Mardi Gras is Upon Us, Again

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For me and my family, we always enjoy the bit of celebration that signifies Mardi Gras, once again spent at home and not reveling in the streets.

But I have to reflect on Lent, loosely related to the Feast of Unleavened Bread observed by some cultures. The putting away of “sin”, physically portrayed in clearing out items from the home that represent foods we love, such as puffy breads (beignets?). Clearing out our minds of the things that are a wall between us and our higher authority, such as hatred, envy, contempt.

So as I prepare this indulgent meal for tonight, for Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, I look to tomorrow and what I can do to become a better person. A better person to a higher authority? Maybe. To my family. Surely. But also to myself. To calm the unrest that I have found raging in my soul for the past few months.

So I believe tomorrow will be a good time to shut off the TV. Stop watching CNN, CBS, FOX, etc. Stop reading Quora. GREATLY limit my time on Facebook.

But for tonight I eat. And drink!

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It’s all about the mise-en-place, ready to go.

I’m preparing an Etouffee, that Cajun and Creole dish simmered lovingly with the holy trinity of onions, celery, and bell pepper, or mirepoix, a slowly developed roux, and served over rice. It is often prepared with crawfish, but I had no time today to run an hour or so south to Catalina Offshore to acquire those muddy little crustaceans. So shrimp it is, and I chose cute little Argentinian red shrimp, which have a sweet lobster flavor.

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Creole and Cajun dishes always involve slowly developing a roux, a blonde roux for tonight.

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So tonight we revel. And eat. And drink. Tomorrow is for capturing the tortured soul and looking for calm. ‘Til next year, cheers! Laissez le bon temps rouler!

 

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Goodbye, Mardi Gras. Hello, Lent.

IMG_1580Lent.  So much more somber than Mardi Gras.  As TheUpperRoom.org puts it:

“Lent is a season of the Christian Year where Christians focus on simple living, prayer, and fasting in order to grow closer to God.  In earlier times, people used Lent as a time of fasting and repentance. Since they didn’t want to be tempted by sweets, meat and other distractions in the house, they cleaned out their cabinets. They used up all the sugar and yeast in sweet breads before the Lent season started, and fixed meals with all the meat available. It was a great feast! Through the years Mardi Gras has evolved (in some places) into a pretty wild party with little to do with preparing for the Lenten season of repentance and simplicity. Oh well. But Christians still know it’s origin, and hang onto the true Spirit of the season.”

As for me and my family, we always enjoy the bit of celebration that signifies Mardi Gras, once again spent at home and not reveling in the streets.  The dish for this year was the savory, slowly developed flavors of Gumbo.

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It’s all about the mis-en-place.  Here are the basic ingredients for developing a savory broth to be used in the Gumbo:  bacon, chicken, onion, carrot & celery chunks, bay leaf and salt, plus water.

 

The bacon is fried until crisp, then set aside for later.  IMG_1568The chicken chunks are added to the bacon drippings and browned.

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The additional broth ingredients are added to the chicken, brought to a boil, then reduced to simmer for 35 minutes, uncovered.

IMG_1570Next comes that all-important Creole ingredient, roux.  IMG_1576

1/3 cup oil is heated over low heat in a heavy saucepan.  Then 1/2 cup flour is whisked in until smooth and cooked, stirring frequently, until medium brown, about 30 minutes.

This was my first time taking my time to develop a nice roux.  And the pumped-up flavor of the finished gumbo reflected this darker roux, darker than the traditional French roux.

Once the chicken and broth is finished, the chicken is removed, cooled, and cut into cubes.  The broth is strained and returned to the pot.  The darkened roux is stirred in.  The chicken, crisped bacon, and remaining ingredients, except shrimp, are stirred in.

IMG_1574The Cajun/Creole version of mirepoix, the Holy Trinity:  Onion, Bell Pepper, Celery

  • Corn
  • Okra
  • Canned Tomatoes
  • Parsley
  • Garlic Cloves
  • Basil
  • Thyme
  • Bottled Red Pepper Sauce, yep, Tabasco

All these delicious ingredients are stirred in and simmered, covered, for about 1-1/2 hours.  This extended simmering time really lets the flavors develop, along with the from-scratch broth and that nice darkened roux.

IMG_1577Shrimp is added and simmered for about 10 minutes. Then you can dish your Gumbo into a soup bowl or pile it onto a scoop of rice, like we did.  A savory and satisfying dish to welcome Lent.  Oh, and a wedge of muffaletta and an Abita.  ‘Til next year, cheers!

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Sazerac, Gumbo and Zydeco

IMG_0444Besides signaling the approach of Spring, Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, always holds a special place for me.  It always promises a celebration, some great food, uplifting music, and more than just a little alcohol!  And lets not forget the beads!

Alas, going to New Orleans isn’t on the schedule this year . . . again.  But we make do with our own celebration.

This year, for cocktails, I moved away from my tried-and-true Hurricane, which I do love, especially because I’m a huge rum fan.  I’m trying out the Sazerac, that classic cocktail born in New Orleans.

IMG_0429According to the Sazerac Company website, the Sazerac was born in 1838 in the apothecary shop of Antoine Amedie Peychaud.  Yes, that’s the Peychaud of those great bitters we all reach for when in the mood for a cocktail.  Mr. Peychaud concocted his brandy toddies for his friends using his secret family recipe of bitters.  He also used a double-ended egg cup as a measuring cup or jigger, then known as a “coquetier”, from which we derived that awesome word cocktail!

In 1873 the brandy was switched out for American Rye Whiskey, and the cocktail glass was swirled with Absinthe.  The Sazerac Company further modified their namesake cocktail by trading out Absinthe for Herb Sainte, a non-wormwood liquor.  Uh, we’ll be using the real thing!

IMG_0427To concoct a New Orleans style Sazerac (for 1):

1 sugar cube

Peychaud’s bitters

Rye Whiskey

Absinthe

Lemon peel

Fill an on-the-rocks glass with ice, to chill.  Place 1 sugar cube and 3 dashes Peychaud’s bitters in another on-the-rocks glass (part of the tradition).  Muddle, then add 2 ounces Rye Whiskey to muddled sugar cube & bitters.

Empty the ice from the first glass, add a splash of Absinthe and swirl to coat, then discard the remaining splash of Absinthe.  Pour the Rye Whiskey with sugar & bitters into the chilled Absinthe-splashed glass, garnish with lemon peel, and savor.

IMG_0430Especially on a Tuesday, even though it’s Fat Tuesday, I don’t want to live on drink alone.  We began with a Muffaletta, a soft round bun piled high with ham, salami and provolone, smeared with spicy/briny olive salad, and drizzled with a fragrant new green olive oil.

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Our main attraction was Gumbo, that traditional spicy brothy combination of shrimp, chicken and andouille pulled together with a deep brown roux of oil and flour.   I actually took my time, for once, to let the roux color and flavor develop into a deep brown hue.  No hurrying this process!   Add the Cajun holy trinity, or mirepoix, of onion, bell pepper and celery along with Creole seasoning, fresh garlic, thyme, red pepper flakes, chicken stock, diced fresh tomatoes, okra and bay leaves, then finish off with fresh chopped parsley and, of course, Louisiana Tabasco sauce.  All this deliciousness is served on a bed of white rice.IMG_0441No dinner party is complete without some music, and Zydeco is the name of the game for Mardi Gras and New Orleans.  Zydeco is a musical genre evolved in southwest Louisiana by French Creole speakers which blends Cajun music, blues and rhythm and blues.  Some artists we like are Cedric Watson and Buckwheat Zydeco.  So when Mardi Gras rolls around next year, mix up a Sazerac, pile up a Muffaletta, stir up a Gumbo, and dial up Zydeco on Pandora.

Laissez les bons temps rouler!

www.passportdinners.comPassport Dinners brings you DIY (Do-It-Yourself) themed adventure dinner party kits for you to taste the world, one country at a time.

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