If you're hosting a soiree for a new grad, especially if it's an open house, you're probably trying to cook up some ideas that will stretch over many hours and satisfy a crowd of ... well, who knows who might show up?
One trick is to bring the guests in on the action with stations or bars where they can assemble their own dishes.
And you can give the whole thing a special touch with sweets that look like graduation caps and sandwiches wrapped like diplomas.
So, here are 12 ideas for a carefree Class of '12 celebration.
1. Graduation caps: Use a mini peanut butter cup as the base (flipped over). Put a dab of frosting or melted chocolate on top and stick on a thin chocolate- or fudge-covered graham cracker cookie. Put another dab of frosting in the center of the cookie; put a mini chocolate chip or M&M in the center. Attach a licorice strip or fruit roll strip for the tassel.
2. S'mores bar: Use Sterno set in rocks for the heat source to melt the marshmallows. Have plenty of craft sticks and set out individual trays of graham crackers, a variety of chocolate squares and marshmallows.
3. Cheesecake bars: Double the recipe and make on a large sheet tray. Cut bars into 1-inch squares; they're rich, so that's all you need.
4. Pulled pork sliders: So popular and so easy. Just remember the pork needs long, slow cooking. Prep it the night before, cook it early in the day and reheat before guests arrive.
5. Coleslaw: Serve as a salad on its own or use to top the pulled pork sliders. Mix 2 pounds shredded cabbage with shredded carrots, chopped green onions. Mix 3 cups mayonnaise with ¼ cup vinegar, 1 teaspoon celery seeds, 1 tablespoon sugar, plus salt and pepper.
6. Meatballs: Make your own or buy a bag, but try something different with the sauce. An apple glaze is a welcome change. Use ground beef, chicken or turkey for the meatballs.
7. Chicken wings or taco bar: Bake a big batch of wings and set out different sauces (hot pepper, sweet or smoky barbecue, soy-honey-ginger). Or set out all the fixings for a taco bar with corn and flour tortillas, cheeses, cooked ground beef, shredded lettuce and salsa.
8. Diploma sandwiches: Wrap thin slices of deli meats and cheeses in flour tortillas. Use a chive to tie the sandwich together, diploma-style. Soak the chives first in warm water so they're pliable.
9. Mini taco bowl appetizers: Thaw mini phyllo cups and add a teaspoon of Hidden Valley Fiesta Ranch dip mix made with sour cream to each. Top with shredded lettuce, cheese and a quarter of a grape tomato.
10. Layered hummus dip: Spread store-bought hummus on a plate or shallow dish; top with layers of chopped sun-dried tomatoes, Kalamata olives and crumbled cheese.
11. Molded macaroni salad: Instead of putting your favorite macaroni salad in a bowl, put it in a Bundt pan or other mold. Refrigerate overnight before inverting on a serving tray.
12. Marinated pasta salad: Blanch broccoli and cauliflower for 2 minutes. Drain. Mix with olives, sliced red onion, cooked pasta and Italian dressing. Let sit overnight so flavors come together.
Sources: Pinterest, www.tasteofhome.com, www.divinedinnerparty.com, Free Press Test Kitchen.
Spicy apple-glazed meatballs
½ cup milk
4 slices white or whole-wheat bread, torn
2 pounds lean ground beef (or chicken or turkey)
4 large cloves garlic, peeled, minced
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper or to taste
3 tablespoon vegetable oil
For apple glaze
2 cups apple juice or pear nectar
6 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
3 tablespoons packed light-brown sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 ½ teaspoons ground ginger
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper or to taste
1 cup chopped green onions
For meatballs, in a large bowl whisk together eggs and milk. Add bread pieces and let stand 10 minutes until bread is softened. Add beef or poultry, garlic, black pepper, salt and cayenne pepper. Mix thoroughly. Shape mixture into 1-inch meatballs.
In a 12-inch skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Working in batches, cook meatballs about 6 minutes per batch, turning occasionally, until brown and crusty on outside and cooked through. Transfer meatballs to covered dish; cover to keep warm. Drain fat from skillet; wipe out skillet.
In the same skillet, combine all the glaze ingredients and bring to a boil. Stir and cook glaze until thickened and bubbly at full boil. Cook and stir 2 minutes more. Pour warm glaze over meatballs and stir to coat with sauce. Top with green onions and serve. Makes 96 meatballs.
Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens magazine, May 2012 issue.
Pulled pork sliders
1 bone-in pork shoulder or Boston butt, about 5 pounds
4 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon paprika
1 can (14.5 ounces) beef or chicken broth
1 bottle (16 ounces) favorite barbecue sauce
32 slider buns
Place the pork shoulder on a sheet of plastic wrap. In a small bowl, mix together all the rub ingredients and rub all over pork. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate overnight.
Remove pork from the refrigerator an hour before baking it and remove plastic wrap. Set pork in a roasting pan that has a lid. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Pour beef or chicken broth in bottom of pan. Cover with lid (use foil if you don't have a lid) and place in the oven.
Bake 3½ to 4½ hours (for 5-pound roast) or until the internal temperature reaches 190 degrees. The pork is done when the bone slips out easily with no resistance.
When the roast is nearly done, you can remove the lid or foil and baste the pork with pan juices so the outside browns and gets crispy.
Remove from oven and let rest 10 minutes. Remove the bone and break roast apart into chunks. Let the chunks rest in the pan juices. Using forks, pull the roast pieces apart into shreds.
Stir in desired amount of barbecue sauce. Serve ¼ cup pulled pork on each bun with coleslaw, if desired. Makes 32 sliders.
Note: You can prepare this recipe up to two days before the party. To double recipe, use one 8- 10-pound or two 5-pound pork shoulders. For a larger pork shoulder, allow at least 6 hours cooking time.
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