Kitchen Shrink: Gustatory goodies for the graduating class of 2012

catherine-kaufmanBy Catharine Kaufman

Congrats to the graduates of 2012 – whether it’s elementary, middle, high, medical, law, culinary or beauty school you deserve a hearty milestone pat on the back and some celebratory eats. So let’s party!

As an armchair caterer, you’ll need to handle everything from venue to menu. Outdoor backyard settings are always fun especially if the weather cooperates. If you have patio space, rent some belly bars and tiki torches for nighttime, umbrella tables for afternoon soirees, and set up a long buffet table.

Incorporate school colors in balloons, paper products and decorations. Create edible table centerpieces like cannoli diplomas garnished with fruit leather ties or chocolate-covered graham cracker and marshmallow mortarboards.

Roll a few flicks in the background, such as “High School Musical” or “The Graduate,” and bring on the food.

Of course, serve some of the graduate’s faves along with easy eats like fondues and tapas. Make healthy dipping sauces as organic basil marinara or Meyer lemon olive oil vinaigrette to accompany roasted or raw veggies, and a bittersweet chocolate sauce for dried or fresh fruits, pretzels and ladyfingers. Although tapas, translating to “small plates,” are Spanish in origin, these finger foods can easily be converted to assorted ethnic cuisines. Duck, chicken, shrimp, salmon or beef skewers can go Asian with teriyaki or wasabi sauces, Italian with marinara, Greek with a mint or cucumber yoghurt sauce, Yankee Doodle with BBQ, Mexican with chipotle. You get the picture.

Stuffed olives, stuffed eggs, stuffed turnovers with chicken or veggies, aka empanadas, stuffed turkey or beef sliders with feta — stuff your face silly!

Be creative with homemade chocolate-dipped fortune cookies containing kooky, motivational messages for the grads. Finally, to wash it all down nicely, serve a variety of mocktails and cocktails like Teacher’s Pet, American Dream, the Yale Cocktail and a virgin graduation punch blending fruit sorbet, limeade and sparkling Italian soda with slices of citrus floating on top.

For those graduating in specialty fields, whip up a variety of kitschy menu items.

• Budding entrepreneurs: Why not serve some authentic food truck fare like lobster mac and cheese, crab balls, mozzarella grilled cheese with caramelized onions on sourdough with a pile of sweet potato fries, bison or jidori chicken on a stick and aloha fish tacos?

• Graduating law students: Have an assortment of “bars” – salad, sushi, brushetta and dessert. My fave is the brushetta bar piling mounds of heirloom tomatoes and basil, chopped olives or roasted eggplant toppings on toasted garlic rounds. For the sushi bar, string a banner across the station: “So Sue Me!” You can keep it simple sugar with “gringo” California or vegetable rolls, or more elaborate seafood concoctions. Set up a do-it-yourself sushi station with bamboo mats and “raw” ingredients in decorative bowls, plenty of wasabi and pickled ginger, and have guests roll their own. If they don’t like the outcome and threaten a class action, you can assert contributory negligence. Then for the dessert “bar” serve fruit or chocolate “torts” for civil law attorneys, a pan of brownies shaped like a briefcase, or a cake decorated with fondant scales of justice.

• Med students: Serve up “body parts” or foods that mock the anatomy – red kidney bean chili, blood orange fruit salad, hearts of palm salad, liver pate, pickled tongue in puffed pastry, and plenty of brain food, aka fish.

Hope I get an “A” for my catering crash course.

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And now for some bonus points — a fun and delicious recipe for grilled fish taco diplomas. Better than passable.

exps40064_TH1194743D11DGrilled Fish Taco Diplomas


6 soft flour tortillas

1 1/2 pounds mahi mahi or tilapia

1/2 cup shredded cabbage

2 ripe avocados, diced

2 Roma tomatoes, diced

Juice from two lemons and two limes

1/3 cup mayo

1 handful fresh cilantro, chopped

1 garlic clove, diced

1 tablespoon olive oil

Sea salt, black and cayenne peppers to taste

Red or green pepper strips for garnish

Method: In a mixing bowl, combine mayo, half the juices, salt and cayenne pepper, and chill. Marinate the fish in oil, half the 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 pepper. Use extra sauce for dipping.