Saturday, June 25, 2011

the Love Affair with Paella

Dear friends,
So much has changed since my last post: adventures to the west, disillusionment and oddly enough reconnection in the great blue sea and a new professional journey to be discovered. While I promise to share pictures and stories from all these life moments I would like instead to share my love affair with paella and a special night I recently shared with dear friends, Dan, Eli and their beautiful boys Nico & Lucas.

Dan grew up in Spain and his mother, Spanish cookbook author Janet Mendel, visited their home in Atlanta in early June on a stop over between New York and New Orleans. When I got the invite to cook up a sizzling paella with Janet and the family I was beside myself.  It was such a treat for me to - lets be honest EAT paella (best comfort food ever!) BUT to actually cook in the kitchen with THE Janet Mendel was sublime. Little did she know that I am a novice that actually uses her cookbooks to make my own uhm... "creations" in the kitchen. And now here I was "cooking" with her... OK  really I did more chopping, laughing, wine drinking and taking photos of every moment. That's my kind of cooking!
Doesn't the apron make me look official? Janet is off to find the saffron to my left
 and Dan is busy at the sink. Clearly I am "cooking"... LOL!!
To showcase how much I love paella, my girlfriend Ann surprised me with a paella dish for my birthday this year. That night is a whole other story for another post - so much fun to be with my women! They are my air. So instead, lets start in the beginning... my paella affair dates back to when I was a little girl. My mom was (is) an amazing cook and as a family we only ate out a couple nights a month, but for special occasions we would go out of our way to find the best Spanish restaurants in New Jersey, New York, Miami, Puerto Rico or anywhere we would be living at the time. Paella was a must on the menu and of course a must order item always! We would love savoring the paella Valenciana, Marinera (seafood), Paella de Verduras (veggies) - it could be a dry paella or a wet paella - we did not discriminate but we always knew if it was the "real thing". We were a family of talkers at the dinner table but when the hearty rice dish filled with finger licking goodness arrived nobody would say a word - the paella was our silent prayer moment. Paella was the only thing that could silence my parents and although unspoken, it was reminiscent of the origins of our past and for me its where my obsession with Spain began.

The Cathedral in Valencia, Spain. Valencia is home to the Paella.
The Latin word for paella, patella, is actually a somewhat flat plate much like the traditional paella pans used today on which offerings were made to gods. No wonder the the Valencianos still hold the paella dish as a regional treasure to be shared with loved ones and honored guest! So next time you sink your teeth into a delicious paella dish just know you have the right to feel like a goddess... Thank goodness the Valenciano's favorite dish has been exported around the world for everyone to enjoy. Even during my recent trip to Sonoma, California my girlfriend Amanda and I shared an afternoon of "Pinot and Paella" at the Arista Winery. Spanish influences are everywhere!

But back to our evening of paella with Janet and the Searl's! The best way to share with you our evening of delicacy is to take you through the visual journey of our night. Janet's blog MY KITCHEN IN SPAIN has more details of our night and more importantly how to cook up a killer paella.  In the meantime, enjoy these pictures of our evening together and her personal recipe below. Cooking with Janet was one evening I will always remember with fondness! Thank you Janet, Dan & Eli for hosting me!

By: Janet Mendel

6-12 mussels or clams, steamed open, liquid strained and reserved
4 ounces green beans, cut in short lengths and cooked until tender
6 large unpeeled shrimp, with heads on if possible
1/4 cup olive oil
4-5 boneless chicken thighs, each cut into 3 or 4 pieces
12 ounces squid, cleaned and cut in rings
1 large artichoke, trimmed, cut in sixths, choke cut out
1 green bell pepper, cut into 1-inch squares
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 large tomato, peeled, seeded and chopped
2 cups medium-short grain rice
4 cups chicken broth, clam liquid or water
pinch of saffron, crushed and mixed in 1/4 cup water
1 pound peeled shrimp
freshly ground black pepper
salt to taste
strips of roasted red pepper for garnish
lemon wedges for garnish

Heat the oil in a large pan. Add the whole, unpeeled shrimp and saute them until pink on both sides. Remove the shrimp and reserve.

Add the pieces of chicken to the oil and saute on a medium-high heat until they are browned on both sides. Add the squid and fry. Add the peppers and garlic and continue sauteing. Add the artichokes. (If you cut them immediately before adding to the pan, they do not need to be rubbed with lemon.) Next add the tomatoes and the liquid.

Bring the liquid to a boil and add the rice. Stir it in to combine all the ingredients. Stir in the saffron, pepper and salt to taste (depending on the saltiness of the stock). Let everything cook on a medium- heat for 5 minutes, then turn the heat down to low and continue to cook until rice is just tender, about 15 minutes more.

Scatter the green beans over the top of the paella. Place the sauteed shrimp and cooked clams or mussels on top and garnish with strips of red pepper. Remove from heat, cover with foil and let the paella rest 10 minutes. Serve garnished with lemon wedges.

It's all in the rice. We used Goya's paella rice from Valencia.

The main ingredients were all fresh. Shrimp, squid, green peppers, red peppers, chicken, much goodness.

Janet making sure that the stock (the foundation to the dish) juices and flavors were all in check.
"It will always feel like you are cooking your ingredients to long ...
but don't be afraid" she said," that's how its done!"

Proud mom, Janet, looks on as her son Dan works his magic on the saffron.

The rice was just added and everything is really starting to take shape.
The smells are overwhelming our hunger for this yummy goodness.

Dan and Janet putting the final touches on the paella before it is served. Eli and I can't wait to dig in!

Me, the photographer, and Janet taking a moment to enjoy the final dish before we all devour our 2 hour labor of love! 

Better than art (Picasso or Sorolla should have painted this!) and so delicious!

Dan was hungrier than we thought! Eli was more than happy to share. She's much nicer than me! I would have gladly taken the WHOLE pan for myself - YES - it was that delicious!!
Janet was gracious enough to autograph my copy of her cookbook "My Kitchen in Spain" and my left- overs that I was supposed to have shared with my husband who could not attend our Friday night dinner never made it to his tummy. I had the leftovers for breakfast, lunch and dinner the next day and to be quite honest just about cried when it was all gone! That was a very sad moment.
Guess I will have to visit Janet in Mijas soon!