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Graduation Party- OH MY!

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I'm not sure where this post belongs but here goes.

Next Saturday, June 14, I'll be hosting a college graduation party for my 26yo daughter. She lives in Washington State and I in California.

For the previous few days my hubby and I will be hosting family from out of town in an old B and B turned VRBO rental, 13 people in all. The party (day after graduation) will be between 30 and 50 people.

I tend to be obsessive about these things. I've thrown a few large parties and cooked every single thing, including making the ice cream. We rented a house a few years ago at Thanksgiving, in the same area, and drove with all my cooking supplies; pots, food processor- I'm guessing you get the picture.
Needless to say that's not going to happen this time around. I'd like to spend time with the family who've come so far.

We've rented this house before and the kitchen is small and not very workable. That said, there's little in the way of catering or decent food in Olympia.

I can pick up food in Seattle on my way down on Wednesday or send someone back Saturday morning (the party begins at 6 PM). There are both Trader Joe's and Costco in town. I'm thinking there must be something I can do with relative ease. The house description says there's a bbq grill.

My son (who'll be in town from Colorado) used to live here and cooked his way through college at an upscale restaurant so I have good prep help but the kitchen is too small for many people.

Do we "cook"? "Prepare"? Purchase? I'm completely lost!
Any ideas would be very, very much appreciated!!

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  1. you aren't the first parent this has happened to... in wanting to be a good hostess, do not forget yourself and your family. It is a celebration, not a cooking pagaent: talk to the chef/son and coordinate some SIMPLE food. TJ's has plenty of baguettes, cherry tomatoes, olives and celery to go with their wide variety of dipping "things" (from bean dip to cream cheese). Get a big slab 'o something at costco, dry rub it, and cook it. salads with 2 choices of bottled dressing. buy a dessert. lemonade and mineral waters from TJs.. done. keep it simple and enjoy your family FIRST!! and congratulations!

    3 Replies
    1. re: rmarisco

      Thanks, Marisco! This is exactly the encouragement I need. Somehow it's hard to see straight when you're a little OCD about food.

      If anyone has specific "TJ's makes great whatever" for this, I'd greatly appreciate it!

      My son may be out of the picture to some degree (although I assume he'll still be there). I just learned his girlfriend's aunt is dying and they're headed out of town this afternoon. The last thing he needs is pressure about this.

      1. re: Oakland Barb

        Check out your home TJ's, see what looks good, and then call the Olympia TJs to see if they can get it / save it for you.

        I'm with the others....to enjoy this, your tasks need to be limited to getting and putting out the food with paper plates, etc. This will rapidly get even more overwhelming than it seems now, so try to simplify as much as you can, even more than you think you need to simplify.

        Maybe you could also post on the northwest board to find out some good caterers.

        This is a family reunion and a graduation party....and you need to participate as the family member and proud mom!

        hope it goes well for you, and congratulations.

        1. re: Oakland Barb

          I likeTrader Joe's triple hummus. It's a combo of traditional, roasted red pepper, and a spicy cilantro. These are layered one on top in the same container, but I think they sell the same selections in a bigger tray that's divided. I also like the pineapple salsa and the corn salsa. My friend loves the cowboy one, which I think is like the corn salsa, but with beans. The sweet potato tortilla chips are good with both the hummus and salsas.
          They also have some kind of fresh-baked sea salt brownie which is nice because it's small squares. The frozen lemon bar squares are nice, too. They only need to sit out of the freezer for a short time, no prep needed.
          Enjoy the graduation!

      2. another suggestion would be during the few days before, you could low and slow either some boneless skinless chix thighs or pork shoulder (or both), shred it up and make pulled pork/chicken that you could keep warm on the grill, grab a few dozen rolls at Costco, a tub of coleslaw and you are done. that above would all be "party by Costco" as far as TJ goes, maybe a big platter of nice cheeses and crackers or dips and chips. I think all of their frozen apps are great, but often only come in small quantities and that would require a lot of oven space to heat up. I think at Costco you can also get cut up veggie and fruit trays with a dip in the middle.

        1. Are you talking about only the party? or about food for the the party plus for the people staying in the house? either way, there's NO WAY you can cook, maintain your sanity AND enjoy the event.

          For up to 60 people, I'd rely on Costco more than on TJs - Costco has larger packaging and it'll be easier. LOVE momoftwo's pre-cooking some barbecued chicken and or pork and getting decent rolls at Costco.

          add in coleslaw, maybe pasta or potato salad, fruit and cheese, store-bought cookies, and some other dessert [cake? pie? cupcakes/ brownies?].

          for the people staying, pick up a couple of roasted costco chickens, packaged salad greens, good bread, salad dressing, a couple dozen eggs, and view it as a start. and put them to work!!!!

          With this many people, be sure you have enough serving pieces on hand, even if you drag them from home. plastic utensils and cups are fine, but if you don't have anything large enough to serve the food, it could get ugly

          1. I just want to mention refrigerator space. With pre-party stuff, and food for 30 to 50, cold space will be at a premium. If you have several ice chests, they may be your best friends. The shredded pork and chicken are great ideas...I'd even suggest buying a bunch of Costco's rotisserie chickens and shredding them to save yourself cooking time. Plus, shredded meats up a lot less refrigerator space.

            1. There's a Dickey's BBQ in Olympia, WA. They do cater. You could do the apps and have them to dinner.
              Maybe check around with some of the locals to get their opinion on the food at Dickey's.

              1. It's Copper River salmon season....and my Costco here in Los Angeles had it yesterday. The Seattle Costcos are usually even better stocked with it during the three/four week run. They have the sockeye....it's always very nice. Putting that on the grill with some great sides would be a meal anyone would appreciate. And it's simple....and you can enjoy the party.

                1 Reply
                1. re: perk

                  Thanks so much, everyone! I've been a little off today with the death in my son's gf's family.

                  I have the first two nights thought out; night one when everyone's arriving (most from the East Coast) is take out pizza night and night two we have reservations at a local restaurant overlooking the sound. No cooking till Saturday!
                  Breakfast and lunch from the Bread Peddler.

                  Serving utensils! YES!! Thank you!

                  I'll look into Dickey's. I appreciate the suggestion.

                  Of course I'll need to consider the fridge, I had thought of the freezer but not that.

                  Today my daughter mentioned her vegan friend. I'd thought vegetarian but had neglected vegan. Sigh.

                  I want to do as little "cook to order" i.e. burger kind of things as possible (something my daughter suggested).

                  I have an old recipe for Santa Maria BBQ that is really just marinated tri-tip; super easy, no waste and could go on the little buns from Costco (presuming they have them in Oly). This if Dickey's doesn't work or works in part.

                  I thought I might pick up a large mac and cheese frozen from Beechers in Seattle (60oz)? Maybe two?

                  All these thoughts are tremendously helpful. Thank you all so very much!!

                2. I wouldn't depend on the grill for the party - 30 to 50 people is a lot to cook for on a grill that's probably designed for single family use, and when you don't know how well it works. Grilling burgers for the family staying over is a good option.

                  I would go as simple as possible. If the party doesn't involve a full meal, go for tortilla chips, salsa and guacamole, veggies and dip, potato chips, some veggie trays, maybe a cheese tray with some baskets of crackers, fruit, some trays of brownies and cookies, ice cream cones (bring a couple extra scoops). Have beer, soft-drinks, sparkling water, iced tea, coffee.

                  If you want to serve more, I'd probably just order in pizza and provide chips and salsa, veggies and dip, maybe a couple of big garden salads.

                  1. Putting a large piece of meat on the grill or in the oven such as a pork shoulder, pork butt, prime rib (or 2-3) up to a couple of days before your party will not be too time consuming. I did 30 lbs of pork butt last week for a crowd on the grill using the indirect method of cooking for 10 hours on Wed and served on Friday, reheating in the oven after shredding for jerk pork in a huge roaster. I just turned the meat every 30 minutes or so in the beginning and up to every 45 minutes towards the end. You could also do this in advance of your trip, freeze it, then shred it when you get to WA and reheat in oven.

                    Personally, I don't like buying a lot of already cooked food at places like TJ's or Costco, with the exception of rolls, sauces, dessert or coleslaw. If you do some advance planning, you can pre-cook just about any meat, freeze it and finish it off when you get to your house.

                    I'm sure your houseguests wouldn't mind giving you a hand for the party portion of the events so don't be afraid to put them to work. Get their help making salads like potato, marinated (use italian or other vinaigrette) vegetable pasta salad and a easy fruit salad. Making iced tea or lemonade is easy even if you use frozen lemonade concentrate and better tasting than buying IMO. Add fresh lemon slices & mint leaves. Buy rolls, veggie tray, and a decorated sheet cake for the graduating daughter.

                    For house guest meals, consider easy to make menus like Spaghetti & meatballs, bagged salad with tomatoes & cukes and loaves of italian bread cut, smeared with an easy to put in the food processor butter, garlic, basil & parmesan mixture then toasted. Simply seasoned grilled chicken with a gremolata of chopped parsley, zested garlic & lemon and olive oil spooned on before serving, grilled or roasted potatoes and a blanched then sauteed green bean salad with shallots & tomatoes.

                    Washington has beautiful fish at this time of the year so another easy meal of pan seared salmon or poached & flaked salmon made into simple salmon cakes over a bed of wilted spinach with a citrus aioli and a side veggie, for example is fresh & not exactly time consuming even for 13 guests. Lunches could be assorted cold cuts, breads & accompaniments like lettuce, tomato, pickles, etc. and maybe a pot of soup or a quick primavera with whatever veggies look good & penne. Desserts could be easy grilled pound cake w/ a berry compote, ice cream spooned between soft oatmeal cookies for sandwiches or grilled peaches or other stonefruit or mango topped with a sweetened lemon yogurt and sprinkle with toasted coconut, for example. Easy and you're not heating up the kitchen baking.

                    Good luck and enjoy your daughter's graduation and your house guests.

                    1. Thanks so much to all of you for your ideas. I wanted to report back that everything went really well (with my usual over supplying).

                      I smoked ribs in the oven, marinated and grilled the Santa Maria tri-tip, made Smitten Kitchen's BBQ beans, a large green salad and everything else was purchased from Costco, Trader Joes or the wonderful Bread Peddler (fabulous lemon tart and chocolate/ espresso/ orange bundt cake with chocolate ganche).

                      Breakfasts were pastries from the Bread Peddler and we made do at lunch.
                      Dinner was pizza night one and Anthony's Hearthfire night two. Anthony's view far, far outshone the food but nobody seemed to care.

                      My daughter had her friends and family gathered round for the occasion and today was offered the job she wanted more than anything with the Hand's on Children's Museum in Olympia.
                      All in all, a great success!!