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Customize your jambalaya

Find a good basic recipe, then add your own touches

Yes, we did have a celebration at the office on Fat Tuesday – and we did have gumbo. Or was it jambalaya? These two Louisiana dishes are very similar. The process is usually similar and both have many of the same ingredients.

From my own observations, it seems that jambalaya is just a little thicker than gumbo. If you have a good handful of okra, some shrimp and chicken, you can call it jumbo for sure – or jambalaya. Call it what you want, it is delicious. But like chili, every pot is different. 

The strawberry cheesecake we ran last week, with the great picture of 3 pounds of strawberries, was also at the potluck. And it was, if I do say so myself, a good-looking dessert. Let us know if you tried it.

There are many ways to make jambalaya, with many different ingredients. Chicken, sausage, and shrimp are the most common. Ham, crabmeat, and even duck or alligator, can be used, depending on what’s available. Some cooks use tomatoes and tomato sauce, some use chicken or beef stock. Some cooks put rice right in the jambalaya pot, others cook and serve the rice separately. I have even seen pasta used in place of rice. 

The trick is to find a good basic recipe, and then experiment to make it your own. Add a little of this and a little of that. This recipe was handed down from my mother. It was given to her by her sister, whose son married a Cajun woman in Louisiana.


Here is my recipe, the one my family and friends like. I run the favorites from time to time. 

1/4 cup of oil

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 2-inch pieces

2 cloves minced garlic

1 pound of smoked sausage, cut into 2-inch pieces

2 large onions, sliced

2 large green peppers, sliced

1 teaspoon black pepper

2 teaspoons salt

2 teaspoons Cajun seasoning, or to taste

1 to 1 1/2 cups water 

3 cups V-8 vegetable juice

1/2 to 1 cup cut-up okra (fresh or frozen)

1 cup white Minute Rice 

Louisiana Hot Sauce or Tabasco Sauce, a few drops to taste

1 pound large shrimp, shelled and deveined

In a large pot, saute the chicken and garlic in oil until the chicken is nearly done, then add the sausage, onions and peppers. The onions and peppers are not chopped, but sliced. Cut them in half, then cut into medium slices. Combine the salt, pepper and Cajun spice and sprinkle over the chicken and vegetables mixture. Saute just until the vegetables are a little tender and the chicken is no longer pink. Add water, V-8 juice and okra, and simmer 20 minutes, stirring a couple of times. Add shrimp, rice and hot sauce, and simmer for 5 more minutes, until the shrimp is pink and the rice is tender. If you need more liquid, add water, chicken broth or V-8 juice. It should be the consistency of a thick stew. Serve this hardy gumbo in big bowls. This dish heats up well and the leftovers are delicious. This makes about 8 to 10 servings, depending on who you are feeding. 

The only thing I serve with this dish is cornbread, or a corn casserole.   

You can make your own cornbread or use a mix. Sometimes I use Jiffy mix, not only because it is easy, but because I really like the taste of it. I have made the cornbread into muffins, but I prefer baking it in an iron skillet and serving it up in big hunks with a dish of real butter.

Vegetarian Gumbo

This richly flavored, heart-healthy gumbo was a potluck favorite, and perfect for a chilly afternoon. Newsroom vegetarian Bridget Flynn made the dish using this recipe from Vegetarian Times ( It serves 8.

½ cup vegetable oil

⅓ cup flour

1 small onion, chopped (1 cup)

1 small green bell pepper, chopped (1 cup)

3 stalks celery, chopped (1 cup)

1 28-oz. can diced tomatoes

2 cups fresh or frozen green beans

3 carrots, sliced (2 cups)

1 parsnip, diced (1 cup)

1 cup fresh or frozen sliced okra, optional

1 Tbs. ground cumin

1 Tbs. paprika

1 Tbs. dried oregano

¼ tsp. cayenne pepper

Stir oil and flour in Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot until smooth. Cook over high heat 10 minutes, or until roux turns a dark caramel color, stirring constantly.

Add onion, bell pepper, and celery, and cook 5 minutes, or until vegetables are softened. Stir in all remaining ingredients and 4 cups water. Season with salt and pepper.

Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and cook 40 minutes, or until carrots are tender. Serve over rice.

Bacon jambalaya

This one uses bacon, which I have never tried, so let me know how you like it.

Servings: 12

Prep time: 25 minutes

Cook time: 40 minutes

Ready in: 1 hour, 5 minutes

6 slices bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces

1 cup chopped celery

1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped

1 onion, chopped

1/2 pound cooked ham, cubed

1/2 pound cooked chicken, cubed

1/2 pound smoked sausage, cut in half lengthwise, then 1-inch pieces crosswise

2 (14.5-ounce) cans crushed tomatoes, with liquid

2 cups beef broth

2 cups chicken broth

1 teaspoon dried thyme

2 teaspoons Cajun seasoning

2 cups uncooked white rice

1/2 pound medium-size shrimp

Heat a large pot over medium-high heat. Add bacon, and cook until crisp. Remove bacon pieces with a slotted spoon, and set aside. Add celery, bell pepper, and onion to the bacon drippings, and cook until tender.

Add the ham, chicken and sausage to the pot, and pour in the tomatoes, beef broth and chicken broth. Season with thyme and Cajun seasoning. Bring to a boil, and add the rice. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat to low, cover, and simmer for about 20 minutes, until the rice is tender.

Stir in the shrimp and bacon just before serving, and heat through. If you use uncooked shrimp, let it cook for about 5 minutes before serving.

Cajun jambalaya

(Recipe courtesy of Emeril Lagasse. I had to include this one, from one of our favorite cooks. It looks interesting, and includes the recipe for his own Creole seasoning, also known as Bayou Blast. I have tried this one, and it is almost as good as mine.)

Cook time: 35 minutes

Servings: 4

12 medium shrimp, peeled, deveined and chopped

4 ounces chicken, diced

1 tablespoon Creole seasoning, recipe below

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/4 cup chopped onion

1/4 cup chopped green bell pepper

1/4 cup chopped celery

2 tablespoons chopped garlic

1/2 cup chopped tomatoes

3 bay leaves

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1 teaspoon hot sauce

3/4 cup rice

3 cups chicken stock

5 ounces Andouille sausage, sliced

Salt and pepper

In a bowl, combine shrimp, chicken and Creole seasoning, and work in seasoning well. In a large saucepan, heat oil over high heat with onion, pepper and celery, 3 minutes. Add garlic, tomatoes, bay leaves, Worcestershire and hot sauces. Stir in rice and slowly add broth. Reduce heat to medium and cook until rice absorbs liquid and becomes tender, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes. When rice is just tender, add shrimp and chicken mixture and sausage. Cook until meat is done, about 10 minutes more. Season to taste with salt, pepper and Creole seasoning.

Emeril's essence Creole seasoning (also referred to as Bayou Blast):

Yield: 2/3 cup

2 1/2 tablespoons paprika

2 tablespoons salt

2 tablespoons garlic powder

1 tablespoon black pepper

1 tablespoon onion powder

1 tablespoon cayenne pepper

1 tablespoon dried oregano

1 tablespoon dried thyme

Combine all ingredients thoroughly.

Yield: 2/3 cup


I just tried these at a potluck. They look like chocolate-covered cherries, but they have a taste all their own. You can’t stop eating them, and they are so easy to make. But you’d better plan to make a double batch. Because Buckeyes are peanut butter balls dipped in chocolate, they are almost like candy. These peanut butter balls dipped in chocolate get their name from their resemblance to the nut of the buckeye tree, grown in Ohio.

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 5 minutes

Ready in: 50 minutes

Makes: 30

1 1/2 cups peanut butter

1 cup butter, softened

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

6 cups confectioners' sugar

4 cups semisweet chocolate chips

In a large bowl, mix together the peanut butter, butter, vanilla and confectioners' sugar. The dough will look dry. Roll into 1-inch balls and place on a waxed paper-lined cookie sheet.

Press a toothpick into the top of each ball (to be used later as the handle for dipping) and chill in freezer until firm, about 30 minutes.

Melt chocolate chips in a double boiler or in a bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water. Stir frequently until smooth.

Dip frozen peanut butter balls in chocolate, holding onto the toothpick. Leave a small portion of peanut butter showing at the top to make them look like buckeyes. Put back on the cookie sheet and refrigerate until serving.

Eight-layer casserole 

Servings: 8 

Prep time: 30 minutes

Total time: 1 hour, 35 minutes

3 cups (6 ounces) dried medium-size noodles

1 pound ground beef

2 (8-ounce) cans tomato sauce

1 teaspoon dried basil, crushed

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1 (8-ounce) carton sour cream

1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened

1/2 cup milk

1/3 cup chopped onion (1 small)

1 (10-ounce) package frozen chopped spinach, cooked and well-drained

1 cup shredded cheddar cheese 

Grease a 2-quart casserole or a 2-quart square baking dish; set aside. Cook noodles according to package directions; drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet, cook beef until brown. Drain off fat. Stir tomato sauce, basil, sugar, garlic powder, salt, and pepper into skillet. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, uncovered, for 5 minutes.

In a medium-size mixing bowl, beat together the sour cream and cream cheese with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth. Stir in milk and onion. In prepared casserole or baking dish, layer half of the noodles (about 2 cups), half of the meat mixture (about 1 1/2 cups), half of the cream cheese mixture (about 1 cup), and all of the spinach. Top with the remaining meat mixture and noodles. Cover and chill remaining cream cheese mixture until needed.

Cover casserole or baking dish with lightly greased foil. Bake in 350-degree oven about 45 minutes or until heated through. Uncover; spread with remaining cream cheese mixture. Sprinkle with the cheddar cheese. Bake, uncovered, about 10 minutes more or until cheese is melted. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.

A portion of this recipe was left out in the Dash of Grace column on Feb. 27. We are running the entire recipe again. I apologize for any inconvenience.

Chicken potpie with cornbread crust


1 tablespoon butter

1 medium-size onion, chopped

1/4 cup flour   

2 cups chicken stock

2 cups chopped roasted chicken

1/2 cup frozen sweet petite peas

1 potato, diced and boiled

1 1/2 cups chopped, cooked carrots

1/2 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Dash of hot sauce

Cornbread crust

3/4 cup yellow cornmeal

3/4 cup flour

1 teaspoon of salt

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 1/2 tablespoons sugar

3/4 cup milk

1 large egg

2 tablespoon canola oil

To make filling: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Spray a 2-quart casserole with cooking spray. In a large saucepan, heat olive oil and butter together. Add onion and saute until tender, about 4 or 5 minutes. Add in flour until blended. Slowly stir in 2 cups of heated chicken stock, whisking well. Cook mixture over medium heat until thickened and bubbly, about 4 minutes. Stir in chicken, peas, potato, carrots, salt, pepper, and hot sauce. Pour into a 2-quart ovenproof casserole dish coated with cooking spray and spread mixture evenly. 

To make filling: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Spray a 2-quart casserole with cooking spray. In a large saucepan, heat olive oil and unsalted butter together. Add onion and saute until tender, about 4 or 5 minutes. Add in flour until blended. Slowly stir in 2 cups of heated chicken stock, whisking well. Cook mixture over medium heat until thickened and bubbly, about 4 minutes. Stir in chicken, peas, potato, carrots, salt, pepper and Tabasco. Pour into a 2-quart ovenproof casserole dish coated with cooking spray and spread mixture evenly. 

To make crust: In a bowl, stir cornmeal, flour, baking powder, sugar and salt. Stir milk, egg and canola oil until well combined. Stir wet ingredients into dry ingredients. Spoon the batter evenly on the filling. Bake until the top is golden-brown, about 22 to 25 minutes.

Tip of the week: When making jambalaya, use the whole jumbo shrimp, even though some of the recipes call for small or medium shrimp, or chopped shrimp. They look more luscious in the gumbo.

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