Comfort foods are far-from fussy and everyone loves them, which makes this menu perfect for a casual get-together—whether celebrating a birthday, the upcoming Super Bowl, or just because. For a country-inspired birthday party (think bandannas, plaid shirts, jeans) I attended years ago, this menu was a winner. It fed a group of 30 adults and children with enough variety so everyone, meat eaters and vegetarians alike, could find something to enjoy.
Most things on this menu would be also be great for an outdoor party because they travel well. A few of these things, like the cornbread, don’t have to be served hot. Chili can be made in advance and heated up outdoors in the slow-cooker, if you have power where you’re going; transferred to a chafing dish; or heated right over a camp fire in a cast iron pot (very outdoorsy!)
One of the best party planning tips I have ever learned and have since practiced religiously over the years is to never feel pressured to make everything yourself. It’s easier on you and makes for a more enjoyable time if you’re not stressing over making every last thing from scratch—I learned that one the hard way a few times.
It’s perfectly ok to serve things that are store-bought along with some of your signature, homemade recipes. Many of the things for this menu could be easily purchased—the cornbread, for example. And if you have a Wegmans, Fresh Market or similar, higher-end food store close to you where you can get a good quality one, even better!
Tropical Party Punch: in my house growing up, no get-together would be complete without a punch!
Assorted Beers and Sodas: it’s never a bad idea to have a few of everyone’s favorite things to drink. Typically, it’s Coke for my mom and a few relatives, Diet Coke or Coke Zero for me, seltzer water, iced tea, and Sprite or a ginger ale for those who might want less caffeine.
Baked Pimento Cheese Dip: cheesy goodness that’s a little spicy and sweet from the pimentos. One of my hands-down favorite dips to make.
Tortilla Chips: choose a good quality bagged chip, one of my favorites is Garden of Eatin’. I like the blue corn ones, but they also have yellow corn, sweet potato, and other yummy varieties.
Salad Bar: set out large bowls of your favorite greens (mesclun, romaine, iceberg) next to smaller bowls of assorted cut-up veggies (cucumbers, carrots, tomatoes) and an array of bottled dressings for guests to make their own salads. Don’t forget add-ons like crispy fried bacon, shredded or crumbled cheese, and croutons!
Beef Tenderloin Roast: always be sure to use a probe thermometer so you can cook your meat to the right temperature. This probe thermometer is easy to use, sticks to magnetic surfaces (I personally have two of them on our refrigerator!), and the batteries never seem to die. Slice the meat and serve on small slider buns with caramelized onions, provolone cheese, and horseradish sauce for a handheld bite.
BBQ Chicken Skewers: anything on a skewer is easy to eat, party finger food. As an extra bonus, it’s also kid-friendly. Use thin-sliced chicken breasts that you can buy in the grocery store, usually pre-cut, which take no time to cook at all. Put on bamboo skewers, marinate in your favorite barbecue sauce, and grill.
Vegetarian Chili: there are tons of recipes out there, but this recipe is close to the one that I make at home using both beans and veggie soy “meat” crumbles.
Alton Brown’s Stovetop Mac n’ Cheese: one of the best macaroni and cheese recipes I’ve made that’s easily scaled; I’ve made the recipe both as-is and also have quadrupled it (2lbs of pasta, 40oz of cheese, 2 cans of evaporated milk, etc.) Cracker Barrel cheddar cheeses are good because they have an intense flavor and are easy to find in most grocery stores, but use any kind of cheddar that will melt nicely or a combination of different cheeses if you prefer. I made one version that had blue cheese and a blend of cheddar cheeses with penne pasta that turned out great.
Cornbread: easy, moist, and perfectly cooked, I successfully tripled this recipe to make one 13×9 pan plus a small 8×8 pan that we cut into 2×2 squares for the party of 30.
Wegmans Vanilla Cake with berries: unlike some grocery store cakes, this is a fresh-tasting cake that’s flecked with vanilla bean and the icing isn’t overly sweet, which I especially like about it. I serve it with mixed raspberries, blueberries and blackberries – fresh and local, if in season, or otherwise thawed frozen berries.