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Self-Catering a Wedding for 100?

My fiance and I are getting married this fall at my parents' home in rural PA. Due to limited catering options in the area we are considering doing the cooking ourselves. We have been told that this is crazy, but we think we can do it!

Our proposed menu (everything will be served as a buffet) is as follows:

Cheeses
Fruit
Olives etc.

Ratatouille
Beef Bourguignon

Wild Rice and/or Potatoes
Lentil Salad
Green Salad
Baguette

We are confident cooks and have lots of help lined up. But I have some concerns about the ratatouille and the beef....

Ratatouille - I have made Julia Child's recipe in the past with good results. But I would love recommendations for recipes that would be less labor intensive/easier to make in bulk.

Beef Bourguignon - I know there is no way around the browning of the meat here, but any advice on streamlining the process would be great. We are also considering doing braised short ribs instead because of the lower chance of the meat being tough or dried out. Any recipe recommendations or tips?

We plan to make both these dishes in advance and having a team of helpers to heat and serve them on the wedding day... How long can I keep them in the fridge? Will they hold up to freezing?

Thanks!

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  1. you will have fridge, storage and oven space for all this?

    i highly recommend the switch to short ribs. easy to make ahead and yes you can freeze it well ahead of time. it will not suffer from being reheated.

    is the ratatouille because you're expecting lots of vegetarians? it can be very messy to eat as a buffet item and doesn't seem to "go" with your meat. i think of it as a late summer/southern france kinda thing. a vegetarian lasagne, perhaps mushroom-based, might be a better choice? also something that can be made well ahead, and will be just as good at room temp.

    i am not a fan of green salads on buffets. they take up lots of space on a plate, the dressing slides onto other food -- bah. lol. perhaps a platter/salad of marinated veggies, like artichoke hearts and peppers? this can be purchased, or made ahead, and will not require heating. it also sits out just fine, unlike salad which wilts.

    will there be seating for everybody for the meal? if so, you may want to consider a bread-basket for each table instead of baguettes which go stale very quickly once cut. if not, you still might want to consider a big basket of rolls instead.

    good luck!!

    2 Replies
    1. re: hotoynoodle

      Thank you! I think you are right about skipping the green salad b/c of the wilting. I like the lasagna idea too. It does sound much easier, though we were hoping to keep a french-y theme, and I liked the idea of having two stew type dishes, and serving starches on the side. Hmmm. Very useful advice!

      1. re: lilyrose

        i figured it was a "frenchy" theme. ;) but the beef is winter and the ratatouille is summer. the latter is also red and drippy -- not something people appreciate when they are dressed up.

        mushrooms make me think fall. if you want the starch on the side, you can make a mushroom gratin, with gruyere, that can be made ahead and successfully re-heated. a gratin of cabbage and apples would be nice too.

        braised beef with a rich red wine sauce is standard french family fare. they might be more likely to use beef cheeks, but no reason not to use short ribs.

        roasted potatoes would complement both and they hold well.

    2. Not to mention large bowls and pans.

      1 Reply
      1. re: sr44

        We are going to have 2 gas ranges, 2 refrigerators, and a chest freezer on premesis. We are trying to work out the cookware and serving dishes. We will probably do a combination of rental and borrowing. We think (hope?) that even if we have to buy a giant restaraunt pan we will still spend less than if we used a caterer.

      2. Another think I've been thinking about: We might not have room to reheat everthing all at the last minute. Does anyone have experience with using coolers to keep things warm? I have had tamales that were kept this way, and I was wondering if I could heat pans of food and then stack them in a cooler to stay warm while I heat the 2nd round. Are there food safety issues with doing this? Will hot pans melt the inside of the cooler? Maybe I can use those disposable foil pans?

        3 Replies
        1. re: lilyrose

          Can you borrow a few really big rice cookers - mine has an extended keep warm setting and makes 10 cups of rice. It's a Neuro Fuzzy I got cheap on Craig's List. It's easy to bring places and you can cook any type of rice in it- not rizotto but mixes are fine.
          My favorite buffet food is Chicken Mirabel as it's made in advance and served warm to room temp. Costco sells hotel pan size aluminum pans dirt cheap.

           
          1. re: lilyrose

            you can rent "hot boxes" of various sizes from party rental places. all metal and heated with sterno or electric. they will hold food safely for quite some time.

            you can buy super cheap disposable pans at christmas tree shops too, or for a nicer presentation rent chafing dishes.

            1. re: lilyrose

              You can use cooler boxes. I've done so in the past. I actually dipped all the contents of the pan straight inside the cooler box. It looks ugly, but it was out of sight of other people. Whenever we needed to fill up the bowls, we would scoop directly out of the cooler box (again out of sight).

              I think chafing dishes are actually a better idea

            2. We self-catered our wedding for 125 plus. We divided the cooking over several houses, and each location did one or two dishes.

              That said, we did not attempt to serve hot food. Instead, we did fancy sandwiches and salads. The cooking of hot foods, then cooling down, then reheating so as not to accidentally poison someone--it's not easy. The day of your wedding neither you nor the people closest to you are going to have a lot of time time to be hands on. Do you have people who can manage without you?

              If you want to do hot food, I totally understand, but I would suggest trying to go with some foods that can be held and served cold or at room temperature and just a few hot dishes. I might be wrong, but rice sounds like it is likely to go off the rails and become a frustrating disaster--potatoes are more forgiving.

              1 Reply
              1. re: sub_english

                Rice is actually fairly easy, just make sure people have a spoon to eat it with :)
                Seriously, electric rice steamers have a "warm" button that keeps the rice at the required temperature for hours. Alternatively, you can cook the rice for 10-15 minutes in plenty water, and then put in colanders over a pan with boiling water and keep it steaming. It will need to steam for probably 20 or 30 minutes, but it 's very forgiving for longer steaming times (as long as you don't run out of water)

              2. I think your menu generally sounds lovely, however, I would suggest a little heavier on the apps. People are used to mingling and grazing during the cocktail portion of a wedding reception, I think, and adding some meats/salami, a veggie/dip platter, spiced nuts by the bar (purchased from Trader Joes to make it easier), and some other light pickings would probably be a good idea. Use no-cook options here to make it easier, too.

                Also, I would recommend trying to enlist the advice of a professional, even if they don't do the actual catering. Call the Institute of Culinary Education or similar school and ask if a recent grad or teacher would advise you. Food safety for 125 people, especially when they are guests at your wedding and reheating is involved, is a very big deal and different from just a regular dinner party, I would think. Maybe a professional can give you tips, suggest menu items, or help you plan strategies for serving that will ensure it goes off without a hitch. I would think someone would spend 2-3 hours with you for $200 bucks or so, well worth it to be armed with a great plan, I would think.....

                Congratulations and good luck!!

                1 Reply
                1. re: jenhen2

                  We hired a local caterer to make a couple of things and to manage the kitchen and buffet. The helpers were all family and friends. As a wedding present, my sister, BIL and niece cooked the main dish and preferred not to spend much time at the reception itself.

                  Have you looked at electric roasters for keeping the food warm? That's what our church/grange uses. You can google their use for keeping food warm. Perhaps you can borrow or rent a couple.