Tag Archives: dinner

A Paella Experience

As many of you may have seen if you follow me on social media, I was recently on holiday in Spain. I embarked on this Spanish adventure to see the beautiful and iconic sites, engage with the vibrant people and culture, and of course, I went to eat and drink A LOT. I enjoyed a truly unfathomable amount of sangria and indulged in Spain’s national dish, paella. Now, I will not recount every single meal I ate nor review every single restaurant that I dined in; if I did that, I would be on my way to publishing a travel guide. I will, however, share a wonderful experience I had; my Paella Cooking Class through Airbnb Experience.

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I highly recommend Barcelona.

If you live under a rock and are unfamiliar with Airbnb, read about it here. For the rest of you who know Airbnb already, you might be surprised and delighted to learn that Airbnb now offers “Experiences” in which locals host an event, tour, or class of some kind that gives participants a taste of their city and community. Airbnb users visiting that city or community sign up and attend to join in the “experience” offered; it could be a hike through scenic hills followed by a picnic, a pub crawl, an art tour, or really anything that a host feels would be a good way to experience their homeland. The concept is unique and fantastic, offering travelers a chance to not only learn something new and/or do something fun under the guide of a local, but also the chance to meet up with other travelers! I think you should check it out.

Anyway, while I was in Barcelona, I noticed that Airbnb Experience was advertising a Paella Cooking Class. Upon further inspection, I learned that for just $30 I could attend this cooking class, instructed by a local cook, hosted in a professional kitchen, and learn to make sangria, paella, and a Catalan cream dessert, which I would then get to eat and enjoy. Sign me up and take my money! I was in.

The class was led by Eladi, a Catalonia-Spain native with a passion for cooking and drive to share traditional Spanish and Catalan cooking techniques with others. He believes in cooking with quality ingredients and infusing the food you cook with love and good energy; my kind of guy!

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The class took place in the kitchen of a bakery which we were allowed to use for our cooking purposes. With it being a professional kitchen, we had plenty of space for our class (and bonus, the bakery happened to be a 1 minute walk from my Airbnb!) And so, under Eladi’s instruction, our group of nine Airbnb travelers gathered around a big center island in the kitchen and set out to learn!

Eladi taught us first to make the traditional, and dearly beloved, Spanish drink that we all know and love, Sangria. He gave us a little background on its origins and then divvied out tasks for a few of us to do: squeezing oranges, cutting apples, etc. I myself had never made Sangria and so I really enjoyed learning the basic measurements and techniques for making it because I would like to make and drink more Sangria on a normal basis (you know, for health reasons). Anyway, we mixed everything in a big pitcher and stored it away in the fridge to emulsify for the next couple of hours, with the promise of our being able to drink the sangria when it and dinner was ready!

See Eladi’s original recipe for traditional Sangria here: Sangria Recipe

Below, I have rewritten the recipe to be in the British-American recipe format and using American measurements.

Sangria

  • Servings: 6
  • Time: 2 hours
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients:

  • 4 cups red wine
  • 1 large apple, large cubed
  • 1 large orange, sliced
  • 1 large orange, juiced
  • 1 large lemon, sliced
  • 1 large lemon juiced
  • 2 sticks cinnamon
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 2 cups soda water
  • Ice

Directions:

Pour the wine in a pitcher. Add the juices of the orange and lemon. Add the cubes of apple, slices of orange and lemon, and the cinnamon sticks. Add the sugar and stir. Allow to chill for minimum 2 hours to maximum 24 hours. To serve, add ice and soda water, serve, and pour.

Pro-Tip: Sangria really should be made with Spanish wine and if you are in the States, Trader Joe’s has this good, inexpensive choice! See below!

Spanish Paella

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Next, we moved onto making the Catalan Cream for dessert, a very popular and traditional dessert in Spain’s region of Catalonia. It is essentially a custard made from milk, sugar, egg yolks, cinnamon, and lemon which is chilled in individual dishes, topped with sugar, then torched to create a sugar-glass crust. Think of a cross between flan and crème Brule, flavored with lemon and cinnamon; that’s Catalan Cream. Similarly, Eladi asked for volunteers to execute tasks like beating egg yolks and sugar together and so on. I am not a huge dessert eater or creator, so I really enjoyed adding this dish to my repertoire!

See the original recipe here: Catalan Cream Recipe

Again, below I have rewritten the recipe to be in the British-American recipe format with American measurements.

Catalan Cream

  • Servings: 6
  • Time: 2 hours 30 minutes
  • Difficulty: intermediate
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Ingredients:

  • 4 cups milk
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • Peel of 1 whole lemon
  • 1 ½ tablespoons corn starch
  • 8 egg yolks
  • 1 cup sugar

Directions:

Place 3 cups of the milk, the cinnamon sticks, and the lemon peel in a small sauce pan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Once boil is reached, turn off the heat and allow flavors to infuse for 10-15 minutes. Discard the cinnamon sticks and lemon peel after this time.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, beat the remaining 1 cup of milk, egg yolks, sugar, and starch until well mixed.

Add the egg mix to the sauce pan with the milk. Bring back to a boil over medium heat, continuing to whisk until the mixture starts to thicken, about 8 minutes. Turn off the heat and whisk 1 more minute.

Pour the mix into individual clay pots or ramekins and chill for 2-24 hours. When ready to serve, top each surface with an even layer of sugar, about a tablespoon, and using a blow torch, burn the sugar until a crust is formed. Serve and enjoy!

Paella 2

Finally, we embarked on cooking the main course, the highlight; traditional Spanish Paella! Here again, even with how big of a cook I am, I had never tried to cook paella, though I’d always wanted to. In this setting with Eladi as my guide, I was able to not only learn the techniques and basic measurements for paella, but also the culture around it. Here were some of the takeaways pertaining to paella:

  1. Paella is not always made with shellfish or seafood – Contrary to what you see online or television, Spanish families use whatever protein is available for when they would like a pan of paella, and that does not always involve expensive seafood. Similarly, paella can be made with different types of vegetables depending on the season, and paella can be completely vegetable based as well if you would prefer not to have animal protein. We had a chicken-only paella.
  2. Paella is a dish that is built in stages from the center out – Oil is heated at the center of the pan. Salt and garlic are added to the oil to season said oil which will in turn season and flavor the rest of the dish. Proteins are added and cooked at the center, then they are pushed out in a circle and vegetables are added to the center. This process continues until all the larger ingredients are cooked, after which the rice is added and cooked for a short time before it is drowned in broth and the remaining herbs and spices are added, at which point the paella is pretty much left alone until the rice absorbs the liquids.
  3. Paella is a communal dish – This was the most important takeaway I found. Paella is not traditionally something that the main cook in the family makes in private then serves to everyone else in the family when it is ready. Rather, the act of cooking paella is a group effort. Spanish families make an afternoon of paella, gathering in the kitchen, each person fulfilling a role in the cooking process. Much like in our cooking class, steps are divided out; someone cuts vegetables, someone grates tomatoes, someone prepares the herbs, someone mans the pan, etc. Everyone is involved in the preparation of this traditional dish and when it is finished cooking, everyone enjoys it all together, usually out of the same pan!

We each did our part in the cooking as we learned, we chatted and laughed, and after about an hour of all of this, the paella was finally ready. We poured ourselves glasses of our previously concocted sangria which was incredibly, beautifully smooth, and we were then ready to eat.

Eladi placed the giant paella pan in the middle of the kitchen island and handed out big wooden spoons that paella is commonly enjoyed with in Spanish households. Then, as is traditional, he drew lines in the paella to create pizza slice-like sections. We all chose our own section and dove in. Truly, that first bite of our communally cooked paella was divine. The flavor salty, slightly smoky, and very savory, the texture delightful to the tongue, the chicken juicy and rich. I had had paella a couple of other times while in Spain at this point, but this homemade paella definitely won out as the best paella I had on my entire Spanish adventure.

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Furthermore, our group indulgence in this dish that we had all played a part in creating, our sharing in the dish all out of the same pan, made our eating more than just eating; it made it a special and memorable experience, as well as a delicious one.

See the recipe for Eladi’s Paella here: Paella Recipe

Once again, I have rewritten this recipe in a British-American recipe format with American measurements.

(You can take this recipe and get creative with your meats and veggies, as long as you have the basic measurements and techniques down.)

Paella

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
  • Difficulty: intermediate
  • Print

Ingredients:

  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • Big pinch of salt
  • 4-6 garlic cloves
  • 1 ½ pounds chicken (whatever pieces you like, cut up)
  • 1 – 1 1/2 cups green beans, cut in half
  • 2 large tomatoes, grated
  • 2 tablespoons smoked paprika
  • Rice
  • 12 strands saffron, soaked in 3 tablespoons of warm water
  • 2 bunches rosemary
  • 2 ½ cups Bomba Rice
  • 6 cups chicken stock, warmed

Directions:

With the paella pan over low heat add the salt over the whole surface. Pour in the oil and allow to heat a minute. Add the garlic to the center of the pan and cook 1 minute. Add the chicken to the center and cook until browned, turning occasionally, about 5 minutes. Move the chicken away from the center. Add the green beans to the center and cook 2 minutes. Move the green beans away from the center. Add the grated tomato to the center and stir 1 minute. Add the paprika and mix everything in the pan together.

Add the rice all over the surface and stir with all the other ingredients for 1 minute. Add the hot chicken broth. Move the meat and vegetables to be arranged evenly throughout the pan. Distribute the saffron threads evenly throughout the broth. Add the rosemary bunches.

Raise the heat to medium-high until the broth boils. Then lower to the lowest possible heat while still continuing the boil, usually a medium-low. Watch the paella and when rice grains appear on the surface of the liquid, lower the heat to low. Cook until the rice is firm, but tender, about 10 minutes. Turn off the heat, cover with lid, and let stand 5 minutes.

Serve right out of the pan with wooden spoons!

Notes:

It is important to choose a quality paella pan and make sure that the pan can be placed somewhere where heat can be distributed evenly.

Needless to say, I greatly enjoyed our Paella Cooking Class through Airbnb Experience. It offered a chance for my friend Kayleigh and I to make new friends in our fellow travelers and also in Eladi. It allowed us to learn new dishes we had always been interested in cooking. And of course, it gave us a space to have fun and to have a delicious meal. Now home from Spain, I am very much inspired to purchase a Paella pan and have a “Paella Party” with all my friends, giving us all a chance to enjoy the communal and tasteful experience that the Spanish have created around Paella.

If you are traveling to Barcelona and are interested in taking this class with Eladi, please visit the following to see when and how you can join!

http://paella.experientz.com/

https://www.airbnb.es/experiences/51311

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g187497-d12246113-Reviews-Paella_Experientz_Barcelona-Barcelona_Catalonia.html

Spring is Sprung

The Spring Equinox is upon us and the season of spring is coming into full bloom! Each season has it’s own beauty and importance. Spring’s beauty is in its power as a time of renewal, of freshness and growth, of more sunlight and warmth, and of enhanced energy. There is much to be enjoyed in this new, bright season. And as with any season, spring brings different flavors and focuses. Here are a few of my favorite articles that are rooted in this great season to help you have the best spring possible!

(1) Pasta Primavera 

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Pasta Primavera translates in Italian to “Spring Pasta” as this dish features on the fresh and bright flavors of the season.

(2) Shepherd’s Pie

Shepherds Pie

Saint Patrick’s Day is technically in winter, but we still consider it a Spring Holiday. And on this holiday, it is time for a Celtic Classic: Shepherd’s Pie.

(3) Slow Cooker Lemon Artichoke Chicken

Lemon Artichoke Chicken 2

Spring is a time for brighter flavors and of course, artichokes! This Slow Cooker dish can be dumped in the pot within 2 minutes and you come ready to a zesty and fresh meal!

(4) Saucha and the Spring

cleansing rain

Spring is a time of cleansing and growing. Explore this with yogic concept of “Saucha.”

“Conscious Cooking” from Daily Om

I recently read a wonderful thought passage from a book called Daily Om – Inspirational Thoughts for a Happy, Healthy, and Fulfilling Day by Madisyn Taylor. This book is filled with hundreds of 1-2 page messages to inspire to thought, reflection, and ultimately you taking better action to be a happier person. I have made it a practice over the last quarter to read 1 passage in the morning and journal any quotes that I find particularly meaningful, as I suggest to you in my previous post “A Good Morning”. I have definitely found myself reading messages that seemed to be meant for me on that day. Click the link above to purchase of Amazon; I strongly recommend purchasing it and soaking up its inspiration.

daily-om

Anyway, the other day I read a passage entitled “Conscious Cooking”. In summary, the message is that it is important to take time with our food. It is primarily about the preparation of food and how we can truly affect our food with energy as we prepare it. It makes sacred the act of cooking a meal and when we can appreciate that every meal becomes nourishment rather than a means to an end, and every meal becomes a bountiful feast. Not enough people, especially in this country, value food for its own brand of magic. Preparing food is a vital part of daily life. We are meant to spend time with our food as it is at once a necessary part of human life AND one of life’s greatest joys. This message capitalizes on that and it speaks to me loud and clear. Take a read!

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How to Not Lose It This Thanksgiving

It’s that time of year again, Thanksgiving is upon us and ready to kick off the holiday season! I love Thanksgiving for all that it is: a time to gather with friends and family, practice gratitude for the big and the small, and of course, a time to feast! Thanksgiving is the tastiest of holidays, and I embrace every part of a traditional Thanksgiving meal; and I am definitely not the only one who loves this feast so much.

24304 Betty Crocker's Guide to Your First Thanksgiving

Unfortunately, I have found that many people harbor a great deal of anxiety around this meal because of its nature of being much heavier than we are used to eating on a normal basis. A lot of people feel that the indulgences of a traditional Thanksgiving meal are detrimental to their weight and shape. Furthermore, many people see Thanksgiving as the start of a generally feast and treat heavy season, and that it might be easier to simply give up on trying to maintain healthy weight, shape, and eating practices by indulging from Thanksgiving on through New Year’s, all the while beating up on themselves mentally and emotionally the entire time about any bodily changes that may occur.

I have been someone who has over indulged on Thanksgiving, hated myself for it, then threw in the towel for the rest of the holiday season, continued to over indulge, and treated myself poorly in my mind the entire way. This is not healthy and it truly does not serve anyone. People, we celebrate with food. We should be able to enjoy that food. And there are ways to enjoy that food without undoing our “gains”. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, it’s all about moderation. If you can practice moderation in the treats and feasts that arrive with and after Thanksgiving, you can feel fulfilled in partaking in the tasty joys of the season without undoing your shape and treating yourself unkindly for it.

So, I wanted to give you a few tips for “How to Not Lose It This Thanksgiving”; how to not undo your healthy eating completely, how to not undo your shape, and how to not undo your mind by being mean to yourself for enjoying your life!

Give yourself permission to eat and enjoy –

cheers

It’s Thanksgiving. This is a time to indulge a bit, eat more carbs, eat more butter, and the like. Premise yourself to eat these foods and allow yourself to savor and enjoy them. Give yourself permission to be present when eating the meal without worrying about the consequences, because really there are none.

Exercise –

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Try and get some type of movement and sweat in. This will allow your body to use some of the food that you do eat to replenish excess spent calories and to restore your muscles. Plan on the exercising the following day as well to give yourself a burn after you’ve indulged.

Eat Breakfast and Snacks –

frittata

A lot of people make the mistake of starving themselves before Thanksgiving dinner. This is wrong for a couple of reasons: 1. You are going to feel even hungrier when you sit down to eat the feast, so you are probably going to eat even more and 2. Your body goes into starvation mode after not eating for more than 4 hours, so when you do eat at Thanksgiving dinner, it is going to store the excess calories as fat because it is concerned it isn’t going to be fed again for a long time. It is better to have a healthy breakfast and some snacks leading up to the feast so that your metabolism stays active and working. Try my Frittata for a protein and vegetable packed breakfast and snack on vegetables and hummus leading up to dinner.

Have a bit of everything –

Homemade Turkey Thanksgiving Dinner

Make a plate with all the Thanksgiving foods. Don’t avoid anything, don’t overload on anything. Simply serve yourself a few bites worth of each Thanksgiving dish. Then eat slowly and savor each bite for the different flavors that they offer.

Allow yourself some seconds –

seonds

It’s common place to have seconds at Thanksgiving, right? Of course, this can quickly turn into a whole second heavy meal. Rather than filling up your plate again, simply allow yourself 2-3 more bites of 2-3 of your favorites rather than each dish. For example, my favorites are stuffing, yams, and green bean casserole, so I will allow myself 2-3 more bites worth of each of those dishes, but pass on additional turkey, cranberry sauce, potatoes, etc.

Small Slices of Pie –

pie

It isn’t Thanksgiving without pie; you just can’t skip it. And typically, there are 3-4 pies at a Thanksgiving feast. Rather than having a slice of each, have small slices of each so that when you put them all together, it really is just like 1 normal serving slice of pie. This way, you get all the flavors of the different pies, but just the calories of a normal slice.

Hydrate –

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Staying hydrated before and after the meal really helps. If you are hydrated before the meal, you are likely to be less hungry and therefore desire to eat less. If you hydrate after the meal, you are helping to combat your body’s reaction to the higher amount of sodium you’ve just in took which will help to minimize bloating.

Give Thanks –

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This is the point of Thanksgiving; we feast and we give thanks. Instead of focusing on the indulgence of the food, focus on why you are sitting down to eat that food and how that food is part of a celebration of recognizing our many blessings. As long as this is the main focus behind your meal, it makes it that much easier to enjoy it and then move on from it peacefully.

So those are my tips for how to not lose it this Thanksgiving! Remember to sip, savor, and enjoy! Happy Thanksgiving my friends!

Autumn Slaw

When you just can’t have another salad with your soup or sandwich but are still wanting to get your fibrous greens and veggies in, slaws are the way to go! I bring my lunch to work almost every day, and I like a side salad of some sort to accompany my main soup, sandwich, or wrap. However, there are weeks where I just cannot bring myself to prep another line up of basic salads. When I have these weeks, I turn to slaws.

There is something about slaws. They’re crispy and crunchy, they have their own feels and tastes that distinguish them enough from salads while also still providing you greens and fiber. Especially in the Fall and Winter when delicate lettuces, tomatoes, and other salad toppings are not in peak season, slaws become even more optimal by utilizing Autumn-Winter produce such as cabbage, dark leafy greens, and Brussels Sprouts.

When we turned the corner into Fall this year, I sought to create a slaw that is comprised of some of the great seasonal offerings, that is crunchy-fun to eat, and of course, tastes fantastic. And so, I came up with this Autumn Slaw. Really, this slaw is perfect to take us all the way through Fall and Winter to Spring.

Curly, earthy green kale, shredded Brussels Sprouts, rich purple cabbage, crisp and bright fennel, and tart pomegranate seeds in a zingy apple cider vinegar dressing make this dish fresh, dynamically flavorful, and hearty yet light. It is a fantastic side dish for lunch or dinner in place of salad; and it could even be a snack. I feel fantastic eating this slaw and love how you can prep at the start of the week and enjoy it all week long. I hope you enjoy this healthy and delightful recipe too!

Autumn Slaw

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Time: 20 minutes
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups kale, cut or shredded thin
  • ½ a purple cabbage, shredded
  • 1 bulb fennel, sliced thin
  • 1 cup Brussels Sprouts, shredded
  • Seeds of 1 pomegranate
  • ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt and Pepper

Directions:

Add the kale, cabbage, fennel, Brussels Sprouts, and pomegranate seeds all together. Whisk together the apple cider vinegar, mustard, honey, oil, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Pour over the slaw and mix with your hands, massaging the slaw until tender.

You can also divide slaw into containers, make dressing in container, and only toss when ready to eat.

7 Johnny La Pasta Recipes To Make This Fall

Fall is here in all its glory! I, like so many others, adore this cozy and colorful season (even if Southern California still gets random Summer heatwaves).There is something special about this time of the year, you can just feel it in the air, and what’s more, you can taste it in the food! Fall centric food is definitely my favorite; the warming flavors and seasonal ingredients, it’s all so good!

I have several recipes of mine that are perfect for this time of year; a few of them even embody Autumn themselves! And as we move ever into October, I thought it would be nice to consolidate all those recipes in one place for you to peruse, study, and cook! So, here are 7 Johnny La Pasta Recipes you should make this Fall!

(1) Stuffed Acorn Squash

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My Stuffed Acorn Squash is the foodie personification of Autumn! Sweet and warming acorn squash contrasted and complimented by a stuffing of spicy Italian sausage, crisp celery and onions, tart green apples, crunchy bread crumbs, and earthy sage. All topped with melted Havarti Cheese. This is my favorite Fall recipe.

(2) Vegan Cauliflower, Mushroom, and Red Bean Chili

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A Vegan’s delight! This Chili is so hearty and rich while being completely plant-based! One of my most popular recipes!

(3) Butternut, Brussels, and Bacon Pizza

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My Butternut, Brussels, and Bacon Pizza  is THE Pizza of Fall! Roasted Butternut Squash and Brussels Sprouts, Crisped Bacon Pieces, Caramelized Onions, and Balsamic Sauce make this one incredible gourmet, artisan pizza!

(4) Garlic Rosemary Chicken

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Garlic Rosemary Chicken – the simplest and most flavorful roast chicken recipe ever! My go to especially in Fall and Winter! Healthy and hearty all at once!

(5) Johnny’s Tomato Soup

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A hearty and healthy Tomato Soup that feeds both the body and the soul. This soup is made hearty in flavor by bold rosemary and bay leaf, and is made creamy by pureed cannellini beans that also add a punch of protein. Mindless to prepare, easy on the wallet, and tasty to the tongue!

(6) Easy Bolognese

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Nothing is more comforting than a bowl of pasta with Bolognese sauce; and no recipe is easier than this!

(7) Vegan Pumpkin Nice Cream

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My Vegan Pumpkin Nice Cream is the perfect healthy Fall dessert! Just a few ingredients for this nutritious treat!

Friend-time Activities That Aren’t Just Drinks and Dinner

I love getting together to catch up with my friends over drinks and/or dinner, it’s one of my favorite ways to see my friends and spend my free time. At the same time, however, there are only so many dinner slots in our schedules to dedicate to friend meetups. Also, drinks and dinners add up fast from a cost perspective (amiright or what?) So in an effort to inspire more friend get-togethers because it is a part of a healthy and happy lifestyle, here are some other friend-time activities that aren’t just drinks and dinner that you can enjoy with those special humans you decided you liked enough to keep around for a while!

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