I feel like this post needs to begin with a huge disclaimer; I am in no way a chef and I am certainly not a food blogger but one thing we love to do at our house is to entertain friends and family. You also won’t find any fancy recipes or posh nosh ideas here but I can promise some crowd pleasers. Over the past few years we have managed to host parties of up to 50 guests with minimal fuss in terms of time spent slaving over a hot stove while everyone else mingled. It’s something I feel very comfortable in doing and I really do enjoy opening our home and making sure everyone is well fed. In all honesty, I think the only reason I enjoy it so much is down to the streamlined way we cook and serve food whether it’s a kids party, a formal dinner or a backyard BBQ, the secret is always in the prep!
Before I rattle off a couple of menu ideas, I thought I should quickly share my general approach to entertaining. I have covered kids parties before; you can read about those here and here. Another favourite of ours is to host BBQs where we can fling open the doors, allowing everyone to spill out into the garden. I always create various stations where guests can fill up on breads, salads and nibbles before selecting their meats directly off the grill. The best thing about self-serve at a party is that nobody ends up with things they really don’t like on their plate and plenty of everything they do enjoy. I also like to make sure to serve drinks on arrival but make the ‘bar area’ accessible to everyone so as they can top themselves up should I get side-tracked with chit chat or general mummy duties.
I absolutely love hosting breakfast and brunch. I find it is the easiest time of day to cater to a crowd without having to worry too much about Susanna and how tired etc she may be getting. It may also have something to do with the fact that breakfast is hands down my favourite meal of the day, I mean, the possibilities really are endless. During the festive period we make sure to host friends for brunch and both our families in the run up to Christmas Day. On average, we have around 15 adults and four or five kids at each of these gatherings and so having a menu that easily feeds a crowd is essential. Here is our favourite fuss free brunch menu;
Porridge Bar – creamy slow cooker porridge with a pick n mix of toppings including berries, bananas, stewed apple, greek yogurt, coconut, sultanas, honey, syrup, cinnamon, whiskey, fruit compote. This is a huge hit at breakfast with most of our guests returning for second or even third helpings. All the prep for this is done the night before and then I cook off a large pot of porridge about an hour before the party and pour it into the slow cooker to keep warm. The only thing that needs done is to add in some milk every so often and give it a little stir.
Sausage/Bacon Butties – we tried this simple but effective option out for the first time this year and it went down very well! I cooked up a tonne of sausages and grilled a whole lot of bacon then just kept the meats warm in the oven until we were ready to serve. Pile up some baps and decant sauces into ramekins for the table and voila, possibly the most fuss free breakfast option of them all. You could also fry up eggs on demand if you aren’t too bothered about eating with your guests.
Pancake Station – we were gifted a pancake griddle a few years ago and it is by far our most used item in the whole kitchen (aside from the essentials). My hubby is king of the pancakes and has mastered the most delicious banana & blueberry fluffy American pancake recipe. Our porridge bar toppings double up as pancake toppings here so all that’s left to do is make sure that there is a huge jar of nutella and streaky bacon at the ready for guests to stack ‘em and dress them as they please. Mark usually whips up the batter an hour or so before the party so that we can clean up before guests arrive and then just grills and serves the pancakes while guests fill their plates.
Breakfast Sodas – Another firm favourite are sodas topped with bacon and cheese. No explanation needed here, I just cook and cut all the bacon the night before and keep it in the fridge, then about 20 mins before guests arrive I slice the sodas and top them before sliding them into the grill as people are ready to eat. A Northern Irish staple!
Granola Bar – whether you make your own or buy from the supermarket, granola is an easy peesy way to cater to a large crowd. Simply set out a huge bowl of your favourite granola, some tasty toppings and a variety of greek and natural yogurts and allow your guests to get creative!
When it comes to lunch, dinner or evening catering I like to cook up crowd pleasers in bulk. I also am partial to a ‘Pot Luck’ menu on occasion where each guest brings a hot or cold dish and as hosts we provide all the drinks and a dessert bar. The first time we tried this out I did feel a little weird asking guests to bring food but what I found was that everyone wanted to bring something anyway (it was a huge crowd) and the variety was amazing! You will generally find that guests want to help at a party and this is a great way of allowing them to without having ‘too many cooks’.
Curry Pot – a guaranteed crowd pleaser and sure fired way to keep the cost down is a delicious big pot of curry. You can make this the day before and it ends up tasting even better after some time to allow the spices to mix. Set out some rice, a few poppadums’, chutneys and naan bread and you will have a hugely happy crowd. *it may also be worth while setting out some yogurt for guests who like theirs a little more mild.
Chilli – the same rule applies, make a huge pot the day before to give the flavours plenty of time to develop. Serve with rice, baked potatoes or even just chips and allow guests to help themselves. Alternatively, set out sour cream, jalapenos, guacamole, yogurt, tortilla chips and hot dogs if you fancy making it into a chilli bar or even stand n stuff tortiallas for a burrito bar. We did this for bonfire night and it went down a storm.
Lasagne – a firm favourite at any party and yet another dish that you can make in advance. Serve with garlic bread and tasty salads and I doubt anyone will go hungry!
Burger Bar – I’m a big fan of giving people as many options as possible while keeping it simple as a host so what better way to keep them happy than serving up burgers and allowing them to ‘Build a Burger’ from a variety of toppings and sauces. My favourites to include in a Burger Bar are pickles, jalapenos, bacon, tortilla chips, salsa, mayo, BBQ sauce, fried onions, tobacco onions, pineapple and every sauce you can think of! I also like to pile up some brioche buns as well as plain white baps to keep the burger enthusiasts happy.
Aside from the main dishes, I find a cheese board always goes down well at an evening party with grapes, chutneys and plenty of crackers. You also can’t go wrong with a selection of breads, antipasti, pesto and olives. Some of my other favourites include; Mexican Ring, Loaded Nachos, Cheesy Bread and
I could go on and on but I fear that you will either be completely fed up or cutting your arm off to gobble it up at this point! I know this list is far from rocket science but I hope it has given you an idea or two for your next event. As I said at the beginning, the secret really is in the prep, get as much done as you can the day before and take time to enjoy all your hard work with your guests.