My guilty pleasure is feeding people.
It’s the Southern in me, I feel the need to express myself by cooking quantities of food large enough to feed small armies and still have leftovers. Instead of just having friends over to hangout, I feel compelled to throw dinner parties that take hours of preparation and by the time I’ve served the tea and cake at the end of the night, at least someone has loosened their belt and said, “I’m going to have run 30 miles tomorrow to work this off.”
I take it as a compliment.
Feeding a crowd is not easy. And I’m not talking about the cooking logistics. The absolute hardest part is choosing a meal that not only everyone can eat, but one they want to eat. No one likes going to someone’s house and being served foods you hate, that you then politely smile and lie through your teeth saying “It’s great! Best meal ever!” while you push it around the plate. No host wants you to have to leave a dinner party…and then go find dinner.
So I try to plan accordingly and keep an eye on what my friends like/dislike and can/can’t eat. It’s a long list.
I’ve got a group of beef-eating boys, folks who fall on both sides of the pro/con mushroom lists, non-mammal and all meat except pork eaters, nearly vegan and veggie haters, non-seafood and shellfish only people, a peach and apple allergy, and I think I even have a balsamic vinegar hater. Thus far no one who regularly sits down to my table is gluten free, so I haven’t had to cross that bridge yet.
They’re all wonderful people who constantly tell me “Don’t make exceptions for me – I’ll find something to eat or bring my own special diet.” But my Southern mother taught me how to be a host, and that means catering to all your guests.
So I get creative, or sometimes less creative. Often times the easiest way to feed a crowd is to just keep it simple. Yeah, I may want to serve a cranberry and sage stuffed pork roast with a balsamic glaze, mixed pancetta roasted root vegetables, drunken apples, and sausage stuffing muffins, but one – that’s a pain in the ass, and two – I’d have to make multiple alternatives so that there’s something for everyone. When in doubt, dumb it down. Just because it may not be gourmet, doesn’t mean it can’t be tasty as hell and creating a chorus of delight along your table.
To get you started, here are some of the ones I’ve used in the past.
Everybody loves fajitas. If they don’t, they’re weird. It’s also super easy to feed picky eaters this way because you can offer, steak, chicken, fish, and extra veggies depending on who is eating with you. I bought some flatiron steaks (cheaper than flank or even skirt steaks, still super tasty) some massive skinless boneless chicken breasts, a few portabello mushroom caps, an entire bag of those mini-mixed peppers, and a couple onions. I marinated the hell out of all of them (separately) and threw it onto the grill. Add some homemade guacamole, yellow rice, and cilantro-lime black beans and you’ve got something for everyone. Bam.
Again, who doesn’t love lasagna (aside from the lactose/gluten intolerant)? This is a pain in the ass, not going to lie because I do everything sans the pasta from scratch. Make two sauces- a bolognese for your meat pan and a marina for the veggie. The good news is you start them the same – garlic, green/yellow/red peppers, and onion sautéed in olive oil. For the meat sauce, brown your ground-beef separately and add in your veggies, for the marina add more veggies and some mushrooms before adding in your tomato sauce to both. Split your ricotta mixture in half (season accordingly) so that one can be spinach and the other can be basil depending on how picky your eaters. The cheese is the same on both so build them and bake them and watch your diners drool over the smell. And if you do have gluten intolerant or vegan guests, you can always swap the noodles in one pan or use vegan cheese!
While not generally a meal unto itself, couscous is an amazing side dish that you can do anything with – and is also filling enough that if you’re making a main meat dish, your veggie friends will still have plenty to eat. I like to make various vinaigrettes for mine as on its own it can be dry. Mango, cilantro, green grapes, cherry tomatoes, toasted walnuts, and pickled red onions with a citrus dressing? How about a coconut-lime dressing with mint, red onion, clementines, and cucumbers? The possibilities are literally endless and you can grill up some chicken/pork/beef/seafood to go with it. Add some cold green beans with feta and basil and you’ve got a delicious ass meal.
A few other options?
- Pizzas: interactive, personalized, and no one eats anything they don’t want.
- Pasta Bar: marinara, alfredo, and a pesto with three different types of noodles, a salad, and some bread. People will pop their britches.
- Soup & Salad: Baked French onion soup (use vegetable broth instead of beef) and caesar salad.
Have any suggestions of your own? I’m all ears and always looking for new dinner party ideas!
Tweet us your ideas @litdarling!