The Jambalaya Compromise

When you are billeting (they live with you) a house full of junior hockey players (3 of them are 18 and one of them is 19), you get the opportunity to eat with them on a regular basis. With their practices often being in the afternoon with minimal food consumed prior to practice, the call to “eat dinner together” has varying levels of enthusiasm. Depending on how long ago they ate their post-practice Chik-Fil-A or Chipotle, they may not be hunger. And, if they are hungry, there is the distinct possibility the meal won’t tickle all of their taste buds.

Over the past 4ish months they have been living with us, we have found a couple of meals that will reliably pull them away from their video games and voluntarily bring them downstairs to eat with us.

  • Pizza: I cannot lie. We make a pretty good pizza. My role is “dough maker” and sausage and bacon fryer. If we have the full crew on that night, we make at least one each of the following: pepperoni, sausage, and barbecue chicken.
  • Sliders: We will make 36-48 of these. Aldi’s has the best price on the bread, and the boys love them for warmups. Since “second dinner” is usually consumed by at least half of the boys, this is a big deal.

The rest of the things we make for them have less than full enthusiasm.

  • One of them doesn’t like gravy.
  • One of them didn’t think he liked meatloaf, but he is possibly the best eater now.
  • Only one of them likes roasted sweet potato cubes with rosemary. This is one of our favorites. It is unfortunate.
  • One of them (quite possibly one of those already referred to above) doesn’t like tomatoes in any form.
  • A random thing–one of them likes lots of whipped cream on his pancakes and some baked items.
  • They will all put roasted broccoli on their plate, and sometimes they will eat it.
  • After the boys were gone one night and found out there was Chinese in the refrigerator, two of the boys came down to claim it as their second dinner that night.
  • The visit to “flavor town” left the curry and gumbo out in the cold. The fried rice entered the semi-regular meal rotation.

With these facts in mind, I felt compelled to try something new with them. Unfortunately, the available protein was pointing me toward Jambalaya. How did I handle this? I made the jambalaya as an “optional” lunch item. My gut told me one of the boys would very likely enjoy it. Two of them might think it is okay. One of them would definitely find the tomatoes and the spice beyond his range. (It would be a street he would never visit in Flavor town.) This compromise – a meal for all but only if they wanted to try it without having it as their only dinner option- allowed everyone to participate as they chose.

In the end, I did get my jambalaya. The one who enjoyed it added hot sauce because he could. The other Chinese lover thought it was good. And, the other two didn’t even try any–no matter how hard we nudged them. It made plenty and and the “second dinner” stores were replenished for a couple of days. If I can find another rice-centric recipe, I am going to try it!

The Blackened Fish Experiment

We have a side by side freezer as part of our indoor refrigerator.  And, we also have an outdoor refrigerator.  It is similar, but the freezer is on top.  (When you have a few kids, and like to make a Sams run a couple times a month, you need more frig space.  We used to put an extra carton of milk in it, but it seems our milk drinking days are mostly in our past…) Also, we have a top-opening freezer (I believe they are called a “chest” freezer).  Quite a bit of space including a couple baskets at the top to make it very easy to bury items at the bottom.  In a recent pseudo-defrosting party, we found meat and other items living on borrowed time.  And, if too borrowed, they defrosted in a container with a plastic liner–they were not alone.

We recently committed to clean out our freezers for a couple of reasons.  Beyond the obvious, “They were full.”, they also needed to make a little room for items we know we will be able to rotate through much more quickly.   As we anticipate the arrival of our TWO foreign exchange students in three weeks, we want to make sure we have the necessary room to stock a few items that will especially tantalize their Asian taste buds.  (At Whole Foods the other night, my bio-girls went crazy over all of the options available.  When the house has 4 teenage girls, the glee will probably be almost tangible.)  And, with the boys shifting into their fall schedules (whether commuting to school or living at a campus in a different state), the “big” eaters will soon be off the radar when it comes to planning most meals.  (With their work schedule, their lack of attending meals has been a large cause of the accumulation of warmups.  The thinning of the stock is really just a natural progression as our household evolves toward the goal of “empty-nesters”. [an eventuality, but a few years yet]).

As the freezers have been purged, some whacky meal combos have taken place.  Last night it was sausage and frozen waffles.  Not whacky you say?  I made a peanut butter and jelly waffle sandwich.  My daughters used Nutella, cashew butter, and whatever else we had in the house that was spreadable.  But, I digress….  As an added bonus, we needed to clear out some dieting items accumulated in the freezer by my wife.  (The turkey burgers are not bad, but they will NEVER be hamburgers.)  We were fortunate to stumble upon a 2 pound bag of tilapia my wife had purchased.  Since our meat typically had feet when it was alive, we were not sure how to prepare this fish.  Not wanting to be boring, but not being excessively ambitious led us to the recipe on the tilapia package.  Since “blackened” sounded interesting and the recipe was for 1 pound, we decided to double the recipe and “blacken” the whole package.

As we mixed the blackening rub together, it was obvious the fish was going to have some flavor! After spreading the rub on the fish and letting it sit for awhile before cooking, we attempted to perform the cooking side of the things.  Again, another opportunity to improve on the NEXT visit to the “blackened” zone.  It stuck, and it probably had more oil in it than was necessary, but a paper towel on the serving plate, and we were mostly good.  During the meal, most of the reviews were okay.  “Too hot” was a pretty typical response.  Due to guilt for over spicing the fish and a an occasional need to punish my stomach for its failures of the past, I ate numerous portions.  As the meal ended, 3 fillets were left on the plate.

It is here where the story become most interesting to me.  I like to mix and match warmups.  And, when able, I bribe and reward to get rid of warmups.  Since previous “hot” meals turned into tame little pussycats when the flavors chilled for a night, I was hoping the fish had endured a similar fate.  Never having tried them, but with an ample inventory of tortillas available, we embarked on a new pseudo-Mexican journey. (In my mind, if it has a tortilla, it is Mexican)  Thankfully, the journey was a good one.  The tamed tilapia was nearly perfect for a taco.  I believe we through a little chipotle ranch and lettuce on the taco, too.  The fish was the star!  My only regret was eating as much fish as I did the night before–my daughters made me share the warmup.

All explanations aside, it would appear serendipity is not dead.  What began as “Operation Make Space”, has had some highlights.  The project continues.  Fortunately, our taste buds have gotten a few pleasant surprise along the way.  If we are lucky, they will hang in until the operation closes around Labor Day.