Kitchen Shrink: Do-it-yourself catering tips for graduation parties

Whether you're graduating preschool or Princeton, high school or hairdressing school, it is a major milestone in your life. Congrats to all you grads out there, and good luck with the job hunt or post-graduate studies.

Now let's party! As an armchair caterer, you'll need to deal with everything from venue to menu.

Outdoor backyard settings are always fun. If you have patio space, rent some belly bars and tikki torches and set up a long buffet table. Community party rooms, fire halls or school gymnasiums are also appropriate venues that will allow you to bring in your own vittles and drinks.

For those graduating in specialty or professional fields or other disciplines, here are some party planning pointers for the menu:

Budding attorneys can start with a sushi "bar" exclusively suited to their profession. Make a banner across the table in bold letters, "SO SUE ME." You can keep it simple with California or vegetable rolls or more elaborate seafood and fish.

Don't forget plenty of spicy wasabi mustard and pickled ginger. Sushi is now sold universally in most local supermarkets. You can also be adventurous and make your own (brown rice is the healthiest), or even better, set up a do-it-yourself sushi station.

All you need is a couple of bamboo mats and the "raw" ingredients displayed in decorative bowls, and have the party guests roll their own.

If they don't like them and they threaten a class action, you can always assert contributory negligence as a defense. Then get your just desserts with a dessert "bar." Fruit or chocolate "torts" are ideal for civil law attorneys. Have a cake made in the shape of a leather briefcase or anything apropos for the legal eagles.

For those in the medical professions, how about serving some edible anatomy such as a white and red kidney bean chili, a hearts of artichoke and blood orange salad, mock chopped liver pate and plenty of brain food (aka fish).

Make your own pizzas with such creative toppings as stethoscopes with asparagus spears for the hanging apparatus and a large mushroom cap for the bell or listening part, or tongue depressors using elongated slices of turkey sausage. Some suitable cocktails include the Corpse Reviver and the Brain Hemorrhage.

For other grads, you can also use your noodle with an Italian food station. Serve your favorite pastas with a variety of sauces including marinara, Alfredo, a mixed seafood and a creamy primavera.

Make your own wraps stuffed with veggies, shredded chicken or grilled fish such as tilapia or mahi mahi, roll them like diplomas and tie them with such edibles as red and green pepper strips. Have some more fun by making your own bittersweet chocolate-dipped fortune cookies with kooky, crazy messages inside for the graduates.

Rent a couple of classic flicks such as "The Verdict" with Paul Newman, "The Graduate" with Dustin Hoffman or John Grisham's "The Firm," and have them rolling in the background. Decorate the tables with edible diplomas made of cannolis and fruit leather strips as the ties.

Serve a variety of appropriate mocktails and cocktails such as Teacher's Pet, the University Cocktail, Endless Possibilities, American Dream, the Yale Cocktail and a bowl of virgin graduation punch with fruit sorbet, limeade, sparkling Italian soda and slices of limes, lemons and oranges floating on top.

After my crash course, if you still don't have a clue about throwing a party, then hire a caterer.

My final contribution is a grilled fish taco diploma, which gets an "A" in my cookbook.

Happy graduating!

Grilled Fish Taco Diplomas

  • 6 large soft flour tortillas
  • 1 1/2 pounds of mahi mahi or tilapia
  • 1/2 cup of shredded cabbage
  • 2 ripe avocados, diced
  • 2 large tomatoes, diced
  • Juice from two lemons
  • Juice from two limes
  • 1/3 cup of mayo
  • 1 handful of fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, diced
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • Sea salt, white and black pepper, and cayenne pepper to taste
  • Red or green pepper strips for garnish

In a mixing bowl, combine the mayo, half the lemon and lime juices, salt and cayenne pepper, and chill.

Marinate the fish in the oil, half the lemon and lime juices, garlic and spices. Broil until golden brown. Slice into bite-size chunks or strips.

Spread the sauce on the tortilla and fill one end with the fish, cabbage, tomatoes, avocado and cilantro, and roll in a cylinder shape. Tie with a long strip of red or green pepper. Use extra sauce for dipping.

   
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