Last night’s engagement party for our friends was a great success. And now that I can finally tell you about the six glorious days I spent in the kitchen getting ready for the party, I don’t know where to begin! So, I guess I’ll begin at the, um, beginning: building the menu. There were a couple of major factors that guided that process. First, we had decided on a Spanish/tapas theme. Second, the party was not at our house; it was at our friends’ house about a mile away. Third, we were expecting about 30 people. So, I was looking for transportable Spanish food that I could ideally make ahead of time.
From there, I like to make sure the food at a cocktail party falls into several camps: food that you can graze on all night, bite-sized hors d’oeuvres that give plenty of variety, and at least one dish that’s more substantial and filling.
(Click “more” for the rest of the story, more photos and the recipe.)
With all of these things in mind, I created our menu. For the graze-ables, we went with spiced nuts, feta-stuffed olives and a Spanish take on an antipasto platter. In the bite-sized category, we made tiny squares of Spanish tortilla (essentially a baked onion and potato omelet), miniature spinach empanadas and a very loose take on patatas bravas. And for the substantial offering, we had a huge pot of chicken and chorizo paella, warming in a chafing dish for the night. Oh, and then there was dessert. I’m going to keep you in suspense over that one. But, trust me, it’s worth the wait.
I’ll get to the entire menu as the week goes on, but for today I want to tell you about the graze-ables. The nuts were coated in a spicy-sweet crust of cumin, cayenne and brown sugar. We scattered little bowls of them around the house and re-filled them as the night went on. They were addictive and interesting, which was exactly what I was going for.
Next, the olives were large green Spanish olives, stuffed with an almond sliver ensconced in feta cheese. After I stuffed them, I marinated them for a couple days in their original brine, which I spiked with crushed garlic cloves and black peppercorns to boost the flavor. I’m not an olive fan myself, but I’m told they were good. And an empty bowl that once held about 100 stuffed olives sort of speaks for itself, right?
Finally, one of the co-hosts requested a Spanish version of the antipasto platters I often do for parties. And, I have to say, it was fun to get creative with a whole new set of ingredients. The elements—marinated or roasted vegetables, olives, cheeses and meats—were the same as in the Italian version. But instead of prosciutto, we used Serrano ham; chorizo in lieu of salamis; manchego instead of mozzarella; yada yada. All in all, I was really happy with the graze-ables. But, truthfully, they had nothing on the cake, which was the real star of the show in my opinion. So I think I’ll tell you about that tomorrow ….
Emeril Lagasse via FoodNetwork.com
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 cups unsalted mixed nuts
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
Mix spices and reserve. Heat the nuts in a dry skillet and cook, stirring frequently, until they begin to toast, about 4 minutes. Add the butter and cook, stirring, until the nuts begin to darken, about 1 minute. Add the spices, the sugar, 1 tablespoon water and the salt and cook, stirring, until the sauce thickens and the nuts are glazed, about 5 minutes.
Remove the nuts from the heat and transfer to a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil, separating them with a fork. Let the nuts stand until cooled and the sugar has hardened, about 10 minutes. Store in an airtight container.
Feta-and-Almond Stuffed Olives
1 20 ounce jar of large pitted green olives
1/4 cup almond slivers
1/2 cup crumbled feta
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
4 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
Drain the olives, reserving the brine. Heat a dry skillet over moderate heat and toast the almond slivers until they become brown and fragrant. Remove from heat and cool. Using a small grapefruit spoon or your fingers, stuff each olive with about a teaspoon of feta. The olive should be so stuffed that the feta peeks out a bit. Tuck a toasted almond sliver in each feta-stuffed olive. Return the stuffed olives, peppercorns and garlic cloves to the original olive jar. Pour the reserved brine over the olives, seal, and refrigerate for at least 24 hours.
To serve, drain the olives, discarding the brine, peppercorns and garlic.
Spanish Antipasto Platter
1/2 cup chorizo, sliced thinly on the diagonal
3 slices Serrano ham, quartered and curled into rolls
1/2 cup marinated artichokes
1/2 cup roasted red peppers
1/2 cup green olives
1/2 cup black olives
2 to 3 ounces of manchego, sliced in wedges
2 to 3 ounces of Spanish goat cheese, sliced in wedges
2 to 3 ounces of queso fresco, sliced in wedges
Baguette, thinly sliced and toasted
Arrange the ingredients on a platter. Serve immediately or wrap well in plastic wrap and refrigerate until serving. Can be made up to a day in advance. Serve with the toasted baguette slices.