ShareThis Page

Event can be successful with planning, simple menu

| Tuesday, May 7, 2013, 8:21 p.m.
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
Catered food by Olga Watkins includes fattoush, quinoa salad, pulled pork with sweet and sour coleslaw, roasted and grilled chicken and rolls.
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
Catered food by Olga Watkins includes fattoush, quinoa salad, pulled pork with sweet and sour coleslaw, roasted and grilled chicken and rolls.

Caterers put a great deal of time and effort into menus and event planning. Caterers can handle small or large gatherings, supply wait staff, bartenders and post party clean up services. They can help you rent tables, chairs, glasses, silverware and linens. They can even help you plot your seating chart and tell you when to send your invitations. But, sometimes, you just want to do it yourself.

If you like to cook, have a little time and think you can handle a party on your own, you may want to try this simple menu and follow these steps to successfully cater your graduate's party or backyard event. Some tips:

Nail down the guest count

An accurate guest count will go a long way toward helping you throw a great party. In most cases, when you're planning a large, casual event, you can count on about 75 percent of your invited guests making an appearance. Send invitations 30 days in advance. If you use electronic invitations or social media invites, you can send out a reminder a week ahead that says something like “So excited to see everyone next Saturday!” E-vites also make it easier to chase down your procrastinator friends and get a definite yes or no.

Coordinate your event day team

There are services that will hire out just event help. Wait staff, bartenders and even chefs who can work your grill or help finish your food are available. If you keep your party fairly simple, as is the case with this menu, you can hire a couple of teens or young adults from your neighborhood to help keep things cleaned up and keep food refilled throughout the event. Remember that in Pennsylvania, you must be 18 to handle alcohol.

Plot your game plan

Plan your menu and shopping list assuming a 75-percent attendance rate. Use lists. Good caterers have check lists for everything. Make a list of what foods you can prep and tasks you can complete on a timeline, leading to the day of the gathering. If you're going to order a cake, kegs and ice, flowers or balloons, do so 30 days in advance.


The better your planning, the more fun you'll have at your party. Have an “exit strategy” — having space in your fridge for leftovers and a big garbage bags at the ready so the post-event workload is minimal. In many cases, especially in your home, you can clean up decorations and break down tables the next day. Just make sure you get food put away, trash covered and valuable supplies or equipment secured so you can call it a night when you're ready.

Olga Watkins is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

The menu

Pulled Pork Mini Sandwiches With Sweet and Sour Slaw

Roasted & Grilled Bone-in Chicken

Quinoa and Greens Salad With Fresh Herb Vinaigrette



To serve this menu, you will need to set up two chafing dishes and 4 cans of 4- to 8-hour sterno (canned heat) on your buffet. You will also need three salad bowls, a basket for rolls, serving utensils, table coverings, dinner and dessert plates, napkins, forks, hot sauce, ranch dressing and any other desired condiments. plus salt and pepper.


When using wire-rack chafing dishes with aluminum pans, set the bottom pan in the rack and add tap water until it's about 1- to 1 12-inches deep. Crumple two 12-inch-by-12-inch sections of aluminum foil into balls and place them into the water in each pan. Light the sterno 20 to 30 minutes before placinging the top food pan into the bottom pan. The foil balls will prevent the water from spilling onto the table.

Use caution when placing the food pan into the hot water or when changing pans.

There is 2-hour sterno available for purchase but it seldom lasts a whole 2 hours. It's better to purchase 4-, 6- or 8-hour sterno and have as much as you need. Save the caps of the sterno cans and use them to carefully extinguish the flames when you're done with the sterno. If the sterno has a wick, you can also use a wet towel to snuff out the flame.

Purchase wire chafing-dish racks, aluminum pans and sterno at party stores and warehouse clubs, as well as some supermarkets and dollar stores. You need one bottom pan and two or more insert pans for each hot-food item.

Health department guidelines require caterers to remove and discard food from a buffet after 2 hours. Prior to serving, keep hot food hot in the oven, holding it at 140 degrees. Keep cold food cold in the refrigerator until serving. You can set up aluminum pans half filled with ice, in which you can place your salad bowls.

Pulled Pork Mini Sandwiches With Sweet-and-Sour Slaw

This has been my “secret” recipe for pulled pork. It's easy to make in large quantities, and it will cook slowly while you sleep or work on other menu items. I prefer to do this just before bedtime, as it can cook overnight and make your house smell so good that you'll dream of nothing but bacon.

The Sweet-and-Sour Slaw law can be served as a side dish as well as a condiment for the sandwiches.

For the pork:

Ten pounds of raw pork butt, loin ends or fresh ham will yield 5 to 6 pounds of finished product, including sauce. Each pound of finished pulled pork will serve 4 to 6 people. Adjust the amounts below to accommodate your guest count.

10 pounds raw pork cut into (approximately) 3-inch-by-3-inch cubes

1 cup dry rub Cajun seasoning

Nonstick cooking spray

3 cups ketchup

1 12 cups yellow mustard

2 cups firmly packed dark-brown sugar

12 cup Louisiana-style cayenne pepper sauce

14 cup Worcestershire sauce

2 tablespoons ground cumin

2 tablespoons Kosher salt

2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

1 cup whiskey or bourbon

2 bottles or cans of beer, more beer or water if needed

Small sandwich buns, for serving

For the Sweet-and-Sour Slaw:

1 10-ounce package slaw mix

14 cup sugar

14 cup apple-cider vinegar

12 cup vegetable oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Heat the oven to 450 degrees.

To prepare the pork: In a large mixing bowl, cover the pork pieces with the dry rub and toss to cover each piece completely, using all of the seasoning mix. Lightly coat a deep roasting pan with cooking spray. Spread the seasoned pork pieces in the pan and place the pan on the highest possible shelf of your oven, then cook for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the exposed side of the pork is browned.

Very carefully remove the pork pan from the oven and turn the pork. Cook for another 25 to 30 minutes, again until the exposed side of the pork is browned. Remove the pan from the oven and turn the heat down to the lowest setting, usually 150 to 170 degrees.

In a large mixing bowl, combine all of the remaining ingredients and whisk until thoroughly blended. Pour the sauce over the seared pork and return the pork, uncovered, to the oven. At least 34 of the meat should be covered with sauce. If necessary, add beer or water to reach the desired volume of sauce. Immediately return the pork to the oven. Cook at low heat overnight, for about 8 to 10 hours, occasionally using tongs to turn, stir and break up the pork. (You do not need to get up during the night to do this. You can stir it in the morning.)

The pork is finished when it falls apart to the touch. Let it rest at room temperature for about 10 minutes, then use tongs to carefully shred all of the pork into the smallest possible pieces and mix them thoroughly with the sauce. Serve hot with small sandwich buns and Sweet-and-Sour Slaw on the side as a garnish.

Makes about 20 to 24 servings.

To prepare the Sweet-and-Sour Slaw: Combine the sugar, vinegar and oil in a mixing bowl and whisk. Let the dressing sit at room temp for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally until the sugar has dissolved. Add the slaw mix and toss until it is thoroughly coated. Refrigerate for an hour and toss the slaw well before serving.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Roasted & Grilled Bone-in Chicken

8 pounds split chicken breasts

6 pounds chicken leg quarters

Old Bay seasoning or favorite spice rub

My preferred seasoning for this preparation is Old Bay, as it is crowd friendly. You'll need about 14 cup of dry seasoning per 13-inch-by-9-inch pan of chicken parts.

Heat the oven to 375 degrees.

Lay the chicken flat onto baking sheets with edges or into shallow baking pans. Liberally sprinkle the chicken with the Old Bay or other dry seasoning. Roast for 1 hour. If you're baking 2 pans at a time, set a timer for 30 minutes and rotate the pans onto different shelves. After an hour, remove the chicken from the oven and allow it to rest until it is cool enough to handle. Reserve the chicken drippings in the pan to use when the chicken is in the chafing dish.

Roasting can be done a day or two ahead of time.

When you're ready to serve the chicken, get your grill nice and hot. Carefully lay the chicken, skin side down, onto the grill and close the lid for about 1 minute. Open the lid, flip the chicken and close the lid again for 1 minute. Remove the chicken from the grill and transfer it to an aluminum pan then into the heated chafing-dish pan. Cover the pan with aluminum foil until you're ready to serve.

If the chicken is coming out of the refrigerator cold, place it on the grill for 2 to 5 minutes per side to heat to 140 degrees. Watch carefully, as it can burn.

Makes 12 to 14 servings.

Quinoa and Greens Salad With Fresh Herb Vinaigrette

For the Quinoa and Greens Salad:

3 cups cooked quinoa (prepared from 1 cup dry)

2 medium-size diced tomatoes, diced

12 medium-size red onion, finely diced

1 small cucumber, peeled and diced

3 cups assorted salad greens

For the Fresh Herb Vinaigrette:

34 cup olive oil

Juice of 1 medium-size lime and 12 small orange

13 cup rice wine vinegar

14 cup honey

2 tablespoons stone-ground mustard

14 cup chopped, fresh mint leaves

14 cup sliced, fresh basil leaves

14 cup chopped, fresh cilantro

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

To prepare the Quinoa and Greens Salad: Rince the cooked quinoa under cold water until cool. Add the tomatoes, onions, cucumbers and vinaigrette to the quinoa and fold. Refrigerate until serving. Just before serving, add the salad greens and toss. Serve immediately.

Makes 12 to 14 servings.

To prepare the Fresh Herb Vinaigrette: Combine the olive oil, lime and orange juice, vinegar, honey and mustard in a mixing bowl and whisk until the ingredients have combined and thickened. Then, add the fresh herbs and stir gently. Season with salt and pepper. Adjust the sweetness and tartness by adding more honey or vinegar.

Fattoush Salad

For the salad:

3 pounds assorted potatoes, cut to 12-inch dice

1 medium-size sweet red and 1 medium-size sweet green bell pepper, cut to 12-inch dice

13 cup Kalamata olives, finely diced

2 bunches green onions, thinly sliced

1 bunch mint leaves, finely sliced

1 bunch flatleaf parsley, finely sliced

14 fresh garlic, minced

2 cups pita chips

For the dressing:

1 cup olive oil

2 tablespoons tahini paste

Juice of 2 medium-size lemons

To prepare the salad: Cook and drain the potatoes, then rinse them under cold water until cool. Drain again. In a large mixing bowl, combine the potatoes and the remaining ingredients, except the pita chips. Add the dressing and fold it together.

This can be made a day or two ahead of your event.

Just before serving, use your hands to crumble the pita chips on top of the salad. Serve immediately.

Makes 12 to 14 servings.

To prepare the dressing: Combine all of the ingredients and whisk well. Add the dressing.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.