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Monday, June 10, 2019

A Few Thoughts about the Reception That We Hosted

My daughter graduated from her university on Saturday evening (yay!), and we hosted the reception Sunday late afternoon into early evening. All went well-enough; I am exhausted, though. Today, I'll write up a few thoughts about our budget and some of the main items that we prepared. I'll continue again tomorrow with more thoughts. Later today, I'll get photos uploaded to my computer later and will post some of them this week.

On planning
Last year's reception gave me a lot of insight for planning an event, as far as spending and size. We entertained about 30 people, and we seemed to have close to the right amount of food, with nothing completely running out and not terribly too much leftover. In comparison, last year, we had a lot of leftovers, enough to eat for a few days and still have more to freeze for later. This year, we have enough leftovers for a couple of days of lunches and snacking, plus 2 frozen packaged items that I never baked up (one box of spring rolls, and one box of spanakopita) and 4 or 5 whole chicken breasts (I bought a family-sized pack to save on price per pound). I will set these items aside from my regular menu planning and use for a future special occasion, such as a potluck or hosting another gathering later this summer.

The spending
I met my goal to spend half of what we spent last year. At just about $100, it was still quite a lot. This was an amount which was budgeted separately from our grocery budget, so at least this doesn't impact any of our other spending. While $100 sounds like a huge amount to spend on a party, we did entertain about 30 people (that works out to about $3.33 per person). Plus, if we hadn't celebrated in this way, we might have spent nearly this amount to take the whole family out to a nice dinner. What is clear to me, though, is that other types of receptions, such as weddings, could be doable for a fraction of what caterers charge, given a low-cost or free venue, such as a home or church social hall, and some free-labor/helpers, such as family members. My two daughters were hugely instrumental in getting the interior work done, while my husband was a big help in getting the outside of the house looking tidy (he also did some cleaning chores in the house, too!). Of course, working from my own kitchen, I did use some ingredients that I had at home, but I consider the cost of those items to be a wash when weighed against the leftovers which will supplement our eating for the next few days and beyond.

The shopping
Learning where to buy different food items is an on-going process. New stores move into the area and old favorites either close or change their pricing strategy. I tried to buy most everything at what I thought would be the lowest unit price. However, I ran short on time and skipped a stop at Dollar Tree for crackers and pretzel sticks and opted for Fred Meyer on those items instead. I spent an extra $2 as a result. I also used Fred Meyer for most of the produce. I didn't pick up the strawberries until Saturday afternoon (one day before the event). After checking strawberry prices online, I went to Sprouts and bought 3 pounds, saving about $2.70 compared the the next lowest price in town for strawberries. If I had purchased all of our produce (lettuce, green onions, cucumbers, baby carrots, celery, grape tomatoes, oranges, and broccoli crowns) I may saved another $5 or so. Despite not saving as much as I could have, I did gain some valuable information that will affect my produce shopping for the rest of summer and into fall (maybe even year round) -- Sprouts has some really good prices on produce and I can take advantage of this for my regular shopping. Sprouts is a new store to my area, so I am just now learning what they offer at a good price compared to my other shopping options. For the other items that I purchased, I did well. I researched online where to find the best deal on particular items and shopped at a total of 5 stores, including Cash & Carry wholesale, Fred Meyer, Walmart, WinCo, and Sprouts.

The lay-out
Once again, I spread the food stations around the house somewhat. The main area used the dining room table and the buffet in the dining room. The buffet is up against a wall, where I have electrical outlets, so this is where I set up the crock-pot of soup. I set up the mini crock-pot of chocolate fondue (along with the dippers) in the other main gathering room in our home, on a table up against a wall. Like last time, I set up the kitchen table with small platters of items, plus a bottle of water and cups. I also set out a small plate of veggies and dip and some sweets on both a coffee table and a side table in the main gathering room. We encouraged guests to use the living room, family room, dining room and kitchen. A few people found spots to sit for the entirety, but most folks milled around a bit, moving from room to room, with the dining room and family appearing to be the most congested. In our house, the dining room is directly across the hall from the family room, so I think proximity to the dining room influenced most folks to move into the family room. This is something for me to consider the next time we host a large event -- set up the main food station in close proximity to the seating area that I want guests to enjoy.

The individual items: sandwiches, potato salad, and soup
If you remember, I said I would be making 3 kinds of sandwiches. The first, ham, Swiss, and Dijon on homemade French bread to which we added lettuce and green olives, made about 35 small sandwiches. This is the variety of which we have the most leftovers, perhaps enough for lunches today and dinner tonight. We also made chicken salad on mini croissants. I used 3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, celery, green onion, rosemary, mayonnaise, salt, and pepper for the salad portion, plus I added a smear of homemade cranberry sauce to the inside of the croissant. I made 24 of these sandwiches, and at the end of the evening, there were 2 of these sandwiches remaining. I had about 2 cups of the chicken salad leftover after filling the croissants. I set this out in a small bowl on the table for anyone who avoids breads. Most of that was also eaten. The third sandwich variety was a shrimp and pasta salad in a homemade cream puff. For the filling, I used about 12 ounces of extra-small shrimp, chopped into smaller pieces (I would have used salad shrimp, but Walmart only had the extra-small, 1 cup of small pasta, cooked, mayonnaise, lemon juice, green onion, and spiced fig jam. I cut the top mostly off of each cream puff (leaving a small bit attached), then filled the hollow and popped the top of the cream puff back into place. I made 23 of these sandwiches and we had 2 leftover. Because these were filled with a seafood item, I put about 8 or 9 out at a time, and refilled the platter as needed. That may have slowed down the consumption of these a bit, in contrast to the other varieties for which I put large platters out just as the guests were arriving. Three of us made 82 sandwiches in 1 and 1/2 hours and had about 20 sandwiches left over. The average, then, was 2 sandwiches per person.

For the potato salad, I had a hunch that we would run short of time, so we prepared a semi-homemade version. I bought a quart of prepared potato salad from the refrigerated section of the grocery store. To this, we added diced celery and chopped green onion. We topped the now-improved commercial salad with hard boiled egg wedges, paprika, and a bit more green onion. I really think this looked and tasted homemade, yet we out-sourced the troublesome task of getting the potatoes cooked just right without becoming mushy. One quart of potato salad was just about right for 30 people, considering there were several other side dish items from which to choose.

The tomato-basil soup was a huge hit -- I received several compliments on the soup, regarding flavor and texture. My thinking is that a lot of people simply don't make soup from scratch anymore, so this soup may have seemed different and special to anyone more accustomed to Campbell's. I used canned tomato paste, canned tomatoes, lemon juice, sugar, dried basil, garlic powder, onions, salt, oil, and water. I began the soup with browning some onions in oil. Once browned, I pulsed them through the food processor to reduce to a chunky puree. I followed this up with pulsing the canned tomatoes, just until it was mostly puree with a few small chunks remaining. The small chunks added texture to the final soup. The remaining ingredients I added to taste, yielding just over 3 quarts of soup, in total. I made the soup a couple of days in advance and then put it in the crockpot about 5 to 6 hours before the reception to heat it thoroughly, setting the crockpot to High. We have about 1 cup of the soup left over. I added a small toppings bar of short breadsticks, and shaved Parmesan. While the soup could be sipped, I also had plastic spoons set out. The soup was served help-yourself style from the crockpot, with a bunch of china tea cups and a ladle. Although I tried to use washable/permanent flatware, dishes, and cups, tea cups are on the small side, so I do think the plastic spoon was a good flatware choice, as they were lightweight and less likely to topple out of a small and shallow cup. I washed 17 cups at the end of the evening, so the soup was interesting to just over half of the people, with some folks enjoying "seconds" on the soup. Considering that soup was just one component of the spread, 3 quarts was just barely enough for 30 people.

More thoughts and some photos tomorrow.


  1. I'm surprised you took time to write this today--I'd be in recovery mode! It sounds like a great party and a wonderful way to honor your daughter's achievement. I will have my son's graduation open house in a couple of years so I'm gleaning ideas from people like you. BTW, I think $100 for 30 people is an amazingly low cost for the amount of food you served.

    1. Hi Kris,
      I was in recovery mode for all of last week!
      You have a couple of years to think through a menu for your son's graduation open house. My best advice is to prepare some of the foods from scratch starting a couple of weeks in advance and freezing, but also find several items are are easy or could be delegated to someone else. It was a lot of work, but in the end very worth it to do something to thank the people that have supported my daughter. Good luck to you!

  2. And this is why you are so good at what you do. You write down what you learned even when you're exhausted. The reception sounds very nice and I'm sure everyone enjoyed it. It was a nice way to celebrate your daughter's achievement.

    I'm trying to figure out if I could do stations around the house with the food like you did. Maybe, but I'm not sure especially since we made our dining room into our office. But we don't have any big events coming up, so no need to worry now.

    1. Hi live and learn,
      If you have a large group and you want people to NOT congregate in one spot, having food stations does spread the crowd out a bit. One of the things that I do is set up flat surfaces (lower cabinets, game tables, coffee tables) in rooms other than the dining room or kitchen with some of the foods. I clear everything else off of those surfaces and dedicate them to "buffet-use" for the party. In the past, I've set up food stations in the entry hall (good place for beverages as people come in and candies/mints as they leave), the living room (on the coffee table and end tables with small dishes of snackables), the family room (on the game table and on top of a console), and on a table on the deck just outside of the kitchen so I can keep an eye on things. So there may be places in your house that could host a food station that you haven't thought of, basically anywhere you're comfortable with guests roaming. As you said, though -- no need to worry when you don't have anything you need hosting.

  3. When we have a party like this we budget $100 also. I know a 6 foot hero by me goes for $100 and comes with potato salad so the fact that I can do everything for that price is great. I shop sales like crazy to make sure I keep costs low. I won gift cards to a local supermarket in May so we decided that I would use some of those instead of doing a separate budget. I have almost everything I need. My youngest is graduating in 2 weeks from high school. We are doing make your own burrito bowls. So many people have diet issues (3 in my house alone) that these work perfectly for us. I will need to get lettuce and tomatoes a few days before. Otherwise I have everything.

    1. Hi Marybeth,
      that's good to know that $100 is about what you and others budget. How did your graduation event come out? It sounds like you had the budget for it all taken care of. Good job! Burrito bowls must have been a big hit -- everyone can find something they want. Hope it all went well!

  4. Do you think roasting the canned tomatoes first would enhance the flavor of a soup or spoil It? Just wondering...everytime canned tomatoes is mentioned I think of your past blog.

    Congrats to your daughter. You are amazing to do all that preparation and keep under budget. I think you are definitely the one percent who can accomplish this. I'm sure every dish was delicious and well presented. Good thinking about using commercial potato salad as a base, then adding additional ingredients to your liking.

    Have a good rest,


    1. Hi YHF,
      oh, roasted canned tomatoes would have been delicious, too. I'll have to try that the next time I roast a bunch of canned tomatoes. Thank you for the suggestion!

  5. Hi Lili,

    Congratulations on a party well done! I can just imagine how fun that was for your daughter.

    I think I'm going to attempt doing something similar for my daughter's second wedding reception. She is getting married out of state and so that is the big celebration but they are coming here the next weekend and we want a smaller reception for those who couldn't travel so far.

    I think I'm going to do ham buns, turkey buns, potato salad (doctored up) and a very plain punch and water. No cake and probably no coffee because it will be in the heat of the summer. I might add the leftover mints from her shower and I think we can use the paper plates, cups and plastic ware that we had leftover from her catered shower back in April!


    1. Hi Alice,
      Your plan for your daughter's second wedding reception sounds solid. Using up the leftover disposable plates, etc will save money and give you a use for those items.
      Punch and water should be enough. I chose not to do coffee or tea because of all of the extras that you have to have available, such as sugar, artificial sweeteners, cream, non-dairy creamer. The list goes on as everyone likes their coffee or tea differently. If the event's menu had focused less on other foods, then maybe a nice coffee and tea station would be good. But for yours and my events, I think it is just too much extra to think about. If you run short of time for making the ham and turkey buns, you could also set out a sandwich-making station, with a tray of meats and cheese, a couple of types of bread or buns, lettuce, and condiments. We did that last year and it worked well. I chose to make the sandwiches myself this year because it allowed me to control the costs a bit better. I thought having potato salad was a really good thing to go with the sandwiches, as it was filling and sort of completed a plate, but not very expensive. You could also do a simple veggie tray, with baby carrots, grape or cherry tomatoes, and celery sticks, plus dip. In reading around, veggie trays are recommended as an inexpensive food to fill out a buffet. Plus they offer something fresh and low-cal. Doing your own is a way to make veggie trays affordable, and they can be assembled up to 2 days in advance, covered in plastic wrap and kept in the fridge until serving time.
      Good luck with your plans, Alice!


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