Dirty Santa is a Christmas tradition that began a few years ago in my family. We gather together after our meal has been served and enjoyed — with our bellies full & cousins piled like sacks of potatoes on the couch. I often think of Dirty Santa as a brief and playful war. At first, we fight silently, eyeing our chosen gift or waiting for our turn to steal. Some sit nonchalant, in an attempt to conceal their gift from wanting eyes. Caroline, my cousin, tried this method and for a brief moment I felt a tinge of guilt while turning to my right and stealing The Southerner's Cookbook from her hands. (But that guilt faded as soon as the beautiful book was sitting in my lap instead of hers.)
I'm lucky to have family members who get me. I've not had to grin and bear bad gifts often. I've never had to dawn an ugly hat just to be kind, or write a thank-you note when I wasn't *actually* very thankful. Luckily, the ladies in my family have good taste. (It comes from Cora, of course!) But I've got to say, this year, they outdid themselves. Starting with my cousin, Julia, who brough this cookbook to our gift exchange. In a room full of deeply southern cooks and you bring us a book of southern-specific recipes and wisdom? Ding, ding, ding! You nailed it, Juls!
I spent the next hour after my victory flipping through the perfectly curated pages. I learned ALL the ways to southern fry just about anything, how to roast an entire hog (the most eloquent words ever written on slicing an entire pig wide open and cooking it for 24 hours) and about the many, many types of pimento cheese. (Just the kind of learning I love most.)
I've had a lot of jambalaya in my lifetime (growing up on the border of Louisiana had its perks) and I know there is no better time to slow simmer sausage, vegetables, and cajun spices than the cold winter months. Flipping through my cookbook on a January night and finding this jambalaya recipe was like striking gold. I can't share the recipe without sharing the story that accompanies it (another special perk of this cookbook - it's ripe with personal stories and recipe tales of origin):
"Scribbled in the guestbook of a windowless restaurant that was once a welding shop in Galliano, Louisianna, is a fervent message for the proprietor: "God loves Alzina!" The writer may be in a special position to know. After all, Alzina Toups, who attends mass just across Bayou Lafourche at St. Joseph Catholic Church, has cooked for countless priests, nuns, and bishops over the past thirty-five years at her reservation-only restaurant. Then again, maybe the note's author figured that anybody who makes such a heavenly black-eyed pea jambalaya has got to be blessed. This recipe for jambalaya is one of her all-time most-requested. Like a traditional Creole jambalaya, it's a one-pot mix of rice, vegetables, and meat. Toupe's deceptively simple version coaxes maximum flavor from a few well-chosen ingredients - bright bell pepper, two kinds of smoked sausage, and a double dose of jalapeño kick. "People love this one," she says. "They wipe out their dish."
- Place a Dutch oven over medium heat and add the oil. Add the onion, bell pepper, garlic, and jalapeño and sauté, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes, until the vegetables soften.
- Add the sausage and cook for 10 minutes, until browned, stirring occasionally
- Add the black-eyed peas and broth and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low and simmer uncovered for an hour.
- Just before serving, stir in the parsley, scallions, and rice. Add additional warm broth 1/4 cup at a time if necessary to adjust consistency.