Photos by Donna Currie
Small plates are not a new idea, but they're still a good idea. Upscale, trendy restaurants charge big prices for small plates on their tasting menus, and dim sum and tapas remain popular. If you think about it, most appetizers are small servings, as well (unless you’re talking about a family style vat of dip).
What could be better than a lot of little bites? Perfect for a relaxed meal, nibbles for a party, or even for a snack. You can create your small plate menu around a theme, or simply combine things that you like. As far as serving, you could bring out all the items at once, or serve them one at a time in a sequence that makes sense to you. There are no rules. Do what you like! Here's what I came up with.
Part 1: The cheese plate
This can be as simple or as complicated as you like; serve one cheese or many. You can offer just the cheeses, but I like having crackers along with them. A bowl of mixed crackers can be interesting, or just choose your favorite type. But if you do select just one, pick a neutral flavor -- the cheese should be the star of the plate. I selected 365 brand Golden Round Crackers. I also like to have fruit with cheese -- it balances the saltiness. Choose something fresh and seasonal. This time, I chose champagne grapes to go with a buttermilk blue cheese.
Part 2: Roasted peppers with chevre
I started thinking about ways to do a caprese salad that wasn't the typical combination of tomato, mozzarella, and basil. I wanted something small and easy to eat in one bite. My first thought was to hollow out cherry tomatoes, but I knew they wouldn't stand upright, so I started brainstorming other ideas. I decided to swap the tomatoes for fire-roasted red peppers to achieve that same bright red color, and I changed the cheese to chevre. For the peppers, you can use jarred peppers, or you can roast your own. This time I used peppers from a jar.
Servings vary; plan on 2-3 per person as part of a selection of small plates
Fire-roasted red peppers
Fresh basil leaves
Photos by Donna Currie
Part 3: Quesadillas
This is one of those "make as much as you want" recipes -- make one quesadilla for a snack, or make mountains of them for a party. I started with pre-cooked shrimp, but you can certainly cook your own, if you prefer. The ones sold as "cocktail shrimp" at Whole Foods were a nice size for this recipe. Grated cheese is the best for melting, but thin slices are fine, as well.
The guacamole I made for the recipe is incredibly simple -- just avocado, lime, and salt. The lime helps to keep the avocado from turning brown, and adds a bit of flavor. I didn't add any onions or other flavors because there's plenty of that in the salsa.
Servings vary; one quesadilla serves 4-6 as part of a selection of small plates; plan on 3 shrimp per quesadilla
Flour tortillas (6-8 inch diameter)
Cocktail shrimp (or similar cleaned and cooked shrimp), halved lengthwise
Colby cheese, grated
Gilberto's Mango Salsa
Guacamole, to serve
Part 4: A sweet strawberry finish
Have you figured out the theme of this meal yet? It's cheese! And it continues into the dessert. I considered mini cheesecakes, but with the simplicity of the rest of the meal, that seemed like overkill. If you're going to make many small plates, you probably don't want to make them too complicated, right?
The cheese I used was a cultured cream cheese -- quite different from the usual cream cheeses. It's not a bright white, and it has a richer flavor. These are sweet little bites, but not overly so. Adjust the amount of honey according to the sweetness of your strawberries.
Servings vary; plan on 3-4 filled strawberries per person
Nancy's Cultured Cream Cheese
Flake salt (kosher or sea salt)
Like this post? See what Donna made last week: Grilly Rellenos with Two Salsas.
Donna is a Colorado food writer and the inventive blogger behind Cookistry. If she's not in the kitchen, she's likely shopping for intriguing new edibles.