The City Magazine Since 1975

Cook for a Crowd

Cook for a Crowd
October 2009
Easy, all-occasion ideas for entertaining at home in the Lowcountry

Easy, all-occasion ideas for entertaining at home in the Lowcountry What’s better than friends and family gathering around the supper table, trading stories and dining on home-cooked everything? Not much, as we see it. And we’re not alone: Whether it’s close relatives at the holidays or a weeknight get-together among pals, homespun entertaining is making a grand comeback. Still, whipping up hors d’oeuvres or a meal can be a feat for veteran hosts and amateurs alike. But with the right approach (and a little practice), the part of entertainer extraordinaire can become second-nature. That means you can lose the stress and enjoy the party as it plays out. And if you’re limited on time or money, join the club! Everyone’s in the same boat these days, so we’ve outlined a budget-smart plan that features dishes with minimal, locally accessible ingredients. Plus, we’ve mixed in loads of pointers to help with the process. So get comfy and read on. The party’s about to start...

{Food for Thought}

Set The Stage Any good event planner has a roster of A-list venues, and believe it or not, so do you. Think about it, there’s the kitchen-patio-garden area for spring and fall, and how about the kitchen-living room-dining room combo for summer and winter? To pick what’s perfect for now, consider guest flow, temperature, and prime mingling territory. Once you’ve nailed down your party zone, anchor the action there by placing hors d’oeuvres throughout the space. Time It Right When is the right time to begin getting ready? It all depends on how you’re wired. Planning too far in advance could wear you out on the whole affair before it even begins; not planning enough can leave both cook and kitchen in disarray, and your to-do list undone. So pull out your calendar, plot backward from the party date, and schedule when you are doing what—shopping, make-ahead cooking, decorating, final prep, and so on. Keep It Simple Pick a theme and stick to it, but keep it as basic as possible. Whether it’s a Chips, Dips, & Football afternoon; a Cool-Weather Comfort Food Potluck; or New Year’s Eve Cocktails, use your theme to streamline your ideas. Caution: stick to what’s familiar. Think twice about hosting a Moroccan dinner if you and your guests don’t know a thing about Morocco... and none of you are big on couscous either.

{Budget Your Bash}

Don’t break the bank in the name of a good time Using the recipes you see here, we’ve put together two sample menus—with both food and drink—based on steal and splurge budgets. Our estimates assume you’re cooking with a relatively well-stocked pantry and a fully equipped spice rack. Here’s the menu portion; for bar ideas, see below. Budget-Savvy Shopping Tips

  • A month before your party, begin looking for specials in the paper. Put your bargain buys in the freezer until the big day.
  • Plan a seasonal menu—fresh items are less expensive because they are in greater supply.
  • Buy generic brands.
  • Avoid purchasing items at eye-level on grocery shelves. The most expensive brands pay for that placement.
  • Choose recipes with fewer or less expensive ingredients, like the ones on these pages.

{Food for Thought}

Streamline Your Menu Start with hors d’oeuvres or sides you’re known for, rave-worthy creations like “Jane’s meatballs” or “Carrie’s pasta salad.” Then fill in holes with new and/or seasonal dishes. Hard & Fast Rules 1. Don’t experiment on your guests, unless you’re a bold, seasoned soul. Typically safe party dishes are those you’ve made at least once before. 2. If you fashion an ethnic menu, let guests know ahead of time and have some “safe” foods (i.e. mass-appeal basics) available. Book It Track your past hits (and misses) in a party planning notebook. Include perennial hit recipes, menus, drinks, games, winning settings, and timelines that have worked for you. Add sketches, magazine pages, or photos from your last event to help you with décor.

{Bar on a Budget}

Serve spirits but skip those cash-draining drink bills of the past {Steal Bar} 6-8 guests

  • Serve a signature drink to get the most cocktail bang for your buck. Here’s how: Opt for a drink with three or less ingredients (only one of which is alcoholic). Emphasize color and know that garnishes like sliced fruit add the wow! factor. Local distillery Firefly Vodka has some great recipes—visit
  • Ask guests to bring a favorite wine to share. Include this on the invitation and have decorative labels ready for guests to note which one they brought—this should encourage some back-and-forth wine tasting and talking.
  • Stock up on a case of beer for non-wine drinkers. Choose a tried and true light or dark variety from local brewers like Coast Brewing Company or Palmetto Brewing Company.
  • Have two non-alcoholic drinks on hand for kids, pregnant guests, and those skipping the spirits for the evening. One two-liter diet cola and two more liters of sparkling water or iced tea (brew some from Wadmalaw’s American Classic Tea) are sound options.

______________________________________ Bar Bill: $60 {Steal Bar} 10-12 guests

  • Stock 1.75 liters each of light liquor (vodka is our crowd-pleaser pick) and dark liquor (a mild bourbon or scotch); and two liters each of cranberry juice, orange juice, and soda mixers. (Note: You should always have more mixers than you do alcohol.)
  • Though demand decreases where there’s liquor on hand, beer is still a must. Two cases will work.
  • When dinner is served, wine is a hot ticket item. Plan on one bottle for every two guests, (which means five bottles of wine at minimum in this scenario). Save by heading to your neighborhood wine shop; ask the owner to cut a bulk-buy deal or inquire about case specials.
  • As always, include soft drinks in your budget. Three two-liter bottles should suffice.

______________________________________ Bar Bill: $133

<p> Yields 2 cups Cook Time: none</p>
<p> Yields 2 cups Cook Time: none</p>
<p> Yields 1½ cups Cook Time: none</p>
<p> Recipe by Heather Garvin</p> <p> (Yields 24)<br /> Prep time: 10 minutes; cook time: 25 minutes</p>
<p> Yields 8 Cook Time: 15 minutes</p>
<p> Cook Time: 1 hour</p>
<p> Inactive Prep Time: 1 hour Cook Time: 90 minutes</p>
<p> Serves: 8-10 Cook Time: 5-8 minutes</p>
<p> Yields 24 cakes Cook Time: 30-40 minutes</p>
<p> Recipe by Heather Garvin</p> <p> (Serves 12)<br /> Prep time: 25 minutes; cook time: 45 minutes</p>
<p> Yields 12 cupcakes Cook Time: 20-25 minutes</p>