Cooking For a Group: A Dinner Party Strategy

JoAnn's Food Bites Dinner Party Strategy

My hubby and I are getting settled into our dream house and after three months, we decided to host our very first dinner party.

He has a rather large family, spread out between several states; therefore, all of us only gather twice or so, each year.

Because Christmas is so crazy, this clan celebrates Christmas in January.

Strategically Planning the Party

In the past, hosting a large party would totally stress me out for weeks!  However, for this event, I was gonna make sure things were different.

I want to share with you a few things which made my life, so much easier, leading up to AND the day of the party.

ONE MONTH BEFORE THE PARTY

JoAnn's Food Bites Family Dinner Party
Invitation, with menu I sent via email

Thoughtfully planning a menu;  I wanted to make sure at least a few dishes could be prepared the night before, so as to alleviate my oven of being overworked.

Being in the professional barbecue competition circuit and just acquiring a new smoker – we planned to use the event for a test cook in the new vessel.

Once I was satisfied with my menu, which included food for a vegetarian;  I created an invitation, asking for RSVP’s; so as to have an accurate head count before the event.

Because our guest were traveling for quit a distance, I did not want to ask them to prepare any dishes to bring – plus, it gave me a chance to shine.

Invitations were sent via email; one month ahead.  I received RSVP’s from everyone within two weeks.

Menu:
Appetizer: Chicken Cheese Ball
Main Course: Smoked Green Ham & Portabello Mushrooms
Sides: Ranch Potatoes; Spinach-Artichoke Casserole; Candied Carrots; Macaroni and Cheese; Cheese; Garlic-Cheese Biscuits
Dessert: Cinnamon Spice Cake

***I also make a list of household chores to be completed before the guest arrived.

TWO DAYS BEFORE THE PARTY

Shopping at the grocery store, using a list, I picked up everything needed for the party.

I was prepared to buy the green ham, however, I was not able to find one at several of the local chain grocery stores.

Therefore, my husband visited Vaughn Packing Company, who were more than accommodating.

A green ham is pork which has NOT been cured; nor precooked like traditional hams found in the grocery store.  The ham can sit in a brine; however, we chose to inject our ham, which prevents it from drying out during the smoking process.

More on preparing and cooking the ham can be found at Smokin J’s Barbeque

THE DAY BEFORE THE PARTY

A lot had to be accomplished, so I started early by cleaning the guest bathrooms.  I also vacuumed and cleaned all the floors, except for the kitchen (a touch up would be done the morning of the party).

The ham was injected and left in a cooler, with a bag of ice, until it was placed in the smoker at 10 P.M.

For the injection recipe and instructions on smoking the ham, go to Smokin J’s Barbeque.com

JoAnn's Food BitesI designated specific dishes as serving dishes and placed them on my kitchen island, to serve as the buffet.  I also placed corresponding serving utensils in each dish.  This was so I could make sure not to dirty something I would serve with.

I also placed a table runner on the island, underneath the serving dishes and a table-cloth on the main dining table, to make for an easy clean up.  Small candles completed the table-scape.

A smaller card table, with chairs, was set up for kids.  Extra chairs were scattered throughout our main room.

Meanwhile, I prepared the appetizer, Chicken Cheese BallClick here for recipe.

I placed it in a Lock & Lock container, in the refrigerator.  DONE!

Next I baked the Cinnamon Spice Cake.  I also prepared the cake icing and worked on the Spinach-Artichoke Casserole.

Cinnamon Spice Cake

Cinnamon Spice Cake

45 minutes

35 minutes

Yield: 16-20 pieces

Ingredients

  • Baker's Joy - for spraying the quarter sheet cake pan
  • 1 package plain spice cake mix - I used Duncan Hines
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup of sweetened applesauce
  • 1/3 cup safflower oil
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
  • For Cinnamon Buttercream Frosting
  • 8 Tablespoons = 1 stick of butter; room temperature
  • 3 3/4 cups confectioners' sugar; sifted
  • 3 - 4 Tablespoons milk
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Instructions

  1. For cake:
  2. Place a rack in the center of oven; preheat to 350ºF
  3. Spray Baker's Joy on all sides of quarter sheet pan
  4. Place cake mix; buttermilk; applesauce; oil; eggs and cinnamon in large mixing bowl.
  5. Blend with electric mixer on low until incorporated (I used my KitchenAid paddle)
  6. Stop machine and scrape down the sides of bowl with a rubber spatula.
  7. Increase mixer to medium speed and mix for two minutes more.
  8. Scrape down sides of bowl again, if needed.
  9. The batter should be thick and well combined.
  10. Pour batter in quarter sheet pan, spreading evenly.
  11. Lightly tap the pan on the counter, to remove air bubbles in the batter.
  12. Cook for 30-35 minutes or until top of cake springs back, when touched.
  13. Cool in the pan, on a cooling rack for 10-15 minutes, then flip cake out and allow to completely cool before icing.
  14. For the Icing:
  15. Place butter in a large mixing bowl; blend with electric mixer on low speed till fluffy.
  16. Stop the machine; add sugar; 3 Tablespoons of the milk; vanilla; cinnamon
  17. Blend on low speed till incorporated, 1 minute.
  18. Increase speed to medium, beat until fluffy. If icing seems stiff, add remaining Tablespoon of milk
  19. Spread on cake.
  20. Top with chopped pecans.
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Spinach-Artichoke Casserole

I did NOT cook the Spinach-Artichoke Casserole. With a lid on the baking dish, I placed it in the refrigerator, until the next day.

DAY OF THE PARTY

I peeled 7 lbs of russet potatoes, cut into 1″ cubed, bite-size pieces and placed in a large pot, covered with water and placed on medium-high heat.

Cook the potatoes till tender and can be easily pierce with a fork.

Drain the potatoes and place in baking dish, sprayed with cooking spray.

Cut a stick of butter into small cubes and spread on top of the potatoes.  Then top with ranch salad dressing – in row formation.  Shred 6 ozs. sharp cheddar cheese and spread over the potatoes.  Top with scallions and chopped bacon.  Set aside.

Meanwhile, I was making Kraft boxed Mac N’ Cheese, mainly for my granddaughter; therefore I put a pot of water on the stove for it and prepared according to package directions.

For the candied carrots; 3 lbs of carrots were peeled and cut into bite size pieces.  They were steamed for approximately 30 minutes; then placed in a large bowl and mixed with 2/3 cup of orange marmalade; 2 Tablespoons light brown sugar; 2 Tablespoons of butter; 3 Tablespoons of spiced rum.  Mixed together and sat aside till right before dinner.

The portabellow mushrooms were sprinkled with herb d’Provence and brushed with extra virgin olive oil.  Placed on the smoker 2 hours prior to guest arriving.  Cook for approximately an hour at 225º, or until tender. Remove and allow to rest.

I prepared the garlic cheese biscuits and placed on two sheet pans, and baked in the oven, according to package instructions.

TWO HOURS BEFORE DINNER

By now, all the food is done.  I have vacuumed the kitchen floor and washed all the used dishes.

When I sent the invitations, I asked for volunteers to bring strong disposable plates and eating utensils.  This saves me from washing dishes and it encourages guest to help you out.

The oven was preheated to 400º.  I cooked the spinach-artichoke casserole for an hour, till heated through and bubbly.

Meanwhile, I turned on my slow-cooker to the warm setting and lined with aluminum foil.  I placed the cooked garlic-cheese biscuits in the cooker and placed the lid on.  This kept the biscuits warm through dinner and the foil prevented condensation from making the biscuits soggy.  Our guest ate over two dozen.

After the casserole was done, I turned the oven to the warm setting.   I left the casserole in the oven and placed the ranch potatoes on a separate rack in the oven.

I placed the macaroni and cheese, along with the candied carrots in the microwave.  Just prior to serving, I heated them both up, separately, for about 1 1/2 minutes each.

Everything was put into place; candles were lit and Grace was said – LET’S EAT!

Dinner Party Planner JoAnn's Food Bites

Do you have any tips for hosting a dinner party for a large crowd?  Please share!

Cinnamon Spice Cake augmented from The Cake Doctor Cookbook
Candied Carrots and Spinach-Artichoke Casserole augmented from Southern Living Christmas Cookbook
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