Successful Big Feasts

There it is on the calendar - it's been staring at you for a couple of months. A big red circle surrounds that special date. It is not entirely with fear that you approach this time. After all, graduation is a time of celebration, especially for your child who has achieved his goals.

But the big question is - How can I prepare my house, the food and decorate for such a large crowd?

During the next months, many of us will be revolving our schedules around confirmations, graduations, bridal showers, first communions, baptisms, anniversaries or weddings. If you are in charge of one of these special events, it is best to have a plan. Without a plan, your mind can be consumed with such questions as...Did I pick up the napkins? When do I send out invitations? Where can I get a good recipe for punch? Should we paint the living room, maybe new carpet and a new couch? STOP! (I recommend not turning the celebration into a remodeling project - one sure way of being rushed and exhausted on the red-circled day.)

So how to plan? Here are some suggestions.

1. First plan your budget. How much do you want to spend? List out all the categories - food (main course), cake, beverages, snacks, decorations, special cooking utensils that may be needed, cups, napkins, etc. Estimate the costs of these items and plan accordingly. If you start far enough ahead you may find sales on decorations, cups, napkins, balloons and other paper products. If you are serving punch, pop and coffee, watch for these items to be on sale at your local grocery for added savings. Be sure to check items off your list as they are purchased and mark for "confirmation" or whatever the occasion so you won't drink the pop, etc.

2. Where will the party be held? Again, don't even consider repainting all the rooms in your house. If there are areas you don't want your guests to see, close doors and direct traffic elsewhere.

What you do need to think about is the traffic flow - how will your guests be arriving. Will there be any traffic jams from serving table to seating? Do you need extra chairs and tables? Draw a diagram of the rooms where most of the party will take place to determine how much seating is available, etc. Usually extra chairs and tables can be borrowed from helpful neighbors and friends. If you are planning to use the outdoors, weather permitting, picnic tables work well. Be sure to make trash receptacles easily accessible, especially if you are using paper plates and cups. These rooms, along with the serving/buffet table, are also the main area for decorations. For graduations, use school colors or class colors. You can set out pictures of the students or any awards and honors that they have achieved throughout their education years - such as sports, academic and music honors.

3. After you have determined your food budget you need to come up with an idea on what to serve. Try to think of the person being honored. What is one of his or her favorite foods or meals? If it is pizza - you may want a second choice - something less costly and requiring less prep time. Hot or cold sandwiches are always easy to prepare and serve. You can purchase a large ham or roast and slice it yourself with a meat slicer. Your family's favorite hot casserole is another idea.

Here's a tasty recipe that can be increased in size for a larger crowd: You can use leftover chicken and vary amounts of the meats depending on the tastes of your family.

Cheesy Chicken/Ham Casserole

  • 4 cups cubed cooked chicken
  • 3 cups cubed fully cooked ham
  • 1 cup (4 Oz.) shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1/4 cup butter or margarine
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 2 cups half and half
  • 1 tsp. dill weed (optional)
  • 1/8 tsp. ground mustard
  • 1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg
Topping:

  • 1 cup dry seasoned breadcrumbs
  • 2 Tbsp. Butter or margarine, melted
  • 1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1/4 cup walnuts or pecans
In a large bowl, combine chicken, ham and cheese; set aside. In a saucepan, sauté onion in butter until tender. Add flour; stir to form a paste. Gradually add cream, stirring constantly. Bring to a boil for 1 minute or until thick. Add dill, mustard and nutmeg; mix well. Remove from the heat and pour over meat mixture. Spoon into a greased 13"x9"x2" baking dish. For topping, toss breadcrumbs with butter, stir in cheese and nuts. Sprinkle over the casserole. Bake, uncovered, at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until heated through. Serves 10-12.

A special cake makes a nice centerpiece and you can make your own flavor and decorate it yourself. All you need is a large cake pan - 14" square pan or 9x13 sheet cake pan - and a beginner decorating kit. If you want to practice decorating on a smaller cake ahead of time, I'm sure your family will enjoy eating the "practice" attempts. If you like to decorate the serving table with edible mints, make these ahead of time with a flexible mold in the design you wish. Many molds are available for special occasions such as graduation, showers, confirmations, etc.

4. Serving the food. Make a map of the serving area and find a spot for each food item. What should guests pick up first? What should be served at the end of the buffet? What needs to be hot and what needs to be cold to keep your food at the proper temperature. It is generally a good idea to have the beverages located in a different area because people generally like refills and this could cause congestion at the serving line. Hint: Find helpful friends, family and neighbors to keep the food supplied at the serving table so you can enjoy mingling with the guests. You don't want to be in charge of the kitchen on this special day!

5. Keep a schedule. When you have determined what needs to be done and how you want the day to proceed - make a schedule. A separate calendar would be handy where you can list out tasks and duties. For example, if you are making mints, schedule this on a date ahead of time. The same way with any food items that can be made ahead and frozen. Mark a date on which you will call neighbors for tables and chairs, to order food items that you are not preparing, etc. You may want to schedule weekends with family help to do the bigger cleaning projects.

If you keep to your schedule, your budget and don't remodel the house, you can look forward to that red-letter day with a smile. Your mind can be free of all the minor details because you have them all scheduled. So relax as you prepare - your big feast will be a smashing success!!!

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