Sunday, February 24, 2013


There was a joke between my class in culinary school that whenever someone asked, "What are you making?", the reply was always, "jambalaya", regardless of what was actually being made.

I've always thought of jambalaya as a one-pot/clean-out-fridge dish of Cajun/Creole origin--perhaps my definition is rather loose considering that jambalaya is a specific cultural dish along the lines of browned chicken, spicy andouille, shrimp, onions, celery, peppers, rice, tomatoes, stock, and seasoned with bay leaves, red pepper, and salt.

When I make jambalaya - I use the basic outline of meat, onions, peppers, rice, red pepper, and bay leaves all cooked together with stock. Then I improvise with whatever is around my kitchen - evoking the historical origin of jambalaya as a meshing of Spanish paella, French herbs/technique, and native Louisiana food culture. 

This jamabalaya started with a need to use up some Prather Ranch whiskey maple sausage, so I started by slicing the sausage and browning it. Browning is an important technique for getting that delicious Cajun flavor.

Then I added some chopped onions, carrots, peppers, and garlic and sauteed these all together until they had a bit of color on them.

Rice gets added before any liquid. The rice will cook better if it's warmed and coated in fat first - this is easily achieved by stirring raw rice into the sauteing meat and veggies for about a minute. 

Next add stock and some spices. This time I used a liberal sprinkle of paprika, a pinch of saffron, and a dash of cumin. And shame on me for not having any bay leaves at hand! Bay leaves are so prevalent in the Bay Area, there's no excuse for me to not have fresh bay leaves in my kitchen!

Let everything simmer together, stirring occasionally, until the rice is tender and the liquid is gone. Voila! Jambalaya!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Homemade Brown Sugar and Coffeecake

Coffeecake is really just an excuse to eat that magical topping of butter, sugar, and flour (a.k.a. streusel). When I was a kid, my mom would take me to Hobee's for brunch after church every Sunday and I would always order the same thing - blueberry coffeecake. I would scrape off the topping and eat it by itself, then argue with my mom about whether or not I was going to eat anything else. It became a sacred Sunday ritual for me - carefully scraping streusal off the top of my coffeecake to ensure that I got every molecule of butter and sugar without contaminating it with any of that blueberry-cakey-stuff. Then eating those crunchy sugary little morsels of divine deliciousness - ahh, those were the days!

Luckily, coffeecake is pretty easy and fun to make. I start by making my own brown sugar from evaporated cane juice and molasses:

An interlude about sugar production: Sugar is made by juicing sugar cane, then evaporating the water out. This results in "evaporate cane juice" which is mostly just sugar crystals, but also contains some other stuff. Usually, evaporated cane juice gets purified into white sugar by removing all the "other stuff". The "other stuff" is what makes up molasses (tons of essential minerals!). To make brown sugar, they just mix a bunch of molasses back into the purified white sugar. So you can't have molasses or brown sugar without highly processed white sugar. Also, by making your own brown sugar, you can make it as dark or light as you want!

But I digress, back to the coffeecake!

I've come to appreciate some nuts in my coffeecake topping, especially my favorite nut: almonds.

Streusel Topping
1 cup All-Purpose Flour
1 cup Brown Sugar
1/3 cup Chopped nuts
8 Tbsp Unsalted Butter (1 stick)
2 tsp Ground Cinnamon
pinch salt

Melt the butter, combine all other ingredients in a bowl, then pour the butter on top and mix together.

Fresh streusel that's still slightly warm from the addition of hot butter is decadently delicious, I highly recommend frequent taste-tests of streusel, ya know, just to make sure it tastes okay.

Coffeecake topping can be made anytime and refrigerated or frozen until needed.

Coffee Cake
4 Tbsp Unsalted Butter
1 cup Sugar
2 large Eggs
2 cups All-Purpose Flour
1 tsp Baking Powder
1 tsp Baking Soda
pinch salt
1 1/4 cups Strawberry Yogurt (or sour cream, or any other yogurt)
1 tsp Vanilla

  • Beat the butter and sugar in a mixer until white and fluffy.
  • Add the eggs and again mix until it has a smooth, white, fluffy texture.
  • In a separate bowl; combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  • In yet another bowl; combine yogurt and vanilla.
  • Add the dry stuff to the egg-butter-sugar stuff in three parts, alternating with two parts of the yogurt-vanilla stuff.
  • Transfer to a greased baking dish and bake at 350F for roughly 30min.
I used two containers of Brown Cow Cream-Top Strawberry Yogurt, which imparted a deliciously subtle fruitiness to the coffeecake, but you can use any yogurt or sour cream.

Back to my streusal obsession. There used to be an incredible bakery called Harmony Bakery that would mix a bit of streusal into their coffee cake batter, and then they would put a thin layer of streusal in the middle of the coffeecake as well. They understood: coffeecake is just a streusal vehicle. I recommend this method. Though it takes a bit of care to spread the thick sticky coffeecake batter on top of a layer of crumbly streusel.

Mmmmmm coffeecake topping!