Before You Go
For more information, contact the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau, 1-800-672-6124 or visit online at www.neworleanscvb.com
Lafayette Convention and Visitors Commission, 1-800-346-1958, www.lafayettetravel.com
Louisiana Office of Tourism, 1-800-723-2174, www.louisianatravel.com.

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New Orleans King Cake
Ingredients:
2 packages active dry yeast
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1/2 cup lukewarm water
4-1/2 cups all-purpose flour, divided
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 cup lukewarm milk
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
5 egg yolks
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, cut into small pieces
2 tablespoons butter, divided
1 dried bean or pecan half or small (1-inch) plastic or china doll
1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon milk
Additional butter, for top of cake
Sugar tinted green, gold and purple, about 4 tablespoons of each color (see directions)

Sprinkle yeast and 2 teaspoons sugar over lukewarm water. Stir to dissolve, then let stand about 10 minutes, or until light and bubbly.

Combine 3-1/2 cups of the flour, 1/2 cup sugar, salt and nutmeg in large mixing bowl; stir to mix well. Add yeast mixture, milk and lemon peel. Work mixture together well (an electric mixer is ideal for this). Add egg yolks; beat in well. Work in 1/2 cup butter and continue to beat until butter is incorporated and mixture is smooth.

Either change to a mixer dough hook, or turn out dough onto floured surface. Knead until smooth and elastic, working in remaining 1 cup flour gradually. Dough should not be sticky.

Butter a bowl with 1 tablespoon butter; put ball of dough in bowl and turn to coat all sides. Cover with a towel and let rise in a draft-free place 1-1/2 to 2 hours, or until doubled.

Spread remaining 1 tablespoon butter on baking sheet. Turn out dough onto floured surface and form into a roll 14 or 15 inches long. Put roll on prepared baking sheet and form into an oval, pressing ends together to seal. Push bean, nut or doll into dough from the bottom, so that it is not visible from the top. Cover with a towel and let rise 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until doubled.

Brush top with egg-milk wash. Bake on middle rack of preheated 375-degree oven about 25 minutes, or until brown. Slide cake onto a wire rack to cool

Butter top of cooled cake. Using each color to cover 1/3, spread colored sugars over top of cake.

Yield: one cake; 12 to 15 servings.

To tint sugar: Put a drop of desired food color into sugar (one drop for 4 tablespoons sugar) and stir until sugar is evenly colored and brightly tinted. Green, gold (yellow) and purple are the traditional Mardi Gras colors.

Note: Some people knead cinnamon sugar, candied citron or raisins into the dough. Sometimes a confectioners’ sugar or fondant icing is applied before the colored sugars are added. Sometimes the cake is filled with cream cheese and/or other fillings.

This recipe is adapted from one shared by Pat Baldridge, former food editor of the “Morning Advocate” and “State-Times,” Baton Rouge.


Sandra Day's Chicken and Sausage Gumbo
Ingredients:
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground red (cayenne) pepper
1 (3-1/2- to 4-pound) chicken, cut up
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 medium onions, chopped (3 to 4 cups)
1 green bell pepper, chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
4 large cloves garlic, minced
4 quarts water or chicken stock
1 to 1-1/2 pounds andouille or smoked sausage, cut into 1/2-inch slices
1/2 cup chopped green onions (green part only)
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
Tabasco sauce, to taste
Hot cooked rice

Combine salt, black pepper and red pepper in small bowl. Mix well. Sprinkle half the seasoning mixture over chicken pieces. Heat oil in a heavy Dutch oven over medium heat. Add chicken pieces. Cook until brown on all sides. Remove chicken from pan, set aside.

Make a roux by stirring flour into drippings in pan, scraping loose any particles on pan bottom. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, 10 to 15 minutes, or until roux turns the color of peanut butter. Quickly stir in onions, green pepper, celery and garlic. Cook and stir about five minutes, or until vegetables are tender.

Stir in water and remaining seasoning mixture. Bring to a boil, scraping pan bottom to loosen all particles. Reduce heat and simmer 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add reserved chicken pieces and sausage; simmer 45 minutes to an hour, or until chicken is tender, adding additional water if needed to maintain desired consistency.

Remove from heat and let stand 15 minutes. Skim off excess fat and discard. Stir in green onions, parsley and Tabasco sauce. Check seasoning and adjust if needed. Serve in bowls over rice.

Yield: eight servings.


Beads, beignets and bowls of gumbo
Roll out these food favorites for Mardi Gras
Published: Jan/Feb 2003
By Barbara Gibbs Ostmann

Cafe au lait and beignets (above) are a favorite of New Orleans any time of year, and should be sampled by visitors during Mardi Gras. /New Orleans CVB photo

While visiting New Orleans over Mardi Gras, have a Po-boy, the city's version of a hero sandwich. (below) /New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau photo

Beads, masks, bands and parades–it’s Mardi Gras in Louisiana, which has all the ingredients for a delicious celebration.

A magical madness breaks out annually in New Orleans on the last Tuesday before the start of Lent, the Christian season of penitence prior to Easter. The climax of the weeks-long carnival season, Mardi Gras is one last fling before Lenten fasting and self-denial.

Carnival, which is Latin for farewell to meat, begins on Jan. 6 (Twelfth Night or Epiphany) and continues through Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday (March 4 this year), the day before Ash Wednesday. It's a riot of multicolored beads, feathered masks, hot music, wild merry-making–and great food.

It's tough to think of New Orleans without thinking of food–and lots of it. People from all over are attracted to Cajun and Creole cooking because they're synonymous with New Orleans, which in turn is synonymous with good times. Creole and Cajun cooking enthusiasts point out that the cuisines are not the same, although outside Louisiana the distinctions are often blurred. Cajun cooking is the country cousin of sophisticated Creole cuisine.

The New Orleans’ most famous (or infamous) holiday has its own delicacies.

King cakes

During the weeks of carnival leading to Mardi Gras, the food du jour is king cake, an oval-shaped coffee cake decorated with sugar in the official Mardi Gras colors–gold for power, green for faith and purple for justice. A small doll is baked inside the cake, and the person who gets the slice containing the doll must host the next party or buy the next cake for the office. At some parties, the recipient is crowned king or queen of the party.

The origins of king cake can be traced to the Middle Ages, when the celebration of Christmas often focused on the Three Wise Men, or kings, who followed a star to find the baby Jesus. Epiphany falls on Jan. 6, the Twelfth Night after the birth of Christ. The cake represents a kingly gift, and the baby doll baked inside (replacing the coin or bean used in earlier times) represents the Christ child found by the kings.

Today's king cakes come in a variety of styles and flavors. The basic version is yeast bread or brioche dough, usually braided, formed into an oval, and colorfully decorated to resemble a jeweled crown. The once-simple dessert now often comes stuffed with cream cheese and perhaps an additional filling of strawberry, chocolate, praline or lemon cream.

King cakes are widely available at bakeries throughout New Orleans. King cake boxed mixes are available from specialty food shops, or you can bake one from scratch.

“King cake is the only real Mardi Gras food. Otherwise, people eat on the street or at parties where people serve the traditional foods, such as jambalaya. However, I think the food eaten most on Mardi Gras is Popeye’s fried chicken,” says Dale Curry, food editor of the “Times-Picayune.”

A staff member at the Louisiana Office of Tourism volunteered that “Beer is the most popular Mardi Gras food.”

Gumbo stars at Courir de Mardi Gras

In Lafayette, food writer Sandra Day confirms that king cake is the main treat in the weeks leading up to Mardi Gras, but gumbo has a starring role in the Courir de Mardi Gras, or Mardi Gras Run, that is held in Cajun towns, such as Elton, Mamou and Eunice. Basically, the courir is a run in search of the ingredients for a communal gumbo.

“There are Bayou Cajuns and Prairie Cajuns, and their diets are different,” says Day. Mamou and nearby towns are in Prairie Cajun Country, so the gumbo is likely to be chicken or sausage, rather than the seafood gumbo found in Bayou Cajun Country.

The courir is a traditional rural celebration, with roots in the medieval tradition of ceremonial begging, says Kelly Strenge of the Lafayette Convention and Visitors Commission. Bands of masked and costumed horseback riders roam the countryside “begging” for ingredients for their gumbo. Le capitaine, a caped and unmasked captain, leads the riders from farm to farm and asks permission to enter the property. Then the riders dismount and dance, sing, chase chickens or just act silly. The farm owner gives a donation, such as chicken, sausage, rice or onions, for the gumbo.

“Often the horseback riders are accompanied by a band in a wagon or truck,” adds Day. “As the courir continues along its route, the ‘parade’ grows as families follow along in their cars. Then everyone goes back into town and puts the gumbo together. The festivities end with a fais-do-do (dance) and lots of gumbo for everyone.”

The courir is a tradition as well as a rite of passage, says Strenge. Perhaps the most authentic courir is the one held in Elton, where revelers wear traditional costumes with cone-shaped hats, screen masks and capes.

Please pass the Po-boys

Other popular foods, at Mardi Gras or anytime of year, are red beans and rice, jambalaya, Po-boys and muffalettas. The Po-boy, which is short for poor boy, is New Orleans’ version of a hero sandwich. It got its name in 1914 when two men sold them to co-workers for 10 cents apiece during a streetcar strike. A muffaletta is a variation on the Po-boy, and features a tangy olive salad and a round loaf of bread. Some chefs say jambalaya, a rice dish that can contain chicken, sausage, seafood and more, evolved from Spanish paella. Red beans and rice were traditionally a wash day staple, because they could be cooked on the back burner of the stove with little tending while the cook did the laundry.

No visit to Mardi Gras is complete without sipping a Hurricane, the rum and fruit juice drink that looks harmless, but packs a wallop. Don't forget to take time out to sit and enjoy a café au lait and beignet (a square hole-less doughnut) at the Café du Monde in the French Quarter–it’s as much a tradition as the beads, masks and parades.

Order a king cake from Louisiana

• Haydel’s Bakery, 4037 Jefferson Highway, Jefferson, LA 70121; 1-800-442-1342 or www.haydelbakery.com. The cake is made of Danish dough laced with cinnamon and sugar and topped with fondant icing and colored sugars. The package includes a cardboard crown, carnival beads and doubloons, a history of king cake, and a tiny doll baked inside the cake. Cost is $31.49, including next-day shipping; $35.49 with additional topping.

• Meche’s Donut King, 402 Guilbeau Road, Lafayette, LA 70506; (337) 981-4918. The cake is made of doughnut dough and topped with green, purple and gold colored sugars, plus a filling of your choice. It comes with a history of king cake, a cardboard crown, carnival beads and a tiny baby doll to be tucked into the bottom side of the cake. Cost is $35, including next-day shipping.


Barbara Gibbs Ostmann is a contributor from Gerald, Mo.


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