Graduating on the Cheap: The Food (Part 2)

...aaaaand we're back! Oh. My. Gosh. I don't think I've had to work this hard in my life. The last 2 weeks have been absolutely brutal--working 19-hour days to prepare for a 3-hour long premiere, another final that lasted 2.5 hours, a 38-page paper due in between, and a grueling 4-hour finale on 3-hour's sleep. I'm still trying to recover. My friends must hate me for sending out graduation invites a week before the event (though I've mentioned it to some of them beforehand), but it couldn't be helped.

So let's get back to business, shall we? Food is always a fun topic. Last time we talked about eating out for graduation dinner, and readers have brought up some excellent suggestions, so check out the comments if you haven't already done so. Today I'll go over some DIY (do it yourself) solutions, which I'm a big fan of whenever possible. For my own college graduation, I had scores of relatives over, and yes, I singlehandedly fed them all. I had a little bit of prepping help with a salad when my cousin's family came over early, but the bulk of the work was done by me beforehand.

The key is to plan a menu that looks impressive but can be assembled piecemeal over a few days. For quick-and-easy dishes that don't look quick-and-easy, I highly recommend Allrecipes.com. The first thing to do is to think about what your guests will eat or not eat. If there are vegetarians, vegans, or people with other special dietary needs, you need to keep that in mind. It's good to have a variety to keep everyone full and happy. If I recall correctly, here's my menu:

-chicken fettucine
-a couple of rising-crust pizzas from the frozen food section of the market (really good stuff, by the way)
-strawberry salad with berry vinagrette
-some kind of baked dessert (can't remember if I made it or store-bought)
-ice cream

Doing everything from scratch takes up time that we don't have, especially if we have to deal with final exams right before graduation. We need a helping hand from canned goods, frozen products, or pre-cut meats, all of which can be purchased ahead of time before studying gets crazy. While you're shopping, don't forget to pick up some snacks and easy-to-heat appetizers. They'll keep your guests happy while waiting for the big meal.

After buying all this stuff, the next thing to think about is cooking time. Desserts and salads are generally easy to deal with, so they can go last (but get the pie crust started early if you're making pie). Usually the main concern is the entree. Most dishes require separate steps, so splitting them up is a good start. We can wash some vegetables ahead of time and chop them up, then store them in resealable bags. The cooking part can also be divvied up into manageable tasks. If a particular dish requires multiple ingredients, it might be a good idea to cook them all separately as time permits, then refrigerate or freeze until it's time to combine all the ingredients. Also, if a particular dish has to be baked, it might be a good idea to cook the filling ahead of time to cut down on the baking time on that special day. Browning certain meats before cooking also helps. Once the prep work is done, all you have to do on the big day is to pop them into the oven or microwave to warm things up, keep guests entertained and occupied with snacks/appetizers.

If you don't want to deal with all the cooking and prepping, an easier alternative is to have a barbeque. The only intensive prep work you need to do is to marinate the meat and make a few side dishes. Granted cooking over the barbeque is not a pleasant task, it's easier than slaving over the stove.

My brain is thoroughly fried and I feel as if I'm not writing everything down as planned. If you've got good ideas to add, fire away in the comments!

Next time I'll cover other small details and wrap up the series.

1 comment:

bee said...

allrecipes.com is an awesome site. and that's quite the menu, yum!