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Posts Tagged ‘paella’

Sorry to all of my loyal readers (all 3 of you) for not posting anything in a while. Been pretty busy with life and life itself. Yesterday was by birthday however, so Yuki and Otis took me out for dinner. Tired of overpaying for mediocre celebrity-chef meals I wanted to go somewhere more casual and Otis-friendly. Also, now that we’re in the South Loop I wanted somewhere close. So, Tapas Valencia it was.

We’ve actually been there once before a long time ago. We joined a couple of friends for their happy hour tapas specials before heading down to Hyde Park to watch the movie, “Food, Inc.”. I remember it being very good and had a taste for bacon-wrapped dates. It all made perfect sense to head there last night.

Without further ado, here’s what was on our dinner table.

First up was the Calamares A La Plancha. The squid was perfectly cooked…soft and tender, yet crispy at the same time. A little too much salt, but not so much that it killed the dish.

Next we had the Jamon con Melon. You really can’t beat quality Serrano Ham on top of ripe, sweet, juicy cantaloupe. With cantaloupe at it’s finest about now we couldn’t pass on this one. Served with a simple cucumber and tomato relish this was tapas at it’s finest.

Then we had the Pado Confitado, duck confit with apples and mushrooms. Fall-apart duck leg, apples, and mushrooms…need I say more?

I can’t remember the name of this dish in Spanish, it was a special on the menu. Short rib braised in Rioja and then served with garlic and rosemary Israeli Couscous and spinach. While this dish was missing one note, something slightly acidic like tomato or even a small squirt of orange or lemon, this could’ve been an entrée unto itself.

Finally, our last tapas (or is it tapa?), the Datiles Con Tocino. Crisp bacon around sweet dates smothered in a roasted red pepper sauce, that’s where it’s at! A true crowd-pleaser if there ever was one.

While I did say that was our last tapas, it wasn’t our last dish. We also split an order of the Paella Valenciana. Paella with mussels, clams, shrimp, and chicken. This was huge! I’m glad we only got one order. I will say that my paella is a little better, but this was a very delicious paella, it just didn’t have that crisp burnt rice on the bottom that I love. I wasn’t dissatisfied at all though.

For dessert we split the flan of the day, coconut. Not too rich or sweet, this one was just right. I don’t think coconut is typical in Spain, but coconut almost always makes a great flan. This is one of the better flan in Chicago.

To drink it all down we forgoed the Sangria and went for a couple of glasses of Clara, which apparently is Spain’s most popular drink right now. It’s Alhambra Beer (a Spanish Lager) with a little lemonade. I was a little skeptical at first, but I will say that it wasn’t bad at all. I mean, you put lime in Corona, why not a little lemonade in Spanish Lager?

The service was great too. Very friendly and attentive. They gave us more of a private table where Otis’s stroller wouldn’t get in the way, and where it’d be a little quieter for him. Food was served and cleared in a timely fashion as well. It was a little slow being a Wednesday night, but this seems to be a very well run restaurant.

All in all, there are probably better Spanish and Tapas joints somewhere, but I haven’t found them yet here in Chicago. The dishes are well prepared, the portions are big, and the quality of ingredients are high. If anything, and I hate to say this, the prices might be a little too low for what you get. But don’t tell Tapas Valencia that.

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A couple of nights ago I made Paella for dinner. My mom came back to town so I had to make something to feed 5 adults. This recipe was actually enough for 6, so I have a little leftover in the fridge. That’ll most likely be my lunch once I’m done with this post.

I’ve made Paella a few times before, and it always turns out pretty good, but I’m up for some good advice on how to make a dish better whenever someone can give me a good tip. It turns out that Mike Isabella and Antonia Lofaso from Top Chef were doing a cooking demo in the Whole Foods parking lot. Besides getting autographs Mike told me that the best way to make Paella is to let everything sit over medium heat for about 10-15 minutes once you have all of the ingredients mixed in. People usually get the inclination to keep mixing things around, but by letting it sit you’ll get that nice crusty rice at the bottom that makes Paella a special dish. So, that’s what I did.

My ingredients included 1 cup of frozen peas thawed, 1/2 pound bay scallops, 1/2 cup chopped parsley, 2 of those smoked chorizo sliced, 3 skinless chicken thighs chopped, a 14oz can of diced tomatoes, 2 teaspoons of paprika, 1/2 orange bell pepper diced, 1/2 yellow bell pepper diced, 1/2 red bell pepper diced (wasn’t in the pic, last minute decision), 1/2 onion diced, 1 cup chicken stock (pic shows 2, only used one), 2 cups of sushi rice rinsed (any kind of short-grain rice will work), a large pinch of saffron, and 3 garlic cloves minced.

I started off by heating up my large skillet and then pouring in 2 tablespoons of olive oil. I added the garlic and then 30 seconds later the onion. About 3 or 4 minutes after that I dumped in the peppers and let that go for another 3 or 4 minutes. Then I added the chicken and let it cook for about 4 more minutes before adding the chorizo. Once the chorizo started to get a little color, you guessed it, 3 or 4 minutes, I added the rice. It’s important to get every grain of rice coated in the hot oil so that it toasts a little bit. That helps get the toothsome texture you want in a good Paella.

Then I poured in the can of tomatoes with the liquid. Oh, I forget to mention that I let the saffron sit in the cup of chicken stock for about a half hour along with the paprika, that let’s the flavor and color distribute more evenly. Once the tomatoes started to boil a bit I poured in the flavored chicken stock and seasoned with salt and pepper. I gave that a few minutes to start boiling a little and then added the scallops, peas, and parsley. I mixed everything up, covered the skillet, turned the heat down to medium, and let it sit for 15 minutes.

When I took the lid off almost all of the liquid had absorbed into the rice, yet the rice had kept a nice firm texture. Thanks to Mike’s advice, I did get that nice crust on the bottom. It was, by far, the best Paella I’ve ever made.

I had some of the jicama salad with watercress and red leaf lettuce along with the cilantro-lime dressing left over from the tacos so I served that on the side to complete the meal.

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So, I had planned on making sort of an easy-to-make paella for dinner last night, but the chorizo I bought tasted more like andouille than chorizo. No worries, it’s just as easy to make a gumbo. So that’s what I did.

I started off by thinly slicing about 4oz’s of chorizo and cooking them in a hot pan without any oil. I wanted two things, first was a nice brown crusty surface, second was some melted tasty pig fat in my pan.

Once the chorizo was browned I added 4 meaty chicken thighs skin side down. Before doing this I generously seasoned the chicken with salt, pepper, and smoked paprika. I only cooked the skin side of the chicken for the same reasons I cooked the chorizo. Crispy skin and animal fat. Now I have no need to add any oil.

I threw in a small onion that I had diced along with 4 minced garlic cloves. I let those cook in the animal fat for about 7 minutes, or just when they started to turn translucent.

Then I added a yellow bell pepper that I chopped along with 1.5 cups of Thai Red Rice. I stirred that all together and let it saute for about 3 minutes.

Then I added a half cup of dry white wine that had some saffron strands soaking in it for about an hour. I scraped up all of the burnt bits on the bottom of the pan and stirred them into the dish (the burnt parts have tons of flavor!). Then added a 14 oz can of crushed tomato to form a base for the sauce, as well as 1.5 cups of chicken stock and a bunch of green beans that I cut up. After that I mixed in the cooked chorizo and laid the chicken pieces on top. I covered the pan and threw it in a 400 degree oven for 25 minutes.

After the 25 minutes I took it out, put the chicken on a plate, added salt and pepper, stirred everything around, put the chicken back on top, covered it, and threw it back into the oven for another 10 minutes.

When I took it out again I took the chicken back off and mixed in a bunch of chopped parsley. To serve, I laid a bed of fresh baby spinach on the plate, put a pile of the gumbo on top, then a piece of chicken on top of that, and garnished with parsley. I drank it all down with the rest of the wine that I used in the sauce.

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