When our son was young, Lewis and I were not always able to escape the house and parenthood to spend time with friends and each other. We lived within a tight budget and did not have access to reliable babysitters.
We knew, however, the importance of setting aside some adult time each week. So we began inviting one or two other couples to our home on Saturday nights for food, conversation and card games. These gatherings soon became a fun routine to which we looked forward as the weekend rolled around.
The secret was to keep it simple. After all, an escape should not involve a lot of work. Our closest friends did not care that my house was not spotless. The evenings were less about entertaining and more about just casual visits with people whose company we enjoyed.
Lewis or I would feed and bathe our son early. Often, another couple would bring their own child, already in PJs, and the kids would head off to the den to watch The Lion King or play in our son’s room with a closet full of toys. Eventually, they were tucked into bed. They loved these spend-the-nights!
Sometimes we would grill out for our adult dinner, but that involved a lot of time and dirty dishes. So we switched to eating tapas, which could easily be prepared ahead of time and tasted just fine when served on paper plates.
Tapas is the term for finger foods and snacks served in Spain. They are basically appetizer-sized portions of a wide variety of meats, vegetables, omelets, breads or unique combinations of foods. The preparation of some tapas can be quite complex, but there are endless recipes that require very little time, effort or expense.
With our tapas spread out on the kitchen counter, homemade sangria in the fridge and children in bed, we adults would settle around the kitchen table for several rounds of Spades, Hearts, Poker or Michigan Rummy. Our games often continued way into the night.
So consider a casual evening with good friends this coming weekend. Your children actually benefit from seeing mom and dad having a life that includes more than just parenthood, and you will surely feel renewed after some time spent in the company of adults.
Here are some of my favorite tapas recipes. I selected these because they take so little time to prepare:
Melon and prosciutto—Cut cantaloupe into bite-sized pieces (or purchase pre-cut) and spread pieces on a flat serving dish. Shred some thinly-sliced prosciutto and toss the pieces on top of the cantaloupe. Serve cold with toothpicks. You can wrap the prosciutto around the melon pieces and attach with individual toothpicks, but that’s more work than necessary, and it doesn’t make it taste any better.
Smoked salmon with dill mayonnaise—Set out some smoked salmon (buy packaged) on a small cutting board. Serve with a small bowl of dill mayonnaise and slices of French baguette (toasted or untoasted). To make the dill mayonnaise, I use one cup of mayo, juice of about a half a lemon, well-minced fresh dill, salt and ground pepper. Add a touch of finely-minced garlic if desired.
Baked shrimp—Mix the following in a casserole dish: Two pounds of large, unpeeled, deveined shrimp; about a half a bottle of Italian salad dressing, one or more garlic cloves, minced; juice of one lemon; about a quarter cup of butter. Bake uncovered for 25 minutes at 375 degrees, stirring once after 15 minutes. Shrimp will turn pink when done. Sprinkle with fresh parsley and lemon slices. Serve warm with French bread if desired, for sopping the juices.
Cream cheese and chutney—Cut an 8-ounce package of cream cheese into slices and set on a serving plate. Pour a small jar of chutney over the slices. Top with finely chopped green onion and serve with buttery crackers. Fig or peach jam can be used in place of chutney if desired.
Caprese bites—Put a container of grape or cherry tomatoes on a serving plate. Toss in some small balls of fresh mozzarella cheese and shredded fresh basil leaves. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Serve with toothpicks. You can pre-assemble bites onto toothpicks, but again, why bother?
Easy egg frittata—Grease an oblong baking dish. Drizzle about an eighth of a cup of half-and-half or cream into the bottom of the dish. Pour in 12 eggs that have been well-beaten in a bowl with some milk or cream (about the same consistency as if you were making scrambled eggs). Add shredded cheese and any other omelet-type items you have on hand—cooked bacon crumbles or small ham chunks, pre-sautéed onion or bell pepper pieces, sliced mushrooms. Bake about an hour at 350 degrees. You will know it is done when the eggs are firm in the middle of the dish. But don’t overcook; the dish will continue to cook for about five minutes after you remove it from the oven. Let the frittata cool for about 10 minutes then cut into serving size squares. Serve with salsa or diced tomatoes on the side.
There are no rules regarding tapas. You can limit your dishes to assorted olives, assorted cheeses and crackers, grapes, smoked almonds and cheese straws. My menu is usually driven by what's on hand in my pantry or what’s on sale at . I’ve made signature dishes from sardines (with raw onions and spicy mustard), canned smoked oysters (with cream cheese and a hint of Worcestershire sauce) and Vienna sausages (great for a sausage and bean salad).
Let me know if you have some favorite tapas recipes. And don’t forget to have some fun at home this weekend!