Macaron Party

About a year ago, a friend and I decided to make macarons in preface to a group dinner party.  After reading through the recipe when she showed up, it was one of those moments where I realized exactly how much of a production macaron making could be.   The macarons turned out… okay — I mean, they were pink and tasted good, but if we’re being perfectionists, the shells had started to crack and they weren’t exactly sized very evenly.

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A year later, in my own kitchen, we decided to celebrate that same friend’s birthday by doing macarons part deux.  This time I assiduously studied allll the steps, read them a few times through, printed out the directions and made notes.  It was like prepping for finals.

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I aged the whites, made sure we had all the pastry bags and tips and even made an extra filling (chocolate ganache) instead of the one that was in the recipe I’d read.  Food Nouveau has a wonderful recipe that has step by step instructions on how to make the perfect macaron.

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I basically used this one but added some vanilla extract, and then used both buttercream and dark chocolate ganache fillings.

I didn’t quite manage to capture all the steps since I was rather nervous about making sure the eggs white peaks did not collapse and that the shells didn’t crack while baking.

But the rest of the baking went well and the macarons were so good that we couldn’t stop eating them!

Ingredients

3 egg whites (from large eggs), separated at least 24 hours in advance and kept in the refrigerator
210 g powdered sugar
125 g almond meal
30 g regular granulated sugar

Directions

  1. Measure the powdered sugar and almond meal and put them in the bowl of your food processor. Finely grind the two together for a minute or two. Stop the processor, scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl, and process again for a minute.
  2. Put the egg whites in a cold stainless steel bowl. Start beating them at medium/high speed with your mixer. Once they start to get bubbly and white and you see the whisk is lightly leaving marks, add a tablespoon of the granulated sugar.
  3. Continue beating and add the remaining sugar slowly over the next minute or two. The eggs will now be white and fluff but not stiff enough. Continue beating at high speed until peaks form.
  4. Fold the dry ingredients into the egg whites, slowly a bit at a time.
  5. Transfer the batter into a pastry bag with a 1/2″ tip, and pipe into 1″ circles on a parchment sheet covered baking sheet.  Let them rest for at least 20 minutes.
  6. Preheat oven to 300 degrees.  Once the maracons have rested for 20 minutes, bake for 14 minutes.
  7. Let the macarons rest for at least 10-15 minutes out of the oven, and then fill with whichever filling you would like!

Adapted from Food Nouveau.

Lamb Tagine with Chickpeas and Cilantro

One day I will buy myself a fancy tagine (or even not so fancy tagine).  But realistically speaking that’s not going to happen until my kitchen doubles, and for now I’ve been content to make braises and slow cook the heck out of meat in my Staub Dutch oven.  lamboncouscous2

I had a hankering for cooking something that wasn’t just chicken or beef, and so Matt suggested lamb, which of course triggered a rabbit hole search on some of my favorite recipe sources — Food52 and Epicurious.

Lamb browning

Since I trust Epicurious ratings, it was pretty easy to narrow it down to this delicious looking tagine.  Slow cooked all day and with some cilantro thrown on top, it was so good that I was only sad that we hadn’t doubled the recipe.  The original recipe called for a spice blend that I did not have on hand, but I had a Baharat mixture that I made a while ago and just stored for all my Moroccan recipes and so I tossed that in instead.  I also did not have quite enough dried apricots (time for a Nuts.com order!) but I did have a bunch of golden raisins on hand and threw those in.  The result?  Fantastic.

cilantro

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup dried chickpeas
  • 5 garlic cloves (2 whole, 3 chopped)
  • 1 large cinnamon stick, broken in half
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 pounds 1″ cubes lamb shoulder
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 5 teaspoons Baharat spice blend
  • 1 tablespoon chopped peeled ginger
  • 1 cup canned diced tomatoes with juices
  • 2 1/2 cups (or more) low-salt chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup halved dried apricots (or golden raisins)
  • Steamed couscous
  • Chopped fresh cilantro

Directions

  1. Place chickpeas in a medium saucepan. Add water to cover by 2″. Let soak overnight.
  2. Drain chickpeas; return to same saucepan. Add 2 whole garlic cloves and cinnamon stick. Add water to cover by 2″. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium and simmer until chickpeas are tender, about 45 minutes. Drain; set aside.
  3. Meanwhile, heat oil in a large heavy pot over medium-high heat. Season lamb with salt and pepper. Working in batches, brown lamb on all sides, about 4 minutes per batch. Transfer lamb to a medium bowl. Add onion to pot; reduce heat to medium, season with salt and pepper, and sauté until soft and beginning to turn golden, about 5 minutes. Add chopped garlic, Baharat , and ginger. Stir for 1 minute. Add tomatoes and lamb with any accumulated juices. Bring to a boil. Add 2 1/2 cups stock. Return to a boil, reduce heat to low, partially cover, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until lamb is tender, about 1 hour 30 minutes.
  4. Stir in chickpeas; simmer until heated through, about 10 minutes. Stir in apricots; simmer until heated through, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
  5. Spoon couscous onto a large, shallow platter, forming a large well in center. Spoon tagine into center. Sprinkle cilantro over.

Adapted from Epicurious

Who doesn’t LOVE cookies?

sugar cookies

My mother was terrific baker and as children, we were fortunate to come home from school with a plate of homemade cookies always on hand with a glass of milk. The first thing I ever recall really baking on my own were walnut nut balls that I sent to my brother at college. They were essentially all butter, some sugar and walnuts. I’m sure there were other ingredients but I have long since lost the recipe. I do recall however, that all of his roommates looked forward to his packages from home.

I find that I don’t bake cookies as often as I used to, but the other day I had a yen for a really nice sugar cookie. Not the bendy, squishy kind and not the totally crispy kind. Well my recipe fits the bill and no matter how inexperienced you are or how small your kitchen, these cookies can be whipped up in less than an hour. You bring the milk – I’ve got the cookies!

Old Fashioned Sugar Cookies

Yields: 2 dozen cookies

Ingredients:

2 sticks of unsalted butter, at room temperature

3/4 cup of granulated sugar (I always store my sugar in a glass jar with a few whole vanilla beans tucked in it)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 large egg

zest of one large lemon

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

2.5 cups of all purpose unbleached flour

1 egg yolk and 1 Tablespoon of cream or milk, lightly beaten

Sanding sugar (Large grain sugar)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. While you can make this by hand, they will have a better texture if you use a standing mixer. Cream the butter and sugar and then add the vanilla, egg, and lemon zest. Mix well.
  3. Sift the dry ingredients together and slowly add them to the butter mixture, until well blended.
  4. On a cookie sheet covered with parchment or a Silpat, scoop out 1 large Tablespoon of dough. A cookie scoop is really handy to own and works great at getting your cookies even in size.  sugar cookies1
  5. Press the dough flat with your fingers or the heel of your hand. You can also use a glass but dip it in sugar so it won’t stick.
  6. Brush the tops with the egg/cream mixture and generously sprinkle the sanding sugar on top. IMAG0620You could use colored sugar or granulated sugar if you don’t want to buy sanding sugar. Bake for 14-15 minutes – just until golden.
  7. Leave on the pan for 2 minutes so everything sets up before removing to a cooling rack.

Chana Dal Kichadi

I love making the Chicken with Spices recipe, and to be honest, I’ve only ever served it over this delicious mix of chana dal and short grain rice.

chanadal precook

But then again, it’s so good, so why change up a good thing when you’ve got it!  It’s to the point that we refer to the entire meal as just “Chicken and Chana Dal” and we know that it means making these two recipes.

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This would also pair nicely with any other roasted chicken or white fish dish with some roasted vegetables.

Ingredients

¼ cup chana dal (can be ordered from Lisa and my favorite purveyor of dried goods, nuts.com)
¾ cup short grain brown rice
1 tablespoon oil or butter
4 whole cloves
1 clove chopped garlic
1 fresh green chili, chopped (optional)
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon turmeric powder
3 cups water

1. Mix the dal and rice together in a bowl and thoroughly wash under running water

2. Drain the rice and dal and put aside.

3. In a medium-to-large pot heat the oil or butter over a low temperature.

4. Add the whole cloves, chopped garlic and the optional green pepper (for added

zest)

5. After 2 minutes or so, the cloves will begin to swell and release a sweet fragrance.

6. Immediately add the washed and rained rice and dal mixture.

7. Stir with a fork for 5 minutes and hten add the salt and turmeric

8. Tir for another 3 minutes to mix in all the salt and turmeric

9. Now add the water and cook covered over a low temperature for 45-50 minutes
until both grains are quite soft.

From Lisa!

Chicken Curry with Spices

One of the meals that I ate at Lisa’s that has now made it into our regular rotation has been this chicken with spices recipe.  I love finding new ways to eat chicken and this curried version with spices and coconut milk really hits the spot for when you’re in the mood for a comforting dish with a flavor kick.

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While the original recipe calls for fresh spices, I must confess that I have yet to find fresh coriander at my local grocery store, so I’ve instead just stocked up on a bunch of spices (dried). (Update: Lisa tells me that fresh coriander is just cilantro.  Never too late to learn!) It’s funny because when I first started cooking, I’d look at recipes and think, 1 tsp of turmeric, that’s it? Or 1/4 tsp of all spice? When will I ever use it again?

cookingonions

But in the course of cooking meals from a similar genre, I’ve ended up using all those spices up in due time and feeling quite satisfied with my bursting spice cabinet (by which I mean my shelf in my cabinet that can barely hold all my spices!)

spices

In any event, this recipe is quite straightforward and delicious, and pairs nicely over some Chana Dal Kichadi with some dry Rosé, or surprisingly, a Pinot Noir.

Ingredients

2 tablespoons corn oil
3 medium onions, sliced thinly (1 ½ cups)
3 garlic cloves, put through a press
1 inch of fresh gingerroot (or I use pre-chopped ginger that you can get in a jar in the store)
3-4 fresh hot red chilies to taste, seeded but whole
2 cardamom pods
2 whole cloves
2 peppercorns
1 cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
2 ripe tomatoes, sliced thin or an equal amount canned (1 cup)
¼ teaspoon ground turmeric
1 chicken, 3 lbs cut into 8 serving pieces
¼ cup chopped fresh coriander (or 2 tbsp ground coriander)
14 oz. can coconut milk
Juice of 1 lemon, 2-3 tablespoons

1. Heat the oil in a pan add the onions and sitr-fry over moderate heat until they are golden brown. Add the garlic, ginger, chilies, cardamom, cloves, peppercorns, cinnamon and salt. Continue to stir-fry for 3 minutes more. Add the tomatoes and turmeric and mix well for 2 minutes.

2. Add the chicken and fresh coriander and stir for 3 minutes until the chicken changes color. Pour in the coconut milk and bring to a boil.

3. Reduce heat to low, cover the pan, and simmer for 40 minutes, stirring
occasionally, until the chicken is tender and the sauce has thickened. Stir in the lemon juice.

This curry does have ample sauce.

Serve hot with rice, salad and cooked vegetables. Serves 6 (or 4 very hungry people).

Adapted from Lisa!

Greek Red Lentil Soup

finished red lentil soupThe days are so changeable now. One day its 90 and humid and the next it’s in the 60s. Soup is the perfect meal for days like that and this simple, and very flavorful Greek red lentil soup is vegan and totally satisfying. However, if you wish to add some sausage to it or a dollop of Greek yogurt when serving it, I certainly won’t complain. All this needs is good bread and a simple green salad. This soup is so quick and delicious, I have even made it before leaving the house for work! What’s not to love? Afterall, Esau sold his birthright for a bowl of these delicious lentils.

Greek Red Lentil Soup adapted from soup served at George’s Restaurant in Astoria, NY

Yield: 6 -8 first course servings or 4 dinner servings

Ingredients:

2 Tablespoons EVOO

1 large onion, chopped (1 cup)

2-3 cloves of garlic, minced

Kosher salt and cracked black pepper to taste

2 carrots diced or cut into rounds about 1/8 inch thick (about 1 cup)

2 stalks celery, sliced thinly or diced (about 1 cup)

4 cups vegetable stock or chicken stock

1 cup water

2 bay leaves

1.5 cups dried red lentils, picked through and rinsed (try to buy the really small red lentils, although either large or small will work) dried red lentils

1 28 ounce can or 1 large box of Pomi chopped tomatoes, with the liquid

1 teaspoon dried basil, crushed

1 teaspoon dried thyme, crushed

Fresh basil leaves or fresh thyme for serving (optional)

Directions:

  1. In a 5-6 quart pot with a lid, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and saute until translucent – about 3 minutes
  2. Add the garlic, salt and pepper and saute for another 3 minutes, stirring occasionally (How much salt you use will depend on several factors: tomatoes and celery are high in natural sodium and I use unsalted stock. I don’t like things heavily salted becasue I want to taste the food not the salt. However, your tastes may be different and you may use stock that is already salted. You can always add salt later.)
  3. Add the celery and carrot and saute for another 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. lentil soup stage 1
  4. Add the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover the pot partially and simmer for 35 minutes, or until the lentils and vegetables are tender. Remove the bay leaves before serving.

NOTE: The soup is ready to go at this point, but if you are serving it as a first course to company and you want it to be a bit more elegant, take an immersion blender (thank you Matthew and Frances for that wonderful GIFT!) and puree the soup to the desired consistency. You can do this in a blender but make certain that the soup is cool and you do this in batches. I learned the hard way about the mess that blending hot soup can make. Garnish with fresh basil leaves or fresh thyme if you have it.

Peach, Tomato and Mint Salad

When I first started cooking, I was enchanted by the idea of “Oh! It’s rhubarb season” or “Oh! It’s butternut squash season!”  Having grown up in California, also known as the land of plenty, it was so strange to start cooking on the East Coast where there was one time of year that butternut squash “made sense” to cook.  A few years snowy winters and melting summers, the whole food and season connection finally makes sense to me.

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For example, I spent the last couple of months waiting for rhubarb season, only to go on vacation for much of June and coming back to find that the rhubarbs had moved on (without me!).  So when I started reading that “it’s the last of peach season” I hurriedly ran out to the store and stocked up on peaches.  I’m already dreaming up peach cobblers and peach cakes but for today, I thought a simple peach and tomato salad with some fresh mint leaves would be a nice starter for a steak dinner.

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It’s so easy to throw together, and the blue cheese and mint add some nice flavor.

Ingredients

3 tomatoes
2 peaches
1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese
2 tbsp sliced mint leaves
2 tbsp olive oil
pepper to taste

Slice tomatoes and peaches into wedges.  Add the blue cheese, mint leaves and toss with olive oil.  Add pepper to taste.

Serves 2 for starters

Heirloom Tomatoes and Grilled Vegetables

Grilled Vegetables with Fresh Herbs

So even though I may be planning for the holidays, we still have to eat everyday meals until then. I have some beautiful heirloom tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, zucchini and Yukon Gold potatoes and fresh herbs in pots and when you have gorgeous vegetables (or fish) I always think it is a shame to hide these under sauces. I enjoy a good sauce as much as anyone, but let’s face it, sauces came about to make less than the best quality ingredients edible. When I have really fresh fish, I just want to grill it with a generous squeeze of lime, salt, pepper and a bit of EVOO. Well, I feel the same way about vegetables and grilling them with some EVOO is the best way to bring out that wonderful flavor when they are at the height of the growing season. You can do this on an outdoor grill or you can buy a simple non-stick grilling pan like I have and do it right on your range. There is no recipe. Simply slice your vegetables in a way that looks nice and so the slices are between a 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. Drizzle them generously (but don’t drown them) with olive oil, sprinkle on some Kosher salt or sea salt and a bit of cracked pepper. Put them in the hot grill pan which has also been drizzled with olive oil and cook them for a few minutes on each side, watching them until they take on some nice grill marks. Adjust your heat as necessary so they don’t burn. Take them off the grill pan when they are finished and generously sprinkle them with whatever herbs you  have on hand and happen to like, Tonight, mine have some lemon thyme, oregano, French lavender and flat-leaf parsley.

Once they are ready, you can serve them over pasta or rice and leftovers are wonderful in sandwiches, especially with some goat cheese. But tonight, they will be served with crusty bread, drizzled with a Sciabica flavored olive oil (thank you, Frances, for introducing me to this wonderful source for olive oils and vinegars!) and thick slices of heirloom tomatoes with nothing but a good sprinkling of Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper. If you are not a vegan, a slice of fresh mozzarella wouldn’t go amiss.   Heirloom tomatoes

Tips for stress-free High Holidays – Part 1

apple and honeyWhen it comes to holidays, I’m a planner. I love everything about the holidays whether they are secular or religious. I admit it – I’m one of those people who has decorations for every holiday, which I have collected over 30 + years of marriage. For me, the planning and preparation is almost as much fun as the actual day itself. And one of the ways I make it as stress-free as possible is that I plan ahead. My husband says that I am like a general going into battle and there is no last minute craziness. With my small kitchen I HAVE to be thoughtful. I don’t usually have much help and frankly there isn’t even room for another person working in the kitchen. I do dream of a bigger kitchen some day where Frances and grandchildren/godchildren are working together alongside me, but I’m not there yet.

My husband does most of the cleaning and when Matthew and Frances are visiting they always do most of the clean-up. I don’t have outside cleaning help, but if I had to do one splurge to make things ready, that would be worth it to me.

It is just a little over two weeks out before we enter into what my brother refers to as the Super Bowl of Judaism – otherwise known as the High Holidays. For me, the new year always is September (very occasionally, it’s October because Judaism follows the lunar calendar). I collect and read cookbooks the way other people read novels and I also have about 10 years worth of Gourmet Magazines to go through that are bound and belonged to my mother. I never like to do things exactly the same because frankly its boring for me. On the other hand, everyone has their favorites and it just wouldn’t be the holidays if I didn’t include them. This isn’t just about you dazzling people – it’s about making your guests feel comfortable and happy.

The first decision you have to make is who to invite. It’s not a question of just how much food to make, but where will everyone sit and who is or isn’t speaking to whom. We are in a good place in our family where everyone currently gets along, but I still like to know who will help make conversations interesting and who won’t. With families, you kind of have to invite everyone, so is there anyone else you can add to the mix? Will there be children? Does anyone have serious food allergies or other issues? Do you have enough chairs, silverware, dishes etc. for a sit-down meal for everyone? Will it even be a sit-down meal? Preparing for a fun dinner party- no matter what the occasion – is a bit like making Chinese food. There is a great deal of preparation so that the actual presentation can appear effortless and you as the host or hostess can sit down and enjoy yourself as well.

Some people are into pot-luck for the holidays or assigning dishes for others to bring. I do let others bring wine and my nephew is a good cook so I periodically have him bring something, but he works full-time and has two young children so I like to give him a break. And this year, he and my niece are hosting one night of the holiday at their house.  Frances would make something fabulous, but when she visits she is coming from New York and the last thing I want is for her to be shlepping food – even if she could. And if I am being really honest, I like quality control and this is one of the opportunities I have to go all out. If on the other hand, you are inviting people who you know are good cooks, by all means have them bring things.

When making your menu, especially for a holiday, there are a few things to keep in mind: variety, texture, appearance, traditions, storage space for make-ahead items and quantities. At Thanksgiving, I always pray for really cold weather so I can use my terrace as an extra refrigerator! I have also been known to borrow refrigerator space from a neighbor who neither cooks nor entertains. You do what ya gotta do to make it work.

Tomorrow – choosing your menu.

Chicken and Vegetable Paella

Yes, I know, we’ve already posted on paella, but during the summer months there’s nothing like making paella in one of its many variations and having it outside on the deck with a nice glass of wine.

paella_usethis

After making our seafood paella last time, we couldn’t help but thinking that we’d like it much better in a former variation, with chicken and vegetables!  I think the variety of ingredients is what we craved, but in any case we made it again.

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It’s become a lazy Sunday afternoon tradition to eat this later in the day, after reading the paper or going to the gym in the morning.  We’ll start cooking around 1 and by the time it’s ready, it’s appropriately late enough for “Spanish” lunch, and reminds us of our leisurely days in Southern Spain when we first came encountered this lovely dish.

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You can really add whatever vegetables that seem good, which is why so many are optional in the list.  The other thing that makes this relatively easy to make is to buy some of the vegetables pre-cut or jarred (I know, it sounds like what do you mean you don’t buy it all fresh?! But honestly, it saves time and still tastes amazing.)  The real key to a truly good and authentic paella is to ensure that you let it cook enough at the end to get a true “soccarat” – or that crispy burned layer on the bottom.

Ingredients

  • 4.5 cups unsalted chicken broth (if using bomba rice, else use 3 cups)
  • 1.5 cups bomba rice (great for paella)
  • Pinch of saffron threads
  • 2 heads of garlic, crushed or just cook the cloves
  • 1/2 onion coarsely grated on a box grater
  • 1.5 lb chicken breast, cut into 1-2″ pieces
  • 6 oz chorizo slices into rounds
  • 12 oz green beans, trimmed
  • 1 tomato grated on a box grater (or just 1/2 cup of chopped or crushed tomatoes from box or can, I like the Pomi box tomatoes)
  • 1/2 12 oz jar of roasted red peppers (optional)
  • 1/2 can of chickpeas (optional)
  • 1 jar of artichoke hearts (optional)

Directions

  1. Saute the chicken in olive oil in the paella pan for about 8-10 minutes on Medium heat until it looks cooked through.  Remove chicken from the pan and place in a separate plate and cover with foil.
  2. Take the crushed garlic and let it cook for about 3 minutes, and then add the green beans and artichokes and cook until soft but not wilted, about 8-10 minutes.  Remove green beans from the pan and put on another plate and cover with foil.
  3. Make the sofrito: Reduce the heat to medium and saute the onion and garlic until the onion softens, about 5 min.  Add the tomato, season with salt, and cook, stirring often, until the mixture has darkened to a deep burgundy and is thick like a compote, 15-20 minutes.  If it starts to stick to the pan or burn, add a little water.
  4. Add the rice and cook: Bring the broth to a simmer.  Add the rice to the pan with the sofrito, and cook for 1 – 2 minutes.  Raise the heat to medium-high.  Pour in 3 cups of the broth (reserve the rest) and stir or shake the pan to evenly distribute the rice.  Arrange the chicken, chorizo, green beans, chickpeas , roasted red peppers and artichoke hearts (if using) in the pan, submerging them as much as possible below the level of the liquid.  From this point on, do not stir the rice.
  5. Simmer vigorously, moving the pan over one and two burners to distribute the heat and to cook the rice as evenly as possible.  When the rice is at the same level as the liquid, after 8-10 min., reduce the heat to medium low.
  6. Continue to simmer more gently, rotating the pan as necessary, until the liquid has been absorbed, about 10 min. more.  Taste a grain just below the top layer of rice; it should be al dente, with a tiny white dot in the center.  (If the rice is not done but all the liquid has been absorbed, add a bit of broth and cook a few minutes more.)
  7. Create the socarrat: Increase the heat to medium-high and, rotating the pan, cook for about 2 min., until the bottom layer of rice starts to caramelize, creating a socarrat.  The rice will crackle, but if it starts to smell burned, remove the pan from the heat immediately.
  8. Let the paella rest: Remove the pan from the heat.  Cover loosely with foil or a clean kitchen towel and let the paella rest for 5 min. to even the cooking and let the flavors meld.
  9. Serve: Set the paella pan in the center of a table, remove the foils and dig in!  (Optional: Squeeze lemon on pan for taste.)

(serves 4 or 2 very hungry people, based on a 14″ paella pan)

Adapted from La Paella of www.paellapans.com