Graduation party buffet to make in advance

Salmon nicoise salad, prepared with blanched green beans,

Salmon nicoise salad, prepared with blanched green beans, potatoes, tomatoes, cooked salmon, hard-cooked eggs, olives and arugula. (May 30, 2012) (Credit: Doug Young)

Lauren Chattman

Lauren Chattman

Lauren Chattman is a cookbook author, freelance writer and former

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The high school seniors have taken their last exam, attended the prom and signed dozens of yearbooks. All that's left is the graduation ceremony. Friends and family will descend to celebrate the milestone. After listening to the valedictory speech and witnessing the handing out of diplomas, they will be expecting a meal. And that's your job.

How do the parents of brand-new graduates make time to attend the ceremony and entertain afterward? A make-ahead spread of cold dishes — perfect for any summer occasion — is the answer.

Depending on the size of your crowd, you can prepare two, three, four or five dishes up to a day in advance and keep them chilled until needed. With a little planning, you'll be able to arrive home a few minutes ahead of your guests, pull a delectable feast from the refrigerator and get it on the table as they help themselves to drinks.

The recipes below are hearty enough to be enjoyed as main courses. And there's enough variety to satisfy all different types of eaters.

On the menu: grilled kielbasa and potato salad, Thai chicken salad, salmon Niçoise, orzo and shrimp salad, lentil salad with grilled sausages and vegetables. Yield will depend on how many choices you lay out. Supplement the spread with crusty bread and maybe a bowl of dressed greens and no one will go home hungry.

Click here for photos of all these dishes.

You could always order a cake from your local bakery, but putting together a blueberry cobbler with a sugar cookie dough topping (make the dough up to two weeks in advance and freeze it until you are ready to bake) may take less time than driving to the bakery to pick it up.

Here's a countdown to help you plan, shop, cook, and serve:

One week in advance: Settle on a menu. Make the cobbler topping. Buy beverages and paper goods.

Two to three days in advance: Get most of your shopping done (you may want to wait a day to buy the seafood, but all other ingredients will keep).

One day in advance: Get cooking.

The night before: Cover your table with a festive tablecloth. Arrange napkins, cutlery and glassware for the buffet and bar.

Morning of the party: Bake your cobbler. Get out the platters, bowls, and serving pieces. Fill a large ice chest with ice and the appropriate beverages (beer, white wine, soda).

It's showtime: Set out bowls of pitted olives and mixed nuts near the bar. Direct guests to help themselves to drinks. Transfer your food to serving platters and set them on the table. After everyone is satisfied, bring on dessert.

SALMON NIÇOISE SALAD

For the dressing

1/2 cup olive oil

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

1/4 teaspoon salt

Ground black pepper

For the salad

2-pound salmon fillet, skin on

1 tablespoon olive oil

Salt

Ground black pepper

1 pound small Yukon Gold potatoes

3/4 pound green beans, trimmed

2 heads Boston lettuce or Romaine hearts, washed and dried

1 cup cherry tomatoes

8 hard-cooked eggs, peeled and halved

1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives

2 tablespoons capers

1. Make dressing: Whisk together oil, lemon juice, lemon zest, salt and pepper to taste. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside.

2. Cook salad ingredients: Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with heavy-duty foil. Place salmon on pan, skin-side down, brush with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast until medium-rare (fish will continue to cook as it cools), 12 to 15 minutes. Transfer to a plate and let cool slightly. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 1 day.

3. Place potatoes in a large saucepan, cover with water and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer until tender when pierced with a skewer, about 10 minutes. Drain, cool, cover and refrigerate for up to 1 day.

4. Bring a small pot of water to boil, add green beans, cook until just tender, 1 1/2 to 3 minutes, drain and rinse under cold water to cool. Drain again, pat dry with paper towels, place in a zipper-lock bag or airtight container and refrigerate for up to 1 day.

5. Arrange lettuce leaves on a large platter. Remove skin from salmon, cut fish into 8 or 10 pieces and place on top of lettuce. Arrange potatoes, beans, cherry tomatoes and eggs around salmon. Sprinkle with olives and capers. Drizzle with about half of the dressing, and serve with remaining dressing on side.

Makes 8 to 10 servings.

 

ORZO AND SHRIMP SALAD

Salt

1 pound box orzo

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

Ground black pepper

1 1/2 pounds shelled and deveined cooked shrimp

1 cucumber, peeled, halved lengthwise, seeded and cut into 1/4-inch half-moons

4 scallions, white and light green parts, chopped

1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved

1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives, chopped

1/4 cup finely chopped fresh oregano

8 ounces crumbled feta cheese

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add orzo and cook until just tender. Drain and transfer to a large bowl. Add oil, lemon juice, lemon zest, and salt and pepper to taste and mix well. Let cool slightly, cover and refrigerate for up to a day.

2. Just before serving, stir in shrimp, cucumber, scallions, tomatoes, olives, oregano and feta cheese.

Makes 8 servings.

 

GRILLED KIELBASA AND POTATO SALAD

2 1/2 pounds small new potatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces

5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Salt

1/3 cup Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon cider vinegar

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1 tablespoon finely chopped shallot

1 small garlic clove, finely chopped

1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds, finely ground in a spice grinder

Freshly ground black pepper

1 pound kielbasa

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh dill leaves

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or nonstick aluminum foil. Toss potatoes with 1 tablespoon olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Roast until softened and golden, about 35 minutes.

2. While potatoes are roasting, whisk together mustard, remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, shallot, garlic, ground fennel seeds, 1/2 teaspoon salt and ground black pepper to taste.

3. Heat coals or a gas grill to medium-high. Grill kielbasa, turning once, until it is heated through and lightly charred, 6 to 9 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board, let cool slightly and cut on diagonal into 1/3-inch pieces.

4. Transfer potatoes to a bowl and let cool slightly. Toss with dressing and kielbasa and adjust seasonings. Stir in dill. Serve warm or refrigerate for up to a day and serve chilled.

Makes 8 servings.

 

LENTIL SALAD WITH GRILLED SAUSAGES AND VEGETABLES

French green lentils are pretty and keep their shape during cooking, but brown lentils work just as well in this recipe.

3 cups French green lentils

8 cups water

1 garlic clove

1 bay leaf

Salt

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 1/2 pounds Italian sausages

2 red and/or yellow bell peppers, cored, seeded and quartered

2 medium zucchini, stemmed and halved lengthwise

1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley leaves

1. Bring lentils, water, garlic and bay leaf to boil in a large saucepan. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, until almost tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Stir in 1 teaspoon salt and continue to cook until lentils are tender but not disintegrating, 3 to 5 minutes. Drain and transfer to a large bowl.

2. While lentils are cooking, whisk together 1/2 cup olive oil, vinegar and mustard. Pour over warm lentils and toss to coat.

3. Light coals or heat gas grill to medium-high. Grill sausages, and peppers and zucchini brushed with remaining oil, turning once, until cooked through, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer to cutting board to cool slightly.

4. Slice sausages diagonally into 1/2-inch pieces. Slice peppers into thin strips. Slice zucchini into 1/2-inch-thick half-moons. Add to bowl with lentils and stir to coat. Cover and refrigerate for up to 1 day before serving.

Makes 8 to 10 servings.

 

THAI CHICKEN SALAD

1 cup light mayonnaise

3 tablespoons smooth

peanut butter

2 tablespoons soy sauce

3 tablespoons lime juice

1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger

8 cups cooked and cubed chicken breast

2 cups blanched sugar snap peas

1 bell pepper, cored, seeded and thinly sliced

1 jalapeño chili, seeded and finely chopped

1/2 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves

Salt

Romaine lettuce leaves for serving

1. Whisk together mayonnaise, peanut butter, soy sauce, lime juice and ginger.

2. Combine chicken, peas, peppers, chili and cilantro in a large bowl. Toss with dressing to coat. Cover and chill for at least 1 hour and up to 1 day.

3. Spoon salad onto lettuce leaves just before eating.

Makes 8 to 10 servings.

 

BLUEBERRY COBBLER WITH COOKIE DOUGH TOPPING

8 cups blueberries, rinsed and picked over

1 1/2 cups sugar

2 tablespoons cornstarch

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter

1 large egg

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine blueberries, 1/2 cup sugar and cornstarch in a large bowl. Let stand, stirring occasionally and crushing some of berries with the back of the spoon, until sugar dissolves, 5 to 7 minutes.

2. Cream together butter and remaining cup sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer. Add egg and vanilla and beat until combined. On low speed, stir in flour, baking powder and salt until just combined.

3. Transfer berries to a lightly greased, 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Drop dough by rounded tablespoonfuls over fruit. Bake until fruit is bubbling and crust is golden, 50 to 55 minutes (a few more minutes if dough was frozen; see note below). Let cobbler cool slightly and serve warm, or let cool completely and serve at room temperature.

Makes 12 servings.

Note: If you want to get a head start on dessert, you can make the topping up to 2 weeks in advance: Drop tablespoonfuls of the dough onto a foil-lined baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap and freeze. When you are ready to bake the cobbler, spoon the prepared berries into the baking pan and place the pieces of frozen cookie dough on top of the fruit.