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Elegant and Easy Paella

A highlight of a New England winter is the Maine shrimp season. These delightful pink shrimp have a lot going for them. They’re wild, they’re local, and, most importantly, they’re delicious. The season varies each year. This year, it started on January 2, but with a significantly lower quota than last year. The limit is what keeps the population sustainable, but, at the same time, it also limits the fisherman’s income. The whole question of sustainability raises lots of sticky questions.

We went to Maine for a quick overnight last weekend, so I stopped at the store to see if they had shrimp. The season is nearly over, but they had some in the case. I picked up a couple of pounds. One thing that’s different about the Maine shrimp is that they are pink even before they are cooked. .They are also really easy to clean: the shells are really thin which makes them easy to peel, and they don’t have any noticeable vein to remove. They are on the small side, but so cute when they cook up.

The first night, I made a shrimp scampi over linguine. I winged it, making it like my linguine with clam sauce, but with shrimp. And I simmered the shrimp shells with some butter, lemon and garlic cloves to use instead of clam broth. I didn’t remember to take any pictures, but it was delicious.

With the second half of the shrimp, we made a simple paella. This recipe can easily become part of a weeknight repertoire, though the final product is not at all ordinary. The ingredients were few, and the technique a little different, so I’ll admit I had some doubts. The part that made me nervous was the delicate shrimp spending nearly half an hour in a 500 degree oven. I was sure the shrimp would dry out. However, the recipe was Mark Bittman’s and the book was Amanda Hesser’s The Essential New York Times Cookbook, so I should have had more faith. The shrimp was perfectly cooked, as was the rice. The only “note to self” for next time is to add a handful of peas to add some color to the dish.

Easiest Paella
Adapted from this recipe
Serves 4 to 6

4 cups chicken stock
Pinch saffron
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, minced
2 cups Arborio rice
Salt and fresh black pepper to taste
2 cups raw Maine shrimp, peeled
½ pound chorizo, cut into ½-inch slices, then quartered
½ cup frozen green peas

Preheat the oven to 500F. While the oven preheats, heat up the stock and saffron in a saucepan.

In a 10-inch cast-iron skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the rice, and cook, stirring occasionally, until coated with oil. Season with salt and pepper. Add the warmed stock. There will be a lot of steam, so stand back. If you wear glasses, they will fog.

Stir in the shrimp, chorizo, and peas. Carefully, transfer the pan to the oven.
Bake about 25 minutes, until all the liquid is absorbed and the rice is dry on top. Serve immediately.

French Fridays with Dorie: Cinnamon-Crunch Chicken

French Fridays with Dorie started off September with a bang. I loved the first two recipes. I’ll admit up front that I wasn’t all that excited about this one: Cinnamon-Crunch Chicken, but I’ve learned to trust Dorie to be surprising, so I didn’t sit out this week and gave it a try.

It turned out that this recipe couldn’t have been simpler for a weeknight meal. First, you crush some cookies, LU Cinnamon Sugar Spice, which I love to snack on. You stir the cookies into crème fraiche, and set the sauce aside.

Then, you sauté strips of chicken in olive oil until they are cooked through and nicely browned. The recipe called for chicken breasts, but we’re more of a dark-meat household, so I used boneless thighs instead. Finally, you add the sauce to the pan, heat it to a boil, and let it bubble for a minute or so. Voila! That’s it!

I served the chicken over Dorie’s cardamom rice pilaf with a light green salad. Preparing the entire meal took less than half an hour from start to finish.

What was the verdict? It was mixed. I started with low expectations, but it was more interesting than I thought it would be. I liked the contrast of the tangy crème fraiche with the sweet cookies. While I’ve used crème fraiche in room temperature dishes before, I’ve never heated it up. As promised, it didn’t curdle, and the end result was a thick and creamy sauce. A little big of magic.

On the other hand, Howard said “I don’t think I like cinnamon in my dinner”. He ate it for dinner and took leftovers for lunch, but wasn’t a big fan. It was definitely worth a try, but probably won’t make it again.

On the up side, the recipe only used two cookies, so I get to munch on the rest of the box.

We don’t share the recipes, but you can find in Dorie Greenspan’s book Around My French Table. And, even though this wasn’t a favorite, I will still enjoy checking out what my fellow FFwD bloggers thought about the week’s recipe. They are a creative bunch. You can find their links at French Fridays with Dorie.

This weekend, I’m excited to be trying out Dorie’s new iPad “Baking with Dorie” app. I haven’t tried cooking with a computer tool at hand before. It’s actually Howard’s iPad, but if he likes what I choose to make, he’ll share. I’m not sure which recipe I’ll try first, but I’m thinking maybe the Peanut Butter Torte.

Other weekend plans include enjoying the “A Taste of Greece” festival at St. Nicholas, the local Greek Orthodox church, tonight. I look forward to the homemade food, and especially the desserts, every year. On Saturday, Howard and I will share a special dinner out to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary, which was yesterday. 19 happy years (the first one didn’t count) and many more to come!