July. What a busy month this has been. I know I've said that a lot these last few months, remarked often about the quick passing of time and my inability to sit behind my computer to put words on this digital page of mine. Are you tired of that yet? I sure am. So, rather than dwell on my mile-long 'to do' list I've decided to share with you one of my favorite places. A city that my mind escapes to when life gets hectic and all I want is a cool spot in a shady courtyard, an ice-laden cocktail in my hand and notes of jazz wafting on the breeze. Am I procrastinating? Maybe a little. But "write a flippin' post for Bella Eats!" is definitely on my list, so I AM accomplishing something...
It is difficult to explain the draw that Brian and I have to New Orleans. It just...is. We feel it as soon as we step off the plane, a bubbling of emotion from deep within, a giddy excitement that manifests itself as raised hairs along goose-bumped arms. Neither of us have ever lived in the city, we have no family in the area, our first visit together occurred just seven years ago. Yet after that initial stay in the Big Easy we were hooked. Completely and totally.
NOLA is so much more than Bourbon Street and Mardi Gras and frozen drinks in phallic cups. The city has soul, and to find it one needs only to spend a few hours walking slowly down her cracked sidewalks. Underneath the peeling paint, the sagging balconies, the leaning cottages, and the rusty ironwork is a humble elegance steeped in history and perseverance. She keeps her chin up and dances to her own soundtrack; a mix composed of melancholy notes from a jazz clarinetist on Royal, the rumble and clang of a street car on Saint Charles, the clink of an oyster shell tossed on a pile behind a bar, a “what can I getcha, baby?” from the busy woman behind a restaurant counter.
Her natives are loyal, devoted to the place they’ve called home for most, if not all, of their lives. They are drawn to her magic, held hostage by an appeal that keeps them coming home even after high waters threatened to wash that possibility into the Gulf. Sit down at a table in any well-established restaurant and learn that your waiter has worked there for 40+ years. He loves his job and has been well taken care of for all that time, because that's how they do things in the Big Easy. Filter in and out of shops and restaurants in the French Quarter and be thanked not only for visiting that particular address, but for visiting New Orleans. “Come back soon, y’hear? This city needs you.”
We do go back, as often as we can. With each visit we try to experience new places, new food, new music; but it is difficult to stray from those that have become favorites. It just wouldn’t be a weekend in NOLA without a black ham biscuit, beignets and cafe au lait at midnight, a muffaletta, blackened Louisiana drum, Fritzel’s, Doreen. Tell any lover of New Orleans that you’re planning a visit and watch their eyes light up as they rattle off their own list of places you must see, meals you must eat. But most of all, they'll be excited that you're going to New Orleans, and that the city will have another set of fans to add to her list.
We last visited NOLA in May. You might remember me mentioning our trip and making promises to share recipes inspired by the fabulous meals we had while there. Oh, and photographs...I promised those too. I also mentioned the stifling heat we experienced during our stay and my relief that we'd be spared from such temperatures in Virginia for another two-ish months. Ha. If only I had knocked on wood after hitting 'publish' on that post...
The record-breaking temperatures have kept us from doing much cooking in our kitchen, as even the thought of turning on the stovetop raises a bead of sweat at my hairline. I'd just about given up on the idea of sharing red beans and rice with you anytime before October when I read this article on The Kitchn about slow-cooking in the summer. I know that it seems counter-intuitive to pull out the Crock Pot in the middle of a heat wave, but it actually makes quite a bit of sense.
For this recipe, which I adapted from a traditional stovetop variation, all of the preparation was completed in the morning before work when my house was cool and the setting sun wasn't blaring through the west-facing kitchen window. The ingredients were tossed in the Crock Pot, I turned the heat to low and out the door we went. When we arrived home that night the house smelled amazing and dinner was ready without either of us laboring over a hot stove. We ladled up the beans, poured ourselves cold cocktails, and settled into our dark den. Not exactly a shady New Orleans courtyard, but a respite all the same.
These beans were really fantastic; smoked and earthy with just a hint of spice. My ingredients are very close to Chef Prudhomme's; it was really just the process and the color of the bell peppers that I altered. Also, Brian and I don't have quite the tolerance for spicy heat that most native New Orleanians do, so I knocked that back a bit as well.
Red Beans + Rice with Andouille Smoked Sausage
recipe adapted from Chef Paul Prudhomme's Louisiana Kitchen
- 1 pound dried red kidney beans
- 2 cups diced onion
- 2 cups diced celery
- 2 cups diced red bell pepper
- 2 large smoked ham hocks, about 2.5 pounds total
- 5 bay leaves
- 1 tsp ground black pepper
- 2 tsp dried thyme
- 1 1/2 tsp dried oregano
- 1 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp ground red pepper (preferably cayenne)
- 1 pound andouille sausage links
- salt to taste
- Basic Cooked Rice (recipe below)
- The night before, place the dried red beans in a large saucepan and cover with water 2-inches above the beans. Let soak overnight.
- The next morning, drain the red beans and rinse thoroughly. Refill the saucepan with fresh water to cover the beans by 2-inches. Bring to a brisk boil and cook for 10 minutes. Remove the beans from the heat and drain.
- Place the boiled beans in a slow-cooker (crock pot) and add ten cups of water over top. Add everything but the andouille sausage, salt and Basic Cooked Rice to the pot and stir well.
- Set the slow-cooker to the 'low' setting and let cook for 6 to 7 hours, until the beans are tender and just starting to break apart. (I came home for a late lunch to check on the beans, and turned the slow-cooker to the 'warm' setting for the remaining 4 hours of my work day).
- Add the andouille sausage links (split in half or quarters, depending on the size of the links) to the slow-cooker and continue to cook for 1 additional hour.
- Salt to taste.
- Serve over Basic Cooked Rice.
Thank you to InternationalRoutier for bringing to my attention the fact that dried red kidney beans cooked in slow cookers have been known to cause food poisoning! You can be protected from this possibility by soaking the dry beans for at least 5 hours, and then boiling the beans briskly for at least 10 minutes prior to adding them to the slow cooker. I've modified my recipe above to reflect this change.
Basic Cooked Rice
from Chef Paul Prudhomme's Louisiana Kitchen
makes about 6 cups of rice
- 2 cups uncooked rice (I used brown rice)
- 2 1/2 cups chicken broth
- 1 1/2 tbsp very finely chopped onions
- 1 1/2 tbsp very finely chopped celery
- 1 1/2 tbsp very finely chopped bell pepper (the recipe calls for green, I used red because I love them)
- 1 1/2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/8 tsp garlic powder
- a pinch each of white pepper, ground red pepper (cayenne), and black pepper
- In a 5x9x2 1/2-inch standard loaf pan, combine all ingredients and mix well. Seal pan snugly with aluminum foil. Bake at 350º until rice is tender, about 1 hour, 10 minutes. Serve immediately.*
* I made the rice the night before. If you are planning to do the same, DO NOT use green bell peppers, as they tend to sour quickly. Reheat the rice in a skillet with a bit of melted butter.
We can't even begin to imagine the affect that the explosion of the DeepWater Horizon oil drilling rig will have on the Gulf, the coast, the country, the world. The stories and images are devastating. If you are able and would like to help the recovery, I've provided links below to organizations that would appreciate your contribution.