Most weddings have mediocre food, for some inexplicable reason – even when the couple has paid a lot of money for a fancy caterer. I think this tradition should end, and it’s much easier and cheaper to do at a DIY wedding. Food needn’t be fancy to taste good, and wedding receptions need not serve a full sit down meal, or even appetizers. Depending on the time of day the wedding and reception are held, serving only cake and punch is perfectly acceptable. (You just don’t want to hold your guests hostage for a cake and punch reception during lunch or dinner time or they might be starved and cranky.)
Because wedding logistics can be intimidating and the day revolves around a potentially scary life-changing commitment, couples shouldn’t try to do too much. Spending the entire morning of the wedding preparing food and the entire reception plating/serving the food might not be so enjoyable unless you have social anxieties that make it preferable to interacting with your guests. Appetizers are a great option for receptions for several reasons. They can be filling or light, they can be hand held and allow guests to mingle, they’re potentially inexpensive and easy to make, and they can offer a variety of tastes to please nearly everyone. Lots of wedding magazines and websites suggest recruiting friends and family to help with food prep and serving (among other wedding tasks) in order to save money. Please do this with caution. People’s time is worth something. Even if they do volunteer to help, please try not to overload them with tasks and take several opportunities to express your gratitude.
There are more options for appetizers than I could ever list. In this instructable, I’ll go over a few basics that I hope will help you solidify your ideas and choose what will work for you. I’m grouping these by delivery mechanism to hopefully encourage you to experiment with different options. The flavor combinations I chose to include are relatively common. They work well together and are generally well accepted.
Step 1: Sliced and Toasted Baguette
Crostini (little toasts) can be topped with just about anything you can imagine.
Brie cheese is made entirely of win. When it’s melted and combined with something sweet like fig preserves, the win molecules rearrange themselves to form epic win molecules.
Using a sharp serrated bread knife, slice the baguette on the bias; keep your slices thin. Spread them with a thin layer of fig preserves, then top each with a piece of brie. Place the slices on a cookie sheet in a 400 degree oven for a few minutes until the brie is melted. Lining the sheet with parchment makes cleanup easier; sometimes the brie oozes down the edges of the bread. These can be assembled ahead of time and baked right before serving.
Brush baguette slices with olive oil, toast in the oven, rub with garlic, and top with chopped tomato (heirloom if you can get them in your budget) and fresh basil
Drizzle slices with honey, top with thin pear slices and crumbled gorgonzola, and bake.
Toast slices, mix some mascarpone (mas-car-POH-nay, NOT MARS-cuh-pohn!) or cream cheese with honey to taste and spread it on the bread, top with sliced strawberries, crack on some black pepper and drip on a small amount of decent quality balsamic vinegar (not the $100 per bottle stuff, but check the label to make sure it’s aged and made with grape must; Cavalli makes a good condiment version for not too expensive).
If you have extra bread left over, you can add some balsamic vinegar to some extra virgin olive oil in a dish, sprinkle on some salt and pepper, and dip the bread. The cook needs nourishment, too.
Step 2: Belgian Endive
Endive spears are an elegant pointed shape. They can be bitter, though, and do well with rich or strong flavors to balance things out. Look for firm, compact heads that are mostly white with pale yellowish green ends. Any actual green leaves here will be too bitter. Prepare your filling for the endive ahead of time, store refrigerated, and fill them shortly before serving.
Soften some cream cheese and beat until fluffy. Stir in freshly chopped herbs, green onion, a little salt and pepper. If you have some good parmesan and a microplane, shave in a little; parmesan adds depth to the flavor. Scoop cream cheese mixture into a piping bag or ziplock bag with the corner snipped off and pipe a small amount into endive spears.
Stir a little sugar and vanilla extract into some ricotta (sweeten to taste). Spoon mixture into endive leaves and top with a fresh, ripe raspberry.
Dice some ripe avocado and squeeze on a little lime juice. Gently stir into chopped cooked shrimp or crab; if you’re too vigorous, the avocado will mush and coat everything with green. It’s still tasty, but it might not be the look you’re going for. Season with salt, black pepper, and a pinch of cayenne (optional), and sprinkle on some sliced green onions. Spoon mixture into endive spears.
People usually run out of endive leaves before they run out of filling. If you have extra cream cheese and/or avocado mixture, you can serve it on crackers (or eat it with the crackers yourself while you're preparing things).
Step 3: Phyllo Shells
Also spelled filo or fillo, these paper thin sheets of dough are layered with melted butter and turn a beautiful crispy brown in the oven. I’m not a huge fan of convenience food, but if you’re cooking the food for your reception, you’re going to want a few shortcuts. The shells they sell at grocery stores are convenient and quite good. Then again... the shells are a whole lot more expensive than the plain dough. You could make your own ahead of time and simply freeze them. Just unroll the thawed dough, slice into squares with a sharp knife, and layer in muffin cups with a bit of melted butter between some of the layers. Bake according to box directions. If you’re baking your filling, don’t bake the shells until you fill them.
Caramelized onions are amazing, at least in my mind. If you’re doing a big batch of these, try to use a large skillet; the more surface area you have, the faster you can cook all the onions down. Slice the onion into thin quarter circles. Melt butter in a pan. Add the onion slices and sprinkle on a bit of salt; salt helps draw the moisture out of the cells. Stir the onions enough to keep them from burning, and cook until they’re as deep golden as you like. If you’re up for it, add a splash of apple juice when the onions are nearly done. It should cook down into a flavorful syrup that mingles with the sweet onions. If you want a darker flavor, add a little (low sodium) beef stock to the onions when they’re almost done. The apple juice and beef stock go well together with the onions. Taste the onions and see if you need to add any salt or pepper. If your shells are already baked, add your cheese while the onions are in the pan so it can melt. Otherwise, add the cheese after you fill the tart shells with the onions, and then bake. I’m personally quite fond of provolone with caramelized onions.
Bake and puree some pumpkin, butternut squash, or sweet potato. Add a little butter, pepper, thyme, and salt to taste. Set aside to cool. In a small pan, melt a small amount of butter on medium heat (just to coat the bottom). Toss in a handful of raw pecans. Toast gently, stirring or shaking the pan regularly. After about a minute, drizzle in some honey or maple syrup. Keep stirring until the nuts are toasted and the water from the honey or syrup has cooked off, leaving the nuts coated with a glaze. Spoon or pipe the squash/sweet potato into the shells. Sprinkle on the nuts (or just one if they’re halves) and crumble on a bit of blue cheese.
Whip two parts cream cheese with one part sweetened, condensed milk. Beat in lime or lemon juice to taste. Add citrus zest for extra flavor, if desired. Fill shells with mixture and chill. Garnish with berries, kiwi fruit, or shaved dark chocolate if you feel like doing extra work.
Fill shells with your favorite spinach dip, warm or cold. No, I’m not going to tell you how to make spinach dip because I didn't make any. I'm not really a fan.
Step 4: Crackers
Use whatever kind you want.
Top cracker with thinly sliced cheddar, apple compote, and crispy bacon.
Finely chop a small amount of rosemary. Stir it into some cream cheese with garlic powder, salt and pepper to taste. Spread on cracker and top with cranberry compote and shredded cooked chicken or turkey.
Mix a bit of mayo with dijon mustard. Spread it very thinly in the center of a cracker. Top with shaved ham and swiss cheese.
Dice some ripe musk melon into tiny cubes. Splash on a bit of white wine vinegar. Grind on some black pepper, crumble in a bit of feta cheese (or shave in a bit of good quality parmesan), and stir in some very thinly sliced fresh mint leaves. Top a cracker with a small slice of prosciutto. Spoon on some of the melon mixture.
I hope you're inspired to try some new appetizers. My poor family had appetizers for dinner several nights this week so I could make this instructable. Thanks for reading!