Saturday, February 19, 2011

Today is my son's birthday

My little angel is 24 years old, and a head taller than me.  He eats like Adam Richman during a Man v. Food marathon, and in my son's world, Man always wins.  Since I love to cook, it's fortunate that he loves to eat. 

Today is also a birthday of another sort - it is the birth day of a new blog.  The idea came to me after months of posting cooking updates on my Facebook page, with very positive feedback.  This blog will allow me to concentrate my food-focused efforts in one easy-to-access location, without interruption from the free form fun of Facebook. 

If you know me, or you are a Facebook friend, you already know my routine.  I shop and cook on the weekend, and I cook BIG.  Several different dishes for variety, and enough to last us the week.  During the week our schedules are crazy, so having prepared food ready to be reheated in the microwave is the closest I can come to a hot, home-cooked meal.  I've had no complaints.

What you probably don't know is that I usually shop without a list.  Instead, I head into my favorite supermarket and look for inspiration.  Admittedly I am not good about keeping up with printed ads and the last time I used a coupon I was shopping at Waldbaum's in Howard Beach.  But I am still a really good shopper, checking prices, unit prices, ingredients, weights and stuff like that.

So today, I headed into Publix with a vague idea of wanting to recreate a peanut chicken dish I'd enjoyed at an office potluck the week before.  We started to do office potlucks once a month, to celebrate any birthdays during that month.  I brought a stuffed pepper dish and tortellini with broccoli, mac and cheese style.  My friend Terry brought that awesome peanut chicken stir fry that her son Chase had whipped up, from memory, as his recipes were all in storage.  Terry knew that peanut butter, teriyaki sauce, and honey were involved, so I looked through some of my recipes, found something similar, and walked into the market with a very short list committed to memory.  I knew I had most of the stuff at home.

I started up the aisles, following a path as deeply ingrained in my brain as the words to the Pledge of Allegiance:  head to the right and peruse the BOGOs.  Cruise past the deli, check out the bakery, and head straight into the big times:  the meat department.  Here is where the rubber meets the road, because if I start to hyperventilate when I see the price, I'm not buying it.  In case you haven't shopped lately, beef is a sticker shock item.  If my late mother ever saw the price for brisket, a tough cut of meat that needs to be cooked a good two hours, she would die all over again.  I can't tell you the last time I bought beef that wasn't ground.  But at the end of my travels, based on what was reasonably available, I settled on three dishes:  that peanut chicken stir fry, which I plan to serve with angel hair pasta; a smoked pork shoulder, to be served with brussel sprouts, tiny potatoes, tiny onions, and a small rutabaga; and a paella that is, as I write this, bringing a tear to my husband's eye.

I'm not going to kid you, paella is a pricey dish.  Although chicken and rice are basic to the recipe, so are shrimp and clams and mussels, and seafood is not a cheap buy.  But today, Dave the Fish Guy had clams at a sale price, large white shrimp, peeled and deveined, at a sale price, and - this was the kicker - ROCK SHRIMP, SHELL OFF, ON SALE.  If you've never tasted rock shrimp, you are missing a treat.  The best shrimp creole I ever made was with rock shrimp ... but that's another recipe.  Problem is, rock shrimp is not readily available outside of Brevard County, and since I don't work there anymore, I have to await their rare appearance at my fish counter.  A little word of advice:  don't ever try to shell these little morsels on your own.  While the lobster-like texture and taste are worth it, your hands are going to look like they took a short, painful trip through the meat-grinder.  Check them out - rock shrimp are to the left, regular white shrimp on the right.

The nice thing about paella is that you can tweak the ingredients to fit your budget.  You don't need to use all the same seafood I used today; if something different is on sale, use it.  Or not.  Increase the chicken, decrease the shrimp. Use a different type of smoked sausage, or cubed cooked ham, or leftover cubed pork, instead of the chorizo.  Experiment.  Enjoy.

The recipe for Inspiration Nation Paella can be found here.

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