Posts Tagged ‘Jambalaya’

With football season now in full swing (complete with game cameramen capturing the losing team fans yawning during today’s shut-out), it’s time to roll out the good schtuff. Even though we’re still wearing shorts, certain traditions are beholden to the calendar. As Labor Day snuffed out white shoes, so football in the South ushered in the cooler weather menus, albeit enjoyed in our flip flops.

Because I am hopelessly a right-brained sort, I don’t cook with a recipe book. My kitchen is not unlike a university chemistry lab, with anything liable to blow at any moment. Praise the Lord and pass the safety goggles. This is how I refine my original recipes, like it or not. If it sucks, I pitch it and tweak it.

Okay, so I may consult this or that recipe book or website for a general idea, but, just like I hop in the car and vaguely head in the right direction, I’m not concerned with getting caught up in the unexpected one-way street or having to zip over a couple of extra bridges – it’s the journey, n’est-ce pas? Of course with cooking, it’s also about the destination. Either way, we learn something.

We have a house divided when it comes to gumbo and jambalaya. The points of contention involve tomatoes, rice and shellfish. So today we christened a new stock pot with a new, previously unknown dish. I was naïve enough to think I was being original by calling it gumbolaya until I thought to Google it, and discovered that I’m not the only piece of okra in the pot.


Besides never quite knowing if I’ve got a winner of a dish brewing on the stove, the other hazard of cooking by the seat of my apron is once I determine it’s a winner, it’s nearly impossible to write it down, much less replicate it, because I’ve been buzzing and humming along in the kitchen doing my creating, not paying a lick of attention to how I assembled the masterpiece.

In today’s case, my eyes were bigger than my stock pot, and I wound up ladling a fair portion of the contents of the stock pot into one of my smaller (Pot Formerly Known As the Biggest in the Cabinet) pots, just to make room for the remaining vegetables. The meat alone took up darn near half the stock pot once the roux and broth were combined. That’s okay, though…in a house of 7, I’ve grown accustomed to the face of cooking for a small army. The small (8 qt)  pot:


This arrangement allows for the gumbo fans to eat it as-is, and allows the jambalaya fans to drape this concoction over rice (brown rice at our house). So what’s in that pot? Let me try to recall:

In the stock pot, I melted 1/4 stick of butter. This was a drop in the bucket, literally, so I added the rest of the stick. Turned the burner on halfway (4-5/medium). Added 2 pkgs of split/quartered/chopped Andouille sausage and it browned as I hacked up a roasted chicken and threw that in, too. Too lazy to deal with the raw chicken, sorry.

That stuff started sticking to the pot and annoyed me to no end. It was not going according to the gospel of Paula Deen, who promised in her gumbo recipe that 1/4 cup of butter and the sausage would nicely brown. Bull-hocky. This is why I veer off into my own cooking planet. (I someday will publish My Kitchen’s Okay, You’re Kitchen’s Okay..Unless You Have Indoor Cats, Which I Don’t…And Please Don’t Tell Me You Do Halfway Through the Church Potluck).

(We interrupt this post to include a member of the peanut gallery over my shoulder who inserted, “In fact, that would make a great name for a recipe – the “Five Indoor Cat Tuna Casserole.” (this, based upon a church potluck once upon a time in a land faraway which shall remain anonymous)).

So into the pot went another 1/4 of butter. This also quickly threatened to burn on the bottom of the pot despite having it on way-low (I’m so darned precise). In an act of sheer desperation, I grabbed my trusty olive oil out of the pantry and drizzled and drizzled and drizzled. Was the chicken too dry? Was the pot too big? Whatever the issue, I had no time to analyze, and just slopped enough olive oil in there to ensure that my new pot wouldn’t be trashed, and that the darned sausage and chicken would brown. They never really did, but I had to trust that they would be cooked by the time the two cycles of boiling occurred. So be it.

Scrap that phase…I removed the meat and was left with gummy garbage on the bottom of the pot. This turned out to be the KEY to the roux!! I relentlessly scraped and stirred while yet another stick of butter melted in the pot. When it was on the verge of cursing me out, I sprinkled a cup of flour on it and it convulsed and I stirred. Roux is a religion here, so I knew to keep stirring and smiling no matter how ugly it got.

It threatened me with burning and sticking and other forms of culinary disaster, but when I stuck it out and obediently stirred for precisely 10 minutes, it went from a frothy yellow-white to a dark, creamy brown. Emeril would have been proud.

This was when various and sundry family members stuck their head in the kitchen and said, “Mmmm, that smells good! What’s for supper?”

Then came the panic – the stove clock registered 10 minutes, the roux was perfect, and I wasn’t sure what in blazes to do with it – I’d forgotten to get the next step ready.

In a blur, somehow some water-turned broth (I vaguely recall hastily melting bullion cubes in my 4-cup measuring cup in the microwave) got added to the roux (whisked, actually), and I set about chopping and ricing and dicing while it came to a boil.

The first thing to go into the now-dark brown concoction was onion, about two medium-sized ones. And 8 (no, 9 – another accidentally fell off the bulb in the chopping/pressing process) garlic cloves. While those were bubbling and cooking, I samuraied up a bag of red potatoes, two green and two yellow zucchinis, threw in a couple of cans of corn and a couple of cans of stewed tomatoes and 2/3 bag of frozen okra. I’m sure there was some other vegetable I’m forgetting. Oh, yes, I ground in a bunch of fresh-ground pepper and oregano. I was told later the bullion and sausage didn’t do anything for the salt content, contrary to my assumptions, and that salt was subsequently necessary. Okay.

All this nonsense simmered for a good hour before adding a bunch of fresh, chopped parsley. That good hour was time enough to make a cast-iron skillet of cornbread to go with it. Tomorrow I’ll make some rice, since it will probably thicken up from soup state to gunk, and I’ll microwave the leftovers over a bed of rice to perfection. OMG.

That’s how I write recipes.

And yes, it was mmmm (head to the right)-mmmm (head to the left)-mmmm (head going up-to-down emphatically)-good.

And our team won. That is how superstitious culinary traditions surrounding football begin, tailgate or otherwise. If I make this Good Stuff every time we play, we’ll win every time and snag the championship…

Hey, it’s worked more than a few times before, and in our off-seasons, it was great comfort food at any rate.

Roll Tide!

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In the spirit of our fellow blogger Brainrants, I momentarily shed all manner of female Southern décorum to address the issue of driving:

1.) I had the misfortune – or blessing – of learning to drive in the nation’s 2nd largest city. Drive or get the hell out of my way.

2.) My very first driving lessons took place in a cemetery. “You can’t hurt anyone, they’re already dead,” I was assured. I may subliminally assume those around me on the road today are also dead (even zombies, the way some of y’all drive), unless you get my attention by trumping my driving skills.

3.) I knew nothing but manual transmissions until fairly recently – therefore, driving, to me, is an active sport, (note to texters and makeup appliers:) not a passive or secondary activity. Pull over, ya lackluster lollygaggers.

4.) I leave in plenty of time to get to my destination. It is you who is making me late. Likely causes of tardiness are typically due to the left lane-hog who believes it is their right to occupy the left lane at a speed equivalent to or slower than the speed-reverent driver in the right lane. On the west coast these scofflaws typically sport a Washington state plate. Elsewhere it is usually someone with a handicapped plate white-knuckling the wheel for dear life at gosh-awful speeds of 35 or below. I am not discriminating: I also have handicap designation on my car, too…but I do not drive with such overcompensating caution that I cause an accident by going too slowly or blocking lanes. At least go the limit, folks, or yield to those who do. Or surrender your license if you can’t handle the basics. You are not teaching anyone a lesson by forcing them into co-bumbling on the road. You are inviting road rage and use of impulsively creative sign language.

5.) I will cheerfully block you in the handicapped parking space by double parking or worse if you are parked there illegally just to “run in real quick.” I will wait for you to come out of the store to behold your dilemma, while I herd my handicapped child back in the car and sweetly say, “Oh, here they come, dear…we won’t have to wait now. Is your tummy still hurting? We’ll wait for the nice lady to give us ‘her’ space.”  I will pause and linger and savor every moment of your discomfort as you avoid eye contact with me and my disabled child. This topic probably deserves its own post.

6.) If I am not driving the cumbersome family tank and am in my sleek little commuter car, you better bet your bottom dollar I will zip into the nearest parking spot. When I lived north of the Mason-Dixon line (bless my heart!), I would have visually broadcast my victoriously smug gloating, as is customary. Here in the South, I will feign appropriate mea culpa and delicately cup my hand to my mouth and gesture for you to take the space as an afterthought, knowing full well it’s MINE. Then we’ll strike up a friendly conversation at the deli counter and I’ll let you go first. Then I’ll beat you to the checkout.

7.) Curses to you who pull out into oncoming traffic. You know who you are. Worse are the offenders who pull out into oncoming traffic, then slow to a grinding halt while you turn into the very next driveway. You make me want to tie you to the top of my car like a newly-cut Christmas tree and take you for a loooooong ride. With lots of sharp curves. You people should have your licenses revoked, honestly.

8.) Please do not slow to 25 mph as you approach an interstate exit (“freeway,” for our west coast friends who insist on calling it “free” when it really is not). Just the other day I passed a moron on a very long exit ramp (while I still had a legitimate lane to pass) who pulled this number. And yes, they had a handicapped plate. The speed limit on the ramp was 45. I think. Actually, I wasn’t paying attention. But long ones are usually higher limits, something like that. Either way, I was right, he was wrong. I’m pretty sure. go gO Go GO GO!!!

9.) Get off my ass. If we are enveloped in fog, heavy rain, heavy traffic or we happen to know it’s the last of the month and the cops are out trying to fulfill their quota for the month of speeding tickets, don’t ride me. There are plenty of other lanes. I will not hinder you or I will get over if I know there’s a cop ahead and you’re being an idiot. I would love nothing more than to see you tailgate me only to get pulled over ahead. Go ahead, buddy, ride my ass. I know you’ll enjoy the extra-bright lumens my newish car on regular beams foists upon your rods and cones once you’re happily ahead of me. And I’ve been rear-ended before – the pleasure is all mine from your insurance company. Blowing you a kiss! Mooowah…

10.) Hail (same pronunciation as “hell” in the South) to the multitude of idiots who are clueless that just because their car CAN fit between me and the guy in front of me (especially going at very high speeds), doesn’t mean that’s why I was maintaining a car’s length between me and the guy in front of me. Conditions, anticipation, experience and wisdom all contribute to that car length – or two – between me and the next guy. On a trans-water commute, there is nowhere to go but in the soup, if you screw up. Follow my lead and wait before you impose your vehicle in the safety space. Think, dope. I mean, really…where do you think you’re going to go so fast with all that traffic in front of you and nothing but water everywhere else? And hope you’re carrying a life vest in your car in case you decide to go take a dip with the sharks, jellyfish and the alligators. See ya.

11.) Do not, repeat, DO NOT tailgate me when I am going 82 or something like that, regardless of what lane I’m in. Unless you are the law and it is because I am  totally unaware of you behind me as I am blaring my favorite song for several miles or the song ends, whichever comes first. See #9. You are sharing the road with someone who once lived in open desert, where towns were 2 hours apart and the fastest way to get there was doing speeds close to or in excess of 100 mph. You kind of forget what the speed limits are out there, since the last posted sign was last seen over an hour ago.

12.) My being lost in thought does not give you permission to be lost in yours. I am counting on you for mercy when I need it, and you’re supposed to know when that is. I give the same to you in most cases. I even let some of you go first when you are trying to turn onto a busy highway from a same-side-street driveway. BTW, I’m not not paying attention, I’m probably busy praying for you.

13.) Speaking of which, I saw the ultimate act of driver generosity result in a horrible accident once last year: do not try this at home. Some bonehead decided he would be Sir Gallant and let a pitiful driver turn left, who was attempting to turn from the opposite side of a 4-lane highway. Sir Gallant stopped in the left lane headed north, there was no traffic (so they thought) in the right lane headed north, and pitiful southbound driver was trusting Sir Gallant to let him go ahead and make that turn – and he turned…just as an unsuspecting northbound driver in the right lane barreled into him, which he had not anticipated because Sir Gallant was blocking the left lane, stopped for no apparent reason to those in the right lane. Use good judgment and common sense when you try to be courteous – your courtesy may cost someone’s life.

14.) I am amused at the driving of my coworker-superiors and subordinates when they don’t realize I am driving near them. I will refrain from elaborating on this one for obvious reasons. Just know that you are being analyzed. But please don’t analyze me; I like to believe that I am invisible in my impenetrable auto domain. And I didn’t mean to cut that stupid curb in the parking lot trying to steer around the pothole. Twice in one month. Damnit, and right in front of the administrative offices. Hopefully they were poring over financial statements or something similarly riveting, and didn’t notice. Fix the damn pothole, already.

15.) My IQ doesn’t go down when I get behind the wheel, yours does (if I don’t know you).

Now excuse me while I go whip up a big ol’ pot of Jambalaya for game day. We now return to our regularly scheduled Southern décorum (straightening and smoothing my dress, here, along with a fresh re-application of lipstick. Ahem).

And thanks, God, for getting me everywhere I need to go, safely.

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