COOKALONGS: like singalongs, but much much better

Alright everyone, first up, virtual high-fives for getting through another few weeks of this calamitous sunken soufflé of a year. If 2020 was a dish it would be something raw in the middle, burnt on the outside and packed full of coriander. Zero stars and a firm no from me.

ANYWAY. I’m not here to whinge (much) I’m here to tell you about a little bright spark of food-related joy I have been lucky enough to experience these past few weeks, courtesy of my fab friends. There is no doubt that sharing food with people I love is one of my life’s greatest joys, and one I will never take for granted again. I even wrote a blog post, many a moon ago, about food being the “glue of love” (which you can read here).

So, having been separated from most of my friends and a lot of my family for just over six months now, it has been something I have been missing a lot. Even more than I miss pints of beer in sticky-floored pubs and overpriced cocktails on rooftop bars (and boy do I miss those) (no, really. I really do).

I know we all probably have a bit of zoom fatigue by now, but thank the gods of the internet for the technology that enables me to still share a wine with my bestie!

So, after many zoom chats, quite a lot of zoom drinks and one very ill-fated attempt at zoom karaoke, we decided to try something else – zoom cookalongs! For our first couple, we tried a format that worked very well: one of us picked a dish we knew well, provided everyone else with a shopping list in advance, then we cooked the dish together in our separate kitchens. It was brilliant – everyone could ask the “head chef” any questions they had, the group could troubleshoot any problems/challenges people ran into. At the end of the session we all had a delicious meal to eat while chatting to each other. For our first one we cooked the tagine from the last Gilly on a Plate post, and for our second, my wonderful friends Giorgio and Rose took us through their fantastic one-pot paella recipe, with both vegan and non-vegan versions. They have kindly given me permission to reproduce it here, which I have done at the end of this post.

a little teaser of things to come…

We have also had a go at one other virtual kitchen activity, during which I did not cover myself in glory. We had a “Nailed It” style baking challenge, and everyone had to bake something in the shape of an Australian animal. My friends Liam and Lana won the challenge with their very excellent platypus cake, pictured below:

Sooo impressed with this clever creation!! Go Liam and Lana!

I will now share with you the shame of my spectacular fail. I had what I thought was the very bright idea to make Fairy Wren Fairy Cakes. Our garden is full of gorgeous blue fairy wrens at the moment, and I thought their sweet little round shapes and distinctive colouring would translate very well to cake-form. And in the hands of a more experienced and proficient baker, I may have been right. But my creations were less fairy wren, more alien-gremlin-demon baby spawn. Alarmingly blue and not at all appetising. Luckily I’m currently living with my two brothers who don’t mind eating food that stains their teeth blue, so they didn’t go to waste (and the crumb was actually a very delicious vanilla). For very obvious reasons, I will not be sharing the recipe. I might try them again one day… maybe. No promises.

A real life superb fairy wren…
…and my baked little abomination
they were supposed to be so CUTE.

And now it is time for you to get in the kitchen and cook yourself something delicious to distract from the 2020 blues (in my case, literally)!

GIORGIO AND ROSE’S GORGEOUS ONE-PAN PAELLA

(vegan and non-vegan options) (serves 6)

INGREDIENTS:

3 x cups of Arborio rice

4 x tsp chicken stock

3 x red/yellow capsicums

2 x brown onions

1 x punnet cherry tomatoes

2 x cloves of garlic, crushed

1 x lemon

3 x tbsp smoked paprika

– Lil bit of saffron (the more the better but it is very expensive) (If you’d rather not, I understand, we all know the state of the economy) (*cries*)

– Salt and pepper to taste

Meat eaters:

2 x chorizo sausages

1 x packet chicken breasts, sliced into 3/4 cm pieces

Two big handfuls prawns (optional)

Vegos:

1 x eggplant, sliced 1cm thick pieces

1 x zucchini, diced

METHOD:

  1. Finely dice the onions and capsicum and crush the garlic. Add all of these to a nice large/deep frying pan with a hearty slug of olive oil. Fry off for a few minutes, until it starts to get nice and fragrant.
  2. Next slice the chorizo and add this, or the other veg if you’re going vegan tonight.
  3. Add the sliced chicken and give everything a nice stir. Keep cooking until the chicken is almost cooked through.
  4. Let’s SPICE IT UP! Literally. Not anything kinky (I do NOT approve of nudity in the kitchen, wayyyy too much scope for injury. There’s some places you just really don’t want hot oil splashing, you know what I mean?). Add the paprika and saffron. Boil the kettle. Not for a cuppa, obviously you are drinking a nice crisp white wine right now or a Spanish beer. Maybe a margarita?
  5. Add the rice and brown it with the rest of the ingredients, stirring frequently to make sure it’s not sticking. After a few minutes, add the stock powder and enough water from the kettle to cover everything. Throw the prawns in now too. Give it one big stir – from now on, no more stirring! Bring to the boil.
  6. Reduce the heat and let the water simmer away. If you’re concerned the water will all be gone before the rice is cooked, feel free to add more water, a cup at a time.
  7. When the rice is cooked and the water has all evaporated, turn the heat off and let sit for a few minutes. Taste and season if needed (although it shouldn’t)
  8. Serve scattered with fresh, sliced-in-half cherry tomatoes and a lemon wedge on each plate. I also like to serve with sautéed greens (I’m a bit obsessed with crispy broccolini at the moment) and some panfried tortilla.
  9. Enjoy amigos!! And once you’ve mastered it, hop on zoom and teach your friends! Sending paprika-filled kisses your way and looking forward to when we can all safely be in each other’s real kitchens again.

Please leave any ideas/questions/thoughts here, I'd love to hear them!