One of the casualties of my returning to work full time a few years back was having people over for dinner. Mostly because my dining room table became ground zero for all “work in process”: unfolded laundry, unpaid bills, school books and bags of chips that no one had time to put away. I couldn’t even begin to think about entertaining as the task of organizing the chaos was overwhelming.
Towards the end of last year, I was feeling especially disconnected from friends. And I realized how much I missed those dinner parties. I also realized it was about time I got a handle on the disorganization that had taken over my house, so I spent a few weekends cleaning and purging and FINALLY seeing my dining room table for the first time!
Then the planets aligned with a few other couples whose sons wrestled in high school with our son and we got a date to gather and wine and dine! I thought a sunny Spain-inspired menu would be the perfect way to break up the mid-winter monotony. For starters I put together this platter of traditional Spanish cheeses and charcuterie: Cana de Cabra (tangy goat cheese), Campo de Montalban (a 100 day aged cheese is a blend of cow, sheep and goat’s milk from La Mancha), prosciutto, sausages and my favorite Marcona Almonds.
Olives too! Oh my…these Castelvetrano Olives Marinated with Rosemary, Red Chili, Orange and Paprika were spectacular:
There are so many versions of paella, it was difficult deciding which one to make! I ended up with this Chicken and Seafood Paella from Jo Cooks since it offers a bit of everything. A little tweaking was necessary as I omitted the clams, added some chopped roasted red peppers and about one cup of peas at the end. 16/20 shrimp is the perfect size and andouille sausage can easily be substituted if chorizo is not available. With the right equipment and best quality ingredients (see Resources section below), this dish was a knock-out:
Because I love wine and especially Spanish wine, there was plenty of it to go around as well. For red, I chose a silky Tempranillo : 2014 Hito Cepa 21 available locally at Binny’s Beverage Depot for just $13.99/bottle. Be sure to decant this one about an hour before serving so all of its complex fruit and smooth tannins are at their best. For white, I didn’t want to veer too far into anything floral, so opted for a 2015 Naia Verdejo, which had just enough straw and citrus to compliment the seafood and work with the more assertive saffron/smoked paprika elements in the dish. Available at Binny’s for just $10.00/bottle. It’s a great value!
We ended the evening with chocolate covered strawberries, other sweets and of course more wine!
To me this is what cooking is all about and I can’t wait to gather friends together for another meal to share. Whether I can keep my dining room table cleared until then remains to be seen 😉
Until next time, be well, eat well and love lots!
PAELLA PAN – Do you HAVE to buy one to make paella? Well yes and no. The week before I gave the recipe a test run in a shallow Le Crueset pan and it was very good. For my dinner party, I borrowed a more authentic paella pan from a friend and the paella was even better. The large surface area and dimpled carbon steel base allowed for even cooking and that wonderful authentic paella “crust” to form on the bottom. Would also make a great pan for sauteeing vegetables and for other rice-based dishes. At just $29.95 for a 15″ pan (large enough to make a paella for 8), at Williams Sonoma, how can you resist!
SAFFRON – In addition to a paella pan, it’s worth investing in some good quality saffron for this dish, as it is truly the star flavor ingredient. Unless you’re in a bind, I would not recommend supermarket saffron as it is typically grossly overpriced and has likely been sitting on the shelf for ever. Instead, head to Amazon and purchase a bottle of this Mehr Premium All Red Saffron. 3 grams will run you around $20 and yes I know that is a lot of money but this is a generous quantity and will last you a long time. And with this stunning silky gift box, think of it as a gift to yourself!
OLIVE DISH – Part of the fun of entertaining is digging through my shelves of serving plates, glassware, etc. It’s amazing how much I’ve accumulated over the years. This pretty ceramic olive bowl makes frequent appearances at parties. Mainly because I LOVE olives and serve them at almost every occasion. One compartment for the olives, one for toothpicks and a third for pits. And it just happens to have been made in Spain. Perfect! Available online at La Tienda for $29.95 + shipping.