All in good taste

Photographs by Ashley Fraser

Offering a meal made entirely of bite-sized gems such as mini burgers, pork tacos, oysters, classic lobster rolls (all at left) and (right) homemade potato chips is a fun alternative to the traditional dinner party.

Finding fun ways to serve the food is one of the novelties of hosting a tasting dinner party.

The tasting party: It’s a new, delicious trend in entertaining. Instead of serving a three- or five-course meal, hosts-with-the-most are offering a meal made up of many bite-sized morsels. The tasting party is similar to Spanish tapas, where a mélange of cold and hot “snacks” are served. More elegant than finger-food parties, tasting soirées are a popular way to indulge diners with unique and scrumptious fare to satisfy every palate.

The food

There really aren’t any rules when it comes to creating a menu for a tasting party — the only thing a host should keep in mind is what’s actually feasible. Because there are so many more dishes, it’s important to consider how intricate and time-consuming each will be to prepare — a dinner party is no fun when the host is trapped in the kitchen for the entire evening.

An easy way to decide on what will be served is to choose a theme and build upon it. You could go Italian and prepare antipasto, individual stuffed ravioli or bruschetta. Opt for Greek and the menu looks more like grilled veggies, pita with tzatziki or taramosalata and grilled brochettes. We love what Erin Clatney of DISH catering did for our photo shoot. She offered a delectable array of comfort-style foods such as lamb sliders, lobster rolls, prawns with beet cocktail sauce, salted caramel tarts, and more.

The presentation

The fun thing about tasting parties is the way in which the food comes to you. There’s something about using their hands to eat miniature food that makes dinner party guests swoon. The food can be grouped together on larger platters, but it’s also a treat to have individual containers that are varied in size and style to hold a selection of dishes. Most kitchen stores now carry smaller serving-ware collections, from mini cordial glasses with spoons to tasting party platters and even cute, decorative cocktail picks.

The result

Just like any well-adorned table, the final touches of a tasting party include some spirits or cocktails as well as some foliage. Put out a few bottles of bubbly with glasses for an easy makeshift bar, and place a few vases or urns with florals or greenery on the table. For a modern edge, opt for more unique plants such as the amazing pencil cactus that added contemporary panache to our set-up.

Shrimp Cocktail

Erin Clatney, DISH catering

Serves 4 to 6 as an appetizer (3 to 4 shrimp each)

  • 1 pound (450 g) 16/20 size jumbo shrimp, peeled, tail on and deveined
  • 1 cup (250 mL) water

For the nuoc cham (shrimp marinade):

  • Juice of 2 limes
  • 4 tablespoons (65 mL) sugar
  • 1 cup (250 mL) water
  • 3 cloves of garlic, smashed
  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) chili flakes
  • 1/3 cup (75 mL) fish sauce
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) cilantro, roughly chopped

For the beet cocktail sauce:

  • 1 pound (454 g) cooked and peeled beets
  • 2 tablespoons (25 mL) prepared horseradish
  • 2 tablespoons (25 mL) honey
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) water
  • Salt and pepper

Cooking instruction:

  1. To make the marinade, combine all marinade ingredients in a saucepan, bring to a boil and gently simmer 5 minutes. Remove from heat and cool.
  2. In a stainless steel, glass or plastic bowl, place shrimp with marinade and water; marinate shrimp overnight, covered and refrigerated. Next day, strain shrimp and reserve the liquid.
  3. In a large saucepan, bring reserved liquid plus 2 cups (500 mL) of water to a boil and gently poach shrimp 3 to 4 minutes; remove and strain immediately.
  4. For the beet cocktail sauce, roughly dice peeled and cooked beets (wear rubber or latex gloves to avoid staining hands). Combine sauce ingredients in a blender and purée (add water if necessary). Season to taste with salt, pepper. Serve as a dipping sauce with the shrimp.


Salted caramel tart

Erin Clatney, DISH catering

Makes 12 four-inch (10-cm) tarts

For the tart dough:

  • 4 cups (1 L) all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons (10 mL) sea salt
  • 1 1/2 cups (375 mL) cold butter, diced
  • 2/3 cup (150 mL) sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon (5 mL) vanilla extract

Cooking instruction:

  1. Preheat oven to 375F (190C)
  2. Combine flour and salt.
  3. Pulse flour mixture and butter in food
    processor until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Set aside in a large mixing bowl.
  4. Whisk sugar, eggs and vanilla together, then add to flour mixture and mix it together.
  5. Knead dough on a floured surface (add
    1 tablespoon/15 mL ice-cold water if dough is too dry) and form into a ball. Refrigerate 30 to 45 minutes.
  6. Roll out dough on a floured surface to  -inch (6-mm) thickness.
  7. Cut out 12 disks, each slightly larger than the four-inch (10-cm) tart pans.
  8. Press dough into tart pan and prick with a fork. Refrigerate 30 minutes.
  9. Line pastry with tin foil or parchment paper and fill with dried beans (to hold the tart shape as it bakes).
  10. Bake 10 minutes, then remove beans and foil (beans can be reused many times). Bake 10 minutes longer.

For the salted caramel filling:

  • 1   1/4 cups (300 mL) sugar
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) cold butter, diced
  • Pinch, salt
  • 1 cup (250 mL) heavy 35-per-cent cream

Cooking instruction:

  1. Combine sugar, butter and salt in a deep saucepan over medium heat.
  2. Stir occasionally, until it caramelizes, 15-20 minutes (looking for a deep caramel colour).
  3. In a separate saucepan, heat cream to a boil and set aside.
  4. When the sugar is caramel colour, remove from heat and slowly pour in cream (be careful – it will splatter).
  5. Return pot to low heat and stir to dissolve the caramel, about 5 minutes.
  6. Cool slightly and fill baked tart shells.
  7. Refrigerate at least 2 hours.


Chorizo pogos

Eric Clatney, DISH catering

Makes 35-42 two-ounce meatballs

For the chorizo balls:

  • 2 tablespoons (25 mL) cayenne pepper
  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) ground cinnamon
  •  1/4 tsp (1 mL) ground cloves
  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) ground black pepper
  • 8 tablespoons (125 mL) smoked paprika
  • 2 tablespoons (25 mL) dried oregano
  • 3 tablespoons (50 mL) kosher salt
  • 8 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup (250 mL) cider vinegar
  • 5 pounds (2.25 kg) ground pork

For the pogo batter:

  • 1 cup (250 mL) cornmeal
  • 1 cup (250 mL) flour
  • 4 teaspoons (20 mL) paprika
  • 2 teaspoons (10 mL) salt
  • 1 teaspoon (5 mL) garlic powder
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup (250 mL) milk
  • 3 tablespoons (50 mL) olive oil
  • Canola oil, for deep frying

Cooking instruction:

  1. In a large mixing bowl, combine all spices, oregano, salt, garlic. Add cider vinegar, combine, then mix well with ground pork. Form into small meatballs (two ounce); set aside in refrigerator.
  2. For the batter, combine dry ingredients. In another mixing bowl, beat together eggs, milk and oil, then add to dry ingredients and mix to combine.
  3. Adjust thickness of batter with milk (should be thick enough to coat chorizo meatballs).
  4. In a deep-fat frying appliance, preheat canola oil to 350 F (180 C). Dip meatballs in batter, let excess batter drip off and deep-fry for 4-5 minutes, taking care to not overcrowd the pot.

Bacon Jam
Makes 2 cups

  •  1 pound (450 g) bacon
  • 1 head of roasted garlic
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) prepared coffee
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) maple syrup
  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 cup (50 mL) red wine vinegar
  • Tabasco sauce, to taste
  • Salt, to taste

Cooking instruction:

  1. Fry bacon to crispy, transferring pieces to paper towel to drain. Reserve fat.
  2. Sauté onion in the reserved bacon fat until lightly coloured and tender. Meanwhile, chop the cooked bacon.
  3. Add remaining ingredients to saucepan and gently simmer over low heat until reduced by half, about 2 hours.
  4. Transfer to a food processor and purée to desired consistency. Keeps in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Food/dishware provided by DISH Catering, Greenery provided by Blumenstudio,

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