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Mardi Gras: Music, Magic, and Some Amazing Meals!

Mardi Gras Mask

Happy Mardi Gras!
(Image designed by Freepik, edited by KristaG)

Happy Fat Tuesday everybody! In celebration of Mardi Gras this year, I decided to try my hand once again at exploring the vibrant flavors of New Orleans with a mixture of enticing cuisine, some magic themed gaming, and a few beers all set to the background notes of some Zydeco and jazz. Now all that’s missing to bring the Carnival season to my home are the masks, beads, and throws! Unlike last year, I decided to keep it simple and provide just one entree and dessert for my group as, yet again, I have to work a closing shift and I don’t want to be left with the huge amount of dishes piled up like I had last year!

I will never forget my night at the New Orleans School of Cooking when I visited New Orleans in September 2016. Our instructor was fantastic and not only made everything seem easy, but kept our group laughing through the entire evening with his jokes and storytelling. At the end of the night, I walked away with a full stomach, a new appreciation for Abita beer, some great new recipes, and a very happy soul. The knowledge and insight into Crescent City cuisine that I gained that night will probably stick with me for life! In honor of that evening and the festival season, I’m making the New Orleans School of Cooking Jambalaya recipe for dinner! The recipe is as follows and has been modified to feed 4-6 people:

Jambalaya

Chicken and Sausage Jambalaya!
(All photos, unless otherwise specified, were taken and edited by KristaG)

Jambalaya:

2 Tablespoon oil

2 cups chicken, cut up

¾ lb. smoked sausage

2 cups chopped onions

2 cups chopped celery

2 cups chopped green pepper

½ Tablespoon garlic, chopped

2 cups long grain rice

2 ½ cups stock

1 ½ – 2 heaping Tablespoons Joe’s Stuff Seasoning (available for purchase here.)

1-2 bay leaves

1 cup chopped green onions or tomatoes, optional

Preparation Instructions:

  1. Season and brown the chicken in oil over medium to high heat. Add sausage to pot and saute with chicken. Remove the chicken and sausage from pot, leave the drippings in the pot.
  2. Saute onions, celery, green pepper, and garlic in the drippings until desired tenderness. Return chicken and sausage to the pot. Add liquid, bay leaves, and Joe’s Stuff and bring to a boil.
  3. Add rice, stir together and return to rapid boil. Stir again and remove the pot from the heat and cover. Let this rest for 25 minutes. Remove the cover and quickly turn rice from top to bottom completely. Add green onions and chopped tomatoes if desired.

Notes:

  1. For brown Jambalaya, add 1 ½ teaspoon to 1 Tablespoon of Kitchen Bouquet (available for online purchase here, but also sold in various stores.) in between steps 2 and 3.
  2. For red Jambalaya, add ½ cup paprika and use a ½ stock ½ tomato juice or V-8 mixture for your liquid.
King Cake Babies

There are numerous options for King Cake Babies! I really like the metallic ones that I found on Amazon this year!!
(image taken from Amazon.com)

Last year, I finished out my food experience with a combination of homemade beignets and those made from a Cafe du Monde box mix. This year, however, I thought I’d give myself a real challenge and explore the world of King Cakes! Though traditionally, a King Cake is eaten on January 6th in honor of Epiphany, or Twelfth Night, this usually sweet, ringed pastry is also eaten throughout Carnival season and is an extremely popular treat during Mardi Gras. These cakes are often coated in a glaze and then covered in Purple (representing Justice), Gold (Power) and Green (Faith) sugars. Many come in a variety of fillings, while others have no filling at all. However, they are all commonly round or oval in shape. Trinkets such as a baby, small coins, crowns, or even crosses are sometimes baked or embedded into these cakes. The modern tradition of the plastic baby, however, originated in New Orleans at McKenzie’s Bakery back in the mid-1900s, according to Donald Entringer Sr., the late owner of the chain. Finding this plastic trinket is especially important during Mardi Gras celebrations because the person who receives it in their slice is responsible for providing the King Cake at the next party!

Personally, I am a huge fan of the pralines that I learned how to make while visiting the New Orleans School of Cooking so I knew already that I wanted to try and do a pecan praline filling for one of my King Cakes. My player 2, however, is a fan of fruitier fillings so I took several recipes from around the internet and played with them until I created a cherries and cream cheese filling that I was happy with. When it came to the cake itself, there are tons of recipes available online and World Market even sells a box mix (Mam Papaul’s) with an included filling, but I have been staring at the recipe from Lemon Sugar for several years now and that’s the one that I wanted to try since it makes enough dough for more than one small sized King Cake! The recipes I used are below:

King Cake Dough (via Lemon Sugar):

1 cup milk

¼ cup unsalted butter

4 and ½ teaspoon active dry yeast

2/3 cup warm water, approximately 110 degrees

½ cup sugar

2 eggs, room temperature

1 and ½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon nutmeg

5 and ½ cups all-purpose flour

Preparation Instructions:

  1. Heat milk to just before boiling. Add ¼ cup of butter to hot milk and allow mixture to cool to room temperature.
  2. In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in the warm water with 1 Tablespoon sugar. Let stand until foamy, approximately 10 minutes.
  3. When yeast is bubbling, add the cooled milk mixture.
  4. Whisk in the eggs.
  5. Stir in the remaining sugar, salt, and nutmeg.
  6. Add the flour one cup at a time. When the dough has pulled together, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 8-10 minutes.
  7. Lightly oil a large bowl, place the dough in the bowl and turn to coat with oil.
  8. Cover with a damp cloth and let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 2 hours.
  9. When risen, punch down and divide dough in half.
  10. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
  11. Grease 2 cookie sheets or line with parchment paper.
Praline Filling

Pecan Praline Filling (this will be spooned on top of the plain cream cheese filling during the King Cake assembly).

Praline and Cream Cheese Fillings (via Texanerin Baking, modified to include only the ingredients I used):

Cream Cheese Filling

8 oz cream cheese, softened

¼ cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

pinch of salt

Preparation Instructions:

  1. Beat cream cheese and sugar at medium speed until light and fluffy.
  2. Add vanilla and salt. Beat until combined.
  3. Place in refrigerator until ready for use.

Praline Filling

¼ cup unsalted butter

2 large egg yolks

½ cup brown sugar, firmly packed

pinch of salt

¼ teaspoon vanilla extract

½ cup chopped and toasted pecans

Preparation Instructions:

  1. Stir the butter, egg yolks, sugar, and salt together in a medium saucepan over medium heat.
  2. Bring to a boil while stirring constantly. Continue stirring for another 3-5 minutes until thickened and begins to pull away from the sides of the pan.
  3. Remove pan from heat and stir in vanilla extract and chopped pecans.
  4. Let cool, about 20 minutes. Place in refrigerator for about an hour.

(Note: save those egg whites! Mixing them with a little water will make a great egg wash to help you out later!)

Cherry Bourbon Cream Cheese

Cherry Bourbon Cream Cheese Filling (I paired it with a Cherry Pie filling to give it more fruit, but the recipe is amazing as is!).

Cherry Bourbon Cream Cheese Filling (via Lemon Sugar):

8 oz cream cheese, softened

½ cup granulated sugar

2 Tablespoons Cherry Bourbon (I used Jim Beam Red Stag, but really want to try making my own for next time!)

(Note: I felt I wanted actual cherries to also be in my King Cake so I picked up a jar of cherry pie filling to use along with the cherry bourbon cream cheese filling during the assembly steps.)

Preparation Instructions:

  1. Combine cream cheese and sugar in a medium bowl. Beat until smooth and creamy.
  2. Add cherry bourbon and beat to combine.
  3. Place in refrigerator until ready for use.

King Cake Glaze/Icing (via Cajun Chef Ryan):

3 cups confectioner’s sugar

¼ cup lemon juice

3-6 Tablespoons water

Preparation Instructions:

  1. Combine sugar, lemon juice, and 3 Tablespoons of water in a deep bowl, whisking until smooth. If icing is too stiff, whisk in 1 Tablespoon of water at a time until spreadable.

King Cake Assembly and Baking Instructions:

  1. Roll dough halves out into large rectangles (approximately 10 x 16 inches) on a flour covered surface.
  2. Spoon the cream cheese mixture along the full length of the dough, about 3 inches from the edge.
    • For the pecan praline filled King Cake: Spoon the pecan filling over the plain cream cheese mixture.
    • For the cherry filled King Cake: Spoon cherry pie filling over the cherry bourbon cream cheese mixture.
  3. Beginning with the long edge, roll the dough into a jellyroll or log shape, stopping with about 3-4 inches left. Coat the exposed dough with egg wash to act as a “glue” and finish rolling. Pinch closed all of the way across.
  4. Turn the dough so the seam is on the bottom.
  5. Shape dough into a ring and connect the ends. Use more egg wash to help “glue” then ends together if needed.
  6. Brush dough with egg wash.
  7. Cover the dough with a towel and allow to rise in a warm spot until doubled; about 45-90 minutes.
  8. Bake at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 minutes, then turn heat down to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and bake for an additional 20-25 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean.
  9. Allow the cake to cool completely on a wire rack.
  10. Once cool, pour icing over the cake, cover with colored sugars in individual rows about 2-3 inches wide of purple, green, and gold.
  11. Bury the baby inside or place on top.
Finished King Cakes

My finished King Cakes! (The plates are facing different directions so I can remember which cake has which filling).

Bring on the beads and wishing everyone a happy Mardi Gras!

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