Tag Archives: olives

Mediterranean Soiree 

8 Mar

This past weekend I hosted an intimate gathering in honour of my mother and sister’s upcoming birthdays as I won’t be seeing them on their respective special days.

I decided to go with a Mediterranean theme for the menu taking cues from Italian, French and Greek cuisines. 

As a rule, whenever I entertain I lays try not to bite off more than I can chew. Preparing for an event no matter how small or relaxed can become extremely stressful if you try to make everything yourself. So I chose the “semi-homemade” route, making simple recipes and using some ready made fare.

The menu served 10 persons and was as follows

Bruschetta

Mushroom crostini

Olive bar

Cheese and meat board

Chicken souvlaki (kebabs) with Tzatziki sauce

Assorted artisan mini pastries (premade)


Creme cheese croissants (premade)

Biscotti  (premade)

I will share how I prepared the items for this get together. 



BRUSCHETTA 

Bruschetta is a popular antipasto found in many Italian eateries and with good reason. It consists of slices of toasted bread coated in oil and topped with a variety of things including meats, cheeses and perhaps best known…tomato.

I made tomato bruschetta using a sliced baguette.

WHAT YOU NEED (makes 20-24 slices)

1/2 of a baguette  

Butter or olive oil

One large ripe tomato 

Spices- I used Italian spices and a pinch of salt


WHAT TO DO

Tomato

1)Dice tomato

2)Add salt and spices with a drizzle of olive oil

3)Stir to mix and place in fridge for at least 30 minutes to allow flavour to mature.

Tomato mixture 

Bread 

4)Slice baguette into approximately 1/2 inch thick slices

5)Lay flat on a baking sheet

6)Coat with butter/oil.

7)Bake until golden or desired crispness 

Bread coated in melted butter




Top bread with tomato mixture just prior to serving to avoid bread becoming soggy.

Bruschetta 


MUSHROOM CROSTINI 

If you were to ask me the true difference between crostini and bruschetta I’m not sure I could answer clearly. Both have Italian origins, both involve slices of grilled bread and both are often topped with similar items. That being said, I’m totally comfortable with calling bread topped with tomato bruschetta,  but topped with mushrooms not so much. So I’m calling it crostini.

This recipe is almost identical to the bruschetta one except for the preparation of the topping so I’ll focus on that.

WHAT YOU NEED (makes 20-24 pieces)

12 OZ of fresh mushrooms -feel free to use canned ones 

1/4 cup of finely diced onion 

2 tbsp of brown sugar- I used coconut sugar 

2 tbsp butter

1/2 of a baguette 

Ingredients 



WHAT TO DO 

Mushrooms

1)Heat butter, sugar and onions in a skillet until onions sweat (become soft and translucent) 

2)Add mushrooms and Sautee until browned.

Onions,butter and sugar mixture 


Mushrooms being sautéed 


Bread

See 4-6 for bruschetta 

3)Top bread with mushrooms just before serving

Mushroom crostini 


CHICKEN SOUVLAKI/KEBABS 

Kebabs are always a favourite of mine for parties. Who doesn’t enjoy eating bites of food off a stick? Something about it is just so much fun. Lol.

The inspiration for this came from a blog post by Closet Cooking who created this recipe after tasting something similar while on vacation in Greece. The chicken is flavour education with the tart lemon and spices and topped with tzatziki. Tzatziki is a Mediterranean yogurt based dip infused with herbs and spices. It is served with meat or used with pita bread or vegetables as a dip. You can make it yourself but it is also widely available in most supermarkets  (I bought mine).

WHAT YOU NEED (makes about 15)

1/2 lb Chicken breast/thighs boneless

1 large lemon

Minced garlic or garlic powder 

Tzatziki

WHAT TO DO 

1)Cube chicken and coat with juice of lemon, garlic and any other seasonings and let it marinate for at least 30 minutes.

2) Skewer chicken Bake until cooked

3)Drizzle with Tzatziki-I also served some on the side.

Chicken souvlaki 


OLIVE BAR

This one was easy-peasy. I saw an amazing olive bar at Whole foods and knew I had to recreate it even if on a micro scale. I bought a container of mixed olives and worked with that.

WHAT YOU NEED

Various olives- You can use as many types as your heart desires

Containers- to display the olives

WHAT TO DO

Distribute the olives in their various containers along with spoons and display. I used a wooden cutting board.

Olive bar 



CHEESE AND MEAT BOARD

I have to say, that out of all the dishes on this menu, this is the one I was most excited about. Cheese and meat boards or antipasti boards are becoming a bigger and bigger trend in the foodie world making appearances on lots of restaurant menus. But these amazing appetizer boards are well established in Mediterranean cuisine. 
WHAT YOU NEED

Cheeses- At least two types but as many as you wish. I used Asiago, Gouda and sweet onion Swiss cheese by Laughing Cow.

Meats- At least two types or skip it if you want a strict cheese board. I used sliced turkey and turkey salami

Extras- I used purple or red grapes, almonds and some crackers

Board- This can be your cutting board, a marble board, slate board, metal board etc. Whatever you have. I used a rectangular board and most that I’ve seen do the same but this can work on a circular or oblong board as well.

Ingredients 

WHAT TO DO

1)Arrange your cheeses and meats on the board. I tried to create something visually pleasing by placing the cheeses at differing heights and placing the meats in between.

2)Place your extras to fill in the empty spaces

Cheese and meat board


PREMADE items

To round out this Mediterranean inspired fest I purchased some items to cut down on prep time and stress.

Pastries 

I bought a box of frozen mini pastries which came in four flavours: spinach and cheese, red bell peppers and cheese, sweet onion and cheese and mushroom and cheese…there was a lot of cheese.

Assorted savory pastries 

Dessert

All the dessert was premade. Desserts are satisfying to make but boy will they eat up your time. I purchased some Biscotti, a tasty Italian treat often eaten along with coffee. I also bought some French Creme cheese pastries which I warmed in the oven and served.

Biscotti 

Cream cheese pastries


A few more shots of the finished table

The evening was great, spent with family and friends. There was good conversation and tasty food. As I say I always recommend doing some things yourself and getting help with others when entertaining,  it makes everything a bit easier.

I hope my Mediterranean inspired Soiree gives you some ideas for your next event. Have an awesome day and Happy International Womens Day to all!

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Aside

Champagne mouth but Prosecco pocket- Fine dining on a budget

18 Oct

Hello

So the saying goes :”champagne mouth and beer pocket” or in my homeland  Barbados : ” champagne mouth and mauby pocket”. Mauby is a drink made from the bark of the tree with the same name. It is fairly popular throughout the Caribbean and like beer, is very inexpensive compared to champagne.   I drink neither beer nor mauby, but I do drink Prosecco which I often refer to as Champagne’s cheaper Italian cousin so this is the drink I use for comparison.  

I digress…

The point I’m making is this post is about enjoying something very pricey without spending all your savings at once.

A couple nights ago I had dinner with family and friends at a fairly upscale osteria. The ambience was gorgeous with glass light shades housing Edison bulbs and tall glass vases with sheaths of wheat inside them not to mention an open faced floor to ceiling shelf housing an eclectic array of items from metal colanders to cook books reflecting the Italian cuisine they serve.

As we sipped and supped, and believe you me, we did, I thought to myself about the fact that I love food and love fine dining but my entire life mantra is to stick to a budget. I basically assessed the entire experience along with other previous similar ones and came up with some tips that a budget savvy individual might want to use.

The point of living life on a budget isn’t to always choose the cheapest option and deny yourself of enjoyable,  meaningful experiences but rather to achieve what you want in the most cost effective way.

TIPS



1) Eat the bread

Most dine-in restaurants will offer a complimentary bread basket. It can be as basic as sliced french bread or as varied as olive bread, cheese crusted bread etc. A few restaurants will devitae from bread and offer things like popcorn. But the point is…EAT IT. 

Many times most persons will nibble at a piece and leave the rest behind, hoping not to ruin their appetite with empty calories but trust me the bread will fill you up and decrease the need for extra food. You may be able to skip an appetizer or avoid having to order a soup or salad if you fill up on that bread.

Olive bread- came with balsamic  vinegar and olive oil to dip.
2) Make the most of appetizers


If you decide to order appetizers this can be where more savings come in. Most appetizer servings are now as large or in some cases larger than mains. You may want to order an appetizer and eat it as your main since it will be cheaper.

Another benifit to appetizers is the ability to share. For example our dinner party was comprised of eight persons and we had 3 appetizers between us. The combination of the bread and the appetizers left most of us almost full.

Tempura fried portobello mushrooms


Bruschetta with: tomato, prosciutto and pear with gorgonzola cheese



Tagliere with Prosciutto, salami, olives and cheeses.
3) Share your food

This was touched on in the previous tip but to reiterate the point, ordering something that can be spread among two or more persons is almost always more cost effective. This means selecting dishes that are easily shared such as pizza or large pasta dishes.

Pizza



Seafood soup, easy to share 


Meatballs 

Ravioli 
4) Have water


Just like the bread basket, most respectable restaurants offer complimentary,  refillable glasses of water. DRINK IT! Ordering a fountain drink or juice will cost you especially if you go through more than one drink per meal. Just stick to the water.

5) Order the bottle

Most “fancy” meals are never complete without a glass of wine. We all know the alcohol sold in restaurants is always ridiculously marked up, however the wine gets cheaper with increased volume. If eight persons were to order a glass of wine each, it would have easily added up to more than an entire bottle from which you can get multiple servings.

 

6) Skip dessert

This is not a hard and fast rule (none of these are). If for example the restaurant is known for it’s desserts then it’s different, or if you are like my close friend Mark and totally addicted to sweet treats then go ahead. 

I personally have found that no matter how good a restaurant is, the desserts are often just okay. There are usually limited to just 4 or 5 options and it’s either some kind of cake or some kind of ice cream. When I go to a fine dining restaurant I am going for the appetizers and mains. If I want desserts I go to a bakery.

Dessert- Ice cream with espresso 




I hope my tips are useful to anyone planning a fine dining dinner experience and I hope you have an awesome day! 

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