Back when Ethan was little and we lived in Australia, we often would get together with a wide circle of friends for dinners, lunches, breakfasts, any excuse for a drink in the sun (and yes, Mimosas are a weekend breakfast staple there). Most of us were expats with a few Aussies thrown in so it was our equivalent of a big family get together.
Now that we’re back in Scotland, we definitely don’t entertain as much as we used to (smaller house, more babies), but my years of cooking for 20+ people on a whim definitely left us with some good tips and tricks. These would be perfect for birthday parties, festive gatherings or any other excuse for getting a bunch of your favourite people in one space. Some of these food ideas actually came first, and then the friends flocked to us once we put the word out. A lot of these ideas involved some collaborative element (we found it a more fun and diverse table when everyone brought something), but with a bit of prep, you could absolutely smash them out solo.
Pancake or Waffle Party
Not to be mistaken for purely a breakfast idea, pancakes and/or waffles are great served at any time of day. And they are guaranteed to bring out everyone’s inner giddy child. Premake your pancakes or get that waffle iron crankin’ and then reheat once guests arrive to make sure everyone is eating together. The idea is to invite each person or couple to bring a topping. Think Nutella, strawberries, bacon, maple syrup, ice cream, brownie crumble, eggs etc. Then you end up with a smorgasbord of choices both savoury and sweet for everyone to dig into. Tell your guests that there’s a bottle of bubbles for the most inventive topping and you’re certain to get some corkers.
We all know this one. The host cooks the roast and the guests bring the rest (as we would say). This requires a bit of coordinating to make sure no-one doubles up, but takes tons of pressure off the host – and the size of their oven! We hosted several Christmas dinners at our house using this method. The really lovely part was that our friends were from all over the world and would bring a dish from their own family tradition with them. One that immediately springs to mind was my Canadian pal Delaney and her family’s tradition of eating red and green jelly (like, actual jelly) with their Christmas dinner. Apparently born from a lack of cranberry sauce one year and just stuck.
Baked Potato Bar
Probably one of the easiest to throw together. Batch bake a boatload of potatoes. Then make (or once again invite guests to bring) a heap of fillings. We’ve done this with a massive pot of chilli and fruit bowl full of cheese before. Also baked beans, tuna, curry etc. This is a particularly good one if you have kids coming over as it’s rather picky-eater-friendly.
Like a fry up, only more fun. Pre-cook and reheat all your usual cooked breakfast favourites. Make or buy some guacamole. Grate some cheese. Cook up some black beans or refried beans. Buy a jar of tasty salsa. Stack up a ton of tortilla wraps and voila! Build your own breakfast burrito.
My dad calls this ‘tit bits’… Basically a massive board (or several plates if you’re feeling less hipster) full of delicious delights for everyone to pick at. Lots of cheeses, antipasti, olives, grapes, crackers etc. It’s a great one to invite guests to bring a dish too to keep costs down and to spice up the variety. We once had a friend bring along truffle honey to one of these and…. Oh. My. God. If you like truffle and you like soft cheeses, you have not lived until you drizzle some truffle honey on brie (ok, maybe a little bit hipster then).
BYO Steak Night
This is probably the most famed meal we ever had. And I know it sounds like I’m tooting my own horn here, but really… It was Gavin that did all the work for this one. There were quite a few friends keen on a steak night, but our budget would have meant crap cuts for everyone. So we decided to put out the word that it was BYO Steak Night. All they had to bring was their favourite cut. That meant that we could all afford to buy one reeeeaallly nice steak each and Gavin and I cooked everything. We made little flags for each steak so we knew who’s was who’s and how well done they took it, then Gavin had the mammoth task of smoking all the steaks and cooking them to taste. I, meanwhile, had made all the sides. Homemade potato salad, a massive batch of potato wedges, Jamie Oliver’s homemade bbq baked beans (to die for) and a big bowl of green salad. Also ALL the condiments. This night was a little bit more effort but went down an absolute storm.
So that’s the extent of my feeding of crowds. Have you got any other ideas you’d like to throw into the pot?