Over 7 years ago, my husband became the department head at his place of work. With that came the tradition that the head would host the year end party at his/her house. And that meant that, for the last 7 years, I had to tackle the challenge of preparing dinner for 50 in December. We host plenty of dinner parties and I feel that I do a good job with those, but this was going to be the biggest dinner event in my social calendar and so I saw it as a bit of a challenge. Here are a few lessons I learned from the experience which I happily pass on to anybody who might find it useful. Are you looking for recipes for a crowd of 50? If yes then keep on reading.
Recipes for a crowd of 50 tip #1: You Need To Have a Plan
Cooking for 50 is a whole different thing than cooking for 10 or 20. I couldn’t simply show up in the kitchen the day of the event and whip up something. I started planning 2 weeks ahead. I wrote down a menu, discussed with my husband and then made a step by step plan on how to execute on that menu. I would write a list of ingredients, make sure I made all my grocery shopping ahead of time. And then planned a sequence of events in kitchen so that I could multi-task efficiently. I would break down all the tasks required for each recipe and then schedule them together for efficiency execution. I even scheduled breaks for myself so that wouldn’t overwork myself.
Then I would proceed to group similar activities. For example, chop all the onions and vegetables in one go and then have it ready at hand.
For example, one year I discovered that too many recipes required roasting in the oven. I couldn’t fit everything I needed in there all at once. I learned to make sure to have dishes that required a variety of cooking methods which meant that I didn’t have any bottle necks in my process.
Recipes for a crowd of 50 tip #2 Presentation Makes A Big Impact
If there is one lesson I learned from preparing recipes for a crowd of 50 for 7 years is that presentation is important. Put some thought into how to decorate the table and garnish all the dishes.
The first year I planned to decorate the food, but I left it till the end. By the time the cooking was finished I was too exhausted and couldn’t be bothered to make the extra effort. The next year I added garnish into my plan and prepared it first so that when it came time to serve the food, decoration was easy.
Here is what a dish of saffron rice looked like after decoration.
Here is a plate of hummus
Beef in wine sauce decorated with pomegranate seeds. A true crowd pleaser.
One year I made a whole bunch of boiled vegetables. Created a different dressing for each one. And then placed them decoratively in a mandala shape. I called this invention mandala salad. I decorated the dish with boiled quail eggs and stuffed olives. The quail eggs generated lots of discussion that evening.
I also planned ahead to decorate the whole table. One year I printed out poems about food and left them in between the dishes.
Other times I chose more conventional table decorations.
What you see in the pictures is not all the food. Frequently there wasn’t enough room on the table for everything so I had refill dishes through out the evening. Dessert and drinks were served on a separate table.
Recipes for a crowd of 50 tip #2: Avoid labor intensive dishes
This one come to you courtesy of my husband. It was him who convinced me to stop making the spinach pies, feta cheese pies all that stuff the required hours upon hours of manual labor. When making recipes for a crowd of 50, focus on dishes where that quantity doesn’t increase the work exponentially. For my baking I had to find a new recipe that didn’t require handling for each single serving. I experimented with shaping dough into red roses, but the results looked sad and it didn’t taste like anything special.
Then I had the brilliant idea to shape bread dough into petal like shapes which I could stuff with cheese and herbs. Arrange the petals into flower like shape.. Although, this version tasted fantastic, I will let you decide why this one didn’t make it into my list of recipes for a crowd of 50.
Finally I came up with the idea of creating a flat sheet of bread dough, dust it with olive oil, herbs and feta cheese. Roll it like you would with a cinnamon bun. Chop into slice it and arrange it decoratively. This version was perfect. It tasted fantastic, looked attractive and shaved off hours out of my baking time.
This labor intensive baking
Became this. Far less work, just as delicious.
Recipes for a crowd of 50 tip #3: Take time for yourself
The most important tip is to plan to take time before the guests arrive for yourself. All that hard work will leave you feeling like raw chicken. I would finish all the cooking and take 2 hours to get ready and relax. That way when people arrived, I was happy and able to enjoy myself as well. With serving food and cleaning dished and running around, I made sure to be dressed comfortably, but at least I slapped on some lipstick or put on some earrings to put myself into a festive mood.
Recipes for a crowd of 50 tip #4: Have a plan B
The night before the big dinner I was always struck by an anxiety. What if I burn all the bread? ruin each dish? over salt the stew? To help put all those negative thoughts at bay I had a plan B. If all the food is absolutely ruined and I have nothing to serve my guests, I can always order pizza. I had the phone number of a near by pizza joint and an apology speech rehearsed to my guests. Just having this plan B, helped to keep those dark thought at bay. Luckily for me I never had to use my plan B, but having it helped me avoid getting roasted.
The actual recipes
Here are some of the recipes that I used over and over again in my dinner planning. Click on the link to be taken to the recipe.
Making this big dinner for 7 years in a row was a fantastical challenge that I have learned plenty from. It increased my confidence in hosting parties. It also coincided with me writing the novel Spoonful Chronicles, a novel inspired by food. The yearly dinner for 50 helped to inspire the story. For that I am truly grateful.
Have you ever had to prepare a meal for 50? What tips would share from that experience?