I have been writing this column for over 10 years and one question I get asked a lot is “Where do you get your recipes?” Here is my answer; my recipes come to me through food urges, wants and inspirations. Many of my inspirations come to me from different occurrences. I start thinking about a certain dish or I’m at the grocery store or farmers market or even food festivals and, yes, even surfing online and a recipe photo or thought hits me. Magazines and books inspire me as well as dishes friends and family make, or a meal I enjoy while out on a date with my husband and, often while visiting a different city, state or even country, I see, smell, taste a food I have heard about or never heard of. In fact, my column this week was inspired by three personal experiences that have happened just recently and they are:
· A couple from Florida, retired from their two corporate careers, moved to South Carolina and started a catering company live event where they make a true Spanish paella on huge steel drums to serve 60 people per vessel. And get this, prior to this new career/hobby they had never ventured into the food and beverage industry or even considered running a Spanish paella catering company. And get this … they still have never been to Spain!
· The other day I was reading a book with my granddaughter titled “One Grain of Rice: A Mathematical Folktale,” and although there was no mention of meals, recipes or even people eating, it made me want to make a rice dish.
· Just this past week, Ken Panagopoulos, a Greek cook with a YouTube channel, passed away so I had to visit one of his videos again and his Greek rice video popped up! It inspired me to make one of my YiaYia’s Cretan rice dishes.
I could go on and on, but instead “Please Join Our Table” as I grab a bag of Carolina Gold, Rice Select Texmati or maybe the USA Greek woman’s favorite, Uncle Ben’s Rice, and make one of my inspirations!
My best friend passed away several years ago but not before she showed me how she makes her Spanish paella. This recipe was inspired by a recipe from Doris Maney and the demonstration I watched at a farmers market last week.
1/2 pound applewood bacon, cut into 2-inch pieces
4 links, not bulk precooked chorizo (about 10 ounces), cut into 1-inch chunks
4 cups chicken broth
1 cup white wine
1 teaspoon saffron
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 medium white onion, chopped
1 roasted red bell pepper, chopped (I get the jarred version, drain and chop mine myself.)
1/2 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch pieces
Sea salt to taste
1/2 teaspoon Oregano or marjoram
1 teaspoon black pepper
1-2 dashes achiote, annatto or chipotle powder
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 cups Spanish *Valencia rice or an Italian the *Arborio short grain rice
1/2 pounds mussels, scrubbed
1 pound of clams
1/2 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 cup calamari (about 4 -6 ounces)
1/2 pound sea scallops
2-3 lobster tail meat, optional
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
4 spring onions or scallions or 1 large bunch of scallion bulbs and 2 inches of the green only, chopped
2 teaspoons Spanish smoked paprika
1/2 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Note: Sometimes I make this with just the bacon, sausage and chicken. When I do I increase the chicken to 1 1/2-2 pounds and increase the sausage to 1 pound.
Put the chicken, wine and saffron in a Ziploc bag and place in fridge. Marinate 2 hours. Remove chicken from fridge. Preheat the oven or your outdoor grill to 375 degrees. Pour the broth into a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over low heat. On the stovetop, using a large cast iron skillet or oven safe casserole dish, over medium heat add bacon and chorizo, tossing occasionally until chorizo is browned on the edges, 2 to 3 minutes. It will release a lot of oil which is good. Add the onion and bell pepper and sprinkle with salt, pepper and oregano. Cook, about 3 minutes until the vegetables begin to wilt. Add the garlic and cook 30 seconds. Add the rice and stir to coat the rice in the oil. Spread the rice with the back of a wooden spoon to make a flat even layer. Add the broth and adjust the heat so the edges are just simmering. Fold in the roasted red peppers, chicken and marinade. Cover with foil, or an oven safe snug lid, making sure the edges line up to create a tight seal. Place in the oven or on the grill and bake to let the rice simmer for 30 minutes. Check the rice. It should be cooked but still al dente. If not, give it a stir and cook a few more minutes. Uncover the pan and increase the heat to 400. Scatter the seafood over the rice. Cover the pan again and cook until the mussels and clams begin to open, 7-8 minutes. The rice should crust at the edges but not burn. (Stir so that you can look at the rice to make sure, and adjust the heat up or down as needed.) Scatter the peas and spring onions over the top. Cover and bake, checking occasionally, until the mussels and shrimp are cooked through, 12-15 minutes more. Remove from oven or grill. Set it on a safe trivet or hot pad. Remove cover/lid. Drizzle the paella with more olive oil, sprinkle with paprika and garnish with the parsley. Serve immediately. For those wanting more heat, pass the red pepper seeds and hot sauce.
* Valencia and Arborio rice is short grain rice, also called pearl or round rice. When cooked, it absorbs the liquid and becomes tender, compact and moist. The starch in it is released with the heat making a stickier, creamy textured rice.
My YiaYia’s Rizogalo Cretan Rice Pudding
This was one of the comfort foods my Greek grandmother (YiaYia) would make for us kids! It was also served at the “ZOP” or “ZAP”, short for The Zappeion, our grandparents’ restaurant on Howard Street in Akron, Ohio. Our restaurant was named after the Zappeion Building in the National Gardens of Athens, Greece.
2 tablespoons butter
1 quart milk
Pinch of salt
1/3 cup rice (Our family always uses Uncle Ben’s but I like the texture of the short grain Spanish or Italian rice, your choice.)
Strip of lemon rind
1/4 cup sugar
2 eggs, beaten well
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Ground cinnamon for serving
DIRECTIONS: In a large saucepan over medium high heat, melt butter. Add milk and pinch of salt and bring to a boil. Add the rice and lemon rind and boil for approximately 20 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent rice from sticking to the bottom of the pot. You want the rice to be tender but not mushy. When the rice is cooked, remove the lemon rind and stir in the sugar. VERY SLOWLY add about a cup of the warm milk mixture to the beaten eggs to temper them and prevent them from curdling. Reduce the heat to low and add the egg/milk mixture into the pot, stirring constantly and continue to cook until the mixture begins to thicken. Remove the pot from the heat, stir in the vanilla extract and cool. Serve topped with a sprinkle of ground cinnamon. It is great at room temperature or chilled. Makes about 4-6 servings, depending on the size of the serving.