|Duet of Gazpachos|
The plot was simple: invite seven of my best friends over for an afternoon of Flamenco music and a Taste of Spain. What followed was reminiscent of an all-female version of the Algonquin Round Table. Intelligent, interesting, witty women with a passion for food, wine, the arts and men conversing over a leisurely six course lunch.
The cast of characters included my favorite doctor, a fashion editor, a fashion consultant, a documentary producer, the liaison to the likes of Roger Federer & Rafa Nadal at the BNP Paribas Open here in Indian Wells, and three fanatical foodies of indeterminate occupation. It was a diverse and animated group of women capable of producing high decibel banter. These women know I am capable of excess when it comes to food and wine. So like proverbial girl scouts, they came well prepared for the expected Bacchanalia—each wore an outfit with an elastic waistband.
The setting was originally to be poolside given the weather forecast of a balmy, but hardly wintery, 80 degrees. But a high wind warning made me cautious for in similar conditions the previous weekend our patio furniture vacationed at the bottom of our pool. Because we intensely decorate for Christmas, years ago we agreed to keep the holiday decorations up at least through Chinese New Year. So the lunch was held amidst Santa’s of all ilk, Department 56 villages, and Mark Roberts fairies, elves and monkeys. It made for a rather festive setting and I revised the theme to “Flamenco music and a Taste of Spain at Christmas.”
Pane with Tomato & Serrano Ham
Paired with La Cana Albarino 2010
Paired with La Cana Albarino 2010
Seafood Fideua or Fideuada – Catalonia and Valencia
Paired with Alto Moncayo Varaton 2009 Garnacha & Montebuena Rioja Cosecha 2009
Campo de Montalban, Zamorano, La Serena Cheese Sampler with Marcona Almonds and Migos Figs
Paired with whatever wine remained
To my sous chef’s constant chagrin, I tend to over serve and underestimate the time for preparing a meal. Event preparations started on Friday, and we did what we could. But many of the dishes needed to be freshly prepared to be at their best, so there was much work left on Saturday morning. Ellen, my good friend and fellow foodie, arrived bright and early to assist in preparations. My sous chef, who is a very busy attorney at this time of year, was not intending to help further. But when he stopped in to see how Ellen and I were doing, he grabbed a knife and, like an attorney, started barking orders and calling out the time remaining. At this point it felt like a Top Chef competition, but the buzzer would have sounded and I would have been eliminated for not completing my dishes without their help. With only moments to spare, I was ready to greet my guests with a Manzanita cocktail and a platter of Pane with Tomato & Serrano Ham.
The cocktail is inspired by a drink I had at Julian Serrano’s Tapas Restaurant in Las Vegas. The unique flavor of the Hendricks’s Gin (cucumber and rose), when combined with the green apple puree and Lillet, creates a perfect balance of tartness, savory herb, sweetness and floral notes. It is very refreshing cocktail and a great way to start the festivities.
|Pane with Tomato & Serrano Ham|
|A couple bites in and rave reviews|
My guests raved about the Pane with Tomato & Serrano Ham. It is simplicity personified. Crisp, toasted bread (I used sourdough) is rubbed with a garlic clove and tomato. This infuses the bread with the essence of garlic and tomato but does not make it soggy. Serrano ham is thinly shaved and placed in ribbons on top of the bread. Manchego cheese curls garnish the finished tapas. The ladies each ate one and one-half servings, so there were no leftovers or even crumbs on the plates.
Next up was the Duet of Gazpachos. The first was Tichi’s Gazpacho and it has been a tried and true favorite in our home ever since we first had it at Jose Andres’ restaurant, The Bazaar, in Los Angeles. Jose claims his wife Tichi captured his heart with this Gazpacho recipe. I am still waiting for my sous chef’s proposal, but I have had many requests for the recipe. Ingredients are the key to great food and I think it particularly important to use a suitable product when preparing a regional recipe. To achieve the correct balance and flavors of Spain, use Spanish Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Spanish Sherry Vinegar.
The second gazpacho was another Jose Andres dish, Ajo Blanco Malagueno, and it is the yang to Tichi’s Gazpacho’s yin. The flavor profile is completely different as it consists of almonds and garlic with a garnishment of grapes. Since the texture and flavor are more on the sweet side (since the heat of the garlic was dissipated by blanching), it was served in a shooter glass, milkshake style. This sweetness offset the tanginess of Tichi’s Gazpacho making them an irresistible pairing.
|Rivera Inspired Cabbage Salad|
Rivera Restaurant in downtown Los Angeles has been a favorite of mine since it opened, and anyone who has gone there on my recommendation has not been disappointed. I knew I was walking a tight rope with my next dish as I didn’t exactly have a recipe for it and some of my guests may have tried this at Rivera. Not to worry, however. My ravenous ladies consumed all of the Rivera-Inspired Cabbage Salad. Whew! This salad is a flavorful combination of julienned red cabbage, chopped green apples, crumbled Cabrales cheese and crispy lardons with a simple dressing of Spanish Sherry Vinegar and Spanish Olive Oil. The crunchy red cabbage, tart apples and the saltiness of the lardons when combined with the strong, spicy flavor of the Cabrales cheese creates a burst of flavors in your mouth that keep going and going. It’s kind of like a German symphony, only shorter and more enjoyable.
I know that it is risky to try new recipes when entertaining, but I cannot help myself and the Fourth Course is an example. I have wanted to try many of the recipes in Claudia Roden’s book “The Food of Spain” and felt that today’s Round Table was a sufficiently adventurous group of foodies to comprise the perfect venue. I have made paella several times in the past, so the method was familiar. Valencia Paella includes rabbit, which is a meat that I order frequently but had not prepared previously. It is a very lean meat with little fat. This paella also includes chicken thighs, lima beans, saffron, tomatoes and snails. Ellen and I followed Claudia Roden’s recipe to the letter, with no improvisation as we home cooks normally do. The flavors were good, the paella rice was cooked perfectly, and no one balked at the inclusion of snails and rabbit. However, we each felt it needed a little more pizzazz. There is a strong Mexican influence in Southern California cooking, so maybe our taste buds simply were calling for a little spice through the addition of chorizo or pepper. Or maybe we don’t yet fully recognize and appreciate the sophistication of Spanish cooking? One other note about this dish, after browning the chicken and rabbit it looked like a grease bomb had exploded in the kitchen – probably why they best paellas are made over an open flame in the great outdoors.
|Valencia Paella & Seafood Fideo|
It’s not a frequent occurrence when women take seconds, even if they are starving. Something about women suffering through hunger pangs in order to promote the perception of dietary moderation. But in a most unladylike fashion the group plowed through first and second helpings of the Seafood Fideua like Sherman through Georgia, making it the clear winner of the paella cook-off. This paella is a combination of fideo (short pasta noodles found usually in the Hispanic food section) and a panoply of seafood, including calamari, scallops and shrimp. The recipe called for monkfish, the “poor man’s lobster,” but I could not find it locally and substituted langoustines instead of the much more costly lobster. The fideo noodles are cooked in a simple tomato and garlic sauce to which I added some of the broth from the Paella Valencia. This married the two dishes nicely and gave the fideo sauce a richness that you won’t get from chicken stock alone.
|Spanish Cheeses with Wine - what could be better?|
Sated and grateful for elastic waistbands, the ladies needed a respite to get their second wind. Cheese course time! Cheese is not normally used as a palate cleanser, but I felt it would be the perfect transition from the Fourth Course as the cheeses matched well with the three wines and had enough character to clear the taste buds. Zamorano is a sheep’s milk cheese that has nutty characteristics and gets its dark color from being rubbed in olive oil while being aged for six months. La Serena Cheese – the most pungent of the group-- is made from sheep’s milk that has been curdled using the coagulant found in the pistil of the artichoke, and has a slightly bitter and salty taste. This is not for the lighthearted, but is a great cheese when paired with an appropriate glass of wine. Campo de Montalban was mistakenly thought of as Manchego cheese up until 1985. It has a similar taste and texture, but is unique as it consists of cow, goat and sheep’s milk.
After nearly four hours of dining, it was time for the finale, a duo of desserts. Arnadi de Calabaza is a traditional dessert that is served at Easter in the region of Valencia. It has very complex flavors that graduate from the sweetness of the pumpkin (or squash) and almonds to a finish of lemon with a hint of cinnamon. It was incredible and there was only one piece left at the end of the day. Crème de Manzana, or apple cream, was the second dessert. It was a match made in heaven for the slight tartness of the apples offset the sweetness found in the other dish. Plus it was creamy and elegant to boot. These desserts were consumed with gusto and the plates were left clean as a whistle, always a good sign that a dish was a success. Ellen and I each thought that the Crème de Manzana would be a terrific base for a rice pudding. And while the Arnadi de Calabaza may not be our typical Easter fare, I can see this dish as an alternative to pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving!
Five and one-half hours, six bottles of wine and six courses later it was siesta time.
Not to brag, but my seven guests said their “number one pick in the desert for dining” was my house. Aren’t they a polite group? Flamenco, A Taste of Spain at Christmas was officially a success.
Throwing an ambitious luncheon for eight is a team effort. My sous chef and financier did the shopping, paid for the ingredients, and assisted me in the kitchen. He was not particularly happy about having to visit five markets to obtain the necessary ingredients and assuage my desire for Spanish inspired table linens and decorations. (Note to everyone – it is probably easier to find these amenities closer to Cinco de Mayo.) Ellen assisted greatly in the entire cooking process – it’s not often that you find friends who are willing to be a co-hostess with you. Judy supplied a terrific Albarino for our first two courses for which I am most grateful. And equally important to a great party are the guests. I don’t have many shrinking violets for friends, so lively conversation is always in store and adds to the dynamic of a successful party. I’m thankful to have such a great sous chef and friends in my life.
|Wonder who will get the last serving - Sous Chef or Me????|
To cook by:
Zucchero - Zucchero & Company available on iTunes $9.99
Spanish Dinner Party Music – available on iTunes for $9.99
Flamenco Guitar – Carlos Montoya – available on iTunes for $24.95
To clean up:
Zac Brown Band - You Get What You Give - available on iTunes for $10.95