Tag Archives: one pot meals

Touchdown: Cajun Jambalaya

6 Feb

Stir it up

How many proteins can you fit in a pot?

As images of sweaty men wrestling over a pimply pig skin are studied as if they hold the key to the universe and my husband grunts, guffaws and swears like a rickets-ridden pirate tied to a ship’s deck during a hurricane, as if his very life, sanity and liberty were at stake, I wrestle with this timeless question.

The Super Bowl! It’s one of my favorite days. Not because of the football, of course. Because of the snacks.

Honestly, I have never bothered to begin to care about organized sports – the drama of the players, the bets, the brawls, the outfits. Ffff. Bad mesh jersey just doesn’t get my pulse racing. But I do love the camaraderie, good-natured ribbing, inconsequential competition and chop-breaking that it engenders. It reminds me of Church!

Or more specifically, Church potlucks.

When I was a kid, Church potlucks were the highlight of my social calendar. For the under 10 set, what more could you possibly want?

There were sticky picnic tables to scour, sun-warmed banana boat bicycle seats to climb into, slip n’ slides to conquer, triple dog dares to vanquish, worms to throw, fathers to tackle, soda to sneak, in every direction, as far as the eye could see.

And all of the moms were distracted with gossipy laughter, powdered-sugar donuts and too much caffeine, temporarily eliminating the near-constant childhood specter of Time Out on the Stairs or suspended Scooby-Doo privileges.

Some of my favorite foods are indigenous to Church potlucks. There are the archangels and the disciples of the Potluck Pantry that we all know and love: 12-layer dip paired with fried chips, sausage and Cheez Whiz balls (they go first), groaning pots of deliciously greasy sauerbraten, strawberry pie bleeding everywhere, hot wings, burnt hot dogs, overcooked burgers. Church potlucks and Super Bowls should never be staged without all of these items on hand.

Ah, but then there’s always one more dish, the potluck wonder of potluck wonders, the crowning jewel, the boss, the guru, the most high. But it’s always a mystery — it changes form depending on who’s responsible for cooking it, the region in which it’s prepared, the time of year …. But it always features the holy trinity of flavor: protein, starch, fat.

I think that Jambalaya, a Church potluck all-star, is arguably the best American embodiment of easy, no-fuss delish. So this year, in addition to gathering and scarfing many of the Superbowl / Potluck faves, Stephen and I decided to make a call down to the bayou, for Jambalaya.

Jambalaya was originally conceived of in the early 19th century as a sort of poor relative of Spanish Paella. The Creole version originated in the French Quarter of New Orleans, and it’s prepared with tomatoes; the meat is often thrown into the pot without being browned first. It’s lovely, and comforting. Then there’s Cajun Jambalaya, which, in my mind, is the more American, and the superior, of the two. It was born in Southern Louisiana swamp country, where a variety of game and fish was readily available, but tomatoes were not. Creole predates the Cajun, but the Cajuns were obviously onto something. It always requires the browning of meat, which, let’s face it, is always more delicious (thank you, Maillard reaction).

Jambalaya is relatively easy to make, but the results are arguably as glorious as the more elevated Louisiana classics, gumbo and etouffee.

Also, it inspired a Hank Williams song, not to mention a presidential feud. (When President Franklin D. Roosevelt claimed that he was allergic to crawfish, and therefore could not eat the Jambalaya his friends the Richardsons of Virginia sent, their friendship was detonated).

A variety of proteins can be used, the more the better. Since I didn’t have time to go out and wrassle any gators, and I couldn’t rationalize the expenditure necessary for fresh crawfish, I settled for shrimp. Whole Foods was fresh out of ham hocks, so I settled for chicken thighs, fresh pork sausage and some sliced ham. Turkey, smoked sausage, duck, wild boar and would also be fab, depending on your mood and budget.

Click on for the recipe!

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Dance With the One Who Brung You: Two-Thirds-Assed Paella & Pistachio Biscotti

14 Mar

Hi. I'm Two-Thirds-Assed Paella

Do you ever show up at the grocery store with a super-detailed list of items that you simply must have to make the recipe you’ve been anticipating making (and eating!) all week long?

Do show up at the grocery first thing on the morning you’re cooking it, ready to spend the next 45 minutes or so running up and down the aisles, scouring the produce section for the perfect leeks, talking sustainable cockles with the fish mongers, debating the pros and cons of picante vs. dulce chorizo with the sausage dudes, delighting over the pupu platter of culinary choices?

Only to find that your favorite grocery store — the only one guaranteed to have all of the organic, sustainable yummies you need within reasonable spitting distance of your abode — is missing half of the items on your list?

If you’re anything like me, you become filled with livid, quaking rage, that no quantity of perky and viable substitutes will qualm. Your sputtering disdain for the capriciousness of the grocery store gods will cloud your brain in an impenetrable fog of IQ-plummeting vexation, causing you to forget even more items than you normally forget on the shelves.

When you arrive at home, with your grocery bag most definitely half-empty, you unpack and discover — d’oh! — you’re missing at least two-thirds of the items nominally required to make the perfect recipe.

The key word here, ladies and gentleman: nominally.

Because no number — no matter how daunting — of missing / essential ingredients, tools and skills with which I should be armed tackle a dish with anything approaching proficiency, I choose to take no prisoners and flail about the kitchen like some sort of dementia-addled, smack-addicted geriatric former linebacker having a panic attack. The alternative course, of sensibly making something else, is never even considered.

My mom calls it “Dance With the One Who Brung You” mode — an Emily Willcox-approved method of stoicism that has stiffened my spine and pasted a polite smile on my face through countless grueling teas, strained meetings and grim get togethers over the years.

A failed grocery store trip is how I ended up making my very first batch of Two-Thirds Assed Paella, a recipe that Stephen and I have come to love, it’s original, gaping holes still intact when we make it today. (Which is actually quite apt; there are as many ways to make “classic” Spanish paella as there are to make our national dishes, like Apple Pie and … Chili.) Below, check out recipe for Two-Thirds-Assed Paella, oh and a recipe for Pistachio Biscotti, just because it’s awesome.

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