A Q for cooks: How to feed the visiting hordes?

For a week this summer, I will have to feed 15 people, all but one a teenager or adult, under these conditions:

  1. I’ll be in a somewhat modestly equipped kitchen (which does have a small food processor, wok, and crockpot) that, while it is “my” kitchen, I am not all that accustomed to, since I am only there a few weeks a year.

  2. We will be expected to be out playing tour guide most of the day every day, so I won’t be home a lot to cook, even if I wanted to slave in the kitchen.

  3. The gang is, if not exactly picky, shall we say … inexperienced … from a culinary perspective. And known pickiness in the group includes an aversion to Chinese food and to fish. (How did I end up related to these people, I ask? :rolleyes: )

  4. We are miles from a grocery store, so popping out at the last minute to buy a forgotten ingredient is pretty much out of the question.

  5. Food costs A FORTUNE on the Big Island, which is where this will all be happening. We can afford whatever it takes, fortunately, but I can see that the cost of groceries to feed all these people will easily top $1,000, perhaps by a whole lot. I’d like to keep the expense down a bit, if I can.

  6. We will arrive 2 days before our guests (with a helluva lot of chores besides shopping and cooking to handle) then be gone again for 3 days, so only minimal advance work is possible.

  7. We will have access to a couple of shelves in a large, stand-alone freezer.

  8. Six of the guests will be teenagers staying in our house (the adults are staying at a B&B a couple of blocks away). I feel no qualms about putting them to work.

  9. Thankfully, dinner is probably the only meal I’ll have to worry about most days; lunches will be in restaurants or simple picnics; the B&B will cover breakfasts for the adults and I figure the teenagers are on their own as long as I provide cereal, toast, etc.

So … how do I feed these people without going insane and broke, and/or starving them because my offerings are too inadquate or unusual? We are planning to buy a big grill and do a lot of hamburgers and hot dogs. Obviously we’ll be introducing them to many tropical fruits as well.


That slow cooker will be handy,but likely too small to make sufficient quantities,so you’ll have to supplement…I’m thinking some stews,with potatoes on the side,Mexican dishes with tortillas prepped before serving.If there are no proscriptions on pork,large butts/shoulders can be had cheaply and are well suited. Beans are another viable protein source and could be an extender/side as well as main dish.
You should plan a bit of insanity too.

You can cook a lot of corn pretty easy, either through boiling (if you have a really large pot) or in the oven, wrapped in tin foil. I bake a single one at 400[sup]o[/sup] for 30 minutes, so not sure how that translates to 15 cobs, but you should be able to get them all in there at once at least.

I just tried the following recipe for hummus the other day (makes eight servings – so you can just double the numbers), and it was quite good:

2 cups pre-cooked/canned chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
[sup]1[/sup]/[sub]2[/sub] cup tahini (sesame paste)
[sup]1[/sup]/[sub]4[/sub] sesame oil or olive oil
1 garlic clove
Salt and pepper as desired
1 tablespoon ground cumin
Juice of 1 lemon
Water as needed for a nice consistency ([sup]1[/sup]/[sub]3[/sub] cup or so)

Put all ingredients except water in a food processor or blender, blend into a paste. Add water as needed to get a nice pasty texture. Optionally, add a dash of olive oil and cumin on the top after complete for looks.

Then you just buy a stack of some sort of flat bread to nuke and serve with the hummus.

And I’ll just mention that with a wok you could do fajitas (it’s not just useful for Chinese food.) Chicken or shrimp might be better since they’ll pick up flavors easier without being marinated. I’m relatively sure that the recipe would just be olive oil, some sliced onion, sliced peppers, lemon juice, maybe some sesame sprinkle, salt and pepper, and paprika or cayenne or something. Corn tortillas, guacamole, salsa, and sour cream you can just buy from the store.

Fill them up with large quantities of bulky things like bread, pasta, couscous, rice, accompanied by smaller (but not measly) quantities of highly-flavoured things like meatballs in sauce, bolognese, chicken pieces in gravy, pickles, relishes, etc. Make sure they never run out of nice bread and butter and they won’t go away feeling underfed.

I’d make a few hearty soups beforehand, like lentil soup, or Dutch pea soup. Such soups freeze well, and can be made days before you go to the island. Take them with you in a freezing bag and put them in the freezer when you arrive. Set them out to thaw in the morning, and eat them at night with some kind of fancy bread, as **Mangetout **suggests. Dutch pea soup, for instance, is eaten with dark rye bread with bacon and/or cheese, all of which keep well and can be bought days beforehand.

The same idea goes with a thick tomatosauce. Make it beforehand, freeze it, and take it with you. When it is thawed, just cook up a big pan of pasta, set out grated cheese, slice a few cucumbers for greens, and you’re all set. Compliment is with some solid dessert, like cake.

Same idea goes with curry and rice. Or a mexican bean dish with rice and tortilla’s.

Mmmmm. Well, this is making me hungry! Thanks for the good suggestions. (Y’know, this is silly but I would not have thought of pasta, because for various reasons I almost never cook it here in Egypt. Good thing **Mangetout ** mentioned it!)

I like the slow cooker idea (I use mine a lot; I have a 6-quart). I would say if you have one 6-quart slow-cooker, a second one could be obtained fairly inexpensively (under $40.00). Two of them should certainly produce enough food for the ravening hoards (and you could make two separate dishes; one in each, in case someone doesn’t like one of the choices). If you do slow cookers, might I recommend also the Reynolds Slow Cooker liners to radically reduce clean-up?

The slow cookers would allow you to be “cooking” all day while you’re out playing tour guide.

I asked hubby. He’s the banquet chef for a resort and is used to putting together meals for large groups, although he thinks 15 picky people is a walk in the park. His suggestions:

Get a large amount of ground beef (10-15 lbs). Brown it all at once with some chopped onion. You can do this well in advance and freeze it. This will give you two meals:

Day 1 - Pasta Bolognaise - take 1/2 the ground meat mixture, put it in a pot with a couple of cans of tomato paste, water and a handful of bay leaves. Simmer until the sauce is thick, taking care not to let it burn (stir it often). Boil pasta, and combine (take the bay leaves out of the sauce first). Serve with a green salad and garlic bread.

Day 2 (or whenever) Chili - take the rest of the meat, add 3-4 large cans of chopped tomatoes, 2-3 more chopped onions, 2-3 chopped peppers, 2-3 cans of beans and season with cumin and chili powder. Simmer until heated through, and onions and peppers are cooked. Serve with bowls of shredded cheese, sour cream and salsa. Pass the tortila chips (you can make them yourself, too - cut 8" corn tortillas in eights, and spread on a baking sheet. Put in a 350F oven for 8-10 minutes until crisp).

Day 3 - Baked Chicken. Get about 10 lbs of chicken parts (legs, or drums and thighs are usually the cheapest). Toss with some vegetable oil, chopped garlic (or garlic powder), paprika and salt and pepper. Spread on baking sheets and pop into a 350F oven for half-hour, 40 minutes, or until they’re at 165F on a thermometer. He suggests (if you have room in your oven) baking potatoes at the same time. Start them about 15-20 minutes ahead of the chicken and they should be ready at the same time the chicken is.

Day 4 - Roasted pork. Get a whole pork loin (they go on sale a lot where I am, usually less than $2 a lb - buy in advance and freeze ) Simply take out of the cryopack and lay out on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast at 350F for about 45 minutes to an hour - 145 on your meat thermometer. He suggests braised cabbage with this - shread a couple of heads of red cabbage (or green - whichever is cheaper). Put in a big pot on top of the stove with a little oil. Saute a bit, and then combine equal parts sugar and white vinegar. Pour over cabbage and simmer until cabbage is cooked, and the liquid reduces by 1/2. You could also add some caraway seed to this, too. Canned sweet potatoes and apple sauce goes well with this, too.

Day 5 - Dog Day!! Since you’re buying a grill, dogs are great. The chicken or turkey dogs are much cheaper than the all-beef, or even the “meat” ones. Save some of the chili from the second day and use as a topping. Along with the usual condiments, here are some other suggestions: Saurkraut, chopped onion, chopped bacon, chopped jalapenos, shredded cheese. When you shred the cabbage for the pork, do an extra head or two for some coleslaw for this night. This may be a New England tradition, but canned baked beans are good, too.

Day 6 - LEFTOVERS!!! Empty out the fridge. You’re going to be too busy packing to leave to worry about cooking :slight_smile:

He says that it shouldn’t take you much more than an hour in the kitchen most nights, and most of the time is waiting for something to cook.

Hope it all works out for you.


I agree about the slow cooker. With a six-quart you could probably feed the 15 if you stretch things out with side dishes. For example, make marinara sauce in slow cooker, serve over pasta. Or make chili, serve over brown rice. Purchase or borrow a big rice cooker. Or make the teens a casserole in the slow cooker, and cook a more sophisticated meal for the adults a night or two.

You may want to look into what day and where the farmer’s market is, since the produce on Hawaii is incredibly delicious, and that’s probably the most affordable way to buy it.

Breakfast for dinner, such as pancakes, sausages, and scrambled eggs can be an affordable meal that’s easy to scale up.

Barbeques or as some people call them Sloppy Joes.

The nice thing about hamburger is that you can cook pounds of it in pieces and keep it in the freezer. Add different sauces to it for different foods later, and you don’t have to cook the meat when people are there. Sauces can be made ahead of time if you want and frozen, or just used canned sauces you like. Pasta can be made ahead of time also. Stop the cooking with cold water when just right. drain it and put a little oil in it and mix it to coat all the pasta. put the pasta in a sealed container, or ziploc baggie, and refrigerate it. You can save the pasta a couple days so yo can make multiple meals worth at one time.

You get home from touring, and you put the sauce and meat in the crockpot. Start some water boiling. After the meat sauce is warm you dunk the pasta in hot water a until it’s warm and the main course is ready. you can put the pasta and sauce together to heat the pasta if you like. The key is to cook large amounts of ingredients that can combine for different meals.
The next day can be barbeques, using a different sauce and the hamburger from the freezer.

Wow, this is all great advice – thanks everyone. Now I’m kind of wishing the guests would be around for more than a week so I could use ALL the ideas. (And please, if anyone else reads this thread, feel free to pile on more suggestions; there is no such thing as too many cooking ideas, in my book.)

I don’t remember how big the slow cooker in our Hawaii kitchen is, but I think it is pretty large – if not, I might be able to borrow one from our neighbor, and if necessary buying a second one probably does make sense financially (especially since I have a second crowd, with 9 to feed, later in the summer).

Olive, happily married though I am, I might have to steal your husband due to his profession. OTOH, I once attended a cooking class taught by a hotel chef - his wife was in the class so the two of them bantered a lot and revealed what a marriage involving a professional chef was like. Of course, all of us taking the cooking class said “ooohhh…how wonderful to be married to a chef!!” But the husband and wife agreed, he did almost no cooking at home; doing his job was enough time thinking about food for him. Obviously your husband can at least be cajoled into offering internet advice – give him my thanks.

One of my favorites for dealing with situations like this is lasagna. Make 3 lasagnas ahead of their visit in those disposable foil pans and freeze them. I usually make one veggie lasagna, one traditional, and then something different like a seafood, or vodka sauce, or something like that.

For things like this my wife usually resorts to fajitas.

  • You can chop up the onions and peppers before hand and put it in the freezer
  • You can chop up the meat and marinate before hand and put it in the freezer
  • When it comes to cooking time just throw it all in a pan and cook through
  • Make sure you have cheap (relative to the meat) refried beans, cheese, salsa, chips, etc. that people can fill up on.

Here’s an inexpensive chili recipe. Not a classic, but hey.

Cook up one pound of ground beef, with as much chopped onion as you like. Add two or three small cans, undiluted, of canned tomato soup. Season with chili powder to taste. Heat on low, stirring occasionally.

You can adjust this as needed, doubling or tripling the recipe, or altering the proportions of ingredients to suit you. It should be noted, if you increase the recipe, that one family sized can of tomato soup is about the same as five small cans.

They’re lower in cost, but also lower in flavor, too. I can’t stand hot dogs that are even partially chicken or turkey. I do eat chicken and turkey, but not when they’re substituting for beef or pork. I wouldn’t feed anyone a hot dog with chicken or turkey in it, unless I was really pissed at them.

A word about pasta. Cooking pasta for 15 people is a bit of a challenge. You either need a huge pot (which might yield uneven results), or many pots (needing a large stove) or many batches (which means you won’t be eating together).

A workaround is baked pasta. Cook it (batches are fine) but pull it out just before it is done. Cool it under running water and put it in a baking mold. Layer with sauce and cheese(as if you were making lasagna, only that with any type of long or short pasta). You can do this the day before and refigerate. Bake the whole thing in the oven when it is time to eat. Both the pasta and the sauce will be cooked, so you are only heating it up.

Depending on the dynamics of your group, after dinner might be a great time to cook or prep for the following day. This means that most ingredients will be store packed and use less room and only the next day’s meal will be prepped and using up space and containers. IF you are night partiers and drinkers, this might not work so well. You might turn it into a group activity, though. You know your people.

I’ve always felt the same way. I hate the taste. Watch a chicken or turkey hot dog cool for two minutes, See the skinny shriveled hot dog mock you.