Back to the Kitchen: Big Event Cooking with Salads

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It is that time of year again — school fundraisers and end of the year potlucks. Often event locations like football fields, play yards and parking lots can create logistical nightmares.  I have rented equipment and built kitchens anywhere you can possibly think of from the beach to the mountains including a mausoleum at a cemetery.

I thought for this column we could create a lunch menu of all salads. Some of the challenges involved in preparing for a large crowd are that there are so many different tastes and eating styles. This menu is simple and can be prepared ahead of time and kept for the day in coolers. It has lots of different powerful flavors and has something for vegetarians, vegans and meat eaters. You can serve two bowls of orzo, one without feta and even make a “chickenless” salad for the vegans. These recipes can easily be expanded and you can add or delete items as it suites you. Have all of your elements washed, chopped and placed in plastic bags and kept in a cooler until ready to toss! Round this menu out whole fruit and sliced melon. Play with these recipes so you can create a perfect end of the year event or friends and family gathering!

Asian Chicken Salad

For the dressing:

In a small bowl whisk together:

3 clove garlic, finely chopped

1 inch ginger, peeled and finely chopped

1-cup peanut butter

1/4-cup soy sauce

1-cup rice wine vinegar

1-tablespoon wasabi paste

3 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds

Crushed red pepper to taste

In a slow steady stream add:

1/4-cup sesame oil

1/2-cup canola oil

For the salad

2 pounds chicken breasts, poached (see below)

3 cups white cabbage, shredded

3 cups red cabbage, shredded

2 large carrots, peeled, grated

4 scallions, thinly sliced on the diagonal

1/2 cup finely chopped cilantro

Toss together and then lightly dress.

A note on poaching chicken breasts:

This is the simplest way to cook chicken breasts. (It even works for the frozen breasts in a bag.) Everyone says that my chicken is so tender. Place the breasts in a pot. Fill to cover with cold water. Add what ever you have and like. Garlic, salt, pepper onions, carrots, celery, fresh herbs, white wine. Bring to a boil and remove from heat and let stand for 20 minutes. It will be the most amazing chicken ever.

Orzo and Feta Salad

2 boxes (16 ounces) orzo pasta

2 tablespoons olive oil

3 cups feta cheese, diced

2 cucumbers, diced

2 red peppers, diced

2 pounds asparagus, grilled and chopped

2 cans large olives, sliced

1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped

1-cup basil, chopped

1-cup virgin olive oil

1 cup lemon juice

Splash green Tabasco (to taste)

Salt and pepper to taste

In a large skillet heat 2 tablespoons olive oil. Sauté 1 box of the orzo until golden brown. In a large soup pot bring water to a boil and cook all orzo until al dente. Drain and rinse with cold water. Once orzo has cooled, in serving bowl mix orzo, olives, feta, red peppers, cucumbers, asparagus, parsley and basil. In small bowl, whisk together oil, lemon juice and green Tabasco. Mix into salad. Salt and pepper to taste. Refrigerate and chill before serving.

Soybean and Corn Salad

6 cups edamame, shelled and cooked

5 cups corn, off the cob cooked and cut or frozen, cooked

2 red bell peppers, finely chopped

1 red onion, finely chopped

1 bunch cilantro, chopped

3/4-cup limejuice

1 tablespoon cumin

Salt to taste

Mix all together. Taste. Adjust the lime. Unfortunately limes vary greatly in there flavor and juiciness. I always buy a few more than I need.

Caesar Salad

In small bowl whisk together-

1 egg

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

1-tablespoon anchovy paste

Then add,

Juice of one lemon

3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Up to 3 cloves of garlic to taste

2 teaspoon dried thyme

In a steady stream add

1/2-cup olive oil

2 cups canola oil

If you would like, add a few shakes of pepper or a dash of Tabasco sauce. If you like a stronger flavor or are not keen on the anchovy paste, a few shakes of Worcestershire sauce works wonders.

Fill a large salad bowl with lettuce. The traditional Caesar lettuce is Romaine. I like to add spinach and radicchio for flavor and color. Mix in croutons (see below) shaved or grated Parmesan and then toss in the dressing. Go lightly the worst Caesars are the ones that are over-dressed. Taste as you go. For variation you can add cherry tomatoes or toasted pine nuts, both are tasty and add a little pizzazz.

Killer Croutons

Truly, you can use any kind of bread, seasoning and oil. I will give you the basic, but again – go for it and make it your own.

1 baguette (long loaf of French or sourdough bread)

Olive oil to coat

Pinch of Kosher salt

Fresh ground pepper

Slice baguettes into quarter inch slices. Place in large bowl. Toss with oil until well coated. Add salt and pepper. Place on a cookie sheet in single layer rows and bake at 350 until golden brown, about 20 minutes.

The Cobb Salad

Another one of the culinary legends is The Cobb salad. It is hard to believe that something so wonderful could have been so carelessly concocted, but I guess that is the gift of creating. It seems that in the 20’s at the super hot, super trendy Hollywood hangout The Brown Derby manager Bill Cobb was board. The menu consisted of mainly heavy grilled meats. He really wanted a “light meal!!!!” so he tossed some things into a bowl!!!! I can’t even imagine a “light salad” consisting of bacon cheese and avocado. While there have been many variations mine stays pretty close to the original. And of coarse you can add or delete any thing you like.

1 large or 2 small heads of romaine, finely chopped

2 heads of Boston lettuce, finely chopped

1 bunch of watercress, finely chopped

1 pound bacon cooked and crumbled

3 ripe avocados, chopped

3 pounds chicken breasts, poached, and chopped

2 tomatoes, chopped

3 hard-boiled eggs, chopped

1-bunch scallions, sliced

2 shallots, minced

1-cup red-wine vinegar

3 tablespoon Dijon mustard

3 cups olive oil

1 cup bleu cheese, finely chopped

In a large salad bowl toss together the romaine, Boston lettuce and watercress. In a small food processor mix shallots, vinegar, mustard, and salt and pepper to taste, add the oil in a slow stream, mixing until the dressing until it is emulsified. Pour into a bowl and stir in blue cheese. Pour it over the lettuce, and toss the salad well.


1 and 1/2 sticks butter

1 1/4 cups sugar
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (natural or Dutch-process)
1/4-teaspoon salt
1/2-teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs
1/2-cup flour
2/3 cup walnut or pecan pieces
3/4-cup mini chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Spray a nine-inch baking pan with bakers joy.
Combine the butter, sugar, cocoa, and salt in a medium heatproof bowl and set the bowl in a wide skillet of barely simmering water. Stir from time to time until the butter is melted and the mixture is smooth and hot. Remove the bowl from the skillet and set aside briefly until the mixture is only warm, not hot.
Stir in the vanilla with a wooden spoon. Add the eggs one at a time, stirring vigorously after each one. When the batter looks thick, shiny, and well blended, add the flour and nuts and chocolate chips. Bake for 45 minutes let cool completely before cutting into squares. You can then cut the squares on an angle for little triangles.

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About Karen Young

Karen Young is the founder of My Daily Find.

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