Kidney Beans

How did my mother do it? She managed to prepare a well-balanced dinner for my father, four siblings, and me every night of the week. She had all necessary ingredients on hand, everything arrived on the table at the same time, and she only went to the grocery store once a week. She made it appear effortless. Meanwhile, I go to four different grocery stores and the farmers’ market forty-eight times a week and I still never seem to have all the ingredients I need.

Cooking Uptown Spice Rub

Enter Susan Spicer. I couldn’t resist adding her cookbook, Crescent City Cooking: Unforgettable Recipes from Susan Spicer’s New Orleans, to my already overcrowded library of cookbooks. I anticipated an endless array of weekend-only dishes requiring hours of prep and even longer cooking times. Rather, what I found was a book laden with approachable recipes within the reach of any home cook.

Corn, peppers, and onions

We began with this particular recipe for no other reason than it was featured in The Splendid Table’s Weeknight Kitchen newsletter. I wasn’t sure what to expect from such humble ingredients and only a half hour of cooking time.

Thirty minutes and one can of kidney beans later, we were basking before the glow of a meal fit for a four star restaurant. The dish was hearty, healthy, and very fresh — a perfect dinner for hot Southern evenings. It is rare to have repeats around our house, but Ms. Spicer’s “Cajun-style” chicken is certain to become a regular. Its ease and flavor make me feel as accomplished in the kitchen as my mother.

Corn, onions, and peppers

A note on the spice rub: the recipe calls for a combination of cayenne and black pepper. I happened to have on hand a blackened seasoning blend from a fantastic store here in Charlotte called Cooking Uptown. The store is a true treasure for any cook. It easily rivals big chain stores like Sur La Table and Williams-Sonoma. If you’re a resident or just passing through, be sure to check out Cooking Uptown.

Before I sign off, I would be remiss if I failed to say that S and I agreed that the next time we make this (soon, no doubt), we will add a fresh chopped jalapeno at the end for a little extra heat. You can never go wrong with a bit more spice. Enjoy!

Cajun-Style Chicken with Maque Choux

“Cajun-Style” Chicken Breast with Chili Bean Maque Choux

Excerpted from Crescent City Cooking: Unforgettable Recipes from Susan Spicer’s New Orleans

Makes 4 servings
Prep Time: About 30 minutes

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 6 ounces each)
1 tablesppon olive or other vegetable oil, plus 1-2 tablespoons veg. oil for sauteing
2 tablespoons Creole or whole-grain mustard
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon each black and cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons chopped scallion

Maque Choux
2 ears sweet white or yellow corn, shucked and silk removed, or 1-1/2 cups frozen corn kernals, thawed
1 tablespoon olive or vegetable oil
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 medium yellow onion, diced
1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 cup peeled, seeded, and diced fresh tomato, or canned tomato (with juices)
1 14 ounce can red beans, kidney beans, or chili beans (for a bit more heat), drained and liquid reserved
Hot Sauce

For the Chicken:
Rinse the chicken breasts and pat dry. Combine the olive oil, mustard, salt, and spices and smear it on the chicken.
Refrigerate for at least 15 minutes, or up to several hours, until you’re ready to cook.
Grill the chicken (you can also saute or broil)

For the Maque Choux:
Cut the corn kernals from the cob, being careful not to cut too close to the cob (where the kernals become dry and starchy).
Heat the oil and 1 tablespoon butter in a skillet to foaming. Add the onion and cook for 2-3 minutes, then add the tomato, beans, and 1/4 cup of water or reserved bean liquid and season to taste with salt and a little hot sauce. Stir and cook until heated through, then swirl in the remaining tablespoon of butter. Keep the vegetables warm while cooking the chicken.