Now that the holidays are over and cold weather has fully set in (snowmageddon, anyone?), don't fall into winter hibernation alone. I've got a fun excuse for you to invite your friends over for a casual get together to chop, cook and chat at a Pack the Pantry party.
The idea for this get-together is for everyone to co-create big batches of make-ahead meals, then divvy everything up into storage containers to be enjoyed at home later in the week. Your best bet is to stick to 5-7 guests so you have enough room in the kitchen for prep and cooking, and you have enough food to spread around for everyone to take home some of each dish.
A general rule of thumb is to plan for one salad, three or four soups or stews, a couple of easy casseroles and maybe a dessert.
There are two ways you can go with your Pack the Pantry menu plan:
- You could pick all of the recipes yourself. (If you want, you could offer to shop for everything and let your guest know you'll split the bill with everyone later.)
- Or, you could assign each guest a specific recipe and ask them to bring the supplies to make the dish. Be sure they know how many servings to buy for.
Whoever picks the menu, stick with freezer-ready, family-friendly faves: chili, sloppy joes, bean or lentil soups, macaroni and cheese, baked ziti, stuffed peppers, meatloaf ... you get the idea. For some real crowd pleasers, try my Split Pea Soup with Canadian Bacon or have fun playing around with different takes on my as-good-as-grandma's Easy Chicken Soup Base with Flavor & Ingredient Variations.
Note: Send a copy of the menu to your group in advance to make sure there are no food allergies or serious dislikes when it comes to the dishes you've chosen.
Ingredient Prep & Storage Supplies
As you get ready for the party, assess your space to be sure you've got everything you need and where you'll set up different prep stations. You might want to ask people to BYO some items such as cutting boards, knives, large pots or cooking tools like microplanes and extra measuring spoons.
Invite your pantry-packers to bring their own storage containers to tote their goodies home, or you can pick up disposables in bulk at the grocery store. If baked casseroles are on the menu, consider buying smaller foil containers. That way you can divide the recipe into the baking dishes that can either be cooked during the party, or finished later once your guests get home.
Before the Guests Arrive:
- Bust out that food processor, mandolin, blender or crock pot (as necessary) and get them ready for action.
- Set out peelers, measuring cups and spoons, can openers and mixing bowls in the prep area, and make sure you've got a large trash bin nearby.
- Put spatulas, spoons and tongs in an easy-access jar by the stove and set colanders out close to the sink.
Sips & Snacks:
Since this is a cooking party, there's no need to make a bunch of food for your guests. Just put out a crudité platter to nibble on while you work and set up a large pot of coffee or tea. Throw in a few sweet treats that go well with coffee (prepackaged is fine!) and you'll be good to go.
People will want to sample all the goodies you're making throughout the party, so grab some paper plates and bowls to make it easy for them to have all they want. If you want to serve some prosecco or wine, save it for after the knife work is done.
Let the Fun Begin!
After guests arrive, review the recipes with everyone and decide who's on what dish. Let people tell you what jobs they prefer and what they're best at. Before you assign prep tasks, take time to look across all the recipes for common ingredients; there's sure to be plenty of onions, carrots and celery to chop.
Pro Tip: Maximize your burner usage and cook any pasta, rice or meat you need for casseroles while you prep ingredients for simmering soups.
Once the cooking's done, enjoy sampling all the dishes then divide the bulk into containers for guests to take home. Your friends will naturally pitch in to make quick work of cleanup. Afterwards, invite everyone to kick back and relax with a glass of wine to toast the great job they did.
This party is one of my all-time favorites. It's super easy to host and it's a great excuse to get your pals together for some solid QT. What's really awesome is that everyone has a blast and gets their cooking done for the week at the same time.
A Final Great Idea:
Do you and the gang have a friend in need or know someone who can't make it to the party, but could really use some help packing their pantry? Make enough food to set aside another batch of everything, then drop it off after the party. Before you go, have everyone sign a card for your friend and deliver it along with the goodies.
Have a blast and be sure to check back in and let me know how it goes! Who knows? You may create a new weekend ritual.