MY SPANISH STYLE BIRTHDAY PARTY
Last weekend I attended a wonderful housewarming party. My dear friend Maureen wanted to show her beautiful new Lake Arrowhead home to all her friends. She hired my friend John Shrader to cater the party and it reminded me that I have yet to post about John, his wonderful business called The Cooking Block in Redland’s, California, and about my Birthday party at John’s cooking school.
So, even though I celebrated getting old (yuck!) way back in May, I thought this post about my Spanish style birthday party would be better late than never!
Knowing my love for all things Spanish, my girlfriend Cindy organized the event and Chef John planned a Tapas Style Menu, pairing it with great Spanish wines. All of us got involved in the preparation of 8 different Tapas, recipes which I’ll be sharing with you. Chef John is widely traveled and has spent a lot of time in Spain. Like me, he is also of Spanish descent and is quite an expert in the preparation of authentic Spanish cuisine. However, some of the Tapas that evening had a distinct Italian influence as well.
Here is what we prepared:
- Eggplant and Pimiento Salad
- Queso Manchego con Membrillo
- Pan Con Tomate
- Dates Stuffed with Blue Cheese
- Atun con Allioli
- Tortilla Española
- Gambas al Ajillo
- Salmon with Vermouth Cream Sauce
- Panna Cotta
Prior to our arrival, Chef John had roasted some red bell peppers (pimientos in Spanish) and an eggplant for the delicious Eggplant & Pimiento Salad.
Quick and easy to prepare, you simply scrape the roasted eggplant out of the skin, chop the peppers, toss in a little chopped fresh parsley, season with salt and pepper, and voila, you have a delicious and healthy roasted vegetable salad.
For the next item, John got me involved in the preparation of a very Spanish confection, Queso Manchego con Membrillo.
Manchego cheese (Queso Manchego in Spanish) is a quintessential Spanish cheese made in the La Mancha region of Spain. It is made from the milk of sheep of the Manchego breed or as it’s called in Spanish, the Entrefino breed. I wrote a post about the La Mancha area of Spain and went into some detail about Queso Manchego. You can read that post by clicking here.
So, you may be wondering what Membrillo is. Well, it is a sweet Spanish confection that we would call Quince Paste in English. Quince is a hard fruit, sort of a cross between an apple and a pear. Quince is generally not eaten raw, but rather is cooked and often made into a sweet, jelly-like paste that Spaniards love, especially when paired with Manchego cheese. Chef John had me slice thin triangles of Manchego cheese, top it with a thin slice of Membrillo and garnish it with lemon zest, pine nuts and lavender buds. Easy and, oh, so delicious!
Next on the agenda was Pan con Tomate. Truthfully, John’s recipe for Pan con Tomate should have instead been called Italian Bruschetta. That’s because this very Spanish dish, which is typically served in the Catalan region of Spain, is usually nothing more than toasted bread that has been rubbed with garlic and then simply rubbed with the cut side of a tomato. John’s version used sliced tomato, feta cheese and basil.
He got many of us involved in the preparation. Cindy sliced the bread…
and brushed it with olive oil.
Brenda made a chiffonade of basil…
Maureen sliced tomatoes…
and she sliced garlic.
The garlicky tomatoes were roasted and then placed on top of toasted slices of bread that had been brushed with olive oil.
Feta cheese was added and this was the delicious result.
WK was assigned to the Medjool Dates stuffed with Blue Cheese. This is a very authentic and popular Tapas dish in Spain. He first stuffed Medjool dates with blue cheese and then rolled them in proscuitto.
Now, in Spain, he would be using Jamon Serrano, the delicious cured ham of Spain. It wasn’t easy for Chef John to acquire Jamon Serrano, so we used Prosciutto instead, which is Italian, of course.
The dates were then toasted in the oven until the cheese melted and the proscuitto became crisp. They are out-of-this-world rich and delicious!
Next on the menu was Atun (Tuna) with Allioli Sauce. Chef John has a tuna fisherman friend that once a year gives him a whole tuna fish. He then preserves and cans his own tuna. Tuna is widely served in Spain, often on salads. We felt honored that he shared some of this very special tuna with us that night.
John prepared the Atun (tuna) by mixing it with fresh parsley and homemade Allioli Sauce, a garlic mayonnaise (you may be familiar with the Italian version of this called Aioli). The Atun con Allioli was spooned onto slices of bread that had been brushed with olive oil and toasted.
He then wrapped a green olive with a slice of anchovy and placed it on the Atun. More Allioli Sauce was spooned on top, resulting in this delicious Tapa.
Chef John then got the husbands involved in the making of a Tortilla Española, the most Spanish dish of all. I showed you how to make this delicious national dish of Spain in a prior blog post here. Robert set to work slicing potatoes on the mandoline…
which I fried…
while my husband Brad showed off his one-handed, egg-cracking…
and onion frying skills.
Those efforts eventually resulted in this delicious Tortilla Española being very skillfully flipped by Chef John. That is something I would never have the guts to attempt, as you will see if you visit my Tortilla Española post.
Hey, are you getting hungry yet? I am just thinking about the immense quantity of food we prepared that evening! But that wasn’t all folks! Next up was one of the most common Tapas found in Spain, Gambas al Ajillo, Shrimp with Garlic. This truly classic Tapa is shrimp fried in olive oil with lots of garlic and a splash of brandy.
And Chef John made quite a dramatic and impressive show if it!
The final savory dish on the menu was Salmon with Vermouth Cream Sauce.
I was so full by then that I could only manage a small taste.
Right about this time, when we were sure we could not consume another bite, my son Taylor showed up with 5 of his college buddies. The boys had just graduated from Duke University and were meeting up to embark on a 3 week camping trip, visiting most of the national parks in the western states. So we plied them with food, which would surely be the best meal of their road trip.
For dessert, Chef John prepared a wonderful Italian Panna Cotta smothered in poached berries and wonderful little bites of gelatin. Such an inventive take on this classic cream custard.
It was a wonderful and memorable evening spent celebrating with my best friends. It makes turning another year older a lot easier to swallow.
We ended the evening by watching 6 young men try to cram themselves and 3 weeks worth of camping gear into a Chevy Tahoe. It was The Griswolds all over again!
The boys were headed that night to Mount Whitney. At 14,500 feet, it is the highest peak in the Continental United States. They successfully climbed it after a 6 hour drive without sleep!
OH TO BE YOUNG AGAIN!
So there you have it: MY SPANISH STYLE BIRTHDAY PARTY
Stay tuned for all the recipes, coming this week!
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