Mom's Best Crowd-Pleasers

101 No-Fuss Recipes for Family Gatherings, Casual Get-togethers & Surprise Company


By Andrea Chesman

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Cooking for a crowd doesn’t have to be stressful! Andrea Chesman shows you how to perfectly predict how much food you’ll need, prepare it in time, and enjoy yourself while cooking for the masses. With 101 recipes that include Three-Cheese Noodle Bake, All-American Burgers, and Chocolate Mint Ice-Cream Pie, you’ll be sure to please a gaggle of even the pickiest eaters. Chesman’s relaxed and fun approach to large-scale cooking will have you confidently heading up neighborhood picnics, office parties, and even wedding receptions.



I had an awful lot of fun pulling this cookbook together, thanks to some wonderful friends who regularly attend Andrea’s Supper Club.

When testing crowd-pleasing recipes, leftovers are the biggest problem. So, for several months I hosted a potluck every other Sunday. I cooked five or more dishes and relied on friends to fill out the menu, taste all my recipe tests, and take home the extras. Midway through the potlucks, these friends were inspired to test their own recipes. Soon we had a regular routine: each dish was introduced to the group, with an explanation of who made it and what was special about it. We enjoyed offerings from sushi to samosas, from cheesecake made from hand-milked milk, to bread baked in a backyard brick oven. There were soups and dips, cookies and tarts, salads and squash.

Thank you for wonderful company, support, food, and dishwashing: Kathy Angier, Mary Arbuckle, Hilda Billings, Christiana Bloomfield, Alice Clark, Chris Coliander, Joanna Colwell, Win Colwell, Wren Colwell, Laurie Cox, Mac Cox, Ethan Dickinson, Seth Dickinson, Beth Duquette, Jane Eddy, Marshall Eddy, Michele Fay, Levi Fleury, Noah Fleury, Alison Joseph, Rick Klein, Schuyler Klein, Chris McGovern, Liam Mulqueen-Duquette, Mark Mulqueen, Rachel Plant, Tim Price, Paul Ralston, Millie Renaud, Eben Schumacher, Olin Schumacher, Nathan Shappy, Sarah Wesson, Su White, Aiden Warren, Eric Warren, Rowan Warren, and Miles Zwicky. Thank you, too, to all the folks who continue to make Andrea’s Supper Club an on-going pleasure.

Finally, thank you to the best tasters: Richard Ruane, Rory Ruane, and Sam Chesman.

And thanks to Deborah Balmuth, Margaret Sutherland, and all the hands at Storey for making this book possible.


I have a friend whom I used to call whenever I was planning to feed a large crowd and was worried that I wouldn’t have enough food.

“Judy,” I’d say, “this is the menu. Do you think I have enough food?” Then I’d rattle off all the details of how much I planned to buy and what I planned to serve.

“Cut it in half,” she’d say. “Then you’ll have enough.”

She was always right; I always planned to make more than necessary. Judy was raised in the same sort of household I was. If turkey was on the menu, our mothers would make a small beef roast in case someone didn’t like turkey. If mashed potatoes were planned, they’d make rice also, “Just in case.” They never served one type of pie when they knew that some people preferred apple while others preferred pumpkin.

No one ever left my mother’s house hungry. They don’t leave mine hungry, either, though I don’t go to the same lengths to please every possible appetite. My meals are simpler (healthier, too), but that doesn’t mean I don’t aim to make them all crowd-pleasers.

My early years of cooking included stints of cooking for a sorority and a couple of fraternities, as I cooked my way through college and beyond. My June wedding was held at a state park, and my husband and I prepared most of the food. He brewed beer and I made an assortment of Mediterranean salads, which we stored in the cooler of friends who have a market garden. We bought wines and other drinks, hired a local bakery to make pizzas, and commissioned friends to make the cakes. We hired servers for the day of the wedding, to handle setup, serving, and cleanup. It was a wonderful and memorable occasion.

I have prepared meals for runners at our elementary school’s annual 5K Ridge Run and flipped pancakes for a local library’s all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast. Every month, I organize and usually bake for a monthly coffeehouse series. I live among a community of friends who turn almost every party into a potluck. Though my immediate family includes just two sons, it seems I am always feeding crowds. And I love it.

Feeding crowds is tremendously satisfying, and it can even be fun if you have a good repertoire of easy recipes to rely upon. This book is filled with recipes I’ve developed and experiences I have learned from over the years. It includes recipes for holiday and birthday celebrations, picnics, even backyard dining off the grill. I hope it helps to make your gatherings more fun, easy-going, and rewarding.

You Can Feed a Crowd

Does your head start spinning at the thought of feeding a crowd? Does preparing just a single dish for a large potluck feel like an overwhelming task? Don’t get discouraged. Remember that only six women were responsible for the first Thanksgiving feast. They prepared all the food for 91 Native Americans and 56 settlers, and the party lasted for three days. That’s a lot of cooking and pot washing, but they were sucessful, and you will be, too!

How to Handle a Crowd

Maybe it’s lunchtime, and your small family has doubled because the kids have friends over to play. Maybe it’s dinnertime, and the grandparents show no sign of rising from the couch. Maybe the sun is shining for the first time in weeks, calling everyone out for a picnic or a sledding party. Maybe your new flat-screen TV makes your home the inevitable location for a Super Bowl party. Whatever the reason, having friends and family over should be fun and relaxed. A shower for your sister, who is expecting her first baby, a celebration for your recently divorced brother, or a birthday party for your husband all demand your best crowd-pleasing skills, but can also be a pleasure to plan and execute.

The foods that you prepare should be fun and relaxed to complement the way most of us entertain today. The days of formal dining, linens, place cards, and monogrammed silverware are mostly relics of the past — or the subject of different books. Today’s entertaining is informal and often spontaneous. It includes a lot of potluck dining, where you might be asked to bring a dish to share. So it is good to have a repertoire of fast and easy foods that you can prepare with a minimum of fuss, that are easily transported, and that hold up well on a buffet table.


When you know in advance that a crowd will be gathering, the crucial questions are: what is the occasion, and how many people will you be serving? The occasion often dictates the food. A Super Bowl party requires handheld food; a kid’s birthday party requires cake; and Thanksgiving means turkey. The number of people will dictate some of the food choices — and a lot of the other planning considerations, such as whether you will have to borrow chairs, whether you will serve buffet style or sitting down, even whether you can fit everyone in your house. Many parties these days are potluck, so whether or not to plan the meal as a potluck is an important decision.

When planning your menu, consider the limits of your oven and the number of burners you possess. On Thanksgiving, after the turkey comes out of the oven there will be room to bake the stuffing and the dinner rolls, but will there also be room for the green bean casserole? Maybe you should plan on green beans amandine instead.

It helps to create the menu and the shopping list simultaneously. As long as you have your cookbooks open, or your imagination rolling, it makes sense to write down all that you will need to buy. At the same time, consider how you will prepare and serve the food, and what serving dishes and equipment are required. If you are thinking, for example, of making a large quantity of soup, consider whether you will have enough soup bowls. If not, think of something else to serve. Likewise, ice-cream pies make a terrific, easy dessert for crowds, but don’t attempt them if you don’t have room in the freezer.

I am particularly fond of one-dish main courses, such as a hearty stew. Add bread and salad, and you have a satisfying meal without a lot of last-minute cooking. Leaving a lot of cooking to be done right before the meal is served is generally a bad idea unless you are superorganized, have a roomy kitchen, and don’t mind cooking for an audience.

Equipment and Serving Ware

Standard kitchen equipment can generally accommodate cooking for as many as ten to twelve people. Twenty is possible in most kitchens. Beyond that, you may need to buy more pots and pans. Buy the best you can afford. It’s bad enough to burn dinner when it is just for your immediate family; it is far more embarrassing and distressing to burn dinner for a crowd.

If you do a lot of cooking for crowds, a 10-quart stockpot and a 6-quart heavy Dutch oven with a lid will serve you in most situations. A large roasting pan will come in handy for beef and pork roasts, double batches of lasagna, roasted vegetables, braised lamb shanks, and more. The one I rely on measures 12 inches by 17 inches. It can roast a 30-pound turkey, a large beef tenderloin, or a substantial amount of baked pasta.

Making desserts for crowds tends to involve multiple batches. You make more pies, not larger ones; more cookies, not oversized ones. So multiple cookie sheets, pie plates, and cake pans are handy. I am thankful for my sheet cake pan every time I am asked to make a cake for a school celebration or a birthday cake for a crowd. Sheet cake pans typically measure 11 by 15 inches or 12 by 18 inches. This book includes one sheet cake recipe for the 11- by 15-inch pan. When baking for a crowd, don’t forget that the more choices you offer, the more your guests will eat. If all you offer at Thanksgiving is pumpkin pie, everyone will have one piece. If you offer a choice of pumpkin, apple, and pecan pie, people will ask for a small slice of each, generally adding up to more than one regular-size piece.

If you are cooking for crowds, you will also be serving to crowds, so you will have to consider whether you have enough plates, silver-ware, glasses, and serving dishes. Paper plates and plastic utensils are always an option but, unless you are outdoors, they are less than pleasing. If you have the storage room for the items you need, consider buying used: you may be amazed at the bargains to be had at secondhand stores, thrift shops, and tag sales. A couple of serviceable platters can be put to use for all sorts of foods, from muffins served at a brunch to crackers and cheese at a drinks party to fruit or cookies for dessert, not to mention the Thanksgiving turkey.

When hosting a potluck, figure on needing plenty of extra serving utensils; some guests will bring these (ideally along with their own serving dishes), but some will not.

The menu for a potluck is sometimes organized and sometimes not. Some hosts prefer to ensure a balanced menu by specifying on their invitations which part of the meal you should contribute. Others are willing to accept the random nature of the potluck. When I am hosting a potluck, I usually cook one or two large-scale main dishes and one or two desserts — just to have the most important bases covered — as well as provide drinks. It may be counterintuitive, but I have found that the more people are invited to a potluck, the less food there is. Not many people will contribute a main dish to a potluck unless specifically asked, and so there often is not enough food to satisfy all the hungry appetites.


I’m a great believer in lists — or spreadsheets. There is the list of people to invite (or to expect if it is a family gathering). There’s the list of cooking and serving equipment you will need to assemble. There is the menu, which is really just a list of foods to be served, and there is the shopping list. Finally, there is the task list. It is a good idea to create a timetable for the cooking chores: What can be done a few days in advance? One day in advance? Are the remaining tasks doable in the time available? If not, there is still time to rework the menu. Maybe you should consider serving fruit for dessert, or buying a tart from the local bakery. Maybe you should let the local deli make the salads. Think about when you want to have the cooking completed. Don’t forget to factor in time to change your clothes and freshen up.

Before you start cooking on the day of the big meal, take a few moments to set the table and assemble the serving platters and utensils you will need (or assign these chores to someone else). Who is going to light the candles, start the music, greet the guests?

Don’t forget to have fun. This is your party, after all.

1 • Finger Foods, Snacks & Drinks for All Occasions

House Salsa • Guacamole
Herbed Cheese Spread
Hot Artichoke Dip
Chopped Chicken Liver
Hot Crab Dip • Deviled Eggs
Baked Brie • Keftedhes
Green Chile Quesadillas
Old-Fashioned Limeade
Old-Fashioned Lemonade
Maple Mulled Cider
Pineapple Party Punch
Eggnog • Sun Tea

House Salsa

Every house should have a basic salsa to serve with chips. This one is mine — simple, classic, and easy to make when tomatoes are in season. When tomatoes aren’t in season, use canned rather than flavorless supermarket tomatoes.

2 cups seeded and finely chopped tomatoes

¼ cup finely chopped scallions

¼ cup finely chopped fresh chile pepper, such as jalapeño

¼ cup finely chopped green or red bell pepper

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro

1–2 tablespoons fresh lime or lemon juice

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Sugar (optional)

Hot pepper sauce (optional)

1. Mix together the tomatoes, scallions, chile pepper, bell pepper, cilantro, and 1 tablespoon lime juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

2. Let sit for 15 to 30 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding additional lime juice, salt, or pepper. A pinch of sugar may bring the flavors together. If the salsa is not hot enough, add a dash of hot pepper sauce. Serve immediately or refrigerate for up to 8 hours before serving.



The hardest part of making guacamole is coaxing the avocados to be at their peak when you are ready to serve them. Buy avocados two or three days before you will need them, and leave them in a paper bag at room temperature. Should the avocados be ready before you need them, put them in the refrigerator for a day or two to stop the ripening process. A perfect avocado will give slightly when pressed at the stem end. Serve with tortilla chips.

2 garlic cloves, or more if desired

1 (½-inch-thick) slice sweet onion, such as Vidalia

3 avocados, halved, pitted, and peeled

¼ cup bottled or homemade salsa (see page 10)

1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Mince the garlic and onion in a food processor. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the avocados, salsa, and lime juice, and pulse until finely chopped and well mixed. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

2. Cover and let stand for at least 30 minutes before serving, to allow the flavors to blend. Guacamole is best enjoyed on the day it is made.


Herbed Cheese Spread

A lovely cheese spread, easily put together in minutes, this will disappear from the table fast! Serve with crackers or a thinly sliced baguette.

4 scallions, trimmed and chopped

⅓ cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves

½ cup loosely packed fresh parsley leaves

¼ cup loosely packed fresh dill

2 garlic cloves

8 ounces cream cheese, softened

8 ounces soft, fresh goat cheese

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Crackers or sliced baguette, to serve

1. Combine the scallions, basil, parsley, dill, and garlic in a food processor and process until finely chopped. Add the cream cheese, goat cheese, and lemon juice, and process until well mixed. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

2. Transfer to a bowl and let stand for 30 minutes to allow the flavors to blend, or refrigerate and hold for up to a day. Bring to room temperature before serving. Pass the crackers on the side.


A VERSATILE CLASSIC This recipe is easily multiplied — or even cut in half, and is a delicious choice for many occasions. The mild, herby cheese also works well as a spread for bagels at a brunch gathering.

Hot Artichoke Dip

A classic of Southern entertaining, this dip is perfect for potlucks when you don’t have time to cook. Just buy a good loaf of French bread to go with it, and assemble the ingredients in about 5 minutes. Bake the dip while you change into your party clothes.

2 garlic cloves

¼ cup loosely packed fresh parsley leaves

1 (2-inch-thick) slice red or sweet Vidalia onion

1 (14-ounce) can artichoke hearts, drained and chopped

1 cup mayonnaise

1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons dry bread crumbs

1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

2. Combine the garlic, parsley, and onion in a food processor and process until finely chopped. Add the artichokes, mayonnaise, and Parmesan. Pulse until well mixed. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Pack into a small ovenproof crock or small casserole dish. Sprinkle with the bread crumbs and drizzle with the oil.

3. Bake for 20 minutes, until the topping is browned and the dip is hot. Serve hot.


Chopped Chicken Liver

This is not quite my mother’s chopped liver, but it brings smiles of recognition to those who love this old-world Jewish pâtè. I often make a double batch so I can send home containers of leftovers with guests who remember it as something their mothers or grandmothers used to make. Serve it with crackers or slices of challah.

4 tablespoons canola or other vegetable oil

3 cups halved and sliced onions (3 to 4 medium onions)

1½ pounds chicken livers, trimmed and halved Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 cup loosely packed fresh parsley leaves

3 large eggs, hard-cooked, peeled, and quartered

2 tablespoons dry sherry (optional)

1. Heat 3 tablespoons of the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté until golden brown, 10 to 20 minutes. Remove from the skillet with a slotted spoon.

2. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil to the skillet and heat over medium heat. Add the livers and season with salt and pepper. Sauté until the livers are cooked through, about 5 minutes. Do not overcook.

3. Combine the onions, liver, and parsley in a food processor. Pulse until very finely chopped and well mixed. Add the egg and pulse until chopped and mixed in. Mix in the sherry. Taste and adjust the seasoning; it will probably need more salt and pepper than expected.

4. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving, to allow the flavors to blend. Bring to room temperature. Adjust the seasoning to taste before serving.


Hot Crab Dip

The delectable crab, having evolved in the Jurassic era, is the perfect party animal — luxurious, yet comfortable under a blanket of everyday crackers.

1 pound crabmeat, well drained (fresh, frozen, or canned)

1 egg, lightly beaten

1/3 cup mayonnaise

2 teaspoons prepared horseradish

1½ teaspoons Old Bay Seasoning or similar seafood seasoning

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon capers

Salt and fresh ground black pepper

¼ cup cracker crumbs

Sliced French bread, toast, or crackers, to serve

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 4-cup casserole dish or crock.

2. Combine the crabmeat with the egg, mayonnaise, horseradish, Old Bay seasoning, mustard, and capers. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer to the prepared casserole, smooth the top, and sprinkle with the cracker crumbs.

3. Bake for 30 minutes, until hot. Serve hot, offering the bread on the side.


Deviled Eggs

There’s devilment in a dish whenever a hot spice is the main seasoning ingredient, presumably because of the connection between the devil and the heat of hell. Deviled eggs can be spicy, I suppose, but they are usually made with mild American ballpark mustard, hardly a fiery seasoning. Sometimes the only food a kid finds to eat at a potluck is the deviled eggs. They bring out the kid, not the devil, in everyone.

12 large eggs

½ cup mayonnaise

1 tablespoon yellow ballpark or Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons finely snipped fresh chives or finely chopped fresh dill

1 teaspoon Louisiana-style hot sauce, such as Frank’s or Crystal

Salt and freshly ground black pepper


1. Put the eggs in a medium saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, covered, then turn off the heat. Leave the eggs in the hot water for 10 minutes. Immediately run under cold water until the eggs are completely cold.

2. Carefully peel the eggs and slice in half lengthwise. Remove the yolks.



  • “These are homey, hearty creations with modern, updated twist – and they’re simple and accessible to any cook.”—Natalie Haughton, Los Angeles Daily News

On Sale
Mar 29, 2012
Page Count
208 pages

Andrea Chesman

About the Author

Andrea Chesman is the author of The Fat Kitchen as well as many other cookbooks that focus on traditional techniques and fresh-from-the-garden cooking. Her previous books include The Pickled PantryServing Up the Harvest101 One-Dish Dinners, and The Backyard Homestead Book of Kitchen Know-How. She teaches and gives cooking demonstrations and classes across the United States. She lives in Ripton, Vermont.

Michael Ruhlman is the author of The Elements of Cooking, The Soul of a Chef, and The Making of a Chef: Mastering Heat at the Culinary Institute of America, among others.

Learn more about this author