God has a wicked sense of humor

The other day I was standing in the checkout line at the market. Usually, I’m standing there with my little cart chockfull of things to turn into yummy goodness, but that day I had just one thing in my hand. No cart, no list. I had gone for a specific purpose, to buy a specific item — Estroven. Some of you are giggling right now, aren’t you? That’s because you know these little yellow capsules. For those who don’t, the box in my hand contained a natural supplement meant to lessen the temperature spurts women my age tend to get from time to time. Or, in my case lately, EVERY FREAKIN’ NIGHT! My internal thermostat has turned into the hot flash equivalent of Old’ Faithful. I’d heard good reviews of this particular product, and I’ll try any tack to stem the surge. Any except giving up chocolate and red wine, two rumored triggers to the thermonuclear meltdown in my humours. Never trust a rumor.

So that’s the setup. Open scene: Karin, a VERY young mid-aged woman, holding bottle of “hot flash be gone”, looks to her right. Standing there is a tall, exceedingly handsome man of unknown age (but definitely younger), who turns and smiles. Our heroine smiles back. Another smile from him. Another smile from her. Handsome then glances down at the exceedingly bright yellow box in Karin’s hand and the exceedingly bright red lettering on said box. His lips move as he reads the words “EXTRA STRENGTH treatment for HOT FLASHES that can accompany M-E-N-O-P-A-U-S-E”. The sound of celestial laughter drifts down from the heavens. End scene. I suppose I could have chuckled and said to handsome, “here’s proof that I’m smokin’ hot”. Maybe “once you’ve gone meno, it’s muy bueno”? Yeah, probably not. These are the times I’m reminded that God has a sense of humor. A wicked sense of humor. She’s a regular laugh riot, our Shecky who art in heaven. I mean, what are the odds that I’d be buying only one thing in the market. Like I’d ever have the self-discipline to do that. Add in that the man standing next to me on line would be: 1. Tall, 2. Handsome, 3. Not gay (I live in Chelsea folks,) and 4. Noticing me with a smile before I noticed him. Yup, that’s one funny deity all right. So when faced with the midlife equivalent of having to ask the really cute boy behind the drugstore counter for a box of kotex when I was 15, what did this mature intelligent woman do? Laughed, shrugged and waited for her turn in line. With age comes wisdom, and an appreciation for a wicked sense of humor.

Honestly, I have no idea how my Simple Chicken Paella recipe ties into the post above, except that it’s heavenly and puts a smile on my face whenever I eat it. Paella can seem daunting at first, but it really isn’t. You don’t need a paella pan to make it, nor special imported rice. A large sauté pan and any medium grain rice works just fine. The thing to remember about paella is, like risotto, it is a rice dish. Chicken, fish, shellfish or whatever other protein you are putting into it is a condiment rather than the star. That means it’s pretty economical. Sure, the saffron is expensive, but you only use a pinch and believe me, leaving it out is a mistake. This is definitely one of my favorite cold weather dishes, with depths of flavor that are positively divine.

Simple paella with chicken

Serves 4-5

  • 4 1/2 cups chicken broth
  • A pinch of saffron threads
  • Salt & Pepper
  • 1 tsp smoked sweet Spanish paprika
  • 1 TBSP olive oil
  • 4 boneless skinless chicken thighs (about 1 lb)
  • 4 -6 cloves garlic
  • ½ onion, grated on the largest holes of a box grater
  • 1 tomato, halved and grated and the largest holes of a box grater
  • 1 ½ cups medium grain rice
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 2 oz Spanish chorizo, sliced into thin coins (this is a hard sausage – don’t use the soft chorizo in casings found in the meat section)

Cut the each thigh into 2-3 pieces, a little larger than bite-sized. Sprinkle liberally with salt, pepper and paprika and set aside.

Lightly toast a pinch of saffron in a dry pan, then add ½ cup hot chicken stock and steep 15 minutes. Heat the remainder of the stock in medium saucepan. After 15 minutes, add the saffron stock to the rest. Taste the stock and adjust seasonings. It should be well seasoned so add salt if needed. Remove from heat and set aside until ready to add to rice.

Heat a large sauté pan on medium high heat. Add the sliced chorizo and cook until just browned and the fat has been released. Remove the chorizo to a plate but leave the oil you’ve rendered. Add in the chicken and sauté until browned and cooked through, 10-15 minutes. Transfer to plate and set aside.

Reduce the heat to medium, add in the 1 TBSP olive oil and make the sofrito by sautéing the onions and garlic until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring often, until the mixture darkened to a deep red and is thick, 15-20 minutes. If it starts to stick to the pan, add a little water. (You can make everything up to this point several hours ahead and set aside.)

About 30-40 minutes before you are ready to eat, bring the broth back to a simmer and set the sauté pan with the sofrito over your largest burner on medium high heat. Add the rice, stirring until it’s opaque, 1-2 minutes. Pour in 3 1/2 cups of the broth (reserve the rest) and stir or shake the pan to evenly distribute the rice. Distribute the chicken and chorizo in the pan. Do not stir the rice from this point on. Simmer vigorously, occasionally moving the pan to distribute the heat as evenly as possibly. When the rice is at the same level as the liquid, after about 8-10 minutes, turn the heat down to medium low. Sprinkle in the cup of frozen peas. Continue to simmer more gently, rotating the pan as necessary, until the liquid has been absorbed, about another 10-15 minutes. Taste a grain just below the top layer of rice; it should be al dente. If the rice is not done but all the liquid is absorbed, add a little more of the reserved stock or water and cook a few more minutes.

To create the socarrat (crust on the bottom, and a key factor of paella): Increase the heat to medium-high and, rotating the pan, cook for 2-3 minutes, until the bottom layer of rice starts to caramelize, creating the socarrat. The rice will crackle, but if it starts to smell burned, remove from heat immediately.

Turn off the heat and let the paella rest, covered in foil, for about 5 minutes. Serve with right out of the pan with wedges of lemon.

Calories: approximately 540 per serving for 4, 430 for 5

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