Tag Archives: Eat

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
  • Print

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.

Paella Selfie.jpg

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

Pasta Primavera

Sunday March 20th 2016 marked the bringing of another spring!

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YAY Spring is here!

Traditionally for the Spring Equinox, I always make my Pasta Primavera, and this past equinox was no exception. Pasta Primavera is a traditional Italian dish – Primavera means spring in Italian – and this dish is made all throughout the spring to celebrate the fresh produce that has come into season and harvest after the winter. I love making Pasta Primavera because it is simple, it is elegant, it supports seasonal eating, and it is actually quite healthy since it is loaded with lots of fresh vegetables and herbs.

food jennifer lawrence

Because a season change just means an excuse to eat more foods.

Sound good? I know you want to make it. Great! Well, you should make MY recipe for Pasta Primavera. Whereas many other recipes for this springtime dish call for boiling, steaming, or sauteing the vegetables within it, I roast them to really intensify the flavors because roasting brings out the best in vegetables. I also add goat cheese to this dish to bring a bright tang that I think is indicative of spring which gives the dish a slight richness and definite creaminess.

It is so simple and inexpensive, yet so fresh, bright, and absolutely delicious; I think you should definitely make my Pasta Primavera, and make it often! Buon Primavera!

Pasta Primavera

  • Servings: 3-4
  • Time: 30 minutes
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients:

  • 2 large broccoli crowns, cut into small florets
  • 1 red bell pepper, sliced and cut into 2 inch strips
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, sliced and cut into 2 inch strips
  • 2 large carrots, sliced and cut into 2 inch sticks
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 tablespoon crushed or minced garlic
  • 10 medium thick asparagus spears, cut to two inches
  • 15-20 sugar snap peas
  • 1 cup basil, julienned
  • ½ pound Farfalle (bowtie) pasta or other short cut pasta
  • 1-2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons Herbs de Provence
  • ¼ cup goat cheese
  • ¼ cup grated Parmesan Cheese
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 400̊F.

Arrange the broccoli, bell peppers, carrots, and cherry tomatoes on a large baking sheet. Drizzle with the olive oil, sprinkle with the salt, pepper, Herbs de Provence, and garlic. Toss until all the vegetables are well coated and spread into a single layer. Roast for 25-30 minutes, tossing once half way through, until vegetables are tender.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. In the last 1o-12 minutes of the vegetables cooking, add the pasta to the water and cook till al dente, about 10-12 minutes.In the last 2 minutes of the pasta cooking, add the asparagus and the sugar snap peas to the water with the pasta as well. Reserve 1 cup of the pasta water and drain the pasta, asparagus, and sugar snap peas.

Add the roast vegetables to a large pasta bowl, followed by the pasta. Add the goat cheese and parmesan cheese on top of the pasta and toss thoroughly until the cheeses melt and coat all the pasta and vegetables, using the pasta water as needed to help spread the cheese out. Toss in the basil.

Serve into individual pasta bowls and sprinkle with additional basil and parmesan cheese!

Mendocino Farms Sandwich Market Costa Mesa

On Wednesday December 2nd (aka Britney Spears’ Birthday, praise!) my colleagues and I went for our weekly “Lunch Bunch” outing to Mendocino Farms Sandwich Market in Costa Mesa, CA. When this restaurant was proposed as our lunch spot for the day, I really had no idea what it was. It was then pitched to me as a fast casual concept with an emphasis on local, seasonal, quality ingredient sandwiches and salads that are equally as healthy as they are tasty; “Sounds like my kind of place!” I said and with that we were off.

Mendocino Farms does two things – sandwiches and salads, that’s it! Sure, it’s only two categories, but what they do, they do WELL. Mendocino Farms sources the ingredients for their sandwiches and salads from local farmers, ranchers, and bakers who exercise best practices; the produce is fresh and often organic, the meat is free-range and vegetarian/grass-fed, and the bread is made with the best grains and baked fresh daily. And let’s not forget that the sandwiches and salads that are offered boast fantastic flavors and combinations.

The restaurant itself is both airy and earthy – very bright and welcoming. The kitchen is open for guests to see the culinary team in action. The décor has a definite artisan-feel with a big splash of health-emphasis. When you enter, you are greeted by the very friendly and helpful staff. They check to see if you have visited before, and if you haven’t, they give you an overview of the menu and their offerings. I really enjoy restaurants that have team members that speak with you about their offerings as it somehow makes you feel more connected to the food. In addition to explaining the menu, they also emphasize that they are very flexible when it comes to dietary preferences; gluten-free breads are available to substitute for other breads, they are more than happy to hold the cheese if you avoid dairy, and in general help you to order a meal that suites your tastes and needs.

A fast-casual restaurant, you order at the counter and then pick out your own table and wait for the food to be brought to you. What is really awesome, is that before you order, they are happy to offer you samples of the side salads and soups that they have available to add onto your meal so that way you can get a better feel for what you are ordering! Once you are seated, the food is brought to you on a small baking sheet and you are ready to enjoy lunch! Now, let’s get to what my colleagues and I had.

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The Blue Plate Special with Half Farm Club and the Healthiest Salad Ever

I ordered the Blue Plate Special -a ½ a sandwich with a side salad or cup of soup – with the Farm Club and the Healthiest Salad Ever. The Farm Club is masterfully comprised of local farm, free-range turkey breast, smashed avocado (always a yes), prime Applewood bacon, herb aioli, tomatoes, greens, pickled red onions and “Mom’s seeded whole wheat bread”. The bread was incredibly hearty and comforting while also remaining light, the vegetables fresh and full of their natural flavors, the avocado perfectly green, the bacon superbly crispy, and the turkey fantastically fresh and clean tasting. There was just the right amount of everything on this sandwich. The Healthiest Salad Ever included thinly sliced raw beets, ginger, carrots, and kale, black rice, golden raises, toasted hazelnuts, and chopped orange segments. It was sweet and refreshing, a perfect pairing with my sandwich. I was rather satisfied!

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Korubuta Pork Belly Banh Mi

Some of my colleagues were a bit more adventures than I was on this trip. A few of them tried the Korubuta Pork Belly Banh Mi; a play on a traditional Vietnamese sandwich, caramelized Korubuta Pork belly, a housemade pickled daikon (no idea what that is) and carrots, cilantro, cucumbers,  jalapenos, and chili on a panini ciabatta. Apparently, this sandwich was spicy and hearty all at once. A definitely good choice for meat lovers and Asian food lovers alike!

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Peruvian Steak Sandwich

The Peruvian Steak sandwich was another big hit! Spicy aji Amarillo marinated steak with Oaxacan cheese, herb aioli, red onions, tomatoes, and shredded romaine on a panini-pressed torta bun. Though I didn’t try, I was told that the steak was decadent and the premium ingredients all worked together to create a sandwich that was rich, perfectly spicy, and superbly satisfying!

Mendocino Farms Falafel

Enlightened Falafel Wrap

The Vegan Enlightened Falafel Wrap was one of the biggest winners of the day. This would probably be the one I would order the next time I return, and trust me; there will be a next time. This veggie friendly wrap is constructed from Mendocino’s housemade falafel-spiced V7 patty, Mendo’s classic hummus, a vegan tzatziki, grape tomatoes, shredded romaine, julienned cucumbers, pickled red onions wrapped in a panini pressed whole wheat tortilla. This was so fresh and zesty as well as fulfilling. It’s encouraging to see a restaurant have such great options for our vegan friends!

We also sampled sides of the various side salads. In addition my Healthiest Salad Ever, we tried the Curried Couscous and the Sriracha Potato Salad; both were surprisingly delicious! Could’ve eaten giant tubs of both! Keep in mind, some of Mendocino’s menu is seasonal and so some items may vary from time to time, but that’s part of the foodie fun!

In summary, our visit to Mendocino Farms was beyond satisfactory. It was so wonderful to find a fast-casual restaurant with a healthy vibe, foodie flare, and ethical practices. I will definitely be returning in the future for more tasty sandwiches!

For more information, visit Mendocino Farms’ website here: http://mendocinofarms.com/