Monday, May 9, 2011

Tapas, Vino, y Amigas

If there is one thing that makes me nervous, it's trying anything new in the kitchen.  Cooking has never been my strong suit, but for some reason, the simplicity of Spanish cuisine eased me into the ambitious endeavor of creating a meal for 12 of my closest friends here in Madrid.  I decided to take a risk and make 5 dishes of traditional Spanish tapas and use my girl friends as guinea pigs to sample my creations.  The results were outstanding and I feel compelled to share the experience and receipts for these surprisingly successful dishes. 

I began the process by marinating green olives for 2 days in 2 different simple brines: one a spicy Spanish style and the other a citrus Moroccan style.  The Spanish style consisted of diced garlic, spicy paprika, olive oil, and salt.  In the Moroccan olives, I used the juice from two Valencia oranges, olive oil, and seasoned with lots of whole cumin and some salt and pepper.  I rinsed the olives, mixed in the new brine, and sealed them back in their original jars to marinate for the next 2 days, shaking them occasionally, and tasting them, of course.

My next endeavor was a cold salad consisting of spinach, garbanzo beans, red pepper, and green onions.  Besides lightly sauteing a large bag of spinach and draining and washing a jar of cooked chickpeas, the only requirement is mixing up a few simple ingredients.  I added chopped red pepper and green onions to the mix with a drizzle of olive oil, the juice from one lemon, and some salt and pepper to taste.  I threw some toasted brown bread, coated lightly in olive oil, on the side and watched as the dish evaporated before my eyes.

Now the real cooking begins.  One experimental dish I found was a honey baked tomato bruschetta.  It consistes of halved medium sized tomatoes a top a toasted slice of brown bread.  To prepare the tomatoes, I removed the cores, places one thin slice of garlic in the center of each, dusted them with thyme, salt, and pepper and drizzled a mixture of honey and olive oil over the top and inside the tomatoes.  The sat for 30 minutes, soaking up the flavors, before being placed in the oven for 20 minutes at 200 degrees C.  When they were finished, I placed them atop the toast, allowing the leaking juices to be absorbed by the bread.  These little suckers were my favorite hands down.

Finally, the star of the show was the Spanish Tortilla.  This dish is famous all over Spain and is a staple in virtually every bar, cafe, and restaurant.  It is essentially a giant omelet, cut into slices and shared.  It is made with a generous heap of potatoes, usually onions, eggs, and any other filling your heart desires, from ham and chorizo to pepper and broccoli.  My creation was made with caramelized onions and red bell peppers and a little bit of mozzarella cheese.  I began by cooking up the veggies and placing them to the side.  Then in a large pan filled with olive oil, I cooked 4 thinly sliced potatoes until they were golden brown and as soft as I could get them.  Then I combine the cooked ingredients in with six large eggs, cheese, salt, and pepper.  After making sure everything was well mixed, I poured the concoction into a large pan with a thin base, coated lightly in olive oil.  I used a low heat and continued to allow the runny un cooked egg to seep to the bottom.  The hardest part is the flip, so with a drum roll and camera ready, I used a shallow bowl, larger than the pan, to transfer the half cooked omelet.  It worked! I then slid the tortilla back into the pan, allowing the other side to cook for about five more minutes.  I presented it to my guests with pride and moments later it was completely devoured. 

The final touch was a large cheese platter, slicing the blocks of cheese into thin triangles and serving them with bite sized pieces of fresh baggett.  My lovely ladies generously added to the expansive buffet with more cheese and bread, fabulous desserts, and other creative dishes.  And what party isn't complete without a wide variety of Spanish wine that continued to flow and transformed our quaint dinner party into a lively night out that lasted until the sun came up. 

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