Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Plate that Party platter!

Almost before Christmas is over, the New year is winking at you! Party season continues! Everyone loves a good reason to celebrate, but this  week brings more celebrations than any other time of the year!  Impromptu parties, sudden guests, food can get terribly repetitive! At such times a selection of unique low-effort platters are the perfect answer. You can arrange them ahead of time, so they require no effort. (The beauty of a party platter lies in the fact that it can all be put together quickly, using a handfull of gourmet ingredients.)

And there is a world of inspiration to pick from! Middle Eastern, Spanish, Italian all of the popular cuisines of the world have a history of serving small foods to whet the appetite prior to a meal. The objective is to linger over varied bite sized offerings, sharing food and conversation with pleasant company, Here are a few ideas for grazing platters inspired byt cuisines from around the world.

Large Italian style Antipasti platters are the first that come to mind.  Antipasto literally means “before the meal” and play a very important part in a celebrations in Italy. For an Italian Antipasto Platter, arrange a selection of Italian meats and cheeses,and augment with marinated vegetables. Dress with a simple balsamic vinaigrette and a bit of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Try marinated roasted red bell peppers, artichoke hearts, pepperoncini peppers, Mozzarella and Provolone cheese, a selection of meats such as salamis and Parma ham. Drizzle with a good extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar and serve.

In some parts of Spain, like León and Granada, your drink will usually come with a Tapa or a small quantity of food included in the price of your drinks (usually a beer or wine not soft drinks or spirits). Tapas are said to have evolved from the tradition of a “tapa” pr cover –usually a piece of bread or a flat card- that would be placed on top of a drink to protect it, which at some juncture began to be topped with a little snack. This snack has today evolved into a tradition of small quantities of food usually sold or served complimentary with drinks in Spain. For a Spanish Tapas Inspired platter place a box of quince paste in the middle, add olives, shavings of manchego cheese, rolls of Iberico Ham, Smoked tinned shellfish, spicy smoked meats on a platter and serve.

Mezze, meze, maza or mezethes, depending on where they are being served, are the small plates of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East. Found everywhere, be it public eating places or dining rooms at home, these small plates are intrinsic element of the culture and dining of these countries For a Middle Eastern Mezze style platter place bowls of Tzatziki, Hummus and Tahina dip in the middle. Mound a coupls of salads in large lettuce leaf 'bowls' filled with cult-classic Tabbouleh (soak bulghur wheat in hot water until it swells, squeeze dry, toss with plenty of tomatoes, spring onion, chopped flat-leafed parsley and cucumber and dress with oodles of extra virgin olive oil, lemon, salt and freshly ground black pepper. For Color add this salad to your platter as well, toss a couple of cans of Mandarin segments with thinly sliced red onion, feta cheese, black olives and Olive oil. Add grilled veges such as artichokes and asparagus, olives, some Lemon pepper Salami black, green and stuffed olives assorted cheeses, walnuts and pistachios Lavoush, pita and/or other crusty breads, dried fruit like apricots and prunes, fresh fruit wedges.

Or go with a them, just a meat platter or simply Cheese, even just Olives! If you have ever served olives to nibble on as starters you will know how popular they are. Olives, may seem useless additions but they offer a palate cleansing, lighter option to fatty meats and cheeses. And nothing beats an Olive Platter for this. Natures Basket offers one of the largest selections of olives. Pick from whole, marinated and stuffed olive and arrange Kalamata olives, Rose olives and green olives alternately with their marinated stuffed versions. Our favourits are orange rind, hazelnut, garlic, jalapeno, prawn, feta and tuna stuffed versions. Place a pot of Olive tepanade in the middle and serve with a crusty foccacia. Perfect for wine and even better with beer! (The saltiness compliments the sweet caremel tones of the beers.)

Of course Christmas being as much a festival for children, perhaps more so, we must not forget them. Children might not care for the strong tasting meats and cheeses so assemble things they will like; fruit such as grapes and berries and other fruit on skewers, dried fruit such as raisins, sultanas and cranberries, honey, Child friendly cheese such as  chedder (or a tube of Primula they can squiggle onto crackers), nutella, marshmallows, cookies, pieces of cake, in fact, we think this platter will be a surefire pleaser for the bigger 'children' as well!

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