Friday, September 17, 2010

Pink Sparrow Teaches Tapas Chez FST

Jennifer Sperling
Christena Pinkerton

Last weekend, after a few months of emails flying back and forth between Jennifer and I trying to work out logistics, menus, location and my work schedule Jennifer and Christena of Pink Sparrow fluttered over to Echo Park to provide a few blogger peers and me a cooking party/class in my own nest. Cooking it was, party it was. Included in the festivities were Linden the Gastronomnom and his fiancee Amy, and Felicia from The Food Ledger with her buddy Matt.

The Pink Sparrows supplied us with all the recipes tied up conveniently into little booklets with red ribbon. Smart.  

Before your affective filter around price based on the luxury and plentifulness of the food rises, let me assure you that a party of this caliber (without alcohol) starts at around $40 per person. (The price goes up from there based on luxury of ingredients, number of courses and whether or not you want them to provide wine pairings). 

Jennifer and Christena offer the party together. However, Jennifer, a graduate of CIA in NYC, is in charge of instruction. They cook together, add commentary and just in general make your kitchen a happy place.

Ingredients, instruction and company are all high caliber.  My friend T was asking me about Christena and Jennifer last night. Adorable, young, smart, fun...not too trendy yet definitely not staid. The type of woman I am friends with in my personal life, as a matter of fact.  They were a pleasure to have in my house and I plan to use them again for other events. Definitely.

Warm Olives with Orange, Fennel Seed and Paprika

They bought a cup or so of Italian or Spanish olives from the olive bar at Whole Foods. Sprinkled liberally with paprika and fennel seeds, olives and some juice are placed on a wide layer of aluminum foil.

Jennifer shaves off wide slices of zest from a ripe orange and places them around the olives while Felicia snaps in the back.

Fold the foil securely around the olives and bake at a low temperature.

Voila! Warm, paprika'd olives with a slight taste of citrus and fennel.

I was amazed at the delicious simplicity. Already planning my next party, these are definitely on the short list for crowd pleasing and easy to make appetizers.

Baked Olives with Orange, Fennel Seed and Paprika:
Serves 4
1 cup Spanish olives
2 strips orange peel
1 tsp fennel seeds
½ tsp paprika
Pre heat your oven to 325 degrees. Make a double layer of foil and add the olives and orange peel on one half of the foil.. Sprinkle with fennel and paprika. Ingredients can be adjusted according to preference. Fold the foil in half like a book over the ingredients and fold over edges to seal. Bake 8-10 minutes or until warmed through and serve.

Jennifer, like any cook, prepares the items that need time to sit first and then preps the things that cook and assemble quickly. So this post is not really in the order of assembly, it's in the order of eating. :-D 

Serrano Ham & Manchego Croquettes. 


First she started in on the bechamel, one of the mother sauces of French cooking. Bechamel is used as the base for other sauces such as: mornay, nantua, soubise, and is spread on some variations of Croque Monsieur.

Here you see onions and butter sauteeing away. In a few moments she adds flour, making a basic roux.

Jenn adds cream to the mixture, turning the roux to a sauce base.

She stirs rapidly to prevent separation as the roux thickens.

Next, she adds manchego cheese and tiny bits of serrano ham.

Here the slightly more solid mixture.

Now the task of forming croquettes begins. She rolls small mounds of the mixture into ovoid shapes, dips into a seasoned scrambled egg mixture.

After the egg mixture she dips into flour to coat dryly.

And carefully places in the hot oil.

All 8 croquettes sizzle away happily.

Hot, crispy, cheesy, hammy end product.

Be careful how quickly you eat them, the insides stay hot for a surprisingly long time.  Great appetizer for parties.

Serrano Ham and Manchego Croquettes:
Serves 4 as a tapa
1 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp onion, chopped
salt and pepper
3 ½ tbsp all purpose flour, plus more for shaping
6 tbsp whole milk, room temperature
3 tbsp Serrano ham, finely chopped
2 tbsp manchego cheese, grated plus more for breading
2 large eggs
1 cup breadcrumbs
vegetable oil for frying

Heat butter and oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat until the butter has melted. Add onion and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent, about 3 minutes. Add flour and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Whisk in milk or mix with wooden spoon and cook stirring for 3 minutes. Mix in ham and 2 tbsp cheese. Season with salt and pepper if desired but be careful do to the ham and cheese already being salty. Spread the mixture on a baking sheet and let cool while you set up your breading station. Mixture can be refrigerated in an airtight
container up to 2 days. Whisk together eggs in a shallow dish. Stir together breadcrumbs and a little more manchego cheese if you wish. Scoop tablespoons of cooled mixture and shape with floured hands into balls, ovals, egg shapes or little log shapes. Dip in egg and then roll in breadcrumbs. Transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Heat at least 2 ½ inches of oil in a large, heavy stockpot until it registers 375 degrees on a deep fry thermometer. Working in batches to avoid crowding, fry croquettes, flipping once until dark golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes total. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to paper towels to drain. Adjust heat in between batches to maintain temperature. Serve warm.

Next up, Shrimp with Toasted Garlic.

This was probably the easiest dish to make, easily replicated by even the most inexperienced home cook. I will add that all the dishes she demo'd are extremely user friendly. Nothing to be afraid of here in terms of reproduction.

Matt (above) walked into my house describing his hatred for food bloggers. I looked at him askance...does he know whose house he's in and who else was invited and the point of the evening and all things good and fun and entertaining in the world? Seriously...after a few moments of exclaiming and protesting he settled down and became awesome. Above Jenn teaches Matt some knife skills, how to handle his way around a giant bunch of parsley.

Linden being useful and Amy being cute.

Linden has told me before he doesn't cook much but he handled the garlic like a seasoned pro. Granted, depapering parsley isn't the most complicated thing in the world, but I have seen a lot of people peel a clove like they are peeling an orange. Just saying.

First, we infuse the oil with garlic by heating the chopped cloves until the are just brown.

Chopped and browned garlic is then removed from the oil with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Saute the shrimp in the infused oil, paying careful attention making sure to now over saute, as overcooked shrimps become rubbery.

Toss with the parsley your new friend Matt has chopped.

Throw in the garlic chips and serve.

Really? So delicious. This could be an any-old-weekday kind of dish with salad for me and tossed over angel hair pasta for D. (I did make these this week, and they were just as delicious the second time around. I admit to substituting cilantro for parsley, but I only admit this under punishment of death.)

Shrimp with Toasted Garlic:
Serves 4
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
10 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
1 ½ pounds shrimp, peeled and deveined, tail off and split down the middle
Kosher salt and pepper
1 lemon
¼ bunch flat leaf parsley, chopped

Heat a sauté pan over low heat. Add olive oil and toss in sliced garlic. Bring to a bare simmer and keep on the lowest heat possible so the garlic toasts to a golden brown- about 15 minutes. Season shrimp with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Add to the pot and remove from heat. Allow to cook until pink and tender. Finish by squeezing juice of whole lemon over shrimp and sprinkling with chopped parsley. Use a slotted spoon to fish out prawns and serve on a platter topped with toasted golden garlic shavings and parsley

Mussels in Saffron Broth

Christena is smart. She knew I would have some dry white wine appropriate for cooking already open in my fridge to use for the mussel broth. She's either smart or I am predictable. You decide.

Jennifer neatly pulls each perfectly cooked mussel from the pan with a pair of tongs.

And then pours the beautiful broth over the mussels, decorating their blackly opalescent shells with translucent onions.

Mussels in Saffron Broth:
Serves 4
1 # Mussels, bearded and scrubbed
½ onion, finely chopped
1-2 sprigs parsley
½ C white wine
1 small sprig thyme
1 small bay leaf
½ tsp saffron threads, chopped and dissolved in 2 tbsp white wine
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

In a large saute pan, combine the mussels, onion, parsley, wine, thyme, bay leaf, black pepper, to taste, saffron, and olive oil and bring to a boil over high heat. Continue cooking, shaking the pan occasionally, until the mussels have all opened. Remove from heat and remove the mussels with tongs, to a large bowl. Set aside. Reserve the cooking liquid.
Once the mussels are cool enough to handle, remove 1 half of each shell and discard. Place the half-shelled mussels in the refrigerator to chill, and reserve the juices from the bowl. Strain this liquid, as well as the liquid from the saute pan, and combine in the saute pan. Reduce by 2/3 over high heat, then remove from heat, and set aside to cool. Once it is cooled, drizzle over the chilled mussels and serve.

Chorizo Tortilla

Definitely a crowd pleaser, and probably what I would consider the main course, if there really was such a thing that evening.  The trick here is to par-cook the leeks and potatoes in your oven proof pan on the stove top until they are nice and soft...then the eggs can cook evenly around the more dense matter on the inside.

Second trick: choose a dry chorizo. In the past I have enjoyed clams or mussels in Spanish restaurants served in a broth with crumbled chorizo. Trying to recreate this in my kitchen, I have used the chorizo that is the most convenient, Central American chorizo which tends to be much oilier. Yeah, didn't work out well for me. A greasy orange broth is not what you are looking for with lightly flavored shellfish. I have been schooled.

Jennifer preps the tortilla, checks the doneness of the potatoes.

The product after she pulls it out of the oven, nicely browned just a touch on top.

It can be slid easily out of the pan, almost like a perfectly cooked pizza, but without the bread.

Chorizo Tortilla:
Serves 4-5
¼ chili, deseeded and finely chopped
small handful of chopped herbs (parsley, chives or chervil or a combination
olive oil
½ Spanish onion, thinly sliced
¼ pound potatoes, finely sliced
½ leek, washed and finely sliced
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
salt and pepper to taste
¼ pound of dried chorizo, sliced and quartered
6 eggs

Preheat the broiler or preheat your oven to 450 degrees. Place the chili and herbs in a large bowl. Meanwhile, heat a sauté pan over medium low heat and sauté the onions until very soft. Add the potatoes and leeks to the pan and when soft, add the garlic and cook another 2-3 minutes. Place ingredients in the bowl with the chili and herbs. Wipe out the sauté pan with paper towels and return to the heat. Saute the chorizo for about 5 minutes and add to the bowl of ingredients. Beat the eggs slightly with a fork and season with a little salt and pepper. Heat a little olive oil in the pan and add all ingredients back in. Cook on one side then place under broiler or in the oven until the tortilla is light brown and firm to the touch. Leave to set for 5 minutes and then turn onto a serving platter.

Chocolate Truffles with Smoked Paprika

We actually started the dessert first. Jennifer made the truffle base, a basic chocolate ganache, before everyone arrived and set it aside to cool and harden.

Carefully warm heavy cream.

Remove from heat and whisk in chocolate, a little Grand Marnier and smoked paprika. You can use an number of spices or additional ingredients such as cinnamon, chile powders, other liqueurs.

The chocolate didn't melt all the way from exposure to the cream, at least not to whipping texture, so Jenn put it in the microwave for a few 5 second blasts.

After we were full as ticks from noshing on tapas and drinking wine, we formed balls from the flavored ganache and rolled them in cocoa powder. How beautiful are they?  I have another Eat My Blog! Bakesale to benefit the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank coming up, and because I am such a suck ass baker, I might be making these this time instead. I just need to find a way to package them. If you have any packaging ideas that are novel and would not affect the structural integrity of truffles, please to comment.

Chocolate Truffles with Smoked Paprika:

4 oz bittersweet chocolate
4 oz semisweet chocolate
½ cup heavy cream
1 tbsp orange flavored liqueur
1 tbsp good smoked paprika
¼ tsp vanilla extract
cocoa powder

Chop the chocolate with a sharp knife and place in a heat proof mixing bowl. Heat the cream in a small sauce pan until it just boils. Turn off the heat and allow the cream to sit for 20 seconds. Pour the cream through a fine mesh sieve into the bowl with chocolate. With a wire whisk, slowly stir the cream and chocolate together until the chocolate is completely melted. Whisk in the liqueur, paprika
and vanilla. Set aside at room temp for 1 hour. With two teaspoons or a small ice cream scoop, spoon round balls of the chocolate mixture onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Roll each ball of chocolate in your hands to roughly make it round. Roll in cocoa powder. Keep refrigerated but serve at room temp.

We all had a fantastic time. One of the things that I like best about the Pink Sparrow cooking party (aside from hanging out with Jennifer and Christena) is that the level of interaction with food items is negotiable. We all got our mitts into the food, but Jennifer and Christena still did the bulk of the cooking while we watched, drank (lots of wine), snapped, chatted and ate.

Did I mention we drank wine?  About a week before the party, Christena sent me a wine paring rec list. I didn't want to lead with this, because really, the food is the thing. But I think it's a fantastically convenient service and was happy to see the list isn't particularly spendy.

Cavas Jaume Serra "Cristalino" Brut NV (Cava), $9. Simply delicious. Lively crisp apple fruit.
Segura Viudas "Reserva Heredad" Brut NV (Penedes), $12 to $15. Soft and creamy. A terrific sparkler for a party.
Martin Codax Albarino 1998 (Rias Baixas), $14. Albarino is Spain's most exciting white grape. Fresh and racy, it's terrific with tapas.
Julian Chivite "Gran Feudo" Rose 1998 (Navarra), $7. One of the best roses made in Europe. Fresh and bursting with berries.
Bodegas Muga Reserva 1995 (Rioja), $16. A classically beautiful Rioja with soft cherry and dried-leaf flavors.
Finca Retuerta "Abadia Retuerta" 1996 (Sardon de Duero), $24. Spicy black fruits. Mouth-filling and wonderfully earthy.
Torres Gran Sangre de Toro Reserva 1995 (Vilafranca del Penedes), $11.Rustic and bold, with good juicy red fruit flavors.
Vina Mayor Crianza 1996 (Ribera del Duero), $11. Soft, spicy cherries; very easy to drink.


Kitten with a Whisk said...

I love love love the idea of this. I can't imagine a more perfect way to spend an evening with other people who appreciate food.

Anonymous said...

Good times were had, Liz. Thanks for hosting! The Pink Sparrow girls were great and I've been thinking of ways to use them again. Step 1, get a bigger kitchen ;)

I don't consider myself a great cook but I've picked up some skills in my time. And I've come to realize I'm probably more proficient than 80% of guys out there, which is more a statement on general cooking skills in the male population than an estimation of mine.

Kristine G said...

what a fun and informative evening. makes me want to have some more instruction, too, esp in the comfort of my own home. :) LOVE looking at all the yummy food you guys made.

That's Ron said...

great idea! lots of fun

Food, she thought. said...

@kitten I would love to cook together someday.

@gastronomnom you are so welcome. spending time with you and Amy is always a pleasure.

@ Kristine we must do this with our respective husbands sometime soon. i think the Pink Sparrows charge only an additional $30 to come to Corona.

@Ron yes, yes it was!