Monday, July 23, 2012

Three Good Years & Paella

Today marks the three year anniversary of this blog.  When it started, I had no idea this little project would ever become what it is now.  It was honestly just an impulse that I went with one summer day when I was working as a intern.  I had a desk job with a lot of free time, and I had recently had a birthday lunch with my cousin at a restaurant in DC.  I started writing an email to my parents and my sister about the meal, and then, on a whim, I decided to make it into a blog post.  I didn't even have an introduction.
The first year honestly was a very slow one.  I didn't write much, and when I did, I don't think anyone was really reading.  Then I went to France for the summer and prolifically published about the places that I ate at while on vacation.  My parents showed the link to various friends and family and before I knew it, I had an audience.
I am still learning how to write and trying to figure out the rules of the blogging world, but it is incredibly rewarding whenever I check on my Stats page (that's right, non-bloggers; I get a report of how many people are reading, what links and google search bring them here, what posts are being read, what countries readers are from... it's amazing) and I see that someone has tweeted about a post I wrote or someone has pinned a picture that I took onto Pinterest.  It is also wonderful to have those around me support me in this.
One of the strongest supporters of my food blogging is my boyfriend.  He understands how important this is to me, even though it has nothing to do with my career path, and he stands by as I take 30 pictures of a plate of food before letting him eat it and he smiles at my note-taking when we go out to dinner (even when we're with his friends).  But best of all, because I've been too swamped with work to write or cook anything to mark this three year anniversary, B. sweetly stepped in and wrote a special guest post.


For this special occasion today, I wanted to share a family recipe we do for family reunions, Sunday lunch and big occasions: Paëlla.
Europe is an exciting mix of culture and history and as a French-Catalan-Algerian, this Paëlla is a great example of how to present a traditional dish with your own influences, inspiration and techniques.  Originally, it was a poor man’s dish made out of leftovers but after many generations, it became a tradition and an equivalent of a feast.

What you’ll need for 6-8 people:

- 500g medium-grain rice
- 2 onions
- 1L chicken / vegetable stock
- 2 bell peppers (preferably red & green)
- 2 tomatoes
- 250g of calamari
- 4 pieces of chicken (usually drumsticks)
- 4 rabbit hind legs (optional)
- 200g chorizo
- 12 Spanish mussels
- 1 cup of cooked regular mussels
- 6 langoustines (Scampi)
- 350g shrimp
- 1 cup of peas
- 1 cup of white wine
- Armagnac / Cognac
- 3-4 pinches of saffron
- olive oil
- salt and pepper

You will need a big pan. I used a traditional 15-inches paella pan, but any large pan is good. Everything will be cooked in the same pan one step at a time, no need to wash it in between steps. We want to keep all the flavors from each step.

1- Heat the stock in a separate pan, chop the onions, wash the Spanish mussels, and rinse the calamari rings. Slice the chorizo and remove the “skin." Peel, seed, and dice the tomatoes. Peel, seed, and slice the bell peppers. Peel the shrimp, remove the heads and tails (note: don’t do this with the langoustines!).  Once your stock is hot, set aside about ½ cup and add the the saffron to "marinate" this stock.

2- Add enough olive oil for 3-4 turns around the pan. Sautee one-third of the chopped onions in the pan (don’t use all of your onions; the rest will be used later) with the Spanish mussels on medium-high for about 5-7 minutes. Once the mussels are ready, remove them from the pan and set them aside on a plate. Make sure every mussel is open, otherwise let it cook a little bit longer.

 3- Caramelize the calamari in the pan. Add onion if needed. Don’t cook the calamari completely here because they will cook longer at the end.  Remove them when they have a nice golden color (about 5 minutes) and set them aside on another plate.

4- Add a bit more onion and olive oil and cook the langoustines for 5-7 minutes. Get the Armagnac (or Cognac) ready to flambé. When the langoustines are almost done, pour the Armagnac on them, and use a match to set it on fire (be careful not to burn down the kitchen...)

5- Add the rest of onions (should be roughly ⅓ of the original amount) with the chicken, rabbit and bell peppers. Sautee for about 5 minutes, stir and add the tomatoes. Simmer on medium and add the peas and chorizo. The chorizo and the tomatoes should release their juice; don’t remove it.  Remove the chorizo before it is cooked completely as it will be cooked again at the very end.

6- While the meat is cooking, prep the Spanish mussels on the half-shell. This is mainly for presentation.

7 - When the meat is ready, take it out of the pan and put it on a plate on top of the stock pot (which should be on medium-low heat) to keep it warm (pretty much like a water bath)

8- Add the shrimp to the pan and put back the calamari with the cooked mussels (not the Spanish mussels!). On medium heat, add your rice evenly in the pan. Stir gently, then spread the rice to cover as much surface as possible. If you “stack” the rice, it won’t be cooked properly. Pour in the stock with the saffron and some of the regular stock to cover everything. Let this simmer and little by little pour in more stock as it reduces. The rice takes 20-25 min to cook.
In Catalonia, people like their rice to crack a little bit under the teeth (think al dente but cook it to your personal preference). After 15 minutes, put the chorizo back in.

9- When the paella is ready, put the chicken, the rabbit, the scampi on top of the rice. Add the Spanish mussels around the edge of the pan. Put the pan in a preheated oven at a low temperature between 85°F-140°F until your guests arrive to make sure everything will be warm when served.

Optional: Arrange slices of lemon on top before serving. You can also top with sprigs of parsley.

We finished our meal with a crêpe with red fruits and homemade chantilly... but that is a different story, for another day.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Kitchen Tricks & What I've been up to

Summer is always busier than I think it will be.  There are always farmer's markets I wish I had the time to visit, recipes I wish I had the ingredients and patience to try, people I mean to meet up with, and chores I ought to be taking care of.

I have a basil plant I've been caring for and, to my absolute glee and excitement, it has been thriving on my window sill.  The farmer's market across the street from me in back in full swing.  In a little bit over a week, my sweet B. will be flying back here to visit.

I have had friends come visit me and explore some fun restaurants and spots in the city.  Navigating New York feels so much more comfortable to me now than it did four years ago when I first ventured there by myself.  I've slowly crossed places off my Must Visit" list.  I have been meaning to share my experiences here, but I simply haven't had the time.

Yesterday was my birthday and one of my oldest friends came up to celebrate with me.  When I was thirteen, he was my first boyfriend; he held my hand, walked me home from the bus stop, and listened to my stories.  We grew up together.  Now, all these years later, he still is my best friend.  He understands my crazy side, my weird side, and my foodie side.

For my birthday, he woke up at 6am and drove over 300 miles to visit me.  He washed my dishes, let me practice eliciting reflexes on him by hitting him repeatedly with my reflex hammer, and then took me out to the city where he treat me to three delicious desserts, one after the other.  I've always believed that dessert is the best part of eating out.  Dessert before dinner is wonderful.  Three desserts of my choice in the middle of the day?  Now there's a good day.

Top left: honey lavender gelato and Turkish fig gelato.
Bottom left: various doughnuts from The Doughnut Plant, including rose, creme brulee, and lavender.
Right: brioche donut filled with nutella

Sometimes it's the simplest things that means the most.

And since this is a blog about food, I thought I might clumsily transition into a few simple tricks to use in the kitchen.  These little tricks and tips are things I've learned from years of cooking and baking in the kitchen and from watching my mom and dad.  I hope this makes up for the lack of recipes and reviews.

  1.  Bake with rum.  Or bourbon.  They both add a very nice fragrance to baked cakes and such.  Just pour a splash into your favorite recipe (cakes, pie fillings, bread pudding, banana bread)

  2.  Add salt.  Seriously.  Even to the sweet stuff.  Add a pinch to hot chocolate, a dash to a fruit smoothie.  Remember salt especially when baking.  But also remember to taste.  A little bit goes a long way.

  3.  Cook with a bit of sugar.  This is especially true with meat and spicy food.  Making ribs or chicken?  Add a teaspoon of sugar to the rub/marinade.  Sprinkle a bit into your beef stew.  You'll be amazed at how sugar can round out your flavors.  This is especially true with homemade tomato sauce.  A little bit of brown sugar works wonders.

  4.  Don't have brown sugar on hand?  Use molasses and white sugar.  Depending on whether you want to make dark or light brown sugar, combine one cup of granulated white sugar which either 1 or 2 tablespoons or unsulfured molasses.

  5.  Don't have buttermilk on hand?  Use milk and lemon/lime juice.  To make one cup, use a scant milk (whole fat is best, but skim work as well) plus the juice from one-quarter of a lime or lemon.  Let this sit at room temperature for about 10 minutes.  Presto!  Instant buttermilk.

  6.  Have lemons, limes, or oranges on hand?  Wash them thoroughly and then zest them and freeze the zest.  Citrus zest is a great way to add flavor to baked goods, salad dressings, and even drinks!  Citrus zest will keep in the freezer in an airtight container for about 2-3months.

  7.  Using vegetables for soup?  Caramelize them first in a pan with some butter; it really brings out their flavors.

  8.  The easiest way to add flavor to something you're baking when you don't have vanilla on hand or you want something to have a little kick of caramel flavor but you don't want to make caramel?  Brown the butter.  Does the recipe not have butter?  Toast the flour.  All it takes is a hot pan and some attentive eyes.

  9.  My absolute favorite baking trick that's also good for your electric bill and the environment?  I turn my oven off about 5 minutes early.  That's right, when my baking is just about done, I turn off the oven and leave the pan in the oven.  Normally I let my baked goods (or even meat, like ribs or chicken) sit in the oven, which is still hot, for about 10 minutes.  Then when everything is perfectly cooked, I smile inwardly about the electricity I just saved.  Also, if you're like me and you're the type of person who normally keeps cookie dough on hand, after baking a chicken or using the oven for some other reason, if you just just turned off an oven that was at about 350-375F, you can pop in a tray of cookies and have them done in about 30-35 minutes while the oven cools (for a recipe that normally bake in 10-15 minutes with the oven on).  How great is that?  Of course, this will vary from oven to oven and with different recipes, but it is a very efficient way of using the heat from the oven that otherwise is just wasted.  You can also toss a garlic head in a ramekin with some olive oil, cover it with foil, and put that in the oven to get some nice oven-roasted garlic in half an hour.

That's all the tips I can think of for now.  I wish I had one more to round out the number to 10, but instead, I leave you with one more dessert.  Life is sweet.

Warm chocolate bread pudding with vanilla sauce