Teaching myself to cook, one recipe at a time.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Jambalaya: First Solo Attempt

A year ago, I asked my sister-in-law to show me how to make jambalaya and wrote a post about the experience. Around that same time, I talked to a few different members of hubby’s family about how they make the dish, since everyone seems to do it differently (and have strong opinions about the right way to do it). Somehow, though I intended to try it on my own, I never got around to it until last week. Hubby and I were moving out of our little home and I was going through the freezer, unearthing all kinds of buried treasure, when I stumbled across some frozen Cajun sausage given to us by my sister-in-law. It was decided – finally time to attempt jambalaya on my own!


Here’s my SIL’s base recipe, with her sister’s version scribbled on a post-it note below it.


Only slightly intimidating, though I’d only ever even eaten jambalaya twice (unless you count that time at a Maryland restaurant, but I’m not sure the Cajuns would count that).

I started off prepping my vegetables. First, celery.



Then some onion. I really need to re-read my camera’s manual so I stop taking shots like this.


And some green bell pepper.


Here’s everything together:


Next, grab a big ol’ chunk of pork loin roast.


I cut the pork into cubes, spread them on a plate, and seasoned heavily with salt, ground black pepper, and a bit of cayenne pepper.


Next, I turned to the (thawed) sausage that had come to us all the way from Louisiana, only to sit in my freezer.



Here’s the biggest change that I made between last year’s version and this one: putting sugar in the pot and letting it melt and caramelize before adding the meat. With the original recipe (sans sugar), I had really struggled with the concept of caramelizing sausage and couldn’t figure out how this was different than sautéing it. Google hadn’t helped me, either. Hubby’s family members differ on whether or not jambalaya should be started with sugar, but I decided to go with it because caramelizing sugar makes more sense to me than caramelizing sausage.


It only took a few minutes to start melting.


Then it’ll start to brown, slowly, slowly.



Be really, really careful with it. Just a tiny drop splashed up when I got a little overenthusiastic with my stirring. The drop landed on my skin with a hiss and resulted in a blister (which mysteriously never hurt). Sooooo yeah. That step should be done by an adult and very carefully.

When the sugar was starting to get dark and cooked, I dropped in my pork and let it start cooking. The sugar helped with both the color and the smoky taste.


The pork released a lot of water. I let it cook off while the surface of the pork seared. Lots of steam!


Next, I added my sausage. This released even more liquid so I let this simmer for quite a while in hopes of letting the liquid cook off.


I had trouble getting a good picture of it and I certainly couldn’t capture the aroma, which was pretty good. Smoky and sweet.



Finally, I added in my veggies. Again, I let them cook down and then simmered off the liquid for a while.



When I was satisfied with that step, I added water and then seasoned with salt, black pepper, and cayenne.


I let that go for quite a while, then added some uncooked rice. At that point, just turn down the heat, cover, and let it continue to simmer.


An hour or so later, this is what you have!


Nom nom nom. I think I underseasoned it a bit and ended up adding salt while I was eating, but other than that, I was pleased with the result. I liked the way it turned out, and hubby’s enthusiasm was encouraging, too.

We’re moving further north, though. I’m not sure where we can get appropriate sausage for me to do this again…

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Stuffed Peppers, Second Attempt

I posted a while back about making stuffed peppers. I had done so after encountering so many different recipes with different methods that I finally just threw up my hands and selected one that had a pretty good rating. I liked it a lot. Like, a lot a lot. Very yummy. But there are two main disadvantages to that recipe. First, it kept the peppers whole, not halving them, and the result seems like far too much food for one person. Also, it involved putting the beef in the peppers to cook meatloaf-style, and while that is yummy, it also doesn’t give you the chance to drain out the fat.


After this first attempt, I thought I’d put another recipe to the test. This recipe was supposed to be a lot healthier. I’m down for that.

First, mince an onion.


Also chop up a tablespoon of cilantro. Interestingly, I happened to have some.


And here’s my lazy version of minced garlic. I’m sure it would have been better fresh. It’s just hard to have fresh garlic on hand when you’re only cooking for two. Mine always gets rubbery and grows shoots.


When you’re done prepping, drop the onion, garlic, and cilantro in a hot skillet with some olive oil.


Cook it up for a few.


After a few minutes, add ground beef. Should have been ground turkey, according to the recipe, and that would have made it healthier, but try convincing my husband that turkey > beef. Also, that’s just what I had. I really should start making that substitution here and there.


Season with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and cumin, and keep browning the meat.



Drain off any excess fat, if you’re using beef, and add just a little tomato sauce. I think my camera got a little too close – I steamed up the lens a bit.


And then add a little bit of chicken broth.


And then just simmer for a while.


Meanwhile, prep your peppers. I used three each of red and green, but of course that’s personal preference. Just remove the stems and scoop out the seeds and membranes.


I had an open can of diced tomatoes from another dish in the fridge, so I added a bunch of those to the meat mixture. Go me.


Finally, add in some cold, clumpy, cooked rice. I suppose it could be hot, fresh rice, but that’s not what I had.


Stir it up until it’s nice and hot.


Fill the pepper halves with the mixture (be careful – it’s hot!) and place in a casserole dish.


Add some more chicken broth to the bottom to keep them all moist.


Grate some cheddar cheese.


And sprinkle it on top of your peppers. Then notice that you were supposed to wait until after baking them. Ah well. I like to live on the wild side.


Cover with foil and bake at 400 degrees for 35 minutes.




Here are my thoughts.

Appearance: way better than the last time. The peppers were firm, not droopy, despite the chicken broth that they’d cooked in, and the cheese looked a lot better than the crusty tomato sauce. And having them in halves just looked better than stuffing them whole, as well.


Taste: Meh. I think the person who wrote the recipe deliberately didn’t top with tomato sauce, but I think this was a mistake. I topped all of my leftovers with tomato sauce and that made them way better. The beef mixture was good, but just not great. I know the original recipe called for turkey and that changing it to beef and then critiquing isn’t fair, but I have to say that neither the taste nor texture really did it for me. I think I’m a fan of the meatloaf-texture, as apposed to the taco meat texture, and the flavor was just plain missing something.

Not opposed to trying again, but definitely topped with sauce. And maybe I’ll stuff it with raw meat and bake longer. Okay, maybe I’ll just combine this recipe with the other one. *sigh* Why is this so difficult?

Oh, but by the way, I love stuffed peppers now. How did I make it so long without ever having them before?

Friday, May 18, 2012

Farfalle with Gorgonzola, Arugula, and Cherry Tomatoes

In my last post, I made ravioli with arugula and served a salad with crumbled gorgonzola cheese in it. I had a lot of those key ingredients left over and didn’t know what to do with them. I don’t have any recipes that call for arugula, and I had a ton of it left over. And I didn’t know what to do with the cheese, either. I would have been open to putting the cheese on my salads until it was gone, except that was boring. I’d already been doing that for two or three days and was bored of it.


Google is my friend. I found this recipe in the New York Times archives and decided to make it. I didn’t have fresh cherry tomatoes, but I did have canned diced tomatoes and unlike all the uppity commenters on the original recipe, I wasn’t mad at the poster for sharing a recipe that I didn’t have the ingredients for (apparently it’s insensitive to post a recipe that calls for fresh tomatoes in January). So I decided to make it with some substitutions.

But I am a good wife so I made garlic breaded chicken, too, so hubby could have meat with his meal. Here it is ready to go in the oven. Forgot to take a finished picture later.


Step one: boil some bow-tie pasta.


Put your gorgonzola cheese in a pan.


Add half-and-half


And stir it over heat until the cheese melts. I guess it’s okay for the sauce to be chunky, as long as it’s warm and gooey and a lot of the cheese melts.


When you’re satisfied with the creamy, cheesy sauce, pour it over the pasta that you’ve drained but forgotten to take a picture of.


Add two cups of arugula and one cup of cherry tomatoes (or if you’re like me, just open a can of diced and use that instead). Also add some salt and pepper, too.


And serve! It’s that simple. I topped mine with some shredded Parmesan cheese.


My verdict: good… but it disappointed me a bit. I’m not sure what I was expecting but it was a little more. Then again, I thought the leftovers were amazing. It may have been a case of snacking too much while I was eating. In fact, I think it was. The dish has my favorite things – pasta, gooey cheese, greenery, and a lot of flavor. I think I’d like to try this again without sneaking crumbles of gorgonzola in the process.


If you make it, let me know how it went!