Birthday Paella – 26/67

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This recipe, the one you are about to read about and hopefully make, is the dinner I’d request on my birthday growing up. It had all the umami, a blanket of carbs, and my favorite psuedo-vegetables: artichokes hearts and olives. It was warm and comforting — perfect for late August! (I joke.) My “favorite food” as I was growing up always shifted with the day and age, but I know for a while there I said paella. 

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Daniel and I went to Barcelona together last week for an impromptu adventure. And! we did not try! any! paella! Gasp! My middle school self would be disappointed. (One reason we didn’t have paella was that as we looked at menus, many had the symbol for “contains tree nuts”. I got nervous and decided perhaps we should just avoid it. My guess is that many use romesco sauce as a base, which contains almonds? Happy that menus used that notation, not happy that it kept me away from trying this. Oh well, I am alive and didn’t need to find a hospital in Spain. Who gets travelers insurance anyway.) However! We did have fideua, which is a coastal paella variation that uses small broken toasted spaghetti instead of the traditional rice.

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It was covered with fresh seafood, served with a side of aioli, and hella good. I do not regret our paella-esque choices in Barcelona.

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I think I’ve had real paella exactly one time, at Boqueria in NYC. Which is, not coincidentally, where we got engaged, but this was a different evening. We had just eaten our weight in amazing tapas when they brought out our paella. It was… okay. They took the whole crispy-bottom thing to a next level, and it was kinda dry and almost charred. Disappointing. 

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This is a long way to say, we made my mom’s birthday-requested paella for dinner recently. I was skeptical of its short ingredient list (no saffron, just turmeric for seasoning, no hours-long cooked sofrito, no acid). And yet! A really delicious, balanced, well-seasoned dinner. The rice on the bottom gets sticky and a little charred and so flavorful. The whole thing is incredibly flexible and adaptable.  Perhaps I’ve just been on team inauthentic paella this whole time. 

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Some notes on the ingredients, namely vegan sausage: I hate it. The brand we got was just… very hard to swallow. I’d try with a different kind next time, or just add a little smoked paprika and forego the sausage all together. Growing up we used a weird kosher sausage that I would also pick around. But I do remember chicken sausage being a good thing, so maybe that’s the way to go here. Sausage as you will. Also, I didn’t see sausage in any of the paellas in Spain. Most had seafood, or maybe rabbit or another gamey meat. Some had veggies, most didn’t seem to. So, if you like cooking with mussels and venison, try it out, why not. Also, there is no need to use the chicken here. Could definitely do more sweet potatoes, carrots, peppers, and peas and make this totally vegan. 

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some recipes to revisit from the blog from autumns of years past:
garlicky eggplant and cubanelle pepper stir-fry
winter squash and quinoa stuffed poblano peppers
blueberry lemon ginger celebration cake
warm apples over ice cream
kabocha, caramelized onion, and ricotta toasts <– this is on my must make again soon list

Birthday Paella 

adapted from my mom!

olive oil
3 bone-in chicken thighs (original recipe called for 6, but we added extra veggies instead)
2 sausages, vegan or otherwise, thick slices
2ish small sweet potatoes, scrubbed and in big chunks (optional)
1 onion, chopped small
1 bell pepper (green or red), chopped small
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
¾ cup rice (we used Arborio)
½ teaspoon turmeric
2 teaspoons Bouillion powder
handful baby carrots (or regular carrots cut into batons)
2 cups hot water (or broth) (a little more if more rice)
half a bag frozen peas
small jar artichoke hearts
½ can black olives
½ can roasted piquillo peppers, sliced
small handful cherries tomatoes, halved
1 lemon, to serve

In a big skillet for which you have a lid, heat up a bit of olive oil. Brown the chicken and sausage for a few minutes, then remove to a plate and set aside. 

If using sweet potato, put chunks in a microwavable bowl with a bit of water. Microwave for two minutes, or until potatoes are starting to soften. Drain and set aside. 

Return skillet to heat and add a bit more oil if it’s looking dry. Cook onion, bell pepper, and garlic with a sprinkle of salt for 5ish minutes, or until all start to brown and soften. Add the raw rice, turmeric, and bouillon powder and cook for another minute or so, stirring frequently. 

Level the rice out. Put carrots and sweet potatoes atop rice. Then arrange chicken and sausage on top. Cover with hot water and bring to a boil. Don’t stir! Cover with a lid, turn heat to low, and simmer for twenty minutes.

Sprinkle peas evenly around the skillet. Arrange artichoke hearts, olives, roasted peppers, and tomatoes over the top. Cover with lid and simmer for another twenty minutes. Serve with lemon slices.  

 

Simple Pasta with Smoked Scamorza and Tomatoes

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Frequent topics of conversation these days include what city we want to go to next, as based on a mini obsession with the show Street Food Around the World (despite its relentlessly annoying host), and Coffee.

Daniel recently purchased an AeroPress, which, he’ll be the first to tell you, has Changed His Life. Gone are the days of multiple daily visits to our local coffee shop, here to stay are the sink-full of coffee mugs and multiple bags of not-quite-enough-for-a-coffee-but-too-much-to-throw-away beans. I love the eagerness with which I am offered a cup in the morning (or in the afternoon, during dinner, right before bed, immediately after I get out of a shower…).

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As a barista, I am around coffee more than I care to admit. The longer I’ve worked around coffee the less appealing it has become. (Less true the summer I worked at Cold Stone in high school.)  The less I drink it, the more my “good coffee” guard slips down–I appreciate a bottomless diner mug as much as our fancy, single source, perfectly calibrated brew. Although I’ve always loved the smell and taste, coffee has held less joy for me. Until Now. Until Aeropress. I’m fancy again.

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And nothing says “I do love a good cup of coffee!” like smoked cheese, amiright?! One of our favorite post-rehearsal habits is the long walk to Chelsea Market. I’m pretty good at battling the tourists and beelining to my favorite haunts, which right now means Buon Italia. Their dried pasta section elicited girlish giggles (from both of us) and the cheese section kept me enraptured for a good ten minutes (we also have them to thank for these fregola cuties). Although I couldn’t find the soft smoked ricotta I recently tried at BK Winery and have not stopped thinking about, the smoked scamorza was a dang good choice.

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So! In summary: pasta, good; (smoked) cheese, good; coffee, also good. Keep it simple, let the ingredients Be The Best They Can Be.

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Me: Look! I actually took a nice picture of all the lovely-ly arranged ingredients! Daniel: Wait, isn’t there supposed to be cheese in this? Isn’t that the POINT? Me: You’re concentrating on the wrong thing! And, uh, shit.

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I’ve located the cheese… can’t miss it now! (please appreciate my newby photo editing skills)

Simple Pasta with Smoked Scamorza and Tomatoes

sorta adapted from Bon Appetit 

¾ lb. pasta, more or less (12oz or so) (we used radiatore/organetti but any fun curvy shape would be good here)
4T olive oil
½ large onion, thinly sliced
1 pint cherry tomatoes (11 oz), halved (or quartered if larger)
1 large clove garlic, minced
½ c vermouth (or white wine!)
¾ c fresh basil leaves, sliced, plus extra for garnish
1 t dried oregano
1 t dried parsley (we used a “Tuscan herb blend” because we were out)
scant ½ c kalamata olives, chopped
7 mini balls smoked scamorza or smoked mozzarella (or use fresh, non-smoked!), sliced (about ½ c once sliced)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cook pasta according to package directions, erring on the side of al dente. Drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a large ovenproof saute pan. Add onion and cook for about 6 minutes, stirring frequently, until it starts to brown. Add cherry tomatoes; cook for 3 minutes. Next add garlic; cook for two more minutes.

Add vermouth and give everything a good stir. Scrape up any browned onions or tomatoey bits. Next, add basil, oregano, parsley, and olives and cook for about 4 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Taste sauce; season with s&p. Add cooked pasta to sauce and stir to coat evenly. Add half the scamorza and mix to incorporate. Top pasta with other half of scamorza and place in the oven for about 5 minutes, or until cheese gets melty.

Top with fresh basil, a drizzle of olive oil, and crack of black pepper.

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Mushroom, Olive, and Farro Stuffed Acorn Squash

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This was one of those nights that Daniel decided he didn’t feel like eating vegetarian and would make himself a side of meat from the Homesick Texan cookbook he (aptly) received for his birthday. He chose something that sounded delicious and we ventured out to our two local grocery places (one better for fresh produce, the other better for (ridiculously overpriced) happy meats and fancy cheeses…) around 7:30, and came home and got to work. A slight misunderstanding of the recipe meant that the carnitas actually had to simmer for three hours, a bit of a formidable cooking time when my proposed squash would take under an hour.

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But, stubborn and dedicated as he was, we ended up making both and eating around, oh say, 11:30. (I wish I could say that was rare.)

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This squash was out-of-control good! All my favorite flavors in the filling, which is perfect for lunch the next day. (Double the filling recipe! You won’t regret it!) And acorn squash is just the cutest little squash there is. A ridiculously tasty, cute squash. Also out of our kitchen that night: aforementioned carnitas (which smelled pretty darn good) with a tomatillo-avocado salsa (delicious with just a spoon!) and Dorie Greenspan’s perfect lemon poppyseed muffins. Recipes available upon request 🙂 Happy cooking!

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Mushroom, Olive, and Farro Stuffed Acorn Squash

adapted from What’s Cooking, Good Looking

serves 2

1/2 cup farro
1.5 cups water
pinch of salt
1 acorn squash
olive oil
s&p
1T olive oil
½ a large white onion, chopped small
1 big clove garlic, minced
2 T pine nuts
4 big button mushrooms, chopped small
1 t soy sauce
3 T chopped kalamata olives
2 T parsley, finely minced
¼ cup crumbled feta

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Combine farro, water, and salt in a medium sized pot and bring to a boil. Cover, turn heat to low, and simmer for 30 minutes. At this point, water should be absorbed. (If not, drain excess water once farro is sufficiently chewy.) Set aside.

Meanwhile, cut acorn squash in half horizontally. Scoop out the seeds. Trim off the very top and very bottom using a very sharp knife so the squash halves can sit upright on a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper. Bake for 25- 30 min, or until a knife cuts through easily.

While squash bakes, heat olive oil in a largeish pan. Add onion and garlic and cook over medium heat for about 8 minutes, until onions are beginning to brown. Add pine nuts and toast for 3 minutes, or until they start to brown as well. Next, add mushrooms and soy sauce and cook for 3 minutes, or until the liquid evaporates. Take off the heat and add olives, parsley, feta, and farro. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Stuff farro/mushroom mixture into scooped out squash halves and consume!

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