105. Taco Bar for 120

Do you do this too?

You know, stick up your hand habitually, when something needs to get done?

Something you care about, passionately?

Like, one of your kids decides to get married? At a campground?

And, you are smitten with the opportunity to get right in there and help make it happen?

I know my limits. And I know, from experience, some ways I can effectively help. Two years ago, our son got married, and I stuck up my hand: “I can cater this wedding!” said I. And, along with some amazingly helpful people, I did.wedding buffet

This month, our daughter got married. I stuck up my hand. “I can do this!” Most of the “Ten Habits for a Green Wedding” from our son’s wedding were repeated, including everyone had their BYOC(up) and we used returnable kegs of beer and cider.

Rather than renting the dishes and cloth napkins this time, we used 120 mis-matched plates and cutlery provided with hall rental, as well as miscellaneous tablecloths – mostly dropcloths from our son’s wedding – and cloth napkins. Can you believe I own 95 cloth napkins, all by myself? And I have dear friends to lend me 25 more cloth napkins, as well as huge pots, chafing dishes, more cutlery, and stainless steel serving bowls.linens ready for wedding dinner

I LOVE the eclectic look – so funky. In fact, I’m thinking of using mis-matched dishes and linens on our own tablescapes.

table setting

Fortunately, this time the hall where we did the food prep had a great compost bin (unlike our son’s wedding where we had to discard the compostables.) The table decorations came from the forest surrounding the hall, and returned there after the festivities.

There was little traditional about the ceremony or the party afterwards. A posse of friends baked sweets for dessert. The bride and groom wore purple and white. About 80 guests rode their bikes onto the ferry and over to the campground. Any residual headaches the next morning were banished by a nude group swim in the ocean by 50 of the guests (all young!)

The bride and groom decided on a big ol’ taco bar for their celebration dinner. We brainstormed what foods we might include in a taco bar. We considered food sensitivities (gluten/nuts/dairy, for example) and came up with this menu that would suit meat lovers, vegetarians and vegans, who select their own fillings and toppings from the taco bar:

Taco Table Menu

(100% nut-free, gluten in wheat tortillas only)

Tortilla chips (12 large bags)/ Salsa (6 quarts)

Corn Tortillas (180 6″)

Wheat Tortillas (180 6″)

Hard Tacos (48)


Pulled Pork with  BBQ Sauce (27 lbs pork shoulder)

Ground Beef (see recipe – 15 lbs beef)

BBQ Garlic Margarita Chicken (15 lbs chicken breast, shredded)

Tuna and Salmon (10 lbs total, breaded and fried and see recipe)

Fried Tofu (2 lbs), Chopped hard-cooked eggs (2 dozen)

Refried Beans (84 oz – 6 cans)

Chopped Tomatoes (5 lbs) / Caramelized Onion (26 lbs onions)

Shredded Lettuce (2 heads iceberg) / Shredded Spinach (4 large bags)

Olives (1 quart sliced) / Jalapenos (1 quart sliced) / Mushrooms (7 lbs, sliced & sauteed)

Sweet Peppers (12, chopped)/Red Cabbage (1 small head, shredded)

Shredded Jack & Cheddar Cheese (10 lbs total, grated)

Smashed Yams (6 with cumin and curry)


Spanish Rice (see recipe)

Bean & Corn Salad (see recipe)



Sour Cream (2 quarts)

Guacamole (see recipe)

Cilantro (medium bowl, chopped)

Green Onions (6 bunches chopped) & Red Onions (2 chopped)

Lime Wedges (12, cut into quarters)

Mole Sauce (see recipe)

Pumpkin Seeds (1 lb)


Tea, Herbal Tea, Coffee

Sparkling Water (10 bottles) Lemonade (see recipe)

Almost all of the greens and herbs came from my garden.

We had a revolving door of fantastic kitchen crew members, many of whom had restaurant experience. In fact, I can honestly say I barely had to lift a finger – I just barked orders: “Here’s your list of food to buy.”, “This is the recipe. Can you make it happen?” “You’re in charge of all the drinks, okay?” “Can you chop 36 peppers (36 avocados, 30 pounds of onions, etc……?)” “These 48 lemons or 8 jalapenos need to be juiced/chopped. Oh, do you have scratches on your hands? Sorry about that!”kitchen crew

Some food was prepped in advance, such as Theo’s pulled pork (12 hours in the smoker!)pulled pork

We scheduled about 3 hours of food shopping and fourteen hours of prep, and I’m proud to say that the dinner was on the table at exactly the scheduled 7 pm.

Even though I’ve catered several other large events and am a Home Economics teacher, I still lack confidence about appropriate quantities. In case anyone wants some guidelines for your own event, I include some recipes below and quantities above. I have adjusted them after the fact to reflect our event’s actual requirements. Keep in mind that most of the guests were hard-working, fit young bicycle riders with great appetites. There were even a few competitive athletes. My goal for quantities, if I’ve planned it right: there will be enough of everything with a modest quantity left over.

We shopped in the big city before heading over to the island, and left the fresh produce and dairy for last minute shopping locally.

It was a challenge to get everything and everybody into and onto the truck, in the rain.

packing the cooler

But, “we” did it!

I made a diagram of where each food item on the taco bar would be located, repeating the same foods on each side of the table for flow.
taco table map

Here are some recipes, to serve 120:

Spanish Rice: 1. In a 20 quart pot with a tight-fitting lid, simmer 9 cups brown rice in 20 cups vegetable stock until water is absorbed, about 30 minutes (keep an eye on it!) 2. In a heavy casserole, heat 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil. 3. Add 4 chopped onions, 1/4 cup fresh garlic, 4 chopped green and 4 chopped sweet red peppers, 6 minced fresh jalapeno peppers, 3 Tbsp. cumin powder and 1 Tbsp sea salt. Saute until onions are translucent. 4.Mix saute with cooked rice and 28 oz tomato paste. 5. Heat through and garnish with 2 bunches of sliced green onions. Serve with sour cream.

Guacamole: Mix all these together: 30 just-ripe avocados, mashed with a potato masher. (Our avocados, purchased 3 days before the wedding, were quite firm. We put them into a brown paper bag with ripe bananas, on the counter. I think it worked.) Juice from 10 juicy limes. 2 red onions, minced. 3/4 cup of minced garlic. 3 Tbsp. ground cumin. 8 chopped tomatoes. 1 Tbsp sea salt. 1 tsp. ground black pepper. 1 Tbsp. cayenne or 3 Tbsp. hot sauce. Cover and refrigerate until serving.

Lemonade Concentrate: juice 3 dozen lemons (enough to almost fill a 2-litre pop bottle), and mix it with 2 cups of warm honey. Infuse 1 cup of boiling water with a handful of fresh mint leaves for about 1/2 hour, and mix all together. Add 5 cups water to 1 cup of the concentrate for lemonade. Add ice if desired, to serve.

Bean and Corn Salad: For dressing: Mix together 1 cup lime juice, 1 cup olive oil, 2 Tbsp. minced garlic, 1.5 salt, and 1 tsp. ground cayenne powder. For salad: In a large bowl, mix 2 19-oz cans black beans, rinsed and drained, a 2 lb bag of frozen corn, 2 chopped avocado, 2 chopped red peppers, 4 chopped tomatoes, and 1 bunch green onions, thinly sliced.

Mole Sauce: 1. In 3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, saute 4 chopped onions, 2 Tbsp crushed garlic, 1 tsp ground cumin and 1 tsp ground cinnamon. 2. Add 2 tsp coarse salt, 4 cans whole tomatoes, 4 large chipotle chile in adobo sauce, 2 cups raisins, and 12 oz semisweet chocolate, chopped. Simmer to blend flavours. 3. Blend sauce to a smooth consistency. 4. Serve at room temperature with cilantro on the side.

Marinated Fish: 1. Put 1/2 red onion, thinly sliced, into a bowl, and cover with red wine vinegar. Set aside for 30 minutes to several weeks in the fridge. 2. Mix 1/4 cup olive oil, 1.5 tsp ancho chile powder, 1tsp ground cumin, and 1 chopped jalapeno. Pour over 5 lbs fish, cut into strips, and marinate for 20 minutes. 3. Put fish into a pan, top with onion mixture, and bake in a 350˚ oven for 20 minutes.

Ground Beef: In a large wide pot, scramble-fry the ground beef until cooked. Drain the fat. Chop 10 large onions and saute until translucent. Add to the beef, along with 28 oz tomato paste, 1 cup mild chili powder, 1/2 cup ground cumin, 1 Tbsp salt, and 1 Tbsp black pepper. Heat and stir mixture for 10 minutes to blend flavours.

One tip I have for storing the prepared food in the fridge for reheating just before serving: Use extra large ziploc bags – you can store so much more food if you have limited fridge space.

Our last minute crew was a well-oiled machine – everyone did their job: reheating food, lighting the fuel under the chafing dishes, making coffee and tea, setting up drinks, putting all the foods into serving bowls, cleaning dishes, and clearing surfaces. That hour flew by in about 3 minutes, and we were suddenly ready. A shout-out to my helpers – about a dozen of them made it happen. So grateful.

And, as a total non sequitur to this post about food, my toenails matched my polka-dot dress. 

What the heck – it made me happy.

 Sharing with: Simple Saturdays, Hey What’s for Dinner Mom, Silver Pennies, Rustic & Refined, Nifty Thrifty Sunday, Cozy Little House, Our Home Away from Home, Savvy Southern Style, My Own Home, Simple Nature Decor, DIY By Design, In the New House Designs