Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Tapa the Morning to You!


So, I don't know a lick of Spanish. Well, I know a couple of words. (read-2) And I get a kick out of mispronouncing them. Put some breathy hhhh's in front of that Hola' and you'll be pronouncing it the Barefoot Hippie way.

I would actually love to learn Spanish. And I certainly want my kids to learn it. They have several friends that speak it, and I think it would be great for them. A whole lot of the world speaks Spanish. It is a very practical language to learn, here in the Americas.

Lack of Spanish or not, October was our month to study the land of Hispaniola. We read up on the different regions of Spain, gathered fun facts, made a timeline, drew maps and flags, painted Spanish pictures and had our dinner.

Spanish cuisine is tasty. And I found the 3 dishes I tried, to be rather easy. We had tapas and paella plus a crema catalana for dessert.

Crema Catalana
 Tapas are little snacks that are very popular in Spain and have gained in popularity here in the USA over the last 10-15 years. Tapas is a general term for a whole lot of little bits. What we would call appetizers. The etymology is varied...

-an item, be it bread or a flat card, etc., would often be placed on top of a drink to protect it from fruit flies; at some point it became a habit to top this "cover" with a snack. (this is the explanation Mr. Hippie told our guests last night. He knows all kinds of fun facts) OR...

-around the 16th century when tavern owners from Castilla-La Mancha found out that the strong taste and smell of mature cheese could help disguise that of bad wine, thus "covering" it, and started offering free cheese when serving cheap wine. OR...
-King Alfonso X of Castile recovered from an illness by drinking wine with small dishes between meals. After regaining his health, the king ordered that taverns would not be allowed to serve wine to customers unless it was accompanied by a small snack or "tapa". OR...

-King Alfonso XIII stopped by a famous tavern in Cádiz (Andalusian city) where he ordered a cup of wine. The waiter covered the glass with a slice of cured ham before offering it to the king, to protect the wine from the beach sand, as Cádiz is a windy place. The king, after drinking the wine and eating the tapa, ordered another wine "with the cover". OR...
-Felipe III passed a law in an effort to curb rowdy drunken behavior, particularly among soldiers and sailors. The law stated that when one purchased a drink, the bartender was to place over the mouth of the mug or goblet a cover or lid containing some small quantity of food as part of the purchase of the beverage. The hope being that the food would slow the effects of the alcohol, and fill the stomach to prevent over imbibing.

Who would have thought that tapas had such a rich history? The varieties of tapas are as colorful as its history. We picked only two, an olive assortment, and bread with mushrooms and alioli. (ay-lee oh-lee) This was my favorite part of the meal. The alioi gave the whole thing a nice garlic-lemon tang, while the sherry braised mushrooms were just amazing. This is definitely going to join our Christmas Eve appetizer feast this year!

Paella is a rice casserole type thing usually cooked with tons of seafood in a huge pan. The two recipes I combined called for shrimp, chicken, pork and bratwurst. It also featured saffron.

Saffron comes from the saffron crocus. Each plant produces 3-4 flowers which each have 3 vivd red stigmas. These stigmas are harvested and have been used in cooking for over 4000 years. They add a rich golden yellow hue to the dishes that contain them. Because each flower's stigmas need to be collected by hand and there are only a few per flower, saffron is the most expensive spice in the world. It comes in threads,  not ground, or leaves. It is very unique.

Yeah, and I used it in our paella. The BFF had some, or I would have just skipped it. 

saffron threads
The crema catalana was very easy to put together. You first simmer milk with cinnamon sticks, vanilla and lemon rinds to give the milk a subtle flavoring. The other ingredients are egg yolks, sugar and cornstarch. You combine those and then add it to the milk, which thickens up nicely, leaving you with a pudding dessert. Just before serving the puddings are topped with sugar and placed under the broiler. This caramelizes the sugar, making for a nice topping.

pretty good!
We shared our dinner with Mr. Hippie's uncle, aunt and cousins. The cousins weren't too thrilled. Oh well. At least they can say they have had Spanish cuisine.

We had a wonderful evening of good food, great conversation, and a game of Scrabble. Uncle beat us all by playing avoids/slander over a triple word score for a total of 87 points. It's only polite to let the guests win. (just so you know, Uncle. I let you win)

What's your favorite foreign cuisine? Have you ever cooked it, or just eaten in restaurants?