Every year most everybody has a new years resolution they try to set as a goal(s) to attain throughout the coming year. I pretty much quit doing this a few years back as I really didn't want to promise myself anything I would give up on eventually or something I already do all year long, such as try to stay in shape. Trying to make it to an A squash player was something I used to set for a couple of years, but injuries and stupidity always got in the way. Eating healthy (er) is always on my mind when it comes to resolutions which is part of the reason I am writing this blog, so consider yourself a part of my semi-new years resolution. If you take part in the New Years resolution thing, what do you do?
When I say eating healthier, I mean keep on eating healthy foods which are good for myself and my family. This is new for us (the birthday cake thing for kids), so we started yesterday (January 1st) with Little O's 1st birthday party. Instead of having a big, fatty cake, Mrs. Urban Eater went to the Glamorgan Bakery (http://www.glamorganbakery.com/) and had them make a cupcake cake which was supposed to be peanut free, kind of, sort of as they couldn't guarantee this, but the thought was there. As the cake was made up of cupcakes, this meant it was a lot cleaner and easier to serve to everyone and was easy to control portion sizes for those who tend to eat too much cake (IE. me). I thought the wife said gluten-free as well, but I guess I heard wrong. Still, it was an absolutely fantastic cake and it turned out to be a big hit.
Notice the little people surrounding it like hyenas on a wildebeest.
This household usually has a party 2 or 3 times a year, depending on what is going on in our social circles, but since little O has been in the picture it's been hard to get anything going at our house. Having a little party pooper which has to be in bed around 8pm in the house kind of makes things socially difficult, but we survive. Everybody wants to hold her and play with her, which is great, but as long as it happens before she demands her pre-bedtime bottle of milk.
The people who come to our little get togethers are of the healthy variety. So the food, in my mind, should follow suit. I usually cook up a big pot of jambalaya. It's easy to make and most everybody likes it. Plus, I make it as healthy as I can.
If you are having a party (not a sit-down dinner party) where you are serving food, remember these tips:
1) Make it simple, meaning only using one pot if possible.
2) Try to make something which is not too pretentious. If you make something like duck confit, then you may have a few people saying they aren't hungry and will go through a drive through somewhere on the way home.
3) Plan ahead. Have your ingredients ready to go, chopped and in a bowl so you aren't doing any prep when your guests arrive. If you can, make as much as you can the day before. If your food involves a tomato-based sauce, it will taste better the next day anyways.
4) Make something in which your guests can serve up their own dish if required. It's always best to serve your own food so you can control the portions, but sometimes a little help is always welcome.
5) Always, ALWAYS ask about food allergies! Never forget to do this! Believe it or not, sometimes these people forget or just don't tell you about their issues. You don't want somebody to go anaphylactic on you and fall on your floor. They might spill the food! When it comes to allergies, I take out some of the jambalaya and separate a little bit from the big pot just before I put in the seafood. Easy fix. It's always good to know how many people you need to do this for ahead of time so you can get your portions correct.
6) If somebody doesn't like something you're making and everybody else is alright with it, too bloody bad for them. I don't know how many times I have tried to accommodate everybody in the room and everything got totally screwed up. Just ask what they don't like and maybe if it's just one or two of the ingredients, you can start another pot off to the side. Put some of what you are cooking in another smaller pot just before adding the things they don't like, basically the same as above. Simple as that.
7. If more than 7 or 8 people are involved, we use paper plates and/or bowls and plastic utensils. Otherwise, you will spend more time cleaning up and washing dishes. But if you have a big house with lots of dinnerware, feel free to go crazy and be all fancy!
Jambalaya is something a lot of households in the southern United States, mainly Louisiana, make as a family meal. It could be compared what the Spanish make, paella. It can be made many ways as there are tons of different family recipes passed down through generations. It is considered to be a filling but easy-to-prepare rice dish. This was made to be as flavorful as possible with what you had available. It was an attempt by the Spanish to make paella in the French Quarter but they didn't have any saffron. This is where the tomatoes came in, to make it red. It has evolved over the years with influences from the Caribbean and the French to make it an original dish today.
Another thing about the word jambalaya, it's funny if you say it like Newman on Seinfeld (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qMMVvS_mmqE) from the Soup Nazi episode. Jambalaya!
When I make it, I cut down on the fat and use boneless, skinless chicken breasts instead of thighs and/or drumsticks. If you want to save some cash, buy a whole chicken, bone it and skin it yourself and put what you don't use in the fridge or freezer. I also take out the fat which is rendered off of the sausage by soaking it up with a paper towel. Fat is flavor, but fat is also fat on your body which is what I try to avoid. I have enough so I don't want to much more around my waste or in my arteries.
I also don't scrimp too much on the grocery bill either when I make this dish. I am cognoscente of how much I'm spending as always, but I don't make this on a minimalist budget. My health takes precedence over my wallet in most cases.
I use red peppers instead of green peppers as they are extremely high in vitamin C and A (http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=50). Green peppers are good to use as well especially if you want to contrast the red tomato sauce with a green color, but I prefer brighter colors. If you can use any fruit or vegetable which has a bright color in any of your dishes, do it. I also use the best sausage I can find. Normally jambalaya is made with andoullie sausage, but I can't find it too easily up here, so I use chorizo instead. Chorizo is the worlds most popular sausage, so it pretty much goes with anything. FYI, in the future I will be making both of these as I have a sausage making attachment I haven't used yet for my Kitchen Aid mixer and am now feeling the heat about it from a certain person in the house which will not be named here. :)
- 700 g (24.5 oz) cured chorizo sausage, cut in half and into 1/2-inch slices
- 4-5 skinless, boneless chicken breasts cut into 1" cubes
- 1 large Spanish (red) onion, chopped
- 2 red peppers, diced
- 5 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely diced
- 2 1.5 l(200 oz) can diced tomatoes, drain as best as you can. If you use whole San Marzano's, just dump the whole can in.
- 1 398 ml (13.5 oz) can tomato sauce
- 1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste
- 2 sprigs fresh thyme
- 1 sprig fresh rosemary
- 3 bay leaves
- 1 tbsp smoked paprika
- 1 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1 tbsp cumin
- 1/2 cup Italian parsley, finely chopped
- 3/4 cup basil, torn by hand into small pieces
- fresh ground pepper to taste
- sea salt to taste
- 3/4 - 1 lb (31-40 count) uncooked medium shrimp. I had to buy frozen, but if you can fresh, go for it.
- 20 large scallops cut into 1/2 to 3/4" chunks. I couldn't find fresh so I bought Olivia frozen scallops (http://ifcseafood.com/). I liked the name.
- 2 cups long grain rice
- 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1. In a large pot (the pot I use is a 12 L (405 oz) stock pot) over medium high heat, pour in enough EVOO to make sure the sausage won't stick. When hot, add the sausage and stir frequently as you don't want the sausage to burn. When it starts to brown, take a paper towel and soak up as much of the fat as you can. This may take 3 or 4 paper towels.
2. Add the cumin and the onion and stir frequently until the onion becomes translucent. When this happens, add the red peppers, garlic and jalapeno. Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper and stir again.
3. Add the chicken and stir. You want the chicken to cook enough to turn white but not brown. There will probably be too much liquid at this point to brown the chicken so don't wait for it to do this. Stir frequently for about 5 minutes.
4. Add the diced tomatoes, sauce and paste. Stir to incorporate everything then add the bay leaves, rosemary, thyme, parsley and smoked paprika and stir again. Make sure all the herbs are below the surface to flavor the sauce properly. When the sauce starts to bubble slightly, lower the heat to low and let simmer for one hour, or even two if you like. Leave the lid off slightly to help the sauce reduce a little.
5. After this time passes, add the stock and do what you just did again, make the sauce bubble again. When this happens, add the rice and stir it well so the rice gets spread around in the sauce. You don't want it to clump together. Put the lid on and drop the heat down to low again for about 30-40 minutes. You're pretty much just cooking the rice now, so just concentrate on that.
6. Check on the rice after 30 minutes. If it's almost cooked, turn off the heat and add the shrimp and scallops. Make sure they are all covered by the sauce as this is how they will cook. Before you add them, if you have anybody with seafood allergies around, this is a good time to set some aside for them in a separate pot. The shrimp and scallops should only take approximately 5-6 minutes to cook, or you can tell when the shrimp turn pink.
7. Stir around to find the herb sprigs and bay leaves to remove them and serve.
Yield: Serves 20 (I told you it was a BIG pot...)
Tips: When it comes to shrimp, I don't like to buy any from Asia as they are raised in pools. This means they swim around in and eat their own feces. Yuck! I try to buy anything other than this if I can. Rice, you don't have to use long grain rice if you don't want to. Short grain (arborio, carnaroli) or basmati will work just as well. Spiciness, if you like a little more heat, don't cut the seeds out of the jalepeno or even add another one. Cayenne pepper should always be in it. It's your choice how much you use. It's also very good for you (http://www.cayennepepper.info/health-benefits-of-cayenne-pepper.html). Any pepper that makes you open your eyes and mouth very wide and say "hooolllly cow!", is good for you. Just don't overdo it and know your limit! I am always careful when making it for a group of people as everybody has different tastes, especially when it comes to spicy food. I normally tone it down due to the fact that if you ask everybody in the room about how hot they like it, 80-90% will tell you they don't like it too hot.
Little O's Menu
Over the holidays, we had her eating a lot of food, just like us. The usual fruit breakfast still works with her. She likes to snack throughout the day on it as well. We like to see this! Her yogurt fix has now moved to the afternoon snack. We mix in a couple strawberries, a raspberry or two and a couple of blackberries. A good, healthy cocktail. Suppers have been consisting of whatever we were eating at the in-laws house over Christmas, but this week we have been going with sweet potatoes which I roasted a couple of weeks ago and some roast beef, a little EVOO, salt and pepper. Later, at night when it comes time to go to bed, we have been feeding her oatmeal or 7 grain cereal with a frozen cube of apple sauce in it. This fills her up, along with a bottle of whole organic milk. This is making her sleep through the night now and this makes us extremely happy and alive the next day!
Quote Of The Day:
Wow, I couldn't find anything on Jambalaya, so rice it is.
"A diet that consists predominantly of rice leads to the use of opium, just as a diet consisting predominantly of potatoes leads to the use of liquor"
- Freidrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) German philosopher and classical philologist
Until next time, good eating everyone.