Sunday, October 31, 2010

Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger.

I don't know if this happens to anyone else, but my cooking habits are bizarrely similar to a steam engine. Everything runs smoothly if I'm making things regularly. But if I make too much at once, I run out of steam and can't bear to enter my kitchen for days at a time. Or even worse, if I don't cook anything, the pressure builds up until I'm forced to let it all loose in a massive culinary explosion.

This was the case a few weeks ago. I had been so distracted with the many bureaucratic distractions of day-to-day life that (I'm ashamed to admit) I hadn't used my kitchen for much other than cereal and pasta. This lasted a good long time, and by the end of it, the emergency release valve was going off like there's no tomorrow. The only way to cope was to do something about it that was equally ridiculous.

I made a tapas dinner. It was a dinner for a dozen people that lasted better of 5 hours.

I know. I'm a nutter.

But it was a marvelous experiment, and it finally gave me the opportunity to break in one of my graduation cookbooks (I was given 3 -- my family knows me well): "The Book of Tapas," by Simon and Ines Ortega. I recommend it. The book offers a great variety of hot/cold veggie/meat/fish platters in proportions that will content a small group (giving you the opportunities to make several, if you want them to leave stuffed). The glossy pictures offer some illustration to what you're trying for (which is useful for some of the more creatively-named recipes).

Unfortunately, I can't offer any images of my own. The roommate I tasked with taking a pictures was far more interested in the sangria. It's just as well -- there's no way I could blog about all of it. But since I have been asked to say something about the evening, I suppose I can post some of the better dishes. This will have to come in separate installments, though. I'm not sitting here for all of them.

I guess I'll start with the two dishes that most epitomize tapas in my mind: bacon-wrapped dates and Roquefort-stuffed prunes. They are small -- bite-sized, in this case -- tasty combinations of flavours that you really wouldn't be exposed to otherwise. The feeling you end up with is a rich decadence, though it's unclear as to whether that's due to a cuisine with foreign influence or just because it's a fancy course.

Fried Date and Bacon Pinchos (Pinchos de dátiles y bacon fritos)
  • 20 dates
  • 20 slices thin rindless bacon
  • 2-3 Tbs peanut or groundnut oil // I'm not convinced this is necessary
Slit the dates along the longest sides and carefully remove and discard the puts. Wrap each date in a strip of bacon and secure with a wooden toothpick. Heat the oil in a skillet or frying pan, add the bacon rolls and cook, turning occasionally, for about 10min, until the bacon is cooked through and lightly browned. Drain well and serve immediately.

Prunes with Roquefort, Raisins and Pine Nuts (Ciruelas rellenas de Roquefort, pasas y piñones)
  • 3,1/2 oz (100g) Roquefort cheese
  • 1 oz pine nuts
  • 1/4 cup raisins
  • 1 Tbs Malaga wine or sweet sherry
  • 4 Tbs light cream
  • 12 ready-to-eat prunes ("To use standard prunes, soak them in warm water to rehydrate them")
Crumble the Roquefort into a bowl and mash lightly with a fork. Add the pine nuts, raisins, wine or sherry and cream and mix to a paste. Remove the pits from the prunes and fill the cavities with the Roquefort paste. Close the prunes and secure with a wooden toothpick. Put the prunes on a plate, cover and chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours before serving.

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