Wednesday, January 28, 2009


We have been watching this travel/food show on public TV for weeks now. I actually don't know what it's called, but it's Gwyneth Paltrow, Claudia Basols, Mario Batali and Mark Bittman travelling through Spain and eating food. I have had so much fun watching this show! Plus, a companion book has been published, and Andy's son got it for him for Christmas.

I was out of town last week, but I told Andy that I wanted us to try making paella when I got back. Well my excellent boyfriend stepped up to the plate in a big way. I came home to discover he had gone to the snooty kitchen store and bought a paella pan. The pan was really reasonable, but then the special fancy rice was more expensive than the pan!

The paella turned out deeeeeeee-licious and I can't wait to try it again. Of course we made a non-traditional version because I don't eat swimmy things. We made a vegetarian version, but followed the traditional method. Paella pans are very shallow and wide. This does not lend to even cooking on a stovetop. We had to straddle the pan over two burners and stand vigil and rotate the pan to ensure even cooking.

I now want to buy a charcoal grill just so I can cook paella. It's the perfect thing and they're not terribly expensive. Actually, you can buy paella burners, which hook up to a propane tank and are perched on a tripod, which costs extra. Very expensive when you add it all up, and you can only use them for cooking one thing!

But a charcoal grill would do just great.

This dish is traditionally eaten straight out of the pan. Everybody gathers around the table. You put the paella in the center, and you go to town. Doesn't that sound fun? I love the communal arrangement. No place for germophobes.

The dish is cooked to perfection when the rice has absorbed all the liquid and has formed a chewy crust on the bottom. Kind of like when you scrape that last bit of mac and cheese out of the pan. That's why you must eat it out of the pan! And, hey, not too many dishes to do. Not a damn thing wrong with that!

So here's the basic drill. This will feed 2 to 4 people.

Use a generous amount of oil! This will help facilitate the crusty bottom layer later on. I used 1/4 cup.

Let the oil heat until it smokes, then add onion and saute for about 8 minutes. Add a few cloves of minced garlic, a tablespoon of smoked spanish paprika, and any vegetables that may take a long time to cook, like carrots or green beans. Now add pureed tomato, about 3/4 cup. Add a cup of paella rice. Stir this mess around until the rice is nicely coated and incorporated with the tomato mixture (called the sofrito).

Now, you'll add 2 cups of broth. I used vegetable broth infused with 1/2 a teaspoon of saffron threads. If you don't have saffron you can sub with 1/4 teaspoon of turmeric-the purpose is the lovely color it imparts. Add the broth slowly, and gently arrange the rice and veggies so they are evenly distributed across the pan. The goal is a nice thin, wide layer of rice, with the veggies attractively arranged.

Now comes the hard part. Leave it the hell alone for about 10 to 20 minutes. No stirring! Otherwise you will not get the hallowed lovely crust on the bottom. Cook it uncovered. The surface should look bubbly and it will make a crackly noise, and you want that!

As I mentioned previously, we had to straddle 2 burners and keep rotating the pan. Yes, high maintenance, but worth it. I won't have to be concerned with that when I buy that charcoal grill I am dreaming of.

When all the liquid has been absorbed, add any additional quick cooking veggies, like asparagus or artichokes or peas. Cover the pan with foil, turn down the heat and give it another 10 to 15 minutes.

What you want to end up with is rice that is cooked but has a little resistance when you bite into it. Squeeze a little lemon juice over it before you dig in. Grains should be separate, not gummy. The whole pan should have a nice crust all over the bottom. Yum--crusty bottom. What a lovely phrase.

PS! I got a great little charcoal grill at Lowe's for $28! Tried the paella again the next Sunday (today) and the grill is brilliant!

It's just the right size for the pan and it cooked evenly and was nice and crusty on the bottom!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Cleveland's West Side Market

If you're ever in Cleveland, and you are interested in food, you MUST visit the West Side Market. If I had a market like this in my city, I would never set foot in a supermarket again. This place has everything I need in the way of food, and it's all spectacularly fresh and good quality.

First of all, baked goods. I have never seen so many gorgeous baked goods in one place. Breads, cakes, pies, pastries, sweet and savory. Each stall was more beautiful than the last. I like to bake my own bread, but if I had a West Side Market, I wouldn't bother. There's no type of home baked bread you can't find.

Meats. Now, as you know I don't eat meat, but there is a huge array of butcher stalls with all kinds of fresh meat. Lots of home made sausages, big thick sliced bacon, all kinds of steaks and chops and ground stuff, and some huge whole dead animals. I was a bit grossed out by the meat, but I can imagine that if you were a carnivore and liked to cook meat, this would be a paradise.

Cheese! There were 4 or 5 outstanding cheesemongers. (I love the -monger suffix.) I was stymied by the selection, and ended up with a huge hunk of Petit Basque and a hunk of Stilton.

Produce. The produce has its own big L-shaped wing. The stalls are jam packed with fresh fruits, veggies and flowers. If I weren't an out-of-towner I'd have stocked up big time. Everything was super fresh and the prices were great. The selection was, once again, huge and ranged from the mundane to the exotic.

I bought some Lebanese olive oil from this Lebanese lady. Her shop is called The Olive and the Grape, and they have a satellite stall at this market. She recommended this olive oil to me because she is friends with the family in Lebanon who owns the olive grove from which this oil is produced. I can't wait to taste it!

Urban Herbs has every spice you could dream of and lots of spices you've never heard of. I bought whole nutmeg, Tellicherry peppercorns and real cinnamon sticks. Did you know that most cinnamon sticks you buy in the grocery store are actually not cinnamon at all, but something called Cassia, which is cheaper and easier to come by.

And lastly, I couldn't leave the market without buying a big hunk of chocolate for my sweetie.

I give the West Side Market a big A+. The vendors are extremely friendly and the whole place has a wonderful upbeat feel. If you are ever sent to Cleveland, don't despair. This will be the highlight of your trip!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Oh The Glamour

I'm in Cleveland. I know, you wish you were me. I know you long to be in the heart of the frozen tundra.

I drove here yesterday instead of flying. I had so much stuff to drag along with me that I actually thought it would be easier to drive. It took 8 hours, and it was clear and sunny all the way. The mountains in Pennsylvania were all snow covered with tall, bare brown trees poking up through. The sun made sharp horizontal shadows across the mountainsides, and everything looked all criss-crossy, as if the land were covered in a rough fabric. It was so pretty!

I'm representing my company at a conference called IPAY, and don't ask me exactly what it stands for. I know it is a meeting of people who do performing arts for young audiences and the entities who book (buy) their products. International Performing Arts for Youth? Yeah, I think that's it. This is not a normal part of my job. I'm substituting for my work spouse, who is performing in "Sanders Family Christmas" this week. Poor Eric has to sing gospel bluegrass holiday music in the end of January. Bless him twice.

I'm being put up in a nice hotel with a giant bed and enough fluffy pillows to comfort a village. I don't travel too much, and when I do, I usually travel to visit my family or Andy's family. Staying in a nice hotel is kind of a treat for me.

I went to the exhibit hall to set up my display yesterday, which was the thing I was most apprehensive about. See, it's this strange contraption that fits into a neat and tidy 50-pound cylindrical wheeled case, but it unfolds like a crazy spider into this big curvy, colorful display with jazzy spotlights and stuff. It's kinda magic. But slightly confounding to put together. I ended up doing fine, and it only took me an hour and 10 minutes, not even all of the 2 hours we were allotted for set-up.

So far, my impression of downtown Cleveland is mediocre. It looks like there's a lot to do here, but I don't see any people. People, where are you? People?

Anyway, tomorrow I am going to play a bit of hookey and I am going to venture out to the West Side Market. It's a huge nationally renowned food market and it's supposed to be cool as crap. Plus, Andy said he would "never forgive me" if I missed seeing it. Those are some strong words. Of course, in my frenzy to leave on time this yesterday, I didn't pack my camera. My words will have to suffice.

More later!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

What I Learned on This Cold, Cold Day

My nose felt extra cold when I woke up today. I climbed out of bed, and on my way to the coffee pot, I glanced at the thermostat and it read 52. Huh? I blinked and looked again. Still 52 degrees. I had it set at 62, because I like to sleep in a cool house. 52 is not cool. 52 is cold.

I had run out of propane, which is what my furnace uses. I have these 2 big tanks in my back yard, and they get filled on a regular schedule, but sometimes the weather disrupts that schedule and I run out. An unpleasant side effect of the tanks running out is that your house fills with a smell that is very close to rotten eggs or what I'd imagine wild boar farts to smell like.

I called the gas guys immediately, and I got their answering service. The first person who answered was sort of cheeky. I explained to her that I was completely out of gas, and she informed me that, "Lady, everybody who's calling today is completely out of gas" to which I replied, "well if you guys can't anticipate that customers might run out of gas faster when we have a cold snap it's really not my problem that you're not on the ball blah-blah-blah"...and she just says "hold please" and puts me on hold for a really, really long time.

So now what do I do? Now I have been condescending and snotty to the woman who can hook me up with heat juice. The only thing to do is hang up, call back, and hopefully get another operator. Or if I get the same one, I have to disguise my voice and sound really solicitous.

Got a different operator the next time. I was nice from the get-go, and gee whiz, she was nice to me! Isn't that funny how that works? I still had to wait until 2:30 today to get my propane, and the house took another 3 hours to heat back up. It had gotten down to 47.

Things are just about back to normal now, and I have learned a valuable lesson.
Be nice to the operator and she'll be nice to you?
When you know that cold weather is coming, check your propane tanks and make sure you have enough, because the propane people aren't bright enough to do that.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

My Very First Flu!

Yesterday I awoke with a dry cough and a mild headache. By 2:00 in the afternoon, my entire body hurt, including my hair. Chills fluttered all over me and I had a temperature of 101.5. Today, same thing! Tylenol makes me feel better, but when it wears off I feel crappy again.

My doctor, who should be called Doctor Pill-and-Vaccine-Happy, tried really hard to push a flu shot on me. Of course I refused and stated that I had never had the flu in my life, all superior-like.

So experts, just how long does this last? If I have to sit through another day of this I'm going to plummet into a deep funk.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Carrot Porn

Tan A, my fave Asian market has these freakishly huge carrots.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Black-Eyed Peas!

It's New Year's Day and the traditional southern food for today is black-eyed peas, but we are making them with an Indian twist, with lots of layers of spices. I am using a recipe from Indian Home Cooking by Suvir Saran. I have used this book so much in the last few years that it is full of stains on my favorite pages. I think a really well-loved cookbook is liberally spotted with stains, and this book is my prime example. I once wrote a fan letter to Suvir Saran, and I squealed like a giddy teen when he wrote back to me--the next day! Since then, I always write a fan letter when I feel the urge.

These black-eyed peas taste so wonderful because of the layering of spices. Cloves, whole peppercorn, cardamom pods, cinnamon stick, dried chillies, cumin seeds and bay leaves are sauteed in oil first. Then minced fresh ginger goes into the mix, then chopped onion. The onion is cooked until it is all caramelized, then more spices go in! Garlic, ground coriander, ground cumin, turmeric, and cayenne pepper. Then comes pureed tomato and, after a bit of simmering a sauce is born!

A sauce that smells so amazing that you have to crack open the wine a little early just to stave off your hunger.

Finally, the guest of honor is added. Black-eyed peas that have been soaked overnight. Then lots of water to cover, and a nice long simmer. This thickens up beautifully into a stew-like consistency.

When the beans are cooked and tender, add a healthy dose of garam masala. You can purchase garam masala at any Indian grocer--it's a specific blend of powdered dried roasted spices--or you can make your own like my excellent boyfriend does for us! I love having a curry snob in the house.

Last but not least, a big ol' dollop of plain yogurt goes in at the end. I like the Greek Fage brand. It is really thick and rich, more like yogurt on performance enhancing drugs. Good heavens, you'll want to smack your own ass when you taste these black-eyed peas.

I attempted to make naan to go with the legumes. This was my second attempt at naan bread, and though I wouldn't call it a resounding success, it was tasty and we ate it! The really yummy naan I've had in Indian restaurants is a flatbread that is thin, yet light and springy and pliable. Mine was thin enough, but didn't have the springy stretchy quality I love. I'm still working on it. This was the dough before it rose, except an hour later there was not so much rising going on.

We rolled it thin, plastered it with melted butter and minced garlic and baked it in a very hot oven. I'm giving it a 65.

Overall, this was a delicious New Year's Day dish and we ate it with gusto.

Happy 2009, everybody!