I hate to say it, but we once helped a hostess throw a party for her friends and neighbors and she totally bombed (yes, it was her, not us) – and regrettably, it could have been prevented. That’s why I’m sharing this with you: so you can throw great parties instead of 'trying' and ending up being embarrassed in front of your besties. (If you live in Martis Camp, Alpine Meadows, Tahoe Donner, Lahontan, Squaw Valley, or Old Greenwood, you know if this is your neighborhood’s annual bash so I’ve changed the names and omitted the location to protect the innocent!)
This hostess holds an annual ‘Pray for Snow’ party in which they have a margarita contest (this means each neighbor arrives with a bottle of tequila…) She’s a brilliant and generous hostess too, because she hires our Lake Tahoe kitchen staff to pull it off. Here’s how the evening is supposed to go: Guests arrive to crudité for apps and enjoy a dinner she’s prepared (in this case lasagna, salad and garlic bread – great, hearty menu for a simple party, right?). Once everyone’s fed the night revs up with its main event – the margarita making contest. In the great room of her home a set of tables is stocked with ice, mixers and blenders – and tequila – so each contestant can blend their own specialty batch of margaritas. (Think rowdy voting, ample taste testing and sticky floors!)
She’s been throwing this party for years and it’s always a blast. Neighbors can walk home afterward and she hires our staff we tend to all the set-up, serving, and clean-up so when it's over she can just go to bed. And there’s LOTS to clean up after a margarita contest. Each year (at least once) someone lifts the top off the blender before the blades have stopped, resulting in a sticky slurricane for everyone in its radius. But that’s not the party bomb – that’s part of its storied history.
The problem was with the food. Or, the oven. Or - both.
The big mistake a homeowner makes when throwing parties is thinking they can cook the same way whether there are a few guests or dozens. But a large party is a completely different beast than a small dinner party. To her credit, this hostess thought it through really well so she could be a guest at her own party – she just served lasagna. This meant she could prepare food in advance and on the day of the event it could be heated and served. Brilliant.
And she thought it through in terms of timing as well. She made six lasagnas in advance. And froze them.
When our staff arrived the oven had not been preheated and the lasagna casseroles were still in the freezer. When the guests arrived shortly afterward they did what you’d expect them to do at a ‘Pray for Snow’ margarita party – they started to blend and consume drinks!
Within twenty minutes the crudité platters were eviscerated. And the lasagna was still frozen.
Two hours in to the party the guests had consumed all the liquid joy they could imbibe, but still had no food in their stomachs to absorb their enthusiasm. Because the lasagna was in the oven. And it was still frozen.
So you can guess how the party ended. Everyone drank and drank. And drank. (They’re still talking about it to this day!) But only HALF food got served THREE hours after the guests arrived, it was served only slightly warmed, and three of the lasagnas never got cooked at all (the garlic bread was served cold).
Here’s where it all went wrong:
1. An oven preheated to 375 degrees doesn’t stay at 375 once you put a single frozen casserole dish in it.
- When putting two frozen casseroles in the oven you can preheat it to 500 before inserting them (foilcovered, of course), then return it to actual temp and you’ll reduce an extended cooking time due to the oven’s temperature recovery.
2. Six casseroles can’t be cooked at the same time. Ovens work by circulating heat around the object placed in its center. Six baking dishes in an oven means no heat circulates, so they needed to be cooked in batches. That is highly taxing on an oven and dramatically extends cooking time (translate: your guests go hungry!)
- Had the hostess done the math, allowing for two casserole dishes in the oven at one time @ 60 minutes per (assuming they were NOT FROZEN) she’d have realized it would take more than THREE hours to cook dinner for her guests – a near impossibility. (A menu change would’ve been in order had we been asked for input. Because simple isn’t always easier.)
3. Frozen takes longer than refrigerated, which takes longer than room temp, which takes longer than pre-cooked. No duh, right?
- If you’re smart (like this hostess was) she made the entrée in advance so she could be a guest at her own party. And freezing was needed because she’d made things the week before. Where she bombed was by not placing the frozen casseroles on the counter the night before (NOT the fridge!).
- Thanksgiving Dinner Tip: People famously make this mistake at Thanksgiving, too: it’s time to put the turkey in the oven but it’s partially frozen when they pull it from the fridge.
- HINT: A frozen casserole can stay out overnight on your counter (likewise, a turkey can sit in your sink) and remain within the safefoods temperature zone.
4. When you have one oven, design a ‘simple’ menu around two factors:
- The number of people (i.e. how much food needs to be served)
- How much time (and space) it takes to cook the entrée.
- With this information the hostess would have been wise to make half the number of lasagna casseroles, put then in the oven at room temp twenty minutes before the guests arrived, and serve another course that required no cooking (e.g pasta salad or antipasti platters).
Hey, we’ve been experts at throwing parties big and small in Lake Tahoe’s private homes for over twenty years. The host of this party is remembered for a night her guests overdrank and went hungry (and our waitstaff remember the event because of the sticky clean up in the main room and the unmentionable clean-up that took place in the bathrooms – yep, it got nasty later that night because no one ate equal to their drinking!)
When you’re throwing a bigger party it’s tricky. And being remembered fondly is a priority. So we invite you to call us at 530-582-4882, or text us at 530-414-3439. Or start your next reservation here. Your best bet is to just hire us (and defrost your casseroles before we arrive!)