The Challenge: Design, cook, and implement a dinner menu for a backyard wedding with 80 guests and a budget of $1000. Today we debut the tentative menu.
I met with Kyra (bride), Matt (groom), and Dianne (groom’s Mom) about the catering. It was an easy meeting. Kyra is an easy bride. Not a trace of bridezilla to be found. Matt and Dianne are also pleasant, relaxed people. Nothing about the wedding is going to be super fussy. The wedding is going to be held in a friends backyard in July. Kyra is wearing a knee length white lace dress she has that she is going to do some alterations on herself. All of the wedding party gets to pick their own clothes with the guidelines that what they pick be colorful and festive. Simple, but things should be nice. Kyra, Matt, and Dianne really have only a few major concerns: throw a nice party, make sure people are well fed and that they have fun.
Rule number one about catering a wedding: don’t cater for nightmare people. It’s so much easier with nice chill people!
All this made coming up with a general plan for the menu really easy. We quickly decided that the menu should be either picnic or bbq-esque, as it is being held in a backyard. Kyra had originally been thinking finger food. (As was I originally.) But everyone quickly agreed with my point that we should probably serve dinner because the wedding will take place in the evening and guests will likely be expecting a real meal after the ceremony considering the time.
Another thing we really needed to keep in mind was that Matt is a vegetarian and some of the guests will likely be as well. I knew we will really need to think hard to come up with a nice picnic or bbq vegetarian main dish.
Budget of course will be an ongoing concern, as will food logistics (more explanation on this later).
By the end of the meeting we decided on a buffet. (To recap we will have most guests standing while eating cocktail party style. So obvi…buffet.) We tentatively decided pulled pork would make a nice non-vegitarian main dish and perhaps veggie and tofu kabobs might work for the vegetarians.
Matt was hoping we could manage to sneak deviled eggs into the menu as it was his favorite picnic food.
We had decided with the limited budget it might be good to serve something like sangria for alcohol. Though Matt had been really hoping to have a keg as well. (He’s really into craft beer.) I actually had two pony kegs of craft beer as part of the alcohol served at my own wedding and remembered that each keg cost something around $80-$100, and advised the happy couple that kegs unfortunately were probably not our best bet, budget wise. I suggested it might be wiser to do beer by the bottle and maybe offer a wider selection. Though Matt was disappointed about not having his keg he agreed and decided it would be quite fun to pick out all the beer. I am honestly still concerned about fitting beer into the budget, especially craft beer as it’s certainly more expensive then other alcohol choices. But, as I price things out Kyra and Matt can decide what to do on that score.
As for cake I had a few ideas I could look into: a friend of a friend who does cakes professionally, a nice sheet cake from a grocery store bakery, me baking/doing a desert table, and a local bakery I like. But I will discuss this at greater length in another post. Dessert and cake deserve it’s own post for sure.
That was about all we figured out at the meeting. I told them I would think, look at recipes, and get back to them with a tentative menu. For the next few days I drove my husband nuts talking about wedding food. Even when we were at Lowe’s to pick up a set of blinds for the office window I managed to find a Southern cookbook. I ended up wandering around the store with it and suggesting menu items to my husband. I came up with a general idea of what I should do and then tweaked it, browsed recipes, then talked to my Mom about my ideas, tweaked more, browsed more recipes, and this is what I finally ended up with:
- Spiral Sliced Glazed Ham– Originally we has all been thinking pulled pork, but as the rest of the menu came together it: a. Ended up not quite fitting with the other dishes. b. Ended up being one of only two dishes that needed to be served hot. I realized if I could eliminate all hot dishes as serve an entirely cold/room temperature spread I could cut out having to purchase anything to keep food hot at the buffet table. I really like the idea of glazing the ham a little differently then normal to make it a little unique. But I do want to be sure not to go “too far out there”. I personally am of the opinion its wise to serve food for weddings that most people generally like. I’m a little nervous about cost. But I’m thinking if I purchase around Easter and freeze them, I might nab a good price.
- Chicken Salad– I really felt like we needed at least two meat dishes. Originally when we had been thinking pulled pork as the first dish we tossed around and ruled out the idea of ribs (too expensive per lb. when you have to feed so many people). I also had thought of roast chicken, thinking something kind of “French picnic” but that didn’t work well for eating with hands or a fork only. I finally settled on chicken salad, which I feel most people like, is cost effective, and generally fairly easy to make. I browsed recipes and have a list to try out and perhaps adapt from but right now, creamy chicken salad with tarragon sounds the most promising to me.
- Ratatouille– This will be the vegetarian main dish. This was a challenging item for me. I am totally a carnivore so I always have a hard time trying to come up with a veggies only main dish. We had considered veggie kabobs, with or without tofu, but what concerned me the most about this idea was space. Kabobs take up a lot of room for not actually being very much food. I have limited refrigerator space at my house, and to cook this all myself I will have to start cooking a day or two in advance of the wedding. Obviously I will have to store all cooked food in the fridge until it’s actually needed. Kabobs for 80 people probably won’t fit in my fridge by itself let alone with all the other food I’ll be cooking. Big logistical no no. Also kabobs are extremely time consuming to make compared to other dishes. I also tossed around the idea of grilled veggies of some sort but just wasn’t loving it. I started browsing online and found Smitten Kitchen’s ratatouille’s ratatouille and I knew I had found my dish. It’s gorgeous. It’s simple. Ratatouille can be served hot or cold…As long as it passes the taste test when I make it, we are good to go. Actually thats not entirely true. I’m a little nervous on what the cost of this dish will end up being since it has so many expensive veggies in it, it will add up quickly.
- Potato Salad– I was actually thinking potato salad right away. It’s totally picnic, but, I actually loath potato salad. So I wanted to do herbed roasted potatoes. But then there was that be able to serve everything cold thing, so I came back to potato salad. My sister in law has a pretty good recipe considering it is in fact potato salad, so I might give that a try. I’ll browse around and see if I see any more intriguing recipes…like this which I found while taking a break from writing this post.
- Pasta Salad– So this one is kind of obvious for a picnic right? I’d like to stay away from mayo based recipes and try not to get over oily. I think the challenge here will be finding or developing a really good recipe. I have a pesto pasta salad in mind that has promise, I also think this farmers market pasta salad had promise. When I look it over it makes me wonder about substituting it completely for the ratatouille if a taste tests proves it’s good.
- White Bean with Tomatoes and Rosemary– Originally I had been thinking baked beans to go with the pulled pork. But I wanted to come up with a little bit more of a sophisticated version of the dish. So I was thinking, white beans! I found this combo somewhere or another a long time ago but don’t remember where. It sounded perfect though. I’m not sure about serving it cold though, so we’ll see after the taste test.
- Green Bean and Feta salad– I have a lightened up version of Paula Dean’s Broccoli salad from my mother in law. It’s like a coleslaw, but made with broccoli and has bacon. It’s really yummy. But my Mom pointed out a lot of people hate broccoli. I feel like it might not be a good idea to serve something a lot of people hate for the wedding. Perhaps they won’t even try it! So maybe a green bean with feta and almonds dish? I will still be browsing on this one..
- Watermelon Wedges– You have to have fruit…but on a budget I’m not sure fruit salad for 80 will work out well, so I’m thinking watermelon wedges.
- Bread! Bread! Bread! I’m not sure what is the best type yet, but there has to be plenty of some type of roll or croissant or both. Every meal requires bread, even a picnic wedding.
So that’s the basic rundown for now. Obviously there are still some holes to fill in. I don’t know exactly what dishes I’ll be doing for everything, but thats the general idea. The next step will be testing recipes. Once I have completed this and have a fairly firm menu I will be estimating quantities and pricing things out. Stay tuned!