Jambalaya + Kings Cake: It’s Mardi Gras!

IMG_1554

(KERI) Have you been to New Orleans? If you have, I need not say one more word about the cuisine. You’re already dreaming of beignets, Gumbo, and collard greens with a side of red beans and rice. For those of you who haven’t visited, listen up: New Orleans is such a wicked weird and fascinating place. It’s captivating. Enthralling. Curious. Voodoo and tarot cards. So fun. More importantly, there is no food like the food of the Big Easy. It is so over-the-top good, we have to find a new word for over-the-top good. And, when you board the plane for home, you’ll be panting for a vegetable. Or a piece of fruit. To be honest, I don’t know if fruits and veg are really that hard to come by in NOLA, or if I was so deep in a food coma (with zero interest in coming out of it), I made it up. No kale there, Folks; someone just pumped me up with another bowl of etoufee and dragged me to the next culinary establishment. Or maybe it was Preservation Hall.

Regardless, it’s Mardi Gras time, people! A time to cut loose, go nuts, eat and drink ’til you drop. For us, it was inspiration enough to bust out the Le Creuset, one delicious Jambalaya recipe, and put a period on the whole darn meal with a regal Galette des Rois (Kings Cake). Holy moly.

This Jambalaya is a recipe from Ina Garten (adapted from that of her friend, Amelia). Of no surprise, the ingredient list is long, but fear not: It all comes together to create the flavor of NOLA, in one big, steamy bowl. We used smoked beef sausage, chicken thighs, and succulent shrimp. The chicken and sausage get sauteed first, and the shrimp make their appearance towards the end of the whole process, so they’re cooked just right.

IMG_1543

Rough-chopped vegetables – onions, red peppers, celery – are up next, cooked until they’re nice and soft, slightly browned. Whole peeled tomatoes (from a can) are loaded in next with garlic, jalapenos, tomato paste, and all those Cajun spices. Ah….It’s beginning to look a lot like Jambalaya!

IMG_1540

The acid of white wine is, in my opinion, the critical ingredient. Glug it in along with chicken stock, the meats, and the rice. BUT HERE’S WHERE WE STOP FOR AN IMPORTANT EDITORIAL MESSAGE. We’ve made a change to the method of cooking the rice because, Ina, it never works out for me. The rice in my Jambalaya is always underdone. I swear, I always do whatever you tell me but this one never turns out. So here’s what I recommend: Par-boil (I know, I know, it’s terrible but trust me) the rice in some stock, just for 10 minutes. Drain it, and drop it in the pot with her friends. Everyone will be better off with tender rice. And fussy cooks like me won’t spend the entire meal completely bothered by That. Underdone. Rice. Blast it.

The end of the process has a sprinkling of scallions, parsley and lemon juice dropping in for a little bead-throwing and parade merriment. Good God, it just smells of New Orleans. Laissez la bon temps rollez! Top your plated stew with several dashes of Tabasco, of course.

IMG_1554

It’s Mardi Gras, did we mentioned that? So get out your beads. Mix up a hurricane. Get wicked with this Jambalaya.

IMG_1558

A hearty warm bowl needs a finale of equal decadence. Galette des Rois is, literally, king’s cake, a traditional French Epiphany cake. I made it once when I was woe-ing my husband. He doesn’t remember (hummmmm). But I recalled this cake’s beauty and creamy vanilla-almond filling. There’s also fun in this dessert: The tradition of the Galette des Rois calls for a small porcelain figure or dried bean to be placed inside the cake before baking. Whomever gets the figure or bean in their slice is said to have a year of good fortune.

The recipe I used was from my favorite little Williams-Sonoma cookbook; it’s called “Holiday Baking.” Published in 1995, I don’t find it online. Shame – it’s a great book to have in your repertoire and contains my go-to recipe for vanilla pastry cream. This pastry cream is fast, simple and always turns out- no clumps, no bumps.

IMG_0697

The delicious, no-fail cream is blended up with toasted almonds, butter, rum and powdered sugar.

IMG_0713

IMG_0708

Book-end this luscious filling between two disks of puff pastry. That stuff is so magical.

IMG_1530

I didn’t put the figure or bean in the galette this time (I know, I’m a stick in the mud). But I didn’t want to be responsible for any broken teeth of my daughter’s sleepover friend. Brush with egg wash and score the top.

IMG_1534

Bake for 35 – 40 minutes and voila! It’s a thing of beauty. Light and almondy.

IMG_1546

We all felt very fortunate after eating this cake. Marina wanted to know when she would become rich and famous. I wondered the same.

And that’s our Mardi Gras feast, Ya’ll. With its rich fare and buttered-up desserts, the Big Easy inspired our big cooking adventure and our fat bellies. Kale sounds really good right now. Or maybe an apple.

IMG_1556

Jambalaya – adapted a tad from Barefoot Contessa/Ina Garten

1 tablespoons good olive oil
12-oz link of smoked beef sausage, sliced  ½ inch thick
4 chicken thighs
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup yellow onion, chopped (1 large)
1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped large-diced
2 large celery stalks, chopped large-diced
1/2 can whole peeled plum tomatoes, drained and medium-diced
1 tablespoons minced seeded jalapeño peppers (1 pepper)
1 tablespoon minced garlic (3 cloves)
1 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoons dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
½ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 1/2 cups chicken stock
1 1/2 cups extra-long-grain white rice
2 bay leaves
1/2 pound raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/2 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, plus extra for garnish
1/4 cup sliced scallions, white and green parts, plus extra for garnish
¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (1 lemon)
Tabasco sauce

Par-boil the rice: Put rice and 1 1/4 cups chicken stock in sautee pan and bring to boil. Cover and lower heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Drain over a sieve. Discard stock and stir rice to cool. Set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven and add the sausage. Cook over medium high heat until the sausage is brown, about 4 minutes per side. Remove the sausage to a bowl. Pat the chicken dry and sprinkle both sides with salt and pepper. Drop the chicken, skin side down, into the pot and cook over medium-high heat for 5 minutes, until browned. Turn and cook for another 5 minutes, until browned. Remove to the bowl with the sausage. Ina says: Don’t be tempted to cook both together; they won’t brown properly.

Add the butter to the oil in the pot, then add the onions, bell peppers, celery, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1 teaspoon black pepper and cook over medium-high heat for 10 minutes, until the onions are slightly brown. Add the tomatoes, jalapeño peppers, garlic, tomato paste, oregano, thyme, cayenne, and 1- teaspoons salt, and cook for another 2 minutes. Add the white wine and scrape up the browned bits in the pot. Add the stock, rice, sausage, chicken, and bay leaves and bring to a boil. Cover the pot, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 20 minutes. Stir in the shrimp, cover and simmer covered for 5 more minutes. Off the heat, stir in the parsley, scallions, and lemon juice. Cover and allow to steam for 10 to 15 minutes, until the rice is tender and the shrimp are fully cooked. Discard the bay leaves, sprinkle with extra parsley and scallions, and dashes of Tabasco sauce. Serves 6.

Galette des Rois – from Williams-Sonoma

Vanilla Pastry Cream:
2/3 cup whole milk
1 2-inch piece vanilla bean, split open length-wise
2 egg yolks
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch

In small saucepan, over high heat, combine milk and vanilla bean. Bring to a simmer. In separate bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, sugar and cornstarch until well blended. When the milk reaches a simmer, remove from the heat and gradually whisk hot milk mixture into the yolk mixture. Return the mixture to the saucepan and place it over medium heat. Cook, whisking constantly, until the pastry cream thickens, about 1-2 minutes. Discard the vanilla bean and transfer the cream to a bowl. Top with plastic wrap directly on the cream. Refrigerate until cooled.

Cake:
2/3 cup blanched, slivered almonds, toasted
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 eggs
1 tablespoon spiced rum
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1 recipe vanilla pastry cream
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1 package frozen puff pastry sheets (2 sheets), thawed
1 tablespoon milk

Preheat oven to 400-degrees and position rack in the middle of the oven.

In food processor, blend almonds, powdered sugar and cornstarch until nuts are finely ground. Add one of the eggs, the rum and almond extract and pulse on and off until blended. Add pastry cream and process until just smooth. With motor running, drop butter, one tablespoon at a time into the food processor. Blend until smooth.

On a lightly floured work area, roll out each puff pastry sheet to a 12-inch square. Using a 11-inch diameter circle cut from a piece of parchment paper, cut each piece of puff pastry into an 11-inch circle. Transfer one round onto a baking sheet and top with almond filling. Be careful to leave 1-inch border around the circle. Whisk the remaining egg with the milk and brush it on the border of the filled round. Carefully place the second round on top of the first, sealing the edges tightly and decoratively. Brush the top with the remaining egg wash. Using a long, sharp knife, score the top of the galette in a diamond pattern, ensuring you do not cut through to the filling.

Bake the galette until it is golden brown and puffed about 35-40 minutes. Transfer to a rack and cool completely. Cut into wedges and serve. We thought a little swirl of chocolate ganache might be a perfect added touch.

IMG_1558