Sunday, August 19, 2012

Rice Cooker Jambalaya

I received a rice cooker as a birthday gift several weeks ago - a gadget I'd been wanting for a while.  Not only will it make cooking rice much easier, but most rice cookers now also double as steamers and can cook a whole range of things.  I got my first use out of my new toy this week, making a big pot of jambalaya.

I searched around for recipes, and a few suggested that one could just dump all of the ingredients into the pot, hit "cook," and call it a day.  I wasn't quite that brave, so I did some pan cooking to prep the ingredients, but the rice cooker did the great share of the work - and did so admirably.  This meal ended up great - rich and meaty and flavorful and spicy.  It was a great use for a new gadget and a meal I'll definitely make again.

Here's what I used: medium-grain rice, shrimp, kielbasa sausage (not pictured - oops!), sweet onion, green peppers, garlic, chicken broth, crushed tomatoes, worcestershire sauce, cajun seasoning, salt, and pepper.

You can use just about any protein you like - I used shrimp and kielbasa, but you could use just one or the other.  Chicken and andouille sausage are also fairly common in jambalaya and worth considering.

First, chop up the vegetables.  I like a fairly large, rough chop on the onion and bell pepper to make sure that they maintain just a bit of crunch in the mixture.

Many jambalaya recipes also involve celery.  Kristin and I aren't celery fans, but if you are, feel free to chop some up and add it into the mix.

Saute the onion, bell pepper, and garlic over medium heat until they're just a bit tender and the onions are starting to get translucent.  Don't overcook them, as they'll cook a bit more in with the rice.

In the rice cooker, combine the rice, crushed tomatoes, chicken broth, worcestershire sauce, the sauted vegetables, plenty of cajun seasoning, and some salt and pepper.  Turn it on to cook and it will let you know when it's done.  You may need to add some more liquid and set it back to cook a bit longer after the first time the cooker stops cooking - taste and make sure the texture is to your liking.

While the rice cooker does its magic, give the shrimp and sausage a quick chop, then throw them into a pan together with a dash of seasoning and saute just until the shrimp are evenly pink - don't overcook the shrimp or they'll get tough.

When the rice cooker is finished, stir in the shrimp and sausage, taste to check and adjust the seasoning, and serve up some hot jambalaya!

Recipe: Rice Cooker Jambalaya
Prep Time: 10 Minutes | Cook Time: 1 Hour | Difficulty: Easy | Servings: 10-12


  • 3 cups medium grain White Rice
  • 1 pound Shrimp
  • 1-2 pounds Kielbasa Sausage
  • 1 large Sweet Onion
  • 2-3 medium Green Bell Peppers
  • 2-4 cloves Garlic
  • 1 large can (28 oz) Crushed Tomatoes
  • 2 cans low-sodium Chicken Broth
  • 2 tbsp Worcestershire Sauce
  • 3 tbsp Cajun Seasoning
  • Salt and Pepper to taste


  1. Chop onion and bell pepper into large pieces.  Mince garlic.  Saute over medium heat until just tender.
  2. In rice cooker, combine rice, chicken broth, crushed tomatoes, sauteed vegetables, worcestershire sauce, cajun seasoning, salt, and pepper.  Set to cook.
  3. Shell shrimp if necessary.  Roughly chop shrimp and sausage.  Saute over medium-high heat until shrimp are pink.  Do not overcook.
  4. When rice cooker is finished (check doneness and add liquid if necessary), stir in shrimp and sausage. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.
  5. Serve hot.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Broccoli Ramen Salad

Summertime demands some fresh, light, flavorful side dishes.  It can be tough to make cold food interesting, and especially to make raw food interesting, but this little salad really does the trick.  It's lightning fast to put together, super flavorful, and not at all heavy - we were so happy to have it when the temperature soared over 100 degrees for so much of this summer.

I'm no fan of prepackaged ramen noodles, but they really add life to this salad.  They soften just a bit in the tangy dressing, making for a nice textural counterpoint to the crunchy nuts and crisp vegetables, but they never end up too soft.  This recipe is also immensely easy to customize - a dash of soy sauce and ginger lend it an Asian flair, or some lime and cilantro make it an easy complement for Mexican food.  Whenever you need something tasty, cool, and easy in the heat, give this salad a try.

Here's what you'll need: A large package a broccoli slaw, two packages of chicken flavored ramen, a bunch of green onions, unsalted roasted peanuts and sunflower seeds, apple cider vinegar, vegetable oil, and a bit of white sugar.

First, make the dressing by whisking together vegetable oil, cider vinegar, sugar, and one ramen seasoning packet (just one, otherwise things get too salty and gross).

Next, chop down the green onions and crush up the ramen noodles into small pieces.  Don't worry about keeping things too uniform.

This process can sometimes involve tiny noodle pieces flying all around the kitchen.  This is immensely entertaining to the cat, but maybe less so to whoever has to clean it up - consider crushing the noodles in a bag or a bowl to minimize projectiles.

Now mix everything but the peanuts and sunflower seeds together in a large bowl, add the dressing, and give it a good stir.  You can serve right away if necessary, but the flavors really improve with an hour or two in the fridge.

Serve the salad up cold, and garnish with peanuts and sunflower seeds right when it's time to eat.  If you're bringing the salad elsewhere, like to a pot luck, it's fine to add the nuts before you leave - they can make it several hours before getting soggy.  If you expect leftovers or are just eating at home, though, you'll want to add nuts to individual portions.

Recipe: Broccoli Ramen Salad
Prep Time: 10 Minutes | Cook Time: None | Difficulty: Easy | Servings: 10-12

  • 1 large (16-20 oz) package Broccoli Slaw
  • 2 packages chicken flavored Ramen Noodles
  • 1 bunch Green Onions, chopped
  • 1/2 cup Unsalted Roasted Peanuts
  • 1/2 cup Unsalted Roasted Sunflower Seeds
  • 1/4 cup White Sugar
  • 1/4 cup Vegetable Oil
  • 1/3 cup Cider Vinegar
  1. Whisk together vegetable oil, cider vinegar, sugar, and one ramen seasoning packet to create dressing.
  2. Finely chop green onions and break down ramen noodles into small pieces.
  3. In a large bowl, combine broccoli slaw, green onions, and broken ramen noodles.  Pour dressing over mixture and toss to coat.
  4. Refrigerate to chill - ideally 1-2 hours to enhance flavor.
  5. Top with peanuts and sunflower seeds just before serving.  Serve cold.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Pineapple Zucchini Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Kristin and I are up in Vermont again this year, and it seems that we're developing a trend for baking with zucchini while we're here.  Last year, we made Chocolate Chip Zucchini Muffins.  They were fantastic.  So tasty, in fact, that Kristin agreed to marry me.  We can't exactly repeat the proposal, but this year my birthday was one of our first days in the cabin, so we decided to make some zucchini cake.

I started off searching for a recipe for chocolate zucchini sheet cake, but found a recipe for a pineapple zucchini cake, instead, and decided to shake things up.  We made a number of changes to that recipe, but the end result was killer - a super-moist, flavorful cake with sweet and tangy icing that everybody loved both on the night of my birthday and over coffee as breakfast the next day.

Here's what you'll need for the cake portion (the icing will come later): flour, sugar, vegetable oil, zucchini, crushed pineapple, sweetened coconut, eggs, baking soda, vanilla, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and salt.

Start by combining the flour, sugar, coconut, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg in a large mixing bowl. Give them a good stir.

In another, somewhat smaller mixing bowl, beat the eggs, then add the oil and vanilla and mix well.

Stir the wet stuff into the dry stuff, then add the grated zucchini and the all but a couple of tablespoons of juice from the can of crushed pineapple.  The batter will be wet and thick.

Pour the cake batter into a well-greased 9x13" pan and bake at 350 for 35-40 minutes.  It's done when a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean and the edges have just started to pull awy from the edges of the pan.

Let it cool completely before you frost the cake - this will take a surprisingly long time.  The cake is quite dense, so it will hold its heat for ages.  It wouldn't hurt to refrigerate it - we actually liked it cold quite a lot.

While the cake is baking - or even while it's cooling - you'll need to make the frosting.  We forgot to take an ingredients picture (oops!), but here what you'll need: softened butter, a package of cream cheese, powdered sugar, vanilla, the couple of tablespoons of pineapple juice you saved from the can, and maybe just a splash of orange juice, too.

First, combine the softened butter and cream cheese in a large mixing bowl and beat until smooth.  This would be much easier with a mixer - we don't have one up here, but a large fork and some elbow grease did the job, too.

Finish the frosting by adding the powdered sugar, vanilla, pineapple juice, and orange juice (if you want some).  Mix again until it's smooth and at the texture you like - a bit more sugar makes a firmer frosting, a bit less leaves it relatively thin.  We kept it a bit on the thinner side to make for easy spreading.

When the cake is finally cool, spread the icing over the top.  We refrigerated the iced cake afterward to help everything set up a bit, and it ended up very tasty that way, especially on a hot summer day.

Serve generous slices of cake, and give some real consideration to some coffee on the side - the earthiness of the zucchini really matches well with a good, dark-roast coffee.  

This cake made for a very happy birthday, and we just might have to make it again before another year is up.

Recipe: Pineapple Zucchini Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
Prep Time: 10 Minutes | Cook Time: 40 Minutes | Difficulty: Easy | Servings: 12 Large or 16 Medium Slices


  • 2 1/3 cups All-Purpose Flour
  • 1 1/3 cups White Sugar
  • 1/2 cup Sweetened Coconut
  • 2 large Eggs, beaten
  • 2 cups Grated Zucchini
  • 1 (20 oz) can Crushed Pineapple, undrained
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 tsp Baking Soda
  • 1 tsp Salt
  • 3 tsp Ground Cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp Ground Nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp Ground Ginger
  • 1 tsp Vanilla
  • 2 cups Powdered Sugar
  • 1 (8 oz) package Cream Cheese
  • 2 tbsp Butter
  • 2 tsp Vanilla
  • 2 tbsp reserved Pineapple Juice
  • (Optional): 1-2 tbsp Orange Juice


  1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, coconut, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger.
  3. In a medium bowl, beat eggs, then add oil and vanilla.  Stir to combine.
  4. Add wet ingredients into dry ingredients, followed by grated zucchini and crushed pineapple.  Reserve approximately 2 tbsp pineapple juice in the can for the frosting.  Mix well to combine.  Batter will be thick and wet.
  5. Pour batter into a greased 9x13" pan.  Bake 35-40 minutes at 350 degrees until a toothpick comes out clean and the edges have just started to pull away from the pan.
  6. Cool completely before frosting.
  1. In a large bowl, combine butter and cream cheese.  Mix well until smooth.
  2. Add powdered sugar, vanilla, pineapple juice, and orange juice if desired.  Mix again until smooth.  
  3. Add additional powdered sugar as necessary to achieve desired texture, mixing well.
  4. Spread frosting over cake once cooled completely.  Refrigerate frosted cake to set up frosting.  Serve cold.