Celebrate Mardi Gras with Creole and Cajun favorites



A New Orleans-style Mardi Gras bash is perfect for chasing the winter blues away. Mardi Gras falls in the days leading up to Lent, which begins March 1, making this the right time to don some glittery beads while you and your kids cook up Cajun and Creole dishes.

Let Louisiana’s wonderful cuisine inspire you. A melting pot of French, Spanish, Italian, Native American and African cultures, New Orleans has earned a well-deserved reputation as one of the food capitals of the world. Louisianans have a passion for food and take joy in cooking and eating together. With their flavorful gumbo, spicy jambalaya, wonderful red beans and rice, sweet bananas foster and beignets, who can blame them?

Call up a few of your favorite families, put on your dancing shoes, turn on some jazz, and laissez les bons temps rouler! 

Creole Chicken

Serves 8   

Olive oil
1 lb. andouille sausage, finely chopped
8 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
1 large onion, chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 stalk celery, finely chopped
1 red bell pepper, finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp. dried Italian herbs
1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
1 T. (or to taste) hot sauce
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 c. dry white wine
1-2 c. chicken broth
1 bay leaf
Garnish: fresh chopped parsley

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Heat a little olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add sausage and cook until lightly browned. Remove sausage from pan, drain and reserve.

Working in batches, if necessary, and starting skin-side down, brown chicken in the skillet, about 3 minutes per side. Remove from pan and reserve.

If necessary, add more olive oil to the pan. Add onion, carrot, celery and bell pepper; season with the herbs, paprika, salt and pepper, and sauté until the onion is translucent. Add garlic, hot sauce and Worcestershire sauce and cook for 2 minutes more. Return sausage to pan and toss to combine.

Put chicken in a single layer in a roasting pan or large casserole. Arrange vegetables and sausage around and over the chicken. Add the white wine, chicken broth and bay leaf. Transfer chicken to the oven and roast at 375 degrees until cooked through and golden, about 30 minutes.

Garnish chicken with fresh, chopped parsley and serve with a spoonful of cheesy grits.


Cheesy Grits 

Serves 8

2 c. instant grits or polenta
2 T. butter
1/2 c. half & half
3-4 oz. grated cheddar cheese

Make grits according to package directions. When grits are done, add butter, cream and cheese. Stir until melted and well combined.


Red Beans and Rice   

Serves 8

 1 lb. dried red beans
Olive oil
1 lb. andouille sausage, chopped
1 1/2 onions, peeled and finely chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 red bell pepper, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tsp. dried Italian herbs
1/4 tsp. (or to taste) cayenne pepper
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
5-6 c. chicken broth or water
1 bay leaf
2 c. long-grain white rice

Pick over beans and discard any stones or shriveled beans. Rinse well and soak in 8-10 cups of water in the refrigerator overnight.

Heat a little olive oil in large casserole over medium-high heat. Add sausage and sauté until lightly browned. Remove from pan, drain and reserve.

Reduce heat to medium and, if necessary, add a little more olive oil to the casserole. Add onions, celery, carrot, bell pepper and garlic. Sprinkle with herbs, season with cayenne, salt and pepper and sauté until the onion is translucent. Add garlic and sauté 2-3 minutes more. Add sausage back to the casserole.

Drain and rinse the beans. Put beans in the pot with vegetables. Add broth and bay leaf and stir to combine. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to very low, cover and simmer until beans are very tender, about 1 1/2 hours.

While beans simmer, cook rice according to package directions.

Spoon white rice into bowls, top with beans and serve.

NOTE: The beans are even better if made ahead. Cool to room temperature, cover and store in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight. Gently reheat on low.


Bananas Foster

Serves 8

8 T. (1 stick) butter
1 c. brown sugar
1/4 tsp. allspice
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. salt
Pinch cloves
4 bananas, peeled and cut on the diagonal in 1/2-inch slices
1/2 c. dark rum
Vanilla ice cream

Melt butter in a large, heavy skillet over low heat. Add brown sugar and spices and stir until sugar dissolves. Raise heat to medium-high and bring to a simmer. Add bananas and cook for 2-3 minutes, carefully spooning the sauce over the bananas.

Remove pan from heat and add rum. Ignite the rum, then return the pan to the heat and continue cooking, swirling the sauce until flame dies out and the sauce is syrupy – about 1-3 minutes.

Spoon warm bananas and sauce over vanilla ice cream and serve.

Susan Nye writes for magazines throughout New England. She shares many of her favorite recipes and stories about food, family and friendship on her award winning blog, Around the Table, at www.susannye.wordpress.com.

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