A Tapas Taster Night

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Last weekend I threw a Tapas taster night for many of my friends.  I cooked all the food in my kitchen along with a few friends and served a new Tapas every 30-45 minutes.  It was a big challenge but a lot of fun and personally a big accomplishment.

I started planning the party 6 weeks out and tested most of the Tapas on my blog.  The week of I finished all my planning and preparations.  Looking back, next time I’ll finalize all my food plans two weeks before and the week of focus on finalizing party details.  There are so many things to consider when entertaining.

The most popular Tapas by far were the Pear, Hazelnut & Honey Mustard Crostinis and a close second were the Bacon Wrapped Dates with Stilton Cheese and Marcona Almonds.

I wanted to share a few photos here.  I hope you find inspiration in them.

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DIY: Wine Display & Table Runner

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For the last year I’ve talked about throwing a Tapas Taster night and last weekend, also the anniversary of my blog, I finally threw the party.  More on that later.

First, I wanted to share a project that I’ve poured much energy into over the last month.  When creating my Evite invitation, I read about this Benevolent Wine Tasting Party for party ideas.  I loved the use of chalk and chalkboard material, especially the way the wine was displayed.

Just days later I was out walking and saw a table leaf being thrown out. Immediately I envisioned it as my wine display for my party, using chalkboard paint.  After looking online, sharing with a friend, and going to Home Depot, I purchased paints and went to work on the project.

Tapas Display Paintbrush

Though it’s not typical for my blog, I wanted to share the process with my readers.  I hope you enjoy and find inspiration!

My idea was to use the back side of the table leaf for the display.  The top side of the table leaf was not in good condition and upon closer examination I found that the leaf was made of pressed wood with a veneer finish.

Table Leaf Unsanded Paintbrush

I decided to paint the interior red and the bottom a slate blue.

My friend recommended that I sand it down real well to get past the veneer finish so that the paint would adhere.  This turned out to be a much bigger task than I first anticipated!

Full Table Leaf Sanded Paintbrush

As you can see, I got ahead of myself and painted the interior before the leaf was fully sanded.

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Ironically, I loved the look of it after sanding and part of me didn’t want to change it, but I knew that I had to see my vision realized.  At a later point I may find more freedom to adjust the vision as I go, but at this point it seemed more important to finish the project.

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The trickiest part about painting was applying the painters tape.  The edge sanded down very smooth and round, so I chose to paint the chalkboard paint over the edge.  Since the tape was on a curved surface, it didn’t adhere as well as when it was on a flat surface, therefore the paints tended to run into each other.

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Table Leaf Red & Slate Blue Paintbrush

Before using it again, I may touch it up and make the lines cleaner but it will depend on whether I find it useful for parties or an annoyance to store.
Since the particle board was rough and the paintbrush I used wasn’t the highest quality, the finish isn’t very smooth, making it hard to clean up.

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Table Leaf Finished Paintbrush

Roasted Fennel & Rosemary Baked Macaroni and Cheese

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My friends do a weekly dinner with themes and this week was a Macaroni and Cheese Bake-Off.  Apparently this is actually a thing!  We had Macaroni and Cheese with Bacon & Chives, Macaroni and Cheese with Brussels Sprouts & Bacon, this Roasted Fennel & Rosemary Baked Macaroni and Cheese, and of course the classic Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.

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I adapted this recipe from Verses from my Kitchen for the macaroni and cheese and used this recipe for Roasted Fennel and White Bean Dip from Sprouted Kitchen for the roasted fennel & rosemary.  I have to say, the fennel was the hero here!  It added a subtle sweetness and a nice crunch.  Be sure and try the Roasted Fennel and White Bean Dip, it was delicious!!

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This was my first experience making homemade macaroni and cheese and although it was successful, the most difficult part was adjusting the recipe for a full bag of macaroni (16 oz).  I had purchased just enough heavy cream for the recipe, so I don’t think it was as creamy as it should’ve been.  If you want better accuracy, you can follow the recipe from Verses from my Kitchen, though I would also reduce the amount of roasted fennel that you add.

Ingredients

    • 1 large fennel bulb, fronds reserved
    • 3-4 cloves garlic, skins on
    • 2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
    • salt and pepper
    • 1 tsp rosemary leaves
    • 16 ounce bag of macaroni
    • 4 Tbs butter
    • 1/3 cup flour + 2 Tbs
    • 4 cups whole milk
    • 1 1/3 cup heavy cream
    • 2 cups grated Gruyère cheese
    • 2 cups aged white cheddar cheese
    • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
    • salt and pepper to taste
    • 2/3 cup bread crumbs (topping)
    • 4 Tbs grated Parmesan cheese (topping)
    • 1.5 Tbs butter (topping)

Directions

    1. Preheat oven to 400º F.  Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
    2. Roughly dice the fennel.  In a small bowl mix the fennel with 1 1/2 Tbs olive oil and a pinch of salt and pepper.  Spread onto the prepared parchment paper. Add the garlic with skins in the corner and douse with the remaining olive oil.
    3. Roast for 15 minutes and then toss the fennel.  Decrease the oven to 350º F and continue to roast for an additional 12 minutes or until golden. Transfer the fennel to a bowl and set aside the garlic.
    4. Dice the fennel fronds.  Loosely mix the fennel fronds and rosemary in the remaining oil on the parchment paper.  Roast for 3 minutes.
    5. Butter two medium or one large casserole dish.
    6. Cook the macaroni according to the package directions until al dente. Reserve 1 cup liquid, drain and transfer to a large bowl.  While preparing the cheese, if the macaroni starts to stick add just enough liquid to loosen it.
    7. In a large saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat.  Add the fennel fronds and rosemary, smash the garlic and add until well combined.  Add the flour and cook for about 2 minutes, whisking continuously.  Slowly add the milk and cream, whisking continuously until smooth.    Stir with a wooden spoon until the mixture starts to build up on the spoon, about 8 minutes.  Incorporate the three cheeses until smooth.
    8. Mix the cheese mixture with the macaroni until fully combined.  Chop the fennel into small pieces.  Add the roasted fennel.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.
    9. Transfer the macaroni and cheese to the prepared dishes.
    10. In a small saucepan, melt the butter over low heat.  Add the bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese until well combined.  Sprinkle over the macaroni and cheese.
    11. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the top is golden brown.  Sprinkle with fresh fennel fronds if desired.

Note: 

    1. These directions are based on my style of cooking, but if desired I encourage you to study the original recipes and see if their style works better for you.
    2. The roasted garlic easily over browns and burns.  Remove early if necessary.

Aside

A Tapas Party

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I am hosting a Tapas Party at the end of February and though many of you reading this can’t come (oh, how I wish you could.  I love to host!) I am sharing with my guests here what they can expect.

If you also have a hospitality gifting, I hope these Tapas will inspire you for your next party or gathering.

Some Tapas you may expect with their wine pairings are the following:

If you would like, please vote on your favorite Tapas (up to 6):

Since I love everything local and natural, the majority of the produce will be purchased from a Long Beach Farmer’s Market and the chicken will be Vegetarian fed.

Happy Medjool Date Day: Bacon Wrapped Dates with Stilton Cheese and Marcona Almonds

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Happy Medjol Date Day!

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I’m a little slow on the uptake, but I had planned to make these bacon wrapped dates today anyway so I thought I would share them before the days up.

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Honestly, I will have to wait for my taste testers to tell you how they taste.  I went to the dentist today because of some jaw pain I have from a cavity filled a week ago and I was instructed to only eat soft foods for the next week. Let me tell you, that is the worst news for a food blogger!

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I’m preparing for a Tapas party, so most of my posts this month will feature dips, small bites and finger foods.  These aren’t actually Medjol dates, but Organic Halaway dates from Bautista Family Organic Date Ranch.  With 7 varieties available, you will marvel as you taste test and the dates melt in your mouth.  I love these dates so much that I call the seller my “date guy” and I was sorely distressed last spring when they disappeared from my market (end of their selling season).

If you live in Los Angeles, Long Beach or Orange County, check out their Farmer’s Market page.

Ingredients (serves 16)

    • 8 Slices Apple wood Smoked Bacon
    • 16 Medjol or Halaway dates
    • 16 Marona Almonds or Trader Joe’s Roasted & Salted Marcona Almonds with Rosemary
    • 1/2 lb English Blue Stilton Cheese
    • 16 toothpicks

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Directions

    1. Preheat oven to 400º F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
    2. Slice dates to remove pits and discard.  Add one Marcona almond and a chunk of cheese to each date.
    3. Slice bacon pieces in half.
    4. Wrap date with bacon and secure with a toothpick.
    5. Bake for 20 minutes or until bacon is browned.

Baked Red Curry Chicken Kebabs with Minty Yogurt Sauce

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I will try and make this brief.

Why?  Because I have a Case of the Mondays.  Though I don’t work for a big corporate company like Initech in Office Space, I still have a hard time getting going on Mondays; despite the fact that I have some really cool projects to work on.

Speaking of big corporate companies and company downsizing in the internet age, have you seen The Secret Life of Walter Mitty? It is a beautiful film of breathtaking cinematography with themes of courage, honor, love and life time devotion.  It made me want to be just 10 years older (that is born 10 years earlier) where print media and film photography were at their peak.  Though reviewers may be critical of the sometimes stretched Ben Stiller humor, I absolutely loved it and was very moved.  I hope you will see it and let me know how it moved you.

I found these red curry chicken kebabs in my Food & Wine cookbook and I just had to try them because of the intense spice of red curry and refreshing sweetness of a mint sauce.  I picked up delicious mint and juicy key limes from my local farmer’s market.

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Food & Wine describes them “as addictive as Buffalo wings,” and though on the grill they may absorb more of the red curry spice, baked (what I consider the best option for winter) they don’t maintain as much of the red curry intensity.

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I followed the recipe, here, with the exception of making an additional half batch of marinade to brush on the chicken halfway, doubling the honey, lime juice and mint, and baking the chicken at 400º F for 10 minutes then 350º F for 5 minutes.  The chicken (vegetarian fed) was tender and the minty yogurt sauce was a nice balance.  If I made the sauce again, I would decrease the mayonnaise and add Serrano pepper and garlic.

Food & Wine recommends that you pair it with an Off-dry Riesling.  I paired it with a Ulrich Langguth 2012 Riesling from Trader Joe’s.

Note: This sounds much like a review of the Food & Wine recipe.  That was not my intention.  I was following the recipe to test out some tapas and I naturally look for ways that I can adjust it for my tastes.

Pear, Hazelnut & Honey Mustard Crostini

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Hello there.  I hope this week is finding you well!

For the next month, my posts will deviate from my typical everyday food, food that is inspired by the farmer’s market and community events, and will be focused on preparing for a Tapas party.

I am hosting a Spanish inspired Tapas taster night in which I will serve Tapas from my kitchen throughout the evening.  Each guest will bring their favorite wine and I will give pairing suggestions to match the food.  We have a beautiful back patio that with the right set up, lights and music it makes for a mystical evening.

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This recipe is slightly adapted from Martha Stewart with the honey mustard from Food Network.  I just began to use hazelnuts and what I like most is their sweetness.  Honestly, I was turned off to hazelnuts because of their prevalence in creams and desserts, but I am trying to proceed with an open mind.

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Ingredients

    • 1/2 baguette
    • extra virgin olive oil
    • Pear slices
    • Ricotta cheese
    • Hazelnuts
    • 2 1/2 Tbs Honey
    • 1 1/2 Tbs whole grain Dijon mustard
    • 1 Tbs rice wine vinegar
    • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Directions

    1. Prepare honey mustard: In a small bowl whisk honey, whole grain Dijon mustard, and rice wine vinegar until smooth.
    2. Preheat oven to 350º F.  Toast Hazelnuts on a baking sheet for 3-5 minutes until golden brown.  Chop in half and remove skins as desired.
    3. Slice baguette into 1/2 inch-thick slices and spread onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Drizzle olive oil on one side, turn and drizzle on the other side.  Bake for 15-20 minutes, flipping every 5 minutes and adding more olive oil as needed until golden brown and crisp.
    4. Assemble Crostinis with pear slices, a dollop of ricotta, toasted hazelnuts, and drizzle with honey mustard.
    5. Season with salt and pepper as desired and serve immediately.

Note: 

Since baguettes harden so quickly, freeze extra portions the day of purchase. They work great for crostinis and croutons!  Wrap in saran wrap and store in the bread bag (tied with a rubber band) or in a freezer safe zip-lock bag.