Charlotte Knows Her Apples!

Apples_supermarketI first became intrigued with making Apple Charlotte after Mrs. Patmore’s refusal on “Downton Abbey” (due to her failing eyesight) to attempt to make the recipe when Lady Cora requested it for Sir Anthony Strallan. Apple Charlotte is also the dessert proposed for the Heritage Christmas Dinner in my Williams-Sonoma Complete Entertaining Cookbook. 

I became further interested in preparing an Apple Charlotte when I saw Jacques Pepin and Julia Child prepare one as part of a “Cooking in Concert” program that also includes a turkey roulade:

So a few weeks before Christmas, when I was searching the grocery store for a rib roast (also a facet of the Heritage Christmas Dinner), I texted my hubby to ask him to please double-check the recipe for me in regard to the size of the roast. (Not that I needed a roast of the size specified in the recipe, but I wanted to make sure I was gauging the number of servings properly.) He verified what the recipe told me, and then a few minutes later, he texted back and asked if I would also be making an Apple Charlotte with brandied whipped cream and apricot sauce.

He had been teasing, and thought I would respond with a sarcastic “Oh, yeah, right!” but instead I said, “Yes, I could do that.”

And what’s more, I was confident that I could make it sugar-free successfully, and also with less fat. Some Apple Charlotte recipes call for a very rich bread — such as sliced brioche — and most all recipes also instruct that the bread be dipped into melted butter. Given how much butter the bread would absorb, I thought that simply brushing on some melted butter would still make the bread a lovely golden brown and also keep the apple filling from soaking through the bread, but would reduce the amount of butter needed overall, and also make the bread a bit easier and less messy to handle.

There seems to be doubt as to the origins of Apple Charlotte — is it another version of Charlotte Russe, perhaps? — but regardless of its origins, Apple Charlotte is essentially a thick, thick filling of apples encased in buttered bread mold.

It is that simple. And oftentimes, simple flavors are the best.

There are, of course, many variations on Apple Charlotte, but based on my research and my recent experience in making — and eating! — this for the first time on Christmas, here are what I think are the key points to making the delicious dessert:

  • The filling must be thick, almost like a puree or overly thickened apple sauce. You CANNOT simply substitute pie filling.
  • You need the right kind of apples. Williams-Sonoma recommends McIntosh, Empire, or Rome Beauty apples. I could not find those, and so after my hubby did some research for me (I was at the store, he Googled away at home and texted me answers), we opted for Honey Crisp apples. Fuji apples would also likely substitute well.
  • Use a good white bread that is sliced about 1/4″ thick. I purchased a sliced Italian loaf (about 14 ounces) from the WalMart bakery for $1. It worked great.
  • Taking a tip from Jacques and Julia, I placed a circle of parchment paper in the bottom of my baking dish, as well as a strip of parchment (rather like a “handle”) that extended beyond the edges of the dish. This help ensures that the Charlotte will remove from the dish.
  • If you want to break up the labor of making this dish, prepare the apple filling a day (or even two!) before and gently reheat it before assembling the Charlotte.
  • The Charlotte must cool for at least 30 minutes before un-molding. You can make it earlier in the day, let it rest, and then gently reheat it in a warm oven for about 15 – 20 minutes — while you prepare the whipped cream and the apricot sauce, say — and then un-mold it.
  • Place your bowl and mixer beaters for the whipping cream in the freezer for at least 30 minutes (to several hours) before whipping the cream — it will whip up better!
  • I suggest you make 1 1/2 to 2 times the recommended amount of whipped cream — because yes, it’s that good!
  • If you can’t find fresh apricots — I couldn’t! — you can reconstitute dried apricots by pouring boiling water over them and letting them soak several hours or overnight. (Thanks, Mom, for that suggestion and for reconstituting the apricots!)
  • Use the proper-sized baking dish.  You need a baking dish that holds 6 cups. I used my two-quart (8 cup) Pyrex baking dish — sans the lid, of course!
Pyrex Baking Dish, 2 Quart

Pyrex Baking Dish, 2 Quart

This dish has simple flavors, but is elegant in presentation. Williams-Sonoma claims the recipe serves 6; I would venture to say it can serve 10 – 12 easily.

To break up the labor on the dish, I pared and prepared the apple filling the day before, then reheated the apples and finished assembling the Charlotte the next day. The apples were a bit too juicy, I thought, to serve their purpose as the firm filling, so I stirred in a few tablespoons of cornstarch before reheating them, which turned it into the nice, thick filling it needed to be.

This turned out utterly delicious and impressed the heck out of all of us.

So the next time you’re wanting an elegant dessert with simple flavors that’s sure to please, give Apple Charlotte a go. You can watch an episode of Downton Abbey or listen to Charlotte’s Song as you pare those apples. 😉

Although the recipe looks as though may be complicated, it REALLY isn’t it — it’s apple filling in a buttered bread crust with whipped cream and an apricot sauce!

Apple Charlotte (Serves 10 to 12)

For the Charlotte:

  • 12 McIntosh, Empire, or Rome Beauty apples, peeled, cored, and cubed (NOTE: I couldn’t find any of those varieties, so I used Honey Crisp apples. Fuji apples would also likely work.)
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 8 tablespoons butter (1/2 cup), melted
  • 3/4 cup Splenda granular or other artificial sweetener of choice (just make sure it measures spoon for spoon like sugar)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Lemon zest from 1 large lemon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (I eyeballed it)
  • Corn starch (2 to 3 tablespoons), IF NEEDED
  • White bread, sliced 1/4″ thick, trimmed of crust (I used a sliced Italian loaf from the WalMart bakery; it took about 2/3 to 3/4 of a 14 ounce loaf)

For the Brandied Whipped Cream: (Suggest you make 1 1/2 to 2 times this amount)

  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/4 cup Splenda granular (or other artificial sweetener of choice)
  • 3 tablespoons brandy (optional, but I recommend it)

For the Apricot Sauce:

  • 1 cup sugar-free apricot preserves
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup brandy (optional, but I recommend it)

Garnish (Optional):

  • Apricot halves or orange peel
  • NOTE: If you can’t get fresh, dried apricots can be reconstituted by pouring boiling water over them and letting them soak for several hours or overnight


  1. Peel, core, and cube the apples. Place them in a LARGE (12″), deep non-stick skillet. Add in 2 tablespoons of butter. Cook apples over medium heat, stirring frequently, until butter melts and apples begin to soften. Add in the 3/4 cup Splenda, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, the lemon zest, and vanilla. Cook, stirring to prevent sticking, until the apples soften and reduce, about 15 to 25 minutes. You should end up with about 5 to 6 cups of apples.
  2. TIP: If you prefer to break up the task of making the Charlotte, you can let cool and then refrigerate the apple mixture until the following day — or probably for even two days — and then rewarm it before assembling and baking the Charlotte.
  3. NOTE: If apple mixture is juicy/liquid at all, stir in two or three tablespoons of corn starch and simmer, stirring gently but constantly to prevent scorching, to thicken. I made the apple filling the day before, then added the corn starch to the apples before reheating them when I assembled the Charlotte the following day.


  1. Preheat oven to 425F.
  2. Trace and cut out a circle of parchment paper that will fit along the bottom of your baking dish and place it on the bottom.
  3. Cut a long strip — long enough that it extends from either side of the baking dish, like a “handle” of sorts — and place it along the bottom and let it extend up and beyond the sides of your baking dish.
  4. Trim bread crusts (reserve for another use or feed them to birds). With a pastry brush or sauce brush, lightly brush the side of the bread that will be placed against the baking dish/mold and assemble the bread in the mold. Do not overlap, but do fit bread edges together closely to prevent gaps. Trim slices as needed to fit gaps.
  5. Lightly brush the other side of the bread with butter (the side that will have the filling).
  6. Gently spoon in the apple mixture. Top with bread, brushing each side with butter.
  7. Bake on LOWER RACK of oven for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 350F and bake for another 30 minutes, until bread is golden.
  8. Remove and let rest for AT LEAST 30 minutes before un-molding. OR, let rest for several hours and then gently reheat in a warm oven for about 15 to 20 minutes before un-molding.
  9. TO UNMOLD: Run knife gently around edge to make sure the Charlotte has not stuck. Place your serving plate on top of the Charlotte, then invert. Remove the mold and remove the parchment paper.
  10. Garnish with apricot halves and/or orange peel, if desired.


  1.  For best results, chill bowl and beaters before whipping cream.
  2. Whip cream and 1/4 cup Splenda until soft to medium peaks begin to form.
  3. Fold in brandy, if desired.


  1. Gently heat apricot preserves and water in a small saucepan.
  2. Stir in brandy, if desired.


Place individual servings on a dessert plate and garnish as desired with whipped cream and apricot sauce.


Freshly UnMolded Apple Charlotte with Apricot Garnish

Freshly Un-Molded Apple Charlotte with Apricot Garnish


Apple Charlotte Topped with Some Brandied Whipped Cream and Apricots

Apple Charlotte Topped with Some Brandied Whipped Cream and Apricots

Apple Charlotte: The Thickened Texture of the Filling Keeps it From Collapsing

Apple Charlotte: The Thickened Texture of the Filling Keeps it From Collapsing

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How Have You Bean?

Jack and the Beanstalk

Jack and the Beanstalk

I have a little Slow Cooker cooking magazine by Betty Crocker. One of the recipes in it that I’ve tried is for a Three Bean Chili (you can find Betty’s recipe at this link on their website and my take on it here). It’s a tasty recipe and I’ve made it a few times, but I’ve been wanting something a bit different.

So, inspired by another bean chili recipe I read in one of my old Diabetic Cooking magazines, in combination with the Bean and Lentil chili, I decided to try making Four Bean Chili in my CrockPot yesterday.

Peoples, this makes for an easy, yummy, hearty, low-calorie, fat-free dish that is incredibly affordable! You can enjoy it with tortilla chips, rice, pasta, crackers — any accompaniment you normally enjoy with chili. I made some cornbread for ours, which was quite yummy with it.

While this dish is perfect for the slow cooker, you cam make it on the stovetop, as well.

When making in the slow cooker, I recommend using a liner for easy clean-up.  This packed my 3 1/2 quart CrockPot to the top, but it didn’t overflow!

Important Food Safety Tip: This recipe uses tinned beans, both for convenience and for safety. As Betty Crocker points out, “Tomatoes and tomato products keep dry beans and other legumes from softening even after hours of cooking.” Furthermore, as Wikipedia tells us:

Some kinds of raw beans, especially red and kidney beans, contain a harmful toxin (lectin phytohaemagglutinin) that must be removed by cooking. A recommended method is to boil the beans for at least ten minutes; undercooked beans may be more toxic than raw beans. Cooking beans in a slow cooker, because of the lower temperatures often used, may not destroy toxins even though the beans do not smell or taste ‘bad’ (though this should not be a problem if the food reaches boiling temperature and stays there for some time).

Draining and rinsing the beans not only reduces the sodium, but it also reduces the gas-causing impact that legumes and other healthy, fresh vegetables often have. Additionally, on those occasions when I do use a chili seasoning mix (such as for this recipe), I like to get Williams Chili Seasoning, as it has no added salt.

Don’t have a good chili seasoning mix on hand? Season to taste with chili powder, garlic powder, red (cayenne) pepper, paprika, and cumin. I typically like to “boost” the flavor of the chili seasoning with these spices, anyway.

Dress each serving of Four Bean Chili as you would any other chili: grated cheese, oyster crackers or tortilla chips, diced onion, dollop of sour cream, sliced jalapeños — whatever makes you happy.

I used four different types of beans for contrast in color, flavor, and texture, but you can make it with all pinto beans, all black beans, or a mix of just two types of beans.

However you make it, you’ll likely be finding yourself singing “The Bean Goblin” song. 😉

Four Bean Chili (Serves 8 to 10)

  • 1 can (15-16 ounces) kidney beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 can (15-16 ounces) black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 can (15-16 ounces) cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 can (15-16 ounces) pinto beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 packet (1.25 ounces) chili seasoning mix (see note above if you don’t have a good chili seasoning mix on hand)
  • Bay leaf (one or two)
  • 2 cans (14 -15 ounces EACH) diced tomatoes, UNDRAINED (I used fire roasted tomatoes with garlic)
  • 1 can (6 ounces) tomato paste
  • 1 medium to large onion, chopped
  • 2 jalapeños, chopped or sliced, if desired (NOTE: Wear disposable gloves when handling fresh jalapeños, as they can burn or blister your skin when raw)
  • Hearty splash of vinegar (suggest white or apple cider vinegar)
  • Healthy squirt of ketchup
  • Additional seasonings to taste, as desired: Chili powder, cumin, garlic powder or minced garlic, paprika, red pepper flakes, onion powder or onion flakes, and splash of Worcestershire sauce (Vegetarians: leave out Worcestershire or use a substitute)


  1. If desired, place a slow cooker liner in your Crock Pot to make cleanup easier. Place all  ingredients into your slow cooker. (I placed the onions in first, then one of the tins of tomatoes, then the jalapenos, two tins of beans, another tin of tomatoes, the seasonings, the remaining beans, and spread the tomato paste on top). Cover and cook on low for 8 to 10 hours.
  2. Gently stir to combine all the flavors and ingredients. (NOTE: You can give it a gentle stir before it starts cooking, as well, but my slow cooker was packed too tightly for me to be able to stir it until after it had cooked.)
  3. Dress each individual serving as you desire: grated cheese; oyster crackers, saltine crackers, or tortilla chips; diced onion; dollop of sour cream; sliced jalapeños, cornbread — whatever makes you happy.
  4. Refrigerate or freeze leftovers.


Place all ingredients in a large Dutch oven, soup pan, or other cooking pot. Add in liquid (water or beer) as desired — I’d probably start with about 1 to 1 1/2 cups of water or beer. You can add in more liquid if it’s too thick; or simmer it uncovered to cook it down if it’s too thin. Bring to a low boil, then reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until heated through — it can be ready in as few as 10 or 15 minutes of simmering, but the longer it simmers, the better the flavor.

Refrigerate or freeze leftovers.


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Posted in Chili, Main Dish, Soup/Stew, TexMex, Vegetarian/Meatless | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hostess (and Host!) Aprons — Are They Too Retro?

apronThe fall and winter holidays are approaching, which typically bring more parties and and gatherings.

Hence, my poll question.

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It’s Mexico’s Independence Eve

Many people think — falsely — that Cinco de Mayo (May 5th) is Mexco’s Independence Day, but it’s not! Mexico’s Independence Day is September 16th. ¡Feliz Cumpleaños, Mexico!

Mexico’s Independence Day was kicked off by a Roman Catholic priest named Hidalgo.

As Wikipedia tells us:

The Grito de Dolores (“Cry of Dolores”) also known as El Grito de la Independencia (“Cry of Independence”), uttered from the small town of Dolores, near Guanajuato on September 16, 1810 is the event that marks the beginning of the Mexican War of Independence and is the most important national holiday observed in Mexico. The “Grito” was the pronunciamiento of the Mexican War of Independence by Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, a Roman Catholic priest.

Hidalgo and several criollos were involved in a planned revolt against the Spanish colonial government, and the plotters were betrayed. Fearing his arrest, Hidalgo commanded his brother Mauricio, as well as Ignacio Allende and Mariano Abasolo to go with a number of other armed men to make the sheriff release the pro-independence inmates there on the night of 15 September. They managed to set eighty free. Around 6:00 am September 16, 1810, Hidalgo ordered the church bells to be rung and gathered his congregation. Flanked by Allende and Juan Aldama, he addressed the people in front of his church, encouraging them to revolt.

The Battle of Guanajuato, the first major engagement of the insurgency, occurred 4 days later. Mexico’s independence would not be effectively declared from Spain in the Declaration of Independence of the Mexican Empire until September 27, 1821, after a decade of war.

I Like Corona Light 🙂

Not only is September 16th Mexico’s Independence Day, it’s also my late father’s birthday. He would have been 77 this year.

We enjoy celebrating Mexico’s Independence Day in our house. I believe one should never pass up a reason to celebrate. For me, personally, not only is September 16th a great excuse for eating delicious TexMex (although TexMex is so delicious and versatile, it makes any occasion special 😉 ), it also commemorates my late father’s birthday.

Daddy and I had what grew into a difficult relationship — we were estranged the last 10 years of his life — but for me, his birthday and Mexico’s Independence Day are always linked. On this day, I always remember one of the last of his birthdays we spent together, our sitting in a Mexican restaurant on his birthday, chips and salsa and queso on the table, frozen margaritas in hand, and his telling me that we were celebrating not only his birthday, but Mexico’s Independence Day, as well. And I think of his 50th birthday celebration, when I flew in as a surprise guest (thank you, Jan!).

When Mexico’s Independence Day comes around, I view it as an excellent excuse to change my whole latitude 😉 by splurging on some Corona Light (with lime, of course!) and/or maybe a Carb-Conscious (no-sugar-added) lime margarita on the rocks.

Frozen Lime Margarita — So Refreshing!

For Mexico’s Independence Day (and my late dad’s birthday), I often like to make something that I don’t usually make — such as my own salsa, flour tortillas, charro beans (absolutely delicious!) — or try some kind of new recipe. It was through trying a new recipe that I discovered that hubby loves, loves, LOVES chimichangas. 🙂 For my beloved, chimichanga means fiesta!

So have a Fiesta tomorrow! You can start the day out with Breakfast Tacos or perhaps Migas. Your options for lunch and supper are myriad and yummy — just a quick search on my blog alone yields variations on enchiladas — including spinach enchiladas — chimichangas, charro beans, brisket tacos or double-decker tacos, fish fajitas, black bean soup, taco soup…and much more!

¡Feliz Fiesta! ¡Feliz Cumpleaños, Mexico!

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Looking for a Holiday?

Claude Monet – Rue Montorgueil, Paris, Festival of 30 June 1878

How about Bastille Day? If you’re looking for an excuse to enjoy some French food and champagne, Bastille Day is as good a reason as any!

The 14th of July is Bastille Day. As handy, dandy Wikipedia tells us:

Bastille Day is the name given in English-speaking countries to the French National Day, which is celebrated on the 14th of July each year. In France, it is formally called La Fête Nationale (French pronunciation: [la.fɛɔ’nal] ; The National Celebration) and commonly Le quatorze juillet (French pronunciation: [lə.ka.tɔʁz.ʒɥi’jɛ] ; the fourteenth of July). It commemorates the 1790 Fête de la Fédération, held on the first anniversary of the storming of the Bastille on 14 July 1789; the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille fortress-prison was seen as a symbol of the uprising of the modern nation, and of the reconciliation of all the French inside the constitutional monarchy which preceded the First Republic, during the French Revolution. Festivities and official ceremonies are held all over France. The oldest and largest regular military parade in Europe is held on the morning of 14 July, on the Champs-Élysées avenue in Paris in front of the President of the Republic, French officials and foreign guests.

Whenever I think of France, I always think of their national anthem, La Marseilles, and this wonderful scene from that classic film, Casablanca (go on, take less than 2 minutes from your day and enjoy this scene again — you know you want to!):

Given my penchant for finding reasons to celebrate, I decided it would be fun for hubby and me to commemorate Bastille Day! It would also offer a great opportunity for hubby and me to relive, just a bit, our trip to Paris in 2006.

If your half of the world is in winter right now, you may want to search my site for cold-weather French foods, like cassoulet, French bread, my unFrench French bread,  and a kind of Boeuf Bourguignon.

But if it’s hot where you are — as it is here — then you may want to consider enjoying some French picnic fare, such as:

French Flags

French Flags

If you live in the US, you can pick up red, white, and blue decorative items reduced for quick sale from the 4th of July — because we share flag colors with the French!

So pour yourself some champagne or sparkling water, put on some French music, and Vive la France!

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zydeco…like nobody’s watching!

That’s a good motto to live by.

I’ve written posts about Cajun food before, namely Po’ Boys,  Gumbo, Jambalaya, and King Cake. Last year,  hubby and I espied a new (to us!) restaurant: a Cajun place (a chain) called Razoo’s. Fun atmosphere and tasty food — it was just what we needed, as emotionally and physically drained as last year ended up making us both feel.

Hubby was so enamored of the place and the food, he asked me why I didn’t cook more Cajun dishes.

Well, why not, indeed?

So, I started studying Razzoo’s menu and also Googling, and I’ve since added a few more Cajun dishes to my repertoire.

The one we’ll address today is a versatile dish called Zydeco Pasta. Razzoo’s describes Zydeco Pasta on their luncheon menu as being “Just like on the Big Boy menu, but sized right for lunch. You choose shrimpies or blackn’d chicken, and we’ll do it up right with penne, veggies, and our creole cream sauce.”

Essentially, Zydeco Pasta is penne pasta in an Alfredo sauce seasoned with Cajun seasoning, veggies (the Cajun holy trinity of onion, bell pepper, and celery, along with some garlic — of course! — and some diced tomato added in at the last minute), and, if you desire, the meat of your choice, such as smoked sausage or blackened chicken, fish (salmon fillets work best, but tilapia or any other like-textured fish would work), or shrimp.

You can either make your favorite Alfredo sauce recipe, to which you add Cajun spice, or you can use your favorite packaged Alfredo sauce.

Myself, I use the dried Alfredo sauce mix to which one adds butter and milk, because it’s easy for me to make as much or as little as I want, and it’s easiest for me to lighten up by 1) using less butter than is called for, 2) using lighter milk (I used 1%) than is called for, and 3) always making one more serving than called for on the package. So, for example, if the package says it makes 2 servings; I had half again as much milk and make 3 servings from it. If the package says it makes 3 servings, I add in 1/3 again as much milk and make 4 servings. If I want to make 4 servings (when cooking for hubby, his hearty appetite, and me, this gives us at least one, and sometimes two, lunch servings left), if my packaged Alfredo sauce mix makes 2 servings, I’ll use 1 packet and half the seasoning in another packet to make 4 servings.

For illustrative purposes, here’s an example, using a sauce packet that says it makes 2 servings per packet and calls for 1 cup of milk and 3 tablespoons of butter:

To make 4 servings, I would use:

  • 1 1/2 packets of seasoning mix (save the other half for another meal)
  • 2 cups of milk (I use 1%)
  • 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons of butter

So you see, the math is really very easy.

Use the amount of veggies (celery, bell pepper, and onion) to taste. Stirring in fresh chopped tomato (you could probably use tinned tomatoes, drained, in lieu of the fresh chopped tomato) helps cut the rich taste of the Alfredo sauce, as well as adding to the color and nutrition of the dish.

Zydeco Pasta with Smoked Sausage

Zydeco Pasta with Smoked Sausage

Zydeco Pasta takes center stage on our table, accompanied by tossed green salad and garlic bread.

Zydeco Pasta takes center stage on our table, accompanied by tossed green salad with homemade Ranch dressing and garlic bread.

This is utterly delicious with blackened salmon, tilapia, or shrimp (you could also serve with blackened chicken), but it’s also yummy with Smoked Sausage (I used smoked turkey sausage, and when I can obtain it, I use the hot pepper spicy smoked turkey sausage). Want it meatless? Use a favorite spicy meatless meat substitute (such as Soyrizo), maybe stir in some cooked kidney beans (“red beans”), or just enjoy it as is.

We typically enjoy this with a tossed green salad and either garlic toast or “Frenchy bread” (a la Razzoo’s), which is French (or other good quality) bread sliced, buttered on both sides, and grilled.

Zydeco Pasta smells — and tastes! — so yummy, you’ll be dancing around your kitchen while you make it!

Laissez les bons temps rouler! 🙂

Zydeco Pasta (As noted above, you can easily adjust the number of servings up or down)

NOTE: If serving with Smoked Sausage, you prepare the sausage along with the vegetables as directed in Step 2. If serving with blackened chicken, fish, or shrimp, you prepare the meat separately as described in Step 7.

  • Packet(s) of favorite Alfredo Sauce mix OR favorite jarred Alfredo Sauce OR favorite Alfredo Sauce recipe (see comments above)
  • Butter as required in recipe (As noted above, I use less than is called for on the package)
  • Milk as called for in the recipe (As noted above, I use more than is called for on the package)
  • Diced onion to taste (I usually use about a half of a medium onion for 4 servings)
  • Sliced celery to taste (I usually use 1 large stalk for 4 servings, sometimes 2)
  • Diced bell pepper to taste (I usually use green, but any red, orange, and yellow will work, also; I usually use about 1/2 to 3/4 of a medium to large bell pepper for 4 servings)
  • Minced garlic or garlic powder to taste
  • Cajun seasoning to taste (homemade or store-bought; I usually use roughly two teaspoons for 4 servings)
  • Diced tomato to taste (1 small to medium tomato for 4 servings)
  • Penne pasta (2 ounces per serving, which would be 8 ounces for 4 servings; I usually use mezze penne, but any pasta you like will work, including fettuccine or spaghetti)
  • Desired meat (Vegetarians, see note above)
  1. Boil water for pasta and cook as per package directions.
  2. Meanwhile, melt butter in a skillet of appropriate size (typically a deep 10″ or 12″ skillet will work) over medium to medium high heat. Sauté onion until it begins to soften, then add in celery and bell pepper. Add in minced garlic last. NOTE: If making with Smoked Sausage — I use turkey sausage — a 14-16 ounce package of smoked sausage is sufficient for 6 servings. Thinly slice the sausage — on the bias, if you prefer, and FIRST sauté the sausage in the skillet with a bit of hot olive or canola oil, THEN add in some butter and sauté the vegetables as above.
  3. Once vegetables have begun to soften, if desired, first deglaze the pan with a bit of dry white wine and then, in the same pan, add Alfredo sauce mix and whisk in milk OR add in your jarred favorite Alfredo sauce or homemade Alfredo sauce. Heat as directed on packet or in recipe.
  4. Stir desired amount of Cajun seasoning into sauce (I typically add a couple of rounded teaspoons for 4 servings).
  5. Stir cooked, drained pasta into the sauce (if desired, reserve a bit of the pasta water, if need be, to both “loosen” and “thicken” the sauce). At first, it will seem much too loose and runny, but let it simmer for a few minutes on low, stirring occasionally, and you will see it all thicken up nicely.
  6. Stir in diced tomato.
  7. If serving with Blackened Chicken or Blackened Salmon, Tilapia, or like fish fillet: Plan on one boneless, skinless chicken breast (4 ounces or so each) or fish fillet (4 ounces or so each) per serving. Lightly oil both sides of the meat, rub with seasoning, and grill or cook on a non-stick griddle or skillet as directed here — of course, it will take a bit longer to cook the chicken. If serving with Blackened Shrimp: Use raw, cleaned, de-veined shrimp with the tails removed. (I purchase mine from the freezer section for convenience and thaw it as per package directions under running water.) You’ll want 12 ounces of shrimp will suffice for 3 – 4 servings, depending upon whether you want 3 or 4 ounces of shrimp per serving. Place shrimp in a disposable Ziploc or similar bag. Drizzle in a two or three teaspoons of oil and shake the bag to cover the shrimp.  Spoon in desired amount of blackened seasoning and shake bag about to cover shrimp. Grill, turning once, until done (shrimp will curl) OR sauté in a skillet or on a griddle in a single layer over medium to medium high heat in a small amount (tablespoon or less) of butter or olive or canola oil.
  8. If serving with blackened fish fillets, I place the whole cooked fillets on top of the pasta. If serving with blackened chicken, you can present it the same way, or you can slice or chop the chicken into more bite-sized pieces and stir into the pasta. If serving with blackened shrimp, I stir the cooked shrimp into the pasta.
  9. Individuals may dress each serving as desired with their favorite hot sauce.
  10. Refrigerate leftovers.

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’tis the Season(ing)!

Cajun FiddlerAnd no, I’m not talking about Christmas (‘though it is now just a bit less than 6 months away! 😉 ), I’m talking about Cajun Cuisine, peoples. 🙂

I’ve written posts about Cajun food before, namely Gumbo, Jambalaya, and King Cake. Last year, when my mom was in the CICU (Cardiac Intensive Care Unit) after her heart attacks, hubby (who was still in his back brace) espied a new (to us!) restaurant in Tyler while we were out driving around town, passing time until we could get back into the CICU.

The restaurant is a Cajun place (a chain) called Razoo’s. Fun atmosphere and tasty food — and as physically and emotionally exhausted as hubby and I were by that point in our year, we were in desperate need of any bit of fun or humor we could find and for any yummy food that we could find, especially if it saved me the time and labor of preparing it (because yes, peoples, I was so worn out and strung out that even I, who loves cooking and baking and can be quite organized about it, did not have the energy or wherewithal to keep us fed regularly after hubby’s accident, what with caring for my beloved in his back brace; the stress of the remodel in Operation Laundry Room; the additional physical chores I had to do, such as mowing, which would take me two days; having to put down our poor Ally; and then Mom’s heart attacks and caring for her…this is why it’s a common social convention and simple, caring kindness to bring meals to people who are ill, have had a death in the family, and/or are otherwise going through a stressful time).

Hubby was so enamored of the place and the food, he asked me why I didn’t cook more Cajun dishes.

Well, why not, indeed?

So, I started studying Razzoo’s menu and also Googling, and I’ve since added a few more Cajun dishes to my repertoire.

Two seasoning bases for Cajun cooking are Cajun Seasoning and Blackened Seasoning. You can, of course, purchase Cajun Seasoning in most stores — myself, I’m partial to Tony Chacere’s Creole Seasoning — but as part of my Googling, I came across recipes for making one’s own Cajun seasoning. Making your own seasoning has the benefits of not only being more affordable, but also of being made to suit your tastes (such as being hotter or milder, lower in sodium, reduced in sugar or sugar-free, and so forth).

Using Emeril Lagasse’s recipe for inspiration, I whipped up my own version of Cajun Seasoning to suit our tastes.  I just mix it up in a Ziploc baggie and keep it in my pantry.

And although I’ve shared my Blackened Seasoning before, I’ll include it here again, as well just for convenience’s sake.

These seasonings smell — and taste! — so yummy, that when you use them in your Cajun dishes (I’ll be sharing a couple more recipes in future posts), you’ll want to put on Zydeco music and dance around your kitchen!


Cajun Seasoning (Adjust to suit your own tastes)

Don’t fret over exact measurements; rounded spoonfuls are fine.
Note that 3 teaspoons = 1 tablespoon.

  • 3 tablespoons paprika
  • 1 teaspoon Cayenne pepper
  • 2 tablespoons garlic powder
  • 2 teaspoons oregano (dried)
  • 2 teaspoons thyme (dried or powdered)
  • 1/2 teaspoon seasoned salt (I used reduced sodium)
  • 1 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  1. Mix all ingredients together. (I like to put them all in a Ziploc bag, close it, and shake it together to mix them.)
  2. Store in a sealed container (I use a Ziploc bag).


Blackened Seasoning (Adjust to suit your own tastes)

Don’t fret over exact measurements; rounded spoonfuls are fine.
Note that 3 teaspoons = 1 tablespoon.

  • 2 tablespoons ground allspice
  • 1 tablespoon ground paprika
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (red pepper)
  • 1 teaspoon thyme (dried leaves or ground)
  • 1 teaspoon seasoned salt (I use reduced sodium)
  • Garlic powder to taste (I give it a healthy sprinkling, probably 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon)
  1. Mix all ingredients together. (I like to put them all in a Ziploc bag, close it, and shake it together to mix them.)
  2. Store in a sealed container (I use a Ziploc bag).

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