Bring a little Mardi Gras madness home

February 15, 2012 11:06:00 AM

Jan Swoope - [email protected]


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. 








1 cup very warm water 


2 tablespoon yeast 


2 (5 ounce) cans evaporated milk 


1/2 cup sugar 


2 eggs 


1 1/2 teaspoon salt 


1 teaspoon vanilla 


2-4 cups flour 


3 cup, plus 3 tablespoons vegetable oil 




  • In a large bowl, combine the warm water and yeast. Stir in sugar. Add milk, sugar, eggs, salt, and vanilla. Add 2 cups of flour to the bowl and stir until a thick batter is formed. Continue to add flour until a soft dough forms. Knead dough, adding just enough flour to keep it from being sticky.  


  • Pour 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil over the top of the dough, cover and let rise for 15-20 minutes to an hour (If you plan to make them in the morning, just plop the dough into a gallon-sized ziploc bag and stick it in the fridge until you're ready to fry the dough in the morning).  


  • Once you are ready to fry the dough, heat 3 cups of vegetable oil in a large pot over medium heat. Roll risen dough very thin, cut into small rectangles, then carefully drop dough into hot oil.  


  • Fry on one side just until puffy and barely brown, then turn and fry on the other side. Remove from heat, place on a large platter lined with paper towels. Once all dough has been fried, sprinkle the mound of cooked beignets with powdered sugar. 


    (Source: Brooks McClay, blogs.babble/family-fun) 








    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 




  • Place the first five ingredients on a double thickness of cheesecloth; bring up corners of cloth and tie with kitchen string to form a bag. Set aside. 


  • In a stockpot, sauté the chicken, pork, onion, green pepper and celery in butter and oil until meat is browned. Add garlic; cook 1 minute longer. Stir in the sausage, ham, tomatoes, 1 cup water, tomato puree, parsley, salt, pepper, thyme, cayenne, chili powder, apple pie spice, bay leaves and spice bag. 


  • Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 1 hour, stirring occasionally. During the last 3 minutes, add shrimp and remaining water if necessary. Discard bay leaves and spice bag. Serve with rice.  


    (Source:, 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 




  • In a large skillet or flambé pan, melt butter over medium-low heat. Stir in brown sugar and cinnamon until combined. Cut each banana lengthwise and then widthwise into quarters; add to butter mixture. Cook, stirring gently, for three-five minutes or until glazed and slightly softened. Stir in creme de cacao; heat through. 


  • In a small saucepan, heat rum over low heat until vapors form on surface. Carefully ignite rum and slowly pour over bananas, coating evenly. 


  • Leaving skillet or pan on the cooking surface, gently shake pan back and forth until flames are completely extinguished. 


  • Spoon ice cream into fluted glasses; top with bananas and sauce. Serve immediately.  


    (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 


    Dash salt 


    Dash pepper 


    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 




  • For the slaw, chop cabbage and toss well with the dressing ingredients. Let sit a few minutes or chill in fridge before serving. 


  • For the pickles, simply slice them thin. Combine all your breading ingredients in a shallow bowl. Simply toss your sliced (still wet) pickles right into the breading mixture and toss until the breading balls up and coats the pickles. Add a splash of pickle juice as needed to wet the batter. 


  • Heat olive oil on a skillet. Add the pickles and even some of the leftover breading mixture bits. Sauté until browned. 


  • Plate with slaw and pickles. Garnish with yellow lemon slices. 




    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 


    1 egg 


    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 




  • In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Add the milk, shortening, sugar, salt, egg and 2 cups flour. Beat on medium speed for three minutes, until smooth. Stir in enough remaining flour to form a soft dough (dough will be sticky). 


  • Turn onto a floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic, about six-eight minutes. Place in a greased bowl, turning once to grease top. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about one hour. 


  • Punch dough down. Turn onto a lightly floured surface; divide in half. Roll one portion into a 16-by-10-inch rectangle. Spread almond filling to within 1/2 in. of edges. Roll up jelly-roll style, starting with a long side; pinch seam to seal. Place seam side down on a greased baking sheet; pinch ends together to form a ring. Repeat with remaining dough and filling. Cover and let rise until doubled, about one hour. 


  • Bake at 375 degrees for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack. For glaze, combine the confectioners' sugar, vanilla and enough water to achieve desired consistency. Spread over cooled cakes. Sprinkle with colored sugars. Yields two cakes. 


    (Source:, Lisa Mouton, Orlando, Fla.)

    Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.