Ann Hodgman

Easy Party Food Recipes for a Great Graduation Day

graduation recipesWhy does graduation party food always make me think of steam tables?


I guess it’s because so many graduation parties involve massive foil pans — the kind you buy at a party store- — full of hot, layered food. Which makes sense in terms of the crowds you sometimes see at a graduation party. But it’s spring, folks! Do you really want your friends and family eating homemade Beef-a-Roni in June? At any time?


Of course you don’t. If you think “picnic” instead of “steam table,” you’ll find plenty of crowd-pleasers suitable for eating outside under a tree while you make awkward conversation with someone who’s from a different generation. Because at most graduation parties, it’s a given that all the Ages of Man will be represented, from toddlers to Nana.


One sure-fire conversation starter: “Wow, you’re so young [or so old]. I have to wonder: Does anything about you interest me?” While your companion struggles to reply, head over to the table and grab a plate. We have tons of food, and it’s all great — not a steam table in sight.




Salsa Party Meatballs

graduation recipes

Meatballs are a reliable crowd-pleaser, and this peppy updated version tweaks tradition in the best possible way. The meatballs taste just as good at room temperature as they do hot. If you heat them up just before the guests arrive, they should be fine for the duration of the party.




Glazed Poached Salmon

graduation recipes

From homey (meatballs) to elegant (this): Poached salmon has everything going for it. People love it; you can make it in advance; and it’s easy both to serve and to eat.  It’s also easy to garnish with anything you have on hand: lemon slices, cilantro sprigs, capers, a graduation cap …




Vegetable-Stiffed Quesadillas

graduation recipes

At warm-weather parties, it’s smart to think “small plates” instead of “large casseroles.” In other words, offer your guests appetizers that can double as a main course. These quesadillas fit the bill perfectly, and again — despite the instructions to serve them warm — they’re even better at room temperature.




Lump Crab Salsa

graduation recipes

We must face the fact that lump crab meat is expensive. But oh, how impressive–and popular. Besides, think how long it will be before the graduating guest of honor will be able to afford luxuries like this.




Shrimp Pinwheels

graduation recipes

Speaking of expensive seafood: have you noticed the way some people will park themselves in front of a pile of shrimp and methodically work their way through the whole thing before anyone else has a chance? The sight of all that free shrimp seems to trigger a me-first reaction. These delicious wraps will stretch the main ingredient, besides earning you points for a show-off presentation.




Grilled Vegetable Salsa with Garlic Dressing

graduation recipes

Many guests consider a green salad to be more a duty than a pleasure. That’s why they’re so grateful when you serve a salad that’s also a side dish. Like this one! It’s salad, vegetable, and pasta in one. And come to think of it, the Fontina turns it into a vegetarian entree. I think you should grate the cheese instead of cubing it, though; it will spread around better that way.




BLT Salad

graduation recipes

Here’s another salad that can triple as a main course or side dish. And it’s loaded with bacon, a surefire hit. Obviously you won’t be doing that individual-plating thing. Don’t you have enough on your own plate already?




Flourless Chocolate Cake

graduation recipes

Flourless chocolate cake is simple to make, and yet every time I serve it, people say, “You MADE this?” I never tell them how easy it is. Before baking parchment was invented, this kind of cake was hard to unmold–but now it’s a snap. For the best texture, you should chill the cake right up until serving time. Also, think about bringing out a bowl of whipped cream to accompany it.




Chewy Granola Goodies

graduation recipes

Not that Rice Krispies Treats needed improving, but I wish I’d been the one who dreamed up the idea of dressing them up with granola. If I’m coming to your party, I hope that you’ll either use raisin-less granola and add some mini chocolate chips to the mix OR add more raisins to this recipe. But people will scarf ‘em down no matter what.




Luscious Grape Salad

graduation recipes

Please ignore the sandwich in the photo! This wonderful “salad” is one of the best desserts going, and it shouldn’t be relegated to side-dish status. It uses fruits that are always available. It’s also easier to make than the traditional fruit salad — there’s much less chopping and slicing. And even Aunt Ginnie’s three-year-old will eat it if you lie and tell him that the dressing is “frosting.”




Graduate to — and make — all these great party appetizer recipes!








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