Come to the Mardi Gras
It’s Mardi Gras season– that time of year between Epiphany and Lent. I haven’t been “home” for Mardi Gras in, well, decades, but this year I hosted a Mardi Gras party, and cooked up a storm. Rather than pulling out a copy of Paul or Enola Prudhomme’s cookbooks, I got most of my recipes online, which makes it convenient for me to post the round-up for any of you who might be interested in a Cajun soiree of your own.
Red Beans and Rice
I used this recipe for the main dish of the evening: Authentic Louisiana Red Beans and Rice. It’s a 4.5 star AllRecipes.com recipe, with more than 30,000 “saves”, so I figured it was a good bet. OK: full admission time. I intended to use this recipe. I shopped with this recipe on my grocery list. Then, as I was heating up the oil to start sauteing the vegetables, I thought, “would an authentic Cajun cook use this recipe? No. She would not.” And I put down the recipe, pulled out my brand new can of Slap Yo Mama seasoning, and just went for it. Pro tip: Slap Yo Mama seasoning is just like Tony Chechere, but without the chili powder. I added chili powder separately. I skipped all the other seasonings listed in the recipe. It turned out just like I remembered it should. I’m sure it would have also been delicious if I’d followed the recipe slavishly. Timing note: I was hosting two separate parties on the same day, so I sauteed the vegetables and sausage a couple of days ahead of time. I soaked the red beans overnight, and then put them into the crock pot and turned them on high early in the morning. I was shooting for the traditional “wash day” smushy red bean texture, and this worked just about perfectly for an early dinner.
You can’t have red beans and rice without corn bread, can you? No, you cannot. (I’m pretty sure it’s not allowed.) I used my new favorite buttermilk cornbread recipe, from food.com. I discovered this recipe about six months ago, and became instantly addicted. I cook it in my Lodge dutch oven without the lid, and substituting butter for the vegetable oil that’s called for in the recipe. There is just nothing better than crackling hot buttery corn bread straight from a cast iron pan. Nothing. I doubled the recipe for this event, and it was fine without modifying the cook time or temperature; it was more forgiving than I expected.
I hadn’t made a king cake in a decade, and I was a little nervous about doing it for the first time for a party. So I followed this allrecipes.com Mardi Gras King Cake recipe, baking it a day ahead, just in case I needed to make an emergency bakery run. It was a pretty easy (and forgiving) recipe to follow. My kids had a huge amount of fun rolling these cakes out and adding the filling. The recipe makes two small cakes, and I followed a tip in the review to double the filling. For one of the cakes, I added about a quarter cup of really good apple butter spread (made by a friend) onto the cake before adding the filling, and a large diced Granny Smith apple. Both cakes were good, but the apple cake? Was stellar. Really amazing. Pro tip: I’m planning on using this recipe to make an apple raisin swirl bread after Mardi Gras season is over. I was planning on using some of this cake for a “bread pudding”… if we’d had any left over, but my family has gobbled up the whole cake that was left over after the party.
You know how sometimes when you’re planning for a party, you panic, and decide you don’t have enough food? And then add another random dish? Yeah. It’s like that. If the king cake was a failure, I wanted a back-up. So I mixed up a batch of beignet dough ahead of time, and stuck it in the fridge. Pro tips: this really, really rises in the fridge. Way above the top of my biggest mixing bowl, lifting the plate I’d used to cover it two inches above the rim. When you’re ready to cook the dough, roll it out, slice it, and leave it on cookie sheets to rise a second time for about 30 minutes or so. I used my next-to-smallest pot to fry these up, so it took about a quart of vegetable oil. It was big enough for 4 beignets at once. The recipe doesn’t tell you how long to fry the dough, so I will: first, make sure your oil is at 360 degrees. Stick a thermometer in it, and adjust your stove as needed to keep it there. My first batch ended up with oil too hot, which made them a bit raw in the middle. If your oil is at 360 degrees, let the beignets get nice and brown, just the far side of golden. You might want to sacrifice one or two of your first batch, cut them open, and make sure they’re done properly inside. Also? This recipe makes enough for a small army. Or maybe a medium-large army. Dozens and dozens of beignets. Don’t sprinkle powdered sugar on them, put them in a bag or tupperware with powdered sugar and give them a good shake.
Honestly? Hurricanes were never my favorite drink. And when I bought a bottle of hurricane mix, “the same as used at Pat O’Brians”? I realized why: the closest thing to “food” in the bottle was the ascorbic acid. But this was a Mardi Gras party, and I was, by golly, going to have hurricanes. So I looked up a couple of different recipes, and combined one that featured passion fruit, orange juice, lime, and grenadine with one that featured pineapple. I mixed up a batch of passionfruit, orange, and pineapple juice and a splash of homemade grenadine (a quick and dirty mix of hibiscus tea and pomegranate syrup). I cut up lime slices, and set out the bottles of rum and vodka. To be honest, I think more preschoolers hit up the pitcher of juice than grown-ups, but hey: either way, it was a hit. By special request, I filled out the bar menu with homemade ginger ale and Kentucky bourbon.
We also served a really lovely grilled steak salad. Marinate the steak in chili powder, honey, cayenne, salt, and grill it, then slice and serve over mixed greens with red bell pepper, gorgonzola, and a fig balsamic vinaigrette. And, of course, rice for the red beans (which I almost forgot), and buttered French bread (which I did forget– I’d sliced, buttered, and frozen it). But what’s a dinner party without at least one item forgotten? No dinner party of mine, that’s for sure.