Tapas night

Week six, my biggest cooking challenge of the new year. Nine guests, eight dishes, seven of those dishes (and most of the guests) completely new. A recipe for a nervous breakdown. I recently joined a supper club with a group of fantastic girls, some I know well, the others I’m getting to know with each meal we have. The basic premise is this; if you’re in the supper club you’re assigned a month. You choose a weekend evening when most members are available and you prepare a meal and dessert, providing a bottle of red and a bottle of white that goes well with the food. Everyone shows up with whatever else they’d like to drink and what follows is an evening of food, a surplus of wine and some great chats. There are no set rules. Food can be made, ordered in, or even made by someone else you’ve bribed or hired.  As long as you can feed the girls, no one’s really concerned about formality, just good grub. When February rolled around (my assigned month) I was a little nervous…I was the newbie in the club in a group of women who’ve known each other and have been feeding each other for years. Not to mention the fact that I’d been at two previous supper clubs in big gorgeous homes with proper dining rooms that easily fit eight to twelve people. My place is affectionately known among my friends as the Hobbit House and while it’s nice and cozy and squishy for parties, the little red eat-in kitchen can only seat five (slightly uncomfortably) for a proper sit down meal. I knew I was going with tapas but was a little unsure of how to to go about it. My friend Susan suggested bringing my kitchen chairs up the stairs to the second floor living room, and bringing up food as it was done, appetizer style. So that’s what I did. Everyone lounged on kitchen chairs, the sofa, the love seat, or the floor, while drinking wine and eating whatever little experiments I carted up the stairs. I had to leave out two dishes, we ate later than I would have liked due to my lack of time management skills, but the food was good and I think the ladies were happy.

Paprika-spiced almonds

1 1/2 tbsp coarse sea salt
1/2 tsp smoked Spanish paprika, to taste
1 lb 2 oz/500 g blanched almonds

Preheat the oven to 400 F. Place the sea salt and paprika in a mortar and grind with the pestle to a fine powder. Alternatively, use a mini spice blender (the amount is too small to process in a full-size processor). Place the almonds on a baking sheet and toast in the preheated oven for 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until golden and giving off a toasted aroma. Watch after 7 minutes because they burn quickly. Pour into a heatproof bowl. Drizzle over 1 tbsp of olive oil and stir to ensure all the nuts are lightly and evenly coated. Add extra oil, if necessary. Sprinkle with the salt and paprika mixture and stir again. Transfer to a small bowl and serve at room temperature.

This recipe comes from a sweet little cookbook called Greatest Ever Tapas (Parragon Publishing, 2004), a Christmas gift from mom a few years back. These almonds are crazy easy, very tasty, and the perfect thing to plop down in front of your guests to keep them happy while you’re getting seven other recipes ready and dying a little on the inside. The recipe calls for blanched almonds, which I didn’t use as you can see from the photos. Because it’s more economical, they recommend buying the almonds unblanched, pouring boiling water over them and removing the individual skins one by one. I certainly wasn’t equipped with the mental skills to skin almonds one by one on nervous breakdown day, so I opted for skins on and sanity intact. I used hot smoked paprika (you can get sweet smoked but I’ve never used it) and only had regular table salt, so the mortar and pestle probably wasn’t necessary, but I break it out when I can because it makes me feel more exotic than I actually am. The almonds are extremely hot when they come out of the oven (I know, weird) so be sure to use a heatproof bowl and be careful when you’re drizzling the oil, etc. Don’t injure yourself, your guests need you.

Queso de cabra con salsa picante (goat’s cheese with chilli sauce)

340 g (12 oz) firm goat’s cheese
4-5 chillis, deseeded and diced
250 ml (9 fl oz) olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Juice of 1/2 lemon

Cut the cheese into 2 cm cubes. In a bowl, mix the chillies with the oil and season with salt and pepper. Add the cubes of cheese to the oil and mix well. Allow to marinate for a couple of hours. Squeeze the lemon over the cheese and mix again. Serve on cocktail sticks.

Used goat mozzarella, no other firm goat’s cheese to be found at the store. I didn’t know the spice threshold of a lot of my guests, so I used three chillies as opposed to four or five, and the mild ones at that. Really lovely and fresh tasting. From another great little cookbook simply called Tapas, by Tomas Garcia, New Holland Publishers, 2005.

Smoky roast potatoes were next. No set recipe for this one really…peeled about ten organic red potatoes, cut them in nice chunks, and doused them in a few generous glugs of extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper and about a teaspoon or so of hot smoked paprika (use more or less depending on taste, the stuff is pretty spicy). Mixed all together and roasted in a 400 degree oven for a good half hour and then another hour or so on 350-375 because I wanted them slow roasted and all crispy brown. There was no time to make a homemade aioli, but a clove of garlic finely chopped and mixed with a couple of heaping tablespoons of good quality mayonnaise did the trick just fine. These are great with a big bacon and egg breakfast as well. If that’s the case I usually mix in a finely sliced red onion halfway through roasting for more of a hashbrowny taste. Garlic mayo still recommended for breakfast if you’re brave.

They disappeared in five minutes. I cursed myself for not making more, but was a little relieved that everyone had filled up on a few potatoes in case I discovered halfway through the night that I hadn’t made enough food. Next.

Champinones rellenos (stuffed mushrooms)

15 large button mushrooms
3 shallots, peeled and very finely chopped
1 tbsp light olive oil or 25 g (1 oz) butter
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of grated nutmeg
50 g (2 oz) soft breadcrumbs
1 tbsp parsley, finely chopped
1 tbsp parmesan or manchego, finely grated
1 egg, beaten

Preheat the oven to 400 F. Wipe the mushrooms clean and remove the stalks. Chop the stalks and the shallots very finely. Heat the oil or butter in a medium frying pan to high. Add the shallots and the stalks. Season well, adding the nutmeg. Toss over the heat for a further 3 to 4 minutes, then transfer the mixture to a bowl with a slatted spoon and add the breadcrumbs, parsley, cheese and finally the beaten egg. Mix thoroughly. Stuff the mushroom caps with this mixture. Place the stuffed mushrooms on a baking tray, drizzle with the oil from the frying pan and bake in the oven for 5 to 7 minutes or until the mushroom caps have wilted slightly.

Gone as fast as the potatoes. Second most popular dish of the night so far. From the Tomas Garcia Tapas.

Cabrales con nuezes (blue cheese cream with walnuts)

1 French stick, cut into 1 cm rounds
2 tbsp good quality olive oil
225 g (8 oz) cabrales, roquefort, stilton or other blue cheese
2 tbsp single cream, soured cream or creme fraiche
Freshly ground black pepper
50 g (2 oz) walnuts, shelled

Preheat the oven to 375.  Brush a little olive oil onto the bread, place on a baking tray and bake for 5 minutes or until golden brown.  In a bowl, crumble the cheese, add the cream and mix together with a fork.  It should not be too smooth a mixture.  Season with pepper but no salt as the cheese is fairly salty.  Spread a teaspoon of the mixture onto the toast and garnish with the walnuts to serve.

Great recipe if you’re a fan of blue cheese, but pretty overpowering if you’re not. I mellowed it out by doubling the sour cream and I wouldn’t be opposed to maybe tripling it next time. A very rich dish to serve with all that other food. Next time I’ll try it on its own with a nice green salad.

Huevos rellenos con alcaparras (eggs stuffed with capers and gherkins)

12 small eggs
6 tbsp mayonnaise
1 tsp mustard
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp chopped capers
1 tbsp chopped gherkins

Hard-boil eggs, peel and cut in half lengthways. Scoop out the yolks and mash them together with the mayo and mustard. Season well. Add the capers and gherkins to the mayonnaise mixture, heap back into the egg halves and serve.

Again, a little rich to serve halfway through the night. They were supposed to be up first but I had made them earlier in the day and shoved them to the back of the fridge. Bad timing, but the best devilled eggs I’ve ever had. I followed the recipe (another Tomas Garcia) to the letter and I won’t stray far from it in the future.

Chorizo al vino (chorizo in red wine)

10 chorizo sausages
400 ml (14 fl oz) robust red wine

Preheat the oven to 400. Put the chorizo sausages into a roasting pan and pour the wine over. Roast in the oven for about 40 minutes. The sausages should be browned and slightly crispy, the wine all but evaporated. Cut each chorizo into 3 or 4 pieces and serve hot.

It is hard to explain the smell of chorizo sausage roasting in a pan of red wine. For almost an hour it made the little red kitchen and the rest of the house smell like homemade smoked bacon on a barbecue in summertime. I sliced the chorizo before roasting, I didn’t pay much attention to amounts, and if by robust wine Tomas Garcia means the bottle of red you opened a couple of weeks ago and forgot to drink (rare) so it now sits by your stove for cooking, then I think he’d be quite pleased.

Garlic chicken

1 kg (2 lb) chicken thigh fillets
1 tbsp paprika
2 tbsp olive oil
8 cloves garlic, unpeeled
1/4 cup brandy
1/2 cup chicken stock
1 bay leaf
2 tbsp chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Trim any excess fat from the chicken and cut the thighs into thirds. Combine the paprika with some salt and pepper in a bowl, add the chicken and toss to coat. Heat half the oil in a large frying pan over high heat and cook the garlic for 1-2 minutes, until brown. Remove from the pan. Cook the chicken in batches for 5 minutes each batch, or until brown. Return all the chicken to the pan, add the brandy, boil for 30 seconds, then add the stock and bay leaf. reduce the heat, cover and simmer over low heat for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, place the garlic pulp in a mortar and pestle or small bowl. Add the parsley and pound or mix with a fork to form a paste. Stir into the chicken, cover and cook for 10 minutes, or until tender. Serve hot.

This recipe came from the Spanish chapter of another kitchen bible, The Essential Mediterranean Cookbook, published by Murdoch Books in 2005 (you might recall The Essential Asian Cookbook from a previous posting. A fantastic series. Get these books).  I used Hungarian sweet paprika this time around, to give the hot smoked a bit of a break.  Not necessarily tapas, but we ate it on those little cocktail sticks anyways. This was the last dish of the evening and everybody was feeling full so there were plenty of leftovers for Sunday…as it turns out garlic chicken is better the next day and nice with white rice. I’d like to make it again but the night before so it can sit in the fridge overnight to let all the flavour go through the chicken.

Brownies with ice cream for dessert, more wine, and relief that I’d pulled it off.   A very good night.

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