La Noche de España
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Four years ago I lived in Granada, Spain for a study abroad program through the University of Illinois. I spent almost five months of my life living with a Spanish family, attending a Spanish language school, and fully immersing myself in Spanish and European culture. The further I get from my time in Spain, the more it seems like nothing more than an amazing dream. Did it really happen? Did I really become fluent in Spanish? How could that have already been 4 years ago?

I want to go back...

Granada sits in the south of Spain and is full of culture - food, music, art, architecture. I had my good times and bad times, as is life. For some reason I tried denying that Granada had become my second home, but the truth of the matter was that I had built relationships with the people there. I had built friendships, familiarity with my surroundings, I had become fluent in Spanish.

While I had an initial culture shock when I moved to Spain, I had perhaps an even bigger one when I returned to the United States.  It is funny, after a certain amount of time in one place, you begin taking advantage of things. I often walked down Avenida de la Constitucion on my way to classes, completely forgetting that I was in Spain. It had become such a regular part of my everyday life. Sitting back though, I was blessed with so many opportunities and experiences that were truly once in a lifetime.

A big aspect of these experiences was FOOD! Spanish food, Moroccan food, French food, Italian food!

My mouth is watering.

One weekend, a big group of my friends took a trip to Las Alpujarras, the sister mountains of the Alps. While staying in the tiny mountain village of Pampaneira we had the chance to eat conejo. Not sure what conejo is?

conjeo (Spanish) = rabbit (English)

Going into my semester in Spain, I told myself one thing: Try everything. Whether it was food, doing something out of my comfort zone, or simple taking advantage of every opportunity put in front of me, I told myself that I had to take advantage of living in Europe. Typically I am not skeptical of trying new foods. But when a waiter brings Thumper out on your plate? Yea - you got me there! There, sitting atop my plate, was a rabbit. Head, teeth, tongue, arm, BRAIN. Nothing left to the imagination. Yes, I ate it all, even the brain and tongue!

Meeting Orlando Bloom in Madrid? Yup, that happened too!

Earlier this past spring my family and I were at Tom and Angie's (family friends) house for a birthday party. Angie is known for her amazing cooking and I so look up to her! We were talking about food, how amazing it is and the impact that it can have on people's lives. Yes, we are obsessed foodies and we're not ashamed of it! Knowing that I had studied in Spain for a semester, Angie mentioned the fact that she makes paella once or twice a year. I begged her to make it for me!

La Noche de España has been a few months in the making - trying to find an available night between everyone involved is not always the easiest task. None the less, we made it work!

The week beforehand I sent Angie a text message:

"hey - so i have ALL friday off of our spanish night! if you need help at all during the day, i'd love to come over and lend a hand, take pictures, bring you a coffee!"

I wanted to be able to put the night, the food, the experience on SMAK to share with everyone. Spain was such a huge part of my life and I love sharing it with people. My parents were unable to visit me while I lived abroad, so this night was really important to me. I was going to be able to share with my parents a little piece of my second home - its food, its culture, its traditions.

Angie and I Facebooked back and forth for a while and came to the final menu:

  • Sangría
  • Morcilla
  • Croquetas de Jamón Serrano
  • Paella a la Valenciana
  • Flan

The excitement that filled my body could not be contained - I couldn't wait! I secretly prayed that the food would live up to what I had in Spain, that it would live up to my expectations...(it did!)

Just a quick warning: These recipes are extensive and can be a lot of work. If you plan on trying these recipes, which I hope you do, do not expect a walk in the park. But the results are well worth the effort!

When I walked into Tom and Angie's house I could see the ingredients laid out on the counter. My heart skipped a few beats in excitement! I would be eating Spanish food in just a few hours time!!

We started out the night with grilled morcilla.

Morcilla.

What a funny little thing. I remember the first time I had it. I was at my family's country home in Campotéjar, Spain, a tiny village 40 minutes north of Granada. We were having una barbacoa - a barbecue. I remember Juan Raul handing me a plate of the darkest sausages that I had ever seen. They were black. I picked one up and popped it in my mouth - despite the strange color, they were surprisingly delicious! I only later found out that I had eaten blood sausage! If you have never eaten morcilla before, I give you one piece of advice: try everything once.

Spain (especially Granada) is infamous for its tapas, or appetizers. They range from anything from olives and cheese to chorizo and croquetas. In Granada, we often took full advantage of this perk! At most bars in Granada you are given tapas when you order a drink. After classes we would go out for drinks and in return, have a free (kind of) dinner of tapas!

At one point in the night I had to run outside to move a car. When I walked back into the house I immediately had déjà vu. I wasn't in Libertyville, IL. I was at Calle Doctor Aberlado Mora, 12, on the 7th floor walking into my apartment after a morning of classes. The smell was exactly what I remembered from Spain. It was one of the coolest feelings that I have had in a while. I am wishing I could have it again right now...

My family attempted making paella the year after I moved home from Spain. While it was fairly close and a good attempt, something was slightly off. What was it? The chorizo. Typically in the United States you can only find Mexican chorizo. This is what seemed off when my family made it.  Angie put the difference great - imagine brats versus Italian beef. The flavor and textures of each chorizo are different. Spanish chorizo is firm and has smoked paprika while Mexican chorizo is more crumbly and not smokey. If you know Spanish paella and make it with Mexican chorizo, you will be able to tell a difference.

La Tienda is an amazing online store where you can have goods shipped from Spain for a fairly decent price! I know that this is a site I will be using in the future!

Here is a little piece of advice when it comes to the paella. In the recipe, there is no indication of ever covering the paella, specifically when putting it in the oven. When Angie and I made it, we covered the paella with tin foil in order to keep the steam in, just like when you cook rice you put a lid on. If you do not cover it, the mussels and paella in general may dry out. As you practice with this recipe, you can see how things work for you and make adjustments as you see fit.

Angie surprised me with a little treat that I had no recollection of until I tasted it...

Mantecados de Aceite

These are little cookies that I had completely forgotten about! My conversation professor, Julia, had brought them to class the last day of school. Hello déjà vu, again! The second I put the cookie in my mouth, I was back in Spain. I cannot tell you how many times I experienced déjà vu that night. Holy nostalgia. What I would give to go back.

Thank you Angie! For these amazing recipes. For an amazing night! And for being my fellow obsessed foodie! This night was exactly what I have been needing. While I have memories of Spain, it truly feels like a dream. I miss it so and sometimes have a difficult time believing that it actually happened. Spending time with family and friends, enjoying amazing food and drinks, taking hours to eat a meal. It all reminded me of the amazing times that I had in Spain.

I hope that you are brave enough to try some of these recipes. I truly feel like I am sharing a part of my life with you.

¡Que aproveche y buenas noches!

Sangría

3 bottles of Spanish red wine (trempranillo, rioja, or garnacha) 3/8 cup Cointreau, or triple sec 1/4 cup rum 1/2 cup sugar, or to taste 2 cans club soda apples oranges

Chill well, add 2 cold cans of club soda and diced apples and sliced oranges. Serve over ice.

Croquetas de Jamón Serrano

2 eggs, beaten with a little water 4 tbsp flour A pinch of Spanish paprika (Pimentón de la Vera) 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil Salt and pepper 1 cup of milk 1/2 lb of jamón serrano, diced 1/2 onion, minced 2 cups of bread crumbs Olive oil for frying

Heat the oil in a pan and sauté minced onions until transparent. Stir in the flour and cook it briefly, then whisk in the milk. Cook, stirring constantly until the sauce thickens. Season with salt, pepper and paprika. Stir in the jamón and spread the mixture into a dish. Refrigerate until solid.

Place the beaten eggs in one dish, the bread crumbs in another. With moistened hands, form the chilled mixture into balls or cylinders. Dip each croqueta first in bread crumbs, then in beaten egg, then in bread crumbs again, taking care that they are well covered. Allow to cool for 30 minutes.

Heat olive oil in deep fryer and fry the coquetas a few at a time, until golden, about 3 minutes.

Paella a la Valenciana

6 cups strong chicken broth 1/2 teaspoon saffron 1/4 teaspoon smoked Spanish Paprika (Pimentón de la Vera) [McCormicks makes] 1 small onion, peeled 6-8 small pieces of chicken (such as thighs, legs) 1/2 cup olive oil 1/4 pound Spanish chorizo (not Mexican), cut into small slices 1 medium onion, chopped 4 tablespoons garlic, chopped 4 scallions, chopped 2 roasted piquillo peppers, chopped (or 1/2 jar chopped pimentos) 1 pound medium shrimp, shelled 8 jumbo shrimp with shells and heads on (optional) 1/4 pound calamari rings (optional) 3 cups Bomba rice (can use Arborio if necessary) 5 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped 2 Bay leaves, crumbled 1/2 cup dry white wine 1/4 pound frozen peas 18 clams and mussels, rinsed well lemon wedges and parsley for garnish

Heat the broth with the saffron, smoked paprika and whole onion. Cover and let simmer for 15 minutes. Remove onion and measure out 5 1/2 cups and reserve.

Dry chicken pieces and sprinkle with salt. In metal paella pan or large wide skillet that can go in the oven, heat the oil. Add the chicken and fry until golden brown on all sides. Remove to warm platter.

Add the chorizo and fry for 10 minutes. Add the chopped onion, scallions, garlic, and pimentos and sauté on medium heat until onion is wilted. Add the rice to the pan and stir to coat well with oil.

Sprinkle in parsley and bay. Meanwhile, bring broth back to a boil.

Stir broth into the paella pan and add the wine, rice, and peas. Salt to taste. Bring mixture to a boil. Add chicken and cook uncovered, stirring occasionally for 10 minutes. Stir in the calamari. Bury the shrimp in the rice. Add the clams and mussels, pushing them into the rice with their hinge down. Decorate the top with jumbo shrimp, if using. Put in the oven at 325°F for 20 minutes.

Remove from the oven and cover lightly with foil for 5-10 minutes. Sprinkle with chopped fresh parsley and edged with lemon slices to serve.

Classic Vanilla Flan

3/4 cup sugar (for caramelizing the molds) 3/4 cup sugar 1 1/3 cups milk 1 1/3 cups half and half 4 2" x 1/2" strips lime zest (colored rind only) (optional) 3 large eggs 5 large egg yolks 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1. Caramelizing the molds: Choose six 6 ounce or four 8 ounce molds - custard cups, coffee cups, or individual soufflé dishes. Set them in a baking pan at least 2" deep and large enough to give all the molds at least 1/2" clearance all around.

Measure the sugar into a small saucepan. Dribble 1/3 cup water around and over the sugar, evenly moistening it, then set over medium high heat. When the mixture comes to a full boil, wash down the sides of the pan with a brush dipped in water (this dissolves any clinging sugar crystals). Reduce the heat to medium and boil without stirring until the syrup begins to turn golden, 3-5 minutes. Now carefully start gently swirling the pan over the heat until the syrup is a rich amber. Quickly pour a portion of caramel into each of the molds. Immediately tilt the molds to evenly cover the bottom with caramel. (To clean the saucepan, fill it with water and set over medium high heat to dissolve the stuck on caramel.)

2. The custard mixture: Heat the oven to 325°F and position an oven rack in the middle. Bring a kettle of water to a simmer. In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar, milk and half-and-half. Set over medium heat, add the lime zest if you're using it and stir as the mixture comes to a simmer. Remove from the heat. If you're using lime zest, cover and let steep 10 minutes.

In a large bowl, whisk the egg and yolk combination until liquid, then slowly whisk in the warm milk mixture. Stir in the vanilla and strain through a fine mesh strainer into a pitcher or bowl. Pour or ladle one portion of the custard mixture into each of the molds.

3. Baking the custard: Pull out the oven rack and set the pan holding the filled molds onto it. Carefully pour the simmering water into the baking pan, letting it come 2/3 of the way up the sides of the molds. Carefully slide the rack back into the oven, close the door and bake until the custards are barely set in the middle, 50-60 minutes for smaller molds, 60-70 minutes for larger ones. Since most ovens don't offer completely even heat, I recommend turning the pan around about halfway through baking, even though it's a tricky maneuver.

Let the custards cool in the hot water bath, which will take about an hour, so they slowly set completely.

4. Serving the flans: Though eating a barely warm flan can be an experience in lusciousness, I think it's best to refrigerate them for at least 2 hours before serving. They're easier to successfully unmold, their texture will have firmed in a way most people find quite agreeable and more of the caramelized sugar will have dissolved into a wonderful caramel syrup. To serve, run a small knife around the top edge of each flan, penetrating about 1/2" below the surface. Quickly turn each mold over onto a serving plate. One by one, grasp the plate and mold firmly and shake up and down and back and forth, until you hear the flan drop onto the plate. Remove the mold and scrape out sticky dissolving caramel from the inside, letting it drizzle down onto the flan.