Oh a Tapas Party!

Having tapas for dinner is just a fancy way of saying – I think I’ll make a meal out of the appetizer sampler plate.   Having a tapas party – that’s a guaranteed down right awesome shindig plus good food!  Disclaimer – not a professional tapa menu maker uper party doer, just sharing my experiences and what works.  With that said, lets get to it.

Our tapas night always about being traditional (here is a great traditional  menu  though) it is about whatever small bites speak to me and say “hey sexy, I’m  tasty”.  Yes, my food calls me sexy and sometimes I call it sexy back.  Moving on – My first line of defense is simple quick recipes/nibbles that guarantee deliciousness and not stuck in the kitchen-ness.  Once I build the the foundation of the menu with simple finger foods I pick out one or two items that will need real attention.  I know this will give me a menu that isn’t overwhelming but still makes the party guests feel special, like their host spent a little extra time to make sure they enjoyed the food.

So what qualifies as quick and tasty (and sexy)?  Usually I start with a fruit and cheese plate complete with salty cured meat of some sort.  If I feel spry I might even wrap prosciutto around a piece of fruit and cheese.  Little confession though – I hate goat cheese so you will never find it on/in/near anything at my house.  I do however love Spanish manchego cheese, its a sheep’s milk cheese that is tangy and nutty, if you ever get the chance try it.   Husband likes olives which I’m not fond of but sometimes they make an appearance or some marinated veggies.

Now is when I start to think about the more labor intensive part of the menu  My advice is try to include something that can be baked ahead of time and then served either warm or at room temp, something fixed on the stove top and something from the oven.  That way you aren’t shuffling things around trying to have everything ready at that perfect star aligning moment.   A few favorites in our house are stuffed mushrooms, garlic sauteed shrimp, roasted figs, and a nod to the traditional – tortilla espanola, empanadas and croquettes.

Probably my mostest farvoritest part; presentation.   Pull it all together with cute bowls, rustic wooden trays, small plates and nice napkins.  Then everyone comes out to the table, we pour wine, break bread and graze.

So to wrap it up, just have fun and do whatever feels right.  It really is just about having a good time and family and friends.

 

How I meal plan.

I wish everyone could find the same joy in cooking and planing meals for their family as I do.  I love it, I think I’m just a happy planner and that’s all there is to it.  So This is my meal planning post and it is in no way suppose to be the end all best way to get things done, it’s just my approach.  I cook for two, which can honestly be great and it can be difficult at the same time.  

First I look in the pantry/fridge to see what I have or what might be near death needing used up.  Well no actually first I panic that there is nothing to cook or I have no idea what to make, then I look in the pantry.  Anyway – moving on; Nothing is worse than tossing something because I find it weeks later and think – oh I didn’t know I had this I could have used it – so I check my resources. Incidentally forgetting to do this is how I ended up with lots of onions this week – weird.  Anyway that’s where I start.

Then I move onto the weekly grocery store add(s).  Sometimes I find inspiration there, plan meals around what is on sale or see that toilet paper is on special an remember we are nearly out.

Last before making a grocery list I poke through my cookbooks or any book marked recipes, picking meals. Some friendly advice; for every 3-4 meals I plan to fix, I pick one new recipe to try and keep the rest tried and true.   I think limiting the experiments keeps my husband from wondering about dinner, and I still get to make an adventure meal here and there. Happy home am I right?

Anyway then I head off to the store, come home with my bounty and cheer myself on for planning a great menu.

One other thing that helps when planning meals – keep your pantry stocked.  I’ve seen countless lists and recommendations for what’s best to stock –  just do what feels right, and don’t get all crazy.  (Unless crazy feels right of course.) I’ve seen ‘saffron threads’ on a list as a staple – what no – I don’t buy that diamond and platinum priced spice unless I need it!   Think simple, you know your family this will be easy. For example, we really like a particular microwave rice packet, so I keep a few around.  

Point being, do what feels right and have fun.  If you are satisfied with the outcome, that is what matters.  If you’re not – well take your miserable butt back in the kitchen and fix it already.

Current obsession number 5 million or something….

Late spring I took a trip up the coast to New Bern with my mom.  We visited Tryon Palace, checked out the firefighter museum and ate some amazing seafood (shout out to MJ’s and their crabby fries).  It goes with out saying that we did a little (okay a lot) of shopping.  There were little art galleries tucked into buildings, backed with charming court yards, specialty shops for furry friends and a gourmet shop called Midtown Olive Oil.   Let’s just say I fell in love with so many tasty things, here are a few that stood out and how they’ve been utilized in my kitchen arsenal.

Sicilian Lemon White Balsamic – This mess is like a secret weapon of mass flavor proportions,  total ker-pow .  White vinegar is always a favorite for me because its usually subtly sweet and fruity, making it easy to think – hey I’m going to add some of this *splash splash*.  Mostly I use it in marinades for grilled chicken and shrimp, but splashed on a green salad makes me just as happy.  Not crazy about lemon, their cranberry pear is fantastic too.

Basil Olive Oil – So if the lemon balsamic is the ker-pow weapon, this is the low rumble aftershock.  Peppery basil, fruity olives done – finished.  Again works well in a marinade or splashed on a salad.  We also love it to dip a hunk of soft bread in.

Salt Sisters, Mediterranean Blend – I’ve run out of arsenal analogies but this stuff is da’bomb (oh wait no I didn’t hehe).  At the risk of making it sound over simplified; salt, basic dried herbs and then dehydrated vinegar to give it this zip.  Rub it on stuff, sprinkle it on stuff, mix it in stuff;   Chicken, summer veggies, grilled fish, garlic bread, creamy pasta…. whatever can’t go wrong.

So the only complaint is the Midtown Olive web site, although very through with their own selection didn’t carry the same Salt Sister products I saw when I visited the store.  What is a girl to do – oh yea head over to the Salt Sister site and check out what else they have.  BBQ rub, Tuscan Farm house salt, hickory smoked salt….. I would say bring it but I already had it broughten.

In closing, visit New Bern its pretty quaint and hospitable.  Stop by Midtown Olive to sample what they have in house and hopefully you can come away with a new favorite for your kitchen.  Oh and check out a few pics I snapped.

GooglePickerAPI_20170402_144850
GooglePickerAPI_20170402_154321
GooglePickerAPI_20170402_154705
GooglePickerAPI_20170404_143133
GooglePickerAPI_20170404_160330
GooglePickerAPI_20170404_112647
GooglePickerAPI_20170404_192713

I tried better than take out and here is what happened….

I love some me some take out, but I thought there was no way I could make something better than the real thing.  I was wrong this sheet pan chicken fried rice from Creme de la Crumb was awesome, so awesome in fact I forgot to take a picture.  (okay confession I took one photo of it going into the oven but it’s blurry)   It even heated up well in the microwave.

Where I deviated
– I went the cheat route with the 2 cup heat in the bag Jasmine rice
– I used fresh shredded carrots (mixed with frozen thawed peas) because that is what I had left over from a project (see fireworks photo)
– I used about 2.5 Tablespoons of the oil

Next time
– I will stick with the microwave rice, and whatever veggies I have on hand
– I’ll reduce the oil a little more
– add bite size pineapple pieces when the rice and veggies are added

Low Budget Find, enamel cast iron skillet

I’m always on the look out for more bang for my buck, who isn’t.  My current obsession is this cast iron skillet from the Target Threshold line.  Yes I know I could probably get a bigger one for the same price but I love the crisp white enamel, it’s easy to clean and won’t scratch my stove, and at 10″ is the perfect size for the two of us.  I’ve done steaks,  stuffed mushrooms,  cheat chicken Parmesan and a myriad of other dishes that have gone from stove top to oven.   What is your current low budget obsession?

Best Summer ‘Tater Salad

It’s the south , it’s hot, lets eat shrimp and drink beer.  Just this past weekend we went to a shrimp boil and I was asked to bring potato salad.   Usually my go to tater salad is this tex mex wonder land of  bacon, black beans, cilantro and spicy mayo – lots of mayo.  As delightful as it sounds, and believe me it is awesome, the mayo isn’t very hot day friendly so I set out to find something more suitable.

In one of her first cookbooks Ina Garten penned a recipe for her French Potato Salad.  With a vinegar and oil dressing it’s intended to be served warm or at room temperature, making it perfect for a warm summer cookout. The hint if white wine infused into the potatoes makes it a tad sophisticated feeling, and the generous amount of fresh herbs says it’s all about summer.  Cheers to my new favorite summer side.

Lucky for me in blog land it’s on the Food Network site, Find it here along with a video!

What’s Cooking?

There is more to a delightful cookbook than recipes.   It should be enjoyable to read, inspire new things and always feel like positive results are obtainable.  My favorites incorporate family stories, history of the recipes, and just read like a good book.  So here are a few that I will pick up and read over and over.

 

Jerusalem a Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Same Tamimi

Jerusalem a Cookbook
by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi

Why I like it- the history lesson that went with it, the explanation of how the flavors became so diverse horseradish and beet relish and traditions behind foods like falafel.

Favorite Recipe – Spiced Chickpeas and Fresh Vegetable salad

 

 

 

Barefoot Contessa Family Style by Ina Garten

Barefoot Contessa Family Style
by Ina Garten

Why I like it-  Any of her cookbooks make me feel fancy, like every meal is a little dinner party, even if it is just for two.   Also, I have yet to fouled up when following her instructions and tips.

Favorite Recipe – Hands down her Chicken Parmesan, it can be found in her Family Style Cookbook and pretty much all over the internet.

 

Extra Virgin by Gabriele Corcos and Debbie Debi Mazar

Extra Virgin
by Gabriele Corcos and Debbie Debi Mazar

Why I like it – Much like the show, the cookbook has his family history and their relationship interwoven through every recipe.  The recipes are simple and reliable with out sacrificing flavor.

Favorite Recipe – Red Sauce

 

 

Around my French Table by Dorie Greenspan

Around my French Table
by Dorie Greenspan

Why I like it – I honestly couldn’t put it down.  It’s enormous and filled with stories, history and recipes.  The recipes are everything from rustic potato gratin to elegant honey spiced madeleines, all while maintaining the story.

Favorite Recipe – okay so this is more like one I want to try that I just haven’t gotten to recipe, Salted Butter Break-ups!

 

Thug Kitchen by Thug Kitchen

Thug Kitchen
by Thug Kitchen

Why I like it – It’s new healthy ways to use things I already love, which is inspiring.   Truth be told, I was half way through it before I realized it was vegan.   Be warned not a cookbook for family time, they cuss profusely,  but another truth be told – it cracks me up!

Favorite Recipe – Basic Maple Granola

Bored to Bake List

Just the idea of spring makes me want to bake, and this year I saved my pennies and splurged on a KitchenAid stand mixer. I was so excited and planned to make a lemon cheesecake on Sunday. Thinking after a long week and company for dinner on Saturday it would be perfect.  Nope – half way through dinner on Saturday with a loud bang and a bright flash of light the range decided it needed a vacation.  It’s been nearly two weeks, it gets fixed Thursday, I miss my oven.

So I’ve had time to plan what I want to try and here is my list.
Dreamy Lemon Cheesecake at Southern Living

Chocolate Chess Pie at Food.com

Butter Toffee Pecan Layer Cake, also at Southern Living

Sausage Cheesy Biscuits by Trisha Yearwood

Lemon Lime Pound Cake by The Pioneer Woman

Any suggestions, I’m ready to bake.

 

Chicken Bacon Ranch Tater Tot Casserole

Can’t go wrong with cheese, bacon and crunchy tater-tot-ness.  Oh and there is some chicken buried in there too.  I eyeball this entire recipe when I make it, you really can’t wreck it. There is just two of us so I’m always making portions with that in mind, however this recipe easily doubles or it can be made in the crock pot.

Pre-heat the oven to 225.

Put the wine in the fridge to chill.

In a 8 x 8 (ish) casserole dish put half of the frozen taters in the bottom, single layer.  Sprinkle with the trio – 1 teaspoon of dry ranch dressing mix, and a handful each of cheese and bacon bits.  Place  ~6 to 8 chicken tenders over the tots.  Sprinkle the chicken with the trio and top with the rest of the tater tots followed by the trio one last time.  Pour milk over the top.

Cover and bake for 2 – 2.5 hours.  Uncover and let it bake for about 15 min to finish making the taters crispy around the edge.  Alternatively you can cook it on low layered in the crock pot for 4 hours.

Remove from the oven and sprinkle with chopped green onions.  Serve with a side salad or steamed broccoli.  Serves 4 people that will have their eyes rolling back in their head all yum like.

1 package of chicken tenders
About a half a bag of Ore-ida Crispy Crowns
3 teaspoons of dry ranch dressing mix (about half a package)
Bag of real bacon bits, I usually don’t use the whole 3oz
1.5 – 2 cups of cheese, I like Co-jack
1/2 cup of milk

Double it in a lasagna pan.

Crock pot – double up everything, and switch the tenders for three chicken breasts, cook on low for 4-5 hours.

Bodacious Mac n Cheese

That’s right I said Bodacious.  This is how I make mac and cheese, and it is a labor of love.  You might not think that mustard, mushrooms and and ham have a place in this classic but I promise it’s worth a little stretch on the traditional. (sorry no picture, we ate it all)

I have more tips and ideas at the bottom of the post for now; When you pick the cheese think melty soft squishy cheese.  If you pick cheese that is to dry the cheese sauce will be tacky and not saucy.

Labor of love, step 1
Pre heat the oven to 350C, and open the wine to let it breath. 
I start by warming the milk and cream in a small sauce pot, being cautions not to scorch it, while infusing it with flavors.   At a minimum I add the bay leaves, garlic and mustard as it is warming, but infusing the milk with the mushroom flavor is very subtle yet over the top.  This takes a while so I like to start it first.  If you don’t like the texture of mushrooms, no worry they don’t actually make it into the mac and cheese. 
Labor of love, step 2
Salt the pasta water and cook the noodles al dente.  When draining the pasta shake off as much water as possible and add it back to the still hot pot to help drive off as much of the water as possible.  This will keep the final product from getting to watery.  Add the diced ham and stir. 
Labor of love, step 3
You can make the bread crumb mixture now or in the end, doesn’t really matter.  Just toss the bread, Parmesan cheese and thyme in a blender or mini prep food processor, zip and done.  Mix with melted butter.  Too much fuss?  Store bought bread crumbs, work fine…just get some decent cheese none of that shakey mess.  Or skip it all together.
Labor of love, step 4+
Now it’s time for the foundation, the roux.  If you have never made a roux there are tons of articles out there, be patient you will get the hang of it.  It does need a lot of attention so I like to make it at the end when I can give it my full focus.  Melt the butter on low med until its foamy and add the flour, mixing to form a paste. Continue to cook the roux until it’s that toasty brown color and nutty fragrance.   Add the infused milk mixture, pouring through a strainer to remove the mushrooms and bay leaves.  Stir constantly, I like to use a whisk, heating it gently until it begins to thicken so about 2 min or so on med low.   Pull it off the heat and stir in the cheese.  
Pour all this mess into the pot with the noodles and ham, stir.  Then pour all of this glorious stuff into an oven safe dish, about 8 x 8 should do it, and top with bread crumbs.  Bake it at 350C until it is bubbly around the edge and the crumbs are lightly brown, about 20 min.
I know this is a lot of steps but like I said – a labor of love.  See below, after the ingredients, for a few extra tips and flavor ideas.  
Cheese Sauce (infused milk and roux)
1 cup of 2% milk
1 cup of heavy cream
1 -2 teaspoons mustard
1 teaspoons garlic powder
big handful of sliced mushrooms
3 bay leaves
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoons flour
1.5 cup of shredded cheese (truth I have used up to 2 cups)
Pasta
1/2 lb of dry pasta, pick something that will hold the cheese but not have to compete with the size of the ham, favorites are med shells and corks screws
8 oz of diced ham
salt for the water
Bread crumb top
2 slices of white bread, day old is best
1/3 cup of parm cheese
(thyme is really good too)
Those after the credits tid bits – 
– Something I found to be helpful when making a roux; a white enamel pot takes the guess work out of the color.  
– Stuff I have put into the milk and would recommend any combination of; mustard, thyme, bay leaves, mushrooms, dash of liquid smoke, crushed garlic cloves, onion slices – experiment. 
– Ever had mac and cheese that was lumpy, that’s because the fat to starch ratio was off.  We usually only have 2% milk in the house, which is why I use the heavy cream for the extra needed fat.   However you can mix 3/4 cup of milk with 1/3 a cup of melted butter for 1 cup if heavy cream.