This past weekend, Brian and I hosted another fairly epic 3-day party which involved two full dinners (tapas-style on Saturday, sit-down on Sunday) for 18-24 people. The photos above are of both of those menu spreads and I decided to share here my menus for both dinners and some thoughts about planning for large gatherings.
First, the thoughts: Brian and I have been hosting parties together for almost ten years now, and before that we were both hosts as single people and in other relationships – as broke young adults, and now as comfortable middle-aged people. Bottom-line, we have a lot of experience. Hosting twenty-plus people for a whole weekend is not for amateurs – nor is it for single people who have friends who don’t pitch in and lend a hand.
I have both a partner and friends who are willing to make the party – which is what makes this type of gathering a possibility. Do not believe those Pinterest boards that try to convince you that dinner for twenty is easy if you just do one step a day for five days – it’s a lot of work no matter what menu you plan, and you need some kind of helpers if you are going to get through it without being grumpy.
But! I have a few ideas about things that work:
- Everyone wants to bring something. You can tell them no, but they will bring something anyway – so direct that energy. Otherwise you have ten loaves of bread or a flotilla of plastic tupperware bearing hummus. This doesn’t mean you have to potluck it, but there are so many small things one might need – like toothpicks, or napkins, a pound of coffee for breakfast (if you are overnighting it), etc. Also, wine.
- Further to this, if people offer to make food and a bit of potluck is tolerable (I don’t do potluck for sit-down dinners, but that’s me), it’s okay to provide them with a recipe to use or improvise on so you can ensure that things go together on the table.
- If you are planning a party that goes all weekend and requires many people to be fed, plan the first dinner so as to result in leftovers for next day’s lunch. We did a tapas dinner on our first night of the weekend and made double the amount of chicken wings. There was tons of salads and cheese leftover as well. That plus some fresh bread – it’s really all people want or need in between two large dinners (and drinks).
- One moderately fancy thing means that everything else on the table is elevated. In the case of Sunday’s sit-down dinner, that was an asparagus/ricotta/phyllo tart. Homemade flatbreads did the trick for Saturday’s tapas. Not everything has to be fancy.
- On the sit-down dinner front – plan a mix of foods served warm and at room temperature. The main course should be hot, but everything else can be a mix. The Easter dinner menu below proved to be an excellent combination in terms of getting things out of the kitchen and onto the table at appropriate temperatures.
- It goes without saying – but do what you can in advance. I had bread dough on the rise from earlier in the week, salad dressing in the fridge by Wednesday, and a whole day of advance prep on Friday. The more organized you are the better you will feel.
- Do accommodate food intolerance and allergies from the ground up. Do not plan whatever meal you intended and then make a single side dish that your xxx-intolerant person can eat – it’s rude and cross contamination can happen in a kitchen if you aren’t careful. If you are hosting, you are hosting, and that means not making people sick. In the case of this dinner party I had to plan for tomato, garlic/onion free meals, and vegetarian guests. (All garlic & onions in the recipes below was omitted except in the meatballs)
- More people in the kitchen during the meal prep is not helpful. Best combination is one reliable worker on kitchen tasks (my friend Jon performed this role) and one free ranger who is making sure that things outside the kitchen stay organized and tidy (that was Brian on Sunday). Otherwise, everyone else should stay out of the way.
- Where your friends can really shine is after the meal! Immediate clean-up afterwards makes everything feel organized, and helps to create a feeling of being attended to. Lucky me, I didn’t even have to organize this on the weekend – Brian and friends just swooped right in and did it while I have was having deep post-dinner conversations. Blessed!
Menu #1: Buffet style, Tapas for 24
All recipes below were doubled or tripled, except the meatballs. Meats and hot dishes were made by me, the veggie sides were brought by guests.
- Garlic herb flatbread
- White kidney bean hummus flavoured with olive oil, lemon juice, cumin, and corriander. Food process to desired flavours and consistency.
- Lamb meatballs with mint
- Grilled Basque chicken wings
- Tortilla Espanola (this did not work well without onions, I wouldn’t do it again)
- Marinated manchego cheese
- Sherried mushrooms
- Carrots and lentils in olive oil
- Carrot salad with oregano and cumin
- Cheeses and olives from the deli
- Nectarine and anise tarts (preserves thickened with cornstarch and cooked into filling, miniature tart shells, bake in the oven at 375 for 18 minutes)
Leftovers note: I have the lentils and carrot salad leftover in my fridge at the moment, and intend to heat those in some chicken stock and then blend to make soup with for the week.
Menu #2: Site-down, Easter dinner for 18
All food made by myself, with help on the roasting of meats by Brian. I made two dishes of everything and set two tables separately.
- White and whole wheat breads made from the No-knead bread recipe and the Healthy Artisan Breads in 5-minutes a day book respectively.
- Herbed butter (yes, you can make your own butter easily with a stand mixer)
- Herbed ricotta, asparagus, phyllo tart x 2
- Sage and Butternut Squash risotto x 1.5 | This is an Instantpot recipe. In general, I do not recommend risotto for a large dinner party unless you have a pressure cooker. It takes too much attention otherwise.
- Spinach, walnut, apple salad with blue cheese dressing
- 1 large ham from the pigs raised at Singing Lands Ranch, warmed in the oven
- Beer can chicken x 2 – cooked on the bbq
- Dessert was provided by Jill who brought us meringue nests with lemon curd topped with berries (I wish I had a photo of that!)
Leftovers note: The chicken carcasses were turned into stock in the Instantpost immediately following dinner. The remaining spinach, toasted walnuts, and blue cheese dressing were turned into an incredible pasta dinner last night with the addition of some rotini and bacon (we picked the few apples in the salad out before we turned it into pasta sauce).
This is the third weekend-long party we have thrown since moving here eleven months ago – and definitely a successful one in that there was much good conversation and laughter, and also that I have very few leftovers in my fridge.
And now I return to my semi-monastic life of work, gardening, and meditation as Brian returned to the city today and I’m on my own until Friday. So quiet. So filled up from a weekend of love and attention.