When I come to my parents for a visit, however brief, I know that mOm will be cooking up something special. Isn’t that what family visits are all about, good food shared with great company?
For years, mOm has been torturing me with tales of her paella. We both have had friends that visited Spain and brought us back the best souvenir: glimmering, fat jars of saffron threads. Add to that great sources for smoked paprika, local chorizo, and seafood from the Bay Area, it all bodes well for a great dinner. For this night, mOm said she was just doing a little “motherly-type cooking”. To me it’s anything but, it’s a plate of love!
On the way up to the country, my pal L___ and I popped in to the fun Michael~David winery in Lodi to stretch our and the puppy’s legs and to grab some great wine. Besides the amazing local cheese (Modesto), lavender spray and blueberry pie (from the winery’s family farm, the Phillip Farm) we totally scored with a case of Viogner, their Enigma 2006. Dry and crisp but heavy on the pineapple, pear and a touch of spice, this was the perfect wine with which to cook (and sip with) paella.
A tour of the living room and meet King-dog:
On our last night of our brief visit, it was paella night!!! I played sous chef and chopped up various veggies, seafood and measured out wine (one cup for the paella, one cup for me) and so on, gently being cautioned not to cut my fingers off (really, mOm – love you!) and my perpetual reminders right back to wear an apron and take off the good jewelry, we really worked together seamlessly.
I love cooking with my mom, hearing stories about the recipes and family history, sharing tips we have gleaned from the net and the thousand cookbooks we devour regularly, and stories from around the small town that is now my parents home. City folk through and through, living in a small township has been quite a change for my parents, and one they have delighted in so many ways. The tales of the country are always so fun, like the time where a neighbor’s bull broke free from his pasture and ended up in Mom’s “back 40” and whiled away the afternoon eating Mom’s pears and mooing loudly. Or the colorful handyman characters who appear at the back door to ask for work, presumably when their cash runs low, but always leaving a tool or something behind, shades of Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence. Or, that in the country, one only goes to the front door if they are a utilities worker, the UPS driver or there has been a sadness in the family, ergo it’s best not to sit in the family room in your PJ’s after 9:00 am!
Despite all the chatter, we do actually get work done in the kitchen, omitting the multiple times dinner has been quite late whilst my dad waits patiently in the family room, listening to the classical station and very often singing along. On this night, mOm kindly let me film her making her paella, even posing the ingredients just do for the camera (see below for the video!). She is a food blogger’s mom, through and through!
The local butcher did not have the smoked salmon sausages mOm usually uses in her San Francisco-created paella, but he had a great selection of Echo Falls hot smoked salmon that would provide the necessary flavor. The zippy local chorizo was excellent, as was the fresh salmon steak that was deftly skinned and deboned and chunked up. No other fresh seafood was available this day (small township, remember?) sadly, but the well stocked auxiliary freezer produced plump prawns that were quickly thawed and drained on toweling. To add a little more variety in the protein department, fresh chicken thighs were added to the chopping board. A decent store-bought chicken broth was liberally sprinkled with russet saffron threads to infuse the broth, what a delicious aroma!
The spanking brand new paella pan was christened with Bay Area olive oil from Bariani, then kissed with onions and garlic. After a brief doe-see-doe, sweet red and green bells were added to soften, then surprisingly ripe and juicy plum tomatoes danced in the pan. The star of the show was stirred in to the softened vegetal mass, Arborio rice this time. After a few slow, figure-eight swirls of the spatula, the aforementioned wine and broth, now shaded a lively orange from the saffron, were stirred in for a few minutes. Finally, the chicken and sausage were sprinkled in and pushed into the fragrant and soupy rice mixture. A bit later the prawns were plopped in, then even later the smoked salmon and fat sweet peas. One is supposed to let the rice simmer mostly undisturbed and to let it form a highly coveted crunchy crust on the bottom, but the pan was on its maiden voyage and the glass-topped stove is still a bit tricky to control at a low temperature. So we chatted, and stirred, and chatted some more, joined by the King-a-ling and my dear pal L___ and the man of the house. I just love it when every occupant of the house finds their way into the cozy, steamy kitchen that’s barely built for two, let alone five (if you count the 80 lb pooch, which of course we do, as he’s such a personality).
Finally, the paella was ready, the plump rice had absorbed the luscious juices from the vegetables, meats and broth and was ever so slightly chewy and yet tender. A quick dash to the terrace for a handful of parsley that miraculously survived the snowfall before Christmas and it was roughly chopped and strewn upon the surface of the now deep yellow rice. mOm topped off the steaming pan of paella with a sprinkle of sweet smoked Spanish paprika. It’s magical stuff really, just sprinkle some on your scrambled eggs one morning and you will never think eggs are boring again.
Triumphantly, the paella was paraded to the family room dining table, which was lit with fat white candles and set with the Royal Evesham Gold service, another souvenir from a lovely vacation in Great Britain years ago.
We dove into the pan, heaping piles of paella on each other’s plates, counting the prawn and chorizo allotment per person, joshing and ribbing each other, and toasting the cook, her helpers, tasters and for any other reason we could think of along the way.
The best part was, as we prepared to leave the next morning, mOm said casually, “I packed some paella for your dinner tonight…” Later, home alone and feeling quite blue, I remembered the bag I shoved in the fridge and heated up a full pound of mOm’s paella love, and for a few minutes I felt like we were all together around the table again, having fun and enjoying time together.
See how she made the paella here:
REC: mOm’s Paella Love
6 T Olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 red/green/yellow bell peppers, chopped
5 cloves garlic, chopped
2 medium tomatoes, chopped
2 1/2 c. rice, Arborio or Carnaroli are good
1 c. dry white wine
5 c. chicken broth
1/4 tsp. saffron threads
1 chorizo sausage, cooked, cut into chunks
4 links smoked salmon sausage, cut into 1″ pieces (or substitute a fresh salmon steak or fillet, cut into 1″ pieces and 1/4 lb hot smoked salmon, flakes into large chunks)
1 large chicken thigh, skinned, boned, cut into 1″ pieces
1 # Prawns, cleaned and peeled
1 c. frozen peas
1/4 c. flat leaf parsley
(1 1/4 # cooked lobster, cut into chunks)
(1 1/2 doz mussels, scrubbed well, beards removed)
(1 dozen clams, well scrubbed)
(1/2 # sea scallops)
Salt & pepper
Heat olive oil in a large skillet or paella pan, sauté onions and garlic until tender. Add peppers and sauté ~5 minutes. Mix in tomatoes and cook 10 minutes. Meanwhile, sprinkle saffron into chicken broth. Add rice to skillet and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes. Add wine, broth and bay leaf, salt and pepper, stir well, simmer on medium low heat for 5 minutes.
Stir in seafood, (except smoked salmon, if using) sausages and chicken. Stir occasionally and cook until the liquid is absorbed and seafood and meats are cooked through (and clams and mussels are open). Approximate rice cooking time is 15-20 min from the point where the broth is added to the rice mixture.
5 minutes before this, add peas (and smoked salmon), gently fold in (to avoid breaking up the salmon).
Before serving, sprinkle on chopped parsley, smoked paprika, decorate with lemon wedges.
We served this with a wonderful wine from New Mexico! Casa Rondena’s winery is located in Los Rancho de Albuquerque, and their winemaker and founder John Calvin makes delicious wines grown on the banks of the Rio Grande. L___ and I discovered the winery during our epic A Dog and Two Chicks on Route 66 road trip. During that trip I became a member of their wine club and this year won their member contest of a case of mixed wine! It was so exciting as I have never won anything before. The wine we enjoyed with the paella was their ’06 Clarion, a Gold Medal winner, and is mostly Syrah with some Tempranillo and a little Cabernet Sauvignon. Rich and smooth and a bit spicy, it was a perfect foil to the unctuous rice and saffron, spicy sausage and smokey seafood flavors. Sadly we finished the bottle quickly but happily I have another at home along with a wealth of others to enjoy. (Thank you John and Vicky for the treat!)
And, thank you mOm, Dad, and L___ for the lovely trip, and especially to mOm for the paella love!