Wedding Wows

Can you hear the theme to Mission Impossible?

Well.. it should be blaring in your ears.. because you’re reading about what seemed like the real thing.

My mom called to tell me my little brother was getting married… in 3 weeks from the moment in which our conversation was taking place. I knew I had to be there.

The more I thought about it… the more I knew that my being there wasn’t just about being by the side of the guy whose ears I used to flick. I knew my mom had her hands full – so I wanted to be there for her, too.

I started brainstorming menu ideas, favors, decorations. Heck, I even became a frequent reader of the wedding section on Pinterest – who knew I’d ever need to look there?!

We were on a budget as insane as the time crunch.

It had to be a special day. I didn’t want it to be generic, either. We were aiming for an Italian garden theme.

For favors, I came up with the idea of giving out salad dressing from my brother’s favorite restaurant, The Olive Garden. When he eats there, this kid (ok, man) orders side dishes of the dressing for his bread sticks. He also needs reinforcements in case it wasn’t properly coated in the kitchen.

To pull off this idea, I ordered little glass bottles for 79 cents each. I got bottles of the dressing from Sam’s ($6.98 for 2 20oz. bottles), and I made the lables on my computer. We got 30, very personal favors, for $2.40 each! My mom also put together little bride and groom “boxes” filled with Andes Mints – the gift you get for spending your money at the Olive Garden.

For the reception, my soon-to-be sister-in-law wanted chicken Marsala from The Olive Garden, but I offered to make it.

A small wedding cake would’ve cost $125. I offered to make a cupcake cake to save money.

I also decided I’d make roasted potatoes, green beans, and two appetizers.

This all sounded so easy to me. I mean, c’mon! I throw at least one big party every year!

Let’s just say the plan proved to be a lot harder than I’d expected.

I never took into account the fact that I’d be doing this away from the stores I know and the kitchen I use every day.

For the chicken marsala, I planned to pound out each breast for tenderness, and because that would make them go a lot farther. There wasn’t a meat mallet in my mom’s kitchen – so I had to beat each piece of poultry to a pulp with the bottom of a frying pan. It worked!

My mom’s pans aren’t as large mine, so I had two going at the same time to save time.

On top of that, I’d never made a complete dish for 30 people. I usually do finger foods! I was worried that we wouldn’t have enough chicken marsala to go around.

For the cake, we got plastic tiers and pillars from Michael’s. I used sugar pearls and edible glitter hearts for decorations.

I searched the internet for days looking for the perfect recipe. As you know, I usually do my own thing, but I couldn’t take a chance knowing my brother’s big day depended on me.

A wedding cupcake recipe I found on sounded so good! It combines boxed cake mix with other ingredients to make a moist, sturdy cupcake.

That same blog also offered a wedding buttercream icing recipe. My mom wanted to go with store-bought icing to save time (and money), but that didn’t feel right for the occasion. Plus, you know me. I don’t do things the easy way. My mom will tell you I’ve always been that way! I’d never made buttercream icing before, but this seemed so right!

Two cupcake pans went into my suitcase. Before I left, I was smart enough to ask my mom how many she had – the answer was one.

The cupcakes baked perfectly. After they cooled, I set them back in the pans and covered them with foil. The cakes were so moist, that the foil stuck to them and ultimately pulled off part of the tops. Thankfully, the icing masked that.

The icing recipe was supposed to make enough for 12, so we bought enough ingredients to triple it. I was expecting 36 cupcakes from the recipe (we got 34). We got enough powdered sugar to recreate the blizzard of 1943 (made-up event) and enough butter to get an elephant through a drinking straw.

I let the butter sit out for hours to make sure it would be room temperature and therefore blend smoothly into the sugar.

Get this. I was able to cover all 34 cupcakes with one batch of icing! Now my mom is stuck with a lot of sugar and butter!

For the appetizers, I decided to make caprese skewers. I can always find bocconcini (little mozzarella balls) or mozzarella pearls at the grocery stores near my house. The stores we went to (even Publix!) didn’t have them. So, I had to use a regular package of fresh mozzarella and cube it.

Those were the major food-related calamities. So, let me break it down for you:

The night before the wedding…

I slammed out the chicken Marsala (tender, with a sweet zing from the cooking wine)a, baked the cupcakes (soft, tender, and moist), and made egg salad to go into little fillo cups.

Egg salad didn’t fit the Italian theme, but my asked for it, and she deserved it! For my egg salad I use mayo, lots of garlic powder, salt, pepper, dry mustard and paprika (in and on top of the final product).

The morning of the wedding, my mom and I formed an assembly line (think Lucy & Ethel in the chocolate factory) to put together the favors.

Then I made the icing (so easy, creamy, and perfectly sweet), decorated the cupcakes, and used fresh flowers to round out the newly concocted cake stand.

By the way, I got the topper for half price at Hobby Lobby – so that wedding cupcake cake was about half the price of a store-bought one. Plus, I got to keep the stand for future use!

From there, I chopped potatoes, then coated them in olive olive, thyme, garlic powder, oregano, marjoram, rosemary, salt and pepper. They went into the oven.

After that, I blanched some green beans, then cooked them in olive oil infused with garlic and lemon zest (my mom didn’t have a microplane, so I used her box grater). To round out the dish, I used lemon juice, salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Sorry for the blurry picture… I was rushing!

My mom helped me make the caprese skewers.

They got a drizzle of olive oil and a shower of freshly chopped basil, salt and pepper.

In between doing all this, we were adding finishing touches to the decorations, while dogs (4 of them) cried and whined, and my beautiful niece Holly, be-bopped around!

My mom made her scrumptious sausages & peppers (brown sugar makes for an unexpected richness)…

My Aunt Darlene contributed her famous lasagna…

And my Aunt Kathy made her popular antipasto salad – that helped fill the food table, which was brilliantly designed and decorated by my mom and her friend Kathy.

The house had small and subtle, but noticeable, touches of wedding day decor. My mom did most of that before I got there!

I’ve gotta be honest – this was the hardest party I’ve ever put together. We rushed. We laughed. We tripped over each other. We did more sweating than a prostitute in a pew. But, we got it all done! My mom and I worked as a team, and because of that, the mission was possible.

There was plenty of food. The guests loved it, and told me the cupcakes tasted like they came from a bakery.

The most important reviews came from the man and woman of the hour. Each time someone asked if they loved the reception, they said, “I do.” And that’s all that matters!


Tip: When browning chicken (for marsala, piccata) and mushrooms use a mixture of butter AND olive oil. Butter will burn or smoke quickly. The oil keeps that from happening. You get the flavor from the butter and the prolonged performance of the oil.


17 Comments Add yours

  1. Mary Lu Saylor says:

    Bravo, my friend! Loved the ingenuity and resourcefulness. Total show stopper. Makes me want to have you cater a party for me. And by the way, we are glad to have you back blogging. ML

    1. Thank you! I’m happy to be back…

  2. I’m stressed out after reading all of what you had to. Very well done though!

    1. My head was spinning, but it was so worth it!

  3. Carla Field says:

    Brilliantly and creatively done! It looks wonderful, and I know it was all delicious. (We really need to quit the news business and run a catering company!)

    1. Thank you! Lets do it. We’d have a great business together!!

      1. Mary Lu Saylor says:

        Room for one more? I might need to be a part of the action! 🙂

  4. Kim Deal says:

    Holy cow! I feel like I need to take a nap from just reading this! Amazing work…if I ever need a caterer, I’m calling you and Carla!

    1. I’m ready if you need me!

  5. Sandy says:

    We were there that day and have to say that every dish stood out because they were all prepared with love. All “behind the scenes” were unnoticeable. After all, everything was just perfect, tasty and meaningful. Catering can be convenient but when the family teams up, it’s personal. There is a story behind each and every detail which creates a very special memory. Kudos to you, a lovely family reunion, a very special wedding day we will never forget! Love, your aunt Sandy

    1. Aunt Sandy,

      Thanks so much for your kind words! I’m so happy we finally got to see each other… it’s even better that we’re able to stay in touch now!

      You have a beautiful family!

      Talk to you soon!

  6. Anonymous says:

    Wow! Your brother is lucky to have your help. I’m sure it was beautiful, Mike. I may need to steal some of those ideas for Steph’s bridal shower!

  7. Anonymous says:

    This is the stuff of great memories. You are incredibly creative on a shoestring and a stopwatch
    and the icing on the (cup)cake is you got to do it with your family. Makes me smile. Well done my friend!
    BTW, looks delicious and way more fun than any wedding food I’ve encountered. -LSO-

  8. Karen Mc says:

    One week later and I am still hearing compliments on your superb cooking! Only the most beloved son and brother would have come at a moments notice and pulled off nothing short of a miracle. I owe you Lucy….or is it Ethel?
    Love you! Mom

    1. Only the best mom in the world could’ve made that wedding happen. Your strength is unmatched and truly unbelievable! Can’t wait for you to put on my wedding! 😉

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