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Welcome to the “practice” installment of my self-catered wedding reception posts! This isn’t a blogland perfect post – there are lots of cell phone photos showing the sometimes messy and disappointing parts of practicing new skills. It’s an honest, real post, not a pretty one. Except for this first photo. This was the view from our ceremony and reception sight. The beautiful blues and greens and tropical Hawaiian setting greatly influenced our menu choices and will help the example, WIP photos of the foods we chose make a bit more sense.
I see practice as the middle phase of preparing for your self catered event, but getting ready to self cater your wedding isn’t like climbing a set of stairs – sometimes it’s more like walking on a treadmill. First you need to do a lot planning, and then you need to research and practice your ideas. Sometimes practice doesn’t turn out like you’d hoped and you have to scrap and idea and go back to the drawing board. That’s okay – it’s why you’re practicing! It’s also why you cannot leave practicing to the last minute. Practice early and practice often! You absolutely do not want to head into the last week or two before your self catered wedding without knowing what you’re going to make and how you’re going to make it, especially if you’re trying new things.
Put your prospective dishes to the test while practicing. Think of it as a rigorous audition and put the food through its paces! Even though you’ll probably want to make scaled-down versions of the recipes, do things like:
Prepare the ingredients ahead of time. Do you think you’ll need to cut all the vegetables for the salad two days ahead for the actual reception? Prepare them two days ahead during your practice runs and see how everything turns out.
Let the prepared food sit out. Are you having an outdoor reception or will you need to set up the food ahead of time? Will you have access to a fridge or ice chests? How long will the food need to sit at room temperature before everyone can eat? If the food needs to be out of the fridge for an hour before people can eat, make sure the food will still be safe to consume and tasty. Let it sit on the counter and see how it holds up. Put it in an ice chest for a few hours and make sure nothing unexpected has happened to it.
Make a trial recipe and then sample it again and again over the course of days. You need to know exactly how long everything lasts without deteriorating noticeably. Some foods are perfectly good a week or more later, but others start to get mushy or funky after a day or two. You cannot make everything the night before your wedding, so you need to know when you can do your cooking and preparation. I made a ridiculous quantity of cookies while practicing for our wedding. I tried several different recipes until I found one I really liked. Once I found the recipe I knew I wanted to use, I baked a bunch and then sampled a cookie every day until I thought the texture was getting off and made a note of how long the cookies lasted. I did the same thing with the meringues – I made a bunch in several different flavors and had one every day until they were no longer light and airy. I discovered that the cookies easily lasted a week, and the meringues nearly as long, so I knew I could make the desserts the weekend before the wedding and they’d taste just fine. This process also showed me that the marinaded salad was only good for about two days.
You don’t have to do it all at once. I practiced recipes for five months, but it wasn’t all I did every day. I tried one or two things a month until I settled on what I wanted to practice, then I made those things (cookies, meringues, the cake/icing) a few more times until I was really comfortable.
Don’t give up after one try. Whenever I make something I expect the first attempt to be
awful not so good. If it’s something new (like icing cookies), the second and third attempts may be pretty poor, too, but if I can see improvement I’ll probably keep going. Here’s an example: I’d never, ever iced cookies before in my life, but we decided we wanted tropical/Hawaiian-looking sugar cookies at our reception. I don’t know if you’ve ever looked at buying professionally iced cookies, but they cost several dollars each (with good reason!). The ingredients aren’t that expensive, but they’re a lot of work. My cookies still aren’t award-winning, they they’re at least as good as some I’ve seen for sale online. They sure didn’t start that way, though! Here’s my very first attempt at royal icing cookies:
So maybe the waves aren’t too bad, but the “surfboards?” Embarrassing. But I kept going. I read more tutorials and watched more videos and tried again.
Progress, right? Then I tried again.
Now we’re getting somewhere! As you can see, I ditched the surfboard because I just couldn’t make it work. I also ultimately ditched the waves, but the practice helped me and the tropical theme held. Practicing cookies was pretty inexpensive, but it did take some time. I started practicing in February, which let me only make a batch every month or so but still get adequate practice.
I also baked a few cakes and practiced icing (quite a bit). Practice let me go from this:
to this: (Oh, look! You can see some cookies in the background, too.)
See those meringues? This is how they started out:
So what’s with all the not so great cell phone photos? I wanted to show you that it can be done. I threw those surfboard cookies in the trash, and that destroyed mass of cake went in the trash, too, but it all turned out fine in the end. I kept practicing, and by the time we were ready to cut the cake I heard a couple guests talking about “Look how they did all those little swirls with the icing.” That’s right – my guests said “they,” not “you” because they didn’t realize the icing was my handiwork. I call that icing success. And it got on our faces and hands just fine when we got silly cutting the cake. =)
Practicing recipes for our self-catered wedding was very important. There is absolutely no way we could have done it without practicing and preparing ahead of time. Help from family in the final days was also extremely important, but we never would have even gotten to that point without practicing.
If you’re looking for more help with self catering your wedding, please visit my page about planning for your wedding reception. It includes a lot of links to sites with great serving suggestions and recipes for crowds! Plus, be sure to check back soon for more advice and helpful links. Up next I’ll be posting my favorite places for cookie and cake decorating assistance!