Thursday, October 27, 2016

Pumpkin Love and the Experimental Dinner- Cajun Style

It's almost Halloween. I didn't decorate this year. I didn't even look for any of my Dracula collection, or any jack o'lanterns or scary ghosts. I did, however, buy a pumpkin. Yep, I sure did. It's a pretty big one too. The Chef and I made a very rare trip to Walmart last weekend and they had a massive display of pumpkins outside the store entrance. Snagged me. Mouse in the trap, they snagged me. I batted my eyelashes at The Chef and made a pouty face and before I knew it he was loading my big bright pumpkin in the cart.

Since then it has been sitting on the kitchen island. He wants to carve it. I don't want to carve it just yet. I thought about setting it on our front step but I don't want to look outside one day and see my precious pumpkin smashed to smithereens in the street because some punk kids were bored and out prowling. I don't really want our feisty squirrels to start eating it just yet. I want to enjoy it for a while before the inevitable happens- mushy bottom, moldy interior, smelly mess heading for the trash. Of all the seasons, autumn is by far my favorite for a number of reasons. The flavors- spicy, rich, creamy- pumpkin flavored coffees and rich beefy stew, fragrant bowls of soup. The weather- crisp cool days, chilly nights, windy and rainy and drizzly grey skies. The holidays- Halloween of course, with all the ghosts and ghouls and goblins, haunted stories, trick or treating and candy, and Thanksgiving with all the wonderful foods, family, and time for giving thanks. The colors- all the browns and greens and golds and reds of fallen leaves, crops in the fields waiting to be harvested, bright pheasants strutting on the roadsides, and fields of orange pumpkins.

I really cannot explain why I am hanging on to this pumpkin so closely. Maybe I will give in and carve it, maybe I will cook it and eat it, or maybe I'll just sit and enjoy looking at it as long as I can.

On this brisk October night I was home by myself looking for something to inspire me for dinner. I had some odds and ends in the fridge and a package of Cajun chicken sausage I grabbed on impulse at the grocery store. If you haven't tried the different chicken sausages, you need to. I never knew chicken could make such a tasty link. Chicken of course takes to seasonings incredibly well and herbs and spices can create some fantastic sausages. I've tried chicken sausages with apples and warm spices and others seasoned like kielbasa and even Italian links. When I saw the Cajun sausages I figured I better give them a try as well. I always have rice on hand, and other pantry staples like onions, bell peppers, spices. Whipping up a Cajun-inspired dirty rice-style dish was a snap and perfect for a cold evening. An Experimental Dinner was on the table in a flash!

Earlier in the summer I made a Saturday trip to the Amish vegetable farm and snagged a case of tomatoes. Those red beauties found themselves roasting to charred perfection in a hot oven and then canned with the pressure canner for use all winter long. The roasted flavor is perfect in this dish. You can also use canned fire roasted tomatoes, and if you use the juice, adjust the water accordingly. You don't want the rice to cook to a mush.

Experimental Cajun Sausage and Rice

1 package Cajun sausage*
1 chicken breast**
1 small onion, chopped
1/2 large green pepper, diced
6 cloves garlic, minced 
2 cups fire roasted tomatoes, fresh or canned
2 teaspoons dried savory
Cajun seasoning to taste
1 1/2 cups long grain rice
sale and pepper
olive oil

* Use whatever Cajun sausage you like, Andouille, kielbasa, hot or mild. I used a Cajun chicken sausage. Choose a 12-16 oz package

**You can also use leftover cooked chicken- just cube it up and add when adding the water.

Slice the sausage into thin coins. Cut the chicken breast into bite size chunks.

In a large pot heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil. Add the sausage slices and cook until beginning to caramelize and brown. Add the chicken, Cook and stir for a minute or two. Add the onion and bell pepper. Cook, stirring often, until vegetables begin to soften. Add the garlic. Cook one minute.

Sprinkle the savory and Cajun seasoning over and stir in. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in the rice. Add the tomatoes and 2 1/2 cups water. Bring to boil, then reduce heat, cover and simmer 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand for about 10 minutes before serving.

Serve in bowls with hot sauce for sprinkling and sour cream if desired.

The best thing about these kinds of dishes is the versatility. You can adjust the heat to your family's taste- use a flavorful kielbasa instead of spicy Andouille and use a mild Cajun spice mix. Kick up the heat to blazing if you're a heat lover. It's an experiment so have fun with your food!

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