As you will have seen from my recent posts, there has been a lot of parties recently in the Mamacook household and I have to say my first party (Mamacook junior's second birthday) had me very stressed out. By the second, I'd calmed down and got a bit of a system.
I thought I'd share some learnings and some recipe ideas to get you going and perhaps a few words which will calm the nerves and reassure you it is doable to cater for 30 with ease.
Buffet is the way to go generally unless you can seat everyone comfortably. It also means if everything isn't ready at the same time it doesn't really matter.
This takes me onto my second point. In my view, there should always be one or two hot dishes in a buffet. Don't kill yourself making everything hot but likewise, something hot makes it look like you've made some effort (even if that's way more effort than you have.)
Of course the trick then is to give things which are easily reheated like sausage rolls or quiches or make something which can be prepared in advance and chucked in the oven requiring minimal attention (sausage, chicken and potato dishes are good for this) and also ask for and accept help. Making 4-5 dishes on your own is a hassle, it's hard work. Delegate. Get someone else to make the salad, make a meat dish. (Generally people like to help!) Also remember a buffet isn't the time to make your fantastic sourdough, buy in some good bread and good cheese and that will keep a lot of people happy without breaking your spirit.
So, I try and think about the whole menu. Are you choosing a theme? Unless you're sticking to largely British or European fare which generally all work well, its probably a good idea to think "do all of these work on a plate together?" I remember my Mum doing a party when I was younger and cooking plain boiled rice for one dish then thinking "I'll cook a curry for people who like curry and a chilli for people who like chilli." Logical yes? Well yes it was but most people had a spoonful of curry and a spoonful of chilli which wasn't really her intention and was just a bit odd.
I did read some research once where they proved that given more choice (in this case with sandwiches) people ate more. So bear this in mind in quantities and menu. Variety encourages people to eat more and eat more variety. People don't think "I'll just take these two items that go together".
I've stuck to a fairly British and European menu for most of the parties this year but there is also a suggestion at the end for an easy Indian style buffet.
So you need at least one meat, ideally a fish, something vegetarian (even if you don't have vegetarian guests as some people are fussy about certain fishes and meat), greens and a starch.
So for my son's birthday party I served:
Quiches (made the day before and reheated)
Sausage rolls (made by my mum and reheated)
A mixed salad
Mini chipolatas (prepared the day before and just baked in the oven and served hot)
Potato wedges (hot)
A bowl of prawns (my son loves prawns)
A board of British cheeses (my son loves Stilton)
Birthday cupcakes (made into the shape of a "very hungry caterpillar" copying this very clever idea from Bessies Veggie food)
Grape sugar free jelly
For a family birthday I served:
Mini tomato and brie tarts (served warmish)
New potatoes roasted with garlic and lemon from Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's recipe (served hot)
A plate of different smoked salmons and prawns
Mini chipolatas (prepared the day before and just baked in the oven and served hot. This was insisted upon by my husband, chipolatas feel like kids food for me.)
Coronation chicken (made by my sister in law)
A mixed salad
Pavlova (meringue made the day before)
An Indian Inspired Buffet:
Indian food makes an ideal buffet. This menu would only require two recipes to be made close to serving time.
Spicy prawn rice
Chicken Tikka (can prepare the night before)
Chutneys and pickles
I think this would make a brilliant buffet followed up with fresh fruit.
Enjoy! Have some confidence, prepare in advance then sit back and absorb the compliments!