Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Tapas Dinner for Seven

This was a dinner party for four “paying” guests who bid for places at the dinner as a part of an auction to raise money for the Universalist Unitarian church. Because the guests paid big bucks for the dinner I knew that it had to be original and taste great. Mom was in town for the weekend so she became one of the hosts and kept the conversation going while the LOML and I plated, served, cleared and continued the routine for each dish on the menu.  I really tried to serve each dish on a unique plate or with a special twist. 


Ostras en Escobiche (marinated oysters) with platanutres (fried plantain chips) and cocktail sauce - served on 4" diameter ceramic plates decorated with crabs

Pickled Shrimp with marinated carrots and onions wrapped in Butter Lettuce - served on 8" white salad plates

Lentil and Butternut Squash Salad - served in 5" small glass bowls

Petit Salmon Burgers on Sweet Potato Pancakes - served on 6"x4" wood pallets

Grapefruit, Avocado and Spinach Salad - served on 8" white salad plates

Chocolate Pudding with a hint of Mint - served in 8 ounce water glasses

Broiled Grapes with Mascarpone - served in individual white ceramic oval oven-proof dishes

Other than the grapefruit salad, I had not previously made any of these dishes. There are numerous articles about how to host a good dinner party that say you should try each recipe first. My one big chance to try out new recipes is on my dinner guests rather than my LOML (he usually cooks dinner for himself while I cook a big pot of something once or twice a week and eat the leftovers at lunch for my main meal).

This special dinner party was at the end of Spring Break which gave me a week to search out recipes that looked good and could be mostly prepped a day or two in advance so I wouldn’t have to slave away in the kitchen right before our guests arrived. It was fun looking through a variety of cookbooks for different recipes that would lend themselves to small servings. This wasn’t a hunk of steak beside a baked potato with a salad type menu, so recipes that said they served four were ample for our party of seven.

There were ups and downs with the food. The oyster dish was added in at, seemingly, the last minute because I had ten unshucked oysters that I needed to use up. I found a Spanish recipe that called for cooking the oysters in tepid olive oil followed by marinating them in oil and wine for 2 days. As it turned out, low heat cooking seemed to be the key to keeping the oysters tender and delicious.

On the down side the pickled shrimp with carrots and onions served on butter lettuce was only, in my opinion, good but not great. The shrimp was a bit overcooked and tough, but the carrot and onion mixture that was added after cooking the shrimp and marinated for two days was crisp, tasty and made a nice package wrapped in the lettuce leaf. If I were to make this dish again I would buy the pre-cooked shrimp at the market (market cooked shrimp is so much more tender than what I end up with) and serve the dish at room temperature.

Up side again-- the mini salmon burgers on sweet potato pancakes was a great combination of recipes. Since two at our party maintain a wheat-free diet, I wanted to avoid any type of bun and fish with rice is too common. I decided that sweet potato pancakes would not only be a sweet combination with the salmon but also add a colorful pop. The salmon burger recipe that I chose included minced spinach which also added color as well as flavor. Sweet potatoes and salmon are a great flavor combination!

The chocolate pudding (served in 8 ounce water glasses) had just a ¼ teaspoon peppermint extract which made the dish sparkle. Any more would have been over-powering.

The broiled grapes with mascarpone were, like the shrimp, a disappointment. I’m not sure exactly what went wrong. Maybe I’m just not crazy about grapes or I made the mistake of prepping and chilling the dish before putting it under the broiler. It tasted good but not great.

Will I ever serve these dishes again? Since I tend not to repeat dishes served at dinner parties, probably not except for the chocolate pudding recipe. In fact, the “hint of mint with chocolate combination was so good, the morning after the dinner party, I added a drop of mint extract into my cup of hot chocolate – yum. Moreover, the low-heat cooking technique for shellfish and wrapping marinated veggies in lettuce leaves are ideas well worth filing away for future use.

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