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Bojana

Help – amateur catering for friends' wedding

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I will make finger food for my friend's wedding end of August. While I am very comfortable in tke kitchen with both sweet and savoury side, I have questions on how to ensure that food will stay crispy and in optimal condition, and there you could maybe advise if changes of components are necessary. Also, I'd like to prepare anything I can upfront and store in the freezer, there will be questions there too.

It will be post dinner elegant finger food and the bride has requested that no plates shoud be used, really pick it up with hand and eat. There will be ~80 guests. I will make about 40-50 pieces of each dish.

This is the list with my preliminary ideas:

  1. Panko breaded deep fried fish segments with wasabi mayonnaise and sweet soy fluid gel
  2. Deep fried polenta triangles with tomato basil sauce and parmesan shavings
  3. Spinach cheese roll
  4. Chorizo madelaines
  5. Sun dried tomato madelaines
  6. Kroepoek/rice crackers with asian salad topping (carrot salad a la green papaya spiced, with and without peanuts)
  7. Lemon meringue tartlets
  8. Macarons (raspberry)
  9. Eclairs or choux buns with flavoured pastry cream (spices, asian maybe, passion fruit..)

Questions:

  1. What is good sort of white fish to use, that will not fall apart while deep fired. I have easy access to Tilapia, pangasius but could search for more if those are not optimal. This will be served cold, with probably a skewer through the fish. Any issues here? Will it be ok served luke warm/cold?
  2. Chorizo and sun dried tomato madelaines, can I bake and freeze them, then just refresh on the wedding day? Alternatively, can I make and freeze the batter?
  3. Rice crackers and carrot salad (dressed with lime juice, fish sauce, chilli, peanuts, dried shrim floss and coriander). Will the rice crackers go soggy from the salad? Can I brush them with a thin layer of mayonnaise? Can you suggest some alternative vessels for this salad?
  4. Lemon meringue tartlets I will bake and freeze, then refresh in the oven. I will assemble them on location, including the blowtorching of the swiss meringue.
  5. Choux buns I am planning to freeze dough and bake on the day, fill on location. Will they stay crisp for a couple of hours? Any tips there?

Also, if you have some additional ideas for me, I'd love to hear.

Thanks!

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I've done a fair few canape-only events, and I think you'd be well advised to plan on making 80 of everything.

Choux can be baked then frozen and reheated on the day, so to minimise stress, that's what I'd be doing.

Basically the less you have to do on the day, the better off you'll be, and the more able you'll be to ensure quality, rather than scrambling to push food out.


James.

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Just my thoughts:

I would not serve deep fried fish segments cold myself as they start to lose there appeal in my opinion.

What about blinis or crustini for the salad?

Why do you need to freeze the tarts - they will keep a couple of days then just finish them as you were going to.

Good luck.

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MY main question is why are you working at a "friends'" wedding?

Because it is a dear friend that does not have much funds to pay for the wedding and because it will be my gift to her. She'd be happy with half of this menu and 1/10 of the quality - the main driver behind wanting to have things perfect is me.

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I'd have way more napkins on hand than you think you'll need (cloth, I guess, since usually, when I've come across a 'no plates' thing, it's been intended as a 'green' move): the combination of nice clothing + fried/otherwise potentially messy food + no plates is almost guaranteed to mean that at least some guests will use napkins as plates, and the absence of plates itself increases the chances of accidents requiring napkins.


Michaela, aka "Mjx"
Manager, eG Forums
mscioscia@egstaff.org

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Just my thoughts:

I would not serve deep fried fish segments cold myself as they start to lose there appeal in my opinion.

What about blinis or crustini for the salad?

Why do you need to freeze the tarts - they will keep a couple of days then just finish them as you were going to.

Good luck.

I work full time (office job) so I need to spread the prep over several weeks, that is why I will freeze tartlets. Even the day before the wedding I have to work so I only have Saturday 8AM to 7PM to finish all, and I will have one helper.

Crustini sounds like an idea, I think the dish needs something crunchy since the salad is not that crunchy. However, I could never reconcile bread and asian food in my head but may be mistaken.

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I'd have way more napkins on hand than you think you'll need (cloth, I guess, since usually, when I've come across a 'no plates' thing, it's been intended as a 'green' move): the combination of nice clothing + fried/otherwise potentially messy food + no plates is almost guaranteed to mean that at least some guests will use napkins as plates, and the absence of plates itself increases the chances of accidents requiring napkins.

No plates is because they are using another's friend house and garden as party location so they want to minimise the mess. Paper towels will be perfectly acceptable, thank you for the tip

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I would cut down on the variety and increase the quantities. Make 3 or 4 times the number of guests for each item. Include some easier to set up items: charcuterie board, cheese plate, crudités platter, smoked fish, etc. Make two types of tartlets vs. tartlets and eclairs. Simplify and try to figure out what you can do with half of the spare time that you have. Unless you have done something like this many times before, you are most likely taking on far more than you can accomplish.


Edited by curls (log)

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I would cut down on the variety and increase the quantities. Make 3 or 4 times the number of guests for each item. Include some easier to set up items: charcuterie board, cheese plate, crudités platter, smoked fish, etc. Make two types of tartlets vs. tartlets and eclairs. Simplify and try to figure out what you can do with half of the spare time that you have. Unless you have done something like this many times before, you are most likely taking on far more than you can accomplish.

I agree...most people like to sample a second bite of something they particularly liked. Only 40 of each means all will not get to try what's available....someone says "oh, X was so tasty" to a fellow guest, who then looks in vain at the spread, trying to find one for him/herself. Which brings up another point: are all of these items passed, or laid out in a buffet? If it is a buffet, count on ppl taking multiples of the same item. It's human nature....narrow the selection and increase the number of each provided.

I love eclairs and filled pastry, but they're pretty messy. Pastry cream squeezes out with every bite....unless you're making single-bite tiny versions.

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Battered deep fried anything doesn't keep well. Also, hot fish will give off an unpleasant odor. I'd eliminate it. If you feel you must have fish do something like smoked salmon on a raw vegetable base: cucumber, bell pepper cut into fancy shapes, endive, radicchio, etc.

Your asian salad shouldn't be on a cracker, they will get soggy. Also, cracker/bread bases are not ideal because they leave crumbs on the clients' clothes and cling to lipstick. Most high-end catering I have done has specified that nothing will create crumbs. Serve it on slightly hollowed english cucumber bases, or in those new mini bell peppers cut in half, or in endive leaves.

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Perhaps rice paper rolls could contain the salad? You can also cut one of the vegetables into strips and roll it around like this (picture on the left).

The Madeleines will be fine to freeze.

For fish there is always shellfish served on its shell (although you will have to provide somewhere to throw the shells).


Edited by Plantes Vertes (log)
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Most high-end catering I have done has specified that nothing will create crumbs. Serve it on slightly hollowed english cucumber bases, or in those new mini bell peppers cut in half, or in endive leaves.

Halved new potatoes, hollowed out with a melon baller, make another edible, crumbless container.

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I really like the idea of making smallish spring rolls with shrimp and vegetables. And it takes the place of the fish AND the Asian salad. I did an open house – almost finger food thing this past Christmas for the first time and found that gougeres went FAST. They freeze beautifully, too.

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For fish there is always shellfish served on its shell (although you will have to provide somewhere to throw the shells).

I think I'd be sorely tempted to buy some supermarket shrimp rings. If they were nestled amongst other offerings it might camouflage the cheesiness somewhat. That's one item done in a few minutes that may not draw raves, but is extremely unlikely to fall flat.

Or, almost as easy would be to buy the pre-cooked, shelled, deveined, frozen shrimp, thaw them in a fridge and serve them in dramatic bowls over crushed ice with a variety of dipping sauces in separate bowls. The sauces could be the stars here (and could all be done well ahead of time). I don't see that we have a dedicated cocktail sauce thread here, but surely many variations are out there.

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Be careful of rice paper rolls, spring rolls, summer rolls, etc. The rice paper tends to stick to whatever it's sitting on after a couple of hours and the exposed tops dry out -even in sealed tubs or on trays covered with plastic wrap. (as an added bonus, they also stick to plastic wrap and if left long enough, removing the wrap will tear them to shreds) We never had any luck with them unless they were made and went directly to servers in under a half-hour.

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Thanks for the wonderful tips so far. I will certainly help me.

There was no "no crumbs" requirement. It will all be laid back and relaxed, in a garden setting and no fancy clothes, not even the bride, so that gives more freedom.I have seen some nice crustini canapes at a party yesterday, may do something with that I f I can find crustini to buy. Cater at that party was making them himself but I have no time nor the cutting equipment to do it.

Regarding variety - given my kitchen/oven capacity, i'd have to make in in multiple batches so making a second batch of dough for the tartlets is same effort as making dough for the mini choux buns (at least I see it that way now).

I have a feeling that this will keep evolving and few days before the date all will fall into place. I'll report as I go :)

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You can easily make crustini - bread, olive oil and salt in a low oven if you can't find them. One canape I like is a traditional tomato bruschetta but with the addition of smoked mozzarella.

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if you are not used to doing large amounts of food , you will need to be very very aware of cleanliness when you are prepping .. Make sure you helper is also very aware of cross contamination and good food handling practices.. Danger zone times and hot food hot , cold food cold and all that good jazz.. cool down quickly anything hot you are planning to freeze so that the danger zone time is small and you can maximise the time it can be out for service. make lists and plans for transport of foods keeping them clean and at proper temperatures. a 1:10 ratio unscented household bleach to water clean solution in a spray bottle is a great disinfectant for cleaning down non-porous prep areas . you spray down and let sit for 5 mins before rinsing 1:10 means 1 part bleach to 9 parts water. CDC recommends this ratio . You could also try and find as many digital thermometers as you can borrow to keep track of things on the day. Proper reheat temps if anything needs reheating

I like the polenta triangle idea , how about putting baccala mantecato on top of them in addition to the ones with the tom sauce. http://www.google.ca/imgres?imgurl=http://www.jerseyboy.com/italian1/baccala.jpg&imgrefurl=http://blog.libero.it/LelloAcampora/6563747.html&h=768&w=1024&sz=196&tbnid=Pnb1NYr24HWgwM:&tbnh=93&tbnw=124&prev=/search%3Fq%3Dbaccala%2Bmantecato%26tbm%3Disch%26tbo%3Du&zoom=1&q=baccala+mantecato&usg=__JmT6DuabmWobcehHLpSx70_bQH0=&docid=lXBsWkFhzPF1uM&sa=X&ei=povSUfWcBKuyygHtq4CYCw&ved=0CDUQ9QEwAw&dur=461

A venetian spread made with salted codfish that is whipped with good olive oil, garlic, fresh cracked pepper and you can add and garnish with parsely.


Edited by Ashen (log)

"Why is the rum always gone?"

Captain Jack Sparrow

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You haven't mentioned if you're prepared to work throughout most of the wedding/reception. I assume because she's a good friend, you would want to enjoy the day along with her.

If you do fried food (and you want it to be of a high standard), or any kind of food that requires a la minute preparation, you're going to be spending a lot more time working than you would think.

I also would skip fried fish, and do something like smoked salmon rosettes on little squares of bread or similar with cream cheese. And the fried polenta triangles--again, unless you're making them a la minute, they're going to become oil-laden as they cool. Not so tasty, imo.

I'd skip anything that requires a dip, primarily since there's a good chance people will be double-dipping if there are no plates on which to spoon some dip.

Shrimp crackers get soggy fast. Then get messy to pick up and eat. Unless you're doing these at the last minute, I'd look for an alternative. I do like the idea of putting stuff on endive leaves or hollowed-out cucumbers. Not as much worry about things getting soggy, plus the cucumbers are very sturdy.

If you're thinking of crostini, why not get some melba toast? More convenient, they stay crisp for a decent period of time, and using them will give you more free time to spend with your friend on her special day.

If you're doing crusts, anyway, I'd consider mini quiche. I know, very ordinary, but this is a casual wedding. If paper towels are acceptable, then mini quiche should be, too.

(and mini quiche are almost always popular)

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Also. Fried food. You're not going to turn out fried items for 80 people in a domestic kitchen. I've cooked for ~20 people enough to not be overly phased by it and even then, with a quarter of the numbers you're thinking about, I would not deep fry anything. Numerous problems present themselves, even before accepting that things will get soggy (you could deal with that, to some extent, by using Trisol in your batter). It's too hands on at the last minute. Unlike the pastry shells or other things you might be making in advance, breaking deadline here means people are waiting for food or you're fucking around in the kitchen--a domestic kitchen, no less--while everyone else is having a good time. This is the same time period in which, presumably, you're finishing off other canapes. I'd listen very closely to people like Lisa that do this kind of thing on a day-to-day basis.

From catering to smaller groups I've learned:

  • If it's meant to be hot this could be a problem. This is a vote in favour of things like quiche and another vote against deep-fried anything. Small portions of anything will cool quickly. Some things (i.e. a lot of deep-fried foodstuffs) are unpleasant when lukewarm. There's also a food safety issue. Widespread food poisoning isn't a wedding gift anyone wants. If there's a 'set' dining time, like you'd have a dinner party, the issue of small portions cooling rapidly isn't a big deal. The events I've done are generally more casual, however. People might eat some time after the food has been served. Things get cold!
  • You want as much as humanely possible--and again, this is a point against deep-fried anything and maybe even salad atop a cracker-type thing (both of which will get soggy when exposed to dressing for more than a few minutes)--out of the way before guests arrive. In those last few minutes you do not want to be losing your shit. You know how the industry types around here and guys like Bourdain talk about being 'in the weeds'? Catering to a crowd larger than you've (presumably) catered for before in a domestic kitchen with lots of people in the goddamn way (this is bound to happen, given the nature of the event) is not a time to be cooking at the last minute. Last minute assembly should be kept to a bare minimum. In fact, if you can get away with basically no last minute assembly--aside from maybe taking stuff from the fridge and parking it on a table--then so much the better.
  • Something is bound to go wrong. You'll forget something. Something will take too long. Something will fall apart. If you've got little to no last minute assembly this problem probably isn't going to be significant. You can give it your full attention. If you're too busy fucking around with one hundred other tasks, tho', the problems snowball.
  • As for semi-last minute stuff--i.e. things done on the day--you want to spread it out. You need to be able to clean as you go. When the true last minute stuff needs to be done you need a clear, clean work area (for health and safety reasons but also so you have actual space in which to work). I'd also be getting someone to discourage people from entering the kitchen. Even catering to a group as small as 20, one of the biggest pains in the arse is having guests float into the kitchen to see how everything is going, asking if you need a hand (which they probably will, given the nature of your situation), stop for a chat to you or your lackeys, etc. Having someone politely shoo out unwanted randoms is important. You're going to be more stressed than you expect and won't need people under foot, particularly if they're dropping off items (booze or whatever) in that exact spot where you planned to place a platter of food. The kitchen should be a no-go zone. For your sake I hope it's not smack bang in the middle of the path from the front door to the backyard. When I cater here I get my partner to shoo quests away.
  • A helper is someone you like and trust. If they're a window licker then they're no helper at all. Well-intentioned as they might be they will be an added stressor if they clearly have no idea what they're doing or have frustrating work habits. For instance, when I've catered for people I'll happily wait for someone I trust to, say, pull the pulled pork (if I'm occupied elsewhere). One time one of my partner's friends called up a couple hours before the event and wanted to prep a salad at my place. I stupidly said, 'Sure.' I discovered he had this wonderful habit of rapidly doing an about face from the bench, 20 cm cook's knife in hand, when he wanted to chat with someone ... He meant well but, goddamn, with a couple of dishes taking longer than expected to assemble this was not the

If I was cooking in my own kitchen (home ground advantage, right?), even with the help of someone I know whose abilities exceed my own (hi, Keith_W and benthescientist), I wouldn't cook ....

  1. Panko breaded deep fried fish segments with wasabi mayonnaise and sweet soy fluid gel
  2. Deep fried polenta triangles with tomato basil sauce and parmesan shavings
  3. Spinach cheese roll - unsure of what you mean by this. I hope it's not something where, if I'm eating it, a money shot of molten ricotta is likely to spurt onto my clothing.
  4. Chorizo madelaines - this depends. How many madeline pans do you have, man? I have a 12-indent pan. I'd want four for this task of yours, altho' you could get by with fewer if you're basically prepping them entirely in advance and can blow an evening on the task while negotiating a bottle of wine. If you're doing it last minute, tho', unless you can get a lackey to keep an eye on them and have multiple pans on the go at once ... forget it. If you're on your own and only have a couple of pans, #4 and #5 would put you in a patch of weeds so high you wouldn't see sunlight.
  5. Sun dried tomato madelaines
  6. Kroepoek/rice crackers with asian salad topping (carrot salad a la green papaya spiced, with and without peanuts) -
  7. Lemon meringue tartlets - a winner
  8. Macarons (raspberry) - winner
  9. Eclairs or choux buns with flavoured pastry cream (spices, asian maybe, passion fruit..) - winner.

I like the idea of the cheese and meat platter suggested earlier. I'd consider a fruit one, too, with an emphasis on fruits that won't dramatically oxidise in tjhe space of a few minutes. You said casual, right? I'd rethink anything involving potatoes. Yeah, I know, potato salad in all its forms ... but in most cases a cold potato is a sad thing. And boiling enough potatoes for 80 people (figuring on 80 portions with every one demanding one half of a potato I'd boil 50 potatoes just in case I dropped a couple)? Madness. And I know. I've roasted potatoes for ~50 people before. Getting the water to come to a boil, constantly moving the potatoes around (in four 'regular-sized') domestic stock pots and pans) so some didn't cook dramatically faster than others in same pan ... man, that sucked. And took more time than you'd expect. Granted, I was forced to use electric stoves (I also had access to more than one stove--but again, this wasn't my kitchen and I was learning the quirks of someone else's kit as I went). Me? I'd scribble the potatoes.

Something I would add, personally, is something I've cooked (in modified form) from the Alinea cookbook for a group of ~40: the pork belly dish. I suggest not so much the particular dish but the idea of it. The pork belly I cooked sous vide. It came to my workplace still in the bag. The 'salad' element of the dish (apples and cucumber, from memory) I'd sealed in a bag the previous night to protect from oxygen. The sauce I'd already bottled in a squeezy-bottle. I intentionally purchased twice as many Chinese soup spoons (a cliche, yeah, but easy to work with) as I figured I'd need. Serving was simple. I cut the pork belly into cubes before reheating in the microwave. This was very fast. We all know how easy it is to cut cold pork as opposed to hot meat. ~40 portions took all of 5 minutes to knock together by myself. One element of the dish that would've involved some risky last minute work was scribbled altogether, the flavour added into the sauce (yeah, I lost a textural component but I'm not running the Alinea kitchen with a team of lackeys backing me up). I wasn't rushing, even tho' I had a clear (and close) deadline. That's what the 'last few minutes' should look like: not you fussing over a deep-fryer, as that's when you'll have an accident. The efficiency only came about through a great deal of trial and error.


Edited by ChrisTaylor (log)
  • Like 1

Chris Taylor

Host, eG Forums - ctaylor@egstaff.org

 

I've never met an animal I didn't enjoy with salt and pepper.

Melbourne
Harare, Victoria Falls and some places in between

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Now that you've told us the wedding is casual dress in a garden, with no plates, I think you'll get more useful suggestions. A layered smoked salmon (or veggie) terrine, made with cream cheese or chèvre, can be made in a fairly deep sheet pan, then easily cutt into bite sized portions. No crumbs, can be made in advance, and safe for quite a while at room temp.

Crostini do not hold well for any length of time, unless the topping is dry....think cheese spread rather than something wet like tomatoes.

Food on picks will help to overcome the no plates obstacle. Skewered shrimp in a remoulade, cherry tomatoes and fresh mozzarella interleaved with basil (caprese on a stick), or grilled veggies dressed with a spicy vinaigrette, prosciutto threaded with melon, watermelon and chunks of feta.....many "salad on a stick" possibilities abound.

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Great advice, I really appreciate it, especially the hygiene and throughput points. I should clarify the plan a bit more perhaps.

All cooking, baking and prep will be done in my kitchen, over the coming weeks and also on the day of the party. I can spend few evening every week preparing and I have a large freezer to store the goods.

Wedding party is about 3 min walk from my house. Plan is to take all the components ready (in boxes and piping bags) and only assemble them on trays on location. Everything will be served cold, no reheating nor frying.

I get the point on the rice crackers, think I will replace them by cucumber or carrot rolls. Plan was to serve cold deep fried fish pieces but if that tastes yucky, I'll change it. Polenta holds pretty well after deep frying and will be served cold. Got to go now, but will keep reading your advice

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