Ok, we admit it. When it comes to cooking and baking, we can both get a little carried away. So when duty called to throw a dinner party for our best friends on New Year’s Eve (ok, maybe it was our idea), we knew things would get just a little out of hand. Actually, really out of hand. This event was the perfect storm of neurotic culinary adventures – a special occasion, a group of 12, a theme, hosted by us. The result was inevitable.
It started innocently enough, with a casual text message chain the whole week tossing around ideas like “should we make gnocchi?… I think I have a ravioli stamp…wait, what about flatbread?” Then came The Pitcher – a giant mason jar with a spout that came into Joni’s possession through divine intervention (thank you, dear cousin). Over the course of the week it whispered ever so softly (in that way pitchers do) “Sangria, Sangria, Sangria.” And that’s where the idea came from: Spanish food.
And so began the culinary spiral. Obviously, a Spanish theme necessitated paella – a hearty filler was going to be necessary for a night like New Year’s eve. We went with chicken, chorizo, and shrimp, but the best way to tailor your paella is by the best proteins you can get your hands on. This was our first paella-making experience, but we knew where to go. Anytime there’s a precise or dicey new recipe to tackle, one must turn to Mark Bittman, and he didn’t let us down. His master Paella recipe is a great starter. Then came the albondigas, spanish meatballs that make for a killer tapa. We used a traditional gravy-like recipe with blended sauteed leeks and broth, and added in a tomato and red pepper sauce to give it a some more color.
We tacked on a tried and true Spanish tortilla recipe I used to live off of, but spiffed it up with some slow-roasted cherry tomatoes and caramelized onions.
We threw in a kale salad and grilled veggies for some much-needed presence of greenery.
Things got a little out of hand with the appetizers. Joni went on a spree the day before and felt the need to make multi-seeded crackers with dried figs and nuts in them. From there, some jamon and good cheese were in order. Then we threw in a slow-roasted nut recipe that makes for a great table appetizer, with a Spanish kick of red pepper and herbs.
No event menu would be complete without an explosion of Jo&Jo’s beautiful flowers and baked goodness, which is how we ended up with some seriously gorgeous centerpiees, a pear custard tart, caramelized apple tart, alfrajores (Argentine, we know but roll with us here) and some brownies tacked on for good measure. Yeah, 4 desserts for 12 people. That’s not overkill, is it?
As with any overblown cooking adventure, it was a an emotional roller coaster. I woke up at 8:15am on New Year’s to Joni’s minor meltdown of “We don’t have enough chairs, and I’m way behind on baking…but I went crazy and made these crackers and haven’t left the house in a while. We need to get to the farmer’s market, I’m picking you up now.” But I have to say, starting bright and early and pacing out the dishes made for a really smooth cooking process. The meatballs can be made a head of time, and the tortilla can easily get reheated in the oven. Paella doesn’t take long and can be made an hour before everyone shows up. And that’s how you pull off a Food is Bomb New Year’s.
In reflection, was this a lesson in scaling back and keeping it simple? Probably not.
Until next time,
Sam & Joni
Spanish Tapas Extravaganza
Base recipes are below – but the fun part is to customize the add-ins
Mark Bittman’s master Paella recipe
Basic Spanish Tortilla recipe
Pear Custard Tart