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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:

Olives etc.

Beef Bourguignon

Wild Rice and/or Potatoes
Lentil Salad
Green Salad

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?


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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.

                2. What's your plan for serving/keeping everything warm? I've never had a problem with boeuf bourguignon being dry and i think that's a great idea since it freezes and reheats beautifully.

                  I'd take out the olives as well, they feel a bit too summery. To save yourself a bit of time, with the cheese plate serve dried fruits, nuts, and grapes. That way you won't have to cut the accompaniments for your cheese platter.

                  As a side, I'd recommend a celeriac, parsnip or cauliflower puree. They would hold the sauce well and can be made ahead of time and reheated. Much easier to keep warm than mashed potatoes. As a vegetable, I would do roasted brussels sprouts and roasted carrots tossed in a bit of maple syrup. They'll keep warm fairly well. Also, I don't know if you have vegetarians, but a mushroom ragout would be a great vegetarian dish to go with the menu.

                  The lentil salad is brilliant! This is very doable since you can set everything up ahead of time in warming trays. WOuld love to hear more about how you plan to execute.

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: Dcfoodblog

                    I plan to have all cooking done a few days before the wedding. I (and my fiance, mom, sister, and a few friends) will probably do the entrees at least a week ahead and freeze them. Then do the lentil salad and potatoes a few days out. We are planning to hire at least 3 people who are not guests at the wedding to set up, heat things, keep the buffet tidy etc.

                    We are going to have a self-serve keg of beer and just put wine, champagne, and water on the tables.

                    Our wedding is in very early October in southern PA, so we are expecting leaves to still be on the trees, etc. The weather could go either way at that time of year (average is in the mid 60s) so we're okay with some late summer elements.

                    We have a number of vegetarians attending. I like the idea of the mushroom ragout, but I am assuming that many people will try both entrees since it is a buffet and I am trying to think of something with a brighter flavor to complement the beef. I feel like the mushroom and beef together could be a little too rich.

                    Dried fruit and nuts are a great idea. I'd like to know more about the vegetable purees you mention. Any chance one of them could be frozen? I'd love to find a starch I could freeze, but can't think of any. How well will the brussels sprouts reheat? I think I may have to end up doing roasted veggies that can be served at room temp since we already have 2 entrees and a starch going in the oven that day. We will have 2 ovens, but still will have to do a couple of batches I think. As for keeping things warm we are trying to decide wether to rent some of those hot boxes or not. I have been looking into using coolers to keep things warm since I can easily bor
                    row a few of those. It looks like I could count on getting a few hours out of those, but I'll have to do a test run to be sure. We are planning to rent chafing dishes for the hot items on the buffet table, just need the hot boxes or coolers for holding everything to temp before it gets put out.

                    1. re: lilyrose

                      the root veggie purees won't freeze well, but will keep safely for several days.

                      if you par-cook the brussels, they will reheat just fine.

                      dress the lentil salad day of or it will get soggy.

                      roasted carrots and peppers will brighten up the table and serve just fine at room temp.

                      1. re: lilyrose

                        I've never had a problem freezing the purees I've made. Make them for Thanksgiving weeks ahead and freeze and haven't had any issues. And for a vegetarian entree, if you want a brighter flavor, what about a veggie tagine?

                        1. re: Dcfoodblog

                          are these with cream? doesn't it separate out?

                          1. re: hotoynoodle

                            I don't use cream when I initially puree them. I put the cream in after it's been defrosted if it looks too thick. I just add a rich fruity olive oil (or truffle oil if you want to knock it out of the park). Didn't have any problems with separating.

                            1. re: Dcfoodblog

                              ah, ok, makes perfect sense that way.

                    2. My sister catered our wedding, which was only 20 people, and she did the hard stuff ahead of time, but let me tell you, she and the best man still spent hours in the kitchen arranging on platters etc. And we didn't even have any hot food.I thought I'd be in a position to help, but no.

                      1. On braising, you could try this--I learned a lot of good information from other posters in the thread. And, it's so much easier than browning.


                        Thomas Keller has a ratatouille recipe that you bake in the oven so that might be easier than Julia Chlid's to do in bulk.

                        1. We catered our wedding which was also in NJ while we worked in MA. Organization is key as well as having someone to set up to serve and clean up!!

                          For an easy ratatouille recipe that is baked I have used this one. http://chocolateandzucchini.com/archi... I think it is easy, flexible and very forgiving.


                          1. One thing I would suggest you get before you go charging into this is a large commercial size roll of "heavy duty" foil from costco, Sams etc.

                            1. The beef bourguignon is a great idea, it can be prepared in advance, and frozen. I have served this with broad egg noodles, that have been mixed with parsley and garlic butter. A rice side would be nice as well.