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.  

 

Baked Eggs and Spinach, Spanish-ish Style

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Reasons I should be eating cake for breakfast today instead of greens:

  • I survived this week.
  • A week which consisted of dress rehearsal and final performance for my, shall we say, incredibly stubborn current group of senior citizen actors I devised a play with. Hoo boy this was a tough one. Cake deserved.
  • A week which also consisted of rehearsals every day for the show I’m directing for Bond Street Theatre — our production of The Law of the Jungle — originally created in Afghanistan and currently restaged with teens from our weekend workshop series. Friday was opening night, and they killed it! Cake definitely deserved.
  • A week which also consisted of visiting the final senior center theater program I oversaw, wayyy out in East Elmhurst, Queens.
  • Monday is the first day of Urban Stages Summer Camp, for which I’m the director. The staff is trained, the theater is set up, the campers (more than we’ve ever had!) are ready to descend. And this administrator is feeling confident. (Cake!)
  • Other things accomplished this week to celebrate: we submitted visas for our upcoming China trip(!), got a good start on our wedding website, ordered a test save the date, and I found time to make muffins.
  • Also this country is going to shit and it’s terrifying, so I think cake for breakfast is the least of our concerns.

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Reasons I should be eating greens for breakfast instead of cake:

  • My fridge has been taken over by CSA greens. Like SERIOUSLY taken over. Send help.
  • (Also, I definitely ate this with half a leftover raspberry lime muffin I made for my teens, so I ended up with the best of both worlds.)

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Practicality, psh — these eggs also taste great. I say “Spanish-ish” because this recipe contains two of my favorite Spanish ingredients — smoked paprika and manchego cheese — but I don’t actually know if this is consumed in Spain. But I do know it’s delicious and that now I have one less bundle of greens to deal with in the fridge.

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four years ago: easy rhubarb cake 
three years ago: mustard greens with oyster sauce and garlic oil 
two years ago: Lebanese un-stuffed eggplant with yogurt sauce 
one year ago: tapado (Caribbean fish, coconut, and plantain soup)

Baked Eggs and Spinach, Spanish-ish Style

a swanky original

½ pound spinach (about 3 big handful)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 giant garlic clove, minced
big pinch red pepper flakes
¼ teaspoon smoked paprika
½ teaspoon red wine vinegar
a couple splashes hot sauce (this is my favorite and adds even more smokiness)
Non-stick spray
2 eggs
shredded manchego (or cheese of choice)
fresh oregano, minced (optional)
s&p

Preheat oven to 375F.

If starting with farm-fresh spinach, remove stems and rinse. (My favorite way to do this is in a big bowl — fill with greens and cold water, hold greens to one side and drain, and repeat three times. Takes a little while but is quite effective.) Dry on clean kitchen towels, or a salad spinner if you didn’t break yours last week (oops). Give a rough chop.

Heat a big saute pan over medium heat. Warm olive oil. Add garlic and red pepper flakes, and cook for about a minute, until your kitchen smells great. Add spinach all in one go, and sprinkle with generous pinches of salt, pepper, and the smoked paprika. Then mix together. As spinach cooks down, add vinegar and hot sauce. Turn off heat when spinach is dark green and totally shriveled. For me this took about 3-4 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.

Get out two oven-safe ramekins and spray with Pam or other non-stick spray. Arrange half of spinach in each. Make a little divet in the middle and crack one egg into each divet. Sprinkle eggs with salt, pepper, and manchego cheese.

Put ramekins on a rimmed baking tray (for easy maneuverability) and bake until whites are set but the yolk is still a bit runny. (In my notoriously slow oven this happened around minute 21, but I began checking around 15 minutes.) Sprinkle with oregano and extra hot sauce if you’d like. Let it sit for a moment before eating — everything will be hot!

Other things I’ve made with CSA ingredients this week:

  • a salad to use up lettuce, fresh oregano, and radishes
  • a Callaloo soup that I can’t say I’m the biggest fan of (I blame the okra)
  • raspberry lime muffins
  • lettuce wraps with hummus and curry roasted cauliflower