Like absolutely everyone else out there who has the responsibility of providing meals for their family (in my case, one perpetually hungry husband and two small fuzzy kitties), sometimes, I just flat run out of ideas and can't, for the life of me, find anything I feel like cooking.
Today is one of those days.
Luckily, over the years, I have developed deep and abiding personal relationship with Epicurious, a recipe and food information database run by the nice folks who publish Gourmet Magazine and Bon Appetit. Some might call it a dependency. Don't get me wrong. I absolutely love my cookbooks and adore my subscription to Donna Hay Magazine (despite the horrific $114 price tag for 6 issues for an overseas subscription).
But, I do find myself turning more and more to Epicurious in search of recipes. This amazing database of all-conceivable-ways-to-cook-every-imaginable-ingredient is a staple amongst food bloggers. Want to know what you can make with onions, cheese, breadcrumbs, and a donkey? Just fill in the handy search form and up will spring recipes for Shrimp, Scallop and Cod Lasagna or Scalloped Onions Leeks and Shallots, plus a few more. I was just kidding about the donkey.
As many of my regular readers will know, I have what might best be described as an aversion to following recipes. I tend to use OPR (other people's recipes) more as a guide or a springboard for my own creations. I really am a chuck-some-stuff-into-a-pot-and-see-what-comes-out kind of cook. Despite this, my first port of call in deciding what to make is almost always Epicurious.
The database at Epicurious is an amazing tool. It provides absolutely unprecedented access to the sorts of things only those of us lucky enough to own the very expensive (for a cookbook, anyway, at around $80) Larousse Gastronomique have long known – there are limitless ways to cook almost everything, including all the ingredients you never knew existed!
Epicurious is where I turn when faced, as today, with a cooking mental block. I call it "Random Recipe Night". I select a course (main), and a main ingredient (tomatoes- just continuing the theme folks) in the Epicurious "advanced search" form and up pop 707 recipes. I look for one that speaks to me. Luckily, I just had a conversation this morning with our office manager about how much I love New Orleans, so the fourth hit, jambalaya, seems to me to be the perfect thing.
Whenever I do such a broad search I always find one recipe, for some totally random reason (like my conversation this morning), pops out at me. I guess it's the cooking equivalent of those word or ink spot association games popular with psychologists. I have no idea what my well-documented fascination with gelatin and tomatoes says about me. I probably don't want to know either!
Sometimes, a search will return 6 or 7 recipes, as with carpaccio. Sometimes, like tonight, it turns up hundreds. Then you're faced with the problem of which one to choose and how to choose it out of hundreds of possible candidates.
If you yourself baffled by the number of recipes that come up, or simply don't know which one might be good, click through a few and read the "Cook's Comments" at the bottom. Epicurious allows people write in to tell others how the recipe turned out for them and whether they'd recommend substitutions or changes. Pay attention to these comments. The people who leave them are just like you and me. Maybe they can't get tomatillos at their local supermarket, but found that green tomatoes do just as well. Maybe the recipe calls for too much or too little of one thing. As far as I can tell Epicurious does not censor these comments. I've seen some pretty brutal ones. Sometimes they even say "this is the worst recipe ever."
In addition to the comments, Epicurious has a "Fork Rating" system. This allows people to rate the recipe from zero (abysmal) to four (fantastic) forks and to state whether they would use the recipe again. The best way to take advantage of this ratings system is by using the "sort results" function and selecting "sort by Fork Rating". The results of your search will then be displayed from the best rating to the worst. I don't even bother looking at recipes with less than 3 forks. Why waste time on something that doesn't taste good?
For tonight's supper, I didn't end up using the jambalaya recipe from Epicurious, rather I adapted one that was given to me by a fantastic native New Orlenian (although his partner would dispute the native New Orlenian part I'm sure. I gather this has something to do with the side of the river he grew up on?), Mr. Randall Saizan. As always, I rejigged it for my own preferences. Don't tell Randy. I promised to always follow his recipes to a T.
Because I like my dishes, especially those with tomatoes, to taste fresher, I added the tomatoes much later in the recipe than most jambalaya recipes, including Randy's, call for. I also added more parsley and cooked the vegetables for a shorter time period.
Jambalaya (makes 8 generous servings)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 + 1/2 cups chopped onion (about 1 medium to large)
- 1 + 1/4 cups chopped celery (about 3 large ribs)
- 1 red pepper, diced
- 5 cloves garlic, chopped
- 2 cups sliced spicy sausage (like andouille or chorizo)
- 1 cup diced smoked ham
- 2 teaspoons of the darkest Hungarian paprika you can find. (mine is a deep scarlet colour)
- 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 boned and skinned chicken breast, cubed
- 5 cups chicken stock
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 2 + 1/2 cups long grain rice
- 5 cups diced tomatoes (I used yellow, orange and red)
- 1/2 cup chopped parsley (plus more for garnish)
Heat oil in large (8 to 10 litre) dutch oven until hot. Add onion,celery, red pepper and garlic. Cook and stir over medium heat until softened and browned, about 8 minutes. Add sausage, ham, paprika,and pepper flakes and black pepper. Continue cooking over medium to high heat, stirring frequently until for a further 10 minutes. Stir in chicken, chicken stock and rice and combine thoroughly. Bring to boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer 20 minutes until liquid is absorbed. Check several times during the 20 minutes cooking time to make sure there is still enough liquid. If the liquid absorbs too quickly, and the rice starts sticking to the bottom of the pot, pour in 1/4 cup or so of water to stop the rice from sticking.
This is a perfectly yummy one dish meal. Just spicy enough and absolutely packed with fresh, tangy veggies and loaded with spicy meat!
After the 20 minutes is up, stir in the tomatoes and parsley. Cover and, turn off heat and allow to stand on burner 5 minutes. Garnish servings with more chopped parsley.