xoFood: 10 Fab Ways To Feed A Crowd At The End Of The Summer

People frequently ask how I afford to feed a large crowd every weekend, believing it to be wildly expensive. It’s about smart planning and making everything stand out, and here are my secrets.
Publish date:
August 24, 2013
xoFood, recipes, summer, party planning

People: it's August. I don’t know WTF the summer went, but there’s 9 long months of Portland rain coming down the railtrail at me.

I spend weeks getting ready for a few short months of summer BBQs on my porch and if you’re going to take one away, you will be prying it from my cold, dead, frozen margarita and ice-cream-sticky hands.

It's all about the Sunday BBQ at my place, the perfect time to check in with friends, escape the kitchen and enjoy my grill. People frequently ask how I afford to feed a large crowd every weekend, believing it to be wildly expensive. It’s about smart planning and making everything stand out, and here are my secrets. Five fabulous appetizers which you could totally use for a main at lunch, or for a light gathering, and then five great entrees for a full blow to-do.


I know, it sounds generic. When you do it up like my favorite bruschetta joint Postino, it is wowza.

Take a great crusty bread and slice it into ½” slices on a diagonal. Paint each side with olive oil and toast each side on your grill. Then pile each with mozzarella or lupini beans or olives or tomatoes and basil or artichoke hearts or tomato sauce and capers or pesto or sardines or salami or -- you get the point.

Orzo Salad

The great underrated pasta of our times. Cook a box of orzo (or two -- it’ll go fast) and toss with olive oil. Add lots of chopped parsley, sliced black olives, grilled chicken or shrimp, grilled asparagus, and cherry tomatoes, with a generous helping of grated parmesan, salt and pepper. Serve room temperature.


Tis the season -- artichokes are the cheapest they’ll ever be. Grab a slew of them, slice ‘em in half, clean out the chokes and nuke em or steam them. When they’re tender enough you can easily pull a leaf off, paint them with olive oil then grill them face down until you get some nice grill marks. Serve them face up, with some aioli or vinaigrette in the center; serve a half to everyone.

Grilled Polenta

Make a heavy polenta and pour it into an oiled sheet pan. Allow to firm up in the fridge, then slice into triangles. Place on a super hot, oiled grill and allow to get grill marks on both sides. Serve with grilled mushrooms and leeks on top.

Tortellini Salad

Find yourself some veggie or cheese tortellini in the fresh section of your market. Cook it, rinse under cool water and then toss with olive oil. Into the bowl! Now add hearts of palm, artichoke hearts, kalamata olives, sliced tomatoes and red onion to the bowl and toss.

Make a vinaigrette of mustard, olive oil, salt and pepper and toss. Serve room temperature.

Asian Candied Drumsticks

I know we’re all about wings these days, but I am obsessed with these candied wings you get at the uber famous Pok Pok in Portland. They are glazed in a fish sauce that makes a sweet shellac, and people go apeshit for them.

I deconstructed the recipe, then applied it to drumsticks, a cheaper, heartier cut that also means you don’t have to doublefist your food. Last time I made them, the pack descended like vamps on blonde virgins in Bon Temps.

Buy the large family packs of drumsticks and some gallon Ziploc bags. In a bowl, mix 2 parts fish sauce, 1 part orange juice, and toss in chopped garlic and a handful of sugar. Toss in the chicken wings and seal, let marinate overnight.

Pull drumsticks out, pour marinade into saucepan and simmer, adding some honey and soy sauce until the mixture becomes syrupy. Coat drumsticks in a dusting of flour or cornstarch and then dip into syrup, and grill or bake on medium heat on well-oiled or lined pan, or well-oiled grill with the lid open.

Roasted Pork Loin Sliders

Every single time I make this dish, people swoon. Pay attention at the grocery store, you’re going to notice that pork loins occasionally go on sale. Grab 'em, cut them in half, and throw them in the freezer when they do.

For your next party, defrost one, then rub the entire loin with Old Bay liberally. Now roast it on your grill. You’re cooking it on high on all sides to sear it, then lowering the temperature until internally it hits 150.

Now let it sit for 10 minutes and then slice it thinly onto a platter. It should be pink in the center.

While the pork is cooking, slice red and green cabbage and then throw into a bowl with a handful of salt and toss. Weigh it down with a plate. Every hour or so, drain it. After 5 hours, toss with caraway seed and cider vinegar. Allow to sit out for another hour or two, and now you have quick kraut.

Slice purple onions thinly, and cook in a fry pan with equal parts salt and sugar (1 tbsp to each onion) and some olive oil. Cook on medium high for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve with honey mustard and some thin, crusty bread toasted as sliders.

Cold Asian Noodle Salad

Start with your protein: I like chicken or pork, but shrimp, even hard tofu, works just fine. In any case, cut it into long, thin strips. Throw it into a Ziploc w black bean sauce, sesame oil, a bit of soy and 1 tbsp sugar. Allow to marinate for a few hours.

Toss grated ginger and chopped garlic into a hot pan with sesame oil and fry the protein. Meanwhile, cook soba noodles of your choosing, rinse with cool water and toss with sesame oil.

Throw everything into a large bowl. Add peanuts, sliced green onions, and crispy won ton skins or noodles you buy. You can toss in pea pods, peas, red cabbage, sliced carrots, copious amounts of black sesame seeds. Top with some chopped cilantro. Toss with sesame oil and a bit of chili oil to coat.

Fajitas and Slaw

A perfect option for grilling! Start with chicken thighs. Throw them into a bowl or Ziploc to marinate with equal parts lemon juice, lime juice and orange juice with a few cloves of garlic.

Meanwhile, slice your red cabbage up and toss into a hot pan with olive oil, salt, pepper, a squeeze of lime juice and brown sugar. Allow it to cook down on medium heat over 30 minutes. As liquid drains out of the cabbage, you might want to drain it off the pan. The cabbage will wilt and the sugar and salt will create a great sweet and sour effect.

Grill the chicken and slice into strips. Make guacamole with a healthy amount of lemon or lime to keep it green. Make a simple salsa using chopped tomatoes, cilantro, green onions, lemon juice and salt. Serve the chicken on a giant platter with the caramelized cabbage and fresh tortillas.

For condiments, serve salsa and guacamole in bowls, another bowl of sour cream that you’ve salted a bit, fresh cilantro and finally, queso fresco, which you can probably find at a decent local store or carniceria and looks a lot like feta when crumbled. Allow everyone to make their own fajitas.

Chili Verde

It's tomatillo time, so as much as I love a bowl of red chili, I’m totes about the sweet, sour, roasted perfection of green sauce. I actually make a massive batch of the green sauce once a year so I can use it anytime.

Peel tomatillos and slice in half. If you can get hold of them, slice green tomatoes in half. Go on a spree in the pepper section. I like anchos, long Anaheims and Italian peppers, and throw in a few smaller hotter peppers to your taste. Cut off the stem, pull out seeds.

Now slice a red onion into thick slices. All the other ingredients should add up to the same amount as your tomatillos. Now throw them down onto sheetpans with sides, cut side up, and sprinkle generously with salt, sugar, pepper and olive oil. Roast at 400 degrees until everything is a juice, roasty mess.

Pour everything, including the skins, into your blender or Cuisinart or just chop it all up as much as you can. Blend with cilantro, stems and all, and season with salt and pepper and lime juice. As I said, you can freeze this to use later.

Cut up a pork shoulder into bite size pieces, about ¾ inch cubes. Get a stockpot on high on your stove, add 1 tbsp of garlic and 2 tbsp of olive oil to the pot and then add pork and stir on high until it's all a bit seared on the outside.

Now add 2 cups green sauce and a bottle of light beer like Dos Equis or Cerveza. If the pork shoulder had a bone, add it to the stockpot too. Allow to come to a boil then quickly lower to a simmer and allow to cook, covered, for 30 min and another 15 minutes uncovered. Remove bone.

Serve with lots of sour cream, shredded cheddar cheese and black olives.