Call me crazy, but I planned the food for my own wedding: the initial plan (Part 1)

14079762_10101841976930277_313916221619506309_nWill and I got engaged in August of 2016 at the Athenaeum in Providence (the scene of our second date, and a most delightful place). While we did debate having one, we ultimately decided we did want to have a wedding. We’d both been to enough weddings to know the feel we wanted for our own: a comfortable, casual celebration. While we did want to have the big party, we didn’t want to get sucked into the wedding vortex and lose sight of the fact that a wedding is just ONE day (a very special day, but still just one). We wanted to host the people we love in a place we love, and share our favorite things with them as we declared our love for each other.

We decided to get married where I work, which is a farm with a large barn and a commercial kitchen. Not being a traditional wedding venue gave us more freedom in how we could run the event. There were no specific list of caterers we had to use, or minimum cost per guest. My mom did a ton of research on other venues, and from what she found I saw the more “wedding” specific a venue was, the less work you had to do to plan but you also were much more restricted in your vendor options. Places like where we got married are not as common, especially if you just use “wedding” as a search keyword, but they do exist. In the end, we couldn’t beat the convenience of getting married where we did, plus we have a personal connection to the place.

We started with a strict budget (about $8,000, which I think it is important to know because no one talks about how ridiculous wedding costs are), and stuck to it very closely. Being fairly cheap people, we planned to do the majority of the set up and clean up ourselves with help from very loving group of family and friends. Neither of us read any wedding planning books, but I did read One Perfect Day: The Selling of the American Wedding and Something New: Tales of a Makeshift Bride which both emphasize that a wedding should be just what you and your partner want it to be. We picked the traditions and trends we liked, and ignored the rest.

We sent emails for the save the date and invitation, only registered for about 10 things we really wanted, didn’t buy any decorations besides a few strings of lights, and used Spotify playlists for the music (except for the procession, when our roommate played her accordion). We used what we had or what our friends and family had whenever possible, including platters, tablecloths, speakers, and an arbor. We did rent some essentials we couldn’t borrow, including a tent, tables, and chairs, and hired a bartender for the night. My mom and I grew the flowers for the tables and bouquets, which admittedly was made significantly easier for me because I work on a farm and had access to a small section of land to use (but I have a friend who grew her flowers for her wedding at her house, so know it can be done). We had both the wedding and reception on site, and asked two of our friends to co-officiate.

From the very beginning, I knew I wanted to have a heavy hand in the food.¬† Planning menus is what I do for fun, and cooking for crowds didn’t intimidate me, especially with the help I knew would roll in. We decided to cook all the food ourselves. This was my initial menu:

Starters

  • Bread and butter
  • Antipasti with olives, preserved peppers and eggplant
  • Pickles (scapes, cauliflower)
  • Hummus
  • Cheeses (brie, more brie, cheddar, bleu)
  • Salamis

Drinks

  • Beer
  • Wine
  • Signature cocktails made with whiskey (Will) and gin (me)
  • Champagne

Dinner

  • Vegetable minestrone
  • Leek bacon salad? Other salad?
  • Whole chicken piccata with baked rice pilaf or baked polenta
  • Roasted vegetables with chickpeas (also serves as veg main)

Desserts

  • Variety of items made by my aunts

Everything was simple and could be done in large batches. There would be no tiny passed appetizers, and all of the foods could be prepared beforehand and would stand up fine to reheating.

(A quick side story. The first time I cooked dinner for Will was on Valentine’s Day. We had gone on our first date about a month prior, and then had gone to see a movie a few days before the fateful couple’s holiday. As you do on the 4th or 5th date, we were discussing when our next would be and Will suggested Friday (VALENTINE’S DAY). I had assumed he would completely ignore the fact that Valentine’s Day was happening and expressed that to him. His response was along the lines of “but why wouldn’t I spend it with you?” (And see why I married him?) I made gin and grapefruit cocktails with rosemary sugar, he brought a bottle of his favorite white wine, we had Alton Brown’s chicken piccata (one of my favorite dishes) for dinner, and chocolate for dessert.)

And this is why I was determined to serve chicken piccata at our wedding. We both love it, but it is not a dish meant for entertaining as you pan fry the chicken and make the sauce in the pan right before serving. So my idea was to make a dish with roasted whole chicken (also the most economical way to buy chicken) with the flavors of the dish (lemon, capers, herbs). As the year went on and we got closer to the date, I was under pressure to figure out the logistics of this. How many chickens would I buy? How would I break them down? Where would they fit into my cooking timeline? What would I roast them in?

Since this post could go on for another 1,000 words, I’ll stop here and be back later with what I actually ended up doing. (Here is Part 2!)

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Even More Kitchen Gear Everyone Needs

DSC02048 (2)My argument around the holidays is always if you are going to buy someone kitchen gear, make it something essential and useful. Don’t bother with futzy, single use things. And if you can’t make it something useful, then make it something edible (tea, coffee, liquor, or spices are all awesome things that don’t need to be consumed immediately). These are a few things in my kitchen I love. If you’re looking for even more ideas, check out the other two iterations of this list I made: Kitchen Gear Everyone Needs and More Kitchen Gear Everyone Needs. I still stand by every item I mentioned previously, and use them constantly. With the exception of the citrus squeezer, which I recently had to replace because the coating was chipping off, I still use all of those exact items weekly, if not daily.

This list is working from the bottom up and clockwise through what is in the photo above.

Commercial baking sheets. Do your baking sheets ever make a popping noise in the oven? And then when you open the door to look, the baking sheet is no longer flat, but warped? Those should be demoted to craft-only baking sheets. Invest in a couple really nice baking sheets which are meant to withstand high temperatures (like those in an oven!!) and they will last a lifetime. I have half and quarter sheet pans which I use frequently (the standard size in a home kitchen is actually a half-sheet pan, the giant ones used in commercial kitchens are full). (My half and quarter sheet pans look vastly different because the half has logged over 5 years of constant use, and the quarter is only a year old.)

Cooling racks the same size as your baking sheets. These were a game changer for me. I bought a cooling rack without measuring it, only to find it was much thinner and longer than a standard half sheet pan. This is very inconvenient when you need to nest a cooling rack within a sheet pan for very important tasks like allowing chicken wings to rest in the fridge prior to baking, or cooling/draining just fried breaded eggplant.

Fine mesh brewing basket. This isn’t cooking gear per se, but I still find this invaluable. There are plenty of adorable tea infusers out there (like the MANATEA!!!!!!), but….THEY DON’T WORK. I want to drink tea, not water full of leaves. This is the only strainer I’ve used that has holes that are so fine that even rooibos can’t get through it.

1/4 cup measure. Admittedly, I bought this after reading Julia Turshen sing its praises, and she sure was right. This tiny cup is endlessly useful and has saved what I’m sure will account for many hours of my life that I could have spent measuring 4 individual tablespoons, but instead just measured once. (It is also great for measuring cocktail ingredients, and far easier to pour than a shot glass.)

Glass containers for food storage (shown with the red top). I don’t know where I was without these in my life. They stand up to being filled with hot foods, stack, don’t stain or retain smells, and work great for reheating in an oven or microwave. I’m partial to the 4 cup size, which I think is the perfect portion for a lunch, but I have a few larger and a few smaller containers that I wouldn’t want to go without. The lids are not as durable at the glass bases (mine lasted about 2 years), but you can buy replacement lids separately.

A mandoline (no, not a mandolin). This does some with a caveat, because it is really easy to slice of the tip of your finger with one of these. But….they do make consistent, thin slices or matchsticks of many a vegetable. My one complaint with this particular model is it is fairly narrow, so if you have a large vegetable you have to cut it down a bit.

For a bit more fun, check out this year’s edition of my absolute favorite gift guide.