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Friday, December 14, 2007

Cooking by the Numbers

Seafood paella: not my best effort in the kitchen.

Some of you probably think that I have nothing better to do than spend the day shopping for the many ingredients used in some of the Spanish dishes I cook. To this all I can say is “touché,” very perceptive of you (Note to self: take on even more hobbies to fill up gaps in my free-time). Shopping can sometimes interfere with my other free-time activities so even I must look for ways to make short cuts. I can still pull off some pretty good meals even when I don’t have time to shop thanks to the packaged arreglos, or arrangements they sell in Spain.

An arreglo de flores is a flower arrangement in Spanish and these arreglos are arrangements of ingredients needed for certain Spanish dishes. To make Cocido Madrileño there are separate arrangements available in supermarkets for vegetables and meat combinations that go into this dish. There are also arrangements available for baked rice, traditional paella with rabbit and chicken, puchero (Valencia’s idea of cocido), as well as frozen arrangements which are handy during the off season for certain vegetables.

The butcher shops and vegetable stalls at the market are only too happy to make you a custom arreglo for whatever it is you are cooking, but there are times when I just don’t feel like going to the market, or I get the urge to make something after the market has already closed (usually by about 2:30 in the afternoon). For my first seafood paella, or paella de mariscos, I chose to use a frozen seafood arrangement I bought at the big supermarket by my apartment. I wasn’t quite sure if I would be able to pull this off properly so I didn’t want to spend a lot of time and money buying the seafood ingredients at the fish market.

This arrangement comes pre-packed and frozen with clams, mussels, whole shrimp, and squid. It’s easy enough to make as you just sauté the green beans in the paella pan, add fish stock along with the contents of the arreglo and bring to a boil. Then you are the rice and peas and simmer until the stock has all been cooked off—call it “seafood paella for dummies.” It wasn’t exactly my most shining moment in the kitchen but it wasn’t bad. I can’t see myself making seafood paella very often because I much prefer the traditional Valencia paella with chicken and rabbit.

Another time-saving trick that every self-respecting Spaniard knows about is the Fabada Asturiana and Cocido Madrileño available in cans made by Litoral.® I’ll bet that there is at least one can of this in every kitchen in Spain for those food emergencies when you are really hungry and don’t have time or the desire to cook. I used to have a can of the Fabada Asturiana on my shelf but I just had it for breakfast (something no Spaniard would attempt).

I have also bought pre-made tortillas that aren’t bad at all and certainly save a lot of time. It takes me at least 45 minutes to make a tortilla de patatas. I enjoy making this dish so much that I rarely lower myself to buy a pre-made model, but it’s nice to know that the store-bought ones are worth eating.

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