I think it was my grandmother who first told me that the older one gets, the faster time goes by. Back then, it didn’t mean much to me, but it surely does now. It seems like we’ve barely celebrated the start of one year, when the next one slaps us in the face. For twenty years, I’ve marked the beginning of each year with an open house, inviting friends and acquaintances to come for food, drink and conversation. Perhaps it is my hope that through this ritual we can, if only for a moment, quiet the forward rush of time. Also, I love the idea of colorful characters from the many parts of my life coming together, and getting to know one another. This year, on the second Sunday in January, upwards of forty people dropped by mi casita. Having had the privilege of spending two weeks in Spain last fall, and taking a cooking class in Barcelona, a Spanish theme seemed inevitable. And so, inspired by the food of Spain, I created a menu, not authentically Spanish perhaps, but rather my impression of a few Spanish dishes, cooked in my style. So, here in pictures and words, are the dishes I served, with a couple of recipes and the complete menu following at the end.
Photo at the top–Vegetable Paella. Medium grain brown rice sautéed along with diced onion, garlic, tomato and a pinch of smoked paprika and of saffron, cooked in lightly-salted vegetable stock. When the rice is nearly done (about 5o minutes later), I added in diced, steamed carrot, butternut squash and sweet potato, and continued cooking for about ten minutes. At this point, I seasoned the paella with a generous sprinkling of umeboshi vinegar (find this in a good natural food store, or substitute a bit of lemon juice and additional salt). Just before serving, I stirred in thawed frozen peas.
Photo above: Seafood Salad. Surprisingly, I found an exceptionally nice seafood mixture (raw shrimp, scallops, calamari and cooked mussels) at Costco. A day ahead, I briefly steamed some diced fresh fennel and then marinated it in a mixture of orange and lemon juices (along with the zest), mirin, olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper (save the feathery fennel leaves for garnish). Separately, I marinated thinly-sliced raw red onion in a similar mixture. The morning of the party, I quickly cooked the shell fish (when the shrimp is firm and thoroughly pink, the seafood is ready). Then I combined the briefly-cooked shell fish with the marinated fennel and red onion. The marinade from the vegetables was almost enough for the entire dish, but I did add some more orange and lemon juice, olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. This can be served chilled or at room temperature.
All photos by Robert Starkey
More photos and descriptions after the jump…
If there is one dish I think of as typically Spanish, it would be what they call a tortilla, and what we would probably think of as a potato frittata. Although the directions appear a bit involved, it’s really not that complicated. Here is the recipe, edited for simplicity, that we learned in a cooking class at BCN Kitchen (if you find yourself in Barcelona, I highly recommend their English-language classes).
Garbanzo beans with roasted vegetables, and some smoked paprika.
Although empanadas in Latin America are usually little baked or fried pocket pies, in Spain they are more often a baked , two-crust savory pie. See recipe below.
As a dessert I wanted something fruity and crunchy and not too sweet, so I created these Fig-Almond-Chocolate Bars (recipe below).
———— Many of my friends from the Monday night dinner community gathered in the dining room. During the party, my living room became the Vallejo room where some of my friends gathered who attend our “Golden Girl” get togethers every Thursday at noon.
Fig-Almond Chocolate Bars
Soaking the figs in advance will make them tender and moist, contributing to a dense, rich bar.
Preheat oven to 345˚ F
1 1/4 cups whole wheat pastry flour or all purpose flour
1 1/2 cups well-chopped toasted almonds
1/2 cup cocoa
2 teaspoons baking powder
pinch of salt
1 1/4 cup chopped, dried figs (remove stems before chopping the figs)
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup soaking liquid, or as needed to make a thick, but pourable batter
1. Soak the chopped figs in 1 1/2 cups hot water.
2. In a medium mixing bowl, stir together the dry ingredients until well mixed.
3. Drain the soaked figs in a strainer, taking care to save all the liquid.
4. In a second mixing bowl, combine the maple syrup, vegetable oil and 3/4 cup of the soaking liquid and stir well. Add this liquid mixture to the dry ingredients along with the chopped, soaked figs. Stir everything together until thoroughly combined. Add a little more of the soaking liquid or water if the batter seems too dry. The batter should be moist, thick, but pourable.
5. Pour the batter into a parchment-lined 9 x 9-inch cake pan, spread the batter evenly, smoothing the top.
6. Bake in a pre-heated 345˚ F oven about 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Allow to cool before attempting to cut. Variation: To finish my bars, I spread them with a thin film of hot maple syrup and sprinkled on finely-chopped chocolate-coated almonds.
Yields one nine-inch pie (about 8 servings)
1 pound white mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 large white or yellow onion, peeled and diced
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
olive oil, as needed
2 bunches fresh spinach, trimmed, washed, and steamed until tender
1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella, swiss or gruyere cheese, or a combination
salt and pepper to taste
a sprinkle of a mediterranean herb mixture or herbs de provence, to taste (optional)
1. Using a large sauté´pan, heat a tablespoon of olive oil, add the mushrooms, onions and garlic and sauté first on high heat, and continue cooking, gradually lowering the heat until the mushrooms and onions are very tender and nearly all the moisture has evaporated (add more oil if necessary). Season with salt and pepper and herbs while these veggies are cooking. 2. Meanwhile, steam the spinach until tender. Then put the spinach in a colander to drain. When the spinach is cool enough to handle, squeeze out as much moisture as you can. This is a really important step because you do not want the pie to end up being soggy! 3. Combine the mushroom mixture with the spinach and cheese, check for seasoning, adding salt and pepper as needed. Use this to fill the pie.
For the dough:
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons olive oil
pinch of salt, and of sugar
cold water, as needed
additional flour for rolling out the dough
one egg yolk mixed with a tablespoon of water for glazing the dough
1.Measure out the flour into a good sized bowl, add the oil, salt and sugar, and gradually add just enough cold water to form a workable dough. 2. Divide the dough into two equal parts and roll out one half on a floured board. Carefully pick up this dough and place in a parchment-lined nine-inch pie pan. 3. Pour in the filling, spreading it evenly over the bottom pastry. 4. Roll out the remaining dough, and place on top of the pie, pinching together the edges to seal the pastry. Brush the egg yolk-water mixture over the top crust to form a glaze. 5. Bake in the middle shelf of a preheated 350˚ oven 30-40 minutes or until golden brown. If in doubt about doneness, make a small slit with a sharp knife and carefully lift up a little bit of the top crust, checking to see if it is cooked through. Allow to cool a few minutes before attempting to cut. Also good served at room temperature.
Ensalada de Mar
Spanish Potato Tortilla
Empanada de Verduras (Spinach, Mushroom, Onion and Cheese)
Garbanzos with Roasted Veggies, Cilantro-Garlic Dressing
Mixed Greens with Pomegranate, Kumquats, Red Onions and a Citrus Vinaigrette
Cheeses with Whole Grain Breads
Variety of Olives
Cashews, Dried Figs, Chocolate Almonds, Mandarin Oranges