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. Dim sum and tapas are popular small plate preparations. And most appetizers are small servings as well, unless you're talking about a family-size vat of dip.
What could be better? A lot of little bites. Perfect for a relaxed meal, nibbles for a party, or even for snacks.
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.
The Cheese Plate
This can be as simple or as complicated as you like. One cheese or many. You can serve nothing but cheeses, but I like the idea of having crackers along with the cheese.
A bowl of mixed crackers can be interesting, or just choose one. But if you do choose just one, pick a neutral flavor. The cheese should be the star of the plate.
Fruit goes well with cheese - choose something fresh and seasonal. This time, I chose champagne grapes.
Just arrange them on a plate:
365 Golden Rounds Crackers
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. Same bright red color.
And then I changed the cheese. Are you getting the idea how I create recipes? Yeah, it confuses me, too.
For the peppers, you can use jarred, deli peppers, or you can roast your own. This time I used peppers from a jar.
Fire-roasted red peppers
Cut the peppers open, remove the seeds and ribs, and lay them flat. If the chevre is very stiff, mash it up a bit with a fork to soften it. Smear a thin layer of cheese on the pepper.
Roll up the pepper, jelly-roll style. Slice into rounds. You can secure each round with a toothpick, if you prefer. Top each one with a bit of basil.
Shrimp Quesadillas with Guacamole
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.
The guacamole I made for the recipe is incredibly simple - just avocado, lime, and salt. The lime helps keep the avocado from turning brown, and add a bit of flavor. I didn't add any onions or other flavors because there's plenty of that in the salsa.
Grated cheese melts best, but thin slices are fine, as well.
Flour tortillas (6-8 inch diameter)
Cocktail shrimp (or similar cleaned and cooked shrimp)
Colby cheese, grated
Gilberto's Mango Salsa
Set aside a few shrimp if you want to use them as garnishes. Remove the shell from the tails of the rest of them and slice in half horizontally.
Put a layer of cheese on a flour tortilla and scatter shrimp on top. About three shrimp - or six of your halved pieces - is enough. Add more if you like, though. Dollop some of the salsa on top. This particular salsa isn't blazingly hot and has a nice sweetness that pairs nicely with the shrimp. Put a second tortilla on top. Assemble as many as you want to cook.
Meanwhile, scoop the pulp out of the avocado and put it in a small bowl. Add the juice of 1 lime and a pinch of salt. Mash the avocado to your desired level of smoothness.
Heat a griddle, comal, or cast iron frying pan on medium heat. Place the quesadilla on the pan and let it cook until there are a few brown spots on the bottom and the cheese is just beginning to melt. Flip the quesadilla over and cook on the second side - about 30 seconds more - until the cheese is melted.
Remove the quesadilla to a cutting board and cut into wedges. About 6 wedges per quesadilla is about right.
To serve, you can garnish each wedge of quesadilla with a small dollop of the guacamole, or serve it separately. Garnish with the extra shrimp, as well. For those who like more spice, serve extra salsa on the side, as well.
And now for a little dessert
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's got a richer flavor.
These are sweet little bites, but not overly so. You can adjust the sweetness to your taste, though, and I do suggest that you adjust them since the sweetness of strawberries varies so much.
Nancy's Cultured Cream Cheese
Flake salt (kosher or sea salt)
Core the strawberries. Taste one so you know how sweet or tart they are.
Put the cheese in a bowl, and add honey until it's the sweetness you're looking for. Start with just a little honey and add more, as needed. I thought it was perfect when it was just a little bit sweet and the honey flavor was detectable without overwhelming the cheese.
Put the cheese into a plastic bag. Snip a corner off of he bag and use it like a pastry bag to fill the strawberries with the cheese mixture. Sprinkle just a tiny bit of salt on top. Serve.