Paella Party

“The world of food is a world of love, and of giving.” –Jacques Pépin

There’s no better way to sum up why Andrew and I have kicked off our series of dinner parties. It’s our love language and favorite way to show our love to our friends. I imagine that at some point these dinner parties will stop being a post-wedding project and will just become our way of living, hosting our friends all year round, over and over again. Lord knows I have enough cookbooks, food blogs, and Pinterest pins to get us through a lifetime of dinner parties.

Our kick-off dinner was last week with our friends Jim and Leila:

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Andrew has been friends with Jim since high school. Leila is Jim’s vibrant Brazilian wife who loves paella. We’ve told them for years we would have them over for paella without actually doing it. Every time we got together with Jim and Leila, Leila would practically shout at Andrew, “When do I get paella?!” So we got them over to our place for dinner to fulfill our promise.

Paella is one of Andrew’s signature dishes and he’s been working on his technique for years. One year I took him to a First Class Cooking class where you go to a chef’s house (Emily Dellas), drink wine, and make dinner with eight strangers. You make great food in a relaxed setting and learn all sorts of cooking tips. We went to the Spanish themed dinner and made gazpacho, a roasted red bell pepper salad, paella, and churros. For Jim and Leila, we had this same menu sans the salad, just to simplify things a little.

Every time we make gazpacho, we follow the recipe from First Class Cooking exactly. It has actually become one of our go-to recipes for a simple dinner on hot nights. Quickly pan fry some white fish and call it a meal. Unfortunately, I only have this photo of the recipe to share. Less than ideal for cooking from, but it’s worth the squinting!

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This is what the finished gazpacho looks like. The olive oil added lightens the color and gives the soup a bit of richness and a lovely creamy, smooth texture. Be sure to add the oil as you are blending. Don’t dump it all in and then blend. Otherwise, the soup won’t really emulsify and the liquid will separate a little. It won’t hurt the flavor, but you’ll lose the creamy texture, which is really what turns a mediocre gazpacho into a great one.

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Andrew’s paella recipe is a compilation of many sources and practice. He starts with the ingredients from Gordon Ramsey’s recipe (because he loves Gordon), except he uses arborio rice and nixes the chicken–it’s all seafood and sausage for him! He essentially grabs whatever seafood looks good at the market. This time he threw in some fried soft shell crab, which we never made before, but will definitely make again because it was absolutely delicious. We used this recipe and it turned into a gorgeous pile of fried crab goodness:

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For the method of cooking the paella, Andrew sticks with Emily’s recipe (again, sorry that it’s just a photo–I have no idea how we lost the originals!). But rather than use oil infused with saffron, Andrew infuses the stock with saffron like Marco Pierre White (which is also where Andrew got the idea to use arborio rice). Since Andrew uses sausage, the sausage provides enough oil for the dish. He also covered the paella at the end with foil to steam the seafood and retain moisture.

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This was the best paella he’s made yet:

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While Andrew took center stage making the starter and main dish, I finished the meal with churro rounds. Rather than use Emily’s recipe from the class, which was a little too labor intensive than I wanted to deal with, I made Mexican Chocolate Churro Rounds rounds from Food52. The recipe is not that complicated, and you will most likely have all the ingredients in your pantry already (hint: you don’t actually have to buy Mexican chocolate to make this). Although, I do recommend making a test batch before serving it to company just to get the hang of it. My first batch was okay, but the second batch turned out much better:

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Serve everything with four bottles of wine (i.e. one bottle per person) and you got yourself a successful dinner party. Stories will flow, laughter will follow, and bellies will leave full.

Last night we had another dinner party and made Vermicelli bowls with beer can chicken and creme brulee. I hope to have that post up later this week. Stay tuned!

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