Monday, February 20, 2012

Mardi Gras!! Spicy Jambalaya and Easy King Cake

When I was first married, I don't think my husband knew what he was getting into. Oh, sure, he had a totally adorable new wife, a tiny yet cozy apartment, and a whole future ahead of him. What he didn't imagine was how awful of a cook I was going to be. I didn't know how to cook chicken (I basically just boiled it), I had never used fresh garlic, and our first meal as a married couple was spaghetti noodles and jarred pasta suace. No meat. No seasoning. Nothing. Honeymoon over!!

Fortunately things have changed around here. I took it as my personal mission to learn to cook and bake, and now I find that I enjoy it (most of the time). One meal I made quite a bit during our first year or so was jambalaya. No, nothing fancy. It was a boxed mix and all I had to do was add sausage. My poor, poor husband. Then a couple years ago my parents took my sisters and our husbands and my brother and his wife on a Caribbean cruise, and it happened to depart out of New Orleans! We flew in a day early so we could explore the city - and explore we did! We had great food (beignets are to die for), saw great architecture, and saw a little too much on Bourbon Street.

I loved the city of New Orleans, and I love my husband and his taste for spicy food and great homemade cuisine. What could a girl like me do? I have a lot of bad meals to make up for - so here is my recipe for homemade spicy jambalaya! And with Mardi Gras a couple days away, what better way to celebrate!
Cut up your sausage, chicken, onion, pepper, and celery. I use a red pepper almost every time rather than a green. If yellow or orange are on sale I'll use those too. They are sweeter and I like the color they give my food!
Do not (I repeat - do NOT) throw away the celery leaves. I actually go through the bulk celery and pick out the stalks with lots of leaves. They give great flavor without the texture of celery.
Season your sausage and chicken with creole seasoning. We like Tony Chachere's Creole Seasoning, but you can use any creole or cajun seasoning your store carries.
After you brown your sausage and chicken, set them aside. Saute your onion, pepper, and celery with minced garlic (I use a garlic press). Add your tomatoes, seasoning, hot sauce, and Worcestershire.
Add your meats back in, stir in rice and chicken broth and simmer.
Yummy! It passed the husband test, and it's way better than anything from a box!

Spicy Jambalaya
by Girls in Aprons

12 ounces Cajun-style andouille sausage (I used Aidell's)
1 pound boneless skinless chicken breast, cut into bite sized pieces
1 Tablespoon Creole or Cajun seasoning
1 onion, diced
1 red pepper, diced
2 to 3 stalks celery, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 16oz can crushed tomatoes
1 tsp salt
1 tsp hot sauce (I used Frank's)
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 1/4 cups white rice
2 1/2 cups chicken broth

Heat about a tablespoon of oil in a large heavy-bottom pan over medium heat. Saute sausage until browned. Set aside. In same pan, saute chicken, seasoning with creole seasoning. Cook until browned and set aside.

In same pan, add onion, garlic, red pepper, and celery. Saute until tender. Add crushed tomatoes, salt, hot sauce, and Worcestershire sauce. Add sausage and chicken back into sauce. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently.

Stir in rice and chicken broth. Heat to boiling, then simmer about 20 to 25 minutes or until rice is done and liquid is absorbed. Serve with more creole seasoning and hot sauce on the side (so those who want it spicy can add more heat!).

**Feel free to add more spice or less in your own jambalaya. You can also add cooked shrimp in addition to the sausage and chicken or substitute it. I just don't love shrimp, so I don't cook with it.

And as a bonus, here's an easy recipe for King Cake. King Cake is a tradition at Mardi Gras. If you don't make your own, you can purchase one online and have it sent to you, but be prepared to shell out big bucks! King Cake is generally a circle-shaped cake (circle to mean unity) with a sweet filling (usually cream cheese or marzipan), and is decorated with three icing colors - purple (for justice), green (for faith), and yellow (for power). A plastic baby is baked into the cake, and the person whose piece of cake holds the baby is said to have luck in the next year, and is also responsible for next year's King Cake!

While the actual King Cake is quite complex to make, here's an easy version.

1 box yellow cake mix
1 tsp almond extract
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 can white frosting
Blue, red, yellow food coloring (or if you're super special, you might already have green and purple dye prepared, otherwise you have to get all scientific and mix primary colors together)

Mix cake mix as directed on package, adding the almond extract, lemon juice, and zest. Grease a bundt pan with butter and pour batter into greased pan.

Before placing in heated oven, place a small, plastic baby (I used a raw almond) into the pan and let it sink. This will determine who wins! I had a small Easter plush chick for the winner, since odds were a child was going to win and telling them they had "luck" wasn't something they could cheer about...or even understand.

Bake as directed on package.

After cake is baked and cooled, separate frosting into three small bowls. Add food coloring to each bowl to make purple, green, and yellow frosting. Frost the cake with the three colors, alternating so that each color is represented three times.

If you want to get super fancy, you can get colored sugar to sprinkle on top of the frosting, which is pretty common for King Cakes. You can Google "King Cake" and see how most people decorate their cakes.

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