Perhaps it's because after running yourself ragged -- shopping, schlepping, making 10,000 arrangements that depend on 100 people acting in total synchronicity -- you'd feel a whole lot better if you could pull off just one event by yourself.
The rehearsal dinner should be a time of joy, with parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles and cousins from both sides of this new family tree gathering for the first time. But often it's the most harrowing time in the run-up to a wedding.
With event planner Colin Cowie as our coach we just might be able to pull it off.
"Relax," is the first piece of advice offered by the author of "Colin Cowie's Extraordinary Weddings" (Clarkson Potter, 2007) and "Effortless Elegance With Colin Cowie" (HarperCollins, 1996), who says that the antidote to party jitters is punctilious planning -- preparing and freezing food in advance, and having an impeccable checklist with every minute detail included. Since the best gift of all for people we love is cooking them an exquisite meal, it will be a joy to host a relaxed rehearsal dinner, and as a bonus, be a guest at your own party.
"Successful entertaining is about creating an atmosphere conducive to gaiety -- great music, spectacular cocktails and incredible food," the elegant South African-born Cowie says.
"Set the pace of the evening with music -- it's the tool that shapes the energy flow," he explains. "As everyone is arriving it should be mellow and welcoming -- instrumental, jazzy, bluesy. After 10 or 15 minutes, as emotion rises, provide something more animated."
As soon as the last member of the wedding party has walked back up the aisle, including the petite flower girl, bathe your guests in celebratory sounds.
And now it's time for guests to grab a drink, some of your hors d'oeuvres and start mingling with the new mishpachah.
A tray of festive drinks such as Brandy Alexanders, Grasshoppers, Gonzo Bellinis, passion fruit martinis, cranberry juice and Currant Vodka -- even Mint Juleps or rum punch -- all poured and shimmering on a tray, adds to the festivities. And don't forget nonalcoholic beverages such as Celebration Shampagne (made of ginger ale, club soda and fruit juices), frozen margaritas made with lemonade and club soda (both from "Sober Celebrations" by Liz Scott, Cleveland Clinic Press), plus fruit punch, sparkling cider, mineral water with lime and the pi?ce de résistance: Cowie's Aquavit in Ice Mold centerpiece.
As for the menu, below you'll find some easy but elegant hors d'oeuvres, and a celebratory entrée of sea bass with a luscious Champagne-Beurre Blanc Sauce from chef Fritz Blank, who suggests accompanying the celebratory dish with steamed Thai jasmine rice mixed with a good dose of freshly cracked black peppercorns and grilled tomatoes. Blank likes keeping the entrée simple.
"The complexity and richness of sauerkraut beurre blanc requires clean uncomplicated partners, else the meal becomes ongepotchket," he says, with a twinkle.
Of German descent, Blank, intersperses most conversations with a healthy dose of the fun, descriptive language.
For a sweet ending to our rehearsal dinner menu we've provided some refreshing, melt-in-your-mouth desserts.
Even though you're hosting this party yourself, that doesn't preclude a cadre of helpers in the kitchen and around the dishwasher. Your comfort will add to the bride and groom's joy.
Don't forget to have a good time. The worry that something will go wrong and spoil the big event will evaporate into one of the ghosts of weddings past if you prepare a punctilious time line of what to do when. The more daunting it looks on paper, the more confident you'll become as each item is checked off.
Now that you've conquered the first event, hand the mantle to the caterers and celebrate. Mazel tov!
Gravlax With Dill Mustard Sauce
From "Effortless Elegance With Colin Cowie."
Gravlax will last for one week in the refrigerator. Leftovers make divine sandwiches.
1 side of salmon, (4 to 5 pounds) boned, with skin intact
2 tablespoons brown sugar, packed
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse sea salt
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup dry dill weed
1 cup chopped fresh dill
1/4 cup vegetable oil
Fresh dill sprigs or lemon leaves
1 loaf party rye bread
Place salmon skin-side down on a large tray. Using tweezers, remove any small bones. Using a large fork, prick salmon every couple of inches to allow herb mixture to penetrate. Sprinkle sugar evenly over top side of salmon, followed by salt and pepper. In a small bowl combine fresh and dried dill with the oil. Spread evenly over the salmon. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for three to four days.
Remove gravlax from refrigerator and scrape away the dill. Slide it onto a large serving platter or board. Using a salmon knife, slice the gravlax very thin on a diagonal. Serve on buttered rye bread and top generously with Dill Mustard Sauce. Garnish with a sprig of fresh dill.
Makes 16 servings.
Dill Mustard Sauce
12 ounces spicy brown mustard
1/4 cup brown sugar, tightly packed
4 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
In a small pan, gently heat mustard and sugar. When sugar has dissolved, add fresh dill. Simmer five minutes. Remove from heat and allow sauce to cool.
Makes 1 1/4 cups.
Green and White Crudités Platter
From "Effortless Elegance With Colin Cowie."
About 20 each cauliflower and broccoli florets, asparagus spears, snow peas or other fresh green and white vegetables in season
1 large daikon radish, peeled and very thinly sliced
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
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