I’m sorry to say I have never been to New Orleans, let alone Mardi Gras. With three kids under six I doubt I’ll be going anytime soon, either. The first time I celebrated Mardi Gras I was 22 or 23 and imbibed entirely too many hurricanes for any night of the week, let alone a Tuesday. Suffice it to say I blame that miscalculation entirely on my college roommate and God willing will never repeat such a misadventure.
Before I became a little mama I enjoyed a happy single-girl life in Chicago, and one of my all-time favorite lunch spots in the city is Heaven on Seven. Heaven on Seven is a Cajun place improbably owned by a Greek guy and located on the seventh floor of a small office building called the Garland Building. They don’t take reservations and there’s always a line, but it’s worth the wait. My last boyfriend of note before my husband came along was a bit of an idiot, but he gave me the Heaven on Seven Cookbook for Christmas and for that I will always appreciate him. Every year for Mardi Gras I like to make a batch of their gumbo and some cheese grits (cheddar or jack, please, not parmesan). This year I am hoping my kids will try it, but just for extra measure I am going to make a King Cake, too. We’re going to wear feathered masks and throw beads at each other, although the shirts are staying on, thank you very much.
Heaven on Seven Chicken and Sausage Gumbo, from the Heaven on Seven Cookbook
Do not be daunted by the long list of ingredients. Most of them are pretty routine stuff and this is far easier than it may look. It’s caloric and a bit time consuming, but once a year one should laissez les bon temps roulez, non?
2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cubed
4 t. plus ½ t. Angel Dust Cajun Seasoning (see below)
2 T. olive oil
1 lb. andouille sausage, sliced
1 c. diced yellow onion
¾ c. sliced green onion, white and green parts
½ c. diced red onion
2 c. diced green bell pepper
1 ½ c. diced celery
1 T. minced jalapeno
1 T. roasted garlic puree (see below)
½ t. dried basil
½ t. dried oregano
¼ t. black pepper
¼ t. white pepper
¼ t. crushed red pepper
1 bay leaf
6 1/3 c. chicken stock
1 ½ c. flour
1 c. canola oil
¼ t. file powder (optional)
Toss the chicken and 4 t. of the Cajun seasoning . In a large Dutch oven, heat the olive oil. Add the andouille and brown for 6 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the seasoned chicken and cook for 4 minutes. Add the onions and cook an additional 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Mix in the vegetables and garlic puree and sauté for 2 minutes. Add the remaining seasonings (including the remaining ½ t. of Cajun seasoning) and cook for 2 minutes. Pour in the stock and bring to a boil.
In a separate saucepan, heat the oil until very hot. Add the flour, reduce the heat to medium, and cook, stirring, until the mixture is dark brown, about 20 to 25 minutes. Slowly whisk into the pot and stir for 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and simmer uncovered for one hour. Remove from heat, remove the bay leaf, and stir in the file powder (do not let boil after adding the file). Serve over cooked white rice.
Roasted Garlic Puree: Preheat the oven to 300. Cut the top off a head of garlic, put it in a ramekin, cover with olive oil, and cover with aluminum foil. Roast 1 hour until light golden brown and soft. Puree the garlic and 2 T. of the oil in a blender. Set aside the remaining oil for another use (I like to drizzle it on pizza dough).
Angel Dust Cajun Seasoning: 3 T. Hungarian hot paprika, 1 ½ T. regular paprika, 5 t. salt, 1 ¼ t. dried thyme, 1 ½ t. dried oregano, 1 t. white pepper, ½ t. dried basil, ½ t. cayenne pepper, ¼ t. black pepper, 1/8 t. garlic powder, 1/8 t. onion powder. Blend together and store in an airtight container.
King Cake, from a recipe by Emeril Lagasse
King Cake customarily has a plastic baby hidden inside, and whoever finds the baby wins good luck, favors, etc. As a child I had recurrent nightmares about the baby from the king cake, so I am even less inclined to go driving around trying to find one. Instead, I am going to resurrect my grandmother’s tradition of hiding change in birthday cake (aka “money cake”) and hide coins in the King Cake. Everyone will get a little something and come out ahead.
2 pkgs. dry active yeast
½ c. sugar
8 T. unsalted butter, melted
5 egg yolks
1 c. warm milk
4-5 c. flour
2 t. salt
1 t. nutmeg
1 t. grated lemon zest
8 oz. cream cheese
2 ½ c. powdered sugar
Juice of one lemon
2 T. milk
Colored sugar sprinkles (customarily purple, green, and gold)
Object(s) to hide in cake
Preheat the oven to 350. Combine the yeast, sugar, butter, and egg yolks in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the dough hook. Add the milk. Beat on low for about 4 minutes to dissolve the yeast. If the mixture doesn’t foam after a few minutes, it isn’t active and you’ll have to start over.
In a separate mixing bowl, combine the flour, salt, nutmeg, and lemon zest. Add to yeast mixture. Mix on low until it lightly comes together, then increase to medium and beat until it pulls away from the sides of the bowl, forms a ball, and climbs up the dough hook. Remove from bowl, coat dough with vegetable oil, return to bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Set in a warm quiet place and let rise until doubled, about 2 hours.
Combine cream cheese and ½ c. powdered sugar. Mix well. In another bowl, combine rest of powdered sugar, lemon juice, and milk. Mix well.
Turn dough out onto a floured surface. Roll out to 30 inches long and six inches wide. Spread cream cheese filling across center of the dough lengthwise. Bring the two long edges together and seal all sides completely. Place on a greased baking sheet, seam side down and shaped into a ring. Place a well-greased bowl, can, or other round space filler in the center of the ring to keep the shape during baking. Press the prize(s) into the ring from the bottom to keep hidden. Cover with a towel and place in a warm place to rise for about 45 minutes or until doubled in size. With a sharp knife, make several slits in the top. Bake 30 minutes or until golden brown. Allow to cool, then drizzle with sugar glaze and sprinkle with sugar, alternating colors. Cut into individual pieces to serve.