of refilling glasses, keeping conversation and music going, and putting out fires with the kids. I want everything to taste great and this whole thing to be as low stress as possible. Is this a good plan or am I on the wrong track?
posted by Cuke to Food & Drink (16 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Sausage, mash, and onion gravy. Hello horseradish!
posted by run"monty at 4:46 PM on December 27, 2012

If you're going for beef, don't get tenderloin, get eye of round. Then roast it according to the Cooks Illustrated method - cut into 3.5 to 4.5 lb roasts, sear all over in a frypan, then transfer to a rack placed over a cookie sheet and roast at 225 F for a couple of hours, or until the internal temperature of the meat reaches about 145 degrees. Allow to rest for 1/2 hour tented in foil, the carve into slices. You'll get a lovely medium-rare roast, uniformly cooked, that can be placed out in platters for people to take.
posted by LN at 4:53 PM on December 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

That sounds like a good plan. Tenderloin is a good roast for a crowd. Yorshire isn't that much extra work. You can make the batter in the blender ahead of time and then throw it in the oven really quick while the roast is resting. A couple of general pieces of advice:

Don't cook anything you haven't made before.
Make a schedule of what happens when. Do this a couple of days ahead of time, with the recipes in front of you, and be very detailed. Including things like "set the table" and "put wine in fridge" or even "turn on oven" that way you don't forget to do anything, and you make sure the stove-top doesn't need to be heating five things when you've got four burners.
If you can, plan on having the salad as it's own course. That way if the roast takes too long you've got padding time-wise, and if it's done early you can combine it with the rest of the meal.
I like to set up a designated area for dirty dishes, one that's NOT the sink or the counter. Then let someone who's not the cook deal with them.
If you need help, ask for it. (This is really the most important one, people are happy to help, and would rather help wash dishes then get an overcooked roast and a stressed out host).
Lastly, relax, this should be fun for you too.
posted by Gygesringtone at 5:03 PM on December 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Mashed potatoes are to give everyone enough...yes do the mashed. You can get away with doing them the night before and then re-heating in a low oven (with a sharp cheddar crust?) while the meat is sitting and thinking about itself.
Tenderloins run spendy and for that many people you may need two. One rule of thumb i've heard is 0.75# of potato per person and a half-pound of (pre-cooked) meat per person. For 22, I bet you could follow this to the letter and still have some left overs. Particularly if you appetizers are sumptuous.
These leftovers, however, are quite desirable so thumbs up to your menu.
posted by Cold Lurkey at 5:17 PM on December 27, 2012

Prime rib is a traditional meat to serve with horseradish.

Make a list of the things you need to do and the time it takes (or the time you anticipate it will take) for each thing to cook/do. Then make yourself a timetable for the day of (and possibly the day before, too).
posted by cooker girl at 5:17 PM on December 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you're terrified of not getting the roast "perfectly pink", you can pick up a tenderloin from costco (best cut of meat ever), and search for Pioneer Woman's tenderloin recipe. SO forgiving, SO yummy, and so easy! Good luck!
posted by shazzam! at 5:17 PM on December 27, 2012

How big is a "massive" roast? You'll need several pounds to feed a group that size.

Kids can be a bit of a challenge for the host(ess) of a large gathering like this. Adults may be willing, even excited, to try something new like your horseradish. Kids, especially when they go to a strange new place, want to stick with what's familiar and comfortable. This isn't any reflection on your cooking, so don't take it personally if they skip the main course, the horseradish, maybe even the salads depending on their ages.

That said, it wouldn't hurt to have something simple but filling and not too exotic on hand. Mashed potatoes are usually a hit with kids. Can you make up something like Macaroni and cheese ahead of time, too, and reheat it on Dinner Party day? Now you've got another side that doubles as a meal for any Picky Kids Who Only Eat Bland Foods. If the kids stay mellow, their parents will stay calm, and that's half of a successful dinner party right there!

My aunt, when feeding large groups, would also set out her table in a trial run ahead of the big day. She'd put the names of the dishes she was planning to serve on the empty bowls and dishes she was planning to serve them in, and that way she made sure she had all the serving utensils, forks/knives/spoons, condiments, etc. she'd need on hand when the time came. I always thought that was a great idea.

Good luck! Sounds like you'll have your hands full, but you have a handle on it.
posted by misha at 5:21 PM on December 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think quite a lot of people do not care for horseradish AT ALL! (I say this based on a scientific survey of one, that is to say I do not eat it, and I think lots of others do not either) If you serve it to 22 people who have never tried it do not be surprised if half of them do not care for it. If your objective is to make a great impression it may not work. Just a thought.
posted by jcworth at 5:43 PM on December 27, 2012

Great ideas so far, thank you. The idea of writing down the timing, which a couple of you mentioned, is very helpful. I would never have thought of that. I also like the ideas of the dish area, the extra pasta side and the specifics on portion sizing.

The horseradish will definitely be on the side as it is very, very hot. I have had sushi & wasabi at another family dinner so I know quite a few of them will be up to try it, others not so much. My own children won't go near it with a 10 foot pole.
posted by Cuke at 6:11 PM on December 27, 2012

I do this twice a year. Planning is your friend!

In addition to writing everything out in terms of timeline, I seek dishes that can be prepped or cooked ahead of time and finished in the oven along with the roast. Look for braised/roasted vegetables, lasagnas, etc. I also tend to serve 4-5 sides in quantities for 8 people, rather than look than 2-3 sides in quantities for 20. It's more work to juggle, but that way everyone is sure to like something. Here's my usual menu:

- One large hunk of meat (turkey, roast beast, etc.)
- 3 sides that are fully cooked beforehand and can be warmed while the meat is resting (potato gratin, mashed potatoes, braised leeks, sweet potato casserole, soups, rice, rolls/bread, etc. Root veggies are great for this.) These are often even cooked the day before.
- 1 salad that can be prepped ahead of time and assembled just before serving
- 1 quick-cooking vegetable side that is done on the stovetop as salad is assembled (asparagus, green beans, etc.) Often, the veggies can be blanched ahead of time so the final prep is basically saute in oil and seasonings.
- Outsource all appetizers and desserts. Typically, I do a cheese/meat/fruit plate, or cocktail shrimp.
posted by snickerdoodle at 6:23 PM on December 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Seconding nearly everything about LN's comment.

Tenderloin has a sexy name, but as far as doing roast beef goes, you want marbling that will turn to gelatin while it cooks and make the rest of the meat juicy and succulent.

Some eye round roasts might have that kind of marbling, but they wouldn't be common. Still, if you're looking for real beef flavor to work with your horseradish, I'd pick one of those over a tenderloin any day.

I don't know if there is an equivalent where you live to the restaurant supply stores we have here, with names like Cash & Carry or URM. Those are GREAT places to go to look for large cuts of meat at prices well below grocery store or even costco pricing. Although you do end up having to buy an entire prime cut or half-cut and then deal with it from there as you see fit. They might have smaller roasts and such, too. Often very good quality at great prices.
posted by hippybear at 6:27 PM on December 27, 2012

I just pulled off dinner for a large group on Christmas. It was, in fact, a huge prime rib from Costco with jus and horseradish sauce, mashed potatoes, creamed leeks, and Yorkshire pudding. It went beautifully, and here's what I think helped:

-I made detailed lists (in Evernote) of everything I needed for each dish, with timing notes and links to recipes when appropriate

-I did a fair amount of prep the day before: made the horseradish sauce, chopped the leeks, measured out the stuff for Yorkshire pudding, gathered all the other ingredients and utensils I needed in one place to make certain I had everything and it was all cleaned, sharpened, etc.

-There were plenty of nibbly things and drinks for people to have while things were cooking (so no one was impatiently waiting for food)

-I had a helper to handle setting the table and washing dishes and be my extra hands when necessary.

It's not really that much work at that point. Once I put the roast in the oven I made the mashed potatoes and kept them warm, then prepped and staged everything else. The leeks went on the burner just before the roast came out of the oven. I let the roast (and me) rest a bit, then transferred it to a serving platter and poured the drippings into a casserole dish (easiest way to do Yorkshire pudding for a crowd) and put it into the oven to heat. Then I poured the batter in, and while that cooked I finished the leeks and my helper set the table. Once that was done, dinner was ready!

It also helped that these are all dishes I know quite well and am confident cooking, but the roast is simple-season with salt & pepper, cook low & slow until the meat thermometer beeps to tell you it's the correct temperature.

No mattet what you cook it all comes down to good planning, advance preparation, and timing. Good luck!
posted by rhiannonstone at 6:54 PM on December 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Slightly off-topic, but you should mix some of that awesome horseradish with ketchup, and have shrimp cocktail for appetizers. Classic!
posted by mon-ma-tron at 7:16 PM on December 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

15 + 7 is a lot of roast cow, especially in a household sized oven.

I'd consider separating out the carbohydrate into a separate course before the steak, so that the diners are already a little full before the meat, allowing you to have a smaller serving size of beef (smaller roast required!).

Pressure cooker risotto is my go-to for feeding large amounts of people ... a large pressure cooker should be able to turn out 15+7 entree sized portions of (mushroom and spinach) risotto on the cooktop (alternatively, pasta with sauce, polenta with something ... you get the drift!). Cooking time is about 10 mins.

The roast could be served with a side of lightly steamed vegetables, also done on the cooktop, and a salad.

chocolate mousse is a great desert for the masses, but you may not have the fridge space.
posted by jannw at 5:51 AM on December 28, 2012

If you've got steak + horseradish, it makes me think of Michael Symon's grilled ribeye with Havarti fondue (that has a ton of horseradish in it). it is dip-able, social, and easy!
posted by haplesschild at 7:12 AM on December 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

An update for anyone stopping by - it was a big success. I ended up buying a striploin roast (about 18 lbs). I had waaaay too much meat, but it was delicious. I went with the mashed potatoes, creamed leeks (which were new for me and everyone else and were a big hit) and farfale in tomato sauce, made the day before. There was also a quinoa salad and a celery root salad, as well as straight horseradish and horseradish sauce. Appetizers were as I had originally planned and I made the cheesecakes but purchased chocolate cake for a back up choice (needn't have bothered, it was barely touched).

The whole thing went so smoothly it was kind of unbelievable. I spent most of the day chatting and only had to head to the kitchen to carve the roast and get the sides in bowls and on the table (which was set ahead of time). I now know I can easily serve 20 and I'd be pretty confident serving 30+ since I think I cooked for at least that many! Leftovers are always good and they will be eaten.

Thank you all so much for your help, I really appreciate it. The tips, tricks and planning ideas were great.
posted by Cuke at 8:03 PM on January 1, 2013 [4 favorites]

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