One of the traditions I can really get behind is king cake. While people in my neck of the woods are lining up in droves to get authentic paçzki, I am cheerfully making a king cake (I haven't done one from scratch yet, as I am not much of a baker---I use Mam Papaul's mix)---or picking up one from the grocery or bakery. A king cake is a beautiful ring of cinnamon coffee cake, drizzled with powdered sugar glaze and scattered liberally with sugar in Mardi Gras colors---green, gold, and purple. Traditionally, a small ceramic or plastic baby is baked or placed in the cake and the person who gets the baby either is responsible for bringing the next king cake (remember, Mardi Gras in New Orleans is an entire season stretching from Epiphany to the actual day of Fat Tuesday) or has good luck in the coming year, depending on whom you ask.
When I'm in Dayton, Ohio, I like to go to dinner at either Rue Dumaine or The Winds Cafe, home of a great tableside Bananas Foster, for Mardi Gras dinner. However, when that's not an option, I usually make jambalaya at home for our Mardi Gras supper. I'm not the world's biggest pancake fan in the first place and it seems like all the churches around me have pancake suppers for Fat Tuesday. If more churches had New Orleans cuisine instead of pancake suppers on the occasion, I would definitely be up for it! Instead, we skip our church's festivities in favor of homemade dinners. Here's the jambalaya I made this year. We had salad and king cake with it. By the way, if you can get your hands on some grapefruit balsamic, it goes beautifully with a little really good olive oil on a radicchio & romaine salad!
Chicken & Sausage Jambalaya
1 lb. skinless, boneless chicken breast, cubed
2 tbsp. Cajun seasoning (I used Emeril's Essence this year)
2 tbsp. oil
2-4 andouille links, sliced
1 onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
1 red pepper, chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
1 tsp. salt
1/8-1/4 tsp. cayenne
A good grinding of black pepper
1 can diced tomatoes
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 bay leaves
1 tsp. thyme
2 c. converted rice (such as Uncle Ben's)
32 oz. chicken broth
1 lb. shrimp (I omit these, most of the time, because shrimp wig my wife out; I highly recommend adding them, though)
1 bunch scallions, sliced
A big handful of chopped parsley
Season the chicken with the Cajun seasoning. Heat the oil & brown the chicken. Set aside. Add sausage to same pan and brown. Add onion, peppers, celery, salt, cayenne, pepper. Cook about 5 minutes. Add tomatoes, garlic, bay leaves, and thyme. Cook another couple minutes. Add rice. Cook, stirring, a couple minutes. Add broth and bring to a boil. Return chicken to pot. Cover and simmer 14 minutes. If using shrimp, add it to the pot, cover, and cook until the shrimp are just pink, about 3 minutes. Add scallions and parsley. Serves 8.