NORTH BALTIMORE - Probably two-thirds of Wood County is planning to either host a graduation party or attend one sometime in the next couple of weeks.
If you are in the first of those two categories, have we got the Cook's Corner column for you.
With three daughters boasting a total of six diplomas between them, when it comes to graduation party buffets North Baltimore resident Susan Miklovic has been there, done that and lived to tell the tale.
Even better, she's a food pro: Miklovic has been a family and consumer sciences program assistant in the Wood County Ohio State University Extension Office for the past 15 years.
"Our family's high school graduation parties were fairly big - probably 150 people," Miklovic estimated. "But we had all of them at our home. We didn't go to a rental hall or banquet facility."
Daughters Marcy, now 31; Erika, 28; and Katie, 23, all wanted many of the same kinds of dishes loading their party buffet tables - such perennial favorites as meatballs, "cheesy potatoes" - otherwise known as hash brown casserole, and those popular vegetable bars made with crescent rolls, Miracle Whip, fresh veggies, cream cheese, cheddar cheese and a package of Hidden Valley Ranch mix.
"I think people look forward to those at this time of year," Miklovic acknowledged.
But the Miklovics also have a couple of other grad party favorite dishes that are a bit more exclusive.
The first, a Crockpot Macaroni and Cheese, "is a more recent find, but everybody that tries it just loves it. It's very tasty, and easy to make.
"What I like about it, whenever you try to cook macaroni - or any pasta - in a crockpot, it loses its shape, turns into mush. And this recipe doesn't do that. It's also very cheesy and creamy."
Miklovic says she acquired the recipe from fellow Extension employee Sue Knauss.
Others are discovering the recipe, too. Just last weekend, in fact, the Miklovics were invited to a wedding and there was a roaster full of the "crockpot" mac and cheese being served at the reception. Same recipe, larger quantity. "And it was still made with the same ease."
The second graduation party recipe Miklovic is sharing with the public is for a unique kind of cheese ball.
Called fruit cheese ball, she finds it "an interesting taste combination because of the dried fruits and green pepper combination." Dried apricots, white raisins and pineapple, plus the pepper, add pizzazz to the traditional cream cheese and sliced almonds in this cheese ball. They also introduce wonderful, if still spread-able, texture.
"I got the cheese ball recipe from a friend. Actually it was on a girlfriends' weekend. It was a hit with the women there," Miklovic recalls.
Her own girls also wanted a celebration when they graduated from college.
"All the college parties were really scaled back from the high school parties, which I would guess is typical." They were limited to closer friends and family, but still included favorite family buffet foods.
Katie even had a party when she earned her master's degree, although that time she opted for a more "upscale" dessert buffet.
Now she's planning a wedding in September.
"She's an OSU grad, so she has to have candy Buckeyes to hand out at her reception, so that will be our next big undertaking," her mother predicts.
It shouldn't really cause Miklovic stress. She and her husband owned and operated their own restaurant in North Baltimore in the '80s, "and we did quite a bit of catering out of there. So that gave me a background in food service and food safety issues before coming to Extension."
Food safety is, of course, almost as important as knowing how to feed big groups when it comes to warm-weather graduation parties.
The crockpot mac and cheese is no problem, since it stays sufficiently hot in its container. But for the fruit cheese ball, Miklovic says, "I would try to maybe keep a dish of ice under it."
Fruit Cheese Ball
¼ cup diced green peppers
½ cup diced dried apricots
½ cup dried pineapple
1 tsp. Lawry's seasoned salt
2T - 1/4 c. gr. onion, diced
½ cup white raisins
Mix all ingredients, except almonds. Roll into ball. Coat with almonds. Refrigerate. Serve with crackers.
Crockpot Macaroni and Cheese
16 oz. macaroni
1 can cheddar cheese soup
½ cup oleo, melted
4 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup milk
2 eggs, beaten
12 oz. evaporated milk
Cook macaroni until almost done. Add melted oleo. Put in crockpot. In bowl, combine eggs, milk, soup, evaporated milk, and 3 cups of cheese. Pour over macaroni. Cook low for 4-5 hours. (Mine is usually done in less time).
Sprinkle remaining cheese on top and cook 15 minutes longer. Can add crushed cracker or chip crumbs with last cup of cheese if desired.
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