A Cater-it-Yourself Wedding, The Recipes

Everyone asks the same question when they hear we catered our own wedding: “Are you insane?” Then the follow-up: “How did you pull it off?” That’s easy.

We were lucky enough to have a master chef on our guest list. That would be our generous friend Sandy D’Amato, the virtuoso at Sanford in Milwaukee. He advised us on a menu for 65 guests (steering us away from our first brainchild—grilled lamb chops—which he warned would be a mess) and shared some foolproof recipes. Two days before the wedding, the groom and I pulled together some credible versions of Sandy’s sesame noodles and a gazpacho with parsley cream. We were cruising. But 24 hours later, we found ourselves confronting a mountain of raw beef tenderloin as if it were the north face of K2. Unwisely perhaps, Sandy and his wife, Angie, the co-owner of Sanford, showed up early and wound up laboring like Sherpas, helping us cut and thread 20 pounds of meat onto skewers and poach a salmon in courtbouillion to boot.

We know how to pick our friends. Maybe we aren’t so crazy after all.


1. Avocado-Tomatillo Salsa
(adapted from Laura Rodriguez, Hotel Zamas, Tulum, Mexico)

3 ripe avocados
2 tomatillos
1 serrano chili
1/4 white onion
salt and pepper to taste

• Blend all ingredients together in a food processor or blender until creamy.

2. Tenderloin Skewers With Cremini Mushrooms and Peanut Sauce (makes 20 skewers)

20 wooden 4-inch skewers, soaked in warm water for at least 30 minutes
40 1 to 1 1/2-oz cubes of tenderloin, cut from a 4-pound piece of completely trimmed center-cut tenderloin
20 firm cremini mushroom caps with stems, about 1 1/2- to 2-oz each, cleaned, dried and cut in half from top of mushroom through stem
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil plus enough to brush on skewers before grilling
Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
Lemon Molasses Marinade (recipe follows)
Peanut Sauce (recipe follows)

• Place a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Toss creminis with 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil. When pan is hot, add creminis in batches to just cover the bottom of the pan (do not overcrowd). Sauté about two minutes until just softened and lightly browned. Season with salt and pepper and put on a plate to cool. When all the mushrooms are cooked and cooled, add to a large plastic bag with one third of the Lemon Molasses Marinade. Add beef cubes to another large plastic bag and add remaining two thirds of the marinade. Let both beef and mushrooms marinate about 6-8 hours. Remove mushrooms and beef from marinade and skewer onto wooden skewers alternating two pieces of beef and two pieces of mushroom on each skewer. Get a charcoal grill very hot, about a 4 to 5 second fire. Lightly brush skewers with oil and season lightly with salt and pepper. Grill for about 2 to 3 minutes per side until medium-rare to medium. Serve with Peanut Sauce for dipping.

Lemon Molasses Marinade:
6 medium shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
6 large cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
Zest of 2 lemons
4 1/2 large lemons, juiced
1 cup molasses
2 cups grapeseed oil
1 bunch parsley stems
4 thyme sprigs
4 bay leaves, crushed

• Mix together all ingredients.

Peanut Sauce:
1 cup smooth peanut butter
7 Tbsp dark soy sauce
4 1/2 Tbsp sesame oil
1 Tbsp chile paste with garlic
6 oz fresh ginger root, washed
2 Tbsp honey
1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp dry fruity white wine (such as Vouvray), at room temperature

• Place ginger root in food processor and process. Add chile paste and soy sauce, process, and add peanut butter, sesame oil, and honey. Process again, with wine and strain through a medium seive. Reserve. Sauce can be made up to one week ahead.

(It’s possible to substitute fish for meat, so long as the fish is firm, not flaky. Scallops, tuna, and monkfish will also work.)

3. Sandy’s Cold Sesame Noodles
(adapted from The Modern Art of Chinese Cooking by Barbara Tropp)

5 lbs pre-cooked Chinese or soba noodles
3/4 cup plus 2 Tbl. sesame oil
7 Tbsp dark soy sauce
7 Tbsp regular soy sauce
6 Tbsp sugar
6 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
8 tsp kosher salt
2 Tbsp hot chili oil
2 bunches scallions, white parts only, sliced thin

• If using soba noodles, prepare water for boiling according to instruction on the package, leaving noodles slightly undercooked. Cool to room temperature. Otherwise, use the cooked Chinese noodles right out of the package.

• In a large, deep bowl, whisk together next 7 ingredients. When noodles are cooked, add them to the sauce and mix well (preferably with your hands so as not to break the noodles). Refrigerate (preferably overnight) and toss noodles several times to distribute sauce.

• Before serving scatter with sliced scallions.

4. Sandy’s Poached Salmon (for 6 people)

6 Salmon fillers, 6-7 oz each, cut in half and rolled into tournedos, 1-inch thick and secured with wooden skewers
1 quart chicken stock
2 bay leaves
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
Zest and juice of 1 orange
1 thyme sprig
Salt and pepper to taste

• Bring stock to a simmer in a large sauté pan with the bay leaf and thyme. Add lemon and orange zests. Add salmon fillets and poach (just under a simmer) until medium rare, about 6 to 7 minutes per inch. Remove salmon and chill. Serve with Romesco sauce.

Romesco Sauce:
2-3 medium cloves garlic, peeled
1 large shallot (about 2 Tbsp sliced), peeled
2 oz (about 1/2 cup) raw almonds, peeled
1 oz (about 2 medium) dried New Mexico chiles, seeded and de-stemmed, cut into 1/4-inch strips
1 12-oz can plum tomatoes in juice, drained
1/4 cup olive oil
2 bay leaves
2 1/2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
1/4 cup dry white wine
2 Tbsp water
1 Tbsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp fresh ground black pepper

• In a non-reactive sauté pan over low to medium heat, add the oil, shallots, bay leaves, garlic and almonds and cook slowly for 10 minutes (mixture should lightly brown but not get too dark). Add peppers and sauté for one minute. Add tomatoes, salt and pepper and cook slowly for 3 to 4 minutes. Add the vinegar, white wine and water and bring up to a boil. Carefully place in a blender and slowly pulse then blend until smooth. Strain mixture through a medium sieve. Adjust seasoning if needed. Reserve cold. Warm up slowly before serving.

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