Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Mardi Gras 2007

A couple of years ago, we tried to start an annual party tradition - throwing a Mardi Gras party the Saturday before Fat Tuesday. It's the perfect pick-me-up for the dull, grey, cold days of February when the holiday season is over and cabin fever is likely to rear its ugly head. How can you feel blah with all the bright, garish, tacky, raucousness that is Mardi Gras???

Due to extenuating circumstances, we have not been able to have our party the past 2 years or so, but we did throw a mini-Mardi Gras here this weekend. My SIL, BIL, 4 girls and dog came for a visit, so we decided to throw up a few decorations, stick a few appropriate CDs in the CD player and focus on Cajun food. I had planned to do more - like a King Cake - but ended up working quite a bit last week and ran out of time.

The cousins get into the Mardi Gras spirit with masks and beads.

Every year, Paul Prudhomme's Cajun Seafood Gumbo with Andouille Sausage is a must for us. It's fantastic - you almost feel like you're eating right at K-Paul's in New Orleans. After having problems with my roux last year - I overcooked it which prevented it from thickening the gumbo - I took my time getting the roux to a nice, deep brown color instead of cooking it at a high temperature as Mr. Prudhomme's recipe suggests. I have had success with the faster method, but the roux can go from perfect to burnt in the blink of an eye and I have since read many recipes that advocate for a slower cooking of the roux, sometimes taking as much as a half hour.

To make the gumbo more economical, I used chicken stock in place of seafood stock and only used about 10 ounces of shrimp, only about 9 ounces of sausage, adding chicken thighs and breasts for the rest. I still love the seafood version best, but this version was more than acceptable - quite delicious, in fact. Wish I would have taken the time to get a newer, better picture, but it was a little crazy trying to get dinner ready, 6 kids situated, etc.


Another of our favorite New Orleans specialties is a Sicilian sandwich called muffuletta. If you ever search for this, you may want to be aware that there are a variety of spellings out there - muffaletta, muffuletta, muffeletta.

However you spell it, what generally makes a muffuletta a muffuletta is the olive salad. The salad we used, from Emeril, does not call for gardiniera - a pickled combination of cauliflower, celery, carrots and pepperoncini - but it is quite good nonetheless. Next time, I'd like to try a version like this one which includes the gardiniera, allowing it to marinate for several days.

Beyond the olive salad, the typical ingredients are ham, capicola, mortadella, salami and provolone and/or mozzarella. We skipped the mortadella. I was so happy to find it one day, only to discover that it's basically a bologna/loaf-style lunch meat that didn't look very appetizing, so we just skipped it. We could not find the kind of bread we wanted - a flat, sort of a foccacia-type bread - in New Orleans they typically use a round loaf. We could only get a loaf of crusty Italian - it was good, but was a bit too fat and hard to eat. I didn't think until later to hollow out some of the soft insides to make it easier to eat!

In any case, it was fun to chase away the winter blues with some Cajun/Creole/New Orleans-style food and enjoy the wonderful jazz/dixieland/Cajun music that reminds us of New Orleans..........


  1. I love the masks! The Muffuletta sandwich looks scrumptious. Although I am not much of a Gumbo girl - it looks yummy as well. This year, I made my first King Cake ...Hope I did New Orleans proud!

  2. Ick...I hate mortadella too...all those specks of fat and it's not even that good for an italian coldcut! Now proscuitto and capicollo...YUM! I just wanted to comment that you can buy really good giardiniera at any local Italian bakery for cheap...that should save some time!

  3. Chris - I have tried a King Cake in the past, but it didn't come out very well. Maybe next year! The masks were a hit with the nieces. :)

    Erin - Yes, the specks of fat grossed me out. I eat sausage - which has plenty of fat - but the big chunks were a huge turn off! I think Wegmans probably carries giardiniera......

  4. what a fun activity you guys have! i wish my parents live next door right now, my dad loves cajun/creole cooking and i'll have a company to eat those kind of foods. your gumbo looks yummy but best of all the kids looked happy!

  5. Eliza - Kids definitely love a party - especially if you throw in a few beads and some masks. :)