Have you ever read a new issue of your favorite food magazine right after dinner, only to find that the magazine managed to make you hungry all over again? If so, you'll know what I mean when I say that the February 2005 issue of Food & Wine, filled with recipes from Spain, really got my attention.
Before I was halfway through the issue I was scheming about how I could cook and taste as many of the recipes as possible. I hurried out to the kitchen where my husband was washing the dishes and announced that we had to have a dinner party so that I could cook my way through the issue.
Inspiration struck and I thought of an even better way to accomplish my goal of tasting as many new recipes as possible while sparing my husband a party's worth of dirty dishes. We are fortunate to be part of the Seattle chapter of eGullet, a wonderful group of cooks and food enthusiasts. If you haven't yet found it, eGullet.com is a terrific on-line food community, dedicated to great discussions of all aspects of food.
Our Seattle-area group is especially interesting and diverse, with members' ages ranging over a five-decade span. A few of us cook for a living, many are serious home cooks and bakers, and every member is a dedicated food fanatic. It's great to belong to a group where a lively debate on the relative merits of Tetilla versus Urgelia cheese is more likely than a discussion of politics, and where no one is surprised if you have a spare tin of smoked pimentón dulce in your bag to share with fellow cooks.
So naturally, when I posted a message on eGullet asking whether anyone else was interested in cooking together from the February Food & Wine, I had a flood of replies. Before I knew it, a group of nearly 20 dedicated cooks and eaters had agreed to get together for a dinner created entirely from the issue. We ended up making a total of 15 dishes from Food & Wine, and then, because too much is just enough for this group, several members added to the evening with a variety of Spanish cheeses, sausages and homemade candies. We also assembled and greatly enjoyed fourteen different Spanish wines, which are one of the world's great bargains at the moment.
A lot of the cooking and prep was done at members' homes before the party, but a number of dishes were either finished or cooked from scratch in the small but well-stocked kitchen of our generous host. I counted seven people chopping, rinsing, de-boning, and sautéing up a storm.
Starting at about 6:00 p.m., those not actively working in the kitchen gathered around the fireplace with plates of cheese and sausages, a basket of breads, a lovely golden olive oil for dipping and those inviting bottles of Spanish wine.
With so many dishes being cooked right at the party, the pace of food flowing from kitchen to table made for a truly tapas-style meal. Each guest had to have at least three plates in order to taste every dish, and it took us about six hours to make our way through the entire menu, helped along by frequent wine-tasting interludes. However, to the credit of the recipes themselves, there were no groans of "I just can't eat another bite," and the last dishes were polished off as enthusiastically as the first. It was close to midnight when the last of the Lemon-and-Cinnamon-Scented Flan and Toasted Bread and Bittersweet Chocolate was licked off our fingers, which led to the inevitable comment "If we were in Spain now, dinner would just be starting."
We have some excellent Spanish restaurant food and one of the top purveyors of Spanish groceries in the country here in Seattle, so you'd think that this group would have already tried it all. But because of the variety of recipes available and the fearless approach of our members to working with unfamiliar ingredients, each of us was able to try new dishes that night, and we'll all be making some of them again. I think the sleeper hit of the evening was the Cauliflower Gratin with Manchego and Almond Sauce. I heard more pronouncements of "awesome cauliflower" than I've ever heard in my life.
Now that the party is over I'm starting to realize that we only made 17 of the 44 recipes in the Spain issue. I really don't want to go through life without ever tasting the Smoked Paprika-Rubbed Steaks with Valdeón Butter, or the Stuffed Piquillo Peppers with Idiazábal Cheese Sauce. Perhaps my husband could be persuaded to wash the dishes for just a smallish Spanish party, maybe only a dozen more recipes?