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16th Dinner Club – Tapas to Meze: Summary

05-Aug-2005
 
 
Fun! Fun! Fun!  Perfect day, perfect food, perfect people, perfect party!
  
I couldn’t have asked for a better day! It started sunny and beautiful and there was no doubt it would stay that way.  I happily set up the deck with a table for the drinks (all wines for this dinner), one for the small plates and one for everyone to sit at.  I put up an umbrella to shade the wines, and strung a couple of strands of lights to add a festive element a bit later when the sun dipped below the horizon (which is pretty late up here at this time of year – 9:00 pm on this night).  I put flowers on all the tables, then set up citronella torches in case we needed them to keep flying critters away (luckily we did not). 
 
As everyone started arriving we put the food off to the side for plating a bit later, poured glasses of Proseco all around, sat at the table and took a little time to relax and enjoy the day. 
 
Since these were all small plates – no actual courses – the plan for the night was to plate everything, place it on a serving table and allow everyone to pick and choose as they please – as if they were in a tapas bar.  Once we were about ready to actually eat, I set each person up at a "station" in the kitchen to do their plating.  R and I both needed a bit of oven time so we put our dishes in the oven and then got out of the way for the others.  As each person finished plating they moved everything out to the serving table (seen above on the right).  Once everything was out of the oven and on the table we jumped in. 
 
Everything looked so good, that no one was able to limit themselves to one choice at at time!  Instead most people took two items, filled their wineglass and then the oohs and aahs began!
 
I think this may have been one of my favorite dinners yet!  And I don’t think I’m saying that because it was my idea and I was hosting – although I’m not 100% sure of that! :-) The range of taste and textures was wonderful.  And most of the dishes could be prepared entirely ahead of time.  R chose to reheat the bisteeya but I don’t think it was necessary and I needed to brown the cheese on the gnocchi but that was 10 minutes and I had completely assembled the dishes earlier.  Well, let’s get into the food! 
 
I’ll start with the Iced Tomato Soup – This is one of 30 varieties of Gazpacho found in Spain.  K’s version was so fresh with a great play of flavors and textures.  I think I’ve mentioned before that I love having an active role in a dish and this one fit the bill perfectly!  It was up to each of us to garnish the soup as we wished.  The garnishes each had their own role in the soup itself, too.  We could choose from bread cubes, cherry tomatoes, red onion, bell pepper and cucumber.   I added a bit of everything expect pepper. 
 
As I ate the beautiful creation I thought that I could have been happy with just that for dinner.  It was the perfect cool and refreshing dish for a warm summer evening.   But I couldn’t stop there – nope, I had four more dishes to check out! 
 
When M2 saw the name of this dish, she knew it was the one she’d make!  M2 had The Levant as her area.  This dish is from Turkey and there are a couple of theories about the name of the dish – Baked Stuffed Eggplant to Make a Priest Faint.  You’ll have to find the cookbook to check them out! :-) 
 
M2 did a wonderful job with these!  I even noticed that one club member who normally doesn’t care for eggplant ate nearly all of her portion!  They were perfectly cooked:  the eggplant tender; the stuffing sweet and savory with onions, tomatoes and currents; and everything woven together with fragrant spices.   Again, I would have been happy just eating this all night!
 
 
M’s Caprese Salad was wonderful and refreshing with basil from her own garden but it didn’t turn out exactly as she had hoped. 
 
For quite some time M has been on a quest to make her own mozzarella.  Her tactic has been to purchase curds from local sources and then make the mozzarella from that point.  Well, she just can’t seem to find curds that make the texture and taste that she has been hoping for.  And this time the cheese she made went from curds to solid mozzarella in no time.  She brought us a slice of her "pizza cheese" (as she dubbed it).  You’ll see it on the side of the plate, but then used a really lovely local mozzarella made by Port Madison Farms on Bainbridge Island for the salad.  We buy their cheese nearly every week at the U-District Farmers’ Market.  They use only goat milk and each year expand into more and more varieties.  This mozzarella is new for them this year and it was my first taste of it.  Yummy – a bit tangier than cow’s milk mozzarella.  M2 has made mozzarella completely from scratch before and the two of them agreed it’s probably the best way to go.  (Good thing, because I have all the ingredients in my fridge just waiting for me to get to it!) Isn’t Caprese the ultimate summer dish? 
 
R chose Bisteeya has her dish from North Africa. Although traditionally made as one large pie, R met the tapas requirement by making individual servings in phyllo wrappers.  Bisteeya is from Morocco and in that country you would find it made with pigeon but R chose chicken for this version. 
 
The phyllo was flaky and buttery and the dusting of powdered sugar on the top was a nice contrasting element to the savory combination inside.  In my mind, this would be the perfect street food, too.  Self-contained in it’s phyllo wrapper, each bite released the smell and taste of exotic markets in far-flung locations.  The nuts added a nice crunch and the mixture had meshed into a sum greater than its parts. 
 
Last, and I hope not least, was my Gnocchi. I had never made gnocchi before but decided to take the plunge for this dinner.  My country was Southern France and gnocchi in France is not made from potatoes, as it is in Italy.  Instead it’s made from a dough, similar to gougere dough. 
 
Well, the gnocchi was a bit challenging because I didn’t really know what to expect.  I think, in making the dough, I would cook it just a bit longer next time to dry it out a bit more, like I do for my gougeres.  And then to form the gnocchi you place the dough in a pastry bag and cut off portions as you are dropping them into the boiling water to cook.  This took a little coordination!  Again, I think if the dough had been a bit more dry this may have been easier.  And really it wasn’t that hard, once I got the hang of it, it went pretty smoothly.  I did have to cook the gnocchi about 12 minutes, instead of the recommended 5 – 10 …say it with me now… I think that was because the dough should have been a bit drier.  :-) 
 
However, I have to say they turned out pretty dang good!  They were nice soft little pillows and the sauce is simple but outstanding!  And I really liked that I could have it all assembled ahead of time and then just pop in the oven for the final browning before serving. 
 
 As I mentioned earlier, we started with Proseco and then had a selection of wines from the countries represented.  K brought a beautiful red from Spain, Abadia Retuerta Rivola 2002.  I’d purchased a variety of roses.  We opened one from France, Commanderie de Peyrassol 2004 and one from Italy, Alois Lageder 2004 Lagrein.  The Commanderie was pale, very light and refreshing.  The Alois was deep, full-bodied and tasty!  They were both excellent wines and someday I may write up my tasting notes on them and the other roses I’ve been working my way through, this summer! :-) 
 
One of the best parts of this dinner is that I ended up with several containers of leftovers!  I was savoring soup, bisteeya, eggplant and gnocchi for several days after the party – how lucky did I get?
 
Next it’s M2’s turn to host, so stay tuned for more culinary cooking club adventure in early September! 
 
4 Comments
  1. Megan permalink
    05-Aug-2005 3:30 pm

    This was such a lovely dinner party, B! Thank you so much. My favorite, by far, was your gnocchi dish. Incredible! I can\’t wait to make it for my (Italian) mom…M(2)

  2. Culinary permalink
    05-Aug-2005 4:50 pm

    I\’m glad you enjoyed it! And I hope your mom enjoys the gnocchi! You\’ll have to let me know how it turns out! ~ B

  3. Unknown permalink
    06-Aug-2005 4:10 am

    Hola CuFo:That sounds like a fabulous dinner. But was really caught my attention was the wine. Someone from Seattle brought a bottle of Abadia Retuerto Rivola?! That\’s one of my favorites! I drink it here all the time (although probably at a much lower price…7€ per bottle, if you can believe it).Abadia Retuerto is a great winery. And here\’s the funny thing…it\’s owned by a pharmaceutical company.Anyway…your friends obviously are people of great taste and class. No wonder you want to eat with them.Cheers!SalBTW…me loves bisteeya, too!

  4. Culinary permalink
    06-Aug-2005 6:39 am

    Hey Sal!It\’s great to know that we hit an authentic note… I can\’t remember if I\’ve told you before, but we have a place in town called Spanish Table that has, among other things, the largest selection of Spanish and Portuguese wines in the US. So K took a little trip down there along with a co-worker\’s Spanish boyfriend. He raved about that and one other she brought but we didn\’t open, an Emina Ribera del Duero. I was going to return it to her but maybe I\’ll just keep it! :-) The Spanish Table is not known for its bargain prices… the bottle of Abadia Retuerto Rivola was about $14 or $15. Of course with the current exchange that\’s not as bad as it sounds. I guess anyway.Sort of fitting about the pharmacy thing – I mean wine is my drug of choice! ~ B

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