Jambalaya Casserole

Tuesday is Mardi Gras and the parade season is in full swing in New Orleans.

I’m a huge fan of New Orleans cuisine and culture, but sadly I don’t get there often enough. I am, however, a regular listener to WWOZ-FM, the city’s public radio station devoted to New Orleans music and culture. So I’ve been listening as the carnival parade routes are annouced each day.

While I can’t make it to New Orleans for Mardi Gras this year, I am getting the ball rolling with this Jambalaya casserole. Jambalaya is a Louisiana dish that can contain a wide variety of ingredients, depending on who is making it, but it usually has chicken, sausage and sometimes shrimp and is served with rice.

I’ve modified my standard jambalaya into a casserole because it has been very busy around here (one of the reasons I can’t make it to the Crescent City this weekend) and casseroles are versatile enough so that they can be made ahead of time then just heated up whenever it’s time to eat.

Mardi Gras is a celebration of the fun things in life prior to the start of the Roman Catholic season of Lent, which begins Ash Wednesday and runs until Easter Sunday. Mardi Gras, which is French for “Fat Tuesday” is traditionally the day people let loose, drink a little bit, eat rich food and enjoy all the other good things that are not allowed during the Lenten season.

Being the good Catholic that I am (University of Notre Dame ’86, go Irish!), I follow the Lenten protocols, such as no meat on Fridays and fasting during Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

But New Orleans fan that I am, I also celebrate the Mardi Gras and  hold a deep respect for the traditions of second line parades, floats, beads and everything else that make up this amazing cultural tradition.

So laissez les bon temps rouler, let the good times roll and enjoy your Mardi Gras weekend wherever you are!

Jambalaya Casserole

2 TBS EVOO, separated

1 boneless skinless chicken breast, about 8 oz

1/2 lb of Italian sausage

Sea salt

1/2 tsp granulated garlic

1/2 tsp onion powder

1/2 white onion, medium dice

1/2 yellow bell pepper, medium dice

1/2 red bell pepper, medium dice

1/2 green bell pepper, medium dice

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1/2 package dry egg noodles

1 cup fat free cottage cheese

1/2 cup fat free sour cream

4 oz can tomato sauce

1 TSP Tony Cachere’s Creole Seasoning

1 tsp Tabasco sauce

Fresh cracked black pepper to taste

1/2 cup shredded Mexican cheese

1/4 cup grated parmesan

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Put cast iron pan on fire. When hot, add 1 TBS EVOO. When smoking, make a cut down the center of each sausage, remove from casing and place in pan, being careful not to splash yourself with hot oil. Use spatula to break into 1″ pieces and brown all sides, about three minutes. Use a slotted spoon to remove from pan and set aside.

2. Return cast iron pan to fire. When smoking, season both sides of chicken breast with salt, pepper, granulated garlic and onion powder and carefully place in the pan. Cook until bottom side is browned, then flip and cook another two minutes. Place the whole pan in the oven and cook until chicken is fully cooked, about 15 to 20 minutes depending on the thickness of the breast. Remove from oven. Cool then chop into bite sized pieces

3. Clean cast iron pan and return to fire. When hot, add remaining EVOO. When smoking, add onioins and peppers and cook until onions translucent, about five minutes. Add the garlic and cook another minute then remove from heat.

4. Cook egg noodles according to package directions, usually about 7 minutes. You want to undercook the noodles just a little. Strain and rinse under cold water to stop the cooking process then return to the pot. Add chicken, sausage, cottage cheese, sour cream, Tony’s, vegetable mixture, hot sauce and pepper. Stir and transfer to casserole dish. Sprinkle with shredded cheese then grated parm and cover. Casserole can be cooked right away or stored in refrigerator or freezer until ready to use.

5. Cook covered casserole 35 minutes at 350F then remove cover and cook another 10 minutes to crisp the top. If cooking from frozen, cooking time will be closer to an hour.

During the Lenten season, which starts this Wednesday, I’m planning on starting a new feature called Seafood Fridays. Each week I will be featuring a seafood recipe that is both delicious and Lenten compliant.

Happy Mardi Gras, everybody!

Jambalaya!

Something you may not know about me: New Orleans is my favorite city.

Although I’ve never been lucky enough to live there, I try to get there as often as I can, especially during the city’s big Jazz and Heritage Festival in the spring. I just love the music, the European flavor of the French Quarter, the quirky neighborhoods, and especially the food.

My love for the Crescent City has crept onto numerous menus at restaurants where I have worked, sometimes for no reason other than I love the cuisine. Whenever I get lonesome for that town, I stop by one of my favorite Chicago restaurants, Heaven on Seven, a Creole and Cajun inspired joint that has some of the best food I’ve had anywhere outside Louisiana.

Digging around my refrigerator the other day, I noticed I had some leftover chicken, sausage and shrimp. Jambalaya, I immediately thought. With the Bears playing the Saints this weekend, what could be better than this all-time New Orleans favorite.

Jambalaya with Jalapeno Cornbread

Jambalaya with Jalapeno Cornbread

This recipe is simple, inexpensive and delicious. It’s a great way to use up odds and ends from your fridge or freezer. Chicken, Andouille sausage and shrimp are the traditional ingredients, but really you can make it with anything you have, including straight vegetarian.

You can cook it in your slow cooker, but I couldn’t wait that long so I cooked it up on the stove top. And I just had to serve it with some jalapeno cornbread.

Jambalaya

1 or 2 boneless skinless chicken breasts

1 or 2 Italian sausage links (or Andouille, if you can find it), cut into 1-2 inch peices

1/2 lb large shrimp, peeled and deveined

1 cup white onion, diced

1 green pepper, seeds and ribs removed, diced

2 stalks celery, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 TBS all-purpose flour

2 TBS tomato paste

15 oz can of diced tomatoes

3/4 cup white rice (not instant, puh-lease!)

1 bay leaf

1/2 cup chicken broth

3/4 cup water

1 TBS Tony Chachere’s Original Creole Seasoning (usually just referred to as “Tony’s”) (You can substitute with Old Bay or any kind of Cajun or Creole seasoning)

EVOO

Sea salt and cracked black pepper to taste

1. Preheat oven to 375. Heat 1 TBS EVOO in cast iron skillet. When oil starts to smoke, add chicken and sausage, seasoning with S&P. Let brown, about 2 minutes, then turn and season and brown the other side a minute, then throw the whole pan in the oven to finish cooking, about 7 minutes. Remove and set aside for later.

2. In large pot, heat 1 TBS EVOO. When oil starts to smoke, add onion, green pepper, celery and bay leaf. Sweat until onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the tomato paste and cook for about another 1-2 minutes, stirring frequently so it doesn’t burn. Add the chicken stock, water, Tony’s, diced chicken and sausage and stir. Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer, cover and cook until rice is done, about 25 minutes.

3. Combine the shrimp with 1 TBS of EVOO and sprinkle with 1 tsp Tony’s. Refrigerate to let flavors marinate. Just before service, in hot saute pan, drizzle a little EVOO. When oil starts to smoke, add shrimp. Saute until done, about 3-4 minutes, flipping once or twice.

To plate, use a kitchen spoon to build a big pile of jambalaya in the center of a pasta bowl. Arrange the shrimp around the pile. Garnish with parsley sprig or chopped parsley.

Jalapeno Cornbread

Jalapeno Cornbread

Jalapeno Cornbread

1 cup All Purpose Flour

2 TBS sugar

TBS baking powder

½ tsp salt

1 cup yellow cornmeal

1 cup milk

2 eggs, beaten

¼ cup vegetable oil

3-4 jalapenos, ribs and seeds removed, diced

Preheat oven to 425F. Grease your cast iron skillet with pan spray and throw it in the oven.

1. While the oven is warming, combine milk, eggs and oil in a bowl. In another bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and cornmeal. Slowly stir liquid mixture into powder mixture just until batter is wet. Fold in jalapenos, then use potholders to remove skillet from oven and pour batter into skillet.

2. Cook for about 25 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.

This recipe can also be made in a 9”x9” baking dish that has been sprayed with cooking spray.

Do you love New Orleans cooking as much as I do? What are your favorite dishes? Let us know in the comments section below.

Laissez les bons temps rouler!