Choose Your Plate Please…

I’ve found myself watching a lot of food shows on TV in my spare time lately… and reading a lot of food blogs… and feeling generally guilty with myself for not making any effort whatsoever to cook (which is awkwardly coupled with a strong urge to make fabulously delicious three course dinners that no individual could possibly consume alone and which my budget most certainly can not handle). Needless to say – eating is on my brain. Soooooo….where else to direct my hunger than my blog. Woo hoo. You’re welcome.

Food is the number one way to satisfy your guests at an event in my opinion. Ok, I lie. Number 2.  Liquor for the win! Anyway, food is muy importante and as long as you’re not serving the same old stuff people will remember it. (of course they are probably likely to remember the terrible stuff too. It is what it is) Que this article I stumbled across the other day from Bon Appetit: 16 Foods That Should Be Banned From Wedding Menus. (all images/text courtesy of Bon Appetit) It’s pretty spot on, though I have a few qualms.  Here we go:

 Raw Bar: On a warm afternoon, an array of mussels, clams, and oysters fanned atop a bed of ice might seem tempting. But if a caterer handles raw seafood carelessly, watch out. “For safety reasons, oysters need to be kept cold from the moment they’re removed from the water until the moment they hit your tongue,” says James Beard Award-winning author and oyster connoisseur Rowan Jacobsen. Even if no one gets sick, only true pros can assemble an outstanding raw bar. “If clams or oysters have shell bits or get unintentionally scrambled, it ruins the whole experience, so I just tend to steer clear of them at big events,” Jacobsen says.

My thoughts…oysters (and sea foods) are an acquired taste …why waste food, steer clear period!

 Shrimp cocktail: Contrary to what many caterers think, building a mountain, a fountain, or a volcano of shrimp on a buffet table does not necessarily make them more appetizing. And when they are prepped too far in advance, which is what the venue staffers usually need to do for a big group, taste can suffer as well, leading to soggy and limp shrimp. And who likes that?

I have a hard time turning down a good shrimp cocktail, but I agree… warm shrimp… that’s the worst!

 Crab cakes: Cooking crab cakes for a crowd is the culinary equivalent of stepping out in a head-to-toe feathered ensemble: it should only be attempted if you know exactly what you’re doing. In a perfect world, crab cakes are served right from the pan or fryer, with exactly the right crab meat-to-breadcrumb ratio. (Hint: more crustacean than crumbs.) In the wedding world, they tend to be lukewarm, wan, and mealy. Avoid.

See my oyster opinion…just avoid

 Bruschetta:  Be warned: this involves a high splatter risk. Whoever thought it would be a good idea to take a piece of hard, crusty bread, pile it high with tomatoes, and then expect people to eat it while standing up has never worn a silk jersey dress. That said, if it’s made with peak summer tomatoes and we’re sitting at a table (with utensils), bring it on.

This is where I disagree. I love me some Bruschetta and cannot willingly turn it down if offered!

 Sliders: Mini-burgers (usually served just before last call with the requisite paper cone of fries) have become so predictable at weddings now that you can practically time the moment the waiters will start handing them out on the dance floor. Just once, we’d love to be sent off with a bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich on a Kaiser roll, or perhaps a steamed roast pork bun. (Our own studies have shown that both ward off hangovers quite nicely.) A pack of Advil would be much appreciated, too.

If you go mini – my vote is for the mac and cheese. Or the soup shots with the mini sammich. My stomach is growling already….

 Crudite Platters and Ranch Dip: This is a wedding, not your monthly book club night. Crudités just don’t feel synonymous with (what we hope is) one of life’s defining moments. If you’re looking for something inexpensive and vegetarian for cocktail hour, try edamame hummusfalafel balls, or vegetable tamales.

I must have missed this memo – since when were these a wedding favorite?

 Cheese and Crackers: Like the crudités, this just feels too familiar—and not in a good way. Gougères, queso fundido, broiled feta—there are so many more interesting ways to celebrate the goodness of cheese in a bite-sized package.

Again… where was I?

  Chicken Marsala: It’s inexpensive and crowd-pleasing, so we get why chicken reigns at weddings. But the boneless breasts used for Chicken Marsala are prone to drying out. By the time the dish reaches the table, it’s often too rubbery to cut through, let alone eat. If you must serve chicken breast, have the waiters bring it out in parchment paper (en papillote) and let guests open it themselves. Even better, forgo the traditional plated main dish in favor of family-style platters of juicy drumsticks, wings, and thighs with the skin left on and torched to a crisp.

Heard.

  Surf and Turf: As food writers Jane and Michael Stern explain in their book, The Encyclopedia of Bad Taste, this classic pairing of beef and seafood was once a symbol of hedonism. But these days, this 1960s throwback feels slightly tacky and overblown. It’s also riddled with timing challenges for the catering staff, so most times, neither surf nor turf comes out at the right temperature or texture.

Why not try something a little different right?

 Carving Stations: As food writers Jane and Michael Stern explain in their book, The Encyclopedia of Bad Taste, this classic pairing of beef and seafood was once a symbol of hedonism. But these days, this 1960s throwback feels slightly tacky and overblown. It’s also riddled with timing challenges for the catering staff, so most times, neither surf nor turf comes out at the right temperature or texture.

Holiday house anyone?…

 Things in Martini Glasses:  Some wedding caterers hope that if you put a scoop of mashed potatoes into a martini glass, the spuds will instantly morph into something elegant. But the potatoes tend to be gloppy, the glass unwieldy, and the concept just doesn’t work. Do everyone a favor and keep the stemware behind the bar where it belongs.

I prefer the vodka thank you.

 Steamed Veggie Medley: This ho-hum Eisenhower-era side dish typically has some combination of peas, carrots, and green beans. We can’t fathom why it’s still served at so many weddings. Are people just suckers for the word “medley?” Are caterers opposed to braising, roasting, or sautéing? Or has it been served for so long that chefs have stopped seeing it for what it is: cafeteria food with an Ozzie and Harriet pedigree.

Do I have to clear my plate to get cake?

 Fake Cake: Here’s the concept: A bride wants a fancy-shmancy wedding cake, but she can’t afford one. So she hires someone to make a display cake, consisting of fondant (rolled, decorative icing) draped over Styrofoam tiers. Then she serves guests a sheet cake that’s been stashed in the back room since yesterday. If a pricey cake isn’t in your budget, rethink dessert in a creative way: perhaps a pie table, cake pops, petit fours, or an ice cream sandwich bar. Hell, even cupcakes work and we’re (almost) sick of cupcakes.

Not sure I am on board with this one. I am most certainly sick of cupcakes at events though. 

 Chocolate fountains: Repeat after us: More truffles, fewer chocolate fountains. Not only do they make us think of bar mitzvahs and, again, cruise ships, but they also seem unhygienic. (You know the ring bearer is so double-dipping.)

Sorry sis.

  Fruit Kabob Centerpieces: It’s sort of the inverse of the fact that no one wants to be one to take the last hors d’oeuvre off a tray: No one wants to be the first person to bust into the fruit kabob centerpiece. People will hover, discuss, even murmur admiring words, but rarely will they dig in. Simple white bowls filled with plain or chocolate-covered strawberries are prettier, more tasteful, and guaranteed to get devoured in seconds.

Painful attempt to recreate Edible Arrangements.

 Cheap Wine: Okay, it’s not food, but booze is highly important to the whole wedding experience. Big event venues often charge an exorbitantly high mark-up for fairly uninspiring wines. Instead, book a space that allows you to bring in your own alcohol; then buy in bulk from your local liquor store (make sure to request a case discount) or find a wholesale distributor who sells to the public. Many stores allow customers to set up tastings with the managers so you can discuss your wedding menu and sample several wines before you place an order. Uh, start your new life under the influence of crappy wine?

Or under the influence of a crappy hangover..yikes!

So there we have it. It seems caterers are getting much more creative these days, especially when it comes to the passed appetizers, and I am loving it. Now I’ve officially made myself hungry….

Opportunity of a lifetime

Today I was about 2 seconds away from dying (figuratively)…I almost got to meet David Tutera.

hello lovely

I not only love him, I want to be him. But let’s be honest – what would I have done when I was face to face with my gay husband. Especially dressed the way I was.

I got to go to a work event today totally last minute. I was just sitting there, making phone calls and ordering flowers when my boss remembered that she had this industry luncheon thing that she really didn’t want to go to. I quote “if I take you then I have a good excuse to leave early because nobody is at our office.” When I asked what it was she just said “oh its a follow-up lunch for an event for all the big industry people – you know (named a few companies) David Tutera, Sylvia Weinstock, Pablo, Jackie O” so casually. I literally spit out my sweet tea. The first thing that came out of my mouth? “I’m not dressed appropriately for David Tutera!” (how pathetic! I was in skinny jeans, cute loafers, a basic tee and a zebra scarf btw – not terrible but not the first impression I wanted to make).

Anyway, we showed up late – and it was technically a sit down meal – and I wasn’t technically invited – but there were 2 no shows so it turned out fine. David Tutera was one of those no shows (I have to use his full name because it just sounds that much cooler haha). BUMMER! I got to enjoy some wicked good food though, and meet some great people, and I got to see some GORGEOUS table settings (if only I could hope to be able to afford them one day), so all in all it was a decent 2 hours away from the office.

I’ll just have to keep dreaming of the day I can meet David Tutera himself.

Seasonal Parties

So it’s almost that time of year – Holiday time! (My favorite time, and the only excuse for a “winter” we have here in Florida). A lot of people throw seasonal parties, especially for Christmas or New Years. While I would obviously recommend using a party planner (cough cough), there are a few things you can do to prepare early for your party, thanks to tips from Apartment Therapy.

1.  Check out the calendar. Make sure that your date of choice doesn’t conflict with anything happening in your circle of friends or even in your community.

2. Skip the Evites. Though this is a quick and easy way to get the word out fast, it can often go unnoticed in the email inbox. Not to mention snail mail invites set a better tone for the event.

3.  Start bargain hunting. Looking for great decor items or real table settings (Glad has its moments), thrift stores and garage sales are a great place. You can always sell it later.

4.  Menu Planning. If you’re providing the food yourself, test out some recipes before the party. AT also recommends trying foods that can be made early and frozen.

5. House Cleaning. Pick a few projects around the house that need to get done and start knocking a few out each weekend leading up to the event, this way its not all left towards the last minute.

 

I personally thought these tips from Apartment Therapy were great – and if I had the space in my current abode I would LOVE to throw a holiday party. For now, I’ll just have to hope someone else asks me to help with theirs. 🙂 Check out the link above for more on each of the tips and the great blog that is AT.

Killing Two Birds With One Stone

This past weekend I had the opportunity to cross two things off of my “list of things to do in Miami before I leave (whenever that is)” list.

The first was to FINALLY attend Miami Spice. I have been dying to go since I moved down here (5 years) and practically begging Dan to go since we got together. For those of you not in the Miami area, Miami Spice is pretty much the equivalent of Restaurant Week in NY. For a short period of time (usually August – September) a very lengthy list of some of the best (read EXPENSIVE) restaurants in the area offer a “spice” menu. Essentially, for $22 lunch or $35 dinner, they offer the customer a three course meal which they can select from a short list of options. For someone like myself, this is a fantastic way to have the opportunity to eat at restaurants that I would never be able to afford otherwise.

Sunday, the fella and I, accompanied by one of our “date night” couples, went to Gibraltar, a fine dining restaurant on Grove Isle, the private island in Coconut Grove. The restaurant has 3 glass walls with a beautiful view of Downtown/Key Biscayne/South Beach.

Gibraltar

It. was. amazing. There are really no other words for it. We had a very late dinner so it was pretty quiet, with only a few other tables in the restaurant. The food was awesome. I had a delicious pear and walnut salad for an appetizer, a steak and potato entree that was so tender it literally melted in my mouth, and the yummiest personal sized key lime pie I have had in quite some time. Unfortunately, being the upscale restaurant that it was I didn’t feel quite comfortable taking photos of said food, but take my word for it – it looks superb. I would certainly go back in a heartbeat.

Gibraltar actually brings me to checkmark number 2:

Visit Grove Isle. So slight backstory – Grove Isle as I mentioned, is a private island situated in the bay with awesome views. It also happens to be one of the more notable wedding locations in the area (and top location for me personally, but that’s besides the point:-)) Last fall a few ladies I knew from my certification and I had planned to meet with the on-site event coordinator and tour the facilities for vendor references. Unfortunately, weather and schedules prohibited the trip so I have been chomping at the bit to get on site ever since. Grove Isle has a large hotel (of the same name) on the island which is where most of the events are located. Not only do they offer the typical hotel ballroom events, but since it is situated on the bay they have BEAUTIFUL outdoor spaces, including open air patios and pavilions. I fell in love just from the website:

As per usual, the weather was less than stellar (again – it’s my curse) so I was not able to wander through the grounds and satiate my venue appetite. I did poke my head into some ballrooms and see the main building, and everything I was able to view was stunning. Hopefully, I will get to return some time in the very near future and view Grove Isle in the daytime, with a camera, so I can share my findings. In the meantime – I will have to continue to drool and daydream.

I have a few more list checkmarks up my sleeves for the upcoming weeks so we’ll see if I can scratch any of those, stay tuned!

* All photos from the Grove Isle website