Jambalaya (on the Bayou)

If there were a buzzfeed quiz about “Which 1980s movie are you?” (and there probably is), I think that the results would land me directly in Steel Magnolias territory. Sure, it’s become almost cliche in its zippy one-liners and gut-wrenching emotional scenes, but I love it for what it is. And so, as I was making Amelia’s Jambalaya from Foolproof, I couldn’t stop myself from half-humming, half-singing the song from Shelby and Jackson’s wedding reception scene:

Of course, the version of jambalaya that I ended up making would probably have any real Cajun grandma feeding it to the gators, but I’m ok with that. Like Steel Magnolias, I love it for what it is.

First of all, I omitted shrimp, because this recipe makes a huge vat of food, so I knew we’d be eating leftovers, and leftover shrimp is just not going to happen in my world if I can help it. There are so many different versions of even this jambalaya recipe floating around (the cookbook version, and a different online version) that I took it as kind of a free-for-all anyway, at least in terms of the meat and fish varieties you wanted to include. Think of it as an Americanized paella of sorts.

Second, I substituted the jalapeño peppers for some crushed red pepper. I realize that this admission has the potential to get us all kicked out of Texas, but everybody seems so friendly that I’ll hedge my bets and we can stay here for a while. And besides, this is the beauty of cooking at home, right? Making something the way that you and your family like it seems to be one of the biggest advantages of going through all of the trouble of preparing a meal at home.

Speaking of trouble, this recipe looks like trouble at first glance. An entire page is dedicated to ingredients, and there’s a lot of “brown this, then set it aside, then saute this, then….” I was intimidated at first, thinking for sure that I would forget a step or get an ingredient out of order, but once I got it started, it wasn’t too complicated at all. The first step involves browning the sausage, and that will make your kitchen smell amazing and put you in a good mood for the rest of the recipe. Give yourself an hour to finish it all – this is definitely more weekend cooking than weeknight cooking, but so worth it.

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Still Alive

The listeria hasn’t gotten us … yet. We’re still kicking along, and dare I say it, feeling more settled in. I don’t know what it was about this week that just made things feel like they have “gelled” here. The boxes have been unpacked since the beginning of June, but something didn’t quite feel permanent yet. Maybe it was the last few annoying things on the miles-long to-do lists, or buying Rowan’s school uniforms and shoes, or maybe it was finding the long-lost car keys that I thought were gone forever. But somehow, things seem more permanent and settled. I’m not saying everything is perfect, and I know we still have a lot to learn. But for this semi-settled state, I feel grateful. We celebrated my birthday last weekend, and I loved it. If there’s one thing my parents taught me, it was to revel in birthdays, even as an adult. My dad still celebrates his with shameless abandon, and my mom, orphaned at a young age, is always grateful for another year. “Better than the alternative,” right? For my birthday this year, we went out to dinner, really to celebrate both my and Neil’s birthdays, since his was overshadowed by the big moving week. I got a lovely stack of vintage cookbooks from Half Price Books, some lovely cookware (on eBay!) and a slice of cake from one of our favorite new bakeries. All of my boys sang to me and wrote me the most adorable cards. I’m a lucky lady.

Once we came down from the sugar high of birthday cake, I made a few Contessa recipes. I had planned to grill the French Bistro Steaks with Provençal Butter (Back to Basics) and Grilled Bread with Prosciutto (How Easy is That). I had planned on grilling both of these recipes, as instructed, but anyone who has spent any time in Houston knows that a thunderstorm can come up out of nowhere and ruin outdoor plans. (As it turns out, a storm can also ruin the outdoor planTs without proper drainage – sorry, oregano.) Until we get a gas grill (it’s on the wish list), we have to plan ahead to light the charcoal and heat it up. And I do love a charcoal grill, so I don’t regret having it. With the unpredictable weather, I did a google search on how to cook a hangar steak indoors. I found this method, and using a cast iron pan, I cooked it all inside. As it turns out, I could have used the grill after all, but after a stormy day, I didn’t want to take any chances.

A note on ingredients: when I asked about hangar steaks at the meat department at the grocery store, the butcher told me that they don’t carry hangar steaks, but that the closest thing that they had was a fajita steak. I bought that instead, and it worked just fine. For all I know, it’s the exact same thing. The herbed butter called for herbes de provence, which, I’ll be honest, I just forgot to buy. But then I read online that herbes de provence include lavender only in the United States. I’m not a big fan of lavender as a scent, so I can’t imagine I’d be thrilled about it on steak. So, I used just the fresh herbs instead, and they were all kinds of awesome.

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The “grilled” bread with prosciutto was less of a hit. I don’t know – maybe I should have broiled it for longer, or maybe I should have sliced the mozzarella a little more thinly. (Whenever I get stuck in a long line of “maybes” like this, I can’t help saying that line in Steel Magnolias when Truvy says, “Maybe she’s praying because the elastic is shot in her pantyhose! Who knows!”) For whatever reason, this recipe didn’t wow me, even though there was nothing terrible about it. I do think it would have been better on the grill. It reminded me a little bit of what could have been a grilled pizza, without sauce. So, if you’re itching to try a grilled pizza but you’re still a little gun-shy about raw dough on the grill, try this first.

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The final summery recipe this week was the honey vanilla fromage blanc from Back to Basics. This is one of a long line of “honey vanilla [fill in the blank]” recipes from Ina, and sadly, I think this was my least favorite. It was just too tangy for my tastes. It was easy, so if you’re short for time and need a quick dessert for guests, I guess you could whip it up, especially if you don’t really want them to come back.

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Listeria Hysteria

After finishing all of the peach recipes from the Barefoot Contessa cookbooks, I had to try my hand at a peach cobbler recipe from Cook’s Illustrated (the America’s Test Kitchen people). True to form, their recipe was painstakingly detailed, and if I had followed each step precisely, I would have dirtied every mixing bowl in my kitchen, and probably a few from a neighbor’s kitchen, too. I combined some steps to save on dirty dishes, but still followed all of the measurements and instructions to their exacting specifications. The result was, as promised, amazing.

Neil and I devoured our dessert, and both proclaimed it the finest cobbler ever cobbled.

Listeria Cobbler

Listeria Cobbler

Not even an hour later, I received a call from Costco’s automated recall telephone number. It seems that the peaches I cobbled were subject to a nationwide recall for possible listeria contamination.

Well, damn. I was really hoping for an entire week this summer where none of us was sick.

Hopefully, we prevented any illness by cooking the peaches at a high temperature. Otherwise, dear friends, it was nice knowing you. Make sure the kids know that I love them, and make sure that my Le Creuset dutch oven ends up in responsible hands.

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Mocha Chocolate Icebox Cake

I think this was the first icebox cake I’ve ever made, despite years of clipping recipes for them from Southern Living magazine, and admiring them in all of their 1950s glory. I’ve wanted to make this particular cake for a while. The recipe, from How Easy is That?, really is that easy. For months, I had a plan to make some crisp chocolate chip cookies instead of buying cookies from Tate’s Bake Shop that the recipe recommends. To be fair, I didn’t really search for them in Minnesota, but these cookies seem to be available for sale everywhere here in Houston.

I first found them with our 6-year-old on a regular grocery shopping trip. He’s not usually my grocery guy – my 3-year-old is much happier shopping for food than his older brother is – but we were on a special mission to Buy All The Things That Rowan Wants to Eat. He lost 4 pounds in our first month here, which may not sound like a lot, but it’s approximately 10% of the poor little guy’s body weight. He’s much better now, thanks be to God and the Texas Medical Center. So, when he showed interest in these cookies, these cookies are what he got. In the past month, I think he’s eaten more than what can be contained in this cake. Behold the healing power of the cookie.

So, once I knew where to find the cookies, I dug up this recipe, which might just be the Perfect Summer Dessert: Non-Fruit Category. No oven, simple ingredients, easy-setup, and beyond delicious. And, there’s mascarpone, which makes this like a (much better, in my opinion) version of tiramisu, without the creepy “ladyfingers” ingredient.

mocha icebox

I replaced the Kahlua with regular coffee, because I’m not into boozey desserts. The frosting/mousse/filling would have been good slurped off of a spoon, but even better with the layers of cookies. I was really glad that I replaced my rusty, bent springform pan at the Nordic Ware factory. Isn’t the red snappy?

Now I want to make all of these!

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Crab Strudels

This is not (I repeat: is not) a beginner recipe.

I think phyllo was invented by a cruel Greek goddess who inflicted the pain and terror of shredding sheets and loose filling on her enemies.

That said, eventually, they turned out (recipe from Foolproof). The filling was great. I omitted the curry, naturally, and I didn’t feel that the flavor suffered any. I just think that they would have been better suited for maybe a wonton wrapper. This is a lot of futz for an appetizer. We ate a few sections of them as a main course with cucumbers and homemade ranch dressing.

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Old Friends

Some Barefoot Contessa recipes are too good not to repeat.

Peach ice cream, for example, is just begging to be made from the loads of fresh peaches right now. I discovered something new this year, too – you don’t *really* have to strain anything before chilling it, especially if you don’t mind little bits of peach in your ice cream. We think they taste pretty good anyway.

Spaghetti aglio e olio is one of our favorite quick dinners in any season, and we can usually make it with whatever we already have in the kitchen. It’s perfect with some grilled or sauteed vegetables, when you really don’t know what else to do with that zucchini or broccolini that’s threatening to take over your CSA box or garden.

I happen to think that buttermilk ranch dressing made from scratch is the most perfect dip or dressing for fresh greens and crisp vegetables. Bonus: it uses the rest of a container of buttermilk from when I make these pancakes.

What are your summer favorites?

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A Miss and a Hit

If you think that the salmon, bacon, and guacamole sandwich in Foolproof sounds like something an affable but creative bachelor would throw together for dinner, you aren’t completely off base. Ina calls for arugula, too, but I’m not sure that would’ve fit in my mouth. Part of the problem is that I bought prepared guacamole, which I accidentally froze in a cold part of the refrigerator, so I had to slice some avocados instead. But still, there was just too much going on here. If I could raise one eyebrow at this monstrosity, I would. If you are still halfway thinking about trying it, let me spare you the trouble. Just … Don’t. image

The grilled lamb kebabs from Barefoot Contessa at Home, though, more than made up for it. This was a pleasant surprise, because I ordinarily prefer the Foolproof Recipes to recipes from either “At Home” or “Back to Basics.” The lamb is marinated in a simple red wine, herb and garlic mixture overnight, then skewered with onions, and grilled alongside some skewered tomatoes. The whole mess is served over couscous with sautéed shallots (we used whole wheat couscous), and drizzled with an herby lemon sauce. I grilled some asparagus with olive oil in a foil packet to add some more vegetable color and flavor.

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This would be a great dish for someone who wants to try lamb but is hesitant. The marinade and the grill take some of the strong lamb flavor away, but none of its tenderness. As an aside, I could open up a skewer store. There is something about moving that makes a person take inventory of her belongings, and I must have had wooden skewers in every drawer of our last house, house, given how many take up space in just one drawer here. Expect to see more kebabs here in the near future. Oops.

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