It’s that time of year, when Mardi Gras is near—even when I am at home in Sonoma. This year, February 24-28 is the time for Mardi Gras celebrations! Over time I have adopted a few traditions in my home that I gathered during the past 25 years of visiting the City of New Orleans.
The first time I visited New Orleans was the winter of 1988, and I honestly did not know what Mardi Gras was nor did I know about boudin. Boudin is a white sausage made of pork without the blood; pork liver and heart meat are typically included. In Cajun versions, the sausage is made from a pork rice dressing (much like dirty rice), which is stuffed into pork casings.
Jambalaya (or “jumbalaya”) is a dish of Louisiana origin with Spanish and French influence. It consists of meat and vegetables mixed with rice. Étouffée (ay-TOO-fay) is a dish found in both Cajun and Creole cuisine typically served with shellfish over rice or even muffaletta, a type of round Sicilian sesame bread that is also a popular sandwich that originated among Italian immigrants in New Orleans using the same bread. Beignet is the French term for a pastry made from deep-fried choux pastry and dusted with powdered sugar.
I can tell you now, I do know what they each are and I truly enjoy each of them.
Now that we have covered a few of my favorite dishes, I should not overlook the traditional red beans and rice, a dish of Louisiana Creole cuisine, traditionally made on Mondays with red beans, vegetables, spices and pork bones that are left over from Sunday dinner, cooked together slowly in a pot and served over rice. On a fairly regular basis and not necessarily on a Monday, our home carries the aroma of red beans and rice—and since I do not really know how to cook for two (as a chef I typically cook for 10 or more)—we are known to make a large pot and invite our neighbors over for dinner or we will pack up and deliver some to our neighbors as I have so much to share.
If you have not had the honor of visiting New Orleans, please do take a vacation and check it out. Pack your bags with an extra bag because, I promise, you will be bringing loads of goodies home, everything from spices, to swag and more. I happen to enjoy spring weather in New Orleans, and the Crescent City always seems to have a festival on the weekend. Please plan on dining, and I do mean dining! Four meals a day would be my suggestion—and progressively dine by having a taste at as many places as you can.
Now when home in Sonoma County, you can find a few venues that serve with a New Orleans flair. Starting with Parish in Healdsburg, this is a place not to be missed; I love their menu, music and ambiance. Next in line would be Rocker Oysterfeller’s. The menu changes regularly and they offer some mighty fine specials! Plan an afternoon of dining at Bird and The Bottle, as they offer fried chicken, and pimento cheese to start, and they do add-on specials or seasonal items. For a nice southern cocktail, check out the Sonoma County Distilling Co. for tastings and tours by appointment. Make sure to designate a driver and then enjoy a flight of their whiskey, including the West of Kentucky Bourbon, my personal favorite, as it has all the attributes of a fine bourbon.
Each February, we host a party at our home, which includes family, friends and community. We dress up for fun, eat lots of food, play music and enjoy each other’s company. The Mardi Gras I love is where we watch parades, enjoy family, friends, a few cocktails and catch beads from the parade, dine around friends’ homes and just really have a great time.
Enjoy a few tips below for a taste and feel of New Orleans. Happy Mardi Gras Season to you, and throw me some beads, mister! SD
Red Beans and Rice
Created by Sheana Davis, The Epicurean Connection
Yields 12 servings
1 pound Camellia dried red beans, rinsed and sorted over
4 tablespoons bacon grease
1/4 cup garlic, chopped fine
1/2 cup chopped tasso, or chopped spicy ham
1 cup celery, chopped
2 cups yellow onions, chopped
1 cup green bell pepper, chopped
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Pinch or two of cayenne pepper
4 bay leaves
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped fine
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped fine
1/2 pound smoked sausage, cut into 1/4 inch thick rounds
1 pound smoked ham hocks
10 cups chicken stock,
5 cups cooked white rice
1/2 cup chopped green onions, garnish
Place beans in a large bowl or pot and cover with water by 2 inches and allow to soak overnight. Drain and set aside while preparing ingredients.
In a large pot, over medium flame, heat the bacon grease. Add the garlic and tasso and cook, stirring for 3 minutes. Add the celery, bell peppers and onions and continue to sauté. Sprinkle in the salt, pepper and cayenne, stirring, until the vegetables are translucent, approximately 5 minutes. Add the bay leaves, parsley, thyme, sausage and ham hocks, and continue to brown the sausage and ham hocks, about 5 minutes. Add the beans and stock and bring to a simmer, while stirring well. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the beans are tender, approximately 2 hours. (If the beans become too thick and dry, add more stock, about 1/4 cup at a time.)
Remove the pot of beans from the heat and, while still warm, with the back of a heavy spoon, mash about 1/4 of the beans against the side of the pot. Continue to cook until the beans are tender and creamy, an additional 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the heat. Remove the bay leaves. Serve over rice and garnish with green onions. Enjoy! (You may freeze the Red Beans in airtight containers.)
mardigraszone.com (for Mardi Gras supplies)