12 ideas for the Class of ’12: Throw a graduation party that’s creative, carefree

Posted May 22, 2012, at 9:07 p.m.

Graduation party season is revving up.

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. (You don’t want to spend four years putting that party together, do you?) 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 minipeanut 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. Chocolate 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. Minitaco 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, tasteofhome.com, divinedinnerparty.com, Free Press Test Kitchen.

Molded Macaroni Salad

Serves: 16 / Preparation time: 20 minutes Total time: 20 minutes (plus chilling time)

Make several of these up to two days ahead.

8 ounces dry elbow macaroni, cooked and drained

1 cup chopped celery or cucumber

½ cup chopped green pepper

½ cup chopped radishes

2 tablespoons chopped sweet onion

½ teaspoon salt

1 package (8 ounces) reduced-fat cream cheese, softened

¼ cup reduced-fat mayonnaise

¼ cup sweet pickle relish

1 tablespoon prepared mustard

Lettuce leaves and additional radishes for garnish

In a large bowl, combine the first six ingredients; set aside. In another bowl, beat cream cheese until smooth; add mayonnaise, relish and mustard. Fold into macaroni mixture. Press into a 6-cup ring mold (or Bundt pan) coated with cooking spray. Refrigerate overnight. Just before serving, place lettuce leaves on top and invert and unmold salad onto a serving platter. Garnish with radishes.

Adapted from tasteofhome.com.

Tested by Susan Selasky in the Free Press Test Kitchen.

109 calories (35 percent from fat), 4 grams fat (2 grams sat. fat), 14 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams protein, 195 mg sodium, 12 mg cholesterol, 1 gram fiber.

Spicy Apple-Glazed Meatballs

Makes: 96 meatballs / Preparation time: 25 minutes Total time: 1 hour

For meatballs

2 eggs

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

For garnish

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.

Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens magazine, May 2012 issue.

Tested by Susan Selasky in the Free Press Test Kitchen. Analysis per 2 meatballs.

78 calories (48 percent from fat), 4 grams fat (1 gram sat. fat), 4 grams carbohydrates, 6 grams protein, 117 mg sodium, 26 mg cholesterol, 0 grams fiber.

Pulled Pork Sliders

Makes: 32 sliders Preparation time: 10 minutes Total time: 5 hours (not all active time)

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.

1 bone-in pork shoulder or Boston butt, about 5 pounds

For rub

4 tablespoons chili powder

1 tablespoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

3 tablespoons brown sugar

1 tablespoon paprika

For roasting

1 can (14.5 ounces) beef or chicken broth

For serving

1 bottle (16 ounces) favorite barbecue sauce

32 slider buns

Coleslaw

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.

From and tested by Susan Selasky in the Free Press Test Kitchen. Analysis per 1 slider.

225 calories (27 percent from fat), 7 grams fat (2 grams sat. fat), 24 grams carbohydrates, 17 grams protein, 427 mg sodium, 48 mg cholesterol, 0 grams fiber .

Chocolate Cheesecake Bars

Makes: 25 / Preparation time: 20 minutes / Total time: 1 hour (plus chilling time)

For crust

1 cup all-purpose flour

½ cup sugar

3 tablespoons baking cocoa

1 teaspoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon salt

½ cup cold unsalted butter, cubed

1 egg yolk (reserve white for filling)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

½ cup finely chopped walnuts or pecans

For filling

1 package (8 ounces) reduced-fat cream cheese, softened

1/3 cup sugar

½ cup reduced-fat sour cream

1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons grated orange peel, optional

¼ teaspoon salt

1 whole egg, lightly beaten

1 egg white, lightly beaten

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Chocolate shavings or sprinkles, optional

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line an 11-by-7-inch pan with foil, allowing foil to overhang on short sides of dish; grease the foil.

In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking cocoa, baking powder and salt. Cut in butter until mixture resembles fine crumbs. Stir in egg yolk, vanilla and walnuts. Press onto bottom of prepared pan. Bake for 15 minutes.

In a small bowl, beat cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Beat in sour cream, flour, orange peel and salt. Beat in egg, egg white and vanilla on low speed just until combined. Pour filling over warm crust. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until center is almost set. Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack for 1 hour.

Garnish with chocolate shavings or sprinkles if desired. Refrigerate overnight. To serve, lift out of pan and remove foil. Cut into 1-inch squares.

Adapted from tasteofhome.com.

Tested by Susan Selasky in the Free Press Test Kitchen. Analysis per square.

116 calories (64 percent from fat), 8 grams fat (4 grams sat. fat), 8 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams protein, 142 mg sodium, 37 mg cholesterol, 1 gram fiber .

©2012 the Detroit Free Press

Distributed by MCT Information Services

 

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