A Homey Budget Wedding Meal for 120: How the Cooking Got Done

Homemade Weddings

My younger brother got married this past weekend, and as I've shown you previously, I took on the challenge of feeding dinner to 120 family and guests. I told you the menu, and the plan, and tomorrow I'll show you just how everything turned out. Today? Today I'm going to describe just what it took to cook all that food. And just for fun, I'll show you what my fridge looked like when packed with food for 120!

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Prepping the marinade for the chicken.

I'll walk through each of the days leading up to the wedding, and give a brief overview of the time I spent working on the wedding food.

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Just some of the chicken I made for this wedding. 65 pounds of boneless, skinless chicken thighs!

Saturday

Held a detailed planning session of the whole wedding and reception - My brother, his fiancé, and two friends who were helping coordinate the whole wedding came over to my house, and we spent four solid hours going through every detail of what would happen when. The menu I was going to serve felt a little hazy, still, but I tried to really break down what it would be, and who would be helping with each piece. I was very concerned at this point about having enough help, but I was assured there were 6 friend volunteers who would help prep, serve tables, and clean up.

I also came down with the flu that weekend, so the rest of Saturday and Sunday were a total wash. Monday was devoted entirely to work, and I didn't really get back to full wedding planning until Tuesday.

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White cheddar and rosemary crackers cooling on the countertop.

Tuesday - Prep Cooking

Finalized the menu - This was the day when I truly finalized the menu and hashed out my plans.

Baked cheese crackers - I baked mini homemade cheese crackers for the pre-dinner snacks. In hindsight this might have taken a bit too long. I may have been better off just buying something nice.

Baked mini chocolate-peanut butter cookies - I wanted some "side-of-the-saucer" cookies to go with the pudding. These were a recipe from Dorie Greenspan and totally delicious.

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Lots, and lots, and lots of dishes were washed...

Wednesday - Oops

• Still recovering from the flu. Accidentally fell asleep early (oops!) and got almost nothing done this night. Very frustrating, but probably the best thing for my energy later in the week.
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Prepping the beans.

Thursday - Shopping and Prep Cooking

Picked up drink carafes and disposable pans - Disposable pans are generally really necessary for catering big events. I bought about 30 deep, wide foil pans (I think they each held at least 10 quarts, but I don't remember the exact size). I also bought carafes to put the drinks in. I'll probably sell some of these or give them away. (They cost $4 apiece at the restaurant supply house, so 24 came to about $100.)

Made cookie dough - I made sablé dough for more side-of-the-saucer cookies.

Planned the grocery shopping - This is the big piece of planning that often intimidates people. How do you figure out how much to buy? I planned for about 1/2 pound of meat per person, 1 ounce of salad per head, a couple rolls each, and about 1 cup of beans. Plus a little buffer on each. As you'll see in the post tomorrow, we had plenty of leftovers so this worked out well. I went through each recipe or recipe outline and carefully calculated how much of each ingredient I would need. Some I would round down; others I rounded up. I assumed, for instance, I would just need extra oil for various things, so I bought a large bottle. Other things, like salt, I knew I didn't need (I always have a huge box of kosher salt in the pantry). I organized the shopping list into categories, then off I went...

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The beans, ready to go in the oven.

Did the grocery shopping - I dread shopping for this kind of event. It's the most draining part of the whole shebang. The sheer amount of hauling and rearranging that's involved totally wears me out! I was also really worried about staying in the budget. I finally decided to just join Costco and buy everything there, and that worked like a charm. I found nearly everything there (with some strange exceptions — no dried beans, Costco? Really?) and came in under budget. My kind sister came along to help me drag the enormous cart through the aisles and load up the car. My husband helped us unload at home, spreading the physical work out very nicely.

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My two massive Costco shopping carts.

Roasted almonds - After the shopping I didn't have a lot of energy left, but I did roast the almonds.

Soaked the beans - I put the beans out to soak, too.

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The beans, out of the oven and cooling.

Friday - Cooking Day & Rehearsal Dinner

I took the day off work on Friday (mostly, that is — it's very hard to take a full day away!) and focused on cooking all day. This was the big day, starting at 9am and ending at, um, 6am. I do wish I could have spread this out over two full days. But, for what it's worth, here's how it all worked out.

In the morning I...

Baked about 150 sablés — a great recipe from Dorie Greenspan.

Prepped the chicken - I hauled all 65 pounds of chicken up to the kitchen from the fridge in the basement, took the chicken out of its packaging, made a huge batch of garlic marinade, and piled the chicken together with bacon and marinade in deep pans. This took at least a couple hours.

Made the beans - I sautéed a large amount of onion, garlic, and celery (in batches), added diced tomatoes and rosemary, and stirred it together in the large pans with the soaked beans. I topped them off with water, covered the pans, and baked them for a couple hours or until tender. This took longer than I anticipated, and wrangling those pans full of beans was messy and a little dangerous. (You have no idea how badly my oven needs to be cleaned right now!)

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Every pan was labeled clearly on the lid with permanent marker.

Rehearsal dinner - I went off to the rehearsal dinner around 7pm feeling glum because I had a lot of cooking left to do: Make the slaw, cook the pudding, make the rolls. At the church I met with my friend who was coordinating the volunteers, and watched a veritable army transforming a drab church hall into a fairyland of white lights and paper decorations (pretty amazing and inspiring — all my new sister-in-law's ideas and work).

As I went through the schedule with the volunteers, we realized that the oven at the church was just not going to cut it. I made a last-minute decision to roast the chicken at home in my double ovens, then warm it the next day at the church before dinner. This only added to my long list of things to do in this marathon evening.

I went home, had a coffee, caught a second wave of energy, and enlisted my sister and her fiancé to help and we got cracking.

Made the rolls - I made two very large batches of dough, and my sister and her fiancé shaped them.

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My perfectly wonderful husband, roasting chicken all through the wee hours of the night.

Roasted the chicken - My husband volunteered for this duty. He pulled out my big sheet pans, turned on both ovens, and did a solid two-hour shift in roasting chicken. We were very concerned about health safety and getting the chicken cooled down quickly, so we covered the pans and put them on the back porch to cool in the 20°F air before putting them away in the refrigerator. (This must have driven our neighborhood wildlife absolutely mad; the smell of chicken and garlic was powerful!)

Made the pudding - Meanwhile I was working on the pudding. I made three large batches of butterscotch pudding. I knew I didn't have space in the fridge to spoon it into individual cups, so I put it in deep disposable trays, covered the surface with plastic wrap (no pudding skin desired!) and cooled it quickly on the back porch. The trade-off was that I would have to re-whip the pudding at the event and spoon into cups.

Baked the rolls - After the chicken was done, I brushed the roll dough with cream to make the tops shiny, then baked them and set them aside to cool before covering with foil.

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Working on the colorful slaw.

Made the slaw - After that I used the food processor to shred a ton of cabbage and radishes to make the slaw. Believe me, this was one time to have a food processor. (Still really loving the Magimix.)

After all of this, it was quite late. Very late. It was 5am, I think, and my husband trudged off to bed. I did a little cleanup, and some organization of all the stuff that would need to come with us the next day.

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My basement fridge, carefully and strategically packed with a TON of food the night before the wedding!

Saturday - The Wedding

Well, after three hours of sleep and a hot shower, I felt ready to hit the wedding itself. My husband and my sister helped haul all the food over to the church, and I rounded up the rest of the things I would need. Think: Parchment paper, foil, oil, salt, pepper, extra tongs and spatulas, the disposable Restaurantware serving dishes I used for the appetizer and dessert, my camera, an apron — the list went on and on. Then I was off!

I'll fill you in on the day-of prep tomorrow, and show you how everything turned out!

(Images: Faith Durand)

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