Paella is a rice-based dish that originated from Valencia, Spain.  Although we’ve never had the pleasure of eating truly authentic paella while actually in Spain, Dan’s favorite restaurant in Pittsburgh serves the best version 0f paella he’s ever tasted.  We’ve attempted this dish at home a couple of times, without much success until we found this recipe by celebrity chef Tyler Florence and tweaked it a bit to make it our own.  While not quite as good as the restaurant version, it’s a pretty close second, with rich flavors from the chicken and saffron-infused rice, a little spice from the chorizo and buttery sweetness from the lobster and shrimp.  This is a great recipe to make during the holiday season, whether you are entertaining friends or simply relaxing at home with loved ones.  It’s the kind of dish that invites family-style dining in a celebratory way.  Plus, it’s as delicious as it is festive.

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Turkey Barley Soup

If you’re planning on cooking a turkey this holiday season, an excellent use of the leftover meat and bones is turkey soup.  Rather than disposing of the turkey carcass when the holiday meal is over, it’s really easy to simmer the bones in a big pot with some veggies to make delicious turkey stock, which will serve as the base for this hearty soup.  We’ve posted instructions on how to make turkey stock before, and although it takes time to cook, it is well worth the (minimal) effort.  Simply place the turkey carcass and other bones in a large stock pot full of water, then simmer on the stove (or cook in the oven at 200 degrees) for about 6 hours.  Add 2 bay leaves, an onion, 2-3 ribs of celery, 2-3 carrots (roughly chop the veggies into big pieces) and about a teaspoon of cracked peppercorns to the pot and simmer on low for about 2 hours.  Drain the stock through a fine mesh strainer and discard all the bones and veggies.  Refrigerate the stock until you’re ready to use it (you can also portion out some of the stock to freeze for later use), or use it right away for the soup.  If you don’t have the time or inclination to make homemade turkey stock (but we highly recommend you do!), then you can use its lesser, not-as-flavorful cousin, chicken stock.  The other ingredients for this soup are simple:  olive oil, onion, carrots, celery, bay leaves, barley, leftover turkey meat, fish sauce (or soy sauce) and parsley for garnish.  Despite its simplicity, this soup is rustic and filling with dominant turkey flavor and interesting texture from the barley.

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Tomato Rice Pilaf

We love a good rice dish — from a simple rice side, to an herbed-up version, to a Louisiana staple.  It’s not always easy to find interesting ways to dress up plain rice, but Ina Garten came through for us yet again.  This recipe is in her book “Barefoot In Paris,” but as the Barefoot Contessa herself says, the dish is “probably as close to Italian cuisine in flavoring as it is to French…”  Rather than Italian or French food, this side dish actually reminded us of Spanish paella.  Regardless of its origins, this rice is flavor country, with richness from the saffron, chicken broth and Parmesan, as well as fresh notes from the tomatoes and parsley.

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Tilapia with Citrus Bagna Cauda

We try not to let the hustle and bustle of the holiday season prevent us from making an effort to cook at least a few healthy meals at home (although apparently we’re perfectly fine with it preventing us from writing blog posts — sorry!)  A home-cooked meal provides a sense of normalcy and comfort amidst all the decorating, shopping, wrapping, mailing, baking, etc. etc. of this time of year.  But it doesn’t have to be anything elaborate.  “Tilapia with Citrus Bagna Cauda” is a fancy name for a pretty simple fish dish.  “Bagna cauda” actually refers to a warm dip that is similar to fondue.  In this recipe, Giada De Laurentis gave the dip a citrus twist and turned it into a sauce for tilapia.  Genius.  And easy enough for a busy weeknight, with simple ingredients of butter, olive oil, orange juice, orange and lemon zest, anchovy fillets, garlic, basil and tilapia.

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Jalapeno Poppers

Tis the season!  Tis a lot of seasons actually:  football, holiday, holiday party and — at least around here — jalapeno.  We planted jalapeno plants in our garden a little late this year, so only recently harvested the ripened jalapenos.  (Just in the knick of time too, before we lost them to our first frost.)  We got a pretty decent crop and wanted to do something a little different with them.  Continuing our football season theme of trying to make various “bar foods” at home (see, e.g., wings and tater skins), we decided to try jalapeno poppers.  We found this recipe on the site and made a few changes to attempt to make it a teeny bit more healthy.  The jalapeno poppers turned out great and were easy to prepare.  They took some time start-to-finish, but according to reviewers of the original recipe, they can be assembled in advance (and frozen even), then cooked just prior to serving.  We think it’s the filling ingredients that make these poppers so good:  cream cheese, cheddar cheese and bacon.  We added some chopped up homemade pickled jalapenos for an extra kick (we used this recipe for amazing pickled jalapenos — not too spicy and not too pickly — just right.)  If you have access to good-sized jalapenos (little ones would be tricky to work with), we highly recommend these for any upcoming holiday (or football-watching) gatherings.

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Final Charcutepalooza Show-Down

Summer Sausage, Pork Belly Confit and Pate, oh my!  This is it — the very last Charcutepalooza challenge — “showing off,” in which we were tasked with putting the skills we’ve learned over the past year to work in a “celebration of all things charcuterie.”  It’s hard to believe that it’s been a whole year since we tied raw duck breasts to the handle of the shop-vac in our garage in order to transform them into prosciutto, and that initial challenge would not be the only time I questioned what the heck we had gotten ourselves into this year.  To be honest, I really didn’t think we would complete all 12 challenges — and there were months that I didn’t want to finish (Seafood Mousseline:  you and I will never be friends) — but sticking with it and sharing our experiences here has given us a sense of accomplishment each month, especially during this year in which we have struggled with a few other, life-related challenges.  As in life, there were a few disappointments along the journey (the duck prosciutto was not my favorite and I believe country pate is a taste I have yet to acquire), but also a couple of notable triumphs:  we crave duck confit like almost nothing else we’ve ever cooked, and homemade bratwurst beats the pants off the store-bought variety.  In addition to teaching us charcuterie techniques, this experience has also given us a greater appreciation for the satisfaction of making things from scratch at home (as well as a variety of new cooking toys and a freezer full of various home-cured meats to last well into the next year.)  More than anything else, participating in Charcutepalooza has forced us out of our comfort zone in the kitchen — both in terms of cooking and eating — and we will always be thankful to Mrs. Wheelbarrow and The Yummy Mummy for founding Charcutepalooza and encouraging culinary creativity.  We’ve enjoyed this “year of meat” and are a little sad to see it come to an end.

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