Take advantage of the season by creating a mouthwatering menu that will keep your guests toasty on the inside and fuel them up to dance into the wee hours. From your cocktail hour to dessert, consider these fresh-from-the-hearth menu ideas.
Cocktail Hour Bites
During the winter months, the hearty classics are in demand, and caterers can fulfill that desire with whimsical takes on childhood favorites. For your cocktail hour, have waiters pass trays of delectable bites, such as spoonfuls of breadcrumb-coated mac and cheese; demi forks of spaghetti and meatballs (penne pasta with a mini meatball and a drizzle of Bolognese sauce); or panini lollipops (panini on a stick). Another top-ranking winter hors d'oeuvre: shot glasses of hot soup, such as tomato bisque garnished with grilled triangular cheese bites.
In place of roasted spuds on the side, consider having a risotto cake, a purple potato pancake, or wasabi whipped potatoes.
Soups and Salads
Toasty soup is a no-brainer for the first course of a wintry wedding meal. Some of today's favorites: butternut squash with pumpernickel croutons, potato-leek with amaretto creme fraiche, or rich cheddar potato. And a winter salad calls for extra seasonal additions like cranberries, pears, and walnuts. Can't decide whether to do soup or salad? Go with one of the season's newest menu trends: soup-and-salad combo plates. Have your caterer place a small bowl of soup on one end of a rectangular plate and a cluster of salad on the other, or place the soup in the center of a round plate and surround it with salad.
Especially appropriate for wintertime, top wedding planners are transforming the wedding meal into something more inventive and gourmet, a la what you'd find in a four-star eatery. Come entree time, classic filet mignon continues to be a favorite, but in place of roasted spuds on the side, you might consider having a risotto cake, a purple potato pancake, or wasabi whipped potatoes. Or opt out of the traditional steak and potatoes idea and serve a tasting menu -- or "degustation" -- of six or seven small courses. For example, you might start with a pumpkin soup served with an Asiago-truffle mac and cheese muffin; followed by a fish course, such as lemon-baked salmon; and then a meat course, such as horseradish-crusted lamb chops.
Vegetarian and low-meat diets have begun to take center stage, and many brides and grooms are offering a veggie entree choice for guests. Whereas vegetarian options may once have been an unexciting afterthought (like a plate of mushy roasted eggplant, mushrooms, and peppers), caterers are now putting equal effort into making these dishes taste amazing. Two winter-appropriate, meat-free ideas: a jumbo portobello stuffed with cornbread, wild mushrooms and truffle essence, or a trio of peppers filled with three different types of risotto. Pasta dishes are back in a big way too, either as a second course or a vegetarian entree. Instead of plain pasta, go for whole wheat, spelt, or spinach.
Self-service candy bars (which can serve as both dessert and party favors) have been big for a few years now, but there's a new take on them that's perfect for trendy winter weddings: an all-white candy spread. Think white M&Ms, yogurt-covered pretzels, white chocolate-covered cranberries, white-coated chocolate mints, nonpareils covered in white sprinkles, and various white Jelly Belly flavors. Let your guests scoop up their favorites to take home with them in clear Chinese take-out boxes bearing a custom label or a snowflake icon. Another big menu trend that's infiltrated the wedding scene: flights, aka three or more flavor variations served on one plate. We like this trend for a late-night chocolate dessert course made up of a mini chocolate pot de creme, a chocolate cheesecake lollipop, and a shot of Baileys Irish Cream in chocolate cup. It's a sweet and stylish way to celebrate the season.
Sources: Andrea Correale, president of New York's Elegant Affairs; Chicago-based event planner Debi Lilly of A Perfect Event