09 January 2009

New Orleans Style - Jambalaya



Seasonal Tension

The first week of the new year is a challenging one for me. While most of the world seems eager to get the holidays packed away by the first of the year, and to make resolutions about their diet, I am still celebrating. On the secular calendar the holiday season ends on January 1st but, traditionally, January 1st is only the midpoint of the Christmas season. On the liturgical calendar the Christmas season doesn’t end until January 6, which is also known as Epiphany.

All last week I struggled with the cues of the world around me. I could feel the tension between my determination and the flow of the cultural mainstream. While friends boxed up their holiday treasures, cleaned out their refrigerators, and resolved to make changes to their lifestyle I resolved to observe all Twelve Days of Christmas. I remembered that without tension in the strings a violin can make no music. Sometimes tension can be a good thing.


Celebrating Epiphany

At my house, though school was back in session and my husband was on his way out of town, we still made an effort to share Epiphany with family and friends. Having left most of our holiday decorations up, we set a festive table, lit candles and listened to Christmas music about stars and wise men and Jesus’ birth, as we shared a King Cake and the history of the season it celebrates.

While it is a challenge and can even be a bit disorienting, the struggle to swim upstream in the river of cultural norms is not without its rewards. Besides being reminded about the beauty of my faith, the history of the Christmas season and the strength of my family traditions, when I cut into my New Orleans style King Cake, I got the piece with the chocolate “baby” inside.

My family’s King Cake tradition is based on a custom from New Orleans. We set aside a small gift for the one who finds the chocolate “baby” in their slice. What’s more, finding the “baby” is also said to ensure good luck in the coming year. You gotta love that great New Orleans style!


Slow Cooking - New Orleans Style

Now our Epiphany celebration is over and my Christmas decorations are finding their way back into the garage. While I am finally getting in step with those New Year’s virtues of healthy eating and simple living I am still so jazzed about that New Orleans style that I want to share another creole inspired recipe.

This version of Jambalaya has been a favorite at my house for several years. It is a slow-cooker recipe so it is perfect for simplifying a weeknight dinner. This is a dish that benefits from a full day in the slow cooker, where the flavors can really blend.

It is a forgiving recipe. The quantities are more like guidelines than exact measurements. Ham can be substituted for the sausage and left over chicken or turkey can be used instead of shrimp. I like to make it with spicy andouille sausage but my family prefers a sausage with a little less fire. (This time I used a package of Little Smokies that had been overlooked in our refrigerator during the holiday season.) Stir the ingredients together in the morning, simmer on low, then stir in the shrimp about an hour before serving or thaw frozen shrimp and stir them in closer to serving time. Ladle the Jambalaya over rice and serve it with a loaf of crusty bread or corn muffins and a salad for a simple and flavorful meal.



Jambalaya
from "Betty Crocker's Slow Cooker Cookbook"

serves 8

1 large onion, chopped (1 cup)
1 green bell pepper, chopped (1 cup)
2 medium stalks celery, chopped (1 cup)
1 can (28 ounces) diced tomatoes, undrained
2 cups fully cooked smoked sausage
1 tablespoon chopped parsley or parsley flakes
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon red pepper sauce
3/4 pound uncooked peeled deveined medium shrimp (frozen shrimp can be used instead)
4 cups hot cooked rice

Combine all ingredients, except the shrimp and rice, in a slow cooker.

Cover and cook on low setting for approximately 8 hours or until vegetables are tender and flavors blend.

Stir in shrimp. Cover and cook on low for another hour, until shrimp are pink and firm or, if using frozen shrimp, until they are warmed through.

Serve Jambalaya over hot cooked rice.

Enjoy!

8 comments:

Cathy said...

What a lovely family tradition, Lisa.

Your jambalalya sounds delicious. And perfect for the weather we've been having.

Bunny said...

Oh yes 6 to 10 inches of snow on the way so this is looking pretty good for a very comfy dinner!

Paula said...

Happy New Year! We celebrate the Epiphany, too. All of my decorations will come down tomorrow. All of the holiday items are gone from the store shelves, and have quickly been replaced with Valentine's stuff. Sigh. Your jambalaya looks great. I like Betty Crocker ... and this one looks like a winner, too!

Robin Sue said...

I am interested in your King Cake. Do you make your own? Here I always equated King Cake with Madi Gras but it has to do with Epiphany? Thanks for that lesson! I think I will do that for next year to make Epiphany more special. I too leave my decor up until after Epiphany so I am right there with you. I do have to get it down this week as our poor tree is really dead.

Ricki said...

Love the King Cake tradition, and that jambalaya! It looks incredibly hearty and delicious.

Re: your comment on my blog--I'm guessing that chia is the newcomer ingredient. It's a tiny seed and similar to flax, only with even more nutrients packed in to the tiny seeds. The brand name I use is Natural Traditions, but the more famous (and more expensive) one is called Salba.

Lisa said...

Cathy - The Jambalaya is really good and a bit different than what I usually expect from a Crock Pot dinner. I especially like it when it is spicy.

Bunny - There is something wonderfully nice about having a dinner in the slow cooker when snow is on the ground. I think it is the aroma that makes me feel warm and cared for when coming in from the cold.

Paula - I still have most of my holiday decorations up, except for the tree. I suppose it is time to take them down, though I have read that there is a tradition that Candlemas Day, February 2, is the target date for clearing away the last of the Christmas greenery. It works for me!

Robin Sue - I did make my own King Cake. I posted the recipe for the one pictured last January. It is a braided yeast bread made like a New Orleans style King Cake. In New Orleans these are traditionally eaten throughout Mardi Gras season which coincides with the liturgical season of Epiphany. This season begins with the Feast of Epiphany on January 6 and continues through Shrove Tuesday, or Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday in French), which falls on the Eve of Ash Wednesday. In that tradition the person who gets the baby is responsible for hosting the next party where they provide the next cake.

There are other styles of Epiphany cakes which are also traditional. An English Twelfth Night Cake is more like a fruit cake. Spanish Epiphany Bread is a ring made of yeast dough with citrus flavors and candied fruit. Some regions of France serve a Galette des Rois of puff pastry with almonds.

What they seem to have in common is the insertion of a plastic baby or bean or ceramic token that has a special significance for the person who finds that in their slice of cake. I generally use a piece of chocolate. This year I used a chocolate coin. I also like the idea of inserting three different tokens in a Three Kings Cake to represent the three wise men. Then three different small gifts might be given to represent the gifts that the wise men brought to Jesus.

Really a King's cake can be made from any cake, homemade or store bought. We have used a cinnamon coffee cake in the past because it was easier and smaller. (You need to be able to divide the whole cake between those present so that someone will certainly get the baby.) If you buy a regular cake for the celebration just cut a slit in the bottom and push the chocolate or token inside where it can't be seen.

Ricki - Thanks! And thanks for the information. I'll be on the lookout for chia seeds now, though I admit I am still trying to figure out how to use my flax seeds. You are an inspiration in that regard!

Mary said...

I hope you enjoyed your celebration. Tradition is so important. Jambalaya is just right for this time of year. Yours looks hearty and delicious.

Robin Sue said...

Thanks Lisa for pointing me to the King Cake recipe and so much more information on Epiphany. I would like to do that next year for my family, I think they would enjoy a King Cake with a hidden chocolate coin! I did not know that there are other Epiphany type cakes too. I appreciate the answer and Now I will bookmark your cake for next year's Epiphany.