Ideas for a large-ish dinner party (10 to 15)
March 4, 2014 4:08 PM   Subscribe

I'm making a birthday dinner party for my sister (early 50s). The party is also to celebrate a significant achievement of hers so will include more than the usual family members; there will be anywhere from 10 to 15 people, half of whom I don't know well or at all. I'm a good and experienced cook, and I'm very comfortable in the kitchen, but I'm used to cooking for smaller groups. I need ideas!

Some issues:

- It's in mid-March, so I don't want aggressively hearty, wintery food. We're in New England and dying for spring, and while actual spring seasonal food is not available or even appropriate (I'm assuming it will still be cold--in the 30s, maybe low 40s if we're lucky), we're all sick of really heavy, wintery food. Some little hint of spring to come, maybe--could be in the food itself, or maybe in the way it's served, or colors of the food?

- I want to aim for more refined food; no pots of chili or pans of lasagna. But nothing super fussy. Maybe a large cut of meat with sides?

- I'd like to be able to cook some of it ahead of time, so I'm not stuck in the kitchen while everyone else is out in the living room living it up.

- No food allergies or avoidances, so anything goes, gluten-, meat-, and other-wise.

- Nothing super expensive, like lobster or sushi. But I'm willing to go for moderately priced kinds of food.

Oh, and any suggestions for appetizers (though those seem easier to come up with) or celebratory wines and/or cocktails would be great, too! Thanks!
posted by primate moon to Food & Drink (15 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
No ideas for a 'main course', but a nice side-dish to meat is Potatoes Dauphinoise. Super easy to make, and you could make them the night before, or that morning, and just pour the cream over right before they go in the oven - you don't need to watch them while they bake.

For a salad idea, this Fennel, Arugula & Orange salad is tasty, and the oranges really brighten it up. I recommend baby arugula, personally.
posted by dotgirl at 4:22 PM on March 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

I just hosted a family dinner for 10 people (including teenage boys, so it was more like feeding 13 people) I went to a local butcher and got a huge prime rib. That goes into the oven for about 3 hours, and in the last 1 1/2 hour put a bunch of potatoes into the oven to bake. It's like the easiest thing to make, and leaves you free to make fancy salad or veggies, and is amazingly tasty. My family went nuts for it, and it looks really impressive.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 4:30 PM on March 4, 2014

I am not sure if this is too close to lasagna, but I've made this recipe a few times and it is always very good. A little fancier, plus you can probably do the chicken and sauce prep ahead of time and it can be cooked in large batches if you have the right cookware: Chicken Scallopine with Sage and Fontina Cheese

I can also recommend another orange-based salad--I made it recently for a dinner party and it went over delightfully. I used cara cara oranges which are sweeter: Spinach Salad with Oranges, Avocado, and Pistachios
posted by lovableiago at 4:31 PM on March 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Main Dish: Matambre! (Rolled Stuffed Steak) Can be assembled the night before. I don't have an exact recipe to recommend, there are many, and I made it with a friend based of more general ideas than an exact recipe.

This Quinoa Salad With Black Beans & Mango is such a good salad, and can be made ahead of time and either chilled or left out and served at room temp. I think the flavors would go very well with Matambre as well.
posted by effigy at 4:34 PM on March 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

I would do a roasted meat. I've had great success with a Moroccan mint-roasted leg of lamb or a roasted pork loin (porchetta) before. Cooks slowly in the oven, tastes GREAT, not as finicky as poultry with the dark/light meat dilemma, and can be assembled ahead so all you have to do day-of is pop it in the oven.

There are a world of sides you can make. I'd go for a huge green salad (dress it right before serving). A mint-fennel-orange salad would also be great for both. For the lamb, roasted Moroccan vegetables would be great (maybe asparagus, summer squash, etc with zaatar or other middle-eastern-y seasonings for a more spring-like vibe). For the pork, fennel would be superb, or you could do something with tomatoes and thyme. A light soup would also be springy - pea soup would actually work well for both, I think.
posted by foodmapper at 4:36 PM on March 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Just riffin:
- Harissa-braised lamb shanks and couscous with golden raisins, and orange and fennel salad. Marinated feta and olives to start.
- Lemony roasted chicken, scalloped root vegetables, a big kale salad (nice to make ahead and let hang out in the fridge), and roasted cauliflower with gremolata.
- Crostini with roasted sweet potato and olive oil to snack on. Sunday gravy with braciole, wilted garlicky greens. Big tiramisu for dessert.

Also, check out this category on Food52 for some more ideas.
posted by thirdletter at 4:38 PM on March 4, 2014

Posh sausages, mash, and onion gravy. It almost cooks itself and you can make for a dozen or so people with only two roasting trays and a large pot. Plus, if it's cold outside, your guests will thank you for serving such a warming dinner.

posted by popcassady at 4:50 PM on March 4, 2014

Pasta Primavera literally means spring pasta… here's an interesting and amusingly cranky discussion of modern approaches to the dish.

How about a bright springy soup? That's an easy approach for a first course for a crowd.Here's one with a beautiful color. And by the way, if you like me prefer the flavor but not the color of long-cooked veg soups, you can achieve beautiful bright green-ness by throwing in some just-shocked spinach leaves at the puree stage. And lots of mint for freshness.
posted by fingersandtoes at 5:57 PM on March 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Appetizer: Cheese, olives, crostini, nuts, and some sort of fruit or fruit paste.

Meal: Have a soup course with something like a brothy avoglemono with orzo, or a light cream of pea. Then a roast of some sort with a pan sauce. For sides, no-stir polenta, which people seem to find far more impressive than potatoes, asparagus (either steamed ahead of time or roasted as the meat rests), and maybe some roasted carrots and baby onions. (Or salad--spinach, mandarin, red onion, and fennel, maybe?)

For dessert, you want something light and springy--lemon curd tart, maybe, or a pavlova.

I've served more or less this exact menu, and everything can be prepped ahead of time. The only thing that has to be prepped while guests are there is the polenta, and that's basically bringing water to a boil and whisking for a minute, then slipping back out of the kitchen. Polenta instead of potatoes makes things feel less stodgy to me, and the inclusion of the asparagus makes it A Springtime Meal--who eats asparagus midwinter?
posted by MeghanC at 6:06 PM on March 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Maybe a large cut of meat with sides?

Ape a good classic steakhouse -- serve everybody a nice piece of meat, with sauteed mushrooms, asparagus with Hollandaise, corn (creamed? maybe a corn pudding?), etc -- onion rings if you have somebody who can help get enough for that many through a deep fryer, caramelised onion if you don't -- stuffed mushrooms instead of sauteed? -- tomato salad as a first course? Tomato and wedge salads are both common steakhouse salads.

Whole roasted cauliflower would go well and it's sort of trendy right now so there are lots of recipes. I can vouch for this one as delicious.
posted by kmennie at 8:00 PM on March 4, 2014

What wonderful suggestions so far. That porchetta is sounding mighty fine, and I also love the sound of those orange salads.

Question: The idea of bright green fresh pea soup as a starter sounds lovely, but I don't like fresh peas. They always seem mealy and icky to me. But I love split pea soup, especially made with ham. Do you think I would like fresh pea soup?
posted by primate moon at 8:01 PM on March 4, 2014

The one I posted looks like it has a flavor profile that is basically the same as split pea. They maybe cook the peas for a little less time. What I'd do is, cook the soup until it tastes right to you; and if the color is dull by that point, then puree in some fresh spinach leaves. They won't change the flavor but the chlorophyll will make the soup bright green.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:34 PM on March 4, 2014

Here's another bright green soup option that avoids the pea issue. I wouldn't add chopped chicken though, and I'd puree all the spinach.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:38 PM on March 4, 2014

This salad sounds really bright tasting in a totally different way than soup.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:41 PM on March 4, 2014

This is an extremely special-feeling cake, in spite of being unfussy and not too heavy. I think it's the chocolate. Or the red wine. Or the mascarpone.
posted by ostro at 12:54 PM on March 5, 2014

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