What’s better than spending some solitary time out at the cottage? How about spending some time out at the cottage with a few (or a few dozen) of your family and friends? Yes, alone time is vital, but so is social time. Being together with a large group at the cottage is an amazing shared experience—though cooking for everyone can be downright terrifying. If you’ve ever looked into a sea of hungry, imploring faces, you know exactly what we’re talking about.
Fortunately, there are ways to create maximum-efficiency meals with minimal effort—you just need to take the right approach. With the following tips, you can feel confident about hosting your next big party (or family reunion) while maintaining the relaxed attitude of a true cottager. So take a deep breath, and let’s get started.
Get everyone involved
Prep work is half the battle when it comes to making a large meal. If you’re cooking for close friends or family, then there’s no awkwardness in asking them to pitch in. Give everyone a cutting board and a knife, and get cooking assembly-line style. You may find your ingredients coming together faster than you can handle!
Go back to the classics
One of the best ways to minimize the work of cooking is to make people cook for themselves. No, we don’t mean inviting crowds of people into your kitchen. We mean the classic DIY method: roasting hot dogs and hamburgers over a fire or grill. Cooking over a fire is great—it lets people cook and eat at their own pace, and all you have to do is give them the tools. Buy a giant bag of buns and get your hot dogs and hamburgers in economy size. Put out condiments so everyone can create their own custom dog (or ’burg), and if you want to make the affair a little more fancy, make some more elaborate garnishes: bacon, caramelized onions, avocado, corn relish, fresh herbs, and whatever else you can come up with.
Make soups and stews (and salads)
Making and plating individual dishes is work-heavy and time-consuming. So instead of counting out components for your dishes, just make huge, one-pot meals that can be scaled up or down and served in a single bowl. And soups and stews don’t have to be unexciting. You can make all kinds of impressive dishes, from beef daube to chilled asparagus soup. The important thing is that these dishes can mostly be made in a single pot, and in huge quantities. And on the side, try a big salad with some extra touches: toasted seeds and nuts, avocado slices, and even sprinkles of goat cheese. You’ll end up with a meal that’s high-end and low-effort.
Please a crowd with homemade pizza
Homemade pizza has a certain flair that delivery can never match. There’s something so exciting about watching your dough rise, then manhandling it into the perfect pizza. Once you’ve got the crust, add your sauce, and sprinkle on the toppings as densely as you want. Want extra cheese? There’s no haggling with an order-taker on the phone. Just add mozza at will. Of course, the best thing about making your own pizza is you can decide how much work you want to put into it. You can make your own dough, sauce, and toppings, or you can buy them pre-made. No, wait, the best thing about making your own pizza is that it’s sure to please everyone—including the cook.
Make fun drinks (in giant pitchers)
It’s surprising the difference a nice homemade lemonade or iced tea can make. A meal that might otherwise feel thrown together will suddenly feel like a whole with the addition of some fancy drinks. Drink recipes are also scalable, so you can make as much as you need without a lot of extra work. We recommend adding fruit slices and muddled herbs for a little refinement.
Try a curry (or three)
Like stews, curries can feed a crowd with minimal effort and without having to do a lot of fancy plating. You can make one curry with as many veggies as you can handle, or you can make a few unique dishes. We recommend a mix of styles and textures. Dahl is a good backbone for any meal. Chana masala is another simple, wholesome dish. If you want a bigger challenge, try making a korma, or the holy grail of Indian cooking: butter chicken. As a base, cook up a huge pot of rice. If you have a rice cooker, it’s as easy as pushing a button—and even if you don’t, it’s as easy as turning the dial on your oven.
Offer finger food
In large groups, people tend to graze. With this in mind, you might want to consider making things they can pick up and munch on while they mingle. Wings and tiny drumsticks are always a crowd-pleaser. Heap them on a plate, and they’ll disappear in minutes. The classic veggies-and-dip combo will also serve you well when you’ve got a hungry mob at your door. From here, you can enter the world of classic picnic fare: deviled eggs, tiny sandwiches, tortilla roll-ups, tiny quiches. You can be as elaborate or as simple as you like. Either way, people are sure to gobble up these fun, bite-sized offerings.
Clean up together
Unless you’re hosting a fancy dinner party and trying to project the illusion of having everything under control, we highly recommend you get people to pitch in on the cleanup. Dividing dishes among many people makes what might otherwise seem a gargantuan task manageable. And if you have a dishwasher, you’re golden. Get people to load your own plates, and you’ll be done in minutes. People are always at their best when working towards a common goal. You might even find that cleaning up can be as much of a party as dinner itself.