Domestic Devo

Friday, September 18, 2009

I'm the cook and launderer of the family. The former is because I enjoy cooking and the latter is because I'm organized enough to work doing the laundry into my routine without really noticing it -- and better, if I say so myself, about remembering to do it. I do have my limits: I delegate hanging anything on a drying rack and any ironing to Mrs. Van Horn. At any rate, I sometimes play off the term "domestic diva" and jokingly refer to myself as a "domestic devo."

Today, I'm kicking off the first of many changes I'll be gradually making to the blog. More on that, perhaps, in a post headed your way in the near future. (I don't know myself what they all are, yet.) Suffice it to say that for some time, I have been kicking the idea around of reserving Friday for posting about things I enjoy. I don't know about always doing this, but I think this will frequently be the case.

So, without further ado, I present a recipe I tried recently, showing off my culinary version of a chemistry set along the way. Part of it is pictured at right. (Yes. I re-bottled and labeled my spices after I found nice, glass bottles for that rack.) More on that below, but first, here is my "cleaned up" version of a really nice chicken jambalaya I made for the first time on Labor Day weekend.


Chicken Jambalaya

Preparation Time is about an hour, ignoring marination of one hour.

Ingredients (List: cjm)

3 chicken breasts
white wine, dry, 1 cup
1/2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 yellow onion
minced garlic, at least 1 tbsp
smoked sausage, 1 lb
1 green bell pepper
celery, 3 stalks
Tony Chachere's seasoning, 2 tsp
salt, 1/2 tsp
cayenne pepper, 1/4 tsp
Kitchen Bouquet (or similar gravy base), 1 tbsp
water, 4 cups
rice, 2 cups
chopped parsley, 1/2 cup (fresh, if possible)


1. Dice the chicken or cut into nugget-sized slices.

2. Salt and pepper the sliced chicken.

3. Marinate the chicken for an hour in white wine and Worcestershire sauce.

4. Chop the onion and set it aside in a large bowl with the garlic.

5. Thinly slice the smoked sausage.

6. In parallel with the next step, brown the sausage in a large pot over medium-high heat until slices are charred around the edges.

7. Slice the bell pepper and the celery, placing them in the bowl with the onion.

8. Set sausage aside on paper towel.

9. Brown chicken in sausage drippings.

10. Place chicken in bowl with sausage.

11. Dump chopped vegetables into pot.

12. "Sweat" the vegetables until tender: Over medium-high heat, cook covered for five minutes, stir, then cook for another five minutes.

13. Add the meat and the water to the pot, then turn heat to high.

14. Mise en place: Tony Chachere's, salt, and cayenne in a dish; a tablespoon and the gravy base; and the rice.

15. At boiling, add gravy base, spices, and rice. Return to boil if necessary.

16. Simmer, covered, on low heat for 20 minutes.

17. Stir in parsley and cover for one or two minutes.


1. If preparing in advance, add fresh parsley just before serving to avoid discoloration.


Just to reiterate, I only very slightly modified the above recipe. I would not say that it is my recipe.

But do take a look at the original and notice that the directions seem to occupy one, undivided, hard-to-follow-when-you're-cooking paragraph. I say, "seem to" because some of the directions are implied in the (rather lengthy) ingredients list, which is a great way to set yourself up to forget, say, chopping something up, only to ruin your timing in the middle of making the dish. It's also a great way to miss opportunities to do things more efficiently, as I do in steps 5-7, where I do some of my chopping while the sausage cooks. I do this with any recipe I like enough to want to make later. (And here, I managed to guess good amounts of spices to use, so I incorporated those guesses into the recipe.)

Many other avid chefs might be laughing at me right now, since timing is something one develops with experience, but my spelling everything out has the advantage that I can hand this to my wife, who is an organizational disaster in the kitchen -- She'll back me up on this! -- and have it turn out well. Whether I'm doing the actual cooking or not, I spend less time on the repetitive process of cooking and more on the creation and enjoyment of the food. This is especially true when I'm cooking something I haven't made in a while.

I do other things, too, like list the ingredients (and amounts) in the order that they appear, and I dump the ingredients into a text file -- a master shopping list for all my recipes and other grocery shopping. Each line is marked by a three-letter symbol for the recipe, making the list searchable by recipe (as well as sortable by store section and item), so I can just throw in a few search terms to generate a checklist for the store.

If all I were doing was making chicken jambalaya, such a list would look like this after I searched the file for the term "cjm" and removed the columns containing that search term:
cooking -[ ]- 1/2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
cooking -[ ]- Kitchen Bouquet (or similar gravy base), 1 tbsp
grain ---[ ]- rice, 2 cups
meat ----[ ]- 3 chicken breasts
meat ----[ ]- smoked sausage, 1 lb.
produce -[ ]- green bell pepper
produce -[ ]- yellow onion
produce -[ ]- celery, 3 stalks
produce -[ ]- minced garlic, 1 heaping tablespoon
spice ---[ ]- cayenne pepper, 1/4 tsp
spice ---[ ]- chopped parsley, 1/2 cup (fresh, if possible)
spice ---[ ]- pepper
spice ---[ ]- salt
spice ---[ ]- Tony Chachere's seasoning, 2 tsp
spirits -[ ]- white wine, dry, 1 cup
(I see that I should make that, "chicken breasts, 3" the next time I edit that list... This is still a work in progress.)

You could, of course, just take a printout of the recipe to the store, but I like to do my grocery shopping just once or twice a week, so I usually do several searches and dump all the (sorted) results into one file. That, I print out at home, check off whatever I have, and then buy what's left at the store. Less drudgery. Less wasted time.

And speaking of time, I have other things to attend to this morning, so I'll have to skip the details of my spiffy spice inventory scheme. We'll just have to say I seem to have recovered nicely from the moving-induced shock of no longer having acres and acres of kitchen space and a place to cook outdoors: When it comes time to don the chef's apron, I'm enjoying myself again.

-- CAV


9-19-09: Corrected a typo.


bothenook said...

oh, excellent. another closet chef wannabe coming out of the woodwork!
this looks great, and the nuke in you shows through with your list!
now i'm going to have to try this, because it looks damned tasty.
more, the crowd yelled, MORE!

Gus Van Horn said...

Ha! I thought the same thing after I saw it posted. Still, it's all the more amusing to hear that from a fellow nuke.

Enjoy the Jambalaya, and do take a look around here if you like it.

Gus Van Horn said...

Oh, and one more thing.

I tone down the spice for Mrs. Van Horn. (And yet, she's the one from Louisiana! Go figure.). If you like hotter food, you might bump up the cayenne to 1/3 or even 1/2 tsp.