Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Sun-kissed Paella

Rick says I write too slow. Think too much. I need to say what needs saying and get on with it. I admit it—I am the queen of agonizing over every word. It takes me eons (literally!) to write e-mails. And it's not like I'm writing a bestselling novel here. I just want people to know that they can cook good food on a super tight budget, inside or outside, solar or conventional. So . . . here's today's entry before it's tomorrow.

I was horribly grumpy yesterday, and only slightly less so today. I was trying hard to get into a full blown funk, but in a reversal of roles, Rick kept trying to cheer me up. I could use his cheeriness now, too, but he's trying to redesign our Web site with a new program and there's a lot of muttering and sighing coming from the other room. Best to leave him alone. But, even without his unusual-for-him optimism to cheer me up, it was hard to be sad or worried today because it was just so darn nice. Warm and sunny. It feels like June, or maybe even July since it hit 88º yesterday, rather than April. Dry ground and low humidity, combined with strong, gusty winds prompted the National Weather Service to issue a red flag warning for critical wild fire risk several times over the past few weeks. We actually had a fire last week that they dubbed the Brookhaven Blaze of 2012, that had 2,000 acres of nearby woodland burning. When Annalee came home from work today, she said the pine barrens were on fire again. She saw the special fire trucks that go off-road, into the woods, racing down the street, sirens going, as she drove home. Very odd weather, and kind of troubling, but it's also been perfect for solar cooking. (As much as I'm enjoying the sun, though, a little rain might be helpful.)

I had defrosted a package of two chicken leg quarters, but wasn't sure exactly what to do with it. It wasn't a lot of chicken by itself. I flipped through several cookbooks and finally decided to make an improvised paella. Rick's mom was the first to introduce me to paella—and hers always included chicken, sausage, lobster, shrimp, mussels, and clams—but since we don't have shellfish hanging about our kitchen, and I had no inclination to run out and buy any, I did what you're supposed to do with paella: throw in anything that goes along with rice. According to several internet sites, there's a legend that the dish was created by the servants of the Moorish kings, who threw all the leftovers from the royal banquets into one pot to take home. Another (more popular and accepted) story has it that the folks that worked the fields in an area south of Valencia, Spain, mixed whatever they could find in a flat pan over a fire. And, certainly, that's the area most people associate paella with today. Well, I don't work for a royal family nor do I work out in the fields, so I foraged in my fridge and pantry. I dug out two sausages, some dehydrated zucchini, leather britches (dried stringbeans), frozen peas, green olives, and a handful of raisins to go along with the chicken. That'll do. So here's my improvised version, which served three people. For more recipe ideas, visit Spain Recipes.

• Chicken, cut into small pieces and dredged in flour seasoned with salt & pepper
   (I cut the two leg quarters into two drumsticks & eight small pieces)
• 2 sausages, thickly sliced
• 1 onion, chopped
• 3 garlic cloves, minced
• 14 1/2 oz. can whole tomatoes, hand crushed
• 1 cup chicken broth
• rosemary
• teaspoon of paprika
• parsley
• zucchini, string beans, peas, olives, raisins 

• rice cooked with a pinch of saffron

Sauté the chicken until browned, place in black solar oven pot.
Brown the sausage pieces and place in pot along with chicken.
Add vegetables, garlic, rosemary, tomatoes, olives, raisins, and chicken broth to the pot along with the chicken and sausage.
Cover and place pot in solar oven.

I had the dish outside for about 3 1/2 hours with the solar oven averaging 300º. I probably should have checked it sooner, but I was busy and figured they always say you can't burn food in the solar oven. It looked and smelled heavenly when I brought it in, though. Next, I boiled some water and threw it over rice with a pinch of saffron and stuck that outside in the solar oven for 30 minutes or so. The rice was perfect. Dinner was done and it was only 3:00. At 6:30, I heated the paella and rice back up in a cast iron pot on the stove for a few minutes. It was super yummy.

If cooking this inside, after browning the chicken and sausage, throw vegetables in pot to soften, add tomatoes, herbs, and broth, and simmer it all for 30 or 40 minutes. Cook the rice either separately and add to the chicken mixture after it cooks, and serve. Or cook the rice directly in the pot with the chicken mixture for the last 20 minutes of cooking time. I've done it both ways. Serve with a simple salad and some crusty bread.

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