Monthly Archives: December 2015

JAMBALAYA – Bring it home Christmas Southern Style

When one thinks of what to serve as something special during the Christmas Holiday season one thinks of duck, goose, prime rib, etc. Popular amongst many of holiday celebrators is seafood. Halibut, Lobster Thermidor and Oysters. Boy, just writing this makes my mouth water. Well for this post I’m going to take you down to the Deep South, into the bayou of Louisiana and offer up Jambalaya. This amazing dish is full of rich spicy flavors that will satisfy anyone’s pallet. Even though the list of ingredients seems long it is still a quick and tasty in the gourmet fashion we like here at Shay’s Simple Gourmet.

List of ingredients

  • 2 Cups of enriched White Rice
  • 1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, once around the pan
  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • 1 lb. boneless, skinless white for dark chicken meat
  • 1 lb. andouille, casing removed and diced
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 ribs celery, chopped
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 bay leaf, fresh or dried
  • Several drops hot sauce or 2 pinches cayenne pepper
  • 2 to 3 tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • 1 (14 ounce) can diced tomatoes in juice
  • 1 (14 ounce) can or paper container chicken stock or broth
  • 1 tsp. cumin
  • 1 rounded tsp. dark chili powder
  • 1 tsp. poultry seasoning
  • 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 lb. medium shrimp, raw, deveined and peeled
  • Coarse salt and black pepper
  • Chopped scallions, for garnish
  • Fresh thyme, chopped for garnish

Cook rice to package directions.

Place a large, deep skillet over medium high heat. Add oil and butter to the pan. Cube chicken and place in hot oil and butter. Brown chicken 3 minutes, add sausage and cook 2 more minutes. Add onion, celery, pepper, bay and cayenne

Sauté vegetables 5 minutes, sprinkle flour over the pan and cook 1 to 2 minutes more or until flour vegetables. Stir in tomatoes and broth and season with cumin, chili, poultry seasoning, and Worcestershire. Bring liquids to a boil and add shrimp. Salt and pepper to taste.

Simmer shrimp 5 minutes until pink and firm. Remove the pot from the heat and place on a trivet. Ladle Jambalaya into shallow bowls. Using an ice cream scoop, place a scoop of rice onto the center of the bowlfuls of Jambalaya.

For that elegant, gourmet look sprinkle dishes with chopped scallions and thyme leaves.



Jambalaya finds its origin in an attempted dish by the Spanish (1800’s) to make paella in which one of the main ingredients is saffron. Not readily available in the new world at that time so tomatoes were used as a substitute. As time went on the French influence became strong in New Orleans and spices from the Caribbean began transforming paella into a unique dish. This dish evolved along a variety of different avenues. Creole jambalaya by the Acadian-Creoles originated around New Orleans. I guess you could tem it as the city jambalaya. Rural Jambalaya or Swamp Jambalaya comes exactly where the name states. It was eaten by those deep in the swamp where economies were less affluent and food essentials were gathered from the land like crawfish, shrimp, oyster, alligator, duck, turtle, boar, venison and whatever game happened to appear that the end of your gunsight. Because of its “rual-ness” it has a much strong, gamey, and smokey and by all means much spicier.

HOLIDAY FRUITCAKE – Do you really want to make this

First of all, if you actually want a fruitcake this year you are going to have to go out and buy it. It takes several days to make the cake and then it needs about a month to two months to “cure” … like concrete.  Actually ageing is the more proper word in this case. In making your cake don’t think you have to adhere to any special recipe. It’s very simple, choose the fruits you like and bake your cake. It’s that simple – well kind of. Let’s start with the ingredients:


  • ½ cup of fruits (your choice) – Pineapple, raisins apricots, dates, ginger. It’s your cake – go for it!
  • 1 cup chopped of chopped cherries
  • ½ cup of your favorite nuts – I like pecans – most people seem to prefer walnuts.
  • ¾ – 1 cup of your favorite “spirit.” Rum seems to be the liquor of choice. I’ve waked into rooms where a Rum Fruitcake was featured and the smell alone got me drunk. If you don’t like hard spirits try your favorite wine. Inclined not to use liquor or wine? Try your favorite juice like apple or cranberry.
  • A good cake mix

The thing to remember here is to take your time and do it in stages. First prepare your fruits and nuts by pouring your liquor (or juice) of choice over them and let the mixture sit covered for two or three days. This will ensure that the liquid is well absorbed into the fruit.

On the day you intend to bake the cake prepare your cake mix according to the instructions and add in your fruit and nut mixture.

The key to a successful fruit cake is to bake it ssslllooowww (slow)! Line the baking pan(s) with brown paper or wax paper. This will prevent the cake(s) from burning, remember you are going to bake for a lllooonnnggg (long) time. Here’s a Shay Gourmet Hint: Place a pan of water in the bottom of the oven to keep the cake from drying out.

Pre-heat oven to no higher than 325 degrees – lower the better. Do not go by baking times. Remember baking is chemistry and you’ve kind of changed the chemical make-up of the cake mix. Bake your cake to temperature. Test doneness by using a cake tester placed in the center of the cake. You want it to come out moist but not doughy.

Once the cake is finished baking let it cool. Turn it, the cake, out of the pan and carefully peel off the paper. Now you are going to store it away for aging – like a fine wine. Wrap the cake with cheese cloth, liberally brush or sprinkle your liquor (or juice) of choice that you used in this recipe. Seal the cake in plastic wrap or sealed container and once a week brush it with more liquor (or juice).

After about 4-8 weeks you are ready to go.

The cake will freeze very well but must age at least four weeks, longer is better.

Fruitcake – Re-gifted or Doorstop

The Holiday season on upon us and that means all sort of cakes, cookies and candies will make their way into our diet.  As we all know those holiday calories don’t really count because our New Years’ resolution will make that all go away. There is one Christmas food that seems to have survived the ages, haunts us really, though no one seems to know why.  The proverbial FRUITCAKE!  Everyone seems to have one though, no one seems knows where it came from.  If you try to eat it your teeth are hermetically sealed to and the only way to freedom is by a blow torch.  We have one, fruitcake, not the blow torch.  I think it is in a closet, again not the blow torch.  We’re afraid to go near it.

Let’s pay homage to the Fruitcake – that rock hard, hockey puck of a disc that if you got a whiff it would probably knock you off your feet.  I ran across this article several years ago while I was teaching a class on Christmas delicacies.  Not that I consider the Fruitcake a delicacy,  but some how it seems to be a Christmas tradition.  I don’t know who wrote this article but it is brilliant.  My thanks to this author and I share with you.

DID someone send you one of those hard as a rock cakes again this year? Are you convinced that whoever did couldn’t possibly like you and yours very much? Well, if so, please read on for an interesting look at the history of fruitcake and what they want from all of us.

A fruitcake is a geological homemade cake.    Charles Dickens

I never met a fruitcake I liked.   The Dorfman Archives

Is there any food product anywhere that is more ridiculed and parodied during the holiday season than the poor old fruitcake? I once heard it said that there is really only one floating around the entire world. It is hard and stale because over the years it has been passed from person to person every holiday season since time immemorial. No one can eat it or use it for anything other than a gift for someone not liked, an alternate doorstop, brick or paperweight. HOW did this happen? Is it because the word fruitcake has become a synonym for a person whose elevator doesn’t ride to the top floor? Or is it just because it’s rather unappetizing? Who knows the truth? The fruitcake bogeyman, that’s who! Fruitcake usually contains candied fruit, citron (made from the thick peel of the citrus fruit of the same name), dried fruit, fruit rind, nuts, spices and some sort of liquor or brandy. The ratio of fruit and nuts to batter is fairly high, with just enough cake batter to hold it all together. This results in a very dense, heavy cake.

Fruitcakes have traditionally been classified as either light or dark, although it is not necessarily the color that counts. (It’s almost like those green sandwiches in The Odd Couple, which Walter Mathau refers to as “either very new cheese or very old meat.”) The lighter ones are less rich than their darker cousins and have subtler flavors and aroma. They are made with granulated sugar, light corn syrup, almonds, golden raisins, pineapple and apricots. The darker cakes are considered by some bakers to be the top of the line. They are much bolder in flavor and appearance. These get their color from molasses, brown sugar, raisins, prunes, dates, cherries, pecans and walnuts. For most people, fruitcake conjures up an image of a comestible that is hard as a rock, easier to cut with a welding torch than a knife and is almost always associated with the holiday season. There seems no sympathy for its fate; not even Spam goes through what the venerable fruitcake does. Its durability seems due at least in part to its legendary ability to remain edible for weeks or months (or even years or centuries, if my opening theory is correct).

Food scholars date fruitcake back to ancient Egypt and the Roman Empire. According to some historians, Egyptian fruitcake was considered an essential food for the afterlife and there are those today who maintain that this is the only thing they are good for. In ancient Rome, raisins, pine nuts and pomegranate seeds were added to barley mash, making the fruitcake not only handy and lethal catapult ammunition, but also hearty compact foodstuff for the long campaigns waged by the conquering Roman legions. Centuries later, during the Middle Ages, preserved fruits, honey and spices were added, bumping the status of fruitcake up from granola bar to decadent dessert. “Pickled” or “aged” fruitcakes, as their devotees (and there aren’t many) like to call them, have the legendary ability to last a long time. Crusaders were said to have packed cakes into their saddlebags and backpacks, presumably because there were few bakeries along the rocky road (the road, not the ice cream) to the Holy Grail. Panforte, a thin chewy fruitcake originating in Italy more than a thousand years ago and taken on The Crusades, is still made today.

The history of fruitcake is also closely related to the European nut harvests of the 1700s. After the harvest, accumulated nuts were mixed and made into a fruitcake that was saved until the following year. At that time, the fruitcake was consumed in the hope that its symbolism would bring the blessing of another successful harvest. No one knows for sure why and how the fruitcake became associated with the holidays, but it most likely came from the English who passed out slices of cake to poor women who sang Christmas carols in the street during the late 1700s. It is known that in England by the end of the 18th century there were laws restricting the use of plum cake (plum being the generic word for dried fruit at the time) to Christmas, Easter, weddings, christenings and funerals. The Victorians enjoyed their fruitcakes. Even today it remains a custom in England for unmarried wedding guests to put a slice of dark fruitcake under their pillow at night so they will dream of the person they will marry. It is said that Queen Victoria once waited a year to devour a birthday fruitcake because she felt it showed restraint. (Or was it merely a case of royal dislike? Only her hairdresser knows for sure) .

The role of the fruitcake in American history is dubious and cloudy. One theory presented by a historian who couldn’t quite locate his credentials dates back to the days of the American Revolutionary War. Commander-in-Chief, George Washington, asked Benjamin Franklin to come up with an easy to use barricade material to guard against incoming British cannon fire. Benjamin Franklin thought about it, went to bed early and rose early, healthy, wealthy and wise enough to tell the waiting general about his mother-in-law’s fruitloaf. Her attempt at some kind of bread had been so hard that his uncle had broken a tooth while biting into it at the previous year’s holiday dinner! It is not known if the general followed Franklin’s advice. It’s more likely that he never asked him again. Immigrants from Germany, England, The Caribbean and other parts of the world brought their own style of fruitcakes to the United States and that’s why no one can agree on the definition of a fruitcake. The ones displayed in groceries are almost all Americanized versions of the classic. Mandatory ingredients include red and green candied cherries, pineapple, citron and raisins, with some pecans or other nuts thrown in or on top of the cake. The more expensive fruitcakes contain brandy, bourbon or rum; the less expensive can be doctored at home, should one be sinfully inclined.

This article expresses my sympathies for the forlorn fruitcake.  It’s about as serious as one can get.  Since this is rather a long blog I will share my recipe for a fruit cake next time.  I’m not going to make it this year and probably not for the next several years… the one in the closet still scares me.

Chef Shay

P.S  I broke the cardinal sin of blogging.  It’s been over a week.  My apologizes!