Tuesday, February 28, 2006

"Laissez Les Bon Temps Roulez!"

King Cake photo from Gumbo Pages. Now that's my idea of a King Cake!

It's here! It's Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday! I can remember one song, an oldie, called Go to the Mardi Gras. Professor Longhair did it. If you've been to Mardi Gras, you've heard this song. Trust me, have it's the one with all the whistling. I though we'd take a look and see if any of our classic rock friends have done Mardi Gras songs and this is what I found.

The first that came to mind was actually a CD by Creedence Clearwater Revival, appropriately named "Mardi Gras", released in 2004. I love CCR. Some of my best teen memories have CCR doing the soundtrack. Rolling Stone called this album "Fogarties Revenge." If you remember there was a time when John Fogarty was accused of trying to hog the whole shebang himself and that the others were mere back ups. Listen to this album, and you'll hear some great stuff and some really horrid stuff. Turns out Fogarty really is the main talent. Uh, it's not really a great album, but it doesn't totally suck either. (Although I dare you not to laugh during "Hello Mary Lou". )

Actually, aside from the title, it has nothing to do with Mardi Gras. And in searching around, Jon Landau (Rolling Stone music critic) says "It's the worst album I have ever heard from a major rock band. " I hate to admit, but he's right.

Ok, let's see if I can find some real music for you...um...you know there's not a lot of classic rock bands that have ever done Mardi Gras songs. Their loss! So here's some Mardi Gras treats from different genres for you to find and check out. (And if you know of any classic rock bands who have done Mardi Gras, songs, please! Let me know!) Mardi Gras music is in a class of it's own, and it's one you can have a lot of fun getting to know.

Of course, practically any Neville Brothers CD or album is a good starting place!

Fats Domino, who's a longtime favorite of mine, is another artist to check out. Remember Walking to New Orleans?

Now here's one of my favorite female blues singers, Marva Wright, there is Marva Right, Blues Queen. Don't think you are going to sit down and listen to this. No way Jose! I guarantee you are going to get up and dance. Her voice reaches down to your gut and just pulls you out of your seat. It may be physically impossible to just sit still during this CD. I've tried, and failed. You can get her CD at the Mardi Gras Outlet. They also have so much more there, from costumes to throws, and they have some St. Patrick's Day stuff as well. And if you like throw beads, they have some really cool ones here. (And no, they didn't pay me for the ad -- I'm a frequent visitor to there site for my music needs.)

Keep an eye out for The Wild Magnolias. Their 1970 song New Suit is a Mardi Gras classic. It's also opened a whole new genre to folk music: Mardi Gras/New Orleans. If you want to hear "New Suit" go here.

The String Cheese Incident (a jam movement bands) did two day concert at Boise Idaho's Rose Tree Ballroom in 2004 with some great Mardi Gras type songs in the second half (Right Place, Wrong Time and Shakin' the Trees). Here's one link where you can download it - the Live Music Archives. (Which is site worth checking out. There are some gems there, and not just music ones.)

Also, Joan Baez recorded Manha de Carnaval on her CD Joan Baez in Concert. It is a must listen! OK, I'm terribly biased here, Baez could sing Itsy Bitsy Spider and I'd love it. But seriously, Manha de Carnaval is worth adding to your Marde Gras playlist.

Another of my musical passions is the group Beausoleil. La Chanson de Mardi , which can be found on Live from the Left Coast, is tres jolie, ma bebe! My favorite summer Sunday mornings are spent going to church at 8:00, coming home to my husband's garbage scramble (eggs, hash browns, peppers, onions, and whatever leftover vegies or meat we have all dumped in the wok and scrambled and served with copious amounts of the hot sauce du jour, and served with a tall glass of sweet Long Island ice tea) and listing to Beasoleil and Frank Sinatra. Not for everybody, but it's my idea of heaven.

Joe Turner also has song on his Tell Me Pretty Baby CD called Mardi Gras. It'll make you a Joe Turner convert!

So much for the music. It's time to talk about Mardi Gras food. There's so much, but I'm going to concentrate the one food that you can't have a Mardi Gras without: the King Cake, which is really more of a frosted brioche. You can find many recipes out on the web, but I thought I'd share my grandmother's recipe. She didn't make it very often, but when she was the chef at a south Florida hotel she made it every year. Oh, it's so yummy! It's also not quite traditional.

I've added additional instructions in because all have is the ingredient list. It worked the one time I made it, and I hope if you try it it'll work for you!

Esther's King Cake:

1/2 cup lukewarm water, 110 to 115 degrees
2 packages dry yeast
Proof the yeast in a bowl. (pour the yeast over the warm water with a pinch of sugar. Yeast who are ready to party. Actually you should check the manufactures directions since some don't use sugar.)

4 1/2 to 5 1/2 cups sifted flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg (I like fresh grated, but she used commercial)
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
1/2 teason grated lime rind
1/2 cup lukewarm milk
3 eggs
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons butter, softened, no margarine, creamed
1 egg, lightly beaten with 1 tablespoon milk
1 bean or small plastic baby doll.

Put the yeast in the warm water and let it develop.

Sift flour, sugar, nutmeg and salt in mixing bowl. Stir in lemon and lime peel.

Punch a hole down in the center and then pour in the yeast mixture and milk.

All all your eggs and slowly, stirring with a large wooden spoon until the ingredients are mixed together well. Then add the butter put everything in a heavy duty KitchenAid mixer, or similar. By this point the mix is too difficult to mix by hand and you really need help. Trust me.

Once the mixture forms a ball, put it on a floured board and knead it like you are making bread. You might have to add a bit more flour, but only do it a little bit at a time.

When the ball becomes smooth and elastic, put it in a large buttered bowl. Roll the ball around so it gets entirely covered with butter. Cover bowl and set aside until it is doubled in bulk. (It takes about 1 to 1 1/2 hours more or less depending on the humidity and temperature.

When it has risen, put some flour down on the counter, transfer the dough to the counter and punch it down again. Knead and roll out into a log about 14 inches long. Place it on a greased backing sheet and form a ring. Take the bean or the doll and press it into the dough from underneath so they are well hidden. I prefer the doll because there is less chance someone will swallow it.

Bake in middle of preheated oven at 375 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes, or until golden brown. Transfer cake to wire rack to completely cool.

The icing (my favorite part)

Make sure you have the colored sugars - green, purple and yellow. If you have a cup of each you can't go wrong. It stores well if you don't use it all.

For the icing, mix the confectioners sugar, lemon juice and 3 tablespoons of water in a deep bowl and stir until all the ingredients are smooth. It may get stiff, but you can add in 1 teaspoon of water (sometimes my grandmother used mint or peach schnapps or for this) at a time, until desired you have a consistency that will spread well and just drip down the sides.

With a French spatula, spread the icing over the top of the cake. Let it run down the sides; if it doesn't your icing is still too thick. Then, sprinkle the sugars on in rows, alternating purple-yellow-green. If make each row about two inches wide you should end up with a continuous circle of colors.

Now this is where my grandmother's recipe differs. Most call for two candied cherries at either end, pressed into the dough. She hated candied cherries, so she would put chocolate covered cherries or cordials on the green sugared areas.

When you serve the cake, whoever gets the doll gets to make the King Cake next year. I think this was rigged around our house. Nany always got doll. Which considering the cooking skills of some of her friends was a good thing!

Pam's Sweet Long Island Iced Tea

1/2 oz Vodka
1/2 oz Tequila
1/2 oz Spiced rum
1/2 oz Gin
1 dash simple syrup
1 dash your favorite Cola
Twist of lime

Mixing instructions:
Mix all contents in a highball glass and stir gently. Add dash of cola to
color it and garnish with lemon or lime twist. Some like lemon, I like lime.

How to make simple syrup. This is easy to do, and it keeps for a very long time.
Mix two parts water to one part sugar and boil until the sugar dissolves. You don't need to do any stirring. This is great for bevvies. And you can add extracts to flavor or use juices to make a flavored simple syrup. Have fun experimenting.

"Laissez Les Bon Temps Roulez!"