Savoring cocktails and small appetizers in the company of friends can be one of the easiest and most enjoyable ways to entertain. Spaniards have an entire food category dedicated to these appetizers - they call them "tapas" - and they have caught on everywhere because they make such delicious sense. By hosting a holiday tapas cocktail party, we can bring that same relaxed spirit of entertaining to our own homes over the holiday season. For advice on how to choose the food, wine, and music for this party I consulted with Lisa Sierra who, with her husband Tony, is one of About.com's Guides to Spanish Food.
Setting the Stage
Q. How did the tradition of tapas begin in Spain?
A. Spaniards in Spain generally don't entertain at home. They go out to a cafe or bar, have a drink and a tapas, then continue their pub crawl moving from place to place. They even have a verb, tapear which means to go out and eat tapas! If they go out to dinner, they tapa taste at several bars first, then go to a restaurant. After dinner they continue walking and stopping in at cafes, drinking coffee and talking.
Q. What makes tapas such a good party food and what would be the best way to present them?
A. Many of the recipes can be prepared in advance, leaving the host free to enjoy the company of her guests. Approximately every 30 minutes you'll want to present two new varieties of tapas to keep things fresh, especially if you're hosting a holiday open house party.
Q. What would be a few good selections of Spanish wines to serve at a holiday tapas party?
A. Since it's always fun to serve a sparkling wine at a holiday party, you'll want to consider a Spanish Cava. A drier brut like Codornu would be a good choice with tapas. For a white wine you might want to choose an Albarino, these grapes are grown in Spain's Rias Baixes wine region. They are great with seafood, poultry and appetizers. If you would also like to offer a red wine that will be budget-friendly for a large party, try the Juan Gil Red Wine 2006 made of 100% Monastrell grapes, or Marques de Caceres Rioja 2003. This is another "big" wine, dense with berry flavors. About 85% Tempranillo and 15% Garnacha, it is aged in oak barrels for 12 months and then 14 months in the bottle. At $11.00 a bottle, it's a great value.
Q. What would be some festive music selections to play at a Holiday Tapas party?
A. You could play classical Spanish guitar, flamenco or Spanish Christmas carols for a quiet gathering. But for a more upbeat party, choose modern flamenco music from Paco de Lucia, a Spanish guitar master and composer who mixes modern style into his music and is considered one of the best guitarists in the world. Musical selections from the Gypsy Kings, French-born gypsies who are famous all over the world, would be another wonderful choice.
Basics for Hosting a Cocktail Party
- Stock up on plenty of ice. You'll need it for chilling bottles of wine or champagne as well as serving in drinks on the rocks. A good rule of thumb is plan to have 1-pound of ice per guest.
- Have twice as many glasses on hand as guests. For wine, champagne and martini glasses, wine glass charms will help guests to keep track of glasses as they mill about your party.
- For a 2-hour party where you only plan on serving wine and/or champagne, you'll need to have one bottle for every two guests. Have a mix of white and red varieties. White used to be the predominant favorite, but red is becoming just as popular.
- Have coffee available for any guests that may need a little assistance at the end of the party. Your local taxi company phone number should also be handy and offered to any guests you believe shouldn't be driving.
- Although sweets are not typically considered cocktail party food, I like to offer one or two sweet nibbles toward the end of a party, especially if it's a holiday party. In addition to satisfying any lurking sweet teeth, it helps to let guests know that the party will be wrapping up soon.
- When estimating food quantities, plan on serving approximately 6 bites per person, per hour for a two hour party, when no dinner will be served.
For additional cocktail party tips, see the complete article on How to Host a Cocktail Party.
The Menu for a Holiday Tapas Party
A variety of sparkling, white, and red Spanish wines.
Garlic Shrimp Tapa - This is one of the most common tapas in Spain and will leave your guests begging for this easy recipe.
Warm Serrano Ham on Toast - Pop these tasty tapas in the oven for a quick warm up right before serving.
Brie Cheese with Roasted Garlic-Paprika Filling - Smoked Spanish paprika is a unique and powerful flavor in many Spanish dishes. Combined with roasted garlic, melted brie, and dry sherry this rich appetizer will satisfy your guests as much as a complete dinner.
Easy Roasted Red Peppers in Oil, Vinegar and Garlic - This healthy recipe will add holiday color to your tapas selections.
Spanish Omelet - When cut up into bite size squares, the classic Spanish omelet makes a perfect tapa.
Melon with Serrano Ham - Hold this no cook recipe until the end of your party as a cooling finish to your other tapas.
For other tapas selections, see the complete tapas directory on the Spanish Food site.
Wine Ring Cookies - These anise flavored rings are light and go well with a glass of anise liqueur as well as a cup of hot tea or coffee.
Polovorones - These traditional Spanish Christmas cookies are flakey almond rounds that are covered in powdered sugar and cinnamon.
Coffee, Tea, Other Cold Beverages