Thursday, November 4, 2010

This meal brought to you by Forward Momentum

I guess I was remiss when last when writing about the Great Tapas Dinner. I didn't even mention the amount of prep work that went into it. Don't worry, I won't wax poetical about the last minute stress of hosting a dinner party. I'm sure we've all been there before. The fact that this gathering involved me planning to single-handedly put together 21 different dishes, well... that just illustrates how I have way too much fun for my own good.

To quote a militaristic literary idol of mine, no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy. Just so in this case. I plotted out the menu way in advance (which just means I didn't say: "Oh, this looks interesting; let's make this tonight!"). Having no real idea where to start, I simply paged through the The Book of Tapas, noting which recipes looked tasty or interesting (or just bizarre and intriguing). Unfortunately, this gave me a list with roughly 50 items on it. After several cuts, and one dessert addition from Rick Bayless' website, I had the expected 21.

You would think that would be sufficient planning. But no! Then I had to figure out if it was even possible to make those dishes: many called for seasonal ingredients that aren't always easy to find in a Midwestern Autumn. Which brings me to the first great obstacle: grocery shopping. (Here I must apologize, because I said I wouldn't wax poetical. The shopping deserves an exception.) My memory is hazy (stress-induced delirium?), but I believe I had to make four distinct trips to the store. The first was to determine if all the ingredients could be had, and if not, what I could use instead. That was a success.

The second and third trips, as the actual 'buy stuff' excursions, were not. You see, I don't have a vehicle -- which is usually fine, because I live within walking distance of two grocery stores. However there is a limit to how much a person can carry in one trip. This was made even more difficult because two of my roommates promise to help carry bags... and then both flaked out on me. I must have been quite a comical sight, carrying all that stuff back by myself. Ok, rant over. Those were trips 2 and 3. Trip 4 was the last minute shoot-where-is-the-x-oh-damn-quick-go-get-it-now trip.

And that was all before the day of the event. During the week preceding the dinner, I pretty much spent every night reviewing the recipes (to ensure I'd be able to construct them with a minimum of difficulty), sometimes almost falling asleep on the cookbook. It was actually pretty funny. By the end of the week, I was virtually dreaming of tapas. I was definitely reverting to Spanish whenever I started talking to anyone. Aaawkward.

And by the end of it, I didn't even get to serve everything! While actually in the kitchen, I had to spontaneously remove 4-5 courses from the meal. The cuts were bourne of a realisation that there was no way my guests were going to be able to eat so much. Hey! In my defense, tapas are supposed to be small!

Anyway, that's enough blabber and ranting from me. Let's get to the interesting stuff: the food! These two dishes fall under the 'curiosities' category. Definitely not something you would serve every day, but an intriguing combination regardless. On the whole, this is the type of food on whose taste you might reflect, but it won't cause any cravings. They fit in well in a large complicated meal, and might work better as a small Amuse-Bouche.

Orange, Fennel, and Onion Salad (Ensalada con Naranja, Hinojo y Cebolla)
  • 1lb 5oz fennel, peeled and cut in half lengthwise
  • 3 large oranges
  • 5 Tbs olive oil
  • 2 Tbs lemon juice
  • 1 small onion, thinly sliced
  • handful of black olives, pitted and sliced
  • mint leaves, to garnish (optional)
  • salt and pepper
Bring a pan of salted water to a boil. Add the fennel, being back to a boil and cook for 2 minutes, then drain. Peel the oranges, removing any traces of white pith, and thinly slice crosswise, reserving any juices. when the fennel is cool enough to handle, thickly slice it and set aside. To make the dressing, beat the olive oil, lemmon juice and reserved orange juice together in a large bowl with a fork. Season with salt and pepper.

Combine the fennel, oranges, onion and olives in the bowl, gently tossing together. Pour the dressing over the salad and toss gently just before serving. The salad can be garnished with mint leaves, if desired

Hard-boiled Eggs with Smoked Salmon (Huevos duros al Salmón)
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 generous slice smoked salmon
  • salt
  • 3,1/2 Tbs bottled salmon row, drained, to garnish
To hard boil the eggs, pour enough water to cover them into a large pan, add 1 tablespoon salt and bring to a boil. Add the eggs carefully and stir gently with a wooden spoon to that then they set the yolks will be in the center. Cook medium-size eggs for 12 minutes. (Add 1 minute for bigger eggs and subtrract 1 minute for smaller eggs.) Drain off the hot water, fill the pan with cold water and leave the eggs until required. When the eggs are cool enough to handle, shell and halve the eggs lengthwise. Cut a thin slice off the base of each egg white half so it stays upright.

Put the mayonnaise and smoked salmon in a blender and blend until well mixed. Season with salt, if necessary, as the salmon might be already salted. To improve the presentation of the eggs, use a pastry bag to pipe the salmon and mayonnaise mixture onto the halved eggs. Garnish with the salmon roe and serve. If no serving immediately, store in the refrigerator until required.


mox said...

why is this labeled under 30 minutes or less?
but YAY cooking adventures!

Spuds said...

Because individually, either of them could be made in half an hour (or less). Ok, cutting up the ingredients for the orange salad may take some time, but boiling an egg and putting the mayo and salmon in a vroom-vroom (as Neen would put it)? No time at all.

mox said...

yes, but the whole point here is the days of preplanning...


Spuds said...

Hah! Fair point, but good grief, you surely don't expect to be able to make 21 dishes if each one takes a couple hours. Madness, sheer madness!