Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Cooking for a party!

The big gathering of friends that we have been putting off forever finally happened. We had to pick an occasion and DD2's birthday presented itself at the opportune moment. We had a manageable sized crowd and for all the reasons I explained in this post I was not too keen to cater food.

I think with nostalgia of the early days of my life here in the US with not too many Indian restaurants (in our area) and prohibitive costs in the few made catering least likely. In most parties the food was cooked at home and it was actually fun to attend parties and see what the hostess had cooked up. Those were the times when the traditional and not so traditional items made it to the menu. I am in no way advocating the hosts break their back and cook forever but having eaten one too many catered food that tastes bad on top of being greasy I am starting to rebel.

To the credit of our guests most of them offered to bring a dish along but I resisted and wanted to give this cooking a try. When cooking for 10-20 people which is usually the size of our guest list I usually cook all on the day. No prep or cooking ahead of time.

Our house boasts of exactly one cook and one very eager helper who for his credit took care of the prep work rather well besides cleaning the house.

After giving the guests a good 2 week notice I sat to put together a menu. The guests list included both vegetarians and non-vegetarians.

Guests - 40 Adults, 5 Kids
For purposes of head count 10 and older got included in the adult count.

1. Chicken Biryani - 10 pounds + 7 cups of rice
2. Mutton Curry - 10 pounds
3. Channa Masala - 5 Cups dried channa
4. Drum stick and Mango Sambhar
5. Potato Poriyal - 15 pounds (?)
6. Idlis - 48
7. Onion Cucumber Raita
8. Rasam
9. White Rice
10. Chapathis - 100 (Order from a home chef)

Store brought appetizers
1. Spanakopita
2. Cheese Sticks

1. Payasam (Vermicelli pudding) 1 gallon milk and 3 cups of vermicelli and 1/2 cup of tapoica pearls
2. Store bought birthday cake

The prep work was the part that had always tripped me up, so this time planned to do the prep work ahead of time which amounted to work spread over 3 days, the prep work to be done 2 days ahead and the cooking to be done the day before and the day of the dinner.

A friend insisted hard enough and her offer for the rasam preparation was taken.

Day 1
1. Peel garlic about 40 cloves
2. Get the mint ready
3. Soak Channa - 5 cups of dried channa

Day 2
1. Cook Channa Masala - without any garlic
2. Cook Potato Stir Fry - about 10 pounds
3. Slice Onions for the biryani 4 medium sized red onions. Also peel about 4 onions and leave it whole to be used the next day
4. Wash and cut coriander leaves
5. Buy chicken precut and mutton (this saves a great deal of time for sure)
6. Make yogurt for the raita and for the rice

Day 3 - the day of the party
The oven was required for heating the spanakopita and the cheese stick to be ready by 6:00PM when everyone would start to arrive. It was also required to finish cooking the briyani and heating the potatoes. I timed it such that the biryani would get cooked followed by heating the potatoes and then the heating of the appetizers.

Morning DH got the ginger,green chilies and the rest of the coriander leaves prepped. I roasted the vermicelli, cashews and raisins and set them aside.

The sambhar was cooking as I got the gravy items (onions, tomato,etc.) sauteing done for the mutton curry. The mutton curry was completed in the pressure cooker just after the sambhar was finished. Took about an hour and a half.

Cut the cucumber and onions and set them aside in a bowl to be mixed later with the yogurt.

Started the chicken biryani, finished the sauteing of the onions,garlic,mint,coriander, tomatoes and once the chicken was cooked, mix in the rice and let it sit till it is ready to cook.

Finished cooking the payasam(vermicelli pudding)

Had lunch and took a nap for an hour or so

Added water to the biryani and let it cook while the oven was turned on to finish the biryani off. Once the biryani was done the potatoes were heated and by then it was time for the spanokopita so while the potatoes were getting heated the spankopita was popped in to finish the heating process.

I got the raita ready and prepared one set of idlis ready to be steamed in time for dinner.

By the time the guest arrived the appetizers were heated and ready to go.

The idlis were started when the cake cutting and piniata playing was going on. 3 round of steaming was done in total.

I also at the right moment remembered to set the electric cooker to cook the rice.

Final Analysis
The cooking went off without a hitch. No stress which usually accompanies cooking large quantities of food. But having vastly overestimated the quantity ended up with enough food easily for 65 people. I was beyond pleased that all the items cooked tasted good. The advantage of paying attention and cooking one item at a time rather several at a time. I am glad I accepted the offer to bring rasam because that would have broken my back.

Who would have thought that Idlis were the star. Come to think of it, this item that I hated as a kid is usually the most sought after item in parties.

The beetroot rasam that my friend brought was a big hit. Another surprise item was a beetroot curry with yogurt. Beetroot is fast becoming the vegetable of the hour.

Would I do it again? Certainly. It was an enjoyable experience good for once a year or once in 2 years.

The only disappointment was my camera helper abdicated her responsibility and forgot to take pictures, to her credit though, she took a couple. Can't blame her she was excited and playing with her friends and she misunderstood what I had told her and all I got were a couple of pictures of the mutton curry. As for me I am still not comfortable taking pictures of food in front of a crowd most of whom have no idea about my hobby, moreover I was busy and had no idea that no pictures were taken. Oh Well!

Did I mention that it was totally worth it and very satisfying?

The Cleanup
No party is complete without the cleanup. I again resisted offers for a cleanup and decided to do it once all the guests were gone. You must be wondering by now why I am so eager for punishment but I had a reason ;)

I used 'use and throw' plates (I know, I know)along with the ceramic and steel plates. I am a little disappointed with the amount of trash collected. Next time this area will be better taken care of.

The last of the guests left at 11.30PM and the cleanup of the kitchen and putting away the chairs and loading up the dishwasher and washing of the bigger serving and cooking vessels took about an hour. We watched Saturday Night Live after that and went to sleep around 1.00PM. I hate to see a dirty kitchen the next morning so finishing it off before going to sleep works best.

I am usually beat by 9.00PM because of the unplanned cooking but planning ahead and spreading the work over 3 days helped immensely.


  1. Hats off you! Cooking for 40 adults! Wow! What perfect planning! Am going to refer to your schedule for my next gathering ... though I can never cook for soooo many people! :-)

  2. Hat off to you for completing such a task!!

  3. What a marathon cooking session! Thanks for the post, this will be useful for so many readers who wish to plan a party!

  4. Oh Inddo cooking for a crowd and all done in the same day! Ha6s off to you're planning and executing skills. The menu looks very elaborate and every item is my favorite. I adore your enthusiasm to serve freshly cooked food to the guests inspite of all back breaking tasks! Really a heart appreciation to you dear!

  5. Thats a Big Menu!! Congrads on Finishing off cooking / heating on time.

  6. 45 ppl you are like mytwo sisters they also invite so much peaople, for me maximum is 12.

  7. 45 ppl! I'd never even get done with menu planning!

  8. Indo, Salute u !!!! Great job ....i wouldnt even dare to think of cooking for so many people....congrats...u should be proud :)

  9. Such a great job!! hats off to you..

  10. That is a LOT of biryani:-) I never ordered food for any of my parties ever before... but i do cook a day or two ahead like you did. i used to feel guilty initially... that i am not serving freshly cooked food, but i had to tell myself it is way fresher than the food from the restuarant.. & i write down the menu & what to do each day.. mark it off when i am done with each which gives me a big boost..

    even so, it is a BIG job cooking for so many, & you did it Indhu!! now take some rest:-D

  11. That''s amazing Indo! Delicious menu. I have 17 people coming in a week and I am nervous. Need to get my planning cap on like you :)

  12. That is something, ISG!! I would have catered that party :)
    Great that everything turned out well and you even cleaned up the same night. The menu sounded great.

  13. Belated Birthday wishes to your daughter. From your post I see how satisfied you are cooking for your guests.
    I cook for my daughters birthday where guests range from 40 to 50 guests. I have also never ordered food for any of our parties.Planning ahead indeed helps.

  14. Happy Birthday to DD2. She is 3 or 4 maybe ?

    But you deserve a WOW for such huge cooking, 40 adults is no joke and that too with such a detailed menu. The quantities will be a good benchmark for anything I plan next.

    I would have ordered out ;-)

  15. Wow!That must be some back breaking work there!40 adults!I could have never done that..

  16. Belated happy birthday to to DD2!!! :) I hope she had a blast.

    Wow!! Cooking for 40 adults makes my eyes bulge at the mere thought of it. Way to go, girl!!

  17. Belated happy birthday to the birthday girl!

  18. That really is a lot of people! I have on many occasions cooked for about 30 people in all.
    I am so glad you wrote about this ISG, for many times I have thought about having a really big party and wondering if I could do it by myself. It seems doable! I do have a very good helper too - my maid!

  19. Thanks for the wishes to DD2 and the praise.

    I learnt and will remember to cook one dish at a time and do the prep work ahead of time. Using all the burners at once is bad!

  20. Belated birthday wishes to DD2 and a commendable job indeed ISG. I cannot imagine cooking for so many poeple, I am sure my plan will crumble during the planning phase itself :-))
    That said this is a very useful and informative post for those who are adventerous.
    Happy Dasara to you all, dear ISG!

  21. Belated wishes to your dd, Indo. Wonderful to know you were able to make it a grand success..nice menu and great job!

  22. Dearest ISG,

    I am bookmarking, no, copying to a file! this wonderful treatise on how to cook for a crowd without any stress :) Knowing your recipes, I have no doubt everything tasted delicious! Your step by step prep and cooking, and the ingredients list (10 lbs potatoes, 5c dried channa...) is awesome information. I wish I had been invited. I would have forgiven you the plates ;)

    Happy belated B'day to DD2!


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