This post contains references to our experience with The Chef & The Dish. We may receive compensation when you click on links to its products.
How I ended up cooking with The Pioneer Woman‘s friend, Hyacinth, is an interesting story. When we bought a home where she lives in Pawhuska, Oklahoma, I wasn’t quite sure how we were going to fit into this small town of ranchers, Osage, and oilmen. Don’t get me wrong, the people had been incredibly hospitable on our previous visits there. But, would they welcome a couple Nebraskans who suddenly show up with a U-Haul and not a single pair of cowboy boots?
The answer is yes.
Pawhuska’s warm welcome
Pawhuskans, including Cyndi (Hyacinth) Kane, have made us feel very welcome here. We hadn’t been in Pawhuska long before Cyndi sent us a Facebook message (she had been following our blog) and invited Steve and me over to her place for dinner. She, her husband, John, and their family live just around the corner from our new house. Ironically, we bought our new house from their oldest son and his wife. Pawhuska really is a small town.
We had a lovely meal and found we had lots of things in common — daughters in nursing school, photography, a love of God, and cooking to name a few. Several weeks later, we had John and Cyndi to over to our house for dinner. If you’re wondering if I was nervous cooking for The Pioneer Woman’s BFF, the answer is, yes. We stuck to a menu with which we were familiar – grilled pork chops and salmon, roasted new potatoes with asparagus, and a spinach salad I make all the time. But we also decided to try the fancy poached pear dessert we’d learned to make with Chef Paola Martinenghi and The Chef & The Dish just a few weeks earlier.
The Chef & The Dish
Everyone loved it. Steve and I got to talking about our unique culinary experience with The Chef & The Dish (read more about that HERE). We shared that we learned to make the pears with a chef in Northern Italy via Skype. Cyndi went home that night and read all about The Chef & The Dish online. She loved the concept and the idea of cooking something new with friends. The next day she called me with all kinds of ideas about the two us cooking together in Pawhuska. She thought we might invite our daughters to join us and whip up a spectacular mother/daughter meal with a chef on the other side of the ocean. And of course, we’d blog about it. I was in.
We couldn’t get our busy daughters’ nursing school schedules to jive, but the nice folks at The Chef & The Dish offered to let us try another complimentary cooking class, anyway. We were thrilled! The Chef & The Dish arranged for us to Skype with Chef Ana Lopez in Seville, Spain, who would teach us how to make a traditional Spanish meal.
Our culinary experience
Now, let us both tell you a little bit about our culinary experience with The Chef & The Dish and why we agree it is a perfect gift to give and share with a friend.
Greetings, friends of Postcard Jar! I hope I’m not the object of envy now that I’ve spent the day with Ann and Steve. 🙂 Guys, they are everything you think they are: warm, adventurous, and yes, Steve’s a little wacky! Once I heard about their earlier experience with The Chef & The Dish, I wrangled an invitation so I could experience it myself. My afternoon with Ann went far beyond entertainment – not only did it expand my culinary and cultural knowledge, it was a soul-enlarging way to spend time with a friend. And it ended with a meal – what could be better?!
But I really wanted to report one unexpected take-away. I expected that I would learn how to make the dish (Check. I’m the queen of paella now!), but I did not expect to pick up so many great cooking techniques. I don’t know why I didn’t expect this, actually … every time I cook with Ree (Drummond), she always teaches me some nifty little trick. I’m excited to tell you about a few cool new tricks in my arsenal, thanks to Chef Ana.
The ingredient list
Let’s start with the ingredient list. One of the things I love most about cooking with The Chef & The Dish is that they provide a kitchen assistant who arranges a video conference with you the week before your class to go over all the details.
Kitchen assistant call
We discussed the kitchen supplies we’d need, like a cheese cloth, grater, and specific type of pan. Then, we went over each ingredient we’d be using for our dish. Don’t worry if you don’t have everything you need at your local grocery store. Many of the items for the paella class can also be purchased online at LaTienda.com.
High quality ingredients – I gotta admit, I’m usually a “Best Choice,” generic brand kind of girl. Though I’m sure one could sub ingredients when cooking with The Chef & The Dish, one of their services is to call stores in your area in order to source the perfect ingredients. For example, they found Bomba rice for us because it is famous for absorbing a ridiculous amount of liquid. The best find of the afternoon, though, were the manzanilla olives – a product of Spain. Wow, those olives … I still wake up in the night thinking of them … okay, not really, but I do daydream about them. They were in another stratosphere of olives. The chef had us toss them whole into our salad, and just the sheer quality of those olives made the salad a work of art.
The Ybarra manzanilla olives from Spain definitely made the salad. Combined with baby lettuce, corn, cherry tomatoes and a sliced avocado, the olives brought a savory taste to our salad which we tossed with white wine vinegar and Spanish olive oil.
Salad Technique – I often make a simple vinaigrette, but sometimes I just use a bottled dressing when I’m in a hurry (which is always). In our class, however, Chef Ana gave me the secret that should keep me from ever buying a bottle of salad dressing again. It was embarrassingly simple. We just drizzled a teaspoon of white wine vinegar over the salad and tossed. Then we drizzled and tossed with olive oil. Seriously, THAT WAS IT! Then we added the yummy olives and other ingredients, and it was perfect. The new tip I learned was to always drizzle the vinegar on the salad first. If you add the olive oil first, the vinegar will not stick to the leaves. You’re welcome.
Making Spanish paella
The main course for our Spanish meal was paella. It is a traditional favorite in Spain and something both of us had tasted, but neither of us had ever made. Our paella was to include four types of seafood: shrimp, squid (calamari), clams, and mussels. The nice folks at Bodean in Tulsa (yes, we had to drive 120 miles round trip for fresh fish) were a huge help at selecting the right seafood for our menu. They even put everything on ice for us for the drive home.
Start with shrimp broth
We started by making shrimp broth, which as Cyndi will attest, was so simple. First, we removed the shells from our fresh shrimp and took out the vein … uh, poop … from the middle of the shrimp. Steve had been peeking in our class and taking a few pictures. However, the smell of raw seafood and the sight of shrimp poop quickly had him hiding out in another room.
But as Cyndi will tell you, making shrimp broth was super simple and it smelled so good!
Shrimp broth – Why haven’t I been doing this? I am OBSESSED with making chicken broth; in fact, one time I commandeered The Pioneer Woman blog to make chicken broth because of this obsession of mine. I mean, homemade broth is everything in life! I guess I have never considered making shrimp broth because I live smack dab in the middle of the prairie, and you cain’t find none of them shrimpies in them there ponds. Here’s what I learned from Ana: After you peel your raw shrimp, you save the peels and toss them in a pot of boiling water with a little salt. Voila – shrimp broth! This will add such flavor to any soup, particularly a chowder. I am over-the-moon excited about this little nugget of knowledge!
Chopping all the ingredients
Once we had our shrimp broth boiling, we went back to the cutting board and starting chopping all of our other ingredients for the paella. We prepared our calamari, red pepper, onion, and garlic. Ana showed us a great cutting technique for the garlic. She instructed us to cut the garlic clove just to the end (without slicing through it all the way) before turning it and slicing the other direction. Then, we put the garlic clove on our cutting board and it was super easy to cut in to small pieces.
Chef Ana also told us her secret to keeping her hands from smelling like garlic all day. She said after cutting fragrant foods like garlic or onion, you hold your hands (facing downward) under cold water to wash off the smell. But do not use soap and DO NOT RUB THEM TOGETHER. Try it. It really works!
Grating (yes, grating) tomatoes
The last item we prepared were fresh, ripe, on-the-vine tomatoes. We’d never grated tomatoes before. Minds blown.
Grated tomatoes – This might appear to be a little obscure, but I think it could really have some handy applications. For this dish, our chef apparently didn’t want chunks of tomatoes. So, she instructed us to cut our tomato in half (along the equator, not pole-to-pole). Then, you press the tomato down as you grate it with a simple box (or flat) grater. Consequently, you get the essence of the tomato with the juice and very fine pieces. Side note: This little tip revealed one of the cultural exchanges that added to the joy of the afternoon. For example, Ana mentioned that she eats grated tomato on toast with a little olive oil for breakfast – neat!
Once we had all our ingredients for the paella prepared, it was time to start cooking. First, we steamed our clams and mussels in a frying pan, carefully watching them open and discarding any that either didn’t open or were already open when we started. Sadly, both instances mean the poor little guys met an early demise and didn’t make it to our pan.
We put the shrimp broth in a blender (remind me to tell you a funny story about that, later) and sautéed the rice and vegetables in olive oil from Spain. Then, we started adding the other ingredients and watched it bubble.
Finishing the dish
While the rice soaked up all that yummy liquid, Chef Ana took the opportunity to show us how to make aoli sauce with a mortar and pestle using fresh garlic, olive oil from Spain, and coarse salt. Just before the rice was almost done, we added the raw shrimp, steamed mussels, and clams to the dish.
We shut off the gas to the stove (this is an important step unless you want to use your fire extinguisher) before covering the paella pan with paper towels for a few minutes. Finally, we garnished the paella with roasted red peppers and soon enough, it was time to eat!
Cyndi and I poured ourselves a glass of Spanish white wine and relaxed at the table with the delightful meal we’d made ourselves. Paying no attention to the clock, we ate and talked, and talked and drank. Before we knew it, the afternoon (and half of that paella) was gone and a new, treasured friendship was just getting started.
Interested in taking (or giving) a cooking class with The Chef & The Dish? CLICK HERE. While our cooking class with The Chef & The Dish was complimentary, the opinions and new tomato grating skills are our own. Special thanks to our incredible neighbor and friend, Cyndi (Hyacinth) Kane for joining us and contributing to this blog post.
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What a fun experience! And I love the small town hospitality you are receiving in Pawhuksa!
Goodness! You two women are way braver than I! What an amazing and fun cooking adventure. The finished result look delicious – and hopefully, y’all had help cleaning up the kitchen and shrimp poop! 🙂
Honestly, with Chef Ana walking us through everything step-by-step, it really wasn’t that difficult. Such a great way to spend an afternoon with a friend. And the shrimp poop went in the trash immediately! Thanks for following along on our journey.
WOW! How much fun to make an authenthic paella–when visiting our AFS’r from Spain, Pablo, his mother made one, and it was superb. This looks just like it!