Keep it Simple {Summer Salad}

Keep it Simple {Summer Salad}

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I can’t help but laugh as I write the title to this post. Anyone who’s read any of my posts probably knows I love sharing my Dad’s advice and words of wisdom. However I must be honest… his advice used to annoy me. I remember being in high school and dealing with “devastating” high school issues (you know, not having the right shoes, breakups with guys I shouldn’t have been dating to begin with, my inconvenient curfew, or not being able to go to the party I wanted to go to…you know, the important stuff). And in the midst of my teenage crises, my dad would bust out with a line like this “Just keep it simple, Mandy”. In those moments, I did not see this advice as profound, or helpful. I most likely screamed at him “You just don’t understand!” and stormed to my room, as he and my mom chuckled at my immature existence. Now, however, at the ripe age of 32, I can look back and say that “Keep it simple” is quite possibly some of the best advice my dad has given me. Life is crazy, unpredictable, and sometimes bad shit happens, much of which is out of your control. So, when I’m feeling like things are out of my control, I hear his voice in my ear telling me to “Keep it Simple”…and it helps me get back to the basics.

Due to life happening, I haven’t written in a while. Truth is, I’ve been feeling a bit uninspired. Uninspired in the kitchen, uninspired in my writing, uninspired in general. Life is moving so fast and I’m just taking things day by day. I started a new job back in February at Abbeville General Hospital, a small, rural hospital in the town I live in now. I worked here a few years ago, it was my first social work job out of grad school! I loved it then, but chose to leave because of the hospice calling. I was loving hospice, but AGH came knocking for me to return as the Director of Case Management and I accepted. It’s been a learning experience to say the least. The hospital is where I fell in love with social work. It’s also where I was working when I got married, had a baby, and when I lost my Dad. The people there were so kind and open to me, so returning was refreshing. The job and motherhood have kept me super busy without much time for a few things that I love- one of them being blogging.

The last few months have been a whirlwind both personally and professionally. The news has been challenging for me, too. Lately I’ve seen families seeking a new, safe life being torn apart, celebrity suicides that have shook our world to the core, patients in dire need for services they may never get, mentally ill people who are trying to stay well in a broken system, and an ever-changing healthcare industry that I’m working tirelessly to understand. When I think back to why I became a social worker, I remember saying the phrase I think all baby social workers say “I want to help people”. So cute and simple. If I could tell that younger version of me anything, it would be “don’t stop at anything to become that person who wants to help others, and who wants to fight for justice and change. But, take care of yourself in the process. Because you WILL get tired.” The burnout rate for social workers is high. We treat some of the sickest people, and our colleagues, clients, and families depend on us to solve some of the world’s biggest issues, with minimal resources. Since we are social workers, we take this responsibility very seriously, and can sometimes see it as a personal failure if we are unable to help people “get better” when they are mentally ill, or if we are unable to comfort those who are grieving the worst kind of loss. We see unending cycles of domestic violence, substance abuse, mental illness, and death. We are privy to some of the biggest secrets in people’s lives, and take confidentiality very seriously. Not to mention, most social workers or people in helping professions serve as therapist for friends and family. This can mean that when a social worker leaves work, they may have to return phone calls to solve the problems of people in their personal lives, too! And the crazy thing is, we want to help. However, all of this can sometimes make us feel like the weight of the world is on our shoulders. We are constantly helping others, yet we rarely take care of ourselves. When we hear of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade committing suicide, it hits us like a ton of bricks, because we understand the pain and misery behind mental illness, and sometimes what a poor prognosis some of our own patients have. It can be draining. Lately I have very few people around me asking me “Mandy, how are YOU doing?” Actually, a coworker asked me this week “How do you like the new job?” and I was silent. It was the first time in as long as I can remember that anyone has asked me anything about ME (except for my therapist but I pay him to do that). I’m not trying to whine or complain, I’m just saying that being in a helping profession, or just someone who is a giver, can be exhausting and challenging, especially when we neglect our self-care. Also, I feel as though with social media and other distractions, our society is less likely to ask the person they are with “How are you?”. I’m not talking about the quick “How are you?” that you ask an old associate you haven’t seen in a while. I’m talking about asking someone who is close to you, “Genuinely, honestly, HOW are you?”. After a day of assessing how other people are, it would be nice to hear that sometime.

At the end of my day, I try to fit in a workout, then I pick up my 3 year old daughter, take her home, where I begin my second job: MOTHERHOOD. The hardest job of all. We walk through the door, let the dogs out, fix a snack, make a whole hearted attempt to clean my house (which never happens) and cook dinner, all while trying to not let her watch too much TV, make sure she eat something other than sugar, takes a bath, and has quality time with her working parents all before 8:00 PM when she falls asleep. That leaves me with approximately 30 minutes to myself until I fall asleep. Then, I wake up and do it all over again. Being a mother is so rewarding and incredible…but being a working mother is hard…trying to figure out how to be the best social worker/colleague all day long, then going home and trying to create a healthy environment for my child at home, then feeling guilty because of the lack of time you spent with your child and the things you might be missing out on. Trying to be everything to everyone is exhausting.

Keep it simple. My dad reminds me. Mandy, keep. it. simple. Everyone is experiencing the pressure of life. Everyone is trying to be the best they can. We all have barriers, and we all face challenges. We all feel like failures sometimes, and we all fall of the wagon. But… keep it simple. With this reminder, I am deciding to do just that. I’m ridding myself of the pressure to cook new, incredible things 4 times a week. I’m accepting that work is hard, and that it is literally impossible to please everyone. I’m surrendering to the fact that my child is eating old french fries off the floor board of my car and that she’s spent most of our time together in time out…because dammit I’m doing the best I can and she’s alive. Keep. It. Simple.

This phrase is liberating. Lately I’ve been cooking the same thing over and over (Taco Zucchini boats and shrimp pasta salad, in case you’re wondering), and it’s ok. I’ve spent time away from people who suck the life out of me and insult me, and am spending more time alone, or with people who lift me up. I’ve been going to the gym when I can, but not beating myself up if I can’t. I’m leaving the mess in my house, and choosing to snuggle with Shelby and watch Paw Patrol. I’m doing the best I can to take care of those around me, while I take care of me, throwing all expectations out the window.

This brings me to my recipe, if you even want to call it that. I love Louisiana, especially the gifts our beautiful state gives us in different seasons. For me, summertime means a lot of things, but one thing in particular is fresh vegetables. Terrent’s grandfather plants a garden every year, and he is always generous with his tomatoes and cucumbers. As I’ve posted about before, my Dad created his famous “Johnny Jambalaya’s Herb Dressing and Marinade” years ago. We love the dressing in countless dishes…but the best possible way you can eat it is with cucumbers and tomatoes. It is just so fresh, so pure and most importantly… it’s simple. A few weeks ago Terrent and I were hanging out with some great friends, one of which brought some fresh cucumbers from his garden. Terrent whipped out a bottle of dressing for the cucumbers and everyone loved it. They had never heard of it, and started asking questions about how it began, and requested bottles of their own. It’s moments like that where I feel like my Dad’s legacy and passion lives on. It’s also a reminder of how food can truly bring people together when you least expect it.

Wine Pairing: Rosé!! I am loving trying all the new Rosé that the stores are carrying…it’s the perfect summer wine!

Music Pairing: Kacey Musgraves album Golden Hour. Love this album.

Instructions:

Cut tomato. Cut cucumber. Pour dressing. Enjoy.

Now THAT is a recipe that anyone can do!!

FYI you can find the dressing at Rouses, or you can call Terry to order at 225-776-6480. I think it’s safe to say that most of our best customers like the dressing best just like this. Simple.

Xo,

Cajun Queen

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Life on Life’s Terms {And Shrimp, Okra & Sausage Gumbo}

Life on Life’s Terms {And Shrimp, Okra & Sausage Gumbo}

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Y’all. It’s cold AF in South Louisiana. Last night it snowed. SNOWED. I didn’t know what to do so I cooked. Go figure. This past weekend was great. On Saturday, we celebrated Shelby’s third birthday. Her birthday was on December 26, so I try to host her party a few weeks after so everyone (mostly me) can rest from the holidays. Her party was the Children’s Museum in Lafayette, and she had so much fun! All of her friends and family were there, and she really enjoyed the uninterrupted play, king cake, and presents. I love birthdays, especially hers, because it is such a celebration of life. Her life has changed mine the most.

My mom came in for the party and spent the night at my house. I love when she spends time here because we always end up staying up late, drinking wine, and talking. My mom is the wisest woman I know with so much insight on life. My friends all go to her for advice, as she is an expert at deciphering dreams, sees all situations in a positive but realistic light, and she takes all the facts into consideration before making any big decisions. We joke and say she needs to write a book, and we titled it “Classy Southern women who cuss”. My mom is the epitome of class, but her true Southern roots show when she drops the occasional F bomb. This weekend after Shelby’s party, we were talking about a family friend who has experienced many trials and tribulations. This friend has experienced a great amount of loss, losing her children and husband, and being the only living member of her family still here. She’s the definition of a steel magnolia. My mom was describing this friend’s attitude as “accepting life on life’s terms”. I was intrigued by this saying, so I asked more. My mom explained that my dad always used this term, and it explains this family friend because she loves everyone for who they are, does not place expectations on them, and accepts each day as they come. How profound.

One of the hardest things about my dad being gone is not being able to ask him about these simple sayings he always used. I wish I could call him and ask him how this saying helped him get through tough seasons, and how it can help me get through mine. I googled “life on life’s terms” and I discovered it is a popular term used in AA. My dad was a recovered alcoholic, sober for the majority of my life and attending AA meetings regularly. He had an incredible sponsor who held him accountable, and my dad sponsored several young men throughout the years as well. My dad used a lot of AA mantra in our home. We said the serenity prayer often, and when things were tough he’d remind us to take things “one day at a time”. I’m sad he suffered from alcoholism but so proud of him for choosing to be sober for his family. I’m also happy he had so many of these lessons to teach us. Also, learning about his disease is what inspired me to be a social worker. As with many of my blog posts, this is an example of good outcomes coming from struggle.

After researching “Life on Life’s Terms”, I learned that those 5 little words have helped many alcoholics to overcome their entitlement issues, and learn to accept life as it is. Facing reality can be challenging for all of us, addicts and non-addicts alike. However, facing and accepting reality can help us surrender and let go, accepting things as they are, especially the things we have no control over. Anxiety, worry, and stress are useless. They are like riding a stationary bike and expecting to get somewhere. Once we learn to accept life on life’s terms, love those around us for who they are, and accept our human condition, we are then so free to be happy and work on ourselves, instead of trying to change others. Now, this takes daily work and reflection, and it must be combined with other things that are healthy and we must participate in self care.

I love hearing words of wisdom from my dad. It seems like they’ve been coming at me from so many different directions. His ever-positive, life loving attitude is so present in my heart. I miss him so much, which is a reminder of why I started this blog in the first place: to share positivity, food, and South Louisiana values. I’m now focusing on Life on Life’s Terms and sharing it with friends, family and my hospice patients and their families. Powerful words from a caring man.

Another thing my dad did, of course, was gumbo. He made the best gumbo. Like his jambalaya, his gumbo was one-of-a-kind. It was colorful, spicy and different every time he made it. He always made shrimp and okra gumbo, which is my mom’s favorite. She likes smoked sausage in hers, so I added that in this recipe. Of course my dad had very few recipes written down, so I recently have been working on perfecting my version of this gumbo, and I think I found success. NOTE: if you think you don’t like okra, neither did my dad. He cooked down the okra so much that he “cooked the slime out”, as he would say, and it adds an intense flavor and richness to the gumbo, AND you barely know it’s there. He also did not like celery but was a believer that it was necessary in cooking especially in the Cajun Trinity (onion, bell pepper and Celery), as the flavor it provides is necessary.

It’s been ridiculously cold in South Louisiana, snowing twice in 1 month!! So, gumbo is necessary. I hope y’all enjoy this recipe- let me know what you think. Oh, and with Mardi Gras season fast approaching, make extra and freeze it for when you have friends over after the parades!! Just defrost, heat on stove, cook rice and make potato salad. Wash down with king cake and cold beer. Voila. Pure, Louisiana happiness.

Here we Go!

Wine Pairing: Chateau St. Michelle Cab

Music Pairing: Sam Smith’s new album “The Thrill of It All”. Not Louisiana music but I am obsessed right now

Ingredients:

2 lbs Louisiana shrimp (if you can buy some locally, fresh and not peeled, do that. Peel them, save the shells, and make your own shrimp stock. recipe to follow)

Shrimp stock (recipe to follow. But if you can’t make your own shrimp stock you’re not truly Cajun and store bought is fine)

2 lbs smoked sausage

1 bay leaf

2 small bags frozen okra

1 can rotel

Shrimp Stock recipe:

Shrimp shells from 2 lbs of shrimp

A few onions, chopped in 4

1 Bell Pepper, Chopped in 4 pieces

Garlic heads

A few celery stalks

Salt, black pepper, red pepper, garlic powder, bay leaf

once you’ve peeled your shrimp, save the shells and set aside. Fill a large pot a little more than halfway with water and bring to a boil. Add shrimp shells, onion, bell pepper, celery, carrots, bay leaves, salt, pepper, garlic powder. Let this simmer on your stove for a few hours. Mine simmered about 4 hours. Drain the stock. I don’t have fancy cooking accoutrement, so I put a colander over a large bowl, draining the stock and throwing away the shells and vegetables.

While your stock is cooking, smother some okra: 

Set a medium sized pot on med high heat, and add a little vegetable oil. Place 2 bags frozen okra (you can also use fresh) in the pot and cook down. Okra will appear slimy, but you are “cooking the slime out” as my dad would say. Once okra has cooked down a bit and is not longer slimy, add the can of rotel. Continue to smother the okra until it’s dark, soft and no longer has peaks. Honestly it’s ready when it appears a bit mushy.

Once Stock is made, put it in a large pot, heat on the stove. Add the okra, a spoonful at a time until reaching desired thickness. I used all of the smothered okra. I know I am a big advocate for making your own roux but I must admit: I don’t make my own roux for this gumbo. Reason being, this gumbo requires less roux than chicken and sausage gumbo does due to the okra making it so thick, so making a big roux would be overkill. I had some leftover frozen roux in my fridge that I used, but you can also use a few scoops of jarred roux to thicken your gumbo to your desired thickness. Or, if you want to make your own roux, do it and freeze what you don’t use! Once your gumbo is where you want it to be, add your sausage, let that cook awhile, about 20 minutes. Skim any fat off the top. Then, add your shrimp and let them cook until no longer translucent, only takes about 8 minutes.

Cook some rice, make some potato salad and boom. You have a delicious shrimp and okra gumbo. C’est Bon.

This gumbo is my new favorite gumbo. Something about it is lighter than my chicken and sausage gumbo, making it perfect for spring. I am desperately ready for warmer weather, but I am going to keep enjoying this gumbo weather as long as I can.

Well I am working on some things for my next blog post that will turn into a series. So, stay tuned!! Take care and remember: Life on Life’s Terms: Eat gumbo and be happy.

XOXO

Cajun Queen

When Life Hands you Mirliton….

When Life Hands you Mirliton….

IMG_1297Hi everyone!! It’s been months since I’ve posted and I sure have missed writing. My last post was at the end of May….I honestly do not know how I have made it this long without writing, as it is so cathartic for me! I started a new job at the end of March with Acadian Hospice and Palliative Care as the social worker, and I have loved every minute since. I worked in hospice prior to that in a sales role, which I enjoyed, however my love for social work never stopped tugging at me and I found myself right back where I started. The work is challenging, but rewarding. The days are non stop, and there has been little time for writing. But, one of my New Year’s challenges to myself is to blog more.. So here I am!

Since my last post, so many things have changed. About 1 week after starting my new job, I learned my husband and I were expecting! As many of you may know, I have 2 step kids, Andrea and Jai, ages 10 and 8, and my husband and I have a little girl, Shelby, who just turned 3 on December 26. When I learned I was pregnant, I was excited and nervous. My husband also started a new job around the time I did, so new jobs and a new baby seemed overwhelming. I bought a bigger SUV able to fit our brood, I chose a health insurance package that would be beneficial for covering costs associated with child delivery, I panicked because I did not have short term disability to help through maternity leave, and in a new job, I had no vacation time. I began planning, saving, and preparing, excited to see my Shelby become a big sister for the first time. Then, everything changed.

At home one evening my husband heard me scream from the other room. I knew I was losing the baby. I tried to call my new OB, but to my surprise he was out and had no one to take his call. I cried all night long in fear. I went to the doctor the next day, and the doctor was still out. The nurse ran some tests and sent me home on bed rest . I went back into the doctors office the following morning and my fears were confirmed: we lost the baby. I was 12 weeks along. The OBGYN was very compassionate, and encouraged us to name the baby. He said it was too soon to tell the gender of the baby in the ultrasound, but he believes God can put on your heart the gender of the baby. My husband and I looked at each other because we both already knew. It was a boy. We named him Joseph.

The next few weeks and months were a blur. I only took off one day of work, which looking back was not enough. I pushed myself to excel at my new job, pushed myself to help my hospice patients through their grief and loss, while I was grieving a loss of my own. It was painful, but, I found healing in helping others, and it made me better. I spent the next few months trying to make sense of it all, trying to process and compartmentalize this pain inside of me. I had to explain to my step children that the baby they were so excited to welcome to our family was gone. My body took what seemed like forever to recover, and my heart took even longer. I prayed. I cried. I drank wine. I had good days. I had bad days. But, as with the loss of my dad, this loss taught me to lean on those I loved, to withdraw when I feel like I need to withdraw, and to be grateful for the people in my life. I learned to lean on my husband like never before. I started running, and ran my first 5K! Grief and loss have a way of forcing us to look at life through a different lens. It teaches us to stop worrying about the little things, and focus on what’s truly important. You find strength that you did not know was there.

After telling our kids we lost the baby, we decided to do something to remember him. I have always wanted a Myers lemon tree, so my sweet husband got one for me. We planted the tree in our backyard, burying notes to Joseph in the ground. Shelby drew him a picture. We all cried, prayed, and stood around the lemon tree. I still go there for a moment of prayer. I enjoy coffee, pray a rosary, and just be present with the child I’ll never hold here on Earth. It has brought me a lot of healing, and I believe it’s made me able to finally write this post. Vulnerability and discussion of hard things is frowned upon in our society. I sit and listen to the problems of others for a living, so coming out and publicly discussing this topic is hard. However, I am hoping that it might help another woman going through this this loss. 1 in 4 women experience miscarriage. It’s a sucky club that I am now a part of. However I found healing in reading other women’s stories, so I chose to share mine.

Since starting my new job as a hospice social worker, one of my favorite things about the job is going into the homes of Cajun people and learning how they do things in their home. They share recipes, holiday traditions, and family secrets that I feel so privileged to be part of. Nothing is more vulnerable than inviting someone into your house while their loved one is dying in the other room. I am there to comfort to patient and the family, but they don’t know that they comfort me, as well. One of the things I learned recently was how to make shrimp and mirliton dressing. Back in November, a sweet caregiver of one of my patients was chopping mirliton and I had to learn more. Mirliton is a French/Creole, pear-shaped vegetable that I had never cooked with prior to this day. Basically, its the unofficial squash of Louisiana. She told me that this time of year was when mirliton were in season, and on sale. She told me how she cooks down her meat, shrimp and adds the mirliton and bakes with cheese and bread crumbs. I don’t know who was more excited, me to have a new recipe, or her that I was so genuinely interested in what she was cooking.

That day on my drive home, I brainstormed ways that I would make my mirliton dressing. I stopped and picked up the ingredients, picked up my daughter, went home, turned on music, poured my wine, and cooked. I finally felt like myself again. Thats the thing about Louisiana. When the seasons of life kick your ass, Louisiana’s seasons of vegetables, seafood, culture and tradition breathe life back into you when you need it most. These moments remind you that new beginnings are coming, pain does not last forever, and healing is always possible. My dad always told me that food, music and family can cure all. Damn was he right. Thank God for those moments of peace and clarity.

Well, I hope you like this recipe. My husband and I certainly enjoyed it! It would make a great side dish for a family get together or holiday gathering. It can easily be a main meal, or it is great as a side dish with baked chicken. It’s also pretty healthy if you’re trying to make positive changes in the New Year!

Whew. that post was hard to write. But I’m glad I did it. I hope all of you are having a great 2018 so far. Hug your kids, love your spouse, and give of yourself until it hurts. Everything can change in an instant, so embrace the gifts God has given you.

Here we go!

Music pairing: Van Morrison has a new album! It’s called Versatile. It’s jazzy and fabulous to listen to while you cook.

Wine pairing: Bread and Butter Chardonnay or 19 Crimes Cab

Shrimp, Sausage and Mirliton Dressing 

Ingredients:

8 Mirliton

1 lb shrimp

1 lb ground, loose pork sausage (I used green onion sausage from my local grocery store)

Guidry’s seasoning- onion, bell pepper, celery mix

Splash of red wine

Italian Bread crumbs

Parmesan cheese

Instructions

Bring a pot of water to rolling boil, season with salt. Boil whole mirliton 45 minutes until tender. Take mirliton out of water, set aside to cool. Once cool, peel, seed and cube the mirliton.

Heat a medium sized pot on medium high heat. Heat some olive oil in the pan, and put about 1 tablespoon of butter. allow butter to melt, then add 1/2 cup Guidry’s seasoning mix (or use 1 small onion, 1/4 bell pepper, 2 stalks celery). Cook vegetables until translucent and tender. Add ground sausage, break apart and cook in the vegetables about 20 minutes until cooked through. deglaze the pan with a splash of red wine (or chicken stock or water if you don’t have wine) (Obvi use the wine and drink the rest). stir to combine. Add mirliton cubes. Mirliton will cook down tremendously. Keep an eye on it, mashing and adding water. Cover the pot to steam the mirliton, checking on it every few minutes and combining the sausage and mirliton. Season with salt, black pepper, red pepper, and garlic powder. once the mirliton is very tender and combined with the sausage, about 30 minutes, add shrimp. stir to combine and cook until shrimp are pink, about 7-9 minutes. Do not over cook shrimp. Sprinkle with a bit of parmesan cheese and bread crumbs, stirring to combine. Turn off the heat and pour the mixture into a baking dish. Top with more bread crumbs and parmesan cheese and bake in a 350 degree oven until golden brown, about 15 minutes. Take out and enjoy! Delicious paired with white or red.

I really hope you guys enjoy this recipe. Our best season in Cajun culture is on its way: MARDI GRAS! Crawfish, fried chicken, red beans. hell during Mardi Gras, you can cook whatever you want! I hear my grandmother used to make beer toasted hot dogs with chili for Mardi Gras. Blog post perhaps?

I’d love to hear suggestions for future blog post topics and recipes you’d like to read. Message me!

Stay warm. Put some soul in yo bowl.

xoxo

Cajun Queen

 

Back of the Stove Chicken {and cooking from the heart}

Back of the Stove Chicken {and cooking from the heart}

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HAPPY SUNDAY! I hope you are all having a great, long Memorial Day weekend. I know I am. Instead of going out of town like many of our friends, we decided on a “staycation” right here at home, and it has been relaxing. We slept as late as the toddler would allow, cooked some good food, did a little swimming, and took naps. I love weekends like this!

This blog post is devoted to YOU, the reader! One thing I would love to teach and empower my readers to do is to find a recipe, let it inspire you, and make it your own. That is something I did last week, and it has created so many smiles in my home! There are so many incredible recipes out there on blogs, Pinterest, facebook, etc. I LOVE watching videos on my Facebook newsfeed from Tasty and websites likes that, because they show, in a quick clip, how to cook really creative things that keep me inspired in the kitchen. While these recipes are great, most of the time, they are not Cajun!! So, being the resourceful Cajun woman that I am, I watch these videos and read these recipes, but I take my own notes and create my own version of the dish. Basically, I add a little Cajun Queen flair—my husband says that this is when I create magic in the kitchen.

It all starts like this. If I am in the grocery store and I see something on sale, or just particularly interesting that I rarely use to cook with, I grab it and figure out the details later. In this case, I picked up some seasoned bone-in skin-on chicken thighs from our local grocer, Robie’s in Abbeville. I am a regular at Robies, I’m there at least 3 times a week, and all the cashiers know Shelby and I (we are probably known as the girl in scrubs who’s buying wine and chicken salad on the reg, with the blond toddler screaming for Cheetos). Anyway, Robie’s recently changed things up in the store, both aesthetically as well as with the merchandise they are carrying. Lately, I have been trying new foods like a great new coffee creamer, kombucha, delicious artisan cheeses, and do not forget about their chicken salad. Robie’s sells the best chicken salad in America. Robie’s chicken salad is this country’s backbone. Ok so we really love their chicken salad. They have 3 different versions: regular, jalapeno, and spicy. Our favorite is the spicy chicken salad. We pair it with fresh cut veggies or spicy pita chips, and let me tell you, we never fail to consume an entire container in one evening.

Another great thing about my local grocer, is their meat market. I LOVE the way they season their meat. They sell incredible chicken patties, beef patties, bacon wrapped jalapenos, spinach stuffed chicken breast, and delicious Steen’s sausage! When my mom comes to town for a visit, she always has to stop at Robie’s for her “Robie’s Fix”, which is all of the above. I have always purchased these things at Robie’s, but recently I branched out and bought their raw chicken. Their chicken is seasoned with a simple combination of cayenne, black pepper, salt and garlic powder. Chicken is actually out of my comfort zone, because I rarely cook it. Honestly, in my experience, chicken is dry and boring. However, Robie’s has a great way to present foods, because they have a cooler full of seasoned chicken that was calling my name. So, when I got home with the chicken, I began my research.

I must have spent hours on Pinterest, searching for recipes using bone-in skin-on chicken thighs. That’s when I came across this recipe on one of my favorite food blogs, SkinnyTaste. SkinnyTaste food blog is one of my favorites because she cooks exciting, flavorful foods that are healthy, too! She includes calories, weight watchers points, etc so her readers are able to try fun things in the kitchen while making their health a priority. I LOVE that! Anyway, I recently came across her recipe for Spanish Chicken and Rice. I make her recipes all the time, but this one was extra impressive. Of course, I made several variations to the recipe, but her method for cooking the chicken and rice together in one pot is what inspired me to do so. Here is the link for her recipe for Spanish chicken and rice.

http://www.skinnytaste.com/spanish-chicken-and-rice-5-ww-pts/

So, how did I change it up? For starters, I used those bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs from Robie’s I told yall about. (The recipe calls for boneless skinless thighs that she cuts up before cooking.) I also added a few Cajun-necessary items such as Cajun Power Spicy Garlic sauce, Worcestershire and bay leaves. I also changed up the technique, as I didn’t put the onions and bell peppers in a food processor, I just chopped them. Oh, and I definitely left out the olives because my husband hates olives (I think it would be delicious with olives, however).

So with the changes I made to the recipe, what did I find? A Spanish/Cajun chicken and rice concoction that my husband and I could NOT get enough of!!!! This meal was so delicious, spicy, satisfying, and the leftovers were better than the first time I cooked it, which is a huge win for a Sunday dinner, because you can heat it up and enjoy it all week. I named my version of this dish “Back of the stove chicken” because you can really just put it to the back of your stove and not worry about it for a little while while you do housework and other Sunday activities. I cooked my “back of the stove chicken” in a large Calphalon pot, and let it simmer away during a lazy Sunday afternoon. I’ve made it twice since then. It’s quick and easy enough to make it during the week, too.

I really hope yall try this one and enjoy it as much as we did. But, most of all, I hope that you go grocery hunting and find things you’ve never cooked before. Being resourceful and learning more about food is what makes us Cajun after all. So get out there and buy something new at the store. Find recipes you like and combine them, change them up. You never know what you’ll create!

Here we go!

Music Pairing: Gregg Allman or the Allman Brothers. RIP Gregg Allman

Wine Pairing: Old Soul Pinot Noir, or Ava Grace Chardonnay

Ingredients:

  • 6 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 medium bell pepper, chopped
  • 6 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 4 tbsp cilantro, chopped
  • 1 tbsp coconut oil
  • 4 cups water
  • 3/4 cups light beer
  • 2 oz tomato sauce
  • 2 chipotle in adobo peppers, chopped with sauce 
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire 
  • 1 tablespoon Cajun Power Spicy Garlic Sauce 
  • 1 bay leaf 
  • Black pepper 
  • Cayenne pepper 
  • ½ cup chicken stock
  • 1 packet Badia sazon (find in a packet in the Mexican section of your grocery store)
  • 6 oz frozen mixed vegetables (I used combo of peas and carrots)
  • 2 1/4 cups uncooked jasmine rice

In a large heavy pot with a good fitting lid such as a Dutch oven; heat 1 tsp of oil and cook chicken, skin side down first, until brown…about 10 minutes on each side. Remove chicken and set aside.

Do not drain fat. Add onions, peppers, garlic and cilantro. Sauté, stirring frequently, about 5 minutes. Add water, beer, tomato sauce, chicken stock, sazon, and chicken. Cook 30-45 minutes on medium heat.

Add frozen mixed vegetables and rice. Stir and bring to a boil.

Reduce heat to medium low and simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally until water boils down and barely skims the top. Once the water level reaches the top of the rice, cover with a tight fitting lid so no steam escapes and cook 25-30 minutes.

When you take the lid off, fluff rice with a fork and serve. The chicken may be falling off the bone, and the skin may be falling off as well…which is good! That means all the flavor from the skin and the bone was released into the food! C’est Bon!

I hope you try this recipe and love it as much as we do. It’s definitely on our weekly dinner rotation now.

God bless our troops. God bless those who have fought for our freedom. And God bless YOU! Eat something good, drink a cold one, and be thankful for this American life.

Xoxo- Cajun Queen

“Gotta let your soul shine, it’s better than sun shine. Better than moon shine. Damn sure better than the rain” – Gregg Allman

Granny’s White Beans {and living your best life}

Granny’s White Beans {and living your best life}

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Weekends. We all have different reasons we love the weekend. All week long, we work hard, counting down the days until Friday. I love my job as a hospice social worker, so much so that it doesn’t feel like work. However, nothing compares to being at home with my family on the weekends. What do I love most about weekends? The familiar sounds and delicious smells of Saturday mornings make up my weekend dreams. I love waking up, hearing the music playing in the kitchen, smelling the bacon cooking, and hearing little footsteps and laughter in my house. When I walk into the kitchen, my husband greets me with a kiss, a cup of coffee, and a dance. It’s so simple, but it is truly my happy place. I walk into the living room, hear the Saturday morning cartoons, and am greeted by beautiful children, still sleepy, messy hair, wrapped up in blankets, asking for pancakes. Being a wife and mother is hard, but so rewarding, especially in little moments like these. Life has been extra sweet lately, and I am soaking it all in.

So, my life has been through so many changes the last couple months! I accepted a new job, working as a social worker for Acadian Hospice and Palliative Care. My heart is so full every day when I get home from work, knowing I helped someone die with dignity and grace. I bought a new car, and almost bought a new house. I am a Taurus, and Taurus’ hate change, by the way. But, all these changes taught me something. We all need to find our garden. No matter where you are, go find happiness. If you are around people who are hurtful, stop spending time with them. If your job isn’t fulfilling, make a move. If you aren’t healthy, join a gym and eat some veggies. Basically, find your garden, means to find a beautiful life, and spend time with people who will water your garden, not destroy it. Life is short, and must be spent only in happiness, or else, what is this all for? So, put your phones down, look up, and smile at others. You never know what they may be going through. Take time to enjoy your Saturday mornings with music and breakfast. Tell your spouse you are thankful for them, tell them something that they do really well. Life is a precious, precious gift. Don’t waste it.

Now, to the point of this post… we are going to talk about a woman who always lived for the moment. That woman is my paternal grandmother, my Granny. Granny was born Ivy Mae Talbot, but EVERYONE knew her as “Toot”, pronounced “Tuht”. Granny was born and raised in Labadieville, LA, where her family owned a local grocery mercantile store. She married my grandfather, Sterling Percle from Plaquemine, LA. Sterling (Paw Paw to me) was a quiet, kind man who allowed his bride to be herself. And boy, was she something else. My Granny was such a beautiful woman, inside and out. She had a larger than life personality, loved filling her wine glass to the brim, and celebrated Mardi Gras like it was Christmas. Maybe my apple didn’t fall far from her tree? Anyway, she was a great inspiration to me and I am so excited to share my story of her.

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Pictured: Granny and I at Mardi Gras in Thibodaux

My way of sharing her story is to share her recipe for white beans with you. These white beans….well…they’re kind of famous. Everyone all over Thibodaux sought after this recipe for years. It was, however, kept a secret. After she passed away, we finally got our hands on it, and it is my go-to comfort food recipe ever since. Something about the smell, the taste, it brings me back to her kitchen, where I loved spending time with her. Anyone who knows my Granny (aka “Toot) knows about her white beans. I love making them with leftover ham meat and the ham bone. If you have a leftover ham from Easter you are about to throw away, don’t! Instead, use it to make these white beans! They are inexpensive and simple to make. My favorite part of making this dish? I have her handwritten copy of the recipe. A little piece of her is always with me when I cook it. Our family always tells “Toot stories” at every gathering. We laugh about how she methodically organized Mardi Gras beads, labeling the boxes “Long Pearl Beads” and “Very Long Pearl Beads” and “Very, Very long, nice, pearl beads”. Her house was always spotless. She taught me how to peel crawfish. She knew EVERYONE in Thibodaux, Napoleonville, Labadieville, and she would tell you stories about her “good friends” as if you knew exactly who she was talking about. She had beautiful, silver hair. She wore sassy little matching pantsuits. She was Southern. She was Cajun. She was beautiful, inside and out. Family was most important to her. My parents worked at the restaurant most holidays, so she would drive from Thibodaux to Plaquemine to pick up my brother and I, just so she could take us to the annual Easter crawfish boil at Aunt Joyce and Uncle Ray’s house in Napoleonville. When she cooked her white beans, she would reserve them in tiny little containers, and she’d hand them out to visitors. Such a delicacy, her white beans, guests were lucky if they went home with just a taste.

There is something so nostalgic about the recipe. I so enjoy cooking it, taking a step back in time, when things were simple. Before social media, cell phones, Kardashians and Wal-Mart, people were forced to live a slower life, where they took pleasure in the small things. I find myself drawn to these recipes and memories when things are tough, and I’m going through changes. Food and music has this effect on me….to transform me into who I once was, and embrace who I’ve become. Fact: there is nothing more soothing to the soul than a pot of white beans on the stove, good music playing in the background, and wine being poured. Everything around you just stops, nothing else matters. Granny loved calling friends over by saying “If you’d like to stop by I have some white beans on the stove”. No one turned down that invitation.

Here we go:

Music pairing: Cajun/Zydeco

Wine Pairing: Old Soul chardonnay

Tip: serve with jambalaya. My dad always served jambalaya with white beans and mixed them together. Refer back to previous post for jambalaya recipe

Granny Toot’s White Beans:

Ingredients:

2 lbs white beans

1 lb salt meat (I use leftover ham and hambone, if I have it.)

2 onions, chopped

1 cup vegetable oil

½ teaspoon cayenne (I put more, like 1 teaspoon)

Instructions:

Soak beans overnight. In the morning, drain the beans. Put them in a pot in hot, clear water and bring to a boil. Boil until tender, when you can smash the beans to the side of the pot. Boil salt meat until tender and cut in to pieces (if using a leftover ham, skip this step. Simply cut the meat into small, bite-sized pieces. Reserve meat with the ham bone).

In another pot on medium high heat, put cut meat (if using leftover ham, add the bone)and chopped onions and cook until onions are cooked, translucent. Add this to the beans when they are tender. Cook everything for a while on low heat.

This recipe is simple, and it’s straight from Granny. I typed it from her actual recipe card. I love reading it, it makes me think of her. I miss her everyday.

Have a great week! Love you guys

Xoxo-Cajun Queen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas Essentials {Desserts and Cocktails- and special traditions}

Christmas Essentials {Desserts and Cocktails- and special traditions}

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It’s here! Christmas is here! We will soon be borderline diabetic, constantly drunk, and surrounded by people we love, or those we love to hate. What a glorious time of year. I have finished shopping, completed all food preparations, and am even getting things arranged for Shelby’s birthday party- her birthday is 12/26. Whew! What a busy time.

Christmas Eve Dessert. It is necessary, essential, important, mandatory. You get the picture. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post about cookies, I am not much of a baker. I can follow a recipe, but I don’t like to. Cooking comes from my heart and measuring is such a challenge for me. And the tedious aspect of cookie decorating- I’ll leave that to my friend, Sara. But, I love to bring desserts to family gatherings because it is something sweet that everyone loves. So, through the years, I have found a few fool-proof dessert recipes that are always a sure thing, and that even I cannot screw up.

This recipe for almond torte is courtesy of my mom. My mom made this sweet treat for Christmas one year and my husband has been obsessed ever since! He’s not even a dessert eater! He asks for it for every family function. This recipe is VERY simple. Coming from me, that means a lot. Everything mixes in one bowl and it doesn’t make a mess. The ingredients are probably things you have on hand. All I had to go out and buy were the almond slices and the almond extract. Oh, and by the way, it is so delicious. It would be great to serve after dinner with coffee, champagne, red wine, or a glass of Frangelico on the rocks.

Almond Torte

1 1/2 cup sugar

3/4 cup melted butter

2 eggs

1 tsp almond extract

1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 tsp salt ( optional)

1 1/2 cup all purpose flour

3 Tb sliced almonds (for topping)

1 Tb sugar ( for topping)

Preheat oven 350*  Grease & flour 9″ round cake pan.  In bowl whisk sugar & melted butter together .  Beat in eggs.  Stir in almond & vanilla extracts.  Add salt & flour.  Stir well.  Spread batter in prepared pan.  Sprinkle almonds & sugar over the top.  Bake in 350* oven for 30-35 minutes or until lightly golden brown.

Cole slightly on wire rack.  Carefully run a knife around edges to loosen and turn out onto rack.  Invert onto serving plate almond side up.

NOTE: Ok so before, I said that this recipe was something I could not screw up. Well, I found a way!! Despite how much I cook, I don’t have fancy cook wear. I used an old cake pan and the torte stuck to the bottom of the pan. When I tried to take it out, it was stuck and crumbled. Hot mess. And typical of me when baking. So, I made another torte, and lined the pan with aluminum foil, going up the sides. That way, I was able to pop the torte out by pulling the foil.

Now, let’s talk cocktails. Last post we talked about hot grog- a festive, delicious beverage that can simmer on the stove for your Christmas open house. In addition to this, I always recommend having the following items on hand for a Christmas gathering:

Wine:

1 red and 1 white. I always buy 1 cab and 1 chardonnay, but occasionally add a pinot grigio for other white wine drinkers who like something lighter and more crisp than chardonnay. Also, chilled champagne is a must. Buy a brut champagne- I love Korbel. Recommendations for cab are Josh, 19 Crimes, True Myth, and La Crema. Suggestions for chardonnay are La Crema, Chateau St. Michelle, Edna Valley, True Myth. In addition to wine, a fun beer assortment is good- my husband loves the Abita Christmas Ale.

Liquor wise, I think a good vodka (Tito’s) is good and bloody mary accouterment. A bloody mary bar would be great for Christmas Day! I’d also consider buying Crown, soda, ginger ale, etc so people can have a few options.

My favorite liquor during the holidays is Frangelico. It is a hazelnut liquor and it is just heavenly! It tastes great straight, on the rocks, and is also delicious when adding a splash to champagne. Frangelico makes a great hostess gift, too!

Growing up, Christmas Eve was always a night where my dad would cook gumbo and my mom hosted open house. She’d prepare drinks and snacks and people come come and go as they pleased. We always went to mass on Christmas Eve. One year, we went to mass and came home to find that Santa passed early and brought a huge entertainment center complete with a big screen TV, a Nintendo 64 (it was the 90’s after all), a 6 CD changer, a VHS player, and tons of movies. My brother and I were SO pumped!!! We stayed up all night playing video games and watching movies. My brother and I slept in the den on the sofa bed that night. Those childhood memories are what make me love Christmas so much. Parents go above and beyond to make it special for their kids, and I love being able to pass down traditions of my own to my kids.

For Christmas Eve, it is tradition that my inlaws all go to Paw Paw Russell’s house. Every year, after 4:00 mass, everyone shows up to eat Paw Paw’s delicious food, open presents, and hang out. Well, this year the tradition has been moved to Terrent’s Uncle Shane’s house. I am so looking forward to being with my inlaws. I am so blessed to have a second family.

Cocktails are fun. Know what else is fun? Being SAFE! Don’t drink and drive, people!

I hope everyone has a Merry Christmas Eve full of food, dessert, drinks, and family. Don’t let Christmas stress you out. Christmas is about peace, family, presents, food, and Jesus! Spread the love of Christmas, and Jesus, everywhere you go!!

God bless

xoxo- Cajun Queen

 

 

Christmas Essentials {Plantation hot grog and Chicken Scratch goodies}

Christmas Essentials {Plantation hot grog and Chicken Scratch goodies}

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Hey everyone!! It has truly been a great weekend. I have spent lots of time in my kitchen creating new things and that is what makes a great weekend for me. I love being in the kitchen with my family all year round, but around Christmastime it is extra special. I love playing Christmas music, drinking wine out of my Santa wineglass, and enjoying all the smells of whatever is cooking. It’s my happy place.

My mom made the suggestion to make Plantation Hot Grog for the blog, and I am so glad I took her advice! Moms are always right. When my parents worked at Nottoway Plantation, they would serve this hot grog to guests as they arrived for their candlelight tours of the beautiful antebellum home. My mom said guests loved being greeted with this warm, festive drink, but, the best part was the smell! Cinnamon, oranges and cloves….the whole place smelled like Christmas. Now that I’ve made this hot grog, I can account for that.

Plantation Hot Grog is like a warm, Christmas sangria. But white wine- nothing expensive. I used Woodbridge Sauvignon Blanc. Any white wine will do, my mom says she used to buy Franzia boxed wine for this. Just don’t buy a sweet wine, use something dry like Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, or Chardonnay. Second, you will need apple juice or apply cider. I used “Simply Apple” apple juice. Next, my mom said to add a little sugar. I added 1/4 of a cup and I found it a little too sweet. So, add sugar according to your likeness. I probably could have not used sugar and been fine with the added sweetness from the apple juice. You will need oranges and lemons, as well. Freshly squeezed lemon juice will go in, as well as orange slices. Then, you add the spices- cinnamon sticks and whole cloves. Let this lovely mixture simmer for about 20 minutes and get ready for your house to smell like a Southern Plantation home during Christmastime! This hot grog is perfect for a Christmas open house, or Christmas Eve get-together. Even if some people don’t drink, it creates an amazing aroma that will put a smile on all of your guests faces.

Recipe:

2 parts dry white wine

1 part apple juice or apple cider

sugar to taste

Fresh juice of 3 lemons

Spices: cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, dash of grated nutmeg

Garnish: sliced oranges

Pour the wine, juice in pot. Simmer 10 minutes. Stir in sugar, lemon juice. Simmer until sugar is dissolved into mixture.

Add spices (3-6 cinnamon sticks, 6-10 whole cloves, dash nutmeg). Add 4-6 orange slices. stir and simmer 15-25 minutes. Serve in clear mug with cinnamon stick.

While making the hot grog, I needed something to snack on. So, I pulled out a few goodies from my pantry by Chicken Scratch, LLC. My friend Casey Cheramie is the owner, and he is a caterer out of Galliano, LA. Every time my mom visits me she brings me some of his goodies because she knows I love them. I always keep a few things on hand because you can whip up something delicious and quick to bring with you to family gatherings, or just to snack on at home. He makes dip mixes, pepper jellies, desserts, tarts, custom cakes and desserts and SO much more. He sets up a booth at Reindeer Rowe, a shopping event in Thibodaux, every year right across from my mom’s Queeny’s booth. His booth is always the most hopping booth in the room! Everyone loves sampling his treats and buying them for the holidays. img_1115

I would say these goodies are a Christmas staple in my house. I used his Dill Dip Mix every year for Shelby’s birthday party- I plate it with smoked salmon. I haven’t tried to BBQ shrimp mix yet but I cannot wait! my Mom brought a walnut tart last weekend when she came to visit and it didn’t last 10 minutes. It was so delicious. The dip mixes either call for sour cream or mayonnaise, and the pepper jelly is delicious over cream cheese. So, just keep your fridge stocked with those things so when guests come over you can whip this up in no time. I love getting veggies to dip in the dip mixes. I use carrots, cherry tomatoes, and fresh broccoli. These nibbles are the perfect accompaniment to Plantation Hot Grog.

Pictured: Bacon Dip (mixes with sour cream), Sundried tomato basil dip (mixes with sour cream and mayo), fresh veggies

Here’s the website for more info on Chicken Scratch, LLC

http://www.chickenscratchllc.com

Cream cheese with Crawfish Pepper jelly and crackers

I hope you guys try the Plantation Hot Grog. It is inexpensive and delicious and really made my home smell amazing. I loved hearing my mom tell the story of how they served it there. I grew up at Nottoway because my parents worked there my whole life, and I can’t explain the magical aura that is there during Christmastime. It is so beautifully decorated and truly feels like something out of a movie. Making this hot grog brought me back there. If you ever have the opportunity to visit there during Christmas- GO!

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I hope everyone is having a wonderful Christmas season. I know it can be stressful. But put the stress aside and spend time with loved ones in the kitchen. I promise it’s good for your soul.

xoxo- Cajun Queen