As I’ve mentioned before, Peanut loves to cook. I’ve been reassured by several blind adults that they’ve cooked meals for their families that didn’t come prepackaged from the freezer section, and Christine Ha’s winning Season 3 of MasterChef has certainly proven that people with visual impairments can cook–and can cook well. Today, I decided to stop watching a dismal Chiefs game and start on tonight’s dinner–jambalaya–and Peanut stepped right up to help.
First, so you can follow along (and because recipes seem to be incredibly popular on the internet), here is the recipe we used:4 large yellow onions chopped fine 8 cups water 4 cups uncooked rice 1 chopped bell pepper 4 crushed garlic cloves 2 lbs hot sausage 2 lbs peeled shrimp Salt, pepper, red pepper flakes to taste.
- Start your sausage browning in a large pot (we use a dutch oven).
- Peel your shrimp and toss them in with the cooking sausage. Keep cooking until the shrimp are pink and the sausage is done.
- Drain. Depending on the quality of the sausage you used, you may have a lot of grease. I dump all of the meat into a colander and let the grease drain into the dog bowl for later. If you don’t have a dog to help you clean up in this way, this would be a great time to adopt one–they’re excellent cleaner-uppers!
- Saute the garlic, chopped onion, and bell peppers.
- Return the meat to the mixture and add the water and seasonings.
- Add the rice and bring the mixture to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer until the water is gone and the rice is cooked.
This will create enough food to feed a small army. Mom gave me the recipe on a photocopied page;wanting to give credit to the original cook, I found it online in Heather Graham’s Phantom Evil–I’m not sure if this is a fluke in Google’s online books or not, but you can get the original recipe here.
So, how did we make this recipe as a family? First, after strapping Sprout into her high chair and getting Peanut up in his seat at the kitchen table, I dumped my el-cheapo sausage into my dutch oven and got it started cooking. I then hauled over a big trash can and slit open a bag of shrimp, and Peanut and I got started peeling them.
Peeling shrimp is a highly tactile activity, even if you have 20/20 eyesight. Their shells are essentially clear, so the best way to tell if you’ve gotten the whole shell off is by touch. Peanut wasn’t entirely enthused that the shrimp were wet (they were EZ peel shrimp that I’d defrosted earlier in the day), but he got to be an excellent shrimp peeler. I showed him where the shell was split on each shrimp’s back, and once he understood how the shell worked, he was really good at getting the shells off, if a bit slow. He had a hard time with the tails, but it was easy enough to help him by finishing up that part.
He was very excited to be helping with the shrimp, even if he didn’t end up peeling too many of them. He took a break when he was bothered by the feeling of the shrimp at first, then got right back into it with the second bag. With time, I think he could be a better–and faster!–shrimp peeler than I am.
After I tossed the shrimp into the pot with my cooking sausage and sea of sausage grease, I pulled out the onions Dr. V had bought back in July (keep your fridge near freezing, and food will last forever!). We needed four large yellow onions; I had Peanut count to make sure that they were all there. I’m not comfortable having my 3-year-old use a knife just yet, so I pulled out our food chopper instead. Lots of companies offer food choppers at varying price points and of varying degrees of quality; as long as you use it properly, it’s a challenge to hurt yourself with the food chopper.
I set Peanut up with the food chopper and helped him learn to use it. I think getting the onions in small pieces was challenging partially because of strength and his learning curve–you have to push the plunger all the way down for it to chop and turn properly–but also because white onions on a white cutting board aren’t the easiest to see. I’m planning on solving this problem by picking up a black cutting board; that way, he can cut dark items, like green peppers, on the white cutting board and light items, like onions, on the black cutting board. By the time we got through four onions (or part of four onions–I cut up a fair number of them by hand while handing him portions to help with), he was a fairly accomplished onion chopper.
Next, I pulled two green bell peppers of questionable quality out of our fridge. Peanut wasn’t enthused about cutting these with the food chopper; I think the skin on the pepper made it hard to cut for someone his size. I went ahead and cut up the peppers by hand. Easy peasy.
I then pulled out our garlic press, and I learned that you have to have far more upper body strength than Peanut currently has to use it to press garlic. Pulling apart the garlic cloves can also be challenging–after Peanut had been at it a few minutes, I helped him and discovered that I’d given him a pretty tight bulb to dismantle. Peeling the cloves, however, was totally doable–he was a pro! I smashed each clove with the flat of my knife, then handed the smashed clove to Peanut to peel. He did a fantastic–and fast!–job. I then used my garlic press to press the garlic into the onion/pepper mixture cooking on my stove.
I then decided to be brave, and I pulled my stepping stool over to the stove. My stepping stool is just the right height for Peanut to be able to access our counters safely. I had Peanut climb up the stepping stool and told him what he could touch and what he couldn’t. (Touchable: the spoon and the handle of the dutch oven. Untouchable: everything else.) I then had him stir the onion/garlic/pepper mixture while I ground pepper into it and added salt, then had him pour in two packages of red pepper flakes (I keep the red peppers that come with our pizzas for this–I don’t like them on the pizzas, but they’re the perfect size for recipes!).
At this point, Peanut got bored and asked to go and watch a show. (He’s 3, what can I say?) I went ahead and finished up by adding the meat back into the mixture, the four cups of rice, and my 8 cups of water. A note on the rice: make sure all four cups are the same kind of rice. I’ve learned the hard way that trying to finish up one bag of rice and open a new one to make the four cups doesn’t work quite right–some of the rice won’t be cooked, so you’ll have crunchy bits in your jambalaya.
I’m not the best of cooks, but this recipe has come out fine every time–even with the crunchy rice surprises the time I tried to be economical. It’s definitely filling, and you can feed a family of four on it for quite a while (admittedly, two of my four are fairly small!). It’s more expensive with the shrimp, but, depending on the ingredients you use, it can be a pretty economical, filling meal. Bon appetit!