I Could Have Been a Chef or a Glutton but I Became Both

Today, I’ll smoke the turkey we bought before Thanksgiving. Even though we had no intention of cooking a turkey for Thanksgiving dinner (our nice neighbors had us over for that meal), we couldn’t resist the low prices offered for the big, frozen birds. I let the bird thaw in the refrigerator for four days and then, last night, I brined the fowl. Today, after several hours in the smoker, it will be ready to be the centerpiece of a meal that will include a broccoli and rice casserole that mi esposa bonita prepared last night and will cook today. So, that’s tonight’s meal.

Tomorrow, it’s an entirely different situation. My wife agreed (albeit I think somewhat reluctantly) to let me arrange a tapas-fest in our home, provided that I’ll do most or all of the cooking/food preparation. So, we’ll end the “work week” with a glorious assortment of Spanish (and near-Spanish, in that some of the ingredients won’t be ‘authentic’) treats. For the record, here’s what I’m planning to make:

White fish “cooked” in vinegar: I’ll use tilapia, which I’ll soak in cold water for an hour, then “cook” in an 80/20 mixture of vinegar and water for six hours. After rinsing the fish (which will be white and firm by then), I’ll marinate overnight in olive oil enriched with a lot of diced garlic and flat-leaf parsley. Strips of the oily fish with garlic and parsley will then adorn slices of crusty bread. This sounds very much like ceviche, but vinegar is used in this dish in place of lime juice in ceviche. Actually, ceviche sounds better to me, but I decided to give this a try, just because.

Chorizo in red wine: I will poach thinly sliced rounds of dry, hard Spanish chorizo (unlike we, soft Mexican chorizo) in red wine infused with vast quantities of garlic, bay leaves, and a bit of cayenne. The chorizo will plump up considerably with the red wine, which will essentially disappear into the sausage while poaching. When finished, we’ll stab the rounds of chorizo with toothpicks and devour the wine-soaked delights.

Garlic shrimp with olive oil: This recipe will use about two pounds of shrimp, which will be cooked in olive oil infused with garlic and red peppers. Another toothpick dish.

Spiced almonds: Designed for nibbling, this dish involves heating a bit of olive oil, infecting it with cumin, paprika, and sea salt. Then, I’ll drench the almonds in the oil, put them on a cookie sheet, and bake for about ten minutes. I expect they’ll be quite tasty.

Chimpinones al ajo (mushrooms with garlic): Have I mentioned I like garlic? This dish is a garlic-lover’s delight. I will saute white mushrooms and garlic in a mixture of olive oil, lemon juice, sherry, paprika, and flakes dried chiles, then top the cooked mushrooms with chopped flat-leaf parsley.

Albóndigas de cordero a la hierbabuena (lamb meatballs with mint): One of my favorites. This wonderful tapa combines ground lamb, egg, bread crumbs, chopped mint, onion, salt, pepper, dry white wine, beef broth, tomato puree, and garlic to form delicious meatballs with a spectacular sauce. My mouth waters as I write this.

Patatas bravas: Basically, fried potatoes accompanied by a simple but delicious aioli made from tomato sauce, mustard, hot sauce, paprika, red wine vinegar, and olive oil.

Tapas peppers: This is an Ina Garten recipe that I’ll modify slightly to suit my taste. I’ll pack wide slices of red and yellow peppers with a mix I’ll make from sherry, golden raisins, salt, pepper, chopped olives, anchovy fillets, tomato,  bread crumbs, and olive oil. Then, I’ll bake the stuffed peppers. Unless I’m mistaken, these will be quite tasty.

Slices of Iberico ham: Store-bought stuff; my only involvement will be to open the package and plate the food.

Manchego cheese: Again, my role will be to open the package and cut the very expensive cheese into bite-sized pieces. I do love good cheese, but I’m always stunned by the price. If I had the wherewithal, I’d make my own. I think I could enjoy cheese-making. I’ve done a bit, but nothing like manchego. Perhaps I’ll ruminate on that and act on it, or not.

Olives: I’ll offer an assortment of olives, including black, green, spiced, etc.

Fig, Serrano Ham, and Goat Cheese Bruschetta: Because I’ve been unable to find Serrano Ham, I’ll substitute prosciutto. For this, I’ll spread fig jam and goat cheese on slices of baguette that I’ve flavored by smearing them with cut garlic and olive oil. Then, I’ll drizzle a reduction I’ve made from balsamic vinegar and top the bread with the prosciutto and chopped fresh basil.

Crusty baguettes: More store-bought stuff. I’ll make a dipping sauce for them, though, using olive oil and garlic and other such stuff.

Spanish red wine and Tio Pepe Sherry: Before and during the tapas festival, we’ll drink red Spanish wine (and we’ll have white but not Spanish white available) and Tio Pepe dry sherry that my niece was nice enough to buy for me and bring with her during her last visit to Hot Springs Village.

My wife winced as we bought the ingredients for this extravaganza of food. I’m not sure whether the sheer volume of food or the cost (or both) were the cause of her reaction. Probably both. Given that there will be only five or six of us for dinner, I may have overdone the menu. But it’s confirmed now, so there’s nothing to be done. Except invite more guests, perhaps. Hmmm. I may consider that.

Obviously, the effort involved in preparing tomorrow’s meal of tapas will be significant. I have to start today, for example, by preparing the white fish. Despite the amount of work, I’m looking forward to it. I like spending time in the kitchen, preparing food. I enjoy trying new dishes and tweaking dishes I’ve made before. And I like sitting around with people I like, nibbling on small-plate dishes.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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