Since the end of last week, I’ve been promising Matt jambalaya. But first, I had to find a recipe to use up some old parsnips and then we both had a pizza craving and then I stayed out late with a friend and made Matt fend for himself. So finally on Tuesday, I headed off to work with every intention of making Matt his jambalaya as soon as I got home, when I got a text from one of my closest friends. “I’m going to be in town tonight,” she said, “Can we meet up?” Yes! Yes, of course. While in my head I was thinking, “But I have to make Matt’s jambalaya.”
Ordinarily, a dinner guest requires extensive, long-term planning. I bake a dessert a day or two in advance. I prepare my mise en place the night before. I always have an entree and a side (or two) and a platter of appetizers. Sometimes a fresh crusty loaf of bread from the farmer’s market, but this dinner caught me by surprise. I was preparing our weekday fare. It was nothing fancy. I didn’t even take a picture until we had scraped the pot clean. There were no green vegetables. Just a bowl of rice smothered in hot sauce and studded with spicy chorizo. For dessert, I could only offer a pint of Haagen-Dazs. And it was perfect, cozy and warm on a rainy night. We ate our ice cream out of mugs, curled up on the living room couches.
A few days after our mini-reunion with Ali, Matt and I headed to the Maine coast to celebrate grandma’s 90th birthday with the rest of the Adler clan. There was a big party and a fancy meal on Saturday night, complete with a slideshow, stories of decades past, a candle-topped cake, and a concert from my uncle and cousin. It was a beautiful event, but so was the previous night, when a smaller group gathered for an informal dinner in grandma’s suite. My aunt Elaine had smoked some salmon and brought it with her from Boston, along with Tupperwares of vinaigrette and pesto for our salad greens and pasta respectively. She fried up some pot stickers, I boiled water for linguine, and we all ate happily around the dining table beside the fireplace. You could smell the ocean through the open door and hear the birds cooing quietly as the sun set. We kept grandma up well past her bedtime two nights in a row, drinking wine by the fireplace, sharing new stories, and remembering forgotten ones.
It was a week of lovely reminders that the company we break bread with is far more important than all the bells and whistles of a fancy, formal meal. I am so grateful for these wonderful moments and wonderful people.
Jambalaya with Shrimp and Ham from The Food You Crave by Ellie Krieger
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more, to taste
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more, to taste
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon tomato paste
6 ounces diced, smoked ham
2 1/2 cups low sodium chicken broth
1 (14 1/2-ounce) can no-salt added diced tomatoes
1 cup uncooked long-grain white rice
1 pound peeled and deveined medium shrimp
Hot pepper sauce
Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven over a medium heat. Add the onion, peppers and garlic and saute until they begin to soften, about 10 minutes. Mix in the next 11 ingredients, salt through the diced tomatoes. Bring to a boil. Stir in the rice, cover, reduce heat and simmer for about 20 minutes, or until rice is done and most of the liquid is absorbed. Add the shrimp and cook, covered, for 5 minutes more, or until shrimp is cooked through. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Serve with hot pepper sauce.
(I made the recipe above with cooked chicken (instead of raw shrimp) and chorizo (instead of ham). It was delicious.)