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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Shrimp Scampi with Pasta

Posted on 04/01/2010. Filed under: Dinner, Seafood |

So sorry for the delay, y’all.  Life just got the better of me.  Last week, I went to another funeral service (the grandfather of a friend of mine), and then entertained a friend who was passing through Richmond on his way from New York to Florida.  And yeah, I can be a slacker.  I made General Tso’s chicken on Sunday the 28th, but it was just blah.  Wasn’t very Tso-y, no heat, just blah.  The good thing that came out of the Tso’s was my first trip to Tan-A Supermarket on Broad & Horsepen in Richmond.  I HIGHLY recommend checking out local Asian markets and here’s why: a TON of stuff for CHEAP.  Seriously, y’all, ALL the stuff below cost me $12.  No shit.

From left: Sesame oil, Sriracha hot chili sauce, Hoisin sauce, rice vingegar, miso dressing. Front: fresh ginger

Many thanks to my friend Frank on what ingredients to get.  I was frantically texting him after I’d been to Tan-A, asking the difference between rice vinegar, rice wine, and rice wine vinegar as the recipe I’d picked called for “rice wine vinegar.”  Guess what kids?  Just go for the rice vinegar because you ain’t gonna find “rice wine vinegar.”   And if you live in Richmond and haven’t been to Tan-A, GO!  And bring cash or check, no plastic. 

So I made the General Tso’s and it just was a plate of blah.  Meh.  Mediocre.  Big plate of hum-drum.  Almost as anti-climatic as the last episode of Seinfeld.  Without the cameo appearances of everyone the gang had screwed over. 

Tonight, instead of writing about Crap Tso’s, I’m writing about something I made on the fly.  Mom had been mentioning getting more seafood in our diets, which is tough to do in this economy.  We’re po’, yo.  Most of the seafood we eat is tuna fish and that’s canned and in “salad” form.  (In this house, it’s made with Duke’s, sweet relish, chopped hard-boiled egg & diced celery.  Anyone doesn’t like it that way can make their own damn tuna fish salad.  I’m just sayin’.)  And we both love shrimp scampi, so what the hell?

I poked around on the internets looking for a recipe, as I’m wont to do, and got a few ideas.  Basic recipe right?  Butter, garlic, dry white wine, lemon juice, shrimp, pasta.  So easy!  I didn’t even bother printing out a recipe, I just rolled with it, baby, like Steve Winwood (I gotcha singing that song now, didn’t I?  ‘Cause I’m eeee-ville like that.  Like the Dev-ille).  I went to Kroger and got a bag of frozen tiger shrimp, de-veined; bottled lemon juice; bottle of Sauvignon Blanc.  I had the butter and pasta at home.

I thawed the shrimp under cool running water in a colander and peeled them, reserving the shells to freeze for a shrimp stock for another attempt in the future at Shrimp & Grits.  See?

Shrimp, yo.

While I waited for the pot of salted water to boil, I minced…oh…I’d say about…four or five cloves of garlic.  I love garlic.  I love garlicky foods.  And it’s healthy.  I have no idea what garlic does for your body health-wise, but it does something.  When the water was at a rolling boil, I drizzled olive oil in the pot to keep it from boiling over.  Then I put a skillet on the stove and let a whole stick of butter melt.  I used salted because that’s what we have, but unsalted works fine too I’m sure.  When the butter was melted and bubbling a bit, I added the garlic.  I let the garlic cook a little on medium low heat until fragrant, then I added white wine and lemon juice.  No, I didn’t use fresh lemon because I just didn’t want to buy them.  I cheated.  Sue me.

I then added a couple of pinches of crushed red pepper to the sauce for some heat and lemme tell you…this butter/wine/garlic/lemon sauce smelled incredible.  It reminded me of the cheese course at the Melting Pot, the cheese with the dry white wine…just heavenly.  I love the smell of good wine cooking.  I don’t know what it is, but I just love it.  Weird, I know.  I added some spaghetti to the boiling salty water and let it cook for 9 minutes while I poached the shrimp in the heavenly buttery sauce.

Buttery, shrimpy goodness

When the shrimp had cooked through and the pasta was done, I drained the water off the spaghetti, put some on a plate, topped it with shrimp and sauce and dug in.  Lemon hit me first and then it melted into the butter and the wine, the shrimp cooked perfectly.  No words were uttered, just yummy sounds.

So quick, so easy, and relatively cheap.  A bag of frozen, de-veined tiger shrimp was $12, a box of pasta is a $1, the wine was $5 (woo hoo, big spender!), and the stick of butter came out to something like $.75?  And there were leftovers!  I didn’t follow a recipe, just general knowledge and gut instincts, which I think is really the basics of how to become a cook. 

Bon appetit, y’all!

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