Flavor-packed Louisiana Creole Food – Jambalaya

Because Mardi Gras is such a big celebration is New Orleans, it’s not uncommon to see Cajun and Creole food prepared around Fat Tuesday, even if you don’t live in Louisiana. We may be past Fat Tuesday, but I’ve been thinking about making Jambalaya for the last couple weeks and finally had a chance to do so.

Jambalaya is a meat and rice dish traditional in the Creole and Cajun cultures of Louisiana. While they have a lot of similarities – both are spiced and rely on the “Holy Trinity” of onion, celery, and bell pepper – there are differences between Creole and Cajun food. The Creoles were descendants of French and Spanish colonists who had mixed French, African American and Native American ancestry. Creole food is considered “city food” and contains ingredients such as tomatoes, butter, and herbs. The Cajuns were French Canadians expelled from Nova Scotia who eventually settled in the bayous and intermarried with everyone there. Cajun food is considered “country food” and uses no tomatoes, oil instead of butter, and lots of peppers.

Jambalaya is one of my dad’s favorite foods to make, and I also love making it! Because my jambalaya is a mash-up of a number of different recipes, I don’t think I’ve ever made it the same way twice, but I have definitely overheard my husband bragging about how good my jambalaya is. This Creole-style “red” Jambalaya is the version I made most recently.* Every time I make this, I am flabbergasted at how flavorful it is – every mouthful is amazing. Maybe someday I’ll try a Cajun “brown” Jambalaya, but for now I love this version enough to keep making it again.

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Roasted Vegetable Baked Ziti

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Several years ago, I decided I was going to make a lasagna for my friend’s mom (which I like to do for births, funerals, Christmas gifts, get-well presents, and more). She eats very little meat, however, so I decided to make a vegetarian lasagna instead. And she keeps gluten-free, but the only gluten-free noodles I could find in the store were ziti. And when I tried to layer the ingredients they all just kind of smooshed together. It did not turn out like I expected, but my sister and I brought it over to her house, we all shared it while playing Eucher together, and we all had second helpings…

Now, shelter-in-place and limiting shopping trips to once every 2 weeks has made it hard to eat as many fresh vegetables as I would like, so I found myself thinking once again about that vegetable baked ziti and I decided to see if I could recreate it. I tried my hand at it this afternoon, and this evening Joe and I sat on our porch with a glass of red wine to accompany it and we both had second helpings. Continue reading “Roasted Vegetable Baked Ziti”

Cannellini Beans With Garlic, Parmesan, and Artichokes

I’m constantly looking for more bean and lentil dishes that are quick and delicious. Beans are filling and full of protein, which make them very important for vegetarians, or for people like Joe and me who only eat meat occasionally. I particularly like this recipe for taking about 15 minutes altogether. Deb Perelman says she came up with this recipe by treating beans the way you would pasta – using garlic, olive oil, red pepper flakes and topping it all with parmesan. I also love the idea of replacing more pasta recipes with beans since eating pasta too often tends to leave me sleepy and sluggish. I modified this recipe by using dried parsley (because every time I buy fresh herbs, I only use a small amount and the rest goes bad,) and by doubling the amount of artichokes. Honestly doubling the artichokes was an accident, but one that I felt improved the dish, so I will be making it this way from now on. I had no problem throwing this recipe together from items in my pantry for a delicious dinner after work.

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Chana Masala From The Pantry

Lunch buffets at Indian restaurants are among my favorite things. Or dinners at Indian restaurants. Or even the odd brunch. Basically, if you suggest going out for Indian food, my answer will be yes. One of my favorite dishes to get is chana masala, or chickpea curry. I have been wanting to learn to make it for myself for a long time, but was always a little intimidated. Today, I was hungry and set about to make it with only the ingredients I already had in my home. Although the spice list is long, it is astoundingly easy – just heat, stir, and eat. Continue reading “Chana Masala From The Pantry”

Red Lentil Dal

This past winter, I went through a spell when all I wanted to eat was beans and lentils. Joe and I made split pea soup, minestrone, lentil soups, black bean soup, chickpea curry, hummus… you name it. I desperately was trying to find my “go to” recipe for a lentil dish that I could make frequently without difficulty. Eventually, I landed on masoor dal. I already had red lentils in my pantry from making “Friendship Soup” for my friends at Christmas, and the recipe is very straight forward.

Recently, I’ve been looking for simple recipes to make after work that are filling – and the hot weather has reignited a craving for Indian food (let’s be honest, it never really goes away.) This dal recipe came out again this week. I changed things up a bit by sauteing the onion and adding it later with the spices, and using yellow mustard seeds instead of black because that is what I had on hand from pickling. Not only is it good served on rice or with naan for dinner and lunch, but this morning I put a fried egg on top and had a wonderful breakfast, too. Continue reading “Red Lentil Dal”

Beginning Pickling: Dilly Beans!

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A couple weeks ago, Joe made a very large pot of minestrone, for which he bought a full pound of green beans, using only a handful (“They were only a dollar!”) After the soup was made and we were looking at a large amount of beans in peril of going bad if we did not do something with them, we decided the best way to use them up would be to pickle them. Joe and I love pickles. Although Joe detested them until his mid-20s, now anything pickled he sees in the store he will pick up to try. (“Look! Pickled green tomatoes!” “What do you think pickled lemons are for?”) I was eager to try our hands at beginning to pickle things in our own kitchen. We made a batch of dilly beans and ate them so quickly, the next weekend we bought another pound just to pickle those, too. Continue reading “Beginning Pickling: Dilly Beans!”

Award-Winning Chili (With a Side of Corn Bread)

When I was in college, I decided to join my favorite dive bar’s chili cook off. I pulled up my mom’s recipe for chili and several online recipes and began intensely annotating ingredients and amounts until I had developed my own recipe – a Franken-chili that I eagerly assembled and took to the bar that weekend. We set up our crockpots on the covered pool table and went around tasting the many different submissions. Later in the afternoon when they announced the winners, I was pleased and excited to win first place (and a $100 bar tab, which I used a few weeks later to throw a party for some friends.)

The problem I discovered later, was that I could not really decipher my notes to remember what I had actually used in the chili. Was that one can of beer added on the the bottom of the ingredient list? Or was it in the upper right hand corner, underlined, no beer? Every subsequent batch was lack luster or even bad. Finally, a couple weeks ago I hit the sweet spot. I put it in the crockpot in the morning, cleaned the house, (sneaked a small bowl of chili ahead of time), went to the bars with our friends, then came home and had our fill of chili and played board games. It was a success – and this time I made sure to write it down. Although I was hesitant to add sugar, it’s importance is in keeping the acidity down for a deeper, roastier flavor. Next time, I may experiment with using a small amount of maple syrup instead. Continue reading “Award-Winning Chili (With a Side of Corn Bread)”

Moroccan Inspired: Butternut Squash with Cumin Couscous

Moroccan tagine is a slow-cooked stew made with meat, vegetables, spices, dried fruit, and nuts; it is named after the dish that it is traditionally cooked in. I have not always been familiar with Moroccan food, but the first time I was served tagine, I realized it was the inspiration for this aromatic vegetable stew. My mom used to make this in the autumn and when I moved out, I asked her to send me the recipe – back when I was in college, this stew would last me for many meals of delicious leftovers that were far more nutritious than Ramen! (And the leftovers taste even better when the flavors have had a day or two to really come out.) Recently, my mom gifted me a butternut squash from her garden and I immediately knew what I was going to make with it. Continue reading “Moroccan Inspired: Butternut Squash with Cumin Couscous”

Balsamic Chicken

So, heads up, I don’t buy into fad diets or fad workouts or weight-loss shakes or any of that sort of snake oil. “So why do you have a weight-loss cookbook in your kitchen, Marie?” you ask. Good question. Many years ago when I was still living at home, my mom decided that my dad was going to go on the South Beach Diet. Although I am of the sort that prefers my protein and carbs and fat and flavor all be cooked together in one dish, and although many people have heard me complain about dinner consisting of a “slab of meat with a side dish”, The South Beach Diet actually introduced me to the handful of meat recipes I will gladly eat. The Marinated London Broil, the Easy Chicken In Wine Sauce, and the Balsamic Chicken actually ended up being favorites.  I find that the chicken leftovers in particular get a second life as they work well for chicken salad or chicken sandwiches or almost any other dish that requires pre-cooked chicken. I made the Balsamic Chicken last Sunday and had left overs for the next couple days and I was very happy each night.

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Slow-Cooker Chicken Tikka Masala

When I was in my middle school years, I was really into Scholastic’s Dear America diaries and the Royal Diaries series which give historical-fiction accounts from the point of view of teenagers.  The summer I turned thirteen, I read one on Jahanara (the daughter of Shah Jahan, who built the Taj Mahal) and subsequently became obsessed with Indian culture for a season. I picked up all the books on India that I could from the library and asked my parents to take me out for Indian food as my birthday treat, initiating a long-abiding love for Indian cuisine.

This recipe is adapted from thekitchn – they say that it can be refrigerated for 3 to 4 days or frozen for 3 to 4 months, but I’ve always had the entire pot disappear within a day. Every single time I make this my apartment smells amazing and Joe gets very excited because he can’t wait to scoop it up with naan and eat it. I made this for friends last night and they were equally enthusiastic. Continue reading “Slow-Cooker Chicken Tikka Masala”