Every year when Shark Week rolls around, I see a lot of people suddenly interested in sharks, when they never appeared to be before. I'm glad to see they're not haters, but I feel the need to point out once and for all that I single-handedly started the shark craze. Sharks have a week devoted to me. Well maybe not, but I've loved sharks for almost 20 years. I saw Jaws for the first time back then and was immediately intrigued. I started collecting and reading shark books, wrote my own shark journal containing information about different species of sharks, and in true Victoria fashion (I'm a weirdo after all) made paper cut-outs of sharks, scuba divers, swimmers, boats, and so on, and would play out various shark attack scenarios when I was bored. I never said I was normal. I must say that I truly and deeply LOVE sharks. I have for a big part of my life.
Some of my friends share this passion, and along with my sister we grew up watching Jaws movies and shark shows on TV. We share hilarious shark-related inside jokes, and look forward to Shark Week every year. About a year and a half ago I hosted the first ever Shark Party, which we aptly called "Shark Bowl" since we had it on Super Bowl Sunday (sharks trump football any day, at least when the Patriots aren't playing). The menu was Mexican and consisted of fried fish tacos, mango-radish salsa, pink chili mayo, guacamole, and fresh tortilla chips. I replicated part of this menu a couple days ago in honor of the upcoming Shark Party sequel. We never eat actual shark during shark parties. I don't believe in eating shark, and it's the only animal I won't eat for ethical reasons. I do like to incorporate fish or something shark-related into the menu. When planning the menu for our second Shark Party, I took a lot of things into consideration, which I normally do when planning any menu. Here are some tips for menu-planning...
- Consider spacial or equipment limitations. Don't plan on making all the dishes in the oven, or all of them on the stove-top. It will make your life extremely difficult. Think about Thanksgiving... that turkey spends most of the day in the oven, and if you plan all of your side dishes to be baked or roasted as well, you're asking for it.
- Try and plan a few menu items that can be prepared in advance, especially if you are feeding a larger crowd and making several dishes. You can thank me later.
- Strive to create a balance in color, flavor, texture, and temperature. If you can prepare a couple cold items (think appetizers, dips, and so on), those can easily be made ahead of time. If you make all brown food, it won't look very appetizing. A meal of fork-tender pot roast, mashed potatoes, and wilted spinach might not be all one color, but it offers no variation in texture and would be better fit in a nursing home than at your dinner party.
- A general rule of thumb is to prepare at least one protein (depending on the size of your party), a starch and a vegetable. You can make a few vegetables, and starches too depending on your requirements, but try not to make the meal too heavy in one department. Three proteins and one starch would be too protein heavy, but one protein with two starches and two vegetables might be a little side-heavy. Look at the big picture. If you are planning a larger scale menu and plan on having more than one protein, make them different from each other!
- Use ingredients that are available and in season whenever possible. Use your visit to the market as inspiration. If a particular ingredient is on sale and looks fresh, think about ways to utilize it in your menu. Or use ingredients in your pantry to save on having to buy more ingredients than necessary. It's much more economical than buying every ingredient you need all at once.
- Think about fun themes for your dinner parties. I've shared some good ones here! A theme as simple as a food ethnicity or even a season will help you focus your menu in a cohesive direction, instead of having a scattered offering of items that don't seem to go together. A holiday is already a built-in theme, but even then you can go further if you want.
With that said, I will now share my thought process in putting together the menu for this most recent Shark Party. I decided right away that I wanted to do a meal of Spanish tapas. No particular reason other than the fact that I wanted to make tapas :) I thought it would be fun to make some tuna croquettes and use a shark cookie cutter to make them into "shark" croquettes, but after trying to cut the first few, that plan quickly failed since the filling was on the soft side and the shape was too delicate to bread. I ended up making torpedo shapes instead (although a couple "sharks" survived as can be seen on the top of the croquette pile!) The central "shark" dish for my tapas menu did not work as planned, but I made the best of it. In the end the shape of my croquettes didn't really matter!
I knew that the croquettes would need to set in the fridge, but would need to be fried right before eating, so I started them early in the day, and then revisited them later. I also decided to make some deviled eggs because those would not be too challenging, could be made early in the day, and were served cold. I made some mini turkey meatballs the previous day and planned to make the wine sauce before dinner and simply heat the meatballs in the sauce. That was a brilliant plan and saved me a lot of time the day of the party. I also quickly assembled the goat cheese-stuffed bacon-wrapped dates about an hour before dinner and just baked them off right before. During the last few minutes of baking the dates, I toasted up the baguettes for my tomato-rubbed garlic bread (a Catalan tapa), which was a cinch to put together last minute, while the croquettes finished frying. I asked my sister to cut the fruit and put together the simple sangria, so that's pretty much the only thing I didn't make myself, but it was my recipe based on this one, but using different fruits. In the end I had five tapas dishes and a specialty drink which were all very different and yet went together perfectly.
**Cold, soft, white and yellow deviled eggs... hot, medium-texture, brown meatballs in a yellowy-brown sauce... Hot, crunchy/chewy, dark brown bacon-wrapped dates... hot, crunchy/gooey, light brown and white tuna and olive croquettes... hot, crusty, redish, garlicky bread with tomato.**
I also had a good variety of proteins: turkey, tuna, bacon, and egg, with a couple vegetarian options. Although the shark shape didn't work out for the croquettes, the tomato rubbed on the bread wasn't unlike "blood" and the red wine sangria we had to drink was also red like blood :) The shark tie-in didn't fail completely. I also provided party favors that were shark-related: shark pens!! At the first shark party I had shark breath mints! At our Shark Parties we enjoy our delicious meal while watching shark shows or DVDs as well as Jaws for the first shark party or most recently Jaws: The Revenge, the awful last sequel to the original that for some reason we just love (making fun of it)!! Now that I've discussed my thought process behind this menu and party, I think it's time to move onto the recipes, don't you?
Goat Cheese-Stuffed Bacon-Wrapped Dates
Makes about 40-45
10 oz pitted dates
1 lb bacon (not thick-cut), cut slices widthwise into thirds
4 oz goat cheese, softened (microwave for 15-30 seconds and stir until smooth and spreadable)
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Fill a piping bag fitted with a small round tip with the softened goat cheese. Alternatively if using a disposable pastry bag, fill with the softened goat cheese and cut a small opening at the end. Using the pastry bag, pipe goat cheese into the hallowed-out middle of the dates, where the pit used to be. Wrap a piece of bacon (1/3 a regular slice) around the date and secure with a tooth pick. Place bacon bundles onto a sheet pan lined with foil for easy cleanup. Bake for 35-40 minutes until browned and crisp. Remove from the oven and let cool for a few minutes before serving.
1/3 cup + 1 T. mayonnaise
2 tsp. drained capers
1 T. minced parsley
1 tsp. lemon juice
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Kosher salt to taste
Put raw eggs in a saucepan and add water to cover. Place over high heat and bring to a boil. When the water comes to a boil set a timer for 10 minutes, and slightly lower the heat to keep the water at a boil but without agitating the eggs too much. Meanwhile, prepare an ice water bath. When the timer goes off, remove the eggs from the boiling water using a slotted spoon and plunge into the ice water bath too cool. When the eggs have cooled, carefully crack and peel them, slice lengthwise, and remove the cooked yolk. Set the whites aside and add the yolks to a food processor. Add the remaining ingredients to the yolks and puree until smooth. Taste and adjust the seasonings as needed. Fill a piping bag fitted with a star tip with the yolk mixture. Carefully pipe the yolk mixture into the empty egg white halves. Alternatively spoon the yolk mixture into the whites (less pretty). Chill until ready to serve.
Pa amb Tomaquet / Pan con Tomate (Tomato-Rubbed Garlic Bread)
3 garlic cloves, peeled and left whole
1/2 a very ripe tomato (cut crosswise), lightly squeezed to remove seeds and juice
Kosher or sea salt
Freshly cracked black pepper
Extra virgin olive oil
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Cut the baguette in half lengthwise and then cut slices on a bias in whatever size you prefer (4-6 pieces per baguette half would be good). Place baguette slices on a sheet pan and place in the oven to lightly toast for about 5 minutes, until dry on top and barely golden. Remove from the oven and while still hot rub the whole garlic cloves over the surface. The garlic will melt/dissolve into the hot bread. Then vigorously rub the tomato half over the tops of the toasted bread. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and serve immediately while still warm.
Mini Turkey Meatballs in Wine Sauce
Makes about 2 dozen meatballs
(Wine Sauce recipe from Tapas: Sensational Small Plates From Spain by Joyce Goldstein)
For the Meatballs:
1 lb ground turkey
2 slices white bread, crusts removed
1/4 cup milk
1 egg, beaten
1/3 cup minced onion
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
For the Wine Sauce:
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 T. chopped blanched almonds
2 T. chopped parsley
1/2 tsp. sweet paprika
Few saffron threads, warmed and crushed
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 T. olive oil
1/2 cup minced onion
1/2 cup dry white wine
2/3 cup chicken broth
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Soak the bread in the milk and then lightly squeeze out excess milk and add bread to a bowl. Add the remaining ingredients and mix by hand until well combined, but do not overwork the meat. The mixture may be soft. Roll meat into small balls about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Place meatballs on a foil-lined, greased sheet pan (for easy clean up). Bake for about 25 minutes until cooked through and starting to brown. Remove from the oven and cool if making in advance, or set aside while preparing the sauce if making all at once.
To make a picada, in a small food processor combine the garlic, almonds, parsley, paprika, saffron, a pinch or two of salt, and a few grinds of pepper and process until finely ground. Set aside. In a large frying pan, heat oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 8 minutes. Add the wine and broth and bring to a simmer. Add the meatballs, reduce the heat, cover and simmer to heat through. Add the picada and cook for a few minutes longer. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve.
Tuna and Green Olive Croquettes
Makes about 2 dozen
(Adapted from Tapas: Sensational Small Plates From Spain by Joyce Goldstein)
3 cups whole milk
4 oz unsalted butter
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 5-oz cans tuna, packed in water, drained and flaked apart
1/2 cup chopped green olives stuffed with pimento
About 1 cup all-purpose flour
2 large eggs beaten with a few T. of water
About 1 cup fine dried bread crumbs
Canola or peanut oil for deep-frying
In a saucepan, bring the milk to a simmer over medium heat and remove from heat. While the milk is heating, in another saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Add the flour and stir well to combine. Cook for a few minutes while stirring, but do not allow the roux to brown. Carefully add the milk a little at a time, whisking between each addition to prevent lumps. When all the milk has been added, continue to whisk over medium-low heat until a very thick bechamel sauce forms, about 3 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove from the heat and stir in the tuna and olives. Adjust seasoning as necessary.
Lightly grease a 9x13" pan. Pour the croquette base into the pan and spread out to form an even layer, using the back of a spoon or spatula. Cover with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours until cold and set.
Arrange 3 shallow bowls and fill each with flour, beaten eggs, and bread crumbs to form an assembly line. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set that next to the assembly line. Scoop some croquette mixture with a spoon and using wet hands form it into a 2-inch long torpedo shape or a 1 1/2-inch ball. Drop it into the flour, roll it around, and shake off the excess. Dip it into the eggs, drain off the excess, and then add it to the bread crumbs and toss to coat. Set on the lined pan and continue with the rest of the croquette mixture. Refrigerate the formed croquettes until well chilled, another 2 hours.
Pour oil to a depth of 3 inches into a deep, heavy saucepan and heat to 360 degrees F on a deep frying thermometer, or until a bread crumb dropped into the hot oil begins to sizzle and float immediately. Carefully slip a few croquettes into the hot oil and fry until golden, about 3 minutes. Using a wire skimmer or slotted spoon, transfer to a sheet pan lined with paper towels to absorb the excess oil. Serve immediately, or keep warm in a low oven until ready to serve.