Panda’s Tasty Jambalaya

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It’s that magical time of year, that month between Thanksgiving and Christmas, when work seems to slow down and family life heats up, what with big gatherings involving food, fellowship and fun, culminating on December 25th with some jolly old elf in a red suit traveling the world delivering gifts, and the denouement on New Years Day with the traditional meal of pork and sauerkraut for good luck in the coming year. Naturally, at this time of year, I’m thinking about Jambalaya.

Wait, what? How did that happen? I’m sitting around the week of Thanksgiving, planning my trip to Wegmans to buy the food we need for our feast, when it hits me: I need to whip up a big pot of Jambalaya for Wednesday night. But why?

Maybe it was the thought of all of that turkey in my near future? Don’t get me wrong, I love me some turkey, but after a few days of eating nothing but turkey, a guy gets a little tired of it, you know? We even cook a back-up turkey on Wednesday, so we’ll have plenty of leftovers after we send people home with their fair share on Thanksgiving night. Since we were feeding 16 people at our house this year, the possibility of having no leftovers from our 22-lb. bird was real. Hence the 19-lb. back-up.

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Maybe it was the Cajun Sausage Cornbread stuffing I had to make the night before? I’ve made this stuffing for years, from a terrific recipe in one of chef Paul Prudhomme’s cookbooks, and I stuff the bird with it on Thanksgiving morning before it goes in the oven. The combination of Andouille sausage, cornbread, veggies, complex seasonings and Crystal hot sauce makes for a mean stuffing! Sadly, we never have enough of it, as everybody seems to like it.

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That’s where the Jambalaya comes in. It was a tasty diversion prior to the turkey onslaught, an inspiration for (and from) the Cajun stuffing, and a much-needed respite from the steady diet of leftover turkey. You see, a big pot of Jambalaya leaves a lot of leftovers too!

So, what does all this talk of Jambalaya have to do with Tiki? Well, on the surface…nothing. However, I did discuss the connection between my passions for Cajun and Tiki in my blog post, Aloha Spirit: New Orleans, which I published almost a year ago. As I re-read that post, it dawned on me that a couple of things I wrote about last year have (and soon might) come to pass.

First, my friend Jeff “Beachbum” Berry did finally open his first Tiki bar in New Orleans, Latitude 29. More than just a Tiki bar, Latitude 29 is a full-service restaurant and bar in the Bienville House hotel, right in the French Quarter. By all accounts, it’s doing really well, and I can’t wait to visit it and see for myself. In the meantime, I’m planning an interview with Bum for my next podcast, which will be very soon. Stay tuned!

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Second, I’m hoping to make it to Mardi Gras in NOLA this coming February, which is only a couple of months away. This is another item on my bucket list well within my reach. Visiting Latitude 29 is just the excuse I needed to make this happen sooner rather than later! I’ve already booked a room at the Bienville House; now I just need to convince my wife Jess to come with me. It’s been over ten years since we last visited N’awlins, so we’re due.

So there you have it. It seems I’m predisposed to thinking (and writing) about my love of all things Cajun at this time of year. I’ve always loved the idea of worlds colliding, and my converging passions for New Orleans and Tiki are neatly embodied by Beachbum Berry and his Latitude 29. Sprinkle in another bucket list conquest during Mardi Gras, and I’m set for the next few months. Mahalo ét tois!

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