**Disclaimer: If you are not interested in reading this novel, just scroll looking for the pictures, and read the blurbs (recipes) under each picture.
For those of you that do not know, Matt’s family started a neat Christmas gift tradition in 2006. Instead of exchanging gifts, the adults all select themed dinners out of a hat. We have 4 couples, so each couple selects three themes and we get together once a month for dinner, roating hosts and themes. We get together much more often than that, but we all do look forward to our “monthly meals” and we all get into creating an authentic, flavorful dinner.
Since I am the resident foodie in the family, it was my job to come up with the themes for Christmas ’07. I thought long and hard about it, and tried to offer a variety of themes for a variety of palates and also considered meals that would be best served during specific times of the year. The three themes Matt and I ended up with this year were Soup and Salad, Takeout Choice (where you recreate something that is typically takeout) and New Orleans. I can’t for the life of me remember what the remaining themes were that everyone else selected?
Anyway, I decided to go with the New Orleans theme for our April dinner, which we hosted last night. This was quite a challenge to me as I have never made anything of the sort, never visited the great city, and really had no clue what I was in for! After much deliberation and revising, I settled on the following menu...
For the shrimp, I gathered my inspiration from this recipe, but didn’t like the butter aspect of, and reviews said it tended to be a bit oily, though quite delicious. So, I used many of the same ingredients, but did this my own way. I took large shrimp (they were on sale, in retrospect – I should have gotten jumbo), put them in a bowl, squeezed the juice of one lemon, added a little bit of lemon zest, and a few dashes of Worcestershire sauce. I tossed to coat evenly. I then took the spices suggested in the epicurious recipe, combined in a prep bowl, and added to the shrimp, again tossing to coat. I had Matt grill these little guys up and served with lemon wedges.
Cajun Sweet Potato "Chips"
For the sweet potato chips, I started by thinly slicing the potatoes using a mandolin. I sprayed two baking sheets with olive oil spray and then lined with the slices. I then drizzled with a bit of extra virgin olive oil, and sprinkled with Cajun seasoning and flake salt. I baked for about 20 minutes at 400 (some didn’t need quite that long)…and once out, sprinkled with more salt and some fresh thyme. These “chips” had a nice bite, everyone really enjoyed them…even Matt’s sister, Deb, who is a self-proclaimed picky eater.
I also served a cheese and fruit selection, and some munchies for the kids, popcorn, etc.
I decided on jambalaya, and after reading through countless recipes, went with this recipe from the Food Network. I figured that Emeril, the king of New Orleans cuisine, couldn’t disappoint. And boy did this recipe deliver! It was fairly easy, and packed such a nice, but not overpowering KICK!
I had prepped all of the veggies and meat the night before, because having this meal on a Friday and trying to race home after work to prepare everything would have been impossible. I diced the peppers, onions, sausage, chicken, ham, and garlic ahead of time, which made a world of difference in terms of ease of preparation and clean up.
I only made a few small changes to the recipe.
• We could not find andouille sausage, so we used chorizo.
• I also had a few people who do not like shrimp (Matt – gasp, and one of his sisters) and one person who is allergic to shellfish (my mom, poor thing!), so I omitted the shrimp, but did leave the rest of the Creole shrimp out for people to add to the jambalaya if they wished.
• The recipe calls for 6 cups of water. I cut that down to 3 cups, and added 3 cups of chicken stock as well.
• I felt it needed a little longer than the 30-35 minutes for all the liquid to absorb. I think once the rice was in and liquid had been added, I had it cooking for closer to 45 minutes.
• I omitted the green onions, but only because I forgot about them . No one seemed to miss them, but I think they would have been a great addition to the dish.
Mixed Green Salad with Creole Mustard Dressing
I combined romaine and red leaf lettuce with orange bell peppers, red onion, cherry tomatoes for the salad, and topped with a mustard vinaigrette. For the dressing, I combined a few spoonfuls of Dijon mustard, about 1 teaspoon minced garlic, salt, pepper, a *small* pinch of cayenne pepper, fresh parsley and red wine vinegar in my mini prep food processor. Once blended, I streamed in extra virgin olive oil. Once salad was dressed, I topped with some grated Parm-Reg. cheese.
Bread Pudding with Spiced Rum Sauce
Two famous New Orleans desserts are bread pudding and banana’s foster. I would have preferred bananas foster, since the flavors seemed more appealing to me, but since the banana dish was more labor intensive, I went with the bread pudding. I love entertaining and having people over, but I don’t like spending every minute in the kitchen. Since the bread pudding allowed me to stick it in the over and forger about it, it was my winner.
I read through multiple recipes and settled on this one from epicurious. It was simple and the end result was fantastic! I had never made bread pudding before, and actually had never eaten it, so I was a little nervous as I didn’t know what it was “supposed to” look and taste like.
I followed the recipe nearly exactly. The only addition I made was to add a few dashes of cinnamon and a few dashes of nutmeg to the custard mixture.
I baked according to the directions and my end result was a beautiful, puffy masterpiece. We were all so busy admitting the puffy goodness that I forgot to snap a picture! I am SO upset about this, it was truly a site to see! The pudding falls within a few minutes, so by the time I remembered, it was too late.
I used the accompanying recipe for the spiced rum sauce, and aside from adding a dash of vanilla extract and a dash of ground cloves, I followed it closely.
I served the pudding with vanilla ice cream and then spooned the sauce over the pudding and ice cream. Delish!