Dinner party for 12-15... too ambitious? Would love some ideas for what to serve... a roast, perhaps? Gnocchi? (Small budget, too!)

I would really like to host a dinner party for 12-15 of my close friends for my (milestone) b-day. I would like to prepare almost everything ahead of time and would like ideas about what to make, how to serve it (plate or pass), and how much $$ I should expect to spend. I have two dear friends who will help me... ideas?



nutcakes December 3, 2011
The appetizers and small bites will likely raise up your costs. But if you are thinking of going tapas, here are some that don't cost as much and can give some variety. Be sure to shop sales.

Roasted red peppers marinated over a day or 2 with slivered garlic, olive oil, capers (anchovies are excellent addition and will mellow in it, add at your discression) Serve with toasted baguette slices. I'm in CA so I can still get them at a good price.

Here's a great low cal delicious artichoke and olive spread for crackers or bread. I can get cans of arti's at the oocents store right now.

Thin softened goat cheese or blue/roquefort cheese with cream slightly. Add red or green grapes and stir. Fish out one at a time with a spoon, roll each grape with some cheese around it, then roll in fine chopped nuts. Chill. Can do day before. A pain in the butt but tres elegant.

Pickled shrimp. Delicious and you can get a bag of cleaned peeled for a pretty good price --they don't have to be big. Takes a day or 2 to marinate.

For hot, think stuffed mushrooms with spinach and pepperidge farms Seasoned stuffing mix, garlic, pine nuts, lemon peel. Prep ahead. Put into oven when needed. Can take awhile to bake. Costso usually has large stuffable mushrooms.

Fondue if you or someone has an electric skillet, with bread cubes, walnut bread cubes, lighly steamed room temp broccoli, cauli and carrots for dipping. Cornichons alongside.

Tiny mini meatballs made with beef/pork or turkey. maybe spanish style with in a Tomato smoked paprika sauce. Make day before, reheat.
littlesister December 2, 2011
Thanks everyone for your replies. I had a consultation meeting with my two friends last night. They both seem optimistic and are willing to be the "kitchen managers" for me. I'm thinking a cocktail hour to start with big pitchers of something mixed up, then start the dinner after that. I think I will just set bottles of wine and water on the table so no one has to get up for more beverages. I like the idea of appetizers and small bites followed by a salad and some kind of meat dish. I was originally thinking Italian so I may go back to that by the time it's all said and done. Again, thank you everyone and I'll let you know what happens!
littlesister December 2, 2011
Thanks everyone for your replies. I had a consultation meeting with my two friends last night. They both seem optimistic and are willing to be the "kitchen managers" for me. I'm thinking a cocktail hour to start with big pitchers of something mixed up, then start the dinner after that. I think I will just set bottles of wine and water on the table so no one has to get up for more beverages. I like the idea of appetizers and small bites followed by a salad and some kind of meat dish. I was originally thinking Italian so I may go back to that by the time it's all said and done. Again, thank you everyone and I'll let you know what happens!
sexyLAMBCHOPx December 2, 2011
I posted this response to another hotline question and maybe you will like it. How about trays of home-made baked ziti and turkey sausages with peppers & onions, garlic bread and a big ceasar salad. Italian ices and some cakes for dessert. Perhaps crudite with a simple dip and antipasto platter to start. With your friends help, you could assemble everything in advance and pop in the oven. The chocolate Bundt cake on the site was amazing and doable - even to a non baker like me. Go for it! Happy Birthday to you.

nutcakes December 2, 2011
I think you can do this. I'd have nibbles out that don't need to be done last minute. I did a party where I served a Chicken and Italian Sausage Arroz Con Pollo, an Eggplant and Feta gratin and a Spinach, orange and walnut salad with a honey citrus dressing. Most everything can be done ahead. It all,oddly, goes together and you can make vegetarians happy too.

The nibbles can be light. Just something while you visit, have a drink then get the dinner reheated and the salad tossed. For dessert, one of the poached pear or baked apple dishes on Food52?

Let me know if any of this appeals, let me know. It's inexpensive.
luvcookbooks December 2, 2011
Oh, and remember you can make a pernil (puerto rican pork roast) super cheap with a shoulder or fresh ham! Less than a dollar a pound and feeds the right # of people. On the side, arroz con gandules (rice with pigeon peas) for the vegetarians-- served one hundred or so at church for a fund raiser. Chayote on the side, or maybe greens steamed with a little oil, garlic and lemon. Need something to cut the rich fatty pork taste. Sorbet for dessert. Super cheap!! I would guess less than $100.
luvcookbooks December 2, 2011
Agree with the beef stew, pork stew (bone in pork best) cheaper and also delicious. Make black bean chili for a crowd all the time (once served 100). If you feel ambitious and have lots of prep time, Julia Child's Boned Stuffed Shoulder of Lamb with Spinach and Mushroom Duxelles is cheap- made it for my first dinner party ever when I was eighteen! Green bean salad on the side is easier than washing greens and keeping them from wilting. Buy dessert! Buy some good bread or rolls! If they are n/a, make buttered noodles with the beef stew, tortilla chips with the black bean chili, rice with the shoulder of lamb. A huge pan of apple crisp or some such for dessert, with fresh fruit for diabetics/dieters. Hard apple cider to drink?
NWB December 1, 2011
When I cook for a big group I like to make casual food and serve it family style--it makes for a fun table and lots of conversation over asking people to pass things around. One of my favorite menus is pulled pork, cabbage and carrot Cole slaw, a potato salad and greens. The pork can be cooked and shredded the day before, the Cole slaw is better if it sits over night, the potato salad made in the morning, and the collards earlier in the day. Do your shopping two or three days in advance of cooking. The whole meal should cost around $50 for 15 people, with the pork as the biggest expense. Buy a boneless Boston butt (pork shoulder). 8 lbs for 12-15 should be perfect. With BBQ sauce and rolls. This meal is easy for the host and always a big crowd pleaser.
Chefbaltz December 1, 2011
It's not too ambitious, but I cook for 1,000+ on a weekly basis. I would cook something like a pork loin (about $2.99/pound). There's no waste. You can slow roast it in the oven with fresh rosemary, salt, butter, and apple butter. It makes it's own sauce too. Serve this with candied bacon (recipes all over the internet...and you get a lot of flavor "bang" for not a lot of money) and roasted brussel sprouts. This way you can use your oven to do both things. I cook my pork loin low and slow and covered at first then remove the foil, crank the heat and let it brown all the top fat and caramelize the apple butter. You will roast your brussel sprouts during the later phase of cooking the pork. Do a simple mashed potato or even a nice wild & white rice pilaf and you are good to go. If you want an affordable appetizer, try a simple bruschetta or even a blue cheese dip with granny smith or honey crisp apples. For dessert, a cobbler or a brownie souffle (it's not really a souffle but more like an underdone brownie) with vanilla or coffee ice cream. You're looking at less than $8/person for everything (around 8 pounds of pork-$24-, brussel sprouts and bacon and brown sugar-$8-, wild/white rice pilaf-$5-, brownie souffle-$10-, blue cheese dip with apples/pears-$10-, for a total of about $60). YOU CAN DO THIS! and afford some wine too. Email me if you'd like recipes.
kelly November 10, 2014
I would LOVE your pork loin recipe please. Where do I email you?
Gunther T. May 31, 2019
Maaaaaate, that sounds awesome to me!
I'm hosting a dinner party for two of my mates 50th Birthday on 09 Jun. It started as four and grew to 15.
You blog is a big help. Thanks!
Kiwim August 10, 2019
I’d love your recipes for these dishes.
garlic&lemon December 1, 2011
This is very ambitious if you are not used to entertaining that many people. I agree with Sam1148. HOWEVER, it is possible to do the cooking ahead of time and arrange for friends to do the hosting/coordination during the party. Here in New Mexico, the typical menu would be a big pot of posole with chicken or pork (made 1-2 days ahead), a tray of enchilada casserole - red chile or green chile (made the night before), plain beans made in your crock pot, a big salad, tortillas, fruit and cookies for dessert. This is an inexpensive menu for a lot of people. You could have friends bring drinks.
Greenstuff December 1, 2011
If it's something you want to do, I'd hate to have you pass up on this event or make it pot luck, just because it seems too difficult. When we were in grad school, our major form of socializing was dinner parties. We had almost no money and not a ton of time, but it was really fun. One cost-effective, make-ahead option would be soups and salads. Maybe three soups that you made ahead and just reheated plus salads or salad fixings so that your guests put together their own. The lasagna inpatskitchen mentioned is another good one for a crowd, as the timing is more forgiving than the gnocchi you were thinking about. If you do want to go with meat but want to keep the price down, think about turkey or turkey breast.
Sam1148 December 1, 2011
I'm going to change my answer to this. That is a lot of people to cook for; If it's a group of friends host a 'covered dish' birthday party see if one of your friends will coordinate the menu.
bugbitten December 1, 2011
That seems like a good way to go if you don't want hired help. I was thinking that litllesister's two dear friends might feel put out and left out. Jeez, I just reread my post. Must have been channelling Dear Abby earlier.
bugbitten December 1, 2011
This seems overly ambitious to me, which is perhaps why I've never tried it. I hate to be a downer, but consider that you are going to be both the host, and the guest of honor! On neither count should you leave your guests for more than a minute. They'll miss you, you'll miss out, and you risk making them all feel guilty for not helping.

It's a great, wonderful idea to prepare a dinner for so many close friends, which you can, but consider hiring someone to attend to serving and someone to keep the glasses full, if you can. Make it your job to celebrate all those friendships and your special day.

Please, please post here after the party and let everyone know how it went. Happy Birthday!
pierino December 1, 2011
For a group that size you will need possibly two roasts. When you are pricing them figure 1/2 pound per person as there may or not be bones involved and of course fat melting. Cheaper cuts you can braise but you will need pots of sufficient capacity. If your guests are not porkaphobic you might prepare a porchetta from picnic shoulder (they are big suckers). My own recipe, "market style porchetta" is available here.
hardlikearmour December 1, 2011
Runaway Spoon's Pastitsio is a great make-ahead dish. If you use ground beef instead of the lamb it is almost as good, and will be much less expensive to make. You can make it ahead, then cover and refrigerate. Pull it out of the fridge and hour or so before baking and increase your cooking time 5-10 minutes. I made it for my food52 potluck and it was a huge hit. A double batch will easily serve 12-15 people (likely with some yummy leftovers for you!) Add a salad and a veg and you've got a complete meal.
hardlikearmour December 1, 2011
lloreen December 1, 2011
when I was on a very low budget and cooking for a crowd I made Indian inspired meals: a spicy lentil Dahl, basmati rice with herbs, chicken curry, palaak paneer (with homemade paneer cheese rolled in toasted cumin seeds), and an eggplant dish. Everything can be made ahead of time except the rice. This is super cheap but flavorful and my friends loved it. When you are cooking for a big group on a budget, try to make the meat a flavor rather than the main component of the meal. Lots of veggies, a rice or starch, lentils of beans, and just little meat....
TheWimpyVegetarian December 1, 2011
I had a party for 15+ people last July and made the Genius Recipe that was Diane Kennedy's pork. It was low maintenance, good for any time of year, and had a a lot of flexibility (tacos, enchiladas, in a salad, add a BBQ sauce, etc). I just added some lime and chopped jalapenos and a cinnamon stick, and people loved it.
SKK November 30, 2011
Serving 12 - 15 people is not too ambitous, it is very generous and loving. And will be a great adventure! The company will make the food be great.

I like to cook ahead with big groups, so that is the framework these recommendations come from. Don't know your dining arrangements, and both of these ideas can be plated or passed.

Here is a wonderful beef stew from Food52 that I have made over and over again. It serves 8 - 10, and I double the recipe and freeze some. You can make it a day ahead and just heat it and it will be so much better Day 2. Serve with a salad and crispy bread - the best - Secret Ingredient Beef Stew http://www.food52.com/recipes/2962_secret_ingredient_beef_stew
The pricing will depend on the cut of meat you use. The excellence will come from the time you take in trimming out the gristle and the fat. Costco has great prices on beef.

Another amazingly great recipe is Green Chile Posole Stew with Chicken http://www.food52.com/recipes/13566_green_chili_chicken_posole_soup People love, love, love this.

And for pasta http://www.food52.com/recipes/14760_chunky_beef_and_pork_in_tomato_sauce
Sam1148 November 30, 2011
A beef stew, green beans, rice, salad, yeast rolls.
A lamb tagine stew served over couscous. (make the preserved lemons now); greek salad, humus and pita bread. http://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/moroccan-lamb-tagine-10000000600610/
A baked glazed Ham, greens, mashed potatoes. Cornbread.

luvcookbooks December 2, 2011
ham sounds delish
inpatskitchen November 30, 2011
When we entertain that many people I find that a buffet works best...maybe a pasta bar (sauces can be made well ahead) and a tray of lasagna, a tossed salad or two and garlic bread Shouldn't be too expensive....
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