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50 Women Game-Changers (in Food): #34 Ella Brennan - Red Beans and Rice

the "Gourmet" prompt...
34. Ella Brennan- “I didn’t know they gave awards for having fun,” was the New Orleans restaurant matriarch’s line on accepting the 2009 James Beard Foundation’s Lifetime Achievement Award. From Commander’s Palace on down, the Big Easy would have been Smaller and Harder without her help.

The restaurant business practically runs in her blood.  She began as kitchen supervisor in her older brother, Owen's restaurant alongside another sister and brother (and their father could often be found greeting lunch customers before his heart attack in the early 50's.  When her brother passed away at 45 years old, Ella was only 30 when she took on the role of restaurant manager of the family restaurant, Brennan's...which she brought to a whole new level.

She was dubbed Queen of Creole Cuisine by People magazine.  One of her restaurants (Commander's Place) received a James Beard Foundation Award in 1996.  Number one in Zagat and Food and Wine magazine customer polls each time surveys are done, it's no wonder she is heralded for "both an incomparable attention to detail and an unmatched style of hospitality and warmth".  She is a mentor, teacher, and coach for young people with a passion for the restaurant world.  She still works closely with her sister, niece and nephew, daughter and son at their restaurants.

There is a wonderful historical story of the Brennan's on their restaurant website of which I only touched on some highlights here.
 I was unsuccessful in finding any books with Ella's recipes in them in my local library, but I did find some floating around online.  This dish was inspired by the Red Beans and Rice at Brennan's New Orleans restaurant 
Red Beans and Rice

by Heather Schmitt-González
Prep Time: 10-15 minutes
Cook Time: 20-30 minutes
Keywords: entree side vegan vegetarian nut-free soy-free sugar-free beans legumes American
Ingredients (serves 2)
  • ~1½ Tbs. olive oil
  • ¼ c. diced onion (~½ small onion)
  • ¼ c. diced green bell pepper (~½ small pepper)
  • ¼ c. diced celery (~1 stalk)
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 heaping Tbs. Smoked Paprika
  • ½ tsp. crushed red chile flakes
  • ½ tsp. dried thyme
  • 1½-2 c. cooked red kidney beans (light, dark, or a mix) + some reserved cooking liquid
  • salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • flat leaf parsley, coarsely chopped
  • ~2 c. cooked brown basmati rice
Heat olive oil in a large deep-sided skillet over medium heat. Once hot, add onion, bell pepper, celery, and garlic. Saute until the vegetables have started to soften and turn transluscent, 3-5 minutes. Add smoked paprika, crushed red chiles, and thyme and cook for about 30 seconds, stirring constantly.

Add beans and about ½ cup of their cooking liquid (or water). Stir and once everything starts to boil, lower heat to maintain a gentle bubble. Cook for ~15 minutes, stirring occasionally and adding a bit of water if the beans get too dry. You want them to maintain a bit of sauciness.

Season with salt and pepper to taste. Throw in a small handful of chopped parsley. Serve hot over steamed brown rice.

*brown basmati rice:
Start with about a cup of dry rice. Add rice and about one and a half its volume in water to a medium pot. Bring to boil, cover, reduce to simmer and cook ~20 minutes or until all water is absorbed and rice is just tender. If you start this right before you start the beans, it should all finish at about the same time.

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In May '11, Gourmet posted a list of 50 Women Game-Changers (in Food) that runs the gamut from food writers to cookbook authors to television personalities to restauranteurs to chefs to food bloggers.  Some are a given.  Some are controversial.  Speaking the names of some brings fond childhood memories.  Speaking the names of others will make some readers cringe.  And of course, some of our favorites were not even included.  We food-lovers are a passionate bunch of people and whether we agree or disagree, every woman on this list has earned her place for a reason.  Being a woman who is passionate about food (cooking, eating, talking about, writing about, photographing), when I caught wind of Mary from One Perfect Bite's idea of cooking/blogging her way through each of these 50 per week...I knew I wanted to join her.  Many of these women paved the way for us in culinary school, in the kitchen, in cookbooks, in food writing, and on television and I think it is a fabulous way to pay tribute to their efforts.  Some of the women on the list have been tops with me for years.  Some I have heard of (perhaps even seen, read, or cooked from) before.  And there are even a handful that I am not familiar with at all.  I excited to educate myself on each of these women game-changers and hope you look forward to reading along.  We are going in order from 1 to 50.
Who is cooking along with these 50 Women Game-Changers?

I am sharing this post with:
MLLA (My Legume Love Affair) #44 hosted at Sweet Artichoke this month.
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