Fat Tuesday is mere days away, and while the temps are dropping outside, today we’re featuring some warm eats to help you get in the Mardi Gras spirit. Welcome StyleBlueprint friend Tracy Sproule, who shares with us some fabulous Mardi Gras recipes she recently put together, as well as some totally handy tips to help you whip things up in no time! So before the possible snow rolls in for some of our readers, and raw cold for most of our readers, get to the store and grab your obligatory milk and eggs, as well as the ingredients needed for these recipes, and then settle in for some warm, fabulous food. Take it away, Tracy!

Mardi Gras meals

Tracy Sproule:

I did not grow up in New Orleans. I never spent all of February celebrating Mardi Gras. But it would have been fun, I’m sure! People in New Orleans are eccentric and vivacious with bold character. And it’s this energy that electrifies the city! Then there is the food. Oh, the food … New Orleans cuisine was a culinary food movement before anyone knew what “culinary” meant. The dishes have history. They are inspired by culture. And, with every bite, 100 years of what “has been” comes out. Whether you like New Orleans or not, you can’t dispute the fact that it’s like no other place in the world.

So when I was asked to host a February bunko (by the way, this group has not played bunko in eight years!), the cuisine selection was a no-brainer: New Orleans fare. The Internet, cookbooks and a bag of cornmeal provided some great recipes that were easy and delicious. I made a lot of food, but isn’t that the way of the Big Easy? A “little” excess and a whole lot of forgiveness?

First steps first, there are few recipes out of the Crescent City that do not include the holy trinity, the Cajun/Creole variant of mirepoix: onions, green peppers and celery. Therefore, go ahead and take a few of each and start your chopping. This is messy and not fun, so kick up the music and cut away in one sitting for all dishes.

Chop up onions for great New Orleans fare.

Chopping isn’t the most fun thing in the world, but throw on some tunes, and you’ll be done in no time!

Rachael Ray has a great Everything Jambalaya recipe. I’ve made it several times, and it’s one of my favorites. She serves it more like a gumbo, putting the mixture at the bottom and the rice on top.  This means you can make the dish ahead and even freeze it. No mushy rice issues. Of course, I cannot help but put my Alabama flair on things by substituting Conecuh sausage for Andouille … YUM!

Rachael Ray jambalaya

Jambalaya, anyone?!

I gained 10 pounds one summer because I lived next to a deli with the best muffuletta EVER. Make this signature New Orleans sandwich simple by skipping the part where you make your own olive spread. I found Sable & Rosenfeld Mediterranean Bruschetta at the local grocery. It has all the ingredients needed for the sandwich, and it was so much easier.  Plus you can make the muffuletta up to a day ahead. Man, it is good.  

Mediterranean olive bruschetta

Find a flavorful olive bruschetta spread at the local grocery to keep muffuletta construction simple.

I don’t know who blogger Jacques Gaspard is, but he makes a mean Shrimp Pie. He is known as a Louisiana cook and humorist, and he’s been cooking Cajun food for 50 years. On his website, you can find recipes and a hodgepodge of stories, recordings, music and other anecdotes to entertain. Sounds like he embodies the reasons I love NOLA. This pie was everyone’s favorite.   

Jacques Gaspard's shrimp pie ... delish!

Jacques Gaspard’s shrimp pie … delish!

As I was about to grab the Jiffy muffin mix, the Alabama King Corn Meal caught my eye. “But you don’t know how to make homemade corn bread,” screamed my inner pessimist. Well, no fear … There is a recipe on the back of the bag. It was just as divine as my Grandmother Taylor’s, and that is something to live up to. Well, we all know the secret is in the hot skillet.

Find a great cornbread recipe on the side of the Alabama King flour bag.

Find a great corn bread recipe on the side of the Alabama King bag.

I closed the menu out with Paula Deen’s The Best Bread Pudding. It will make you want to slap your sister. I mean it! The best part is that it is even better served cold, so slice yourself a piece for breakfast the next morning with a cup of coffee.  

Paula Dean's bread pudding recipe

Bread pudding is even better the next morning …

I am sure a purist would not agree with all the recipes above, because a lot of the great taste of Mardi Gras comes from the time it takes to make each dish. With every bite, you can feel the rewards of patience and cultivation. The best gumbo I have ever tasted had a roux that manifested over a week’s time. Believe me, this time pays off in multiples, but for a nonnative, the above dishes brought a little bit of New Orleans to my home, if only for a few hours.

Tracy Sproule lives in Birmingham, AL and is bringing Mardi Gras tastes far beyond the Alabama borders today. Thank you, Tracy! Everyone now needs to head to the grocery store and make some Jambalaya and more! Laissez Les Bons Temps Rouler! (Let the good times roll!)