Catering for a crowd needn't be nerve-racking. Plan ahead get as much help as you can, then relax and enjoy yourself.
Once the numbers for a party begin to reach about thirty, it's time to start simplifying. Choose uncomplicated dishes that can be made well ahead and won't mind waiting around in the fridge or freezer. Take stock of your surroundings and decide realistically how many people you can cope with in comfort. Then start borrowing. No one has china, glasses or cutlery on such a scale or failing that consider hiring. Paper plates and plastic cutlery are all very well but they have neither the ease of use or appearance of the real thing.
Next consider the food. Is it going to be strictly nibbles only or are uou aiming for a full scale meal? If so and you can't guarantee a seat for all your guests, choose a dish that is easy to tackle with a fork. Casseroles rice and pasta dishes, mild curries, all come into this category. Steer clear of sliced cold meats, jacket potatoes large lettuce leaves and anything else that demands knife and fork t transfer it safely from plate to mouth.
Hot dishes are always popular at large gatherings, but you will almost certainly have to supplement them with one or more cold options depending on the size of your oven. Choose cold puddings, even in winter otherwise the serving will get far too complicated. You can certainly go to town decorating the food itself, but keep the table relatively simple with all those dishes there is not likely to be much room for lavish decorating anyway.
Organizing The Table
Set up the table carefully and lay it out such a way that people can progress round it in a logical order without having to backtrack. If necessary bring out the desserts after the main dishes have been finished after the main dishes have been finished with and cleared away, or have them set out on a separate smaller table. Divide anything that is sliceable cakes, pates quiches into portions before putting on the table. It's not mean it simply makes it easier for people to serve themselves when they are already juggling with plate and glass.
If you decide on finger food rather than a large meal, you will need to recruit a few helpers to hand things round. Borrow some good sized trays or platters and provide paper napkins if any of the food is inclined to be greasy. Hot nibbles are especially Moorish tiny vol-au-vents chunks of deep fried scampi or chicken slivers of pizza but they do mean that someone has to stay in the kitchen to produce them in relays.
Finalize the menu well in advance of the big day and start cooking as soon as you can to avoid a last minute panic. A freezer is invaluable for this sort of exercise and if you don't own one it's worth trying to persuade a friend to lend you some freezer space. A food processor is another invaluable ally for chopping slicing and mixing large amount of ingredients.
Get the final preparations under way on the day before the party. Most dishes will keep fresh for 24 hours, provided they are well covered with Clingfilm. Keep piped cream toppings on desserts below the rim of the dish to make covering easier. Even salads can be assembled in the morning and dressed at the last minute.
Judging quantities is always tricky, especially if you don't usually cater for more than two at a time. Consult a reliable recipe book and if in doubt remember that it's better to have too much food than not enough, so err on the side of generosity. As for drink. 1/2-3/4 bottle of wine per head is about right. You will also need to have soft drinks or fruit juices for those who don't like alcohol. Wine cups and punches are a good way of stretching less wine round a lot of people.
450g (1lb) button mushrooms, wiped
25g (1oz) butter
50g (2oz) fresh brown breadcrumbs
20ml (4 level tsp) mango chutney
salt and pepper
2 eggs size 2 beaten
grated Parmesan cheese
mayonnaise to serve
Remove the stalks from the mushrooms and chop them finely. Melt the butter in a pan stir in the chopped stalks and half the breadcrumbs. Sauté for 2-3 minutes . Remove from heat and stir in the chutney and seasonings.
Sandwich two mushroom caps together with a little of the mixture. Roll the mushrooms in seasoned flour. dip in egg and coat with the remaining breadcrumbs mixed with 50g (2oz) Parmesan cheese. Chill.
Deep fry for 3-4 minutes until golden brown. Drain well roll in more Parmesan while hot. Leave to cool completely. Serve on cocktail sticks with mayonnaise. Makes about 30 stuffed mushrooms.
CREAM OF PARSLEY SOUP
450g (1lb) parsley
450g (1lb) onions skinned
225g (8oz) celery
100g (4oz) celery
100g (4oz) butter or margarine
90ml (6 level tbsp) flour
4 litres (7 pints) chicken stock, preferably jellied
salt and pepper
300ml (1/2 pint) single cream
Wash the parsley drain and roughly chop. Slice the onion and celery. Melt the fat in a large saucepan and add the parsley, onion and celery. Cover the pan and cook gently until the vegetables are quite soft. Shake the pan from time too time.
Stir in the flour until smooth then gradually mix in the stock. Season and bring to the boil. Cover the pan and simmer for 25-30 minutes. Cool a little then puree in a blender or food processor. Reheat adjust seasoning and stir in cream just before serving.
POACHED SALMON TROUT
1or 2salmon trout total weight when cleaned about 1.75 kg (4 lb)
150ml (1/4 pint) medium dry white wine
slices of onion
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper
300ml (1/2 pint) liquid aspic jelly
45ml (3 tbsp) sherry
slices of lemon, cucumber and endive to garnish
Rinse the fish remove eyes and trim tail and fins. Place in a fish kettle or other deep roasting container. Pour over the wine with sufficient water just to cover he fish. Add the onion and bay leaf with salt and pepper.
Bring slowly to the boil, cover the pan and simmer very gently for about 25 minutes or until te fish begins to ease away from the bone. Lift out of the liquid then ease off the skin. Leave to cool then place the fish on a serving platter.
Make up the aspic as directed on the packet and include the sherry. As the aspice begins to set brush some over the fish. Leave to set. Coat with several layers of aspic in the same way. Warm the aspic gently if necessary.
Garnish the fish with slices of lemon and cucumber. Brush more aspic on top of the garnish. arrange endive on the side of the dish and serve with lemon or watercress mayonnaise.
Serves 16 small buffet portions.
BRAISED BEEF IN ASPIC
1kg (2lb) silverside
225g (8oz) carrot peeled
1medium onion skinned
15g (1/2oz) lard
15ml (1 level tbsp) tomato paste
125ml (1/4 level tsp) ground paste
1.25ml (1/4 level tsp) ground allspice
150ml (1/4 pint) red wine
salt and pepper
2 x 28.3g (1oz) packets aspic powder
small gherkins to garnish
Trim the beef. Dice the carrot onion and bacon. Melt the lard in a deep flameproof bacon. Melt the lard in a deep flameproof casserole. Sauté the vegetables and bacon lightly for 5-7 minutes, stir in the tomato paste and allspice. Place beef on top pour over wine and season. Bring to the boil cover tightly and cook in the oven to 1600C/3250F(Gas Mark 3) for 2 3/4 hours.
Remove beef from casserole and leave to cool completely. Strain off the liquid and reserve. Cool vegetables and bacon. Make reserved juices up to 1.1 litre (2 pints) with water. Chill and skim off the fat. Bring juices to the boil and dissolve the aspic powder in the hot liquid.
Meanwhile thinly slice the beef. Layer with the vegetables and bacon in a 2 litre (3 1/2 pint) serving dish. Pour over 900ml (1 1/2 pint) aspic. Chill to set.
Garnish with gherkins. Spoon over the remaining aspic.
Serves 8 buffet portions
TURKEY JULIENNE WITH ASPARAGUS
1kg (2lb) turkey fillet
30ml (2 level tbsp) chopped fresh parsley
50g (2oz) chopped walnuts
20ml (4 level tsp) ground ginger
450ml (3/4 pint) garlic vinaigrette
450g (1lb) fresh asparagus
celery leaves to garnish
Poach the turkey fillets in well-seasoned chicken stock for about 20 minutes until tender. Leave to cool in the liquid.
Stir the parsley walnuts and ginger into the vinaigrette. Tie the asparagus in bundles of six to eight stalks. Stand them upright in a pan of boiling salted water and cook for 10-15 minutes until tender.
Drain. While still hot stir in half the dressing. Leave to cool.
Cut the turkey into 1cm (1/2 in) wide strips. Marinate in the remaining dressing for 2-3 hours. To serve arrange the turkey strips and asparagus in a serving dish. Garnish with celery leaves.
Serves 16 buffet portions.
FISH CHERRY AND LEMON CHEESECAKE
75g (3oz) butter
125g (5oz) caster sugar
150g (5oz) plain flour
1 egg yolk
225g (8 oz) full fat soft cheese
225g (8 oz) cottage cheese sieved
2 eggs separated
2 juicy lemon
150ml (1/4 pint) soured cream
300ml (1/2 pint) double cream
15 ml (1 level tbsp) gelatine
225g (8 oz) fresh red cherries halved and stoned or 1 x 213g (71/2 oz) can cherries, drained
angelica to decorate
Cream butter with 75 g (3oz) sugar. Mix to a firm dough with the flour and 1 egg yolks. Roll out half the dough to fit the base of a 20cm (8 in) spring-release cake tin, and the other half to fit a 20cm (8in) flan ring placed on a baking sheet. Bake both in the oven at 1800C/3500F(Gas Mark 4) for about 15 minutes. Cut the flan ring into 10 wedges and cool on a wire rack. Leave other in tin.
With an electric mixer beat together the cheeses 2 egg yolks finely grated rind of the lemons, 75ml (5 tbsp) lemon juice the remaining sugar and soured cream. Stir in hlf the double cream.
Sprinkle the gelatine in 45ml (3 tbsp) water in a small bowl. Stand the bowl over a pan of hot water and heat until gelatine is dissolved. Leave to cool then stir into the cheese mixture. Refrigerate until. beginning to set.
Whisk the egg whites until stiff. Fold the cherries and egg whites into the cheese mixture, turn into tin and refrigerate. To serve unmould place pastry wedges on top and decorate with angelica.