The best big-batch party food

Hosting a big bash for all your favourite people is one of life’s greatest pleasures (well, in my opinion anyway), but preparing enough food for everyone can feel like mission impossible. Finding the time to plan a menu that suits everyone, with vegetarian, gluten-free and dairy-free options, making an enormous shopping list and getting all the ingredients in (online shopping is definitely the answer), finding space in the fridge, freezer and cupboards for everything (only to find that you’ve forgotten something crucial and having to go back to the supermarket), it all takes a lot of time. And that’s before you’ve even started all the food prep, all the chopping and peeling and cooking and baking, leaving your kitchen looking like a crime scene. Of course it can be helpful when close friends or family offer to help out – but I often find that they can be more of a distraction than a help, as it becomes more of a social event in itself and nothing gets done! So the best advice I can offer is to make big-batch food, and doing it all the day before – where possible.

Although I’m a big fan of the quality of products you might find at a Waitrose or M&S when it comes to dinner parties, when it comes to bulk food it really pays to go to somewhere like ASDA as it will cost you half as much, and the ingredients are pretty much the same! I also really recommend ordering everything online to save time and hassle, and if possible dividing the order into two parts. One food order for everything you need the day before to prepare (see below), and then a second delivery the morning of the party for all the last-minute food prep plus of course the ice for the beverages. This is the best way to ensure there is space for everything in the kitchen (as you’ll be throwing away a lot of packaging from the first delivery and will therefore take up less space in the fridge), and of course to ensure fresh ingredients at the party! Nobody likes a wilted soggy salad.

This was my planned menu:

Easy canapés

  • Melon, parma ham and mozzarella (on a cocktail stick) *warning: takes time and can only be prepared on the day
  • Watermelon, feta and mint (on a cocktail stick) *warning: takes time and can only be prepared on the day
  • Cherry tomatoes, basil and mozzarella (on a cocktail stick) *warning: takes time and can only be prepared on the day
  • Small jacket potatoes with crème fraîche and chives *jacket potatoes can be done the day before
  • Salmon rolls * salmon rolls can be done the day before

Cocktail station * all cocktails do not take long and are easy to do, but do it just an hour or two before the party

  • White wine sangria with fresh fruit
  • Pimms & Lemonade with fresh fruit and mint
  • Grapefruit paloma cocktails with citrus fruit
  • Blackberry & thyme cocktails with (no surprised) blackberries and thyme

Salad bar

  • Watermelon, feta, black olive, red onion and mint salad *takes time, needs to be done on the day
  • Greek pasta salad (greek salad but replacing the salad with pasta) with red onion, black olives, feta, cucumber, tomato etc and a lemon and olive oil vineagrette *can be done the day before
  • Pesto pasta salad with pesto, mozzarella balls and halved cherry tomatoes and fresh basil * can be done the day before
  • Simple potato salad – literally the easiest ‘salad’ in the world: boiled potatoes, cut into quarters and mixed with ranch dressing (served with fried bacon lardons on the side for bacon lovers) * can be done the day before
  • Veggie potato salad; also with ranch dressing but with spring onions and cornichons etc * can be done the day before
  • Coleslaw with red and regular cabbage, celery, carrot, apple and a no-mayo dressing of crème fraîche and yoghurt * must be done on the day of the party as otherwise it will lose crunch!

For on the barbecue * all food prep can be done the day before

  • Minted lamb on skewers (served with homemade tsatziki)
  • Prawns and chorizo on skewers
  • Hamburgers
  • Sausages / hot dogs
  • Barbecue ribs
  • Jacket potatoes in foil
  • Pineapple

Dessert *all dessert can be baked and cooked the day before, but must be assembled during the party

  • Three-tiered victoria sponge cake with whipped vanilla cream and fresh berries, with a homemade berry compote
  • Homemade lemonade scones with homemade strawberry and prosecco jam and clotted cream

The menu might sound ambitious, but it was quite manageable as I had divided the food prep over two days. Having said that, some of the recipes were of course a lot easier and quicker than others! So for a simpler solution, stick to just a pasta salad, a coleslaw and a potato salad (it’s incredible how quick, simple, cheap and delicious just potatoes with ranch dressing can be) and ask the men to be in charge of the meats on the barbecue. The cocktail stick canapes were easy enough to do but they took a very long time to assemble – so only attempt these if you have a friend, child or other family member willing to take over this task! I did the 3-ingredient scones the day before and had made the jam and the compote a week in advance, so all there was left to do was the cake. I used three ready-mix victoria sponge mixes to save time (don’t judge me), then just assembled them quickly during the party itself, with some whipped double cream (with icing sugar and vanilla essence), and fresh berries, and served the cake with the pot of berry compote / coulis on the side.

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This is how to time the food prep:

Long in advance

If you wanted to serve a homemade jam and berry compote / coulis with the cake and scones, you can make this any time up to a month in advance! I made mine a few days in advance.

The day before

1. Make the 3-ingredient lemonade scones first. They don’t take very long to make, but it’s good to get them out of the way. Just store them in an air-tight container or wrap in cling-film or foil and keep in the fridge, then move on to the next task!

2. Also bake the three Victoria Sponge layers. With a ready-mix pack you save time and money, and whilst each cake is baking in the oven, you can get on with other tasks. Wrap each layer in cling-film and store in the fridge.

3. Salmon rolls are easy to make. Just cut the crusts off slices of white bread, roll the slices nice and thin with a rolling pin, smother in cream cheese, top with dill, smoked salmon and a squeeze of lemon juice, then roll them up lengthways so you have a long sausage. Pile them up and store in tupperware or cling-film / foil in the fridge, then cut into disks the following day.

4. For the mini jacket potato canapes, bake the new potatoes (or any other small potatoes) in the oven – no need to boil them first. When they’re cooked, store in tupperware so that all you have to do the following day is heat them up.

5. In the biggest saucepan you can find, cook the pasta for the pasta salads. When the pasta is cooked, either mix with pesto, halved cherry tomatoes and halved mini mozzarella, or mix with chopped black olives, cucumber, cherry tomatoes, feta and red onions, or divide the pasta to make one of each. Cover the bowls with cling-film.

6. In another big saucepan, boil potatoes (I used more new potatoes for mine) for the potato salad. When cooked and cooled, cut the potatoes to the size you want, then mix with ranch dressing. Either leave it as it is, or add chives, spring onion, cornichons and anything else you like, for example fried crispy bacon lardons. I served my bacon lardons on the side, as some of my guests were vegetarian.

7. With all the main food prep done, all that is left to do is prepare the meats for the barbecue! Marinate the lamb, cut into pieces and arrange onto skewers. Marinate the pork ribs (please get these from your butcher and make sure they are free range, as pigs get the worst animal welfare deal in the agriculture industry). Fry the chorizo and assemble with the prawns onto skewers. Then bung everything in the fridge along with the sausages and anything else.

Now you can relax with a (large) glass of wine, knowing that most of the work has already been done!

The day of the party

1. If there is somebody on hand to help, ask them to assemble the melon cubes, parma ham and mini mozzarella balls onto cocktail sticks. The same applies to the watermelon, feta and mint canapes, and cherry tomatoes, basil and mini mozzarella ball canapes.

2. Start preparing the fresh salads. Start shredding the red and regular cabbage, chop the celery and grate the carrot and apple into a large mixing bowl. Separately, mix the crème fraîche or yoghurt with a little bit of cider vinegar and honey, then toss the dressing in with the veggies.

3. Next, cut the watermelon into bite sized pieces and remove any seeds or pips. Mix in with salad leaves or lettuce, chopped black olives, red onion, feta and mint, then squeeze over a little lime juice.

4. To make the tsatziki, grate a whole cucumber (then throw away the middle sausage of seeds) and squeeze the grated cucumber to remove the liquid. Mix the cucumber in with yoghurt, pressed or finely chopped garlic, lemon juice, olive oil an salt and pepper. Keep in the fridge.

5. Heat up the mini jacket potatoes in the oven on a low heat, so you can take them out any time and they will be warm. In a bowl, mix together the crème fraîche and chives so that you can dollop a spoonful onto each jacket potato when they are ready to serve.

6. Slice the salmon rolls and arrange onto a plate, and arrange all the other canapes onto serving plates. Check that the hamburger buns and rolls for the sausages are by the barbecue with any condiments and sliced tomatoes, cucumber, gherkins etc, and take the meat down for the boys to cook.

7. Now that the food is done, prepare large jugs, pitchers or drinks dispensers with the cocktails, and fill with plenty of ice!

During the party

After a few hours, heat up the scones on a low heat, then assemble the three layers of cake one on top of the other, spreading a layer of freshly whipped cream in between each layer, topped with some homemade berry compote. Serve with fresh berries, berry compote and whipped cream. Bring out the warm scones with clotted cream and jam too!

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I didn’t get the chance to take a picture of all the food as people started to arrive as soon as I had brought it out, and the salads got attacked pretty much straight away!

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The cake went down pretty well too…

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And the scones..

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We were so lucky with the weather, it was the perfect day for a barbecue! Which was lucky, as I hadn’t organised a back-up plan…

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These were the last ones standing (or rather, sitting!) at the end of the day 🙂

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