A wedding story (part 5)

As I've noted several times before in this story, we are planning to save money by doing our own cooking. And, yes, there are times I wish we were just handing a chunk of money over to a caterer! However, because we've got a number of friends who are willing to pitch in for the cooking and serving, we think we can pull it off.

Do-it-yourself Catering
There is no question that going this route adds to the amount of stress busy brides and grooms will already experience. Schedules also must be flexible to allow for buying, preparing, storing and transporting the food from the preparation site to the reception site. But, as I hope we'll demonstrate, the money a couple can save by doing their own reception cooking can be significant. We are both graduate students, and we've set and been fairly successful in keeping to a limited budget. Because we're students, we also have flexible schedules. And we wanted to have a fairly large guest list, so this was the way to go for us. I must emphasize, however, that before a couple makes a commitment to doing their own cooking, they sit down and weigh the options carefully.

My main recommendation is to be sure you have a number of friends you can count on to help with the cooking and the serving--and remember, the day of the wedding you will have to turn most of these duties over to those people. We have at least six people, and probably more, upon whom this duty rests. Although we already have several "cooking days" planned, on the day of the wedding, they'll be on their own to get the food over to the reception site, get it heated and set up, and serve it. We trust these individuals completely, and without such an arrangement, I don't think we could do it.

Now, the fun stuff!

The Menu
As I've discussed in previous parts of this story, the menu will consist of:

tomato-basil soup
Chinese potstickers
chicken wings
cheese and cracker tray
vegetables and dip
antipasto tray--roasted and marinated vegetables and cheeses (still a maybe)
sandwich tray--several meats, cheeses and bread choices, with condiments
pickles and olives
coffee, tea and punch
wedding cake for dessert (being made in its entirety by a friend as a gift)

Much of the preparation for all these dishes will take place two or three weeks before the wedding. The soup and chicken wings can be made and frozen, the vegetables and cheeses can be set to marinate for the antipasto tray (if we do it), and the potstickers can be assembled and partially cooked, and steamed the day of the reception. These dishes will be the most work. We will probably mix the dip, chop the vegetables, and slice the meats and cheeses the Thursday and Friday afternoon before the wedding. Friday night will be the rehearsal and the rehearsal dinner (at a restaurant--we're not THAT crazy!). Saturday morning someone will pick up the bread so it's very fresh.

Costs
We had budgeted $1600 for food costs. Calculating for 250 guests, we figured that we could spend about $6.40 per guest for food (this wouldn't even get us appetizers from most caterers). When we were first deciding to do our own cooking, we did some preliminary cost estimates to determine if doing our own cooking would really be worth all the work.

Here's my "scribble sheet" on costs:

250 guests; estimated serving per guest:

Four chicken wings
Four potstickers
One cup of soup
Two sandwiches (two rolls, four pieces meat, two pieces cheese)
Condiments (mayonnaise, Miracle Whip, mustard--Dijon and yellow)
Veggies, relishes, etc.
Antipasto tray (?)
Cake

Then I did some estimating on the major food items, the wings and the potstickers:
1000 chicken wings (50/bag--20 bags @ $8.00=$160+other ingredients: onions, garlic, vinegar, soy sauce, etc., est. $5/batch; $250+160=$410)
1000 potstickers (50 skins/pkg--20 pkgs @ $1.50=$30 for skins; 3/4 lb. pork per 50=15 lbs pork @ $3.00/lb.=$45 for pork=$75 for skins/pork+other ingredients: Napa cabbage, sesame oil, peanut oil, garlic/ginger, etc., est. $5/batch; $100+75=$175)
250 cups of soup (4 cups= est. $5; so est. $350)

So the three largest dishes in our menu will cost an estimated $935. I think the $5 estimate on extra ingredients per batch is a little high, because those ingredients are things like one onion, one clove of garlic, a teaspoon of this, a tablespoon of that. But I used a higher number at the time because I wanted to get an idea of what kinds of costs we were up against. At this point, after we've bought some of the ingredients, I would feel comfortable reducing that number to about $3.50.

The food estimate per guest is likely to be a little high, too. However, everything freezes, so if we end up making more than we need, we'll have dinners for the next few weeks. There are many people who can take food home as well. I'd rather have planned for too much than come up short the day of the reception.

We will buy whole cheeses, salamis, hams and turkey breasts from a deli and slice them on Ann's slicer. Vegetables will come from our local farmer's market, and we are able to take advantage of quantity bargains at Sam's Club. We will also rent roasters for the hot dishes and serving dishes from a local rental shop.

This is just a small sample of the budgeting we went through. I encourage couples who are thinking along these lines to think about the numbers and whether it's worth the extra hassle to do it themselves. We strongly believe that it's worth it for us.

Recipes
I'd like to provide a few of the recipes we're making for the dinner, in hopes of inspiring other couples to think about this option!

Doug's Tomato-Basil Soup
(Note: This particular written-down version hasn't been tested for exact amounts yet. Doug makes the soup from memory, and he groaned when I asked him for amounts! So feel free to alter to taste.)
1 onion, chopped
1-2 tbsp. butter
1 clove garlic, chopped
1/4 tsp. oregano
1 tbsp. soy sauce
1/4 c. white wine
1-12 oz. can whole tomatoes, with juice
1 extra fresh tomato
1 tbsp. vinegar or lemon juice
1 tbsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. basil
1/2 tsp. pesto sauce (a basil and garlic sauce, can substitute more basil)
salt and pepper

Saute onion in butter until transparent. Add garlic, oregano and soy sauce and saute another minute. Add white wine, and simmer 3 minutes to reduce. Then add canned and fresh tomatoes; mash with potato masher until desired consistency. Add rest of ingredients, stir and simmer for 5-8 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Makes about four cups (I think!).

Ann's Chicken Wings
(This has been tried--many times!)

5 lb. bag chicken wings (like Tyson's)
1 large onion
1 c. soy sauce
2 tbsp. garlic, chopped (about 4 cloves)
1 tsp. ketchup or tomato paste
1/2 c. vinegar
1/2 c. Worchestershire sauce
1 c. honey
white wine or water to bring up level of liquid, if needed; watch during cooking

Put wings (still frozen) into a baking dish. Mix other ingredients in separate bowl, and pour over the wings. Bake in 350 deg. oven, and baste every 15 minutes or so with liquid from pan. If liquid starts to go down too far, add a little white wine or water--don't let the bottom burn. Bake until meat starts to fall off bones (about an hour).

Guo-Teh (Pork Potstickers)
(Courtesy of Pam Lim, as transcribed by Marian Bender Lim.)

50 potsticker wraps
1-1/2 c. finely minced Chinese (Napa) cabbage
1 tbsp. salt
3/4 lb. ground pork
1 c. finely minced green onion
2 tbsp. soy sauce
1 tbsp. rice wine (I've substituted rice wine vinegar)
2 tbsp. sesame oil
1-1/2 tsp. minced ginger
1-1/2 tsp. minced garlic
1 tbsp. cornstarch
Oil for frying (I recommend peanut)
Sauce: soy sauce and vinegar

Toss minced cabbage in a bowl with salt. Let sit 30 min. Squeeze water out of cabbage; the cabbage should be very dry. Add rest of ingredients to cabbage and mix well. Place about 1 tsp. of filling in center of potsticker wrap. Brush edge of wrap with a little warm water. Crimp edges together, or use a dumpling crimper (available in cooking stores). Heat 1 tbsp. oil (best is peanut) in frying pan. Brown both sides of potsticker slightly. Add 1/4 c. of water to pan and cover immediately. Reduce heat to low and let steam 10 minutes. Serve warm, with a sauce made of soy sauce and vinegar, in about equal quantities or to taste. Makes 50 potstickers.