Get full ahead of Fat Tuesday

Lent is coming. If you practice that sort of thing.

I don’t, but at this time of year, this relapsed Catholic still can’t help but think of the many holidays and sacrifices (that I’m not making) ahead. But mostly, I think of the Mardi Gras celebrations to come in New Orleans.

Then, I think of the the cajun food that I can enjoy.

Most years, when it’s still cold and miserable in Iowa, I make a hearty gumbo. But I wanted to try something different this year. So, I asked Mom for her popular jambalaya recipe.

Jambalaya ingredients

I can see why it’s so beloved amongst her friend group — it is literally full to the brim with meats and flavors. But like with the cassoulet I made earlier this year, I could not rationalize eating 6 pounds of meat, so I cut some back from her recipe (that seems to come from the USA Cookbook).

The ingredients I used were the same, but my amounts varied quite a bit, except in the rice to broth amounts so I could ensure I didn’t end up with jambalaya soup or dried rice.

It worked out perfectly, even though I made it on a weeknight. There was relatively little swearing, and I’m looking forward to the leftovers as it was still filled to the brim.

Hopefully, the Dutch oven will be empty before Fat Tuesday, which is March 5 this year. (Note: This is a joke. I would not keep food around that long.)

Brimful of jambalaya in the Dutch oven. Nom noms.

Here’s what I did:

Ingredients

  • ½ c. vegetable oil
  • 1 lb. andouille sausage, cut into ½ inch slices
  • 1 lb. chicken breast, cut into ½ inch pieces
  • 3 medium onions, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced (I used more)
  • 2 ribs celery, chopped
  • 2 bell peppers, chopped (I used one red and one green)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 t. dried basil (I used more)
  • ¼ t. cayenne (ha, I used way more, try 2 t.)
  • 2 c. long grain rice
  • 4 ½ c. chicken or vegetable broth, preferably homemade
  • 1 (14 oz.) can tomato sauce
  • 1 (6 oz.) can tomato paste
  • 1 lb. shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • ¾ c. chopped fresh parsley, preferably flat-leaf
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions

Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium to medium-high heat. Add the sausage and cook until browned, about 10 minutes. Use slotted spoon to remove and transfer to a paper towel-lined plate or bowl. Add the chicken pieces, and cook until just cooked through, about 5 to 10 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to remove and transfer to the same plate or bowl as the sausage.

Add the onions to the to the Dutch oven, and cook until softened and translucent, about 5 to 10 minutes. Add in the garlic, celery, bell peppers, bay leaves, cayenne, and basil. Cook for another 5 minutes.

Add the (uncooked rice) and cook, stirring for about 5 minutes. Add the broth, tomato sauce, tomato paste, and add back in the meat. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, and then cook covered for about 20 to 25 minutes, until most of the liquid has been absorbed.

Add in the shrimp, and parsley, and cook, covered, for another 5 or so minutes, until the shrimp is cooked through. Adjust the seasons, as necessary, and enjoy!

One more one-pot pasta dish

Wine and pasta are such a perfect pairing that it’s worth doing twice.

We’re replacing white with red, sticking with spaghetti, and focusing on red meat. That’s right, it’s time for spaghetti bolognese.

Spaghetti bolognese ingredients (except I really used my own broth instead of bouillon).

I adapted a recipe from “Cook It In Your Dutch Oven,” though — like the scampi — most recipes I found were pretty similar. What I liked about this one is that it added additional vegetables than just tomatoes; what I didn’t like is that it had the vegetable puree mostly replace tomatoes. Call me traditional but it’s not bolognese without an abundance of tomatoes.

So, instead of pureeing, I just diced the vegetables, cooked them longer, and had a chunkier sauce. Because of that, I also decided to use crushed tomatoes instead of tomato sauce so it was all chunky. I kept in the 3 T. of tomato paste too but I’m not sure it’s necessary. I just needed it for another recipe anyway so I kept it in.

I also used all broth instead of a mixture of water and broth, and replaced beef with buffalo.

I think all the changes worked. It made a hearty, heavy meal feel healthier, and all tasted great. My only small complaint is that this supposed weeknight meal took longer with cutting all the vegetables (rather than pureeing), and also isn’t *that* short even without it. Still worth it, though, and made for days of yummy leftovers.

Nom nom nom.

Here’s what I did:

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. ground buffalo, or any ground meat
  • 6 oz. pancetta, chopped
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 medium carrot, diced
  • 1 celery rib, diced
  • 1 T. unsalted butter
  • 1 T. olive oil
  • 1 (14 oz.) can crushed tomatoes
  • 3 T. tomato paste, optional
  • 1 c. dry red wine
  • 5 c. broth (I used homemade chicken vegetable broth but any will do)
  • ½ c. grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving (I used more)
  • 1 lb. spaghetti, uncooked
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions

Heat butter and oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the pancetta and the onion, carrot, and celery. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 8 to 10 minutes until the vegetables have softened.

Add the ground meat and tomato paste, if using, and cook until the meat is just cooked through, about another 8 to 10 minutes.

Stir in the diced tomatoes and the wine, and cook for about 5 minutes to reduce the liquid total by about half, stirring occasionally. Add broth and Parmesan, and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook the sauce mixture for 20 minutes to let the flavors combine.

Increase the heat, and bring the sauce to a boil. Gently add in the pasta, and return to a simmer. Cook covered or partially covered — depending on how thick you like your sauce — for another 10 to 15 minutes until the pasta is cooked to desired tendency. Add more broth if necessary. Season with additional salt and pepper, if desired. Serve and add extra Parmesan, if desired, and enjoy!

Sumptuous shrimp scampi to share with your sweetheart

I have a thing about Valentine’s Day, and well, really, most dates in general: I don’t like them. I don’t like to dress up; I don’t like the fancy-pants restaurants you’re *supposed* to go to for special occasions; and mostly, I don’t like the pressure to have a romantic evening.

If they’re your thing, more power to you; make the reservations, and have a good time.

I was lucky, then, to find a partner who feels the same way I do. A restaurant that requires us to feel like we don’t belong is not a restaurant we’re going to, no matter the rave reviews. Advance planning, likewise, isn’t really our thing.

Instead, I usually try to find something special but simple to make for dinner — and yet, I also don’t feel pressured to do so, if I feel lazy or if take-out beckons. In past years, I’ve celebrated the holiday with peanut stew. This year, I found something even simpler and yet also fancier: shrimp scampi.

Shrimp scampi ingredients. They didn’t all fit but they would have if I didn’t buy large quantities of wine and olive oil.

I’d never made it before, and honestly, hadn’t gotten it in restaurants because it’s usually too pricey to justify what it is. But after tasting it, I can see why it’s a go-to fancy dinner order. It’s damn delicious.

It’s also still too easy to make at home to justify the upcharge for having it made for me. There’s few ingredients, and it’s even a one-pot meal. In all, it’s about a half-hour of work. It’s the perfect stay-at-home dinner date whether you have a special Valentine or not.

SHRAMMPIES!!!!

Here’s what I did:

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. angel hair pasta or similar (I used spaghetti because I wanted whole wheat and I couldn’t find it in angel hair)
  • 1 ½ lb. peeled and deveined uncooked shrimp
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • ½ c. dry white wine (and, let’s be honest, more to serve in a glass on the side)
  • 6 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • ¼ t. red pepper flakes (I used more but we like a little more kick to our food)
  • 3 T. unsalted butter, cold and cut into smallish cubes
  • ¼ c. coarsely chopped parsley, flat-leaf preferred
  • Juice from ½ lemon

Directions

Bring water to a boil in a large Dutch oven. Add the pasta, cooking to al dente according to package instructions (between 7 and 12 minutes, depending on pasta type). Reserve ½ c. of cooking water, and then drain the pasta and set aside.

Meanwhile, pat the shrimp dry and season both sides with salt and pepper, to taste. In the same large Dutch oven where you cooked your pasta, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the shrimp and cook for about 1 minute. Flip, and then add the wine, garlic, and red pepper flakes. Cook until the shrimp are just opaque and the wine has reduced by half, about 2 to 3 more minutes.

Remove the Dutch oven from heat, add the butter cubes, and stir until melted. Add the pasta, parsley, and lemon juice. Toss until combined, adding reserved pasta water by the tablespoon, until a sauce forms that coats the pasta. (Don’t worry if you don’t use all the water.) Serve immediately, and enjoy!

Putting the pot in pot pie

When I knew I was doing Dutch ovens, I knew that I needed to buy a Dutch oven cookbook for guidance and ideas throughout the year. But I found it was real easy to come up with the first few things I needed to try so I put it off.

Finally, though, I went ahead and got “Cook It In Your Dutch Oven” from America’s Test Kitchen. I patted myself on the back for how many of their ideas were things that I’m planning to make this year already, but my jaw dropped (not literally) when I came across the pot pie recipe.

This pie lady never thought of making a pot pie as a not-quite-pie, but definitely all pot.

Chicken pot pie ingredients.

The recipe was for spring vegetables, but I damn well know what goes in a pot pie and I know it’s wintery AF.

And bad mistakes, I made a few.

First of all, the lattice top crust that makes up the top (spoiler: there’s no crusty bottom) is with puff pastry and I am so bad at dealing with puff pastry. I muddled through but it was frustrating.

Second of all, the recipe called for chicken thighs. I got a mix — 1 lb. each of chicken breast and chicken thighs — but I didn’t realize that trimming raw chicken thighs is frustrating and nearly impossible. I should have known by now, but I mostly work with breasts, or thighs that are cut after cooked.

Third of all, seasons. The substitutions I made worked real well for a winter pot pie, but it didn’t occur to me until too late that some of the ingredients made more sense in a spring recipe rather than winter, and I should have probably scrapped them. They are the optional ingredients below — tomato paste and lemon zest (the original also calls for some lemon juice from about half a lemon). I think they’d work better in a real spring recipe (with asparagus instead of potatoes, and tarragon instead of parsley)  than this one, though they didn’t manage to ruin the whole thing.

What I’m saying is, despite my mistakes, and despite the modest frustration, it was still good. Because pot pies are good. And errors can be corrected so that pot pies are even better.

I’ll probably never love working with puff pastry, but honestly, a good hearty (or even spring!) pot pie is worth it.

It sure looks pretty, but it also tastes pretty great.

Here’s what I did (with recommendations for what I should have done):

Ingredients

  • 1 sheet puff pastry, thawed
  • 6 T. butter
  • 1 lb. (about 4) leeks, white and light green parts, sliced
  • 4 carrots, cut into ½-inch pieces
  • 3 celery stalks, cut into ½-inch pieces
  • 1 lb. potatoes, cut into ½-inch pieces
  • 1 c. frozen peas
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced (I used the jarred stuff)
  • ½ c. flour
  • 1 T. tomato paste (optional)
  • 3 c. chicken broth, more as needed
  • ½ c. heavy cream
  • 1 t. soy sauce (we were out so I used Bragg liquid aminos)
  • 2 lbs. boneless chicken breasts, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces (or thighs if you’re a masochist)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 2 T. dried parsley flakes or chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 T. lemon zest (optional)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions

Cut a sheet of parchment paper to match the outline of a Dutch oven lid. Set aside. Roll puff pastry sheet into about a 15- by 11-inch rectangle, and then cut (a pizza cutter works great) into 10 1 ½-inch wide strips. Place 5 strips parallel and 5 strips perpendicular on the parchment paper round you created.

There are fancy techniques to do this more efficiently, but weave the 10 strips into a lattice top into whatever is easiest for you. Cut the strips to fit onto the parchment paper round.

Move your lattice top puff pastry using the parchment paper to the up-turned lid of the Dutch oven, and refrigerate while you prepare the rest of the pot pie.

Move oven rack to the lower middle position in the oven, and heat the oven to 400 degrees.

Meanwhile, melt the butter on the stove top over medium heat.

Add the leeks, carrots, celery, and potatoes, and cook until the leeks are softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and stir for another minute. Then, add in the flour, slowly, and stir for another minute. Add the tomato paste, if using.

Then, stir in the broth, scraping up browned bits as necessary. Add the cream, and soy sauce. Bring to a simmer and cook until the mixture thickens, about 3 to 5 minutes.

Stir in the chicken pieces, and continue to simmer for a couple minutes before removing from heat.

Put the the up-turned lid with the puff pastry on top of the Dutch oven (still up-turned and do so carefully!), and brush it with the egg mixture (I also added a tablespoon or so of water). Sprinkle with salt, if desired.

Transfer the pot to oven and bake for about 25 to 30 minutes until the puff pastry is puffed and golden, about 25 to 30 minutes.

Remove pot from oven and carefully transfer the parchment and pastry to a wire rack and remove lid. Stir in the peas, and let sit until heated through about 5 minutes. Add more broth if necessary. Add the parsley flakes and lemon zest, if using, and stir in salt and pepper to taste. Plop (carefully!) the puff pastry on top of the filling, and enjoy!