Lasagna Odyssey 2020

By Michael Elmore

I love lasagna. By far, it is my favorite Italian dish with its rows of hearty pasta, pools of tomato and bechamel sauces, with bursts of meaty goodness. Growing up, it was the one dish I would demand not be altered in any way, shape or form because, to me, it was the perfect dish as imagined. It required no modernizing or changes.

This is all to say that sometimes we all must eat our words, and this time deliciously so. Lasagna is not exactly a diabetic friendly recipe, so we found a way to lighten up the dish and make it slightly more healthy at least. Extra perk? It would be easy to turn this into a vegan dish – just omit the first steps featuring the meat. There’s so many vegetables in this hearty dish that you won’t miss it if you do.

So while traditions are good, moving forward into the future of better awareness of our health, and with no further adieu, we give you or vegetable boosted lasagna! Buon appetito!

Ingredients:

  1. 6 lasagna noodles, cooked per box directions to al dente
  2. 1 pound of ground beef (choose leaner if you want to lighten this up even further)
  3. 1 onion, diced
  4. 2 carrots, peeled and diced
  5. 2 celery stalks, diced
  6. 5 cloves of garlic, minced
  7. Salt
  8. 1 cup diced bell peppers
  9. 2 pints mushrooms, cleaned and cut into slices (we used white button mushrooms)
  10. 28 oz favorite marinara sauce (use homemade if you can but it’s perfectly okay to use your favorite jarred sauce).
  11. 1/2 bunch of kale, stems removed (discard), and leaves chopped
  12. 1 tbsp Italian seasoning
  13. 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  14. 1 cup shredded Parmesan
  15. 1 cup shredded mozzarella

Directions:

  1. In a large pot, heat up approximately 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil over medium high heat.
  2. Add the ground beef, and cook most of the way through, approximately 8 minutes depending on stove top and stirring frequently. With a slotted spoon, remove the beef to a bowl and set aside. Drain some of the liquid on top of the beef but leave enough in the pan to begin the vegetables.
  3. Add the onions, carrots, and celery with a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring frequently, for 3-4 minutes until the onions begin to soften. Add the bell peppers. Cook down another 3-4 minutes. During this time, add the Italian seasoning and cayenne pepper.
  4. Add the mushrooms. Continuing to stir occasionally, cook them down until they are approximately half in size from when you started.
  5. Add the sauce along with the meat and juices. Incorporate everything thoroughly. Bring to boil then reduce to a simmer. We are going to stay here the rest of the way.
  6. After about 10 minutes, add the kale, once again incorporating it well and stirring frequently. This will cook down significantly. Cook another 10 minutes on simmer.
  7. Adjust seasonings then allow to cool before assembling the lasagna.

For Assembly:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Meanwhile, put some of the tomato liquid on the bottom of a 9 x 13 pan and spread along the bottom.
  2. Add 2 lasagna noodles. Spoon some of the filling onto the noodles, flattening it with a spatula. Sprinkle Parmesan and mozzarella.
  3. Add the next 2 noodles and repeat step 2.
  4. For the top layer, once again, spoon some of the liquid from the sauce mixture onto the noodles. Top with more Parmesan and mozzarella.
  5. Bake for 40 minutes, covered with foil that has been sprayed with non-stick cooking oil. At 40 minutes, remove foil, boost temperature to 400, and cook another 10 minutes.
  6. Remove from oven and allow to rest for at least 30 minutes so that it will not fall apart when you cut the lasagna into slices. Serve and enjoy!

Can’t Run a-fowl: Keto Italian Chicken

By Michael Elmore

When my doctor first diagnosed me with diabetes, I was terrified. Not only for my health, but also the overwhelming changes to my diet that had now become mandates rather than recommendations. A good friend from law school often talked about eating keto and the benefits she found worked for her from cutting out some of her carb count.

This recipe is borne from that spirit. While I used to love roasted Italian seasoned chicken with heavier starches, this fills the craving with ease. In place of polenta or mashed potatoes, instead we have a medley of vegetables, a culinary parade of onions, fennel, and spinach. Throw in some tomatoes, and we even have the red, white, and green found throughout Italian cuisine. These vibrant flavors and colors please any day of the week. Buon appetito!

Ingredients:

  • Boneless Skinless Chicken Breast, cut into 1/4 inch pieces
  • Italian Seasoning
  • Vegetable Oil
  • 1 Onion, chopped
  • 1 fennel, stalks and outer leaves removed, chopped
  • 1 tbsp garlic, minced
  • 3 cups spinach
  • 18 cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 2 tbsp cream cheese, softened
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated finely
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 1/8 tsp red pepper flakes (optional)

Instructions:

1. The night before, toss the chicken and Italian seasoning together. Cover and place in fridge to marinate overnight.

2. Take chicken out of fridge 30 minutes prior to cooking. When ready to cook, heat up approximately 2 tbsp of vegetable oil to a large cast iron pan. When the oil is hot, add the chicken. Stir occasionally so the chicken does not burn until the chicken is nearly completely cooked. Remove with slotted spoon.

3. To the remaining oil, add the onion with a pinch of salt. Sauté for 2-3 minutes, then add the fennel. Sauté well for another 2-3 minutes before adding the garlic. Cook until fragrant, approximately 30-60 seconds.

4. Return chicken to pan along with the spinach. Add a pinch of salt. Cook down the spinach for 1-2 minutes, and then add the tomatoes. Add the red pepper flakes here if desired. Sauté another minute, until spinach has nearly completely wilted, and turn off the heat.

5. Stir in the cheeses until mixture is melted and fully incorporated. Adjust salt and seasonings to taste. Serve and enjoy!

Is bread pudding really a salad? Strawberry Rhubarb Bread Pudding

By Michael Elmore

Sadly, the answer is no. At least, not a healthy salad. But fear not, methods abound to lighten up this Southern classical dessert and spruce it up for summer as well. As strawberry season nears its end here in Virginia, what better way to pair up the classic combination of strawberry and rhubarb than a bread pudding?

While not healthy, this dish makes some critical substitutions from most recipes. First, you’ll notice there’s not as much sugar. We are going to rely on some overripe strawberries rather than sugar to make up the difference. You’ll also note that we don’t use whole milk or heavy cream – both of which would make this dish richer, more decadent, and delicious, but we sacraficed some of this to make the dish lighter.

Also, we didn’t have ice cream, but certainly feel free to make any of these substitutions back (the cook’s note beneath the recipe will list how to make the heavier version substitutes).

So let’s grab some strawberries, and make this (non-)salad!

Ingredients:

  • 1 quart strawberries, stemmed and quartered
  • 3 stalks rhubarb (warning: discard any leaves and the ends – the leaves are toxic)
  • 6 cups of day old bread of preference, cubed or torn into thick chunks
  • 1 ½ cups 1% milk
  • 1 ½ cups half and half
  • 6 egg yolks
  • ½ cup sugar plus 2 tablespoons
  • 1 tbsp vanilla
  • Pinch of salt
  • Non-stick cooking spray

Directions:

  1. Slice the rhubarb into small pieces, add to the strawberries, and toss with the two tablespoons of sugar and the vanilla. Set aside in the fridge, covered.
  2. Place the cubed bread in a large bowl and set aside. In a small cooking pot, add the milk and half and half, along with the pinch of salt. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, being careful not to scald the mixture. While waiting for the mixture to heat in another large bowl, add the egg yolks and remaining sugar. Beat together until light and fluffy. Once the mixture is simmering (but not scalded), turn off heat. One ladle at a time, whisk the hot mixture into the eggs while whisking to temper the eggs. Repeat until 1/3 of the mixture has been added to the eggs in this fashion, continuing to whisk the entire time to avoid the eggs scrambling. (Tip: if your eggs do scramble at any point, use a fine mesh sieve to retain as much of the custard mixture as you can). Slowly add the remaining mixture to the egg mixture, continuing to whisk until fully incorporated.
  3. Add the mixture back to the sauce pot and put heat back to medium high. Stir frequently until the mixture thickens and holds on a spoon (approximately 160 degrees Fahrenheit).
  4. Pour the mixture over the bread. Let soak at least 15 minutes up to an hour (if waiting more than 15 minutes, put in the fridge after it cools).
  5. Add the strawberry and rhubarb mixture to the bread mixture and gently toss to incorporate thoroughly. Spray a 9 x 13 baking dish with non-stick spray and then add the mixture evenly to the dish. Let sit in the fridge at least one hour, covered, up to overnight.
  6. When ready to back, preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Put in the oven, uncovered, for 45 minutes – 55 minutes, or until set. Remove from the oven and let rest for at least 15 minutes. Serve and enjoy!

Cook’s Notes:

If you want to use the more decadent recipe for a special occasion, bump up the sugar in the egg mixture to 1 cup, and replace the milk and half and half with whole milk and heavy cream, respectively. The custard mixture will be thicker at this point because of the increased fat content, just keep stirring so the eggs do not scramble!

Taking out the Take Out: Zucchini Lo Mein

By Michael Elmore

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It’s Monday evening. A long day of work finished, and the project of dinner
looms like a towering obstacle. Ordering take out may be your go to option in this weekday struggle, as it often was mine. Before my diagnosis of diabetes, I ate take out at least a couple of days a week. With the demands of long workdays and household tasks to also accomplish, it was an all too easy solution.

With this recipe, the preparation is done ahead of time on the weekend so
the entire meal on the weekday takes a mere 15 minutes to cook. A perk? It’s delicious – with some key, light substitutions, you can have a far healthier version of one of my favorites – chicken lo mein. Here, we replace the pasta with zucchini noodles and the hoisin sauce with a lighter mixture. An optional sprinkle of everything seasoning adds another twist.

We hope this recipe inspires you to take on take out and eases the weeknight
struggles!

Ingredients:

  • 6 zucchinis, ends removed
  • 6 carrots, peeled and stemmed
  • 1 red onion
  • 3 cups baby spinach
  • 4 green scallions
  • 1 boneless, skinless chicken breast
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp pepper
  • ½ tsp garlic powder
  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • ¾ cup chicken broth
  • 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 tbsp siracha sauce
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp ginger, freshly grated
  • Salt
  • 1 tbsp everything seasoning

Directions:

  1. The day before cooking, use a spiralizer to make the zucchini into thin strips like noodles (you can also buy them already like this at the grocery store.
  2. Grate the carrots. Slice the scallions into ¼ inch pieces, omitting the white ends, and slice the red onions into thin half-moons.
  3. Cut the chicken breast in half and then into strips. Season with the vegetable oil, salt, pepper, and garlic powder, tossing well. Marinate overnight. Whisk together the soy sauce, mustard, sriracha and broth, and put in the fridge in a separate container.
  4. The next day take all ingredients out of the fridge and get your mis-en-place ready (everything ready beside you).
  5. Heat a wok with 2 tbsp of sesame oil on medium high heat. Once the oil is hot, add the chicken. Stir often but not too frequently until the chicken is mostly cooked. This will not take long. Remove the cooked chicken from the pan and put in a clean bowl (do not use the same container you had the raw chicken in).
  6. Add the garlic and ginger. Sautée until fragrant, approximately 30 seconds, stirring frequently.
  7. Add the vegetables with a pinch of salt. Cook down, stirring frequently. Return the cooked chicken to the pan and mix to incorporate. Add the soy sauce mixture to de-glaze the pan, scrapping any brown bits.
  8. Add the zucchini, tossing well to incorporate. Cook an additional 1-2 minutes, until softened. If desired, add the everything seasoning, and toss to incorporate again.
  9. Plate and serve.

Falling into Autumn: Butternut Squash Stew

By Michael Araj

Despite the hot heat, fall has arrived with its abundance of autumn squashes and warm flavors, not to mention the colors. This warming stew keeps quite a while and increases in flavor the longer it melds. While it’s not a quick meal to cook during the week, it’s a great Sunday prep meal, freezes well, and can be eaten throughout the week.

As always, the first step is to get all your ingredients in place, or mise en place. This helps prevent me from looking like a chicken with its head cut off in the middle of my cooking since everything is ready to use.

Now it’s time to start cooking! Let’s heat up some oil and start cooking down the jalepenos, garlic and peppers!

Now time for the squash – the ultimate feel of fall. When you add the spices, after a few minutes, your kitchen should smell like a combination of all the flavors.

Time for the tomatoes and to cook down the squash since it will take less time than the beans to cook.

After the squash is mostly cooked, we add the beans, finish cooking the squash and then reduce the liquid.

Now we can enjoy our finished stew and celebrate the colors outside with those inside our bowls!

BUTTERNUT SQUASH STEW

Ingredients:

  • 1 tsp jalapenos, minced
  • 1 tbsp garlic, minced
  • 4 bell peppers, diced into ½ inch pieces
  • 1 pound butternut squash, peeled and diced into 1 inch cubes
  • 2 tbsp chili powder
  • 1 tbsp cumin
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 2 28 oz cans of diced tomatoes
  • 1 can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed

Directions:

  1. In a large pot, heat two tablespoons of oil over medium high heat. Once hot, add jalapenos. Cook until fragrant, approximately 30 seconds. Add garlic. Cook until fragrant, approximately another 30 seconds.
  2. Add bell peppers and stir well – this will prevent the garlic and jalapenos from burning. Cook approximately 4-5 minutes until peppers are softened slightly.
  3. Add the squash and stir gently to incorporate. Add the spices and stir again. Cook for approximately 10-15 minutes on medium heat to bloom the spices.
  4. Add the tomatoes and stir gently to incorporate well – there should be a fair amount of liquid from the can which should also be incorporated. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Cook covered for approximately 25 minutes.
  5. Check on the squash – it should be softened but still not fully cooked with some resistance. Once at this point, add the beans. Cook another 15-20 minutes, covered.
  6. Check the stew and taste. Adjust seasonings as needed and desired. Cook another 10-15 minutes, uncovered, so that the stew thickens.
  7. Serve immediately or let cool then store – the flavors will meld the longer they are together. Serve heated, garnished with chopped cilantro and a lime wedge if desired. In the alternative, top with chopped parsley and finishing salt.

Sliders: Sliding into Comfort

By Michael Araj

The burger. Is it the perfect food? It’s hand held, it’s meaty, and it’s topped with salad on it half the time (yes, lettuce, tomato and onion counts as a salad in my book). It is the ultimate blank canvas. The ultimate piece of art.

We made sliders for the Superbowl this year (along with the chicken wings), and they did not disappoint. We used the buffalo sauce from the wings recipe as well as a condiment with some fresh mozzarella. This recipe allows you to innovate and improvise as much as you want. Going Whole30? In one of the photos, you’ll see that we replaced the dinner rolls for butter leaf lettuce, and replaced the cheese and buffalo sauce for a tomato salad on top.

So give this recipe a shot and create your own piece of art.

Ingredients:

  • 1 ½ pounds fresh ground beef (we used bottom round that we ground ourselves, you can use store bought but we highly recommend grinding your own or buying from a reputable source).
  • 2  tsp Italian seasoning (we made our own – dried oregano, basil, thyme, garlic powder, cayenne powder; mix them together and play around with measurements to make it the way you like!)
  • Salt and pepper
  • ¼ cup buffalo sauce
  • 8 slices fresh mozzarella

Directions:

  1. Mix the ground beef with the Italian seasoning, salt and pepper, but do not overwork the meat. Formulate into 8 patties, approximately 2 inches in diameter. Push your thumb into one side of each patty in the middle to make an indentation.
  2. Heat a cast iron pan on medium high heat with a little olive oil. Once hot, working in batches, cook the patties 5 minutes on each side for medium doneness. After flipping (only flip once), add the mozzarella after 2 minutes into cooking the second side).
  3. Let drain on a cutting board or other surface and let rest for 10-15 minutes so the juices can reabsorb.
  4. Meanwhile, cut dinner rolls in half (toast if desired). Spread the buffalo sauce on each side of the roll. Add the patty (with the melted cheese) and formulate your sliders. Serve immediately.
  5. Be creative – don’t like Italian spices? Stick with salt and pepper and build a regular slider with ketchup, mustard, mayo and all the usual veg. There’s no wrong answer here – it’s what you like!

A Lotta Frittatas

Leftover Turkey Frittata

By Michael Araj

Leftovers. Some people love them, others cannot stand them. One thing both groups have in common, however, is figuring out what to do with them. Sometimes, when you’re on day three of some leftover turkey, you just crave a little spark to what was already a good dish.

Enter stage left: the frittata. That magical souffle like breakfast, brunch, or dinner dish that breathes new life into familiar flavors. We had some leftover turkey breast from a dinner (used in the recipe below) but most any leftovers work. Have some leftover risotto or pasta? Not uncommon to see those in Italian breakfasts in similar fashion. Pot roast? Might have to adjust which cheese you use, but still doable.

The reality is the frittata, in many ways, is a blank canvas. The egg and cheese additions transform the leftovers into something new. The way the eggs rise in the oven make the frittata almost light and fluffy. This frittata recipe is not traditional as it is completely baked (usually, one will start out on the stove and finish the dish in the oven) for a more convenient touch, making it great for weeknight dinners. After all, when is brinner ever wrong?

Ingredients:

  • 6 eggs
  • 3 tbsp milk or half and half
  • ¼ cup shredded cheese (the type of cheese will depend on what leftovers you are using; we used parmesan and Havarti here)
  • ½ cup diced leftover turkey breast
  • Salt
  • Pepper

Directions:

  1. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a tart pan or ramekin (if you have small ramekins, you can make individual frittatas) with butter or nonstick spray.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs thoroughly. Whisk in the half and half, salt and pepper.
  3. Fold in the remaining ingredients.
  4. Put the mixture into the tart pan and put into the oven on a baking sheet. Bake for 30-35 minutes until a toothpick or knife comes out clean from the center (as though you were baking a cake).
  5. Let cool for about 10-15 minutes. Either serve in the tart pan or run your knife along the outside edge of the frittata and flip onto a plate, garnish and serve.

Feeling Crabby? She-crab Soup

By Michael Araj

There is a restaurant local to where I work that serves She-crab soup every Friday for its special. While She-crab soup, of course, is in itself special, nobody seems to agree on much about it, what should (and just as importantly, should not) go into its preparation.

The orange tint of most of the she-crab soups that are made come from the crab roe addition to it; however, this can be difficult to find due to crabbing laws and geography depending on where you’re located. Some people add crumbled hard boiled yolks to imitate the texture, others find this sacrilegious.

One thing almost everyone does agree on is that there is something comforting about a seafood bisque-like soup that invokes images of warmth, comfort and sunshine. Below, you’ll find our own recipe for crab bisque. We used Maryland blue crab and seafood stock that was leftover from our Paella recipe. We substituted the traditional grated white onion for shallots for a more mild taste and added the addition of fragrant garlic to enhance the crab meat.

One area you cannot go wrong with any seafood bisque is to add a teaspoon of sherry or other dry white wine to your serving bowl which will add a depth of flavor to the soup. As always, bon appetit!

Crab Bisque

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 1 cup seafood stock (preferably homemade, but can use store bought)
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • Salt
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 1 pound crab (preferably blue She crabs, but other varieties will suffice)
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • Sherry or other dry white wine
  • Chives for garnish (optional)

Instructions:

  1. In a pot, place milk and stock. Bring to boil then reduce to simmer. Keep mixture on simmer while working on the soup.
  2. In a large pot, melt butter on medium high heat. Once pan is hot, add shallots. Stir frequently until translucent, approximately 3-4 minutes. Add garlic. Cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
  3. Add flour and stir regularly until flour turns brown and bubbles.
  4. Add the hot milk/stock mixture into the soup pot with the flour, stirring while adding. The mixture will start to thicken.
  5. Add crab. Continue to simmer for approximately 10-15 minutes, stirring frequently, until the liquid is thickened.
  6. Turn off heat and stir in the heavy cream. Adjust seasonings to taste. Let sit for 3-4 minutes to allow the flavors to meld.
  7. Add a teaspoon of sherry to each serving bowl and ladle soup. (Alternatively, add 3 teaspoons of the sherry to the entire pot. If you wish to avoid alcohol, substitute with apple cider vinegar). Garnish with chives. Serve immediately.

Just Winging It

By Michael Araj

With the big game on last week, our family continued a long-standing tradition where my father would watch the game, and my mother and I would cook several appetizers for dinner to see which one of us would win our wager. A coffee table is as good as any for comfort, and last week was no exception.

On the menu? Well, like most of America, one dish above all others is a constant on our table for the Superbowl and that’s wings. My mother’s and I’s wager extended beyond the game this year as we each strove to make the best wings possible to determine the best approach. Our efforts resulted in a delicious tie, but either of these recipes will be a win with your family.

Buffalo Sauce:

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup of your favorite hot sauce (I prefer Crystal)
  • 4 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp dried thyme
  • ¼ tsp salt
  1. Combine all ingredients and bring to a simmer. Simmer for approximately 15 minutes or until butter is melted and ingredients have had time to meld.
  2. This can be made ahead of time. If you’re making this ahead of time, let cool and then refrigerate.

Baked Buffalo Wings:

Ingredients:

  • 15 wings (drumettes or flats – I used a combination), cleaned and wing tips removed
  • 2 cup flour
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 1 tbsp dried thyme
  • 1 tbsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  • Buffalo Sauce (recipe above)
  1. Overnight, place the wings on a tray and place in the fridge. This will help remove moisture from the exterior of the wings and aid in making them crispy.
  2. Take the wings out approximately 30 minutes before making this recipe so that they are at room temperature. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  3. Meanwhile, combine the flour, salt, thyme, oregano, cayenne together thoroughly and using a shallow pan or a plastic bag, dredge each of the wings until the wings are well coated with the flour mixture (shake off excess). Discard any remaining flour.
  4. Get a rimmed baking sheet and place a wire rack on top of it that is oven safe. Grease the wire rack and add the wings to the rack.
  5. Bake for 40 minutes and then flip the wings. After flipping the wings, increase the temperature to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Bake an additional 25 minutes, or until there is an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit in the wings.
  6. Once the wings are done, take out of the oven. While hot, toss the wings in a bowl of the buffalo sauce coating as much as is preferred. However, keep in mind that the more sauce you use, the less crispy the wings will be.
We found out after the fact that we didn’t have tartar sauce but this sweet chili sauce also went well with the pungent spices of the Old Bay seasoning.

Fried Old Bay Wings:

            Ingredients:

  • 15 wings (drumettes or flats), cleaned and wing tips removed.
  • 2 cups flour
  • 3 tbsp Old Bay seasoning
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  1. Take the wings out approximately 30 minutes before making this recipe so that they are at room temperature.
  2. Heat up canola oil in a cast iron skillet (filled approximately 1/3 of the way and not more than ½ way) for frying. The temperature should reach 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  3. While the oil is heating, combine the flour, Old Bay Seasoning, and cayenne together thoroughly; using a shallow pan or a plastic bag, dredge each of the wings until the wings are well coated with the flour mixture (shake off excess). Discard any remaining flour.
  4. Once the oil is heated, fry each wing about 12-14 minutes, flipping half way through. Work in batches so as not to overcrowd the pan. If you put too many wings into the oil, the temperature of the oil will decrease leading to soggy wings. Soggy wings make people sad. Don’t make soggy wings.
  5. Once the wings are cooked, move them to a plate lined with paper towels so as to drain the excess oil. While hot, sprinkle some Old Bay onto the cooked wings so that it will adhere. Be careful though as Old Bay tends to be salty.
  6. Move the drained wings onto a serving platter, serve with your favorite tartar sauce and celery. Serve immediately.

Paella: The One Dish Wonder

My parents decided to throw a dinner party last weekend, and while my mother and I discussed what to serve, paella came to mind for several reasons. It’s filling, it has great flavor, and while not difficult to make, it appears a labor of hard toil.

Few things on a table are, perhaps, as awe inspiring as a paella. This Spanish dish steeped in rich history and even richer flavor is the ultimate comfort food. With versatility of ingredients, you can really make this into whatever you want it to be and your guests will be impressed.

Paellas come in lots of shapes and sizes, though a traditional paella also has chorizo instead of chicken. Because several of our friends coming to dinner do not eat pork for religious reasons, I substituted the chorizo for chicken thighs. You’ll also notice that this recipe is meant to serve a lot of people – it’s easily scaled down. We had 12 adults and six children, and this recipe easily would have served another four to six people.

The recipe also calls for saffron, a key ingredient and worth the expense. However, a similar color (the yellow of the dish comes from the saffron) can be obtained from turmeric, but this will cause a different taste to the overall dish.

If you do not have a paella pan, a cast iron skillet makes for an ideal replacement due to the even heat distribution at the bottom of the pan – you want the bottom of the rice to be toasted, almost charred at the bottom. This is considered the prized part of the paella.

Herb Blend (used below):

  • 3 cups cilantro, chopped
  • juice of 3 lemons
  • 2 tbsp garlic, minced
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  1. Combine all of the ingredients thoroughly. This is used in the paella recipe below but can also be used as a marinade for other dishes like baked chicken.

Paella (Chicken and Seafood):

Ingredients:

  • 2 tsp saffron
  • 64 oz seafood broth
  • 6 cups water
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 16 chicken thighs, bone in
  • 3 onions, diced
  • 6 bell peppers (orange, red, yellow), diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tbsp Hungarian paprika
  • 3 cans diced tomatoes (14.5 oz each)
  • 8 cups Arborio rice (uncooked)
  • 1 bottle dry white wine
  • Herb mixture (recipe above)
  • 2.5 cups frozen peas
  • 1 pounds mussels, previously cleaned and open mussels discarded
  • 1 pound little neck or cherry stone clams, previously cleaned and open clams discarded
  • 1 pound U-31 to U-40 shrimp, cleaned and deveined
  • ½ pound U-21 to U-25 shrimp, cleaned and deveined
  • 1 pound U-6 to U-8 shrimp, cleaned and deveined
  • Juice of 2 lemons
  • ½ cup cilantro, chopped
  1. In a large pot, bring seafood broth and water to a simmer; add the saffron. Keep on simmer while preparing the paella until needed.
  2. Salt and pepper the chicken thighs.
  3. Heat the olive oil in a large paella pan (if you do not have a paella pan, a cast iron skillet will work but adjust the measurements for the size of the pan) on medium high heat.
  4. Sear the chicken thighs on each side until golden brown, approximately 4-5 minutes per side.
  5. Remove the chicken thighs and set aside for later use.
  6. Add the onions and some salt. Sauté for 3-4 minutes. Add the peppers and cook another 4-5 minutes.
  7. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.
  8. Add paprika and tomatoes. Cook down another 2-3 minutes.
  9. Add rice, distributed evenly initially. Cook 3-5 minutes or so, stirring frequently to coat the rice and toast it.
  10. Add the one and de-glaze the pan.
  11. Add the chicken back to the pan. Stir in the peas and herb mixture.
  12. Bring broth to a low boil. Once broth is halfway absorbed, nestle the shellfish into the rice. Cover the pan, either with a lid or foil if no lid fits.
  13. After approximately 10-15 minutes, take off lid and discard any unopened shell fish. The rice should be mostly cooked at this point. Do not stir the rice as the bottom needs to caramelize – this is considered the most prized part of the paella.
  14. Add the shrimp and cover again.
  15. In about 8-10 minutes, uncover. Shrimp should be opaque (if not, cover again until cooked).
  16. Turn off heat now that everything is cooked. Squeeze the juice of two lemons over the dish and garnish with sprinkle of cilantro (optional) for garnish and flavor. Serve immediately.