Randy recently rushed in the door with a look of desperation on his face. He said he had to get some people together quickly for a business meeting in a quiet setting that was relaxing, yet inviting, talking about important future business plans. Excellent food also had to be a part of the equation. Randy asked me if I was up to the task because I was still in a non-weight bearing cast (and would be for the next 2 months) from foot surgery. I accepted the challenge, at first with hesitation, because I knew I couldn’t do all the setup work myself. However, knowing that if I planned it well in advance, including ironing out any glitches with the entrees well ahead of the party, things would go smoothly. I really wanted to try my hand at producing some Spanish tapas, i.e. small bites, for a party setting, since Randy and I had recently had the pleasure of taking a trip to Spain (See Spain Off The Beaten Path: An Unexpected Spectrum of Life’s Richest Treasures). Here is just a sample of the mouthwatering tapas (small bites) we consumed in Spain:
While there, I attended the internationally acclaimed cooking school Escuela International de Cocina in Valladolid, Spain. Every cooking session was a star studded experience, all of the cooking students experiencing the tutelage of a different world-class chef each night. So I just knew our guests would enjoy and appreciate a little taste of Spain in our humble home in Bible Grove, Missouri.
Here are my 5 Top Tips For A Tapas Power Meal:
- Have Your Mise En Place (meez ahn plahs) In Place!– This is a French term meaning “everything in it’s place.” This term has typically been the first thing that is taught to apprentice chefs, the ultimate credo of organization FIRST, before you even walk into the kitchen. This theme is not just for chefs, it’s a mantra you can adopt to improve and streamline your life (See For a More Ordered Life, Organize Like a Chef ): a. Make An Informal Menu- You can start out with a preliminary idea of what you’d like for your gathering just to get your thinking cap on. That is good for a couple of reasons: you can order or procure any unusual ingredients that aren’t at your regular grocery store (i.e. we had to order pork belly) and you can change any menu ideas that might be a better fit. This is the tapas menu we ended up with, however, it went through quite a few changes before we reached this final menu:
b.Try Out the Menu Items On Yourselves First- This sounds like a no-brainer but just occasionally I know we all want to step out of our stuffy old box of cooking the same menu items that are tried and true. That actually is a really good thing. Challenging yourself to create something new and different. However, it will really boost your confidence for the coming gathering if you try the menu items on your family or friends before the event, just to either iron out the glitches or maybe even eliminate the item altogether, in favor of a more prudent option.
c. Read Through the Recipes BEFORE Cooking- This is one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned. I know you all have probably utilized the novice method of reading the recipe while you cook, only to find that one of the steps required an hour or two of prep before you could even add it as one of your ingredients! That is VERY FRUSTRATING because it’s AVOIDABLE!
d. Have All Ingredients and Equipment At Your Fingertips BEFORE Cooking- This really assists you in getting down to the business of cooking, which is so enjoyable, if the hassles are eliminated ahead of time. Think about how many times you couldn’t find an ingredient or piece of equipment to complete your dish and that really frosted you. I’ll bet you just wanted to throw up your hands in despair (hey, I’m talking from experience here)! In addition, if you do all the necessary prep for the ingredient items, i.e. measuring or chopping ingredients, ahead of executing the cooking process, you’ll be that much closer to wanting to be a contestant on an upcoming Chopped!
Here is an example:
e. Clean As You Go- Chefs routinely do this. You will severely cut down on your clean up and wonder where all the mess disappeared to!
f. Have A “Count Down To The Day” List- I wrote down what I had to do everyday for a week in advance to prepare for the event. Of course, life happens and you can’t always get to everything on your list and that’s OKAY. It’s not something you should worry about, that’s the point. You can easily modify the list and make changes for the next day. This just has the effect of managing your time for what still needs to be accomplished.
- Great Presentation Just Makes Food Taste Better – Look at both of these examples:
The food on the left might have all the ingredients to be a very tasty dish, however, when we first look at this dish we are consuming it our eyes and it comes up short. For “taste is a product of more than just buds on your tongue. It’s a combination of how food smells, looks and sounds (See The Science Behind How We Taste).” A dish of food should never hang over the plate, consist of all the same colors or look like it was slopped on. The food on the right is a simple dish but it is obviously carefully displayed (I know, I made it), making it tasty to the eyes. To make a simple dish have more eye appeal, decorate with a color that doesn’t even appear in the dish, to give it more contrast. Jazzing it up with a sprig of herbs or a dash of colorful dried spices might also do the trick.
- Give Your Guests What They Want- You all know the motto “The Customer is Always Right.” This is the credo of hospitality for all businesses. This also applies to guests at your house. Going that extra mile to make your guests feel at home is what makes the evening enjoyable to your guests and ultimately makes you feel that your guests relished the evening. This is a pic of Randy calling one of our guests, before we left the grocery store, asking if they had any specific alcoholic or non-alcoholic preferences for the business meeting:
- Let’s Take A Lesson From The Spanish- When Randy and I travelled to Spain this summer, we feasted on REAL FOOD, nothing processed. We actually lost weight while eating extraordinary farm to table food at every meal. I knew we were back in America after the trip when I saw people walking around with bags of cheese puffs and drinking “big gulp” size sodas. You can also recreate that Spanish “real food” model with simple, elegant dishes that are made from scratch, at your everyday dinner meal or for special guests, as we did. I noticed the foods we consumed in Spain were served in smaller portions but they also had a higher fat content so you were satiated quicker. This is a pic of Randy picking out some of those fresh ingredients. I’m sorry, I couldn’t help myself. I had to take a picture of Randy actually grocery shopping. This is a duty (not for me though, I love the grocery store) of life that I usually take care of exclusively, but Randy has cheerfully stepped in these last couple of months because of my foot surgery.
- Archive Your Party: What Worked and What Flopped- File away your party menu and make a quick note regarding what worked and what needed improvement. That way you can build on this experience for your next event. I can honestly say all of the dishes turned out exactly the way I planned them for this party, except the sauce for the pork belly. It wasn’t the optimal thickness and I didn’t have time to correct it. Next time I need to pay more attention to items in general that are not what I executed to my satisfaction, before party crunch-time. We all make mistakes and I’ve forgiven myself, however, this mistake will not happen again!
Here is what we served first as appetizers, downstairs in our bar area:
I spent time with the guests for a while, then I went upstairs and warmed up the “main course” tapas:
Let’s not forget dessert (Raspberry Cheesecake Parfait)!:
Recap of the 5 Top Tips For A Tapas Power Meal:
1. Have Your Mise En Place (meez ahn plahs) In Place!
2. Great Presentation Just Makes Food Taste Better.
3. Give Your Guests What They Want.
4. Let’s Take A Lesson From The Spanish.
5. Archive Your Party: What Worked and What Flopped.
Properly executing mise en place, trying the items before the party, discussing items that didn’t really work while making changes well before crunch time happened, thinking of your guests preferences before the party and forgiving yourself if everything didn’t turn out perfectly made the event quite an enjoyable experience for the guests AND the hosts at this tapas power meal!