When I'm home alone, I have my routines. I get up. I shower and shave (often). I make the bed. I eat breakfast- coffee and oatmeal or if I'm feeling lazy, coffee and Cheerios, or as happened the other day when I forgot to buy milk, coffee and cookies. (Well, they were home made chocolate chip oatmeal cookies, at least!) Then, I usually go to the computer and waste a lot of time answering e mail, or reading my sports blogs, or putting in my two cents on religion and politics in another forum. I have my projects too: I've been fixing the kitchen bench which broke when my wife sat on it for the last couple of weeks; replacing the hard drive on my computer (or at least, watching my friend Sam replace the hard drive on my computer)You get the idea. I keep myself busy. Occasionally, I find myself in front of the TV looking for something to interest me for longer than say, 15 seconds. During the day, this is not as easy as it might seem. If you read my blog, you may have detected I am not a patient person. A commercial takes me immediately away from a program. What is it about daytime TV? Do all the stations schedule their commercials at exactly the same time? Or, are there so many commercials that the odds of seeing one increase every time you pick up the remote? I am not a mathematician, but because of this phenomena, I catch about 1/3 of any show segment I happen to be interested in. Since food, sports or Ann Currie are about the only thing that interest me at all, television can be a rather frustrating experience. When I get frustrated, I eat. After I eat, during one of my "home alone" periods, I get annoyed at the prospect of having to clean up after myself. So, to avoid that necessary but unsavory task, I watch more television. During one of these neurotic episodes yesterday, I happened to catch a cooking segment (or part of one) on LX New York. (What does that mean? Extra large? 60?) I think that's the name of the show. I don't know who the chef was either, but he was explaining to the vapid hostess of this program how the Spanish use a special kind of short grain rice to make their paella. That sparked my interest, because I wondered if Arborio rice would be a good substitute for this Spanish rice (sorry, I forgot the name). So, then I thought, "Could I, using just my pantry ingredients (with the addition of some Chorizo sausage) make a paella good enough to serve to company?" I only half watched the show, so I only remember that he used chicken, sausage and seafood in the dish he prepared, but sometime around 1978, I made paella for a dinner at the communal house I was living in. I followed a recipe then in the Joy of Cooking which I no longer have. But, I have eaten paella once or twice in restaurants. Regardless, I thought I could do it justice. I found out later that the Spanish don't usually mix seafood and meat. That seems to be an innovation of Spanish/American restaurants. Anyway, here's my paella experiment.
Ingredients: 2 boneless chicken thighs cut into six pieces; 2 Chorizo sausages (Spanish or Mexican spicy and cured sausage so, ready to eat), cut in half lengthwise, then sliced; 6 raw shrimp (21/25); 1 bell pepper, diced; 1 onion, diced; 2 stalks of celery, diced; 1/2 cup frozen peas, thawed; 1 cup arborio rice; 1/4 tsp. saffron threads; a handful of grape tomatoes, halved; 2 cups Swanson Chicken Broth.
First, the pot. I remember from 1978, that I cooked that paella in the oven. This creates an even heat environment for the rice while it's cooking along with all the other stuff. So, I got out my sturdy enamel- lined iron pot (this may be the very pot I used in 1978!). I preheated the oven to 325 degrees, and added 1/2 Tbs of butter and 2 Tbs olive oil to my hot pot.
Next, I added the chicken thighs to the pot to brown. I did not salt them reasoning that the Chorizo and the stock would be salty enough. That turned out to be the correct decision.
After turning the chicken thighs, I added the Chorizo (which as I mentioned before does not need to be cooked). The aroma in my kitchen was starting to excite me at this point. I lit the burner now for my chicken stock to which I added the saffron threads.
Should I have added garlic at this point? I didn't know, so I chose to leave it out and instead added the onion, celery and red bell pepper to the pot. I didn't miss the addition of garlic. I sauteed all the ingredients together now, stirring often to prevent any burning.
In quick order and stirring after each addition, I added the rice, the saffron infused stock, the tomatoes (along with about 3 tablespoons of marinara sauce I found in my refrigerator) the shrimp and the peas. I cooked the whole thing uncovered for 25 minutes stirring twice. I was afraid the shrimp might overcook, but they were perfect.
The verdict? This was delicious, easy to make and certainly something I would serve to company. The rice had a perfect bite to it and the vegetables added great flavor. Also, the sausage lent its flavor to the whole dish. I could see doing this as a seafood only dish by adding some mussels and cut up fish steaks too, but I would have to add some pancetta or bacon. (Sorry Neeta, not for you)