March Mayhem begins this week. With celebrations happening over the weekend and continuing through Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday (March 8), one might believe that the last day of the Carnival season would prompt a reprieve after all the debaucheries and gluttonous delirium. It is, after all, the day before Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. But for sports fans, the craziness of March Madness extends opportunities for social gatherings. Lucky for us, the foods for one celebration can be easily interchanged, extended, and/or reproduced for the other. Is there anything better than working efficiently to achieve the simplicity of goodness?
Whether you are drawn to the savory dishes or the sweet, chances are the colors of purple, green and gold will be employed throughout Mardi Gras. Representing justice, faith, power, respectively, Carnival parties are expected to be shrouded in the festive hues through its Fat Tuesday finale.
Here in the Atlanta area, the Carnival party buzz is often surrounded around the happenings in New Orleans, Louisiana. For those who choose to admire the stamina of attendees in the French Quarter from afar, the spicy seafood traditions that come from the Gulf open up ample opportunities for countless delicious seafood dishes we can cook where ever the occasion takes us. Then, sweet confections like Beignets, Chocolate Doberge Cake, and Bourbon Pralines cool the palates with memorable delight.
How do you celebrate Carnival? What about March Madness? What plans are brewing in area?
½ cup butter or margarine
1 large onion, chopped
1 cup celery, chopped
1 cup green onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup flour
3 ½ cups water
1 28-oz can whole tomatoes, diced, juices included
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. salt
2 bay leaves
¼ tsp. dried thyme
1 ½ -2 pounds mixed seafood, cut into small, bite-sized pieces
1- 2 tsp. hot sauce (like Tabasco, Cholula, or Sriracha)
cooked rice *
Melt butter in large saucepot or Dutch oven; add onion, celery, green onion, and garlic. Cook 5 minutes or until tender. Add flour and stir until well blended. Stir in water, tomatoes, lemon juice, salt, bay leaves and thyme. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in seafood and hot sauce. Simmer 5 minutes longer or until seafood is opaque. Discard bay leaves. Serve hot, over rice. Yield 4-6 servings (depending on hunger levels)
*picture included here includes brown rice, which does take longer cooking time.
Food for Thought:
- Can't find a seafood mix? You can create your own. Or, use all shrimp and call it Shrimp Étouffée.
- What is the difference between chopped and diced? To chop an ingredient, like an onion, it simply means that the food is cut into small, bite-sized pieces. Diced cuts are tiny cubes, similar to what is found in the grocers, like Publix, prepackaged aisles. Mincing is the smallest cut when an ingredient is turned into tiny bits.
While on the subject of cuts, there is a difference between grating and shredding as well. To grate means to shrink a large piece of food to petite morsels or thin slivers via a serrated surface, like a fine grater or microplane. Shredding produces larger, narrow strips of food and is most easily done with a food processor.
- When dredging, or coating, any ingredient, use one hand for dipping and allow the other hand to remain dry, free from contamination. Then, you’ll be able to access other kitchen tools and food items you may need during the process without worry.
- In a pinch without an onion, or garlic, on hand? Do you have a stash of the dried, flaked versions? While they are not as sharp as their fresh former selves, the flakes can work as a substitute. Soups, stews, casseroles, and meatloaves seem to quite enjoy flakes, in fact. When using the flakes, though, consider adding a few drops of water to the flakes prior to adding them to the dish. Water will rehydrate, and revitalize, the flakes a bit.
- To help with equivalents (and/or substitutes), Cook's Thesaurus is a great resource. They offer this information:
1 small onion = 1/3 cup = 1 teaspoon onion powder = 1 tablespoon dried onion flakes
1 clove = 1 teaspoon chopped garlic = 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic = 1/8 teaspoon garlic powder = 1/2 teaspoon garlic flakes = 1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic
Creole Crab Cakes
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
¼ cup celery, diced
¼ cup green pepper, diced
¼ cup scallion, white only, diced
1 lb. jumbo lump crabmeat
¼ cup mayonnaise or Vegenaise
1 Tbsp. grain mustard
¾ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. Creole seasoning (like Tony’s Creole Seasoning)
½ tsp. cayenne pepper
(about) 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
(about) 1 cup whole milk
(about) 1 ½ cups panko bread crumbs
Shredded pepperjack cheese (optional)
Spicy Remoulade Sauce (recipe follows)
Pick through crab meat to make sure there aren’t any shell fragments; set aside.
In a large sauté pan or skillet, melt butter over medium-low heat. Add celery, green peppers, and onions and cook until tender, about 8-10 minutes. Transfer to a bowl, bring to room temperature.
In a medium bowl, combine crab, mayonnaise, mustard and seasonings and cooled vegetable mixture. Mix with a rubber spatula, working carefully not to over shred crabmeat lumps don’t shred. Refrigerate while setting up the dredging station.
Preheated oven to 350◦ F. Place flour, milk and panko crumbs each in their own shallow bowl.
In 2-ounce scoops, form the crab mixture into a patties and transfer onto a lined baking sheet. Once all the patties have been made, roll each portion in the dredging mixture, flour, milk, then panko. Return to the lined baking sheet and refrigerate for one hour.
Heat a large, oven-proof*, heavy-bottomed sauté pan over medium-high heat; add ¼ inch of oil to pan (just barely covering the bottom of the pan). When the oil begins to “wrinkle”, carefully and working away from you, place crab cakes in pan and cook until golden; with a spatula, carefully turn cakes over (about 3 minutes eat side). Remove from pan from the heat , sprinkle with cheese (optional) and transfer into the oven. Cook until golden and heated through, about 6 minutes. Transfer crab cakes to a plate lined with a paper towel.
Serve with Spicy Remoulade Sauce. Yields about 12 small crab cakes
*If you do not have an oven-proof skillet, you can transfer the crab cakes to a lined baking sheet to finish off in the oven.
Spicy Remoulade Sauce
A great sauce for any seafood dish
¾ cups mayonnaise or Vegenaise
3 green onions, white and light green part only, minced*
3 Tbsp. tomato ketchup
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp. bottled prepared horseradish
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
¼ tsp. hot sauce (like Tabasco, Cholula, or Sriracha)
*reserve the dark green stalks of the onion for garnish
Stir together all ingredients and adjust amounts according to taste. Store in an airtight container, in the refrigerator, for at least 30 minutes and/or until ready to serve.
Bourbon Pecan Pralines
4 Tbsp. butter
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/8 tsp. salt
½ cup heavy cream
2 cups pecan halves, lightly toasted
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 Tbsp. bourbon (optional)
butter for baking sheet
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Option 1 for toasting pecans: Spread the pecans out, in an even, single layer, on a baking sheet. Toast in an oven, stirring occasionally, for 8 to 10 minutes.
Option 2 for toasting pecans: Heat an ungreased skillet over medium heat. In batches, if necessary, to prevent overcrowding, add pecans and stir until light golden brown and aromatic.
Have a buttered baking sheet ready by the stove.
In a heavy saucepan, melt butter over low heat. Using a wooden spoon or heat proof spatula, stir in both sugars, salt and heavy cream. Bring to a boil over medium heat, insert a candy thermometer and cook until the temperature reaches 242°F. Stir in the toasted pecans. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla and bourbon (if using) until the candy loses its shine, becomes creamy-looking, and begins to thicken. Quickly drop tablespoons of the mixture onto the greased cookie sheet. Or, pour mixture onto the sheet pan and let it cool for a couple of minutes before breaking a part. Wrap pralines individually in plastic wrap to store.
Mardi Gras Cupcakes
Adapted from Martha Stewart
¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ cups sugar
1 ½ tsp. baking soda
¾ tsp. baking powder
¾ tsp. salt
2 large eggs, room temperature
¾ cup warm water*
¾ cup buttermilk
3 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1tsp. vanilla extract
¼ cup Bourbon
Preheat oven to 350°F. Generally butter the pan; set aside. Sift together cocoa powder, flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into a large bowl. Add eggs, warm water, Bourbon, buttermilk, oil, and vanilla, and mix until smooth, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides and bottom of bowl to assure batter is well mixed.
Divide batter evenly among pan, filling each just a little more than ½ full. Bake until tops spring back when touched, about 15 minutes, rotating pan once if needed. Transfer to a wire rack; let cool completely.
Garnish with your favorite butter cream or frosting, with colorful sugars, sprinkles, or chocolate covered sunflower seeds.
* Warm water is not hot. The water should be about 110° F, a little warmer than lukewarm. Don't worry, you don't need a thermometer. Just proceed by feel.
Sunflower seeds shown here were purchased from World Market.