Adventures in Wedding Catering

On September 27, I got to attend the wedding of my friend-for-life, Michelle. In fact, she invited me to be “man of honor” – and her groom, Todd, had a best woman. It looked to be a wonderful wedding. Besides the loving, in-tune couple, there was the lakeside ceremony, the tiny guest list, the casual atmosphere, the well-written original vows, and (let’s be honest here) the organizers’ impeccable taste in booze. Everything was kept in the metaphorical family: Todd’s best woman would bake the cake, I would bring the rings to the ceremony, Michelle’s father got assigned decorating duty, Todd’s family knew somebody who knew the officiant, and both bride and groom were good friends with the professional caterer who agreed to supply nibbles.

Until the caterer canceled a week before the wedding.

People have told me it was nice to step in and bring food. That’s flattering, but I don’t know. I never realized that other options existed. I simply thought, “Huh, now I’m catering,” and texted our mutual friend-for-life, Rory, to ask him if he would help. Yes, of course: off we went.

To be sure, our attempt would not be that heroic. For one thing, I recklessly decided not to tell anybody other than Rory, and make the whole thing a surprise. For another thing, there was going to be some food already. Scardello, Dallas’s foremost cheese shop, was providing two big cheese platters with prosciutto, salami, nuts, and figs, and of course there would be wedding cake.

Based on my questions to Michelle (it really helps you plan a surprise if you have a reputation for asking a lot of questions), she had hoped for bruschetta and a few other simple dip-type appetizers. Nothing complicated and no full fancy meals. With a little help from Michelle’s own online directory of recipes idea (thanks, Pinterest!), Rory and I settled on four items:

  • traditional bruschetta topping (tomato, basil, and balsamic)
  • another topping featuring artichoke and parmesan (recipe considerably modified from an original in Southern Living)
  • a dip of white beans, Hatch green chiles, cumin, and garlic
  • oil-brushed, salted, and toasted baguette slices for the three dips

This is probably the most I have ever cooked without using onions. (Well, okay. I used green onions for garnish.)

The bean dip could not have been simpler. Step one: put your beans, chiles, and spices in a bowl. Step two: put them in the blender. Step three: garnish and eat.

Bean dip recipe

Pictured: Step 1 (left); Step 3 (right)

The traditional bruschetta was simple, too, but not easy. For one thing, Rory had to slice about 20 Campari tomatoes (aka “the flavorful kind of tomatoes”). For another, the tomatoes released moisture over time, so that the texture in the bowl started as “bruschetta,” by reception time was “stew,” and today is “lake.” Not that it is really a problem. I mean, lake water was never this delicious.

Tomatoes

Mildly terrifying sight for anybody who doesn’t love prep work. Who loves prep work? By the way, paid celebrity endorsement for Global chef knives, although you should use a serrated edge for tomatoes.

Consensus scene-stealer, though: the artichoke dip. No, you don’t need spinach and a hot broiler to make artichoke appetizer magic. Here was the recipe I used (notice that this produces approx. 1 wedding reception’s worth of dip):

What You Need
– 2 jars marinated artichoke hearts
– a standard bottle of grated Parmesan
– two or three Hatch green chiles (or another pepper, like chipotle or poblano)
– a jar of mayonnaise

What You Do
1. Finely chop up the artichoke hearts and chiles. Throw them in a 9×13″ baking pan.
2. Add the whole bottle of Parmesan to the pan (it’s okay to do less, depending on your preferred flavor balance)
3. Mix in 1.5 to 2 cups mayo
4. Bake at 400 (F) for about 5-6 minutes. You’re not looking for it to change color, just to get it hot for a bit. It can be served cold just fine. Give it another good stir.
5. Eat.

This could be eaten with bread, crackers, or by itself on a spoon. To quote my own first reaction to the taste-test: “This is the savory version of chocolate frosting.” Rory adds that it might be great served hot on chicken breasts or pork.

artichoke dip

I like green onions, okay?!?!

The No-Longer-Super-Secret Trick to Killer Artichoke Dip!
Lemonaise. The Ojai Cook’s Lemonaise is a miracle ingredient, the kind of thing you should put alongside shallots, fish sauce, lime juice, capers, and cumin on your Secret Ingredient Shelf. Instead of high fructose corn syrup and the approx. 15 weird chemicals listed in Hellmann’s Mayonnaise, Lemonaise is spiked with an acid kick of lemon, a drop of garlic, and a healthy swirl of mustard. You can see the mustard seeds. Sometimes I eat Lemonaise with a spoon. It is the best mayo outside of Belgium, a total delight, and available at Whole Foods, Sprouts, and other fine stores. Seriously, for this endorsement these people should pay me. In jars of mayonnaise.

Uh, did I mention I don’t like mayonnaise? This stuff is the bomb.

Look for this. You know you want to.

Anyway, Back to the Wedding

The day couldn’t have been more perfect. The weather was perfect: a sunny Texas day, without the excess heat. The food prep went without a hitch, which is weirdly fortunate. At lunchtime Rory and I saw Michelle, who was utterly calm. “I feel great,” she said. “I’m not worried about anything anymore and I haven’t felt cold feet once.” She asked what we were planning to do before the ceremony. We said, “Drinking!” She believed us without question, which is a little insulting. But we do keep our promises, so we took care of an excellent South African shiraz during the three-hour cooking process.

The shores of White Rock Lake were a beautiful venue site. Casual, too: runners and bikers kept stopping with congratulations, and some of them zipped through the photos. I believe the photos were great anyway, since there were such wonderful people in them. The ceremony was short and achingly sweet, and in case you’re wondering, the ring looks like this:

Michelle's ring

Not too shabby

The reception was a rousing success. Having only 25 people means that everyone actually meets everyone else–and that the happy couple get to sit down and eat something. They didn’t need to spend two hours working the crowd or shaking hands. The cheeses disappeared instantly, I never saw a trace of the prosciutto, and then people started devouring the bruschetta. And there was cake: Jean Marie, Todd’s best woman, had baked the cake the night before, put it on the cake stand, and then watched in horror as it fell to the floor. So she stayed up until 3:30 a.m. baking a second one.

Somehow I got stuck with the chore, “take home leftovers.” The top layer of cake was whisked off by the groom’s family for safekeeping, but the rest of the cake was charmlessly mashed onto a platter and handed to me, along with about half the bean dip and just under half of the two bruschetta styles. So at this point I’ve enjoyed three slices of Jean Marie’s early A.M. handiwork. Please, if you live in Dallas, come eat some of this cake. You seriously have no idea how much cake I have.

A great time was had by all. Plates quickly filled and emptied. The bride sat down with Rory and me and said, “Everything’s going well. I don’t know where all this food came from.” Rory said, “We do.” Delicious cake with preposterously great frosting was served. Todd gave every guest a bottle of his home-brewed lager. (It’s good.) The reception was over in a rushed 75 minutes, too short, but older family members had to get home and the glowing couple had to go off honeymooning. A hardcore group of celebrants moved to a bar to celebrate our mutual joy with beers.

“Is anyone going to order food?” the waitress asked.

Guiltily, Jean Marie confessed: “I’m starving.”

So the father of the bride bought everybody hamburgers.

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2 Comments

Filed under Edibles

2 responses to “Adventures in Wedding Catering

  1. Marjorie

    Awesome in every way! A true “friends for life” story!

  2. Caitlin Miller

    Huzzah for you and Rory saving the day!

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