10 Recipes Fit for a Crowd: Potlucks, Family Parties & More!
Considering that food is a job of mine, I get incredibly nervous about having guests over for meals. This makes sense as far as housecleaning goes, because the only time housecleaning happens here is when guests are about to arrive. But you’d think I wouldn’t also be so nervous about meals.
What shall I serve; what time should I start making it? And what if there isn’t enough? What if nobody likes it? (That last one would solve the “not enough” problem, I guess.) Oh, why did we invite them in the first place?
That kind of thing.
At least I’ve learned a couple of tricks along the way. One is to accept the fact that when you’re expecting a bunch of visitors, they won’t all arrive at the same time, so you should make food that won’t wilt or melt if it sits out.
Another thing you’ve got to realize is that you must prepare more food than you need unless you’re planning to plate everything in the kitchen. To make a salad for eight guests, you usually only need eight large-ish handfuls of greens — but that amount would look so skimpy in a salad bowl! You want your visitors to know they’re not depriving anyone if they have seconds.
Assuming that you know when your guests are arriving — not a given, I realize — you should make as much food ahead of time as you can. Nothing is more stressful than cooking a meal for a kitchen full of people who keep asking, “How can I help?” You can’t say, “By going outside,” so try not to need help: confine your mealtime prep to pulling a pre-made dish out of the oven or refrigerator.
Then you can tell them, “If you really want to do something, I guess you could set the table…”
Let’s get one hurdle out of the way. Guests sometimes stay the night. It’s greedy of them to want breakfast (do they really have to eat all the time?), but they’re strangely resistant to leaving the house to get donuts early in the morning. Fortunately, this strata is one you can make 24 or even 48 hours in advance, chill, and bake the morning you need it. If there’s not much space in your refrigerator what with all these guests, turn the strata dish into a “shelf” by covering it with a cookie sheet or even a piece of heavy cardboard. Then you can rest other fridge items on top of the dish.
Moving on to sausages for lunch: you can make this sausage and pepper sandwich filling up to 2 days in advance. If you’re super-organized, you could also make it ahead and freeze it. If your company is coming at different points during the day, as often happens with family, they can make themselves a sandwich whenever they arrive. You can even make it for them and heat it in the microwave! With the filling all prepared, it’s easy.
Muffaletta sandwiches have to be made in advance so that all the different fillings can meld nicely. I’ve made them up to a day ahead with great results. Also, they’re a lot more interesting than PB & Js.
Here’s a main-dish salad that also requires advance preparation, serves a bunch of people, and has been updated from the frozen-pea version served everywhere in the 1980s. Not that there was anything wrong with the 1980 version, but now we live in the Jetson era!
In the olden days, a hostess would just buy a big ham and let her guests peck at it all weekend. This smoked turkey breast serves the same function. Having it in the refrigerator is gold. Gold, I tells you! Buy a couple of interesting mustards and cheesees and let your guests make their own sandwiches. Then, if they’re still around for dinner, you can use some of the meat in tacos or a casserole. Then, if they’re still around the next day, it’s “Make Your Own Sandwiches” again, and so on …
Lasagna’s such an obvious choice for a crowd that some people give a smothered sigh when they see it. But that’s before they realize that this time, it’s a totally different lasagna…
Burgers are also such a familiar summer standby that they can be disappointing. Instead, use the ground beef in this fresh, Asian-inspired main dish salad. What a nice change on a hot day — and we’ve still got a bunch of those ahead of us …
As written, this recipe serves four. But it’s infinitely, and easily, multiplied — just buy one potato per person and increase the other ingredients as needed. You can bake, stuff, and chill the potatoes ahead of time. (No need to chill if you make them the morning of the day you’ll be serving them.) Then do the broiling — or grilling — right before dinner. Kids may prefer their ‘tates without the picante topping, but everyone loves these!
Now why, when you have a houseful of company, am I recommending that you bake bread? Because it’s delicious, gorgeous, and (most important) easy — so easy, in fact, that you’ll get more credit than you actually deserve. Because if you serve it at lunch, all you need is a salad alongside, and if you serve it with dinner, it will fill in all the cracks. This recipe is an ace up your sleeve.
That same houseful of company can make you grumpy about serving dessert. Shouldn’t we all be cutting down on sweets anyway? Well, no — not when it comes to dessert at someone else’s house. That’s something people expect. So salvage your reputation by making this nice big delicious chocolate cake early in the morning (or weeks ahead, if you freeze it). And make sure to save the biggest piece for yourself as a reward for feeding all these people.
Explore more crowd-pleasing potluck recipes!