We had a few friends over this weekend for an informal gathering, and I decided a tapas-inspired menu would be the best compromise between wanting to do some inspired food shopping and cooking, and not wanting to overkill what was just a casual get-together.
A tapas menu gives you room to buy lots of fun things to nibble on, then just open them up and set them out — very little work for the cook. I went to the local gourmet food store with Spain as my inspiration and came back with these nibbles:
- olives, of course
- almonds, of course
- piquillo peppers
- chorizo sausage
- manchego cheese (one of my absolute favorites)
- drunken goat cheese
- crusty bread
I only had to lay these things out on various decorative serving dishes, and most of the work was done. I also put out a bowl of olive oil and balsamic vinegar for dipping, which was a nice extra touch. Watching people eat, I learned that the sausage, cheese and almonds were the big draws, and that my friends seem as reluctant to eat olives as I am. (Now I have a lot of leftover olives and not a lot of taste for them, so I will have to get creative to do something with those.)
As for the dishes I wanted to make, I knew that I wanted a couple of hearty offerings in case someone had not had dinner before they came over. I also wanted one dish to be vegetarian. And finally, I wanted to offer some fresh vegetables. Here is what I came up with to round out the menu:
- Spanish-style Chicken Salad — a roasted chicken salad with a roasted red pepper vinaigrette
- Spanish Tortilla — like a frittata, with sliced potatoes, peppers and onions
- Smoked Paprika Aioli with Crudites — garlicky homemade mayonnaise, spiced with smoked paprika, and served with carrots, celery and cherry tomatoes for dipping
- Sweet & Sour Onions — pickled cocktail onions
I’ll post recipes as the week goes on. All were chosen because they could be made ahead and served at room temperature, so I didn’t have to stress about last-minute cooking. The chicken salad, adapted from a recipe in Cook’s Illustrated, was definitely a winner. The shortcut there was using a roasted chicken from the grocery store instead of roasting it myself, so all I had to do was make the dressing and assemble the salad. The tortilla was also popular, and the leftovers were great for breakfast the next day. And the young’un at the party scarfed down the cherry tomatoes, although he left the aioli alone.
All in all, I feel like the menu was successful, and it really did make for stress-free entertaining.