February 15, 2012 11:06:00 AM
Mardi Gras. It's been called the season of "voluntary madness" -- with parades, masks, floats, music and outlandish costumes. The revelry builds to a crescendo between Epiphany (Jan. 6) and Fat Tuesday, which falls this year on Feb. 21.
It's hard to think of Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday in French) without New Orleans. But, did you know Carnival was first celebrated in America in Mobile, Ala., in 1703? More than 15 years before New Orleans was founded. Mobile was the first capital of colonial French Louisiana. (Mardi Gras had been celebrated in Paris since the Middle Ages and was brought to America in 1699, with the French explorer Iberville.)
Today, the feverish revelry is felt around the globe wherever Mardi Gras is embraced, cities like Rio de Janeiro and Quebec City, Canada. Nearer to home, Biloxi, Pensacola and, of course, Mobile, celebrate big. Hattiesburg joined the party this year, hosting its first Caerus (pronounced Ky-rus) Mardi Gras Parade Feb. 9.
But nowhere in the U.S. is Mardi Gras so interwoven with a city's identity as in New Orleans. And few places are as known for their cuisine as the Crescent City.
In the final week leading up to Fat Tuesday, feasting becomes an increasingly prominent part of festivities. Famous for its Creole and Cajun cuisine, New Orleans has spawned dishes we automatically associate with this place currently decked out in purple, green and gold.
So, maybe there's no parade blocking off the Golden Triangle's Main Streets, but there's no reason we can't let the good times roll a little in our own kitchens.
Jambalaya is a great cold-weather marriage of meat and seafood. And what could induce the "flavor" of New Orleans better?
Unless its homemade beignets -- soft, sweet, yeasty squares of bread, fried like a donut and covered with powdered sugar. The recipe today is a quick, easy one your family will love.
Big Easy fried pickles with red slaw are simple to prepare and actually pretty healthy, too. The crunchy, creamy slaw and savory pickles are dairy-free and can be whipped up in just under 15 minutes using low-calorie raw red cabbage, apple cider vinegar and olive oil. Yellow lemon wedges bring the "gold" to your Mardi Gras color scheme.
And yes, you've heard it before, but what is Mardi Gras without a King cake? They first appeared in 1872, when the Rex Krewe selected the Mardi Gras colors we still use today. The frosted cake is always a highlight of any Carnival party. If you want to hide a token inside -- such as the tiny, plastic baby, which represents the Christ child -- cut a slit in the bottom of the baked cake. And remember to warn your guests. The King cake recipe today offers a pretty twist to the traditional dessert.
Mardi Gras. A time of merriment and "abandon." Symbolically, the last day to feast on rich foods before Ash Wednesday and the start of 40 days of the Lenten season.
Embrace a little of your own carnival spirit. Bon appétit.
BITE SIZED BEIGNETS
1 cup very warm water
2 tablespoon yeast
2 (5 ounce) cans evaporated milk
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
2-4 cups flour
3 cup, plus 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
(Source: Brooks McClay, blogs.babble/family-fun)
NEW ORLEANS JAMBALAYA
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: One hour
Makes: 16 servings
1/2 teaspoon mustard seed
1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon whole peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon dill seed
1/2 teaspoon whole allspice
2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 pound boneless skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch cubes
1/2 pound boneless pork, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 medium onion, chopped
1 large green pepper, chopped
1 celery rib, chopped
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound smoked kielbasa or Polish sausage, cut into 1-inch slices
1 cup diced fully cooked ham
1 can (14-1/2 ounces) diced tomatoes, undrained
1 to 2 cups water, divided
1/2 cup tomato puree
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
2 teaspoons salt
3/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/8 teaspoon apple pie spice
2 bay leaves
1/2 pound uncooked small shrimp, peeled and deveined
Hot cooked rice
(Source: tasteofhome.com, Sabrina Hickey)
Total time: 25 minutes
Makes four servings'
1/3 cup butter, cubed
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 medium bananas
2 tablespoons creme de cacao or banana liqueur
1/4 cup dark rum
2 cups vanilla ice cream
(Note: Keep liquor bottles and other flammables at a safe distance when preparing. Do not use a nonstick skillet.)
Big Easy Fried Pickles
Makes 1 cup pickles
4 medium sized dill pickles
1/2 cup pickle juice (add 1 tablespoon at a time while frying, to wet skillet)
3 tablespoons olive oil
For the breading mixture:
1/4 cup fine bread crumbs
1 teaspoon chipotle powder
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons nutritional yeast (optional)
2-3 tablespoons pickle juice (wet as needed)
For the red slaw (makes 5 cups):
5 cups shredded red cabbage
2-3 tablespoons soy mayo (aka Vegenaise)
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoon tahini
Dash of pepper
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 tablespoon olive oil
Slice lemon, for garnish
Frosted King Cake
Prep: 40 minutes, plus rising
Bake time: 20 minutes, plus cooling
Makes: 24 servings
1 package (1/4 ounce) active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water (110-115 degrees)
1/2 cup warm milk (110-115 degrees)
1/3 cup shortening
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
4 to 4-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cans (12-1/2 ounces each) almond cake and pastry filling
For the glaze:
3 cups confectioners' sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 to 4 tablespoons water
Purple, green and gold colored sugar
(Source: tasteofhome.com/recipes, Lisa Mouton, Orlando, Fla.)
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.