We are three sisters united in our search for the divine - in food, libation, literature, art, and nature. This blog will capture the true, sometimes decadent, at times humorous, and every so often transcendent adventures of the Salvation Sisters.

Friday, August 21, 2015

San Francisco's Amazing Legion of Honor and the High Style Exhibit — Mark's Best Ever Paella

My Traveling Tales by Linda

"Have pity, mean girl. I can't go on. I can't go another day without seeing you. Atrocious madness, it's the end, I won't be able to work anymore. Malevolent goddess, and yet I love you furiously." 
                                                                       —Auguste Rodin writing to his lover Camille Claudel

Maddie's first look at The Thinker by Auguste Rodin in the courtyard of the Legion of Honor. 
   Directly after an amazing Dim Sum experience at Ton Kiang that I wrote about last week, we hopped in my car and drove a few short blocks to the Legion of Honor which is part of the fine arts museums of San Francisco. It took us all of about four minutes to get there and find a parking space. We had discovered online that there was a special exhibit showing called High Style, and it was entering its last weekend before folding and moving on.

   Always excited by the prospect of enjoying an afternoon at the museum, Michelle and I were pleased by the chance to have Maddie experience the cultural wonders housed within. She had not visited since she was a baby, and was spoon-fed lunch on the lawn many years ago. If the weather is mild this is the perfect picnic spot.

    The Thinker, arguably the most famous of the sculptures of Auguste Rodin, graces the entrance to this majestic courtyard and building. A large collection of Rodin's work is present among the permanent collection of this world-class museum along with 4,000 years of ancient and European art that is housed in a stunning Beaux Art palace. It was formerly called the Palace of the Legion of Honor, and I still prefer that title for this jaw-dropping building that is situated on a knoll that provides views of the Pacific Ocean and Golden Gate Bridge.

On this Friday in July, the exhibit High Style was just finishing its run at the Legion, and we were certainly game to join in with the other visitors that day in gawking and ooghing and aahing at the haute couture creations on display. Most of the dresses and gowns had been worn by famous models and actresses, and any lover of great design or anyone who has ever handmade a dress could marvel over these creations that all represented a couture house or a famous designer.

   The permanent collection of the museum is full of gorgeous gems. From classic sculpture and Greek urns, there is also a wide variety of European paintings and French decorative arts that grace beautiful galleries. All of this amazing art is housed in this magnificent building and on the grounds.

Maddie still retained some spark for further exploration at the end of the afternoon...
Michelle, however, had overdosed on beauty.
   Legion of Honor is a treasure that I am happy to have close access to. It is truly a wonder that one should not miss when in San Francisco. As part of the birthday festivities, Mark made his famous paella, which we dined on that night. It was just about as perfect as a day can be.

Mark's Best Ever Paella

   Until I met Mark, I was not an aficionado of paella. The times I had tried it previously, there was just no real flavor, although I have not tried Michelle's. We previously published her recipe that is perfect to serve to vegetarians. The various paellas that I had tried previously were bland affairs, and though they all had a mild seafood flavor, nothing really stood out as singular and special. That all changed when Mark started making paella for me. The rice and all the ingredients are strongly flavored, and blend into a magical one pan meal. We have a traditional pan, but we like this pan better when making it for a larger group. Sadly, Calphalon does not make it anymore, but if you have something similar it will work well.

From Mark — Since paella is one of Spain's most iconic dishes, I am drawn to the classic elements that make it so special. Paella is first and foremost a rice dish. So when I am making my paella, I always try to develop the flavor of the rice with all of the goodness from every ingredient in the dish. From the garlic to the shrimp, I want the rice to embody each element. This is why I cook the ingredients before the rice. The flavor of the ingredients of the dish are enhanced before the rice is added. Then the process of patiently coaxing all those flavors into the rice creates something much tastier than the individual parts. Also key, but is often the most challenging, is creating a "crust" on the bottom of the paella. This is truly a showcase of umami, which we know is that difficult to describe quality of savoriness in food.
   Lastly, paella is an exciting and celebratory dish. It is the "show" of a dinner party and the spotlight of a large gathering. I strive to make all my paella visually beautiful as well as flavorful. The vibrant and earthy colors supporting the balanced assembly of the delicious ingredients is a must. So, take your time with paella. Do not walk away. Celebrate being with friends or family and enjoy the color, the smell, and the incredible alchemy of flavors, and it also will be one of your favorite meals, as it is for me. Paella is traditionally complemented with a delicious Spanish Rioja. Salud!

A paella pan (something large, round and shallow)

2 lbs boneless chicken thighs with skin on
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 Spanish chorizo sausages (I used D'Artagnan) thickly sliced
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 Yellow onion, diced
4 fresh garlic cloves, crushed and finely chopped
Fresh minced garlic infused in olive oil
the leaves from one bunch of Italian parsley, roughly chopped (reserve some for garnish)
3 small ripe tomatoes, chopped
1 red bell pepper (remove seeds and dice)
4 cups short grain Spanish rice (or approximately two handfuls for each serving)
6 cups filtered water, warm
2 generous splashes of dry white wine
A generous pinch of saffron threads
1 teaspoon of dried thyme
1/2 tsp. of dried oregano
12 little neck clams, scrubbed
1 pound jumbo shrimp, peeled and de-veined
3/4 cup frozen sweet peas
Fresh lemon wedges

Prepare the minced garlic in olive oil ahead of time—it can even be made the day before.
1. Using a large, wide, low-sided braising pan or traditional paella pan, heat to medium high and add half of the olive oil.
2. Begin sautéing the onion, garlic and bell pepper. Season with salt and black pepper. Sweat the vegetables for a few minutes.
3. Add the chicken thighs and chorizo to the pan. As the meats begin to brown, add the shrimp and the clams.
4. Continue to stir the pan occasionally to keep things from sticking. Add the saffron threads to the mixture.
5. Add about 2 cups of water. Add the dried thyme and oregano. Continue cooking. When the meats and shellfish are nearly finished, begin removing everything but the vegetables and set aside.
6. Add the remaining water and the tomatoes to the pan. Add the rice to the pan and stir to incorporate all the flavorful liquid around the rice. Add the peas.

The shrimp and the shell fish are removed from the pan
once cooked. They wait for the final assembly.
7. Turn the heat down to a medium to medium low setting and allow rice to cook. Taste the liquid and season with salt and pepper if necessary.
8. Add the wine, and watch to see that the rice is cooking at a slow boil. Add a tablespoon or two of the fresh garlic oil to the blend now. This really pumps up the flavor.
9. When rice is nearly done (it should be slightly al dente, like a good risotto), turn the heat off on the pan and begin adding the meats first and then the seafood to the pan. (*drizzle in any run-off juices from the meats and seafood to the pan at this time). Add the remaining olive oil to the paella and sprinkle with parsley.
10. Turn the burner back on to medium-high heat to finish the paella with a classic, caramelized crust on the bottom of the dish. (usually about an extra 10-15 minutes. but watch carefully—do not burn it! Add tiny amounts of water if the paella is too dry. This is where practice pays off)
11. Set a tea towel over the top when finished and rest the paella another 10 minutes without heat.
12. Garnish with lemon wedges and additional parsley and serve. 

Don't let those delicious juices go to waste.
Mark adds a splash of white wine to the simmering pan.
Mark's finished paella is not only a visual feast, but it is full of flavor as well.

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