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Help! Tapas Menu Meltdown

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I have a tapas party coming up this weekend which has grown exponentially to now include nearly 30 people. I had originally planned on making paella as a main dish, but there is no way I can make it for that many people - too much work, too small a kitchen, and no outdoor space.

My sis is going to be helping out a bit by making a couple of dishes, but I need to know whether this following menu is enough or whether there are some things I should add.

I will obviously provide large portions of these, so people can pick at what they want, and we have several cases of cava (Catalan sparkling wine) and Italian soda, so no problem on the drinks.

I am trying to avoid dishes like gambas al ajillo or calamares a la romana which need to be prepared at the last minute before serving. I want to have the last hour before my guests arrive to shower and change and sit and enjoy my first drink quietly.

Anyway, at this point I am planning on doing the following:

- large bowl of mixed Spanish olives
- large bowl of marcona almonds
- large bowl of rosemary-olive oil potato chips
- large tray of pan con tomate (Spanish version of bruschetta) with Spanish ham on top
- large tray of pan con tomate (Spanish version of bruschetta) with Manchego cheese on top
- large tortilla de patatas (potato and onion frittata)
- large tortilla paisana (potato, bell pepper, and bacon frittata)
- large salad of spinach, pine nuts, raisins, and blood orange segments
- large tray of croquetas de verdura (vegetable croquettes)
- large tray of albondigas en salsa tomate (cocktail meatballs in spicy tomato sauce)
- large tray of chocolate-raspberry and chocolate-orange truffles
- large "coca" with candied fruits (Spanish shortbread)

I'm just not sure this is enough. I'd really appreciate your feedback. Thank you!

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  1. Not sure what you mean by "large tray" or "large bowl", but perhaps something with Spanish chorizo and figs? Asparagus is still in season, so perhaps a tray of cold barely cooked green and white asparagus drizzled with a Spanish olive oil and balsamic vinegar?

    22 Replies
    1. re: LindaWhit

      Ha! Well, by large I mean I went to the local party supply store and got the biggest disposable plastic-crystal-looking platters, bowls, trays I could find. Enough to hold, for example, between 60-75 meatballs. An infant could take a bath in the salad bowl I got. ;-)

      Asparagus might work, it would add some additional green to the menu. I'll put that in the maybe column. Thanks!

      1. re: benmcd

        LOL! I like the infant bath comparison. Got it on the sizes of serving dishes.

        Can you do any broiling/grilling of any kind? Perhaps some type of pinchos/kebab of pork something-or-other?

        1. re: LindaWhit

          It will save me a lot of clean-up worries too. If they break, they break.

          As people arrive, I do have to broil the meatballs and the croquettes on cookie sheets in the oven for a few minutes before plating them, to get them warmed up, since they will be made earlier in the day. Everything else will be room temperature.

          1. re: benmcd

            Just one tip on the gambas even if you don't want to do it this time - I've prepped everything ahead of time, then just covered the dish I'm using (usually cazuelas, but you could use gratin dishes etc.) and then pop them in the oven for a couple of minutes when my guests arrive.

            Also - I've cooked albondigas ahead of time (I think they are lamb, in a bit of a sauce) and then just quickly reheated them.

            1. re: MMRuth

              That's exactly what I am doing with the albondigas - I'm cheating and buying them already formed, then I need to broil them for a few minutes, and add the sofrito tomato sauce to them, and then put them aside. I'll stick them back in the oven to reheat them.

              I'm worried about doing gambas ahead of time though, putting them in the fridge, and run the risk of their turning to little rubber bullets if I try to reheat them.

              1. re: benmcd

                Oh - I don't reheat the gambas - I just stick them in the oven raw with the olive oil, garlic etc. I just the dish ready to go in the oven.

                1. re: MMRuth

                  Hmmm...so what do you do, get an oven-safe casserole dish or cazuela, coat the bottom with oil, toss in the minced garlic and pimenton and shrimp, and then...what?

                  I've always made it on top of the stove, not in the oven, so I don't overcook and I can add a bit of white wine or sherry as needed.

                  1. re: benmcd

                    Yes - I usually make the dish in a cazuela on the stove top - with one of those heat diffusers underneath. When I cooked them in the oven, I just prepared a couple of cazuelas, covered with saran wrap, and then put them into the preheated oven (minus saran of course).

                    The recipe I use is from Penelope Casas:

                    1/2 lb shrimp, peeled
                    1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
                    3 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
                    1 small bay leaf
                    1 inch piece dried red chile minus the seeds
                    1 T minced parsley

                    She calls for sprinkling the shrimp with salt and letting them sit at room temp for 15 minutes. In her recipe, you then heat up the oil, garlic, bay leaf & chile, then add the shrimp, and sprinkle with parsley when done. I've just put all the ingredients together and put the dish in the hot oven.

                    1. re: MMRuth

                      Oh I know that one - "Foods and Wines of Spain" by Penelope Casas is frankly my English-language bible for foods from Spain. She's the Martha Stewart of Spanish cookery: sometimes a bit too fancy, but extremely comprehensive and clear. I have a number of cookbooks in Spanish and Catalan, but then it always gets a bit awkward because all the measurements are in metric :-S

                      So basically what your version is to combine everything in the cazuela, cover it in saran wrap, put it in the fridge, and then when it's time to get ready you bake it? How long and at what temperature?

                      1. re: benmcd

                        I have the Delicioso one. Yes, that is what I do and, gasp, I've probably just left it on the counter if I get it ready an hour ahead of time. If you do it more than that, I'd refrigerate, then remove to let it get to room temp. I knew you were going to ask me the technical questions - a couple of minutes, I think - maybe at 400? Maybe you should do a test run. (grin) Or maybe I'll make some tonight and let you know!

                        1. re: MMRuth

                          Technicalities are important if you don't want to have rubber doorstops for dinner ;-) Probably won't have time to do a test run, but just wanted to have some idea of how you do it.

                          If I get frozen shrimp, then put them in the fridge to thaw per the instructions on the package, I'm not sure whether I am supposed to take them out and let them get to room temperature before putting them in the cazuela?

                          1. re: benmcd

                            I would thaw them first - I learned a nice trick about "refreshing" shrimp from one of the Vietnamese books that was COTM - I'll try to look it up this evening - didn't manage to buy any shrimp on my way home, alas.

                            1. re: MMRuth

                              I'd like to know this shrimp trick too, MMRuth--frozen are usually all I have available to me.

                              1. re: blue room

                                I just realized that I've lent the book to someone - it's from Into the Vietnamese Kitchen - I'll search the COTM threads to see if I can find the tip. I believe it called for salt and/or cold water.

                                1. re: MMRuth

                                  Thanks very much!

                                  1. re: benmcd

                                    Didn't find it, but I'll make a phone call in the a.m.!

                                    1. re: MMRuth

                                      MMR, a quick question for you or anyone else reading. I've decided to make some saffron rice as a side dish. I have a huge aluminum roasting pan, one of those disposable jobs you can use at Thanksgiving, I'd like to use that if possible. (I bought several packets of Vigo saffron rice from Spain, just to make it easier for myself.) You have to put a baking sheet underneath if you put it in the oven as you may know, since the aluminum isn't strong enough to hold the weight.

                                      Do you think I should just pour the rice and the water as directed in the aluminum roaster, and then stick it in the oven? I'm not sure how long it would have to be in there, I'm guessing 20 minutes or so.

                                      1. re: benmcd

                                        It should be ok it covered with foil. It will take longer than just a pot. My only suggestion is to check. You will have to check because of the amount. I have used this rice and it is pretty close to true times but with that many and in the oven you will have to check often and it will probably take longer than you think.

                                        But have not done this, I can only guess.

                                        1. re: kchurchill5

                                          Hey, thanks!

                                          I figure if I make it around noon, and cook until it's just about finished, then take it out of the oven and let it cool, and keep it covered (not in the fridge), I can always "freshen" it by pouring a cup of salt-free chicken stock over it and putting it back in the oven on low heat for about 10 minutes. Does that make sense?

                                          1. re: benmcd

                                            You got it. Exactly what I would do. Should be fun. I would do very similar with catering. There are many other methods but I think with the ease of doing that it should work just fine.

                                            Enjoy, I am making my stuff tonight and tomorrow. My catering is tomorrow night, same amount of people and very similar foods.

                                            1. re: kchurchill5

                                              Thanks so much! I am doing some things tonight and the rest tomorrow also. Good luck to you!

                                              1. re: benmcd

                                                You too, I'm more than half done just getting stuff organized in bowls or baggies. I used baggies so easy to transport or put in the fridge, even have my ribs ready to go on the grill and chicken is done. Just the quick things tomorrow.

                                                Good luck to you. Great menu, you should have a nice time. My baby flans are just about ready to come out (tray 2) 20 per tray then I am done for the night. I'm beat. Need a stiff drink and some tube time to relax and then get up bright and early.

    2. Beleive it or not I make Paella in the oven. It turns out great it just doesn't have that crunchy bottom like on the stove top. It's so beautiful so you might think about doing it like that. Ieven think you can serve it at room temp.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Analisas mom

        Actually I had been thinking about doing that and had posted on here before asking about it. Unfortunately that was when I only had around 15 people coming and it was still possible. Making paella for 30 would, frankly, be an ordeal in my postage-stamp kitchen. Thanks though!

      2. IMHO as a Personal Chef who does a LOT of parties you've got 'WAY too many different items - 12. I'd make 6 or 8 at the most. If the party is being help over a regular mealtime, you need 4-5 "bites" of appetizers per person per hour (5 x 30 = 150 x say 3 hours = 450 total bites). Not at meal time, you need 3-4 bites per person per hour. That number (450-500) is divided up between the appetizers you choose to make.

        3 Replies
        1. re: KiltedCook

          Actually the way I count it I see only 5 main "things"
          The first 3 are nibbles and not a main item.
          There are 2 tortiallas, 2 pan tomates, the salad, the corquettas and the abodingas.
          The last 2 items are desserts.
          So I'd say if you want to add something else go for it, if not just have a refill on some items.

          1. re: Stuffed Monkey

            Thanks SM, that was my concern also, when I started going over my shopping list...I was concerned that I either needed to make one big substantial dish or maybe two smaller dishes to round this menu out.

            If I do a platter of asparagus, artichoke hearts, etc., that I discussed with another member on this post, that's one additional dish, and then if I do the garlic shrimp I've been discussing with another poster, that's a second. Mind you, given how much cava we have, some people are probably going to be enjoying the bubbly too much to remember to eat ;-)

          2. re: KiltedCook

            What a great username. I am part Scottish myself.

            I've never heard of that ratio before, but then I'm not a professional chef. Maybe you can give some guidance?

            The party starts at 8 and runs until the booze runs out (last year this was about 2 am.) Some people will stay all night, others will stay for an hour or two and then head on elsewhere. Let me explain my concern in worrying over whether there is enough:

            - certain items are just snacks to pick at, and people might have a few or none. The olives, nuts, and chips fall into this category.

            - the bruschetta, meatballs, and veggie croquettes, I'm thinking like this: Johnny over here is going to have one slice of the ham-topped bruschetta, and a couple of meatballs, while his girfriend Katie is going to have one slice of the cheese-topped bruschetta and a couple of the vegetarian croquettes. So that means I need to make 32 pieces of bruschetta (16 with ham and 16 with cheese, since you can get about 16 slices out of a long baguette); and at most 60 meatballs and 60 croquettes, for people who want seconds on those.

            - the two tortillas will each be about 14 inches across and rather thick. One has meat, and one does not. I'm not expecting people to eat them both, as they are rather thick and heavy. I am not sure whether I will slice them like pie or cut them into cubes and stick toothpicks in them. The latter is not as pretty.

            - the salad is just to give some green relief. Some people won't have any, whereas those watching their weight might have more. Salad is also mercifully cheap to make and requires little effort.

            - the two desserts are because these are very particular desserts for the party, that people have asked for/expect. My sister is making all the dessert items including making the coffee and tea so I don't have to worry about that.

            In any case, so you see my concern that I don't have enough?

            Anyway, let me know what you think. Thank you!

          3. First of all, that menu looks awesome. Second, you sound like a great host. Third, IMO it seems like it will be enough food. If you want to add something else, the first poster's asparagus suggestion is easy, seasonal, and sticks with the theme. Relax and enjoy the preparation and party!

            5 Replies
            1. re: Cebca

              Well thank you. This is my 4th Annual party, it's gotten bigger every year as word has spread, hence my feeling a bit overwhelmed this year. So much easier to cook for 8, which is how it started.

              If I do a platter with asparagus, pre-roasted piquillo peppers, and marinated artichoke hearts, all of which are from Spain and I can get at Trader Joe's, then all I would have to do is sprinkle some sea salt and drizzle them with some Spanish olive oil, and no cooking required. So that's one more dish.

              1. re: benmcd

                If you're in LA I'll sous chef in exchange for cava ;)

                1. re: Cebca

                  Ha, ha! Sadly nowhere near there. Fortunately my sister and both my brothers are coming over an hour early to be my helpers.

                2. re: benmcd

                  Ooh, I'd get fresh asparagus and cook them yourself vs. getting canned or jarred. Same with roasted red peppers. While I enjoy TJ's jarred peppers, I prefer them whirled for a sauce, as they can be a bit too soggy coming out of a jar.....even when well drained.

                  1. re: LindaWhit

                    Hmmmm. I'll consider that LW, thanks.

              2. Maybe a nice cheese and meat tray, with some baguette slices? It's a very nice menu.

                3 Replies
                1. re: jeanmarieok

                  Since I am doing meat and cheese on top of the bruschetta, and because authentic Spanish meats and cheeses can get expensive for this many people (serrano ham is $25 a pound at my market), I'm going to avoid a meat and cheese tray I think. But definitely have some extra bread for people sopping up oil, sauces, etc. Thanks!

                  1. re: benmcd

                    Can you get Spanish chorizo? It tends to be less expensive. And you can heat it up in some sherry in the oven too!

                    1. re: MMRuth

                      Truthfully I am not an enormous fan of chorizo, a lot of Catalans are not, as it is a bit dry and hot for our palates. La Tienda.com has a few kinds of Catalan sausages, but when you factor in how many people plus the shipping costs, it can get really pricey.

                2. You are doing exactly what I am doing and almost the same food. Mine is this coming weekend. I doing more meat, but very similar, I also have 30. When you say tray, how big or large bowl. That can make all the difference. I understand the small kitchen mine is a tiny apt kitchen, but luckily my venue is outside, but I am stuck making it all the day of. Glad my catering experience will kick in.

                  The only think I think is missing is some kind of a seafood or chicken dish. But I am in no way good at knowing all about tapas.

                  Also I was going to mention green, asparagus or I had a great green bean and roasted tomato dish at a tapas restaurant a few weeks back. Apologies for no recipe, but it was quite good.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: kchurchill5

                    Hi KC, well you remember we were discussing paella on here a couple of weeks back, because back then I only had 15 people coming. It's now turned into, "Can my boyfriend/girlfriend come too?" and "My cousin is in town and I was wondering..." I just smile and say "Yes". I don't have outdoor space but fortunately have a living area on two levels so I can accommodate them all.

                    I'm leaning toward this idea of doing the Spanish veggies platter of asparagus etc., and the garlic shrimp, as those two additional dishes would help round this out by providing another spring/summer veggie dish AND a seafood dish. I make very good meat canelones, but they are a bit time consuming and I'm not sure I could make more than about 30 of them without wanting to beat myself into a pulp and throw myself in the mixer.

                    1. re: benmcd

                      I think your veggie platter and garlic shrimp is perfect. Yes I remember the paella thread. I would think you would be fine with that. A little green a little seafood and you should be plenty. Besides if they are not thrilled with that ... TOUGH! That is a great menu and they should be very grateful.

                      I hope it all goes well. Nice planning and good luck to it. I too am hoping my group doesn't grown any more otherwise we will go shopping again, :)

                      Let us know how it turned out.

                      1. re: kchurchill5

                        The good thing is that I live in an area with a lot of restaurants and bars, so if they are not happy they can still go eat a block away. ;-)

                        Thanks for the good wishes. I hope YOUR event goes well also!!!

                        1. re: benmcd

                          I'm sure they will be very happy and enjoy the thoughfulness and work you put into this.

                  2. I had a tapas party for my 40th birthday 2 weeks ago - lot of similar things! It sounds wonderful and I really hope you let us know how it went!

                    I made paella for the first time (15 inch pan) and it went over well. We had about 25 guests and some partook, some did not. Just did it on the stovetop, then covered with foil and parked in on the grill for a bit. Yum!

                    1. Hi All -

                      Thanks again for all of the helpful advice! The party went perfectly. We started at 8:00 pm and my last guests left shortly after 3:00 am. In total it ended up being around 33-34 people, which is the most I've ever cooked for.

                      We never ran out of food, and we never ran out of booze. I never even had to touch any of the "gift booze" that people brought me. By the end of the evening all of the cava, soda, and mineral water were finished, and of the food, I only had about two fist-fulls of the saffron rice, a few slices of cheese, and a few pieces of cake left, that's it. Since I did everything in disposable serveware and kept making rounds to collect trash, there was no virtually no clean-up and I got to bed by 3:30.

                      Anyway, I am glad that's over until next summer. It was a lot of fun but a LOT of work. Thank you again for all of the support!

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: benmcd

                        Sounds like perfect planning on the amounts of food, benmcd! Glad to hear it went so well.

                        1. re: LindaWhit

                          Having a variety really helped, too. The meat-eaters had plenty of meats, the vegetarians had plenty of veggies, and everyone got to have a bit of something.

                          I did end up springing for a platter of cheeses and membrillo, forgot to mention that earlier. The liquor store gave me a really good deal on the alcohol and since I had an unexpected savings I decided to pass the benefit along to my guests and get some Catalan cheeses.

                        2. re: benmcd

                          Well done, ditto on my tapas event. lots of help and recipes, some I used and hints and ingredients as well. Your's sounds equally as much fun. I have another in a couple of months but looking forward to it. Glad you had fun and everything went well. Congrats!

                          1. re: kchurchill5

                            Your help on the rice front was invaluable, so thank you. Glad yours was a success too!

                        3. you should do kabobs, beef, chicken, lamb, or pork. you can cook them just slightly under-done beforehand, then finish them for a few minutes before placing them in chafing dishes. that's what the tapa placed i worked for would do at caterings