Posted on 05/26/2010. Filed under: Chicken, Dinner, Grains, Pork, Seafood |

In less than seven weeks, I will be in New Orleans.  I can not freaking wait for this trip for several reasons, in no particular order: 1. It’s NEW ORLEANS for a week, my absolute most favorite city that I have been to so far in my life; 2. I won’t be in Richmond for a week, which means I won’t be at work, always a good thing; 3. I see my boyfriend for the first time since March; 4. All I will be doing is grocery shopping and cooking, which is perfect.  When I decided to go on the trip, I thought, “Why not make dishes that are native to Nawlins while we’re there?”  Turns out, the church folks that are going on the trip as well are already expecting cajun cuisine.  One of the guys has a best friend that lives there and I guess one night we will be having a Gumbo Throwdown (his will be seafood, mine will be andouille & chicken like the Gumbo I made for this blog). 

But one of the dishes I was really nervous about making was Jambalaya, mainly because it has rice in it as a main ingredient and I was convinced rice and I weren’t ever going to be BFF’s.  I poked around Tastespotting and found this guy’s recipe, which looked pretty spot-on as well as pretty easy.  Andouille was purchased at my stand-by, Whole Foods, as well as the shrimp (which after de-veining looked terrible, but cooked beautifully).  I’d debated on using shrimp because of the cost (thanks, BP, for not only destroying the environment but also making seafood costs skyrocket), but thought why not and went balls to the wall with the meats.  Mom purchased the chicken, and to make the dish more flavorful, I decided to use thighs instead of breasts.

De-boning chicken thighs is a bitch.  I said it, and I’ll repeat it: de-boning chicken thighs is a bitch.  Even with brand-new Henckels paring knives.  But I did it.  Next time, I’m using chicken breasts to save time and effort.  I started prepping the dish by de-boning four chicken thighs, removing the skin, cut the meat into cubes, reserving the bones and cartiledge for stock, skin to someday coat in seasoned flour and fry on its own.  Everyone likes the crispy fried chicken skin right?  Anyway, after the thighs were done, I sliced three andouille sausage links into quarter-inch slices while the meat was still a little frozen (I’d bought the sausages on Sunday and wanted them to be frozen for easier slicing), and peeled and deveined a pound of shrimp.  An hour after prepping meats, I had this:

Triumvirate of Meat: Shrimp, Andouille, Chicken

Then I prepped the veggies, which Emeril refers to as The Holy Trinity: green pepper, onion and celery.  I had half a leftover green pepper as well as a whole one, so I sliced them both and cut the slices into a medium dice.  I then cut one medium sweet onion (Mom gets the sweet onions, but I’m sure a white one would work just as well) into a medium dice, and three ribs of celery to a medium dice.  I used the author’s recipe as a guide as far as what ingredients and how much as far as the rice, tomatoes and stock were concerned, but I just went with the flow with pretty much everything else.  I thought one rib of celery wasn’t enough in ratio of the pepper and the onion, and I figured more celery wouldn’t hurt.  It sure didn’t.  After The Holy Trinity was prepped, I finely minced four cloves of garlic, measured my rice and stock, and opened the can of plain diced tomatoes.  My mise en place was set.

I love a recipe that starts with cooking pork in pork fat, this time being andouille cooked in bacon fat.  And yes, I am one of those southern cooks that reserves bacon fat and drippings after every batch cooked.  However, I don’t keep the can of fat on the stove like your MeeMa did*, I keep it in a plastic Gladware thing in the fridge, and I’d say it’s at least a pound of solid, delicious fat.  Makes awesome scrambled eggs.  Anyway, I melted bacon fat in my cast iron Dutch oven (stop giggling, kids, I get the double entendre), and cooked the sausage until brown, then removing and setting aside on a paper-lined plate to absorb some fat.  Then I added the chicken to the hot fat, browning it until done and then removed and set aside.  I added a little more fat to the pot and added the Trinity, and cooked the veggies until just soft, about five minutes, stirring every now and then to make sure everyone gets cooked.  When the veggies were done, I added the andouille and chicken back to the pot, along with a cup of rice, two cups of homemade chicken stock (which I’d made with crushed red pepper, so the stock already had a kick), the can of diced tomatoes with the juice, the garlic, a healthy pinch of Kosher salt, a few grinds of black pepper, three bay leaves, a few sprigs’ worth of fresh thyme leaves, and the cayenne.  This, I eyeballed.  I didn’t measure, I added just enough that would bring the heat.  I stirred it all up, put the lid on it, let it come to a boil.  I turned the heat down to a simmer when the pot was at the boiling point, and stirred the pot every few minutes to prevent burning and sticking.   

It smelled amazing.  I mean it was smelling good before with the pork cooked in pork fat and all, but with the veggies and the meat and everything….just yum.  I was really psyched about how the jambalaya was turning out at this point, but still nervous about that fickle bitch known as rice.  I really just didn’t want this whole beautiful pot of food to be ruined by undercooked rice.  So I was really protective of the Dutch oven and its contents as the process was coming along. 

Almost-done Jambalaya

After the rice had cooked about 25 minutes, I added the shrimp, stirred them in, and covered the pot.  I let the shrimp cook for about 10 minutes while Matt & Dan took a smoke break.  When they came back in, the Jamabalaya was done. 

Beautiful, delicious Jambalaya

 Earlier in the day, I’d stopped by a local Brazilian bakery to get some French bread.  I know that sounds weird, but the bakery has little signs on the side of the road by the Walmart that I frequent, so I thought why not give them a try.  Three mini-loaves for $1.  Can’t beat the price, and the bread was crusty on the outside and nice and chewy in the middle.  I pray I never develop Celiac Disease.  We grabbed bowls and hepled ourselves to Jambalaya, and I put Tobasco and cayenne on the table just in case someone wanted it spicier.  We all dug in and it was amazing.  This Jambalaya was really effing good.  Hot, spicy, meaty, delicious.  The shrimp was plump and juicy, veggies were tender, the sausage and chicken were just divine.  Matt made several approving “Mmmm” sounds.  Dan added Tobasco for more heat, but said the jambalaya was really good on its own as well.  I have a pretty wimpy palate, so it was almost a little too hot, but delicious nonetheless.  Just meant I drank my sweet tea quicker.  Mom said that it was wonderful, and this is a woman that bought a bowl off the side of the street IN NEW ORLEANS.  But it was all agreed that this was my best dish yet.  The best part?  THE RICE WAS COOKED PERFECTLY!!!!  I have redeemed myself with the Rice Gods!  Woo hoo!

The good news is that one pot could easily feed six, maybe seven people.  I figure if I triple the recipe, there will be enough for a team of 17.  Also, with the success of this dish, I pretty much have every night’s dinner planned for the trip.  I’m just really relieved this dish turned out well, and it actually exceeded my expectations. 

Bon Appetit, Y’all!

*Doesn’t every southerner have a MeeMa that reserved bacon drippings?  A friend of mine once asked me if my grandmother (mine was called MaMa [pronounced “maw-maw”]) kept a can of fat on the stove for cooking purposes.  Mine kept her can of fat in the fridge, my mom kept the can of bacon fat in the fridge, and I keep my Gladware thingy of bacon fat in the fridge.  I don’t think I could trust room-temp bacon fat that’d been left out for an extended period of time.

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Lemon & Asparagus Risotto

Posted on 04/30/2010. Filed under: Dinner, Grains |

Yeah, so I love risotto.  I first had it several years ago when I was a receptionist at an archetectural firm (God what an awful job, toxic environment and worse egos than a kitchen full of chefs).  Next to the office was a little lunch spot and one of their specials one day was a chicken and mushroom risotto.  Amazing I remember this dish nine years after I had it.  It was creamy and filling, simple comfort food on what was probably a crap day at the office.

I’ve been wanting to make a risotto dish since I started the blog (as first mentioned in the very first post).  I decided to finally tackle it.  I knew Matt didn’t like mushrooms, and I figured he’d be joining us, so I found this recipe for Lemon & Asparagus Risotto.  I love lemons, love asparagus, love parmesan, love rice, why not?  The labor-intensive process was not something I was worried about, I knew it’d be about 20-30 minutes of stirring.  I was determined.

I went to Kroger and got all my ingredients, but the wine.  The damned wine.  I had an already open bottle of a white in my fridge from Easter (yes, amazingly, an open bottle of wine was in my fridge for a couple of weeks) and thought I could use it.  I didn’t remember it being particularly sweet, but then we also had a roasted pork tenderloin on Easter too.  Well, the Gewurztaminer (yes, I had to look up the spelling in my Wine Bible) was simply too sweet.  Unfortunately, I didn’t realize this until it was too late.

I first began by zesting a lemon, and juicing it, separating the two, discarding seeds.  Then I washed a pound of asparagus, cut off the woody ends, and trimmed them down to about half-inch pieces cut on the bias.  After that, I medium diced a smallish white onion.  I measured out the wine & rice, and began simmering the chicken stock in a separate pan.  I put a tablespoon of butter in a pot and turned the heat on.  When the butter was melted, I added the onion and cooked until soft and transluscent.  Then I added the cup and a half of rice and stirred to coat.  I let the rice cook until it was beginning to get transluscent.  (And here’s mistake number one.  I should have cooked the rice longer and added more butter to the pot.  The rice didn’t cook long enough at this stage and I’ll get to the result later.)  I then added wine & lemon juice, and stirred until it had absorbed.  Then I added the zest.  At this point, things were smelling pretty good.

When I thought it was time, I began adding chicken stock to the pot, a ladle at a time.  (Here’s mistake number 2.  The stock was not simmering at this point, just warm enough for steam to rise.  Stock not hot enough to at this point pretty much raw rice.)  I’d add a ladle and stir, stir, stir until the rice had absorbed most of the stock, and then I’d add a ladle and stir, stir, stir some more, repeating until I ran out of stock.  Somewhere, about 10 minutes after first adding stock, I added the asparagus as the recipe suggests.  And then I ran out of stock.  I ran out of liquid and I still had crunchy rice.

So I cooked it some more and added the rest of the wine from the bottle, and some water.  I cooked and stirred until I thought the rice was done enough.  And then I added parmesan like the recipe said.  By the time Matt got here and the rice was done, I had a pot of nasty, gummy, unappealing rice with now-overcooked asparagus.  Blech.

Matt hadn’t eaten all day so he wolfed down his bowl saying it was at least edible.  I took one bite and it was a struggle to get it down.  Ok, so here’s what happened: wrong wine for this dish, the rice should have cooked more before adding the stock, I should have had twice the amount of stock the recipe called for (or at least half the rice), and don’t add the asparagus until the rice is nearly done so it remains bright green and crunchy.  I threw the pot out and made grilled cheese.  Which was delicious.

Would I try risotto again?  Probably, but only with chicken stock and rice to start until I get the hang of it. 

Up next…the most fattening and artery-clogging meal of my life.

Bon appetit, y’all!

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