Red Beans & Rice
So it could be said that I'm a decent cook. Some might even say that I was a good one. I grew up with amazing cooks, both my grandmothers were an inspiration. One made the best chocolate cake of all time and the other, being from New Mexico, made the best tamale pie of all time. I've even had the privilege of working with very talented New Orleans chefs that I highly respect, trying to soak up any bit of knowledge that I could from them. All in all, I'd say I knew my way around a kitchen. I'm a pretty good cook. I'd have no problem cooking for friends, family, bosses or VIPs – I've always been pretty confident in my abilities.
But nothing has made me lose confidence in those abilities more than cooking for my actual family, or more specifically, my husband and two step kids. In the past, I'd go to great lengths to prepare meals that were awesome as well as relatively healthy, only to watch them get picked at. Recipes that I've watched other people gobble up over and over again, leaving nothing behind.
The best that I was ever able to do was cook something that two out of the three liked. At one point, I thought, I'm done making things like spaghetti (too spicy) or salad (why is there fruit in this salad?), and began thinking about the things my mom made me as a child. My brother and I were big on pigs in a blanket, or hot dogs and cheese rolled up in crescent rolls, and mini pizzas that she'd make on whack-a-dough biscuits. I said fine, I'll go the half-processed, half-homemade route. But even that was a bust. Turns out, my step daughter didn't like hot dogs and the mini pizzas were baffling. Why make little pizzas when you can just put a Totino's Party Pizza in the oven? Epic. Fail.
I know that kids are picky, it's cool, I was a picky eater. I wouldn't touch anything with onions in it until I was at least a senior in high school and now I can't live without them. And I married a guy who could quite comfortably and happily live on Banquet pot pies and Popeye's chicken. I could slave around in the kitchen for hours making pork chops or beef bourguignon, and he'd be just as satisfied with microwaving a half a pack of hot dogs and dousing them in ketchup for a meal.
A friend of mine at work, a very good cook, once said to me, "your husband must feel really lucky to have you as a wife, I'm sure he loves your food." I responded, "Nah. I once made him pumpkin soup with a chile, apple and cranberry relish, and he looked at me like I was crazy."
After awhile, I surrendered and I let my husband take care of meals. He'd buy pizza rolls, Kraft Mac & Cheese and SpaghettiOs, and everyone was happy. I'd resigned myself to the shadows. A once great home cook with no one to cook for any longer. That is until I was feeling creative one day, and realized that I had the ingredients for red beans & rice in my kitchen. You see, beans have always been a staple in my family. My mom, being from New Mexico, gets very excited for a good pot of stewed pinto beans and homemade tortillas – it reminds her of childhood. The same feeling goes for red beans in Louisiana. And since my mother is a bit of a purist when it comes to her beans, I've always started with plain old dried beans, soaking them overnight. Nothing came from a can, as that would be sacrilegious.
Every batch is different, and every cook is different, but there are certain constants. Red beans and rice goes without saying. There's the "holy trinity", or onion, celery and green pepper; there's the sausage; and there's usually ham hock, or some other from of pork. Some might swear by Tony Chachere's to season it or other's shake in a little Crystal hot sauce, some do both. Many cooks have their own spice mix. But once you've made it a few times, it's more of a method than a recipe. You have your own tweaks and secrets, but at the end of the day, it's still a very humble and simple dish. And simple is always best.
I made red beans and rice for my husband and two step kids, and for the first time in forever, all three ate it. They even went back for seconds and thirds. I thought, "holy shit. I made something they all liked. Epic. Win."
But of course they'd dig it, they're all from New Orleans. The local food is a part of them in a way that is not a part of me. My parents and grandparents never made red beans and rice on Mondays or any other day, so it never really occurred to me.
I thought, hell, maybe I'm not such a bad cook in my own kitchen after all.
Perhaps next time I'll graduate to gumbo.
Behold. Red beans and rice.
And so I'm not a food stylist, but they were good. I swear.