A dish to satisfy everyone - EVEN the picky eaters

What was your most successful holiday recipe? Sometimes it's just dumb luck. You slave away all day on braised lamb shanks, and everyone goes gaga over the side dish. That's what happened to me. Family meals are a challenge. We have vegans, vegetarians, gluten frees, soy frees. And that's not even counting the picky eaters. The children are another matter altogether. We knock them out early. They eat before the adults (pasta, pizza) then they go play. No whining over strange food; no kids' table; and we can actually have what passes for adult conversation. How's work? How's school? And how 'bout those Lions? But I really want to talk about the food. I want the guests to heap lavish praise on everything I make, ask detailed questions about where I got the ingredients, how I made it, and to ask for the recipe. If they don't, I die a little bit inside. Why aren't they saying anything, I wonder? Don't they like it? Why are they still talking about the Lions?! And was that a gagging noise I just heard? Not this year. We nailed it, at least with the vegetable paella. Everyone loved it. My wife ate three helpings, and nothing else. My daughter and son-in-law even asked for the recipe, and here it is. One bit of back story: I don't really plan holiday menus. Instead I whine about how busy I am. I sulk about the picky eaters in our family. I suggest we go out for Chinese. And that's before I get really obnoxious. Then, finally, I start going through recipes. "Hmm, here's something people might eat." Then I find a few other things with a loose theme that sort of ties everything together. This year it was sort of a Spanish - Moroccan - Middle Eastern - Greek vibe. (OK so if all the people who lived in those places looked in a certain direction, they would all be looking towards the Mediterranean. That was the theme. All right? Now leave me alone.) And please don't even start on what is a proper Paella. This is certainly not an authentic Valencian version, replete with land snails. Nor is this even necessarily made in a paella pan, although I do have one tucked away somewhere. This recipe is designed for a 4 quart saucepan, for ease of preparation. Vegetable Paella (Adapted from an old Detroit Free Press recipe) Ingredients: 1/4 cup olive oil 1 small Spanish onion, diced 1 clove garlic, minced 1 cup julienne carrots 1 cup julienne green pepper 1 cup canned diced tomatoes 4 cups vegetable broth 1 cinnamon stick 3 cloves 1 bay leaf 1 1/2 TBS capers 2 TBS currants 1/2 cup slivered almonds 4 oz. pitted black olives, sliced 1 can sliced artichoke hearts 10 threads saffron 2 dashes Frank's Hot Sauce (Ancient Greek recipe. Accept no substitutes). 1/2 tsp black pepper 1 TBS salt 1 cup calasparra or bomba paella rice (Or substitute any short grain rice. All these types are high starch and will need a lot of liquid to cook.) Holy shopping list, Batman! I thought you said this was an easy recipe! Easy, Robin. Once you assemble all the ingredients you pretty much just throw them together. As follows. Preparation In a 2-4 quart saucepan, heat oil over medium heat and sauté onions and garlic a few minutes, then add carrots and green pepper and cook a few minutes more until they are braised. Add EVERYTHING ELSE ALL AT ONCE -- except the rice. Increase heat to high and boil. Add rice and cook, stirring frequently over high heat until liquid level is just above rice. You will need to keep adding liquid until the rice is just cooked through. At that point, remove from heat, cover tightly, and let stand for several minutes before serving. Don't forget to fish out the bay leaf, cinnamon, and cloves. Good luck finding the cloves; it will be like looking for your wife's engagement ring that you accidentally threw out with the trash. (Tip: use a cheesecloth bag for the cinnamon, bay leaf and cloves.) You can make this in a wide saucepan or paella pan if you want. The bottom layer of rice gets crusty and is considered a delicacy. Others consider it a pain in the a** to clean. When all is said and done, this dish is a wonderful mélange of flavors and textures, highlighted by the crunch of the almonds and the creaminess of the rice. Not to mention that whole Mediterranean-ish flavor thing going on. Hopefully your guests too will notice, and take a welcome break from talking about the Lions. Nick Roumel is a principal with Nacht, Roumel, Salvatore, Blanchard and Walker, P.C., a law firm in Ann Arbor specializing in employment litigation. Published: Thu, Jan 5, 2012