We decided to forgo the 926 mile trip to New Orleans for Mardi Gras again this year. We did what we always do: create our own special carnival experience up here in the cold, grey Chicago. It's easier than you might think. First, get out your beads, strew some pirate doubloons on the dining table with a few fancy masks and put on carnival music. Then go into the kitchen. Mardi Gras is not just about parades with confetti. It's about the food!
A group of celebrants proved this point on a weekday morning recently in Allie Field's spacious Downers Grove kitchen. I provided the ingredients for a classic New Orleans meal. There was crabmeat and Creole spice for our starter course, round steak with its 'holy trinity' of vegetables (onion, celery, green pepper) for our Cajun grillades and the stale round of French bread for a rich, lemony bread pudding. The jar of brandy, sugar and spices was there to flame the Cafe Brulot. The recipes were all there for a reason.
The Crabcake recipe came from Chicago's popular Shaw's Crab House where I spent a morning learning how to cook crab with executive chef Ives Roubaud. The N'Awlins Remoulade that's paired with it was adapted from Susan Spicer's book Crescent City Cooking. A meal at Susan's restaurant Bayona is a must when I visit New Orleans.
When I first began collecting recipes for Mardi Gras, I contacted my college classmate and New Orleans native Jane Mathes. She recommended a spicy braised round steak dish, Grillades, which is served with Grits at a Sunday Sinners Brunch she attends with her husband Earl before Fat Tuesday. It's relatively easy to assemble and tastes better with each reheating. It's become a staple.
The Lemon Bread Pudding was my own invention. A rich custard pudding is classic fare at the end of a festive meal. Instead of folding in chocolate or serving the traditional whiskey sauce I prefer a refreshingly tart lemon curd and sour dried cherries combination. It always ends the meal on a bright note.
Where's the gumbo, you ask? Well, as a matter of fact, we're going to be preparing Mr Paul's Duck, Sausage and Oyster Gumbo this Saturday at Read It and Eat on North Halsted in Chicago. Join us as we let the good times roll once again!
Links to the recipes:
*A special thanks to Allie's sister, Amy Tripple, who took the photographs of our menu. Amy is a most talented professional photographer of children and familys. She was kind enough to take pictures as she cooked. You can see her work at: