My son’s school is having a carnival this weekend, and all of the funds raised go towards the scholarship fund, which helps out about 100 students annually.  One of the booths is a frozen casserole booth — frozen meals are donated and sold for $25.  What’s that?  An opportunity to cook?  Well sign me up!

With Fat Tuesday just a few days away, I thought something Cajun might be popular.  (It’s really embarassing to have your item not sell, and wind up buying it yourself to spare yourself the shame.)  (UPDATE:  My dish went quickly, and I didn’t have to buy it myself.)  The recipe is slightly adapted from this one from Town Hall restaurant in San Francisco (yes, I know, it’s not in Louisiana).  I’ve never made jambalaya before, and I have to say, it was a lot of work. Not hard, but definitely time-consuming.  And definitely tasty.  This version has a lot of spice, but the heat was not overwhelming.  I hope whoever buys it (and I’m hoping it’s not me) will think it was as delicious as I did.

Recipe type: Main Course
For the spice mix:
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • ¾ teaspoon paprika
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ½ teaspoon onion powder
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cumin
  • ¼ teaspoon dried oregano
  • ¼ teaspoon dried thyme
  • ⅛ teaspoon ground coriander
  • ⅛ teaspoon ground mustard
  • Pinch of celery salt
For the jambalaya:
  • 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 2-inch pieces
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 large onion, medium dice
  • 1 pound andouille sausage, medium dice
  • 4 ounces smoked ham, medium dice
  • 1 large green bell pepper, cored, seeded, and medium dice
  • 3 celery stalks, medium dice
  • 1 jalapeno, cored, seed, and minced
  • 3 medium garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 14.5-ounce can tomato sauce
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 2 cups uncooked long-grain white rice
  • 3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 scallions, thinly sliced, for optional garnish
  1. To prepare spice mix, place all of the ingredients in a small bowl and stir to combine; set aside. Preheat oven to 375°F and arrange a rack in the lower third of the oven (need to have enough room for a large stockpot).
  2. Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed, ovenproof, 7-quart stockpot over medium-high heat. Add half of the chicken and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned all over, about 5-6 minutes. Remove to a medium bowl and brown the remaining chicken. Remove to bowl and set aside.
  3. Add the butter and melt over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions just begin to brown, about 6 minutes. Add the sausage, ham, and half of the reserved spice mix. Stir to coat everything with the spice mix and cook, scraping the bottom of the pot occasionally, until the meat is browned and the onions are very tender, about 10 minutes. Add the bell peppers, celery, jalapeño, garlic, salt, and remaining spice mix. Cook, scraping the bottom of the pot occasionally, until the bell peppers have softened, about 10 minutes. Add the chicken, tomato sauce, and tomato paste. Stir to combine and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the rice, broth, and bay leaves, and stir to combine. Cover with a tight-fitting lid, transfer to oven, and bake until the rice is tender and the liquid has been absorbed, about 30 minutes. Remove the pot to a wire rack and let it sit, covered, for 5 minutes. Remove and discard the bay leaves. Stir to evenly combine the jambalaya. Taste, and season with salt as needed. Just before serving, sprinkle with scallions, if using, and serve.


Ready for the oven (do you like the bay leaf sharks?) IMG_3640

 Laissez les bons temps rouler! 


375I found this ornate Victorian brass letter holder at an estate sale.  It sits in service on my desk, holding papers, bills, coupons, and other important ephemera.  It makes me want to sit down with a cup of tea and a big plumed pen and correspond.

I used to love to get mail, didn’t you?  Every once in a while a check still shows up in the mail, or an increasingly rare thank you note, but other than that, it’s all just junk these days. How exciting it would be to receive a letter, a party invitation, or a birth announcement in the mail.  Electronic communications have made lots of things easier and more efficient, but they’ll never match the excitement of something delivered by the mailman and the anticipation of tearing the envelope open to see what’s inside.  And I miss being able to post invitations and such on the refrigerator or wall so that everyone can see how immensely popular and important I am.

Touring colleges recently with my daughter, we ran across a bank of mailboxes in a dorm lobby that looked like this:

ELLC Dorm Pictures 038

When I was in college, I used to run to the mailbox every day hoping for a letter from home (especially one with a check in it) or one of my friends.  When I did get one, I used to wait until a quiet time to read it, when I could savor every word.  I treasured every letter I received.  Seeing the dorm mailboxes made me wonder if anyone writes to college kids any more, or if they just check in with a text or email every once in a while. I made a promise to myself right then and there that when my daughter leaves for college next fall, I’m going to try to send her a letter — even if it’s just a note to say hi — at least once a week.

Visiting college campuses has brought back a flood of memories, and causes me to marvel at how much the world has changed since then.  Like phones, for example.  We had one corded telephone that was mounted on the wall, shared by six girls in my dorm room suite.  Phoning home was a momentous occasion, and we’d try to wait until the off hours, when the rates were lower.  Just before making the call, we’d announce “I’m dialing the 9,”  which meant we were going to make a long-distance call and didn’t want to be disturbed.  When the phone rang, there was no way of telling who was on the other end — you just took your chances and answered it.  One Sunday morning my roommate’s mother called around 8:00 a.m.  Eileen, however, had spent the night at her boyfriend’s. Thinking fast, I told her mother she was at a study group, and her mother replied, “Oh, is that what they call it now?”  I was reminded of that this summer on our visit to the University of Texas.  We stayed at a hotel on campus, and I burst out laughing when I saw the privacy hangtag:

hangtagSo, to answer my roommate’s mother’s question, yes, that is what we called it then, and apparently still call it today.  :)

On a visit to Texas A & M, we stopped for lunch at Koppe Bridge Bar & Grill, and this sign on the counter brought back a lot of fun memories from my days at nursing school in upstate NY:

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Macaroni and cheese played prominently in our college diet back then.  It was served for lunch almost every Friday, and it was among the more popular dining hall meals.  Moreover, a box of Kraft macaroni and cheese only cost about 25 cents in those days, and you could prepare it in a hotpot in your dorm room, which in the pre-microwave era, was a pretty big deal.  (You could also iron yourself a grilled cheese, but let’s not go there.)

I still love macaroni and cheese, but nowadays it is something of a treat, not a mainstay in our diet.  My favorite recipe is one from Food & Wine’s Grace Parisi–it’s simple, creamy, and cheesy.   There’s no foie gras, truffles, or vegetables hiding in it–just plain ol’ macaroni and cheese.  I like to make it for gatherings where there will be children–who always welcome it–and watch the adults sneak a scoop or two.  I’ve sent it numerous times as part of a compassion meal, and it’s always appreciated.  It’s perfect comfort food.

Recipe type: Main Course, Side Dish, Pasta
  • 5 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 2-1/2 cups half and half or whole milk (can substitute low-fat milk for half of the milk)
  • 1 pound sharp Cheddar cheese, cut into ½" cubes
  • ½ pound Colby cheese, cut into ½" cubes
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
  • Pinch of cayenne
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 pound cavatappi or elbow macaroni
  • ½ cup plain dry bread crumbs
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9 x 13 baking dish.
  2. Melt 3 tablespoons of butter in a large saucepan over medium heat.
  3. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. Add the half-and-half and cook over moderate heat, whisking constantly until thickened, about 3 minutes. Add half of the Cheddar and Colby cheeses, and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until melted and smooth. Stir in mustard, nutmeg, and cayenne. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  4. Meanwhile, cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente. Drain well, and return pasta to pot. Add the cheese sauce to the pasta and the remaining cheese, and stir until thoroughly combined. Transfer the pasta to the prepared baking dish.
  5. In a small non-metal bowl, melt the remaining two tablespoons of butter in the microwave. Add the bread crumbs and stir until evenly moistened. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the crumbs over the pasta, and bake for 45 minutes, until golden and bubbling on top. Let stand 10-15 minutes before serving.

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 I want the corner!