Cooking My Way Through Spain & Portugal.

Presenting the deliciosa cocina de Espana y Portugal!  How is my Spanish?  Anyone?  Not sure if I can speak the language, but the food sure is good!  Today was a really fun day of class.  I am already starting to get reaaaaally sad that Monday is the last day.  This has been by far my favorite class of culinary school to date – I never want it to end!

My group had three recipes to make today.  But before I dive right in to the food, I wanted to answer a few questions I’ve gotten in emails and comments about the way our days and groups work.  Depending on the class, we are usually assigned to groups of 4 or 5 students.  I lucked out this class, and I am in a kick ass girl power group of 5 strong female cooks.  Our group is given certain assignments and tasks throughout the day, and it is our collective job to make sure it all gets done.  My group has worked out a system of dividing up responsibilities and recipes, and then jumping in towards the end to make sure we are all caught up and where we need to be.

One more thing – on tasting the food.  There are certain times that I make meat dishes entirely on my own.  In these circumstances, I am usually good enough skill wise to know what will work and what won’t without actually tasting.  Also, many times I leave components separated in order to taste sauces independently, and then combine when needed at the end.  As the dish gets closer to finished, I will usually have a classmate come taste for final seasonings.  No one ever seems to mind tasting food! :)

That said, there have been a few instances where I have been given a grade based on creating meat dishes.  In these few circumstances, I have felt that tasting the food and getting the benefit of the culinary experience was more important than my personal beliefs on animal consumption.  I have limited tastes to as little as possible, (usually just sauces and broths, never actual hunks of meat) but did what was necessary to ensure that I was turning in a product I was confident in, and proud of.  This has probably only happened 2 or 3 times max.

Okay, SO – hopefully that clears some things up about being a vegetarian and cooking meat all day long!  And here comes some more meat…  Our three recipes for the day were a Portuguese Salad, Braised Rabbit with Olives, and Eggplant Maite.  I was totally pumped to get an eggplant recipe, since it is my absolute FAVORITE food of all time.  Before we started the eggplant though, we all helped to prep for the braise, since it would take so long.

We were all a little relieved to see that the storeroom was out of rabbit, and instead they had given us chicken.  I am not a fan of working with rabbit at all.  We browned a whole bunch of chicken drumsticks…

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And rendered a few pounds of cubed Serrano ham…

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And while the meat cooked, we prepped a TON of vegetables for the stew.  Have you ever seen whole caper berries before?  Me either!  They looked like giant olives, but inside they were filled with teeny tiny seeds and holes.  They tasted just like the tiny capers I am used to using. 

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Tomatoes, olives, peppers, garlic, potatoes, celery, and more.  Veggies galore!

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A lot of people in class said they weren’t big fans of olives when we dished this up.  I didn’t have any because of the chicken, but OLIVES?  Man do I love olives.  To each his own, I guess!

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While the stew braised, my partner and I worked on the Eggplant Maite.  These were AWESOME!  We started by shaving thin slices of manchego cheese, mmmmm.

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And then we continued to use the scary industrial meat slicer to slice thin pieces of peeled eggplant…

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We laid out a slice of eggplant, and topped it with a slice of cheese, and then added a dollop of spicy homemade chorizo sausage!

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Then we rolled them up
and fastened them with toothpicks.

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I was super smart and decided to make a few chorizo-less roll ups and mark them with double toothpicks so we could tell them apart.  We set up another breading station and got them all caked in panko.

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And off to the deep-fryer again!  Seriously, I am getting way to good at this thing.  I am very concerned that my culinary resume involves so much deep-frying!

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After the deep-fryer, we set them in the oven for about 5 minutes to ensure that the chorizo had cooked through and the cheese had melted.  They came out gooey and bubbling.

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I happily sampled a meatless option, and can confirm that they were 100% delicious.  They tasted like even more delicious versions of traditional mozzarella sticks, if you can wrap your mind around that.  They were a huge hit, and were served in the dining room as tapas for appetizers. 

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Last but not least was our beautiful Portuguese salad.  So colorful and bright, and topped with green olives and feta cheese for service.  Delicioso!

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Other food created around the classroom… Cataplana – a stew with pork, chorizo, and littleneck clams.

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Tortilla Espagna – a Spanish omelet made with chorizo and vegetables.  Lots of chorizo today!

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More tapas – homemade potato chips topped with cilantro and shredded manchego cheese, mmmmmm.

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And of course, last but not least, you can’t have food from Spain and Portugal without having PAELLA, right?  This looked and smelled amazing.

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It is a beaaaaaautiful day here in Charlotte, and I’ve been sitting with my computer on the screened in porch all afternoon – pure heaven!  Looking forward to finally having a three-day weekend with no sickness and no plans!  Yummy recipe coming to you tonight – stay tuned.