Born on a Bayou

It isn’t too terribly often (or ever) that Chris gets so excited about something  in the kitchen that he whips out his iPhone, snaps a quick photo, and Facebooks it. But when he does, I know it’s going to be an extra-special meal.

These are the meals that can’t go long without a mention here, for fear that I’m leaving you out of something really awesome. I’d feel really bad if I did, you see.

My somewhat long commute has led me to develop a cooking tradition, of sorts. Weeknights are now reserved for meals that take less than 1 hour to make, from start to finish. I used to tackle arduous meals on any day, be it Friday with a nice glass of wine at my side, or Tuesday with silence in the house, other than the sounds of my knife tapping the board, piles of vegetables slain and piled high as mountains, and an oven heating up to 350.

Things are different now. Driving 2 hours each day is enough to make you ten times more tired when you get home, no matter how stressful or boring your actual day in the office was. I have to fit in exercise too, (who am I kidding; this is once-a-week endeavor at best right now) writing here, and last but certainly not least, finishing the last season of Castle on Netflix.

This leaves the weekends for the hefty meals, the labors of love, the ones your gramma used to make every day like it was her job. Probably because it was her job, at least it was in my family. This is one of those meals: two hours from start to finish, and every minute is well worth it. And one more thing: the cost of groceries is, too.

This here, my friends, is a gigantic pot of goodness that will feed your whole block, or building, or the two of you for at least a week. And that’s the beauty – all that time is a bargain, when you sit right down and do the calculations. Check it out: 2 hours of work + 10 servings of the most amazing jambalaya on the west coast = 12 minutes per serving. If you roll like I do, and choose to use this dish for another dinner and a couple of lunches, you’ve also cut some kitchen time outta the work week too, which some would consider a bonus.

Now let me tell you about this slice of heaven before you. For starters, there is so much meat in this recipe that you won’t be able to take a bite without it, even if you tried. It is so spicy, in a good way, that you want to pack your bags, hop on a plane, and fly straight to New Orleans to eat everything Creole in sight because you just can’t get enough. It’s more than plenty to feed a crowd, if you want to share, but the leftovers heat perfectly, and I can attest to that wholeheartedly, as evidenced by the bowl I just emptied 4 nights later.

And probably (probably) most importantly – it will make you the most wonderful mammal in your house for at least a couple of hours afterwards. That is, until you start nagging about the dishes…

Chicken & Sausage Jambalaya
Adapted from Bon Appetit, March 2011; serves at least 10

time commitment: 2 hours, half of which is active

printable version

ingredients
12 oz applewood-smoked bacon, diced
1 1/2 lbs linguiça (or other smoked, cooked sausage), halved lengthwise, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick semi-circles
1 lb andouille sausages, quartered lengthwise, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 lb smoked ham, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 1/2 lbs onions, chopped (4 to 5 cups)
2 large celery stalks, chopped
1 red bell pepper, coarsely chopped
1 green bell pepper, coarsely chopped
1 lb skinless boneless chicken thighs, cut into 1- to 1 1/2-inch pieces
2 T paprika
1 T chopped fresh thyme
1 1/2 T chili powder
1/2 t cayenne pepper
1 28-oz can fire-roasted diced tomaties
1 small can diced green chiles
2 1/2 c beef broth
3 c (19 to 20 ounces) Basmati rice, uncooked
8 green onions, chopped (about 2 cups)
salt and pepper
Chopped fresh Italian parsley

instructions
Position rack in bottom third of oven and preheat to 350 F. Cook bacon in very large pot over medium-high heat until brown but not yet crisp, stirring often, 8 to 10 minutes. Add smoked sausage, andouille, and ham. Sauté until meats start to brown in spots, about 10 minutes. Add onions, celery, and bell peppers. Cook until vegetables begin to soften, stirring occasionally, 10 to 12 minutes. Mix in chicken. Cook until outside of chicken turns white, stirring often, 5 to 6 minutes. Mix in paprika, thyme, chili powder, and 1/4 teaspoon cayenne. Cook 1 minute. Add diced tomatoes, chiles, and broth; stir to blend well. Add more cayenne, if desired. Mix in rice.

Bring jambalaya to boil. Cover pot. Place in oven and bake until rice is tender and liquids are absorbed, 45 minutes. Uncover pot. Mix chopped green onions into jambalaya and season with salt and pepper to taste; sprinkle jambalaya with chopped parsley and serve.

Feelin’ Lucky

I’ve never been a superstitious person. I like black cats (except my mom’s), and I far from freak out when they cross my path. I walked under a ladder tonight and didn’t think twice about it, but maybe that was because we were being handy and using our newly procured drill – I was overcome with excitement. I’ve broken a couple of mirrors in my lifetime, and most certainly have not had 7 years of bad luck.

In fact, there have been quite a few good years. Luck or not, I specifically think 2010 has been a pretty good one.

Speaking of luck, I’ve never been a big fan of black eyed peas. Word on the street, at least down South, is that a black eye pea-containing dish on New Year’s day will bring good luck for the rest of the year. My mom was (probably still is) an annual cowpea eater; the plastic bag of dried peas sat in the door of our fridge, opened but half-full, for months. I never ate them – for whatever reason, a saucepan of peas never looked, or smelled, appealing to me.

But this year, I figured what the hell. I came across a recipe that sparked my interest, and rather than making the dish at the end of November, I decided I may as well make it at the end of December, and eat the leftovers New Year’s Day. I mean, I’m not superstitious or anything, but still – may as well eat them on the “right” day, no?!

Meanwhile, I plan to open a few umbrellas indoors, step on a couple of cracks, spill some salt (but not in someone’s shoes), and maybe even go to sleep with my hair wet.

Despite all of those things, I have a good feeling about 2011. It’s gonna be somethin’, that’s for sure. So stay tuned ;).

Hoppin’ John (or Skippin’ Jenny, depending on when you eat it)
loosely adapted from Cooking Light, December 2010; serves 8

time commitment: 1.5 hours (30 minutes active time), plus soaking the beans overnight

i added a little more liquid than was needed, and my hoppin’ john was a little, er, soupy, but i actually liked it. however, once the liquid disappeared, I have to say it was better without, so i’ve adjusted below to reflect that. i also upped the spiciness a little (ok, a lot) and tossed in some butternut squash, because I had some. feel free to leave it out if you want.

printable version

ingredients
1 1/2  c dried black-eyed peas
2  t olive oil
1/2 large onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 small poblano pepper, diced
3  garlic cloves, minced
1  serrano pepper, minced
1/2  t smoked paprika
1/2  t ground cumin
2 1/2  c reduced sodium chicken/turkey broth
3/4 t dried thyme
1/2  t freshly ground black pepper
1/4  t salt
2 T hot pepper sauce (Frank’s), plus more at end to taste
6  oz (~2 links) andouille sausage, cut into thin slices
1  (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained
1  bay leaf
2 c butternut squash, cut into 1/2″ cubes, optional
1 c uncooked long-grain  brown rice
1/4  c thinly sliced green onions

instructions
Wash black eyed peas, tossing peas that appear discolored; place in a large bowl. Cover with water to 2 inches above peas; soak for 8 hours or overnight. Drain.

Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onion and next 4 ingredients (through serrano); sauté 7 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Stir in smoked paprika and cumin; saute 1 minute. Add peas, broth, and next 7 ingredients (through bay leaf), stirring to combine. Bring to a boil; cover, reduce heat, and simmer 50 minutes or until peas are tender. Toss butternut squash, if using, into pot at the end, for about 5 minutes. Discard bay leaf.

Meanwhile, make rice according to package instructions. Fluff rice with a fork, and stir into pea mixture. Top with green onions and more hot sauce, if desired.