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Tag Archives: Mardi Gras

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Millions of people flock each year to New Orleans to celebrate one of the biggest events in the city: Mardi Gras. This holiday revolves around parades, costumes and lots of traditional food. The problem, however, is that many of us don’t have the time to fly down to the Big Easy for this special event. While you may not be in New Orleans for Fat Tuesday fun, you can bring the fun to your living room or backyard.

Make your Mardi Gras party a masquerade and ask people to wear masks and costumes. You can pick a theme like a 17th century ball (the attire of choice for many of the Mardi Gras balls in New Orleans), a favorite celebrity or even characters from comic books or movies. Or, you can simply ask that your guests come in their favorite costume without giving the dress a specific theme.

Traditional food during Mardi Gras includes slow-cooked dishes like gumbo, red beans and rice, chili or jambalaya. Finger food is always welcome, as well as any food that is purple, green or gold. A King Cake is traditional.

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Bright and colorful decorations are key to any Mardi Gras party. Purple, green, and gold are the official colors of the holiday, so be sure to incorporate them into your decor You can hang purple, green and gold streamers and beads along fences or the stairs. A fun idea is to get enough beads for everyone coming to the party that you can hand to them to wear as they walk in the door.

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The other most frequently tossed items from floats are doubloons, aluminum coin-like objects bearing the insignia of the float krewes. Decorate your table with an assortment of colorful doubloons and encourage your guests to take some home as souvenirs. Scatter confetti on the tabletop and light some votive candles.

I have lived for some years near New Orleans, but I have not developed a taste for their traditional seasoned dishes. So here is my suggested dinner party menu for 8 for some great food that is somewhat close to the New Orleans style.

Don’t forget to play New Orleans jazz or Zydeco music and, then, there are the drinks.

Laissez les bon temps rouler!

The Hurricane became popular at Pat O’Brien’s bar in 1940’s New Orleans, after it debuted at the 1939 World’s Fair. It was named after the hurricane lamp-shaped glasses the first drinks were served in. It’s said that O’Brien created this rum drink as a means to get rid of the large stock of rum his Southern distributors forced him to buy.

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Hurricane Cocktail

1 cocktail

  • 2 ounces light rum
  • 2 ounces dark rum
  • 2 ounces passion fruit juice
  • 1 ounce orange juice
  • Juice of a half a lime
  • 1 tablespoon simple syrup
  • 1 tablespoon grenadine
  • Orange slice and cherry for garnish

Directions

Squeeze juice from half a lime into cocktail shaker over ice.

Pour the remaining ingredients into the cocktail shaker.

Shake well.

Strain into a hurricane shaped glass.

Garnish with a cherry and an orange slice.

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Citrus-Marinated Shrimp with Louis Sauce

Makes 10 to 12 appetizer servings

Ingredients

Shrimp

  • 2 lemons, halved
  • 2 limes, halved
  • 1 orange, halved
  • 1 tablespoon crushed red pepper
  • 4 pounds unpeeled, large fresh shrimp
  • 2 cups fresh orange juice
  • 2 cups grapefruit juice
  • 2 cups pineapple juice
  • 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup fresh lime juice
  • 1 lemon, sliced
  • 1 orange, sliced
  • 1 lime, sliced
  • 1 grapefruit, sliced
  • 1 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
  • Garnish: citrus fruit slices

Louis Sauce

  • 1 (12-ounce) jar chili sauce
  • 2 cups mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons grated onion
  • 2 tablespoons grated lemon rind
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon prepared horseradish
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons Greek seasoning
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon hot sauce

Directions

Make the Louis Sauce:

Stir together all the ingredients. Cover and chill until ready to serve.

Make the Shrimp

Combine the lemon, lime and orange halves, crushed red pepper and salted water to cover in a Dutch oven. Bring to a boil; add shrimp and cook about 2 minutes or just until the shrimp turn pink. Plunge shrimp into ice water to stop the cooking process; drain.

Peel shrimp, leaving the tails on. Devein.

Combine orange juice with the remaining ingredients, except the garnishes in a large shallow dish or heavy-duty zip-top plastic bag. Add shrimp, cover or seal and chill 25 minutes.

Drain off liquid. Serve shrimp with Louis Sauce and garnishes.

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Fried Green Tomatoes

Serves 8-12

Ingredients

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 2 cups cornflake crumbs
  • 8 medium green tomatoes, cut into 1/2-inch slices
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • Louis Sauce, recipe above

Directions

In a shallow bowl, combine the flour, sugar, salt and cayenne. In another shallow bowl, beat the eggs and milk. Place cornflake crumbs in a third bowl. Pat green tomato slices dry with paper towels. Coat with flour mixture, dip into egg mixture and then coat with crumbs.

In a large nonstick skillet, heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium heat. Fry tomato slices, four at a time, for 3-4 minutes on each side or until golden brown, adding more oil as needed. Drain on paper towels.

Place fried tomatoes on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake at 375° for 4-5 minutes or until tender. Serve along side shrimp and Louis sauce.

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Blackened Steaks with Horseradish Cream and Butter-Basted Potatoes

Serve with the Arugula Salad on the side. Recipe below.

8 Servings

STEAKS

  • Olive oil cooking spray
  • 3 lbs boneless grilling steaks (such as ribeye, top sirloin, or strip)
  • 4 tablespoons blackening seasoning
  • 8 oz whipped cream cheese spread
  • 1/2 cup half-and-half
  • 4 tablespoons prepared horseradish

POTATOES

  • 8 medium white baking potatoes
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 medium onions, thinly sliced
  • 2 teaspoons herb-seasoned salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 8 slices bacon, cut into 2 inch pieces

Directions

For the potatoes

Preheat the oven to 475ºF.

Cut potatoes into quarters; place in microwave-safe bowl. Top with butter and cover; microwave on HIGH 5 minutes.

Stir potatoes to evenly coat with butter; microwave 5 more minutes or until potatoes are hot and just beginning to soften.

Transfer potatoes to 2-quart baking dish and arrange in single layer. Sprinkle with seasoned salt and pepper.

Arrange onions evenly over potatoes; top, evenly, with bacon pieces. Bake 15 minutes or until potatoes are tender and bacon is browned and semi-crisp.

For the steaks

Coat grill rack with cooking spray; preheat an outdoor grill.

Season both sides of steaks with blackening seasoning. Place steaks on grill; close lid (or cover loosely with foil). Grill 4-6 minutes on each side or until 145°F (for medium-rare).

Whisk remaining ingredients until blended and smooth. Serve horseradish cream with steaks.

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Arugula, Orange and Fennel Salad

Serves 8

Ingredients

  • 4 navel oranges
  • 1/2 cup white wine vinegar
  • 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 2 (5-ounce) bag arugula, washed, stemmed, and spun dry
  • 2 medium fennel bulb, quartered and sliced very thin 
  • 2 small sweet onion, sliced very thin
  • Black or green olives, slivered

Directions

Slice off top and bottom of each orange with a serrated fruit knife or sharp paring knife, removing some flesh with the peel and reserve. With the flat end of an orange on a cutting board, cut off peel with a sawing motion from top to bottom, working all the way around the orange. Working over a bowl to collect juice, cut between membranes to separate orange segments and set aside. Repeat with the three other oranges.

Squeeze juice from orange tops, bottoms and membranes into bowl (you should have about 1 cup) and strain into a sauté pan. Add vinegar and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer until reduced to about 1/2 cup, about 7 minutes. Pour hot liquid into a bowl and whisk in olive oil in a slow, steady stream. Stir in salt and pepper.

Toss arugula with fennel, onion and 1/2 cup of the dressing. Divide among 8 plates and add reserved orange segments to each plate. Drizzle with a little of the remaining dressing and top with olives. Serve immediately.

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Country Corn Bread

Ingredients

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup (8 ounces) plain yogurt
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil

Directions

In a large bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking soda and salt. Whisk together the egg, yogurt and oil. Stir into the dry ingredients just until combined.

Transfer to an 8-in. square baking dish coated with cooking spray. Bake at 375°F for 20-25 minutes or until the top is lightly browned and a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cut into small squares and serve warm

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King Cupcakes

Makes 1 dozen

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup warm whole milk (110°)
  • 2 (1/4-ounce) packages dry yeast
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar plus 4 teaspoons
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 3 teaspoons fresh lemon juice, divided
  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup cake flour
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon, divided
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons hot water
  • Purple, green, and yellow sugar sprinkles

Directions

Combine milk, yeast and 1/4 cup sugar in a bowl. Stir well and set in a warm place for about 10 minutes. In another bowl, combine butter and next 3 ingredients; stir in 2 teaspoons lemon juice.

Combine flours, 2 teaspoons cinnamon and kosher salt in an electric mixing bowl. Add milk/yeast mixture and butter mixture, and beat, adding 1 to 2 tablespoons flour if dough is too sticky, until dough is smooth and forms a shaggy mass. (It should remain soft.)

Place dough in a well-greased bowl, turning to the grease top. Cover with a kitchen towel and let rise in a warm place (85°), free from drafts, about 1 hour.

Punch dough down, and place on a lightly floured surface. Roll dough into a 12 x 8 inch rectangle. Combine remaining 1 teaspoon cinnamon and 4 teaspoons sugar and sprinkle evenly over dough. Roll dough into a log and cut into 12 equal pieces. Places pieces into paper baking cups in a muffin pan; let rest 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Brush cupcake tops with beaten egg and bake 20 minutes. Remove from pan and let cool on a wire rack.

Combine powdered sugar, water and remaining 1 teaspoon lemon juice in a small bowl. Drizzle over cooled cupcakes and top with sprinkles.

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Carnevale, also known as Mardi Gras, is celebrated in Italy and many places around the world 40 days before Easter, a final party before Ash Wednesday and the restrictions of Lent.

The Carnival of Venice was for a long time the most famous celebration. From Italy, carnival traditions spread to the Catholic nations of Spain, Portugal and France. From France, they spread to the Rhineland of Germany and to New France in North America. From Spain and Portugal, they spread with Catholic colonization to the Caribbean and Latin America.

The most widely known, most elaborate and most popular events are in New Orleans, Louisiana. Carnival celebrations, usually referred to as Mardi Gras, were first celebrated in the Gulf Coast area of the United States, but now occur in many other states. Customs originated in the onetime French colonial capitals of Mobile (now in Alabama), New Orleans (Louisiana) and Biloxi (Mississippi), all of which have been celebrated for many years with street parades and masked balls. Other major U.S. cities with celebrations include Miami, Florida; Tampa, Florida; St. Louis, Missouri; Pensacola, Florida; San Diego, California; Galveston, Texas and Orlando, Florida.

For information on how Mardi Gras is celebrated in New Orleans read my post: Mardi Gras Time !

https://jovinacooksitalian.com/2013/02/04/mardi-gras-time/

Carnevale in Italy is a huge winter festival celebrated with parades, masquerade balls, entertainment, music and parties. Children throw confetti at each other. Mischief and pranks are also common during Carnevale, hence the saying, “A Carnevale Ogni Scherzo Vale”, or anything goes at carnival.

Carnevale has roots in pagan festivals and traditions and, as is often the case with traditional festivals, was adapted to fit into Catholic rituals. Although Mardi Gras, sometimes called “Fat Tuesday” or “Shove Tuesday”,  is actually one date – the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday – but in Venice and New Orleans and in some other places, the carnival celebrations and parties may begin a couple of weeks before.

Carnevale Di Venezia was first recorded in 1268 with mention of masks, parties and rich food. In the height of the masquerade, mascherari (maskmakers) enjoyed a special position in society, with their own laws and guild. Masks made the Venetian carnival unique, as it took away social status and inhibition. In this way, the social order was temporarily non-existent. However, when Venice fell under Austrian rule after Napoleon’s Treaty of Campo Formio in 1798, the city and all its culture went into decline. This pre-Lent celebration didn’t enjoy a revival until almost 200 years later when, in the 1970’s, a group of Venetians decided to revive the tradition.

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Masks or maschere are an important part of the carnevale festival and Venice is the best city for traditional carnival masks. Carnival masks are sold year round and can be found in many Venetian shops, ranging from cheap to elaborate and expensive. Walking through the streets of Venice, one can view a variety of masks on display in shop windows. People also wear elaborate costumes for the festival and there are numerous costume or masquerade balls, both private and public.

What foods are popular in Italy during Carnevale?

Almost every Italian town and region has some specialty in recognition of Carnevale, though in Venice, the specialty is frittelle. These fritters are fried golden brown and filled or topped with a variety of treats, bursting with sweet or savory flavors, like chocolate, jelly, fruit or meat. The enticing smells drift through the city and can be found in the cichéti stalls along the streets, where it is easy to pick up these “small bites”.  In the other regions, similar fare can be found under different names, like the Lombard chiacchere, Tuscan cenci and Roman frappe. But under any name, they are all the highlight of the season for Italians and visitors alike. Other Venetian carnevale foods include “Pasticcio di Maccheroni” (a baked pasta, ricotta, meat pie), “Pizza Sfogliata con Salsiccia e Pancetta” (filled, rolled baked dough), “Migliaccio di Polenta” (polenta and sausage) and steaming plates of lasagnas and pastas, filled with pancetta, prosciutto, salami and sopressata.

Naples has the sumptuous Lasagne di Carnevale. In the past poorer families could only afford to make this dish once a year, therefore, it became very special and every family had their own secret recipe. There was a great deal of competiton in the local towns over whose lasagna was best. Throughout much of Italy, however, Carnevale is an occasion for eating pastries, fritters of one kind or another that are quick to make and fun to eat. During the weeks of Carnevale, it is a tradition to eat a lot of sweets because they will not be able to eat them during Lent.

Traditional Carnevale Recipes

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Grande Lasagna di Carnevale

Some versions of this recipe add sliced hard-boiled eggs to the layers along with the meat.

Ingredients

  • 1 pound dried Lasagna noodles
  • 1/4 pound Italian sausage, casing removed
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 cup beef broth
  • 12 oz. drained canned plum tomatoes
  • 1/2 pound ground beef
  • 4 oz ricotta cheese
  • 1 tablespoon minced parsley
  • 2/3 cup breadcrumbs
  • 1 egg
  • Flour
  • Olive oil
  • 1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 1/3 pound mozzarella
  • 1/4 pound prosciutto

Directions

Cook the lasagna noodles in abundant, slightly salted water until they’re al dente, run them under cold water and lay the sheets out on a kitchen cloth, covering them with a second cloth.

For the sauce:

Sauté the onion in the oil until soft. Add the Italian sausage and after it has browned add the tomatoes. Simmer over moderate heat for about an hour, adding the beef broth a little at a time. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

For the meatballs:

Combine the ground beef with the bread crumbs, egg, parsley, ricotta and half the grated Parmigiano cheese. Make 1-inch diameter meatballs from the mixture and dredge them in the flour. Heat a little oil in a skillet and brown the meatballs on all sides, about 10 minutes, then remove them with a slotted spoon, place them on paper towels and keep them warm.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (180 C).

Dice the prosciutto and mozzarella. Oil a baking pan about the length of the pasta noodles. Place a layer of pasta in the bottom of the pan, then a few meatballs, some of the sauce, some of the diced ingredients and a sprinkling of Parmigiano. Continue until all the ingredients are used; then bake the lasagna for 15-20 minutes until bubbling. Let the lasagna rest for ten minutes before serving.

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Pizza Sfogliata con Salsiccia

Rolled up pizza with sausages and pancetta is a specialty for Carnevale.

Ingredients:

  • 4 1/5 cups (500 g) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 4 eggs
  • 10 ounces (250 g) mild Italian sausage
  • 6 ounces (150 g) thinly sliced pancetta
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • A pinch of powdered cinnamon
  • Black pepper 

Directions

Make a mound of the flour on your work surface, form a well in the middle of it, crack the eggs into the well, add a pinch of salt and mix together with your hands; knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic, then cover it and let it rest for 20 minutes.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large skillet. Remove the sausages from their casings and crumble them into the skillet, together with the pancetta. Brown the meat for 4-5 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 F (180 C).

Roll the dough out about 1/8 of an inch thick (3 mm). Spread the remaining oil over the dough, then distribute the sausage and pancetta evenly over the dough as well.

Sprinkle the meat with black pepper to taste, dust very lightly with cinnamon and roll the dough up to make a snake.

Coil the snake, pressing gently in the center section of the snake to give the pizza a uniform width, put the snake on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and bake it for 30-40 minutes, or until the pizza is evenly browned.

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Frittelle di Riso

There are many types of Carnival (Mardi Gras) pastries in Italy. Traditional rice fritters, frittelle di riso, are also popular on March 19th, to celebrate San Giuseppe.

Ingredients

  • 1 3/4 cup (350 g) rice — not parboiled
  • 1 quart (1 liter) milk
  • The zest of one lemon
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 jigger of rum or vinsanto
  • 3/4 cup plus 1½ tablespoons (100 g) all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • Oil for frying
  • Confectioner’s sugar

Directions

Simmer the rice in the milk until it’s quite soft and begins to give off its starch, then stir in the sugar, lemon zest and butter. Let the mixture cool.

Separate the eggs and whip the whites to soft peaks. Combine the yolks and the rum or wine and stir into the rice mixture, then fold in the egg whites, flour and baking powder.

Heat about 3 inches of oil to 375° F in a 4 to 5-quart heavy pot over medium-high heat. Drop the batter, a teaspoon at a time, into hot oil and fry the frittelle until they are golden brown.

Drain them on absorbent paper and, when they have cooled, dust them with confectioner’s sugar.

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Castagnole

In Umbria these little fried pastries are called castagnole and, in some places, zeppole. In Milan they are tortelli. They are called castagnole because their shape resembles a chestnut. They are best eaten while still warm.

Ingredients

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon anise extract
  • 1-1/2 cups cake or italian flour
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • Zest of ½ lemon
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 small eggs
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 pkg yeast (lievito, in Italy)
  • Oil for frying
  • Powdered sugar to dust them

Directions

Mix flour, eggs, sugar, butter (cut into small cubes), vanilla, anise, salt, lemon zest and yeast. Combine the ingredients and transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface. Knead until

soft and very smooth. Rest the dough for 20 minutes. Then form long and thick noodles of dough an inch thick, rolling the dough with your fingers.

Cut into pieces the size of a chestnut. Roll into balls.

Heat 2-3 inches of oil in a deep-frying pan and drop about six balls in at a time, frying over low heat and turning them as they brown. Use a spider or large slotted spoon to turn them until they are puffed up, golden and begin to float. Scoop them out and place them on layers of paper towels. Repeat with remaining balls and then sift powdered sugar over them.

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Carnival Chiacchiere

Depending on where you are in Italy, you might find these chiacchiere under the name of crostoli (or grostoli), sfrappole, galani, frappe or cenci with different regions substituting the white wine with marsala, acquavite or anisette.

Ingredients

  • 4 1/2 cups (500 g) all-purpose flour
  • 2 heaping tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 1 glass white wine
  • Vegetable oil for frying
  • ¼ cup (50 g) powdered sugar

Directions

Place flour in a mixing bowl and stir in the sugar. Slowly work in the butter and the eggs followed by the white wine. Knead until the dough becomes soft and pliable. If it feels too sticky to the touch add a little more flour. Dust a work surface with a little flour. Roll dough out thin and cut it into triangles about 4 inches (10cm) long.

Heat about 3 inches of oil to 375°F in a 4 to 5-quart heavy pot over medium-high heat and when hot, fry the chiacchiere in small batches. When they are golden brown all over, remove them from the oil and drain well on paper towels. Before serving, dredge with powdered sugar.

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Mardi Gras is French for “Fat Tuesday”.  The name comes from the ancient custom of parading a fat ox through Paris on this day.  The ox was to remind the people that they were not allowed to eat meat during Lent. Lent runs from Ash Wednesday until Easter Sunday. Mardi Gras moves.  It can be anywhere between February 3rd. and March 9th.  The date depends on when Easter falls. Traditionally, it is the last day for Catholics to indulge—and often overindulge—before Ash Wednesday starts the sober weeks of fasting that come with Lent. 

Mardi Gras began long before Europeans set foot in the New World. In mid February the ancient Romans celebrated the Lupercalia, a circus like festival not entirely unlike the Mardi Gras we are familiar with today. When Rome embraced Christianity, the early Church leaders decided it was better to incorporate certain aspects of pagan rituals into the new faith rather than attempt to abolish them altogether. Carnival became a period of abandon and merriment that preceded the penance of Lent, thus giving a Christian interpretation to the ancient custom.

Mardi Gras came to America in 1699 with the French explorer, Iberville. Mardi Gras had been celebrated in Paris since the Middle Ages, where it was a major holiday. Iberville sailed into the Gulf of Mexico, from where he launched an expedition up the Mississippi River. On March 3, 1699, Iberville set up a camp on the west bank of the river about 60 miles south of where New Orleans is today. This was the day Mardi Gras was being celebrated in France, so in honor of this important day, Iberville named the site, Point du Mardi Gras.

During the late 1700’s, pre-Lenten masked balls and festivals were common in New Orleans, while it was under French rule. However, when New Orleans came under Spanish rule, the custom was banned. In 1803 New Orleans came under the U.S. flag. The prohibition against masked festivals continued until 1823, when the Creole populace convinced the governor to permit masked balls. In 1827 street masking was again legalized. During the early 1800’s public celebrations of Mardi Gras centered around maskers on foot, in carriages and on horseback. The first documented parade occurred in 1837. Unfortunately, Mardi Gras gained a negative reputation because of violent behavior attributed to maskers during the 1840’s and 1850’s. The situation became so bad that the press began calling for an end to the celebration.

In 1857 six New Orleanians saved Mardi Gras by forming the Comus organization. These six men were former members of an organization which had put on New Year’s Eve parades in Mobile, Alabama since 1831. The Comus organization added beauty to Mardi Gras and demonstrated that it could be a safe and festive event. Comus was the first organization to use the term krewe to describe itself. Comus also started the customs of having a secret Carnival society, having a parade with a unifying theme, floats and of having a ball after the parade. Comus was also the first organization to name itself after a mythological character. The celebration of Mardi Gras was interrupted by the Civil War, but in 1866 Comus returned. In 1870 the Twelfth Night Revelers made their appearance. In 1871 they began the custom of presenting a young woman with a golden bean hidden in a cake. This young woman was the first queen of Mardi Gras. This was also the origin of the King Cake tradition.

In 1872 the krewe of Rex made their debut and began the tradition of the “King of Carnival.” Rex also introduced purple, gold and green as the official colors of Mardi Gras. Rex was the first krewe to hold an organized daytime parade and introduced “If Ever I Cease To Love” as the Mardi Gras anthem. One of the high points of Rex is the arrival of the Rex King on a riverboat.

Ten years later in 1882, the Krewe of Proteus made its debut with a parade themed after Egyptian mythology. In 1890 the first marching club, The Jefferson City Buzzards, was organized. In 1894, the Original Illinois Club was formed as the first black Mardi Gras organization. In 1896 Les Mysterieuses appeared as the first female organization.

With the rise of mass produced automobiles, truck riders became part of the Mardi Gras scene. In 1835 they organized themselves into the Elkes Krewe. The Krewe of Hermes appeared in 1937 and the Knights of Babylon in 1939. Mardi Gras prospered during the 1940’s, although it was canceled during the war years. In 1949 Louis Armstrong was King of the Zulu parade and was pictured on the cover of Time Magazine. 

In 1950 the Duke and Duchess of Windsor visited New Orleans during Mardi Gras. They honored the New Orleans Mardi Gras tradition by bowing to the kings of Rex and Comus at the Comus ball. The Korean War put a damper on festivities in 1951, but several krewes joined forces to parade as the Krewe of Patria on Mardi Gras day. The Fifties also saw the replacement of mule drawn floats with ones drawn by tractors and the formation of several new krewes including Zeus.

In the 1960’s Zulu came under pressure from portions of the black community, who thought the krewe presented an undignified image. The king resigned and the parade was almost cancelled but Zulu survived and was a main attraction by 1969. The Sixties ended with the debut of Bacchus. Bacchus aimed to bring national attention to Mardi Gras with gigantic floats and a Hollywood celebrity (Danny Kaye) riding as its king. Bacchus replaced the traditional ball with a supper to which tickets could be purchased by visitors and locals. The 1970’s saw the debut of 18 new krewes and the demise of 18 others. More than a dozen krewes followed the lead of Bacchus by placing celebrities in their parades. In the 1980’s Mardi Gras gained 27 new parades. It is now to the point where a parade or two takes place everyday from the start of Mardi Gras until “Fat Tuesday”. This year, 2013, Mardi Gras and Superbowl Sunday are taking place simultaneously in New Orleans.  One big party!

Louisiana is the only state in which Mardi Gras is a legal holiday. However, elaborate carnival festivities draw crowds in other parts of the United States during the Mardi Gras season as well, including Alabama, Mississippi and the Florida Panhandle. Each region has its own events and traditions, but in each region, schools are closed and parades and balls are held as a way of celebrating this occasion.

Across the globe, pre-Lenten festivals continue to take place in many countries with significant Roman Catholic populations. Brazil’s week long Carnival festivities feature a vibrant mixture of European, African and native traditions. In Canada, Quebec City hosts the Quebec Winter Carnival. In Italy, tourists flock to Venice’s Carnevale, which dates back to the 13th. century and is famous for its masquerade balls. Known as Karneval, Fastnacht or Fasching, the German celebration includes parades, costume balls and a tradition that empowers women to cut off men’s ties. For Denmark’s Fastevlan, children dress up and gather candy in a similar manner to Halloween–although the parallel ends when they ritually flog their parents on Easter Sunday morning.

The Food Of Mardi Gras

Laissez les bons temps rouler!

Since it’s Mardi Gras time in New Orleans and the rest of the northern Gulf Coast, that means an excuse to down as many muffulettas, oysters, bowls of etouffee and gumbo and glasses of brandy milk punch as we can eat or drink. It’s also a time for New Orleans’ residents (and many fans) to celebrate the resilient spirit of a city that refused to give up, despite a series of tragedies that threatened to destroy their way of life forever. New Orleanians love to talk…and argue…and educate…and opine about food. It’s who they are, and what has kept them going.

In this famed good-time city, food is king during Mardi Gras. King cake, a ring-shaped pastry glazed with purple, gold, and green icing with a tiny plastic baby representing the infant Jesus nestled inside, is the most iconic Mardi Gras delicacy, but Cajun and Creole flavors rule. Red beans and rice, fried chicken and jambalaya also top the list of popular foods.

Gumbo is the most common food associated with the region. It is a thick soup with meat, seafood, vegetables and a heavy dose of spices, typically served over rice. It comes in two varieties, seafood (which is crawfish and shrimp) and chicken/sausage.

Étouffée is a seafood (usually crawfish) stew that is also served over rice. Though it has a great deal in common with gumbo, it is much thicker usually and generally more precise in standards. Where gumbo is like a soup, Étouffée is usually more like a topping for the rice with sauce.

Po-Boy sandwiches are served on french bread and typically feature fried seafood items such a shrimp, catfish, etc. However, there are turkey and ham Po-Boys.

Beignets are like a sweet doughnut, but the beignet is square shaped and without a hole.The word beignet (pronounced bey-YAY) comes from the early Celtic word bigne meaning “to raise.” It is also French for “fritter.” Beignets, a New Orleans specialty, are fried, raised pieces of yeast dough, usually about 2 inches in diameter or 2 inches square. After being fried, they are sprinkled with sugar or coated with various icings.

Beignets

Recipes For Mardi Gras

I am including recipes in this post for many of the favorite New Orleans dishes that you will find on the table for Mardi Gras celebrations.  However, if you are a follower of this blog, you will know that I have lightened these often fattening recipes, without sacrificing flavor or traditional tastes.

Oven-Fried Green Tomatoes With Lightened Remoulade

Makes 8 servings

Ingredients:

  • 4 large green tomatoes
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups buttermilk
  • 2 cups Japanese breadcrumbs (panko) mixed 1/4 cup cornmeal
  • 1 tablespoon Creole seasoning
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • Remoulade, recipe below

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Cut tomatoes into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Sprinkle both sides of tomatoes evenly with 2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon pepper.

2. Place a wire rack coated with vegetable cooking spray in a parchment paper-lined 15- x 10-inch jelly-roll pan.

3. Pour buttermilk into a shallow dish or pie plate. Stir together panko, Creole seasoning, and paprika in another shallow dish or pie plate.

4. Dredge tomatoes in flour. Dip tomatoes in buttermilk, and dredge in panko-cornmeal mixture. Lightly coat tomatoes on each side with cooking spray; arrange on wire rack.

5. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes or until golden brown, turning once after 10 minutes. Serve with Lightened Remoulade.

Lightened Remoulade

Makes about 1 cup

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup light mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup Creole mustard
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped bread-and-butter pickles 
  • 1/2 teaspoon hot sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon creole seasoning
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper

Stir together all ingredients. Chill

Southern Seafood Gumbo                                          

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 celery ribs with leaves, chopped
  • 1 medium green pepper, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 bottle (46 ounces) spicy, low sodium V8 juice or tomato juice
  • 1 can (14-1/2 ounces) diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 package (16 ounces) frozen okra
  • 1 pound catfish fillets or redfish, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
  • 3/4 pound uncooked medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1/2 lb. fresh or pasteurized lump crabmeat (about 1-1/2 cups), picked over for shells, or frozen and thawed
  • 3 cups cooked long grain rice
  • Louisiana-style hot sauce, to taste

Directions:

In a Dutch oven, saute the onion, celery and green pepper in oil until tender. Add garlic; cook 1 minute longer. Stir in the V8 juice, tomatoes and cayenne; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 10 minutes.

Stir in okra and catfish; cook 8 minutes longer. Add the shrimp and crab; cook 7 minutes longer or until shrimp turn pink. Add hot sauce, salt, and pepper to taste. Pass additional hot sauce at the table. Place rice in individual serving bowls; top with gumbo. Yield: 12 servings.

Red Beans and Rice

Ingredients:                                                                                                                                               

  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1/2 cup chopped green pepper
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/3 cup minced fresh cilantro
  • 3 cans (16 ounces each) red beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper
  • 3 cups hot cooked rice

Directions

In a large nonstick skillet, saute the onion, green pepper and garlic in oil until tender. Add cilantro; cook and stir until wilted, about 1 minute. Stir in the beans, salt, cumin and pepper. Cover and simmer for 10-15 minutes. Serve over rice. Yield: 6 servings.

Creole Chicken

Ingredients:                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

  • 2 boneless skinless chicken breast halves (4 ounces each)
  • 1 teaspoon canola oil
  • 1 can (14-1/2 ounces) stewed tomatoes, cut up
  • 1/3 cup julienned green pepper
  • 1/4 cup chopped celery
  • 1/4 cup sliced onion
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 cup hot cooked rice

Directions:

In a small nonstick skillet coated with cooking spray, cook chicken in oil over medium heat for 5-6 minutes on each side or a meat thermometer reads 165° Remove and keep warm.

In the same skillet, combine the tomatoes, green pepper, celery, onion, chili powder, thyme and pepper. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 10 minutes or until vegetables are crisp-tender. Return chicken to pan; heat through. Serve with rice. Yield: 2 servings.

Country Corn Bread

Ingredients:                                                                                                                                                                                    

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup (8 ounces) reduced-fat plain yogurt
  • 1/4 cup canola oil

Directions:

In a large bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking soda and salt. Whisk together the egg, yogurt and oil. Stir into the dry ingredients just until combined.

Transfer to an 8-in. square baking dish coated with cooking spray. Bake at 375° for 20-25 minutes or until top is lightly browned and a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Serve warm. Yield: 9 servings.

King Cake

One of the most popular foods during Mardi Gras is the king cake, consumed by the carload and traditionally sold in bakeries, grocery stores and delis from January 6 to Ash Wednesday. Locals and visitors alike eat king cake for breakfast, coffee break and dessert. The tradition of king cake dates back to the Middle Ages when a popular devotion during Christmas centered on the Three Wise Men (or Kings) who followed the North Star to find Christ. The twelfth night after the birth of Christ marks the end of Christmas and the celebration of Epiphany. Thus, Twelfth Night in some cultures became a time for pageants and giving special presents to children. Along with gifts came the celebratory cake, or king cake. Today’s king cake is a confection made of braided sweet yeast dough, laced with cinnamon. It is always iced in the Mardi Gras colors of purple (justice), green (faith) and gold (power). Hidden in each king cake is a tiny plastic baby. The person who finds the baby must buy the next king cake or host the next party. Contemporary king cakes are often filled with cream cheese or fruit fillings, such as apple and strawberry. However, my recipe included here is the traditional one.
 

Traditional King Cake

Yield: Makes 2 cakes (about 18 servings each)

  • 1 (16-ounce) container light sour cream
  • 1/3 cup sugar or equivalent sugar alternative, such as Truvia for Baking
  • 1/4 cup butter or Smart Balance Butter Blend
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 (1/4-ounce) envelopes active dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup warm water (100° to 110°)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 6 to 6 1/2 cups bread flour
  • 1/4 cup butter, softened or Smart Balance Butter Blend
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • Creamy Glaze, recipe below
  • Purple, green and gold-tinted sparkling sugar sprinkles

Directions:

Cook first 4 ingredients in a medium saucepan over low heat, stirring often, until butter melts. Set aside, and cool mixture to 100° to 110°.

Stir together yeast, 1/2 cup warm water and 1 tablespoon sugar in a 1-cup glass measuring cup; let stand 5 minutes.

Beat sour cream mixture, yeast mixture, eggs and 2 cups flour at medium speed with a heavy-duty electric stand mixer until smooth. Reduce speed to low and gradually add enough remaining flour (4 to 4 1/2 cups) until a soft dough forms.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface or use the mixer’s dough hook; knead until smooth and elastic (about 10 minutes). Place in a well-greased bowl, turning to grease the top.

Cover and let rise in a warm place (85°), free from drafts, 1 hour or until dough is doubled in bulk.

Punch down dough and divide in half. Roll each portion into a 22- x 12-inch rectangle. Divide softened butter and spread evenly on each rectangle, leaving a 1-inch border. Stir together 1/2 cup sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle evenly over butter on each rectangle.

Roll up each dough rectangle, jelly-roll fashion, starting at 1 long side. Place one dough roll, seam side down, on a lightly greased baking sheet. Bring ends of roll together to form an oval ring, moistening and pinching edges together to seal. Repeat with second dough roll.

Cover and let rise in a warm place (85°), free from drafts, 20 to 30 minutes or until doubled in bulk.

Bake at 375° F for 14 to 16 minutes or until golden. Slightly cool cakes on pans on wire racks (about 10 minutes). Drizzle Creamy Glaze evenly over warm cakes; sprinkle with colored sugars, alternating colors and forming bands (see photo). Let cool completely.

Cream Cheese-Filled King Cake: Prepare each 22- x 12-inch dough rectangle as directed. Omit 1/4 cup softened butter and 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon. Increase 1/2 cup sugar to 3/4 cup sugar. Beat 3/4 cup sugar; 2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened; 1 large egg; and 2 teaspoons vanilla extract at medium speed with an electric mixer until smooth. Divide in half. Spread cream cheese mixture evenly on each dough rectangle, leaving 1-inch borders. Proceed with recipe as directed above.

Creamy Glaze

Makes 1 1/2 cups

  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons milk

Stir together the powdered sugar, vanilla and 2 tablespoons milk, adding additional milk, 1 teaspoon at a time, until a thick spreading frosting is formed.

  

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