I loved living in New Orleans. I miss many things about living there. I do not, however, miss the giant bugs or August humidity. I do miss Mardi Gras.
Mardi Gras has quite the reputation around the world. There's a very different side to Mardi Gras that many do not know about. For most New Orleanians, Mardi Gras is a family-friendly event. Families get together and share lots of great food. Blankets and chairs are spread around the neutral ground
as you get set for the day. If you're lucky, someone you know will live within a few blocks for easy bathroom access. Children sit in special seats built on the top of ladders and everyone is in a good mood.
When I've lived in New Orleans a few times. When I was 20, I moved into a wonderful apartment on Prytania Street with my cousin, Kim. It was the best apartment I ever lived in. The building was a huge antebellum mansion that had been turned into apartments. Our apartment was in what would have been the front parlor. When you entered the main doors, we were to the right. We had 20 ft ceilings. When you walked in to our apartment, you were in the living/dining room. If you opened the closet door, you saw the kitchen. It was a tiny U-shaped alcove with the stove on the left, the refrigerator on the right, and sink, counter, & cabinet directly in front. Only one person could step in at a time, and you couldn't open the refrigerator and the stove at the same time. In the back was a huge bedroom that held two full sets of bedroom furniture and a huge walk-in closet. Kim and I shared this room. In the corner of our living room, there was a spiral staircase leading to the loft. In the loft area, we had a small bedroom and bath and a small loft space. That's where our rotating third roommate lived.
Since we were in the front of the house, the outside wall of our living room was huge windows that opened like doors on to the front porch. It was wonderful for parties as we could just open them up and increase our floor space.
Prytania is one block off of St. Charles Avenue. St. Charles is one of the major parade routes. We could literally sit in our apartment until we heard the music and still make it to St. Charles well before the first float.
Mardi Gras is about two weeks worth of parades which culminate in non-stop parades on Mardi Gras Day. We stocked the refrigerator with beer and soda. I made a big pot of red beans with sausage and another pot of rice. Everyone who visited that day brought a dish, and we all drifted in and out of the apartment stuffing our faces and enjoying the parades. No one even showed their boobs.
I don't really have a red beans recipe. It's more a list of ingredients. Soak your beans overnight. If you want to be authentic, you need to get Camellia
beans. Early the next morning, get out your biggest pot. Saute diced onions, green peppers, and garlic. Add your favorite sliced sausage. Andouille for the real deal, kielbasa if you live anywhere else. Add the beans and fresh water. Don't use the water you soaked your beans. Put enough water in to cover the beans by a couple of inches. Simmer until beans are soft. Once the beans are cooked through, add salt, pepper, and hot sauce to taste. These are really best the next day when the beans start to break down. You can also take some out and puree them to give it that creamier texture. Just mix the pureed portion back into the pot and stir. These are served over white rice. Red beans and rice is a traditional Monday lunch. Just about any New Orleans restaurant will be running a red beans and rice special on Mondays. The tradition came about because Monday was laundry day, and no one had time to cook. You could set a pot of beans going in the morning, and they'd be all ready for you at the end of your day.
Another Mardi Gras tradition is King Cake. King Cakes are basically a giant circular danish covered in icing and sugar colored gold, green, and purple - Mardi Gras colors. Hidden in the cake is a plastic baby. It used to be a bean. Whoever gets the piece of cake with the baby has to buy the next King Cake. King Cakes are everywhere during Mardi Gras, but don't look for one on Ash Wednesday. They're all gone. Most offices have King Cakes on Fridays. With everyone taking turns bringing one it, depending on who got the baby. As a child, I remember going to King Cake parties.
It was fun travelling down memory lane. Happy Mardi Gras!
King Cake with Cream Cheese Filling
½ cup warm water (110 to 115 degrees)
2 packages active dry yeast
½ cup plus
1 tsp. sugar
3 ½-4 ½ cups unsifted flour
1 tsp. nutmeg
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. lemon zest
½ cup warm milk
5 egg yolks
1 stick butter, cut in slices and softened, plus 2 tablespoons
1 egg slightly beaten with a T. of milk
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tiny plastic doll (not more than 1")
Cream Cheese Filling:
1 8-oz. package cream cheese
1 cup confectioner’s sugar
2 T. flour
1 tsp. vanilla extract
a few drops of milk
Cream all the filling ingredients together with a mixer and spread onto the rolled-out dough before rolling it into a ring. This filling is optional.
Pour the warm water into a small shallow bowl and sprinkle yeast and 2 teaspoons sugar into it. Allow the yeast and sugar to rest for three minutes, then mix thoroughly. Set bowl in a warm place for 10 minutes until yeast bubbles up.
Combine 31/2 cups of flour, remaining sugar, nutmeg and salt and sift into a large mixing bowl.Stir in lemon zest. Separate center of mixture to form a hole and pour in yeast mixture and milk. Add egg yolks and using a wooden spoon, combine dry ingredients into the yeast/milk mixture.
When mixture is smooth, beat in 8 tablespoons butter, 1 tablespoon at a time and continue to beat 2 minutes or until dough can be formed into a medium soft ball.Place ball of dough on floured surface and knead, gradually adding up to 1 cup more of flour.
When dough is no longer sticky, knead 10 minutes more until shiny and elastic.Using a pastry brush, coat the inside of a large bowl evenly with one tablespoon softened butter. Place dough ball in the bowl and rotate until the entire surface is buttered. Cover bowl with a heavier kitchen towel and allow dough to rise in a warm place for about 11/2 hours or until it doubles in volume.
Coat a large baking sheet with one tablespoon of butter and set aside. After the first rising, place the dough on a floured surface and punch it down with a heavy blow. Sprinkle cinnamon, then pat and shape the dough into a long 'snake' or 'cylinder'. Form a twist by folding the long cylinder in half, end to end, and pinching the ends together. Then twist the dough. Form a ring with the completed twist and pinch the ends together.Place the completed ring on the buttered baking sheet, cover it with a towel and allow it to rise for 45 minutes or until it doubles in volume.
After the second rising, brush the top and sides of the cake with the egg and milk wash. Bake in a preheated oven at 375 degrees for 25-35 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack and hide the plastic baby inside the cake (or just place on the top of cake to avoid someone biting into it).
Green, purple and yellow coloring paste
12 T. sugar
Divide sugar into three portions (for green, yellow and purple).Add a tiny amount of the coloring paste to each sugar portion. Try mixing the sugar and colored pasted between your palms for best results. Set aside.
3/4 c. confectioners sugar
1/4 c. lemon juice
3-6 T. of water
Combine ingredients until smooth, adding more water if it's too thick. Spoon icing over top of cake. Immediately sprinkle on colored sugars, alternating between the three colors. Serve in 2"-3" pieces.
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