Thursday, November 10, 2011

It's time for the Annual Tapas Festival!......YAY!

Once again, it's time for the annual "Tapas Festival" in Spain. I should say this is particular to the Basque area of the country and this year the celebration is being held in Valladolid. The 7th Edition of the contest always brings out some of the very best chefs Spain has to offer, and considering that Spain has become the #1 food & restaurant place on the planet.... well, you can imagine some of the mind blowing offerings they will have. So if you're lucky enough to be there or planning a trip to this area between the 7 - 13 of November, you're in luck and amazing edibles will be for you!

The Basque Chefs specialize in Tapas and every bar and restaurant not only has the most iconic ones to offer patrons but they create their very own original "small plates" so that patrons will have to go to their eatery to sample them.... all over Spain you hear "Nos vamos de Tapas!" as a daily chant around evening time, as this is one of the favorite pastimes for this country with a love of street life and foods. It's a must to do whenever you're there, to go bar hopping until the wee hours.... sampling amazing "bites" with a glass of wine and covering many places, meeting up with friends and enjoying the nightlife. If you love this type of thing, then you've got to go to Spain, there's nothing like it!

I'm already thinking ahead to my holiday menus and with that in mind we're beginning to plan things out. Do we have a theme or not? (traditional, Mexican, Chinese or ?) What style of meal should it be? (buffet, sit down, full blown affair or "small plates", appetizers only ?)  How do you decide? Do you always have the same things and bring traditions to life? How does your family celebrate best? What activities mold your holiday meals? So with all this in mind, for us at least, a buffet style meal with many types of international appetizers is a very popular idea and one we've had in the past and have enjoyed tremendously! It's fun, people serve themselves and you can offer each person their favorites so everyone has something they love!....

Maybe you're thinking about the holiday parties that will soon be making an appearance and want to have something new that you can also enjoy since most of the work is done in advance. This is why I love these, everything is laid out and you get to be a "guest" at your own party. Sure, you need to re-stock and re-fresh but once they're ready, you are too. So what can you serve? Anything and everything! Even well known classic dishes once only used for formal dinners can be turned into "small plates" by limiting the amount and seeing how the accompanying sauces and condiments can be included, only in small quantities. Think in therms of a bite or two and how you would eat this while standing and not using any cutlery. You can use toothpicks or bamboo skewers, bread, lettuce, cheese, etc. instead and small plates or the ability of picking the food up with your fingers. That's it.

Want some ideas? You'll love them, guaranteed.....

BUNUELOS DE QUESO.- These lovely tidbits are easy to eat and very tasty, perfect for a party!

2 cups cheese, grated (pick your favorite cheese)
2 small cheeses (Laughing Cow type), room temperature
1 1/2 cups flour
2 egg whites, beaten to stiff peak stage
1/8 teaspoon (or more) cumin, ground (or grind fresh seeds)
Extra virgin olive oil

In a bowl, make a well with the flour and add a tablespoon of olive oil, a pinch of salt, the little cheeses which you've mashed down with a fork and the grated cheese. Incorporate these well.

Add the beaten egg whites and combine them, along with the cumin, carefully into the mix with a spatula in a folding manner. In the meantime heat at least 1 inch deep olive oil in a frypan and once it's hot, drop teaspoon fulls of the batter into the oil. Insure the oil is hot so they won't be greasy.

Fry the "bunuelos" until golden brown, turning them, and then place them on paper towels to absorb any oil before serving. They can be presented sitting in a little bed of lightly dressed watercress or in a Chinese soup spoon sitting in a light Marinara Sauce or lovely Romesco Sauce. Amazing!

CROSTINIS, CANAPES, BRUSCHETTAS.- These are always popular and offer so many variations that you're sure to find the "perfect" ones.....

A lovely bread, don't skimp on this as this is "key"- sliced thin and lightly toasted (in the oven)
Composed butter (see suggestions below)

-Mustard:  Butter, your favorite mustard, parsley and some lemon drops
-Anchovy: Butter, anchovies and chives
-Bonito: Bonito or tuna, butter and pepper
-Sardines: same as Bonito just with Sardines
-Herbs: Butter, Chevril, Tarragon and Chives
-Radish: Butter, grated radish, cilantro
-Herbs & Lemon: Butter, Basil, Parsley and some grated lemon peel

Work with lightly softened butter, also work with mashed ingredients so they'll be easier to incorporate. Make sure to season. Taste the combination to make sure it's great.

Once mixed, you can also put down the composed butter on some plastic wrap and roll into a log. Tie off the ends and refrigerate. You can serve the "logs" alongside a basket of Crostinis and have each person "smear" their own, like a cheese tray or serve already spread and topped with some parsley, cilantro or chives.
NOTE: You can also make these with the popular Bruschetta toppings: Mozzarella, Tomato and Basil; Arugula with Balsamic Dressing; Roasted Almonds, Coarse Salt and Paprika.... etc.

SMOKED FISH IS ALWAYS POPULAR.- Love smoked fish but hate the prices? Make your own and save!  Read my post on how to make it here:

My post mentions Salmon (it was on special at Costco!).... but you can apply this to other fish as well.
Either laid flat with some cream cheese, on top of tomato with some Basil, or made into a salad or composed butter, it's all good.

VEGETABLES AND MORE.....  Healthful options are always in style. Easy to prepare and kind to your budget, be sure to include some....

-Gazpacho or vegetable puree served in shot glasses. Refreshing and very "hip", comes in many flavors
-"Crudites" or raw veggies to much on, with or without a dip or sauce or even stuffed with a paste.
-Cherry tomatoes stuffed with cream cheese, fish pate or salad that you can pop in your mouth

Empanadas, skewers with cheese / cold cuts / veggies or fruits, croquettes, mini quiches, mini pizza's, sliders, egg rolls, mini burritos, mini sopes, lettuce wraps filled with salad, flavored ground meats or stir fried veggies. You can also look through old books that have appetizers or Hors d'oeuvres from long ago, these contain real "gems" that should be brought back and are amazing! Remember Rumaki? (chicken livers, water chestnuts covered in bacon), these were a big hit long ago and they're sooo yummy! Martha Stewart has some great ones, check out her website for amazing recipes or check out her books at the library.....

The entertaining rule of thumb when it comes to Hors d'oeuvres and parties is to offer three to four types of Hors d’oeuvres, and figure each person will eat about 10 pieces in two hours (fewer if you’re serving cheese as well). This will give you an idea of how much to make, it also depends on the size of the appetizers and whether you're serving heavier items or lighter ones. Hope this gives you some ideas for holiday entertaining and you will decide to give it a try.... How about a "90's themed cocktail party with the old classic drinks too.... might be fun! But in any case, the holidays are almost here and the only thing between you and an awesome party is your imagination! Enjoy!!

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