Guess who's coming for dinner?

Posted April 21st, 2006 by Penny Wise

Rain, rain go away. Go away and don’t even think of coming back until Sunday, because I have 30 people coming to my house tomorrow night and I have no idea where I’m going to put them all! How did I get into this? It was only meant to be a small gathering after a discussion with friends a couple of weeks ago. Deciding it was high time we all got together, I volunteered my place. Pot Luck dinner, how easy and hassle free could that be? The date was booked, people were rung round, several more were added to the list for good measure and I thought little more about it. Until Noel overheard me reeling off the list of families attending and said ‘It sounds like an awful lot of people! Where on earth are they all going to sit?’ ‘Nonsense’, I scoffed and proceeded to do a head count – and discovered I had somehow invited a grand total of 18 adults and 12 children. It’s not exactly barbecue weather lately either – by the time everyone arrives it will be dark and no doubt getting on the chilly side. Still, I refused to get myself in a tizzy – after all, it’s a Pot Luck dinner, it’s not like it’s going to be any work or anything.

It wasn’t until I did a brief mental recap of my list that I started to feel a little differently. Eight families were due to attend. Presuming that they all bring one dish each as is the norm, I am going to be serving up eight dishes of food to 30 people. Unless they happen to be blooming large dishes, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that there ain’t going to be enough food to go round. Immediately visions of previous gatherings whirled through my head – Penny chained to the kitchen for two days beforehand, Penny cleaning feverishly and screaming at anyone who dared to get out one measly toy or transfer a single speck of dust from one room to the next. Worst of all, I remembered Penny with a trolley loaded full of a couple of hundred dollars’ worth of food and drink that would be consumed entirely in one sitting. Noooo! I wasn’t going to let that happen again. I gave myself a good talking to.

The party (as let’s face it, it seems to have morphed into one) is tomorrow. 12 children aged from 14 to one are coming to ransack my house. Hence there is absolutely no point scrubbing my home to hospital standard because they are not going to notice in their haste to drag everything out. In fact, there is no point cleaning the upstairs area at all because that’s where the boys’ rooms are. They are also not going to notice if I haven’t dusted the playroom downstairs because true to form every available surface will be covered in potato chips. Right – so that’s four rooms I don’t have to clean straight off. It’s going to be dark when everyone arrives, so the curtains will be drawn and nobody is going to look at my windows to see if they have marks on them. There are going to be far too many people crammed into the lounge and dining area to notice whether my ornaments need dusting and hopefully they will all be having too good a time to bother scrutinising my kitchen to see if I cleaned the oven beforehand. So, technically all I need to do is clean the bathroom and loo and vacuum and wash the floor. No point doing those until tomorrow or they’ll need doing again, so no cleaning today for Penny, woohoo!

I still have the small matter of coming up with a large amount of food, but once again I am unruffled. I refuse to make the same mistakes as before – rushing down the aisles with my trolley throwing in posh cheeses, sliced meats and ready made dips. I have been perusing the Vault and there are heaps of cheap, no fuss recipes in there to try. The most important thing is that they’re tasty and filling. I have learned from the Vault how do bulk out meat dishes with beans or vegetables to make them go further, so that’s what I’ll do! I’m making a huge pot of savoury mince accompanied by nachos (bought in bulk) and there are some great crockpot recipes in the Vault, such as French Onion Chicken (chicken pieces are on special in my local store at the moment) and I can throw them together in the morning and forget about them until I need them. Maxine is providing mini chocolate éclairs, which are also on special and with 18 in a box are economical enough at the moment to buy more than enough for everyone. Bread is a great filler and delicious crusty loaves are bought cheaply from our local bakery; crackers, cheeses and dips never get eaten because everyone’s always too full, so no point buying those. I always have enough vegetables ready prepared and in the freezer to make tasty vegetarian dishes for the three non-meat eaters, such as Cauliflower Cheese Surprise, which is cheap to make and makes heaps, not to mention it’s yummy!

Cauliflower Cheese Surprise:

2 tbsp oil

2 onions, chopped

115g mushrooms, chopped

4 tomatoes, peeled and chopped (or you can use drained, tinned tomatoes)

200g tinned sweetcorn kernels, drained

1 large cauliflower, cut into florets

600ml cheese sauce

4 tbsp dry breadcrumbs

½ cup grated cheese.

Heat the oil in a frying pan. Add onions and cook over a low heat for five minutes until softened. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally for five minutes. Add the tomatoes and sweetcorn, season to taste with salt and pepper, mix and heat through. Meanwhile, cook the cauliflower in a saucepan of boiling water until just tender, then drain and keep aside. Stir 150ml of the cheese sauce into the mushroom, onion and sweetcorn mixture, then spoon the mixture into a large ovenware dish. Top with the cauliflower and pour over the rest of the cheese sauce. Mix the breadcrumbs and grated cheese together and sprinkle over the top. Place in the oven at 180C for 10 – 15 minutes or until browned.

That’ll do! What everyone else brings is up to them, it’s Pot Luck after all! I usually buy in heaps of fizzy drinks for the kids, but this time I’m just going to buy a three litre bottle of fresh orange juice on special and water it down 50/50 to make six litres. They don’t even notice and half of it always gets spilled anyway so it’s much easier to get out of the carpet. The adults can bring their own and if they drink enough hopefully they won’t notice we don’t have enough chairs and will happily sit on the floor! Right, sorted - I’m off to see how little I can spend at the shop this time!

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