What to serve for dinner for ~18 people?
March 11, 2014 4:11 PM   Subscribe

More people are coming than I expected.

I invited a bunch of people over to celebrate my birthday on Saturday. We're all in our twenties and people are often busy and / or flake out at the last minute. So my tactic was to invite way more people than I though would come. Now, 18 people are supposed to come.
I'm excited but slightly terrified about this prospect. I've never hosted that many people before and I'm not sure it's a good idea but I'm going ahead with it anyways. I'm going to have a couple cooking helpers that day so it's not totally unmanageable.

I'm not decided on what I'm going to make. I want to have a vegetarian main dish as well as a meat main dish. My friend suggested Turkey. I've never done that before but am willing to try. I don't mind splurging on this a bit.

I've recruited friends to bring wine and baguette and a cake so those things are covered.

Does anyone have recommendations for appetizers and main dishes that can easily be doubled to serve around 18 people?

I can follow any recipe but I'm not a super experienced chef. Most of my friends will not care and are just happy to get free food, but I want to serve something nice.

Also, any tips on how to minimize the stress of being a host, so that I can enjoy the evening
posted by winterportage to Food & Drink (22 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I'd go with pasta. Plan 1/4 pound per person. Then you can have a meat sauce and a non-meat sauce.
posted by colin_l at 4:12 PM on March 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

We've had very good luck with pho for large groups. Do a veggie stock and a beef stock, and then set out all of the different fixings. Then people can assemble what they want.

If you want to go more traditional, ham is a lot easier to deal with than turkey - uneven temperatures are much less of a problem. You could do a sort of thanksgiving in March (half thanksgiving?) with the standards like dressing and sweet potatoes.
posted by craven_morhead at 4:14 PM on March 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

You could do a roast buffet, a giant chicken casserole like coq au vin (chicken in red wine) or pasta. For starters you could have bruschetta which is super easy (chopped up tomatoes with seasoning and basil, on toasted bread). All of these can be made ahead, the casserole can simmer on the stove and you can enjoy your guests.
posted by Jubey at 4:16 PM on March 11, 2014

Yeah, I would second pasta. I've done a pasta bar successfully for a lot of people, where you have a bunch of toppings laid out and everyone serves themselves in a buffet line. Do a tomato sauce, a pesto, seasoned cooked meat of some kind, caramelized onions, chopped olives, parmesan, sauted mushrooms, etc.
posted by skycrashesdown at 4:16 PM on March 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

Ratatouille is my reliable stand-by for a vegetarian main, and is easy to double or triple. Serve with brown rice or quinoa. It will also work as a side for the meat eaters.
posted by scody at 4:17 PM on March 11, 2014

How about a couple of lasagnas: one meat and one veg (with spinach, cheese, mushrooms, etc.)? You can even go vegan and/or gluten-/ lactose-free if necessary: rice noodles, soy cheese, etc.
posted by hapax_legomenon at 4:20 PM on March 11, 2014 [7 favorites]

Chili! We did that for my in-law's annual holiday party (about 20 folks) this year. We had a meat, a veggie, and a white chili. Cheap; easy to do a veggie option; you can cook up a carb (cornbread, macaroni) for the side if you want (or you can just buy some Fritos). And plus, you can get it all done early in the day and let it simmer for however long- gives you a nice stretch of downtime to either do last minute party prep, or sit down and relax before the guests come.
posted by damayanti at 4:20 PM on March 11, 2014 [5 favorites]

Really you need something easy to serve buffet style unless you have a giant dining room with seating for 18. I'm seconding the pasta bar; do a veggie sauce and do meatballs and people can then dump meatballs on if they want meat. Pasta will keep just fine in a giant dish if you toss it with olive oil.

For appetizers, you can do antipasto skewars. It's very easy and super delicious to do them in vegetarian versions.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:24 PM on March 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

My favorite answer for this sort of thing is a taco/burrito bar. But you're using fancy words like "baguette" and "wine" which make me think you're looking for something slightly classier. But man, it's the easiest way to please a varied group of folks.
posted by phunniemee at 4:28 PM on March 11, 2014 [6 favorites]

Are people actually expecting dinner? I've successfully served a crowd of that size with lots and lots of appetizers: hummus, figs stuffed with cheese and wrapped with bacon, crudite, and a couple of store-bought or delivered items (salami, olives, sushi, wedges of good cheese).

Do you have seating for 18? Is it table seating? Or couch-seating? If guests will be sitting without tables then they need food that doesn't require a lot of cutlery. If they will be standing then finger food is best.
posted by bunderful at 4:38 PM on March 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You can do a turkey, Spatchcock that bad boy!

Get sandwich rolls from the bakery and set it up so that people can make their own turkey sandwiches.

Do a veggie lasagna. You can prepare it in advance, reheat on Saturday.

You other option is to go easier. Make Huge Hoagies.

Get large loaves of french bread, slice horizontally. Make one Italian, another Turkey, another Tuna and the last Veggie. Let people put on their own veggies and condiments.

Easy to assemble. People just cut off what they want and munch away. Serve with a variety of yummy salads, Potato, Macaroni, Pasta (can double as a veggie entree too). You can make them yourself, or you can buy from an upscale deli. If time is a factor, buy and feel guiltless.

Chips around your place in bowls. Fresh veggies to dip into yummy dips (hummus, another option for veggie folks).

Don't drive yourself nuts! You don't want to be exhausted for your own party.

Happy Birthday!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 4:51 PM on March 11, 2014

Chilli is good, and I support that suggestion, but otherwise,, 18 people! those are a lot.

I would suggest a couscous royale.

This is a very simple dish, but it requires a huge pot. Go borrow that pot.

Now, when you have the pot, prepare.

Cut two carrots, two onions, half a head of celeriac (or a bunch of celery stalks), two leeks, and whatever type of beet in large chunks, and put them in the pro.
Add large pieces of chicken, veal, duck or whatever you have (large means like a leg of chicken split in two). Brown everything lightly. Add garlic, crushed tomatoes, stock, garlic, herbs as you like and water to taste.

Cook for 30 mins. add salt and pepper.
Cook for 30 mins more, add sausage (preferably Morrocan merquez)

Now prepare the couscous - use an instant couscous product, follow instructions.

Chop a lot of parsley and coriander.

Make a big salad of cucumber, tomato, olive oils and lemon, garnish with some of the herbs.

taste the sauce and add whatever is needed, garnish with the herbs, serve with couscous and salad
posted by mumimor at 4:53 PM on March 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: If you don't have room to sit 18 people for dinner (I don't know anyone who does!), I'd go with something that's easy to eat while standing or while sitting on a couch and holding a plate with one hand. I usually end up doing a variety of finger foods and things on skewers. Most of your guests will be holding their plate with one hand and forking with the other. Don't make it harder by giving them things that need to be cut with a knife or require extra effort to not get it all over themselves (or your floors and furniture).

My go-to dishes are: mini satays and kebabs (veggie and meat) on short skewers, twice baked potatoes using small waxy potatoes, stuffed mushrooms (you can remove the stem and drop in a blob of brie and top with chopped parsley), pasta primavera or greek salad without the lettuce, cheese plate, hearty dips with baguette, and caprese salad skewers. I try to prep the day before and then just assemble, bake if needed, and serve.
posted by quince at 5:06 PM on March 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Lasagne or baked ziti can be made easily vegetarian, you can easily find recipes to serve 18, and are good even when they're bad.
posted by fingersandtoes at 5:10 PM on March 11, 2014

Lasagne+salad could be excellent. One meat, one alternative (I'd do vegetarian, but with some wilder ingredient/flavor choices).

I advise against any kind of "build your own _____" arrangements because the creation and upkeep of the various toppings is always a bigger pain in the ass (for me) than it's worth. A casserole or chili/curry/soup is much better for not having to fuss with food when friends are over.
posted by itesser at 5:22 PM on March 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

Outsource some of it to a great local family Italian restaurant that can sell you baked ziti or stuffed shells, and garlic bread. Make an enormous awesome salad.

Or make a roast and potatoes, but hit Whole Foods for stuffed mushroom appetizers and a cheese plate or some such.

Definitely make the things you really love to make yourself.

For the friend who asks what to get you for your birthday, say 'birthday cake' and point to a local bakery.

In short, do a mix of bought stuff and made stuff designed to give you the maximum pleasure and the least stress - it's your birthday! It's okay to do some stuff, but not all the stuff, and gear it toward your own enjoyment.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 5:29 PM on March 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

two words: TACO BAR.

i know, you're thinking 'ugh, tacos aren't classy' but they can be fun. i did a taco bar for my housewarming party last year and served about 25 people with it.

make these carnitas - i would at least double the recipe. people will eat a lot of these carnitas. they are delicious. just a warning.

while you're at it, peel about 3-4 pounds of sweet potatoes and then cut them into manageable chunks. put 'em in a ziploc bag and toss with olive or canola oil, chili powder, garlic powder, salt, cumin, pepper, smoked paprika and a touch of cayenne pepper. roast them at 375 degrees until tender. mix with 2-3 cans of black beans. now you have a LOT of a vegetarian taco filling (plus a side dish for meat eaters).

here are some things you might want to serve with your tacos. i would probably just offer 4-5 of these items. don't go crazy, people work better with less options and they won't complain, i promise!: pickled red onions, lime wedges, chopped cilantro, cheese (regular cheddar or fancy cotija), jalapeƱos, sour cream, hot sauce, salsa (or pico), guacamole, chunked avocado, grilled peppers & onions.

some side dishes you may be interested in: guacamole (obviously), elote salad, spicy cabbage slaw, jalapeno popper dip. also tortilla chips so people can make nachos if they wanted.

pick up about 150 corn tortillas from a supermercado - generally tacos are made with 2 corn tortillas, so this will get you about 75 tacos, or a little less than 4 per person.

i made jalapeno lemonade (just a bottle of "simply lemonade" steeped with 1-2 cut jalapenos) and a pitcher of cilantro gin & tonics for beverages. i think someone brought sangria, too.

for dessert, i made a tres leches cake and also spicy mexican brownies. everyone got a little take-home packet of chocolate cayenne fudge, too.

as far as how to not stress yourself out? make everything ahead of time. all of this (except the sweet potatoes, but those can be cut up!) can be made 1-2 to even 3 days before. then just avengers assemble, heat up the things, toast your birthday and eat your cake.
posted by kerning at 5:39 PM on March 11, 2014 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Go to the store:

1. Get a veggie tray;
2. Get a meat + cheese tray

Buy some ham and a brick or two of cream cheese. Spread cream cheese on ham and roll up. Slice in half. You can also buy some Buddhig beef in the deli section and chop that and mix in with cream cheese and chives or green onion to make a spread.

Get some hummus dip to go with the veggie tray. Get extra hummus.

Grab some artichoke spinach dip out of the freezer section to go with the baguette. Maybe some brie or camembert. Some fancy things from the olive bar.

Seriously, don't make a lot of stuff, it's your birthday! Let other people offer to bring things: say you are providing appetizers and BYOB. Set out a few things as above and let the good times roll.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 6:20 PM on March 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Choose between the taco bar and the lasagna/pasta, depending on how casual you want to go. Sounds to me as if you want to upscale just a bit from taco bar, so I would go with lasagna. Two big pans will easily feed 18, you can get the aluminum ones.

Two days before: buy all the groceries. Seriously, that shopping shit is exhausting.

One day before: clean, clean, clean. Then cook anything and everything you can ahead of time. Even if you're up later than usual, do everything you can think of.

Day of: set up food serving areas and bar areas. Spot clean the last-minute stuff. Set a goal to be completely done two hours before the start. Spend those two hours relaxing with a glass of wine, a short nap, and a hot shower.

And then relax and enjoy!
posted by raisingsand at 6:51 PM on March 11, 2014

Okay, I haven't tried this recipe for Slow Cooked Sticky Asian Lamb, but I sooo will be next time I have friends around:


I've been saving it in my 'favourites', waiting for an excuse to cook it! Note that you can also substitute with duck or pork (I think).
posted by Salamander at 7:26 PM on March 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

I can recommend this aptly named One Pot Wonder Tomato Basil Pasta Recipe. It is easy to make, endlessly variable, and delicious. (Do use linguine or spaghetti, not angel hair or another thin string. You need the sturdiness of those to handle the cooking time/liquid absorption.) Last time we served it for a crowd, we made the pasta and served the protein choices separately so people could add their choice--shredded rotisserie chicken, shrimp, tofu. Everyone loved it.
posted by Nosey Mrs. Rat at 8:55 PM on March 11, 2014

If you've got a large slow cooker (or even better two) I would make some pulled pork for the meat and something like the ratatouille for a veg as suggested above. Both dished can be kept warm for a while in a cool oven until needed so you're not running around trying to get everything sorted when you should be having fun on your birthday. Make some nice slaw (I like a non-mayo slaw with a vinagrette dressing secret ingredient is some caraway seeds) and some nice beans (I wouldn't make veggie beans because the porkfat just makes them so much better) and you're sorted as a meal for as many as you have space to seat. All of your cooking will be done ahead of time so everything is just waiting in a cool oven to be served. If you wanted you could also get some corn on the cob and have that steaming in a large pot (but it isn't corn season yet and it just isn't the same unless it is fresh from the farm) and you're set.

For the meat eaters:
Pulled Pork, Bread, Slaw, Beans maybe some rata as a side.

For the Veg:
Ratatouille, Bread, Slaw
posted by koolkat at 5:09 AM on March 12, 2014

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