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Mardi Gras

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Mardi Gras


Let the good times roll with these 5 (big) easy dishes for Mardi Gras

To many, Mardi Gras is simply the last major feast day before Easter in the Catholic year. However, for those who live in parts of the country where Krewes and parades fill the streets, Mardi Gras is a season of indulgence and celebration known as Carnival, which runs from Epiphany on January 6 to Ash Wednesday. With parties and gatherings that can run all day and night, it’s crucial to prepare dishes that can feed a crowd with minimal fuss.

Whether you’re planning on spending an entire day along the parade route on New Orleans’ St. Charles Avenue or hosting a food-and-drink-fueled fête for friends at home, try these low-maintenance recipes guaranteed to help you laissez les bon temps rouler.  

Bacon-Cheddar Drop Biscuits
The mindset of breakfast being the most important meal of the day certainly applies to anyone planning on watching a Mardi Gras parade. Much like a long-distance runner, proper carb-loading can help protect you from a marathon day of drinking. While a more substantial, time-consuming dish may be simmering on the stovetop for later, these bacon-cheddar drop biscuits are the perfect dish to start out the day. If you don’t have the time to cook and chop bacon, feel free to leave it out; however, the savory-smoky notes of the cured pork make the biscuits taste like more of a complete breakfast.
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Cajun Red Beans and Rice
If you’re looking to feed a crowd at home or at a parade site, it’s hard to go wrong with red beans and rice. Largely just needing time to simmer, this is a perfect, impossible-to-overcook stew. In fact, the beans only become creamier and absorb more flavor the longer they bubble away on the stove. All you have to do is monitor the consistency to make sure it doesn’t become too thick. Soaking and cooking the beans can be done a day or two in advance, while the rest of the stew is simply sweating aromatic vegetables and cooking the sausages and ham. If you can find tasso, a heavily-spiced Cajun ham, use it — it will add much more depth and spice to your red beans and rice.
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One-Pot Chicken and Sausage Jambalaya
A true one-pot wonder, this chicken and sausage jambalaya can be brought together in a little over an hour with very little fuss. Browning the sausage not only creates caramelization on the meat and the surface of the pot, but it also renders some of the fat, which permeates the entire dish. Sure, this recipe requires some love toward the beginning to make sure none of the rice and chicken stick to the bottom of the pot, but once the lid covers the pot, it’s smooth sailing ahead. Much like with red beans and rice, finding tasso ham will make a big difference in the finished product. However, you needn't fret if you can’t find it: Just substitute more sausage instead. Planning on bringing food to the parade? Just wrap the pot in aluminum foil — or transfer it to a disposable aluminum pan — and pack it next to the ice chest of cold beer.
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Easy Shrimp Creole
While Cajun food is spicier and typically centered around more meat and game, Creole cuisine — the food of the city of New Orleans — incorporates more seafood and a greater amount of vegetables. Although relatively easy, traditional Cajun specialities like jambalaya and red beans and rice still require some degree of time to cook. If you’re looking for something to get on the table much faster, this easy shrimp Creole can be prepped and cooked in under 45 minutes. This recipe involves simply making a light tomato stew, then poaching the shrimp in the stew, and serving over rice. For those who wish to serve this offsite, use small shrimp (such as size 61-70), which are less likely to suffer from overcooking.
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Buttermilk Pralines
If you want a sweet treat that captures the essence of New Orleans, try making these buttermilk pralines. Pronounced “PRAH-leenz,” these confections involve taking a buttermilk-spiked caramel to the soft ball stage (236 degrees), then folding in pecan halves to slightly cook in the caramel before hardening into a crisp candy. You’ll need a candy thermometer, but these pralines are otherwise very easy to prepare. Pro tip: Break off pieces of the pralines into your bourbon for something of an impromptu old-fashioned.
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Photo (Biscuits): Ramona King
Photo (Jambalaya): Maura Friedman
Photo (Pralines): Ramona King

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Chef Jeffrey Gardner is a native of Natchez, Miss., and a graduate of Millsaps College and Johnson & Wales University. He lives in Atlanta and has served as sous chef for popular restaurants South City Kitchen Midtown and Alma Cocina. In 2013 he became executive chef for East Cobb restaurant Common Quarter and was named one of ten “Next Generation of Chefs to Watch” by the Atlanta Business Chronicle. He has appeared on TV shows including Food Network’s Chopped and Cooking Channel’s How to Live to 100, and also filmed a series of healthy cooking videos with retired pro wrestler and fitness guru Diamond Dallas Page. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling the world with his wife Wendy, watching game shows and “spending all his money on Bruce Springsteen concerts.”