Mardi Gras 2013

I’m not from New Orleans nor do I observe Lent, but, ANY excuse for me to cook a themed meal & I am all over it! I cooked our Mardi Gras dinner last night so YOU could read the post today and get some ideas for your own Mardi Gras dinner tonight.

On my menu: Muffaletta Finger Sandwiches, Shrimp Creole and a Mardi Gras Salad with a Creole Vinaigrette
Muffaletta Finger Sandwiches
Recipe comes from a “Cuisine at Home” magazine, with modifications
Serves 8-12 as an appetizer, 4-6 as lunch
  • ¼ cup red wine vinegar
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • ½ tsp. dried oregano leaves
  • 1 cup drained Giardiniera vegetables
  • 1 cup chopped green olives with pimentos
  • ¼ lb. each of two to three meats: salami, honey turkey, mortadella, capicola, ham
  • 1 loaf ciabatta, halved lengthwise
  • ~½ lb. sliced provolone or mozzarella
Preheat oven to 400º. Line a baking sheet with foil. Place vinegar, oil, mustard, dried oregano, Giardiniera vegetables and olives in a food processor and pulse until vegetables are minced.
Giardiniera Olive MixtureChop meats and stir into Giardiniera mixture. Place ciabatta halves on baking sheet. Spoon Giardiniera-meat mixture evenly over bread and top with mozzarella slices.
Muffaletta Ready for the OvenBake until cheese melts and meat is hot, 20-25 minutes. Slice each ciabatta half into 6-8 slices. This is fabulous as an appetizer for a party or watching the big game.
Muffaletta Finger Sandwiches
Shrimp Creole
My own recipe
Serves 4
  • ¼ cup butter
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ medium white onion, diced
  • 1 medium green bell pepper, diced
  • 3 stalks celery, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 14.5-oz. can diced tomatoes
  • 1¾ cup crushed tomatoes
  • 2 bays leaves
  • 1¾ cup water (1 can’s worth)
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • ⅛ tsp. cayenne pepper
  • Dash Worcestershire sauce
  • Dash hot sauce – optional
  • 1½-2 lb. peeled and deveined shrimp, tails removed
  • 1 Tbsp. creole seasoning
  • White rice, for serving
  • Flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped – for garnish
  • Scallions, thinly sliced – for garnish
Melt butter over medium heat. Add flour and cook, stirring constantly, to make a dark roux (the color of chocolate).
Chocolate Colored RouxAdd onion, celery and bell pepper (the “trinity”); cook until tender, about 10 minutes. Add garlic & cook 1 minute. Add both tomatoes, bay leaves, water, salt & cayenne. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, toss shrimp with creole seasoning in a medium bowl. Add Worcestershire sauce, and hot sauce (if using) to tomatoes in pot. Mix to incorporate, then add shrimp. Cook 4-6 minutes (depending on the size of your shrimp), until fully cooked.
Serve over white rice, garnished with parsley and scallions. Pass additional hot sauce at the table.
For a nice presentation, mold rice into ramekins and invert onto large shallow bowls. Spoon shrimp & sauce around rice. Garnish.
Shrimp Creole
Mardi Gras Salad with Creole Vinaigrette
This salad is festive with the Mardi Gras colors of purple, yellow and green
Serves 6
  • 2 romaine hearts, sliced crosswise 1″ thick
  • ¼ small purple cabbage, thinly sliced
  • 1 pint yellow cherry, pear or grape tomatoes, halved (omit if you can’t find yellow)
  • 1 English cucumber, thinly sliced
  • 3 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
  • 6 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp. creole mustard
  • 2  cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 yellow pepper, cored and cut into 6 rings
Place romaine, cabbage, tomatoes & cucumbers in a large bowl. Whisk vinegar, oil, mustard & garlic together. Taste & season with salt if needed. Toss dressing with salad. Serve salad on chilled plates and top each with a pepper ring (I completely got distracted while cutting my yellow pepper and ended up with strips instead of rings).
Mardi Gras Salad
Laissez Les Bons Temps Rouler!

Teriyaki Marinade

This teriyaki marinade is quite easy and so much better than a store bought one. You do need to plan ahead a little because it will need to cool before you marinate your raw protein. The recipe comes from an old Williams-Sonoma cookbook, Chicken for Dinner.

Teriyaki SalmonTeriyaki Marinade by Williams-Sonoma
  • ½ cup low sodium soy sauce
  • ¼ cup rice wine
  • ¼ cup dry sherry
  • 1 Tbsp.-sized chunk fresh ginger, minced
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 tsp brown sugar
In a small saucepan over high heat, combine all ingredients. Stir well and bring to a boil. Boil for one minute, then remove from heat. Pour into a shallow bowl and let cool completely. Once cool, use to marinate 4 servings of chicken or salmon or use as a basting sauce while cooking.
  • Garnish with scallions thinly sliced on the diagonal and black or white (toasted) sesame seeds
  • I like to put both the ginger chunk & garlic cloves in my mini food processor and pulse them together until minced.
Teriyaki Salmon with BroccoliWhen I made this last I served it with some simple steamed broccoli, sushi rice (known in our house as sticky rice) and an Asian-inspired salad with baby spinach, slivered red peppers & sliced raw mushrooms. I whipped up a simple vinaigrette with rice wine vinegar, soy sauce & canola oil.

French Bistro Menu

Last month was Eric’s and mine 20th anniversary. We went on a cruise. Without the kids. It was fabulous.

Toes in the sandMy parents kept our boys. Before they left, I cooked a very nice dinner to thank them for watching Nate & Andy. My parents had given me the latest Barefoot Contessa cookbook, Foolproof, for Hanukkah, so I used that as my starting point, and pulled a few recipes from another Barefoot Contessa cookbook I own, Barefoot in Paris, to create a French Bistro menu to rival any restaurant. This is a menu to cook when you need to impress your dinner guests.
French Bistro DinnerFrench Bistro Menu
Scallops Provençal, from Barefoot in Paris
Scallops ProvencalGreen Beans Gremolata, from Foolproof
Green Beans GremolataProvençal Cherry Tomato Gratin, From Foolproof
Cherry Tomato GratinI also served plain white basmati rice.
All of the recipes that I used are available on the Internet (just click on the recipe), so I’m not going to type them all in here. I pretty much followed each recipe to the letter and they were all fabulous!
French Madeleines from Costco were the perfect ending.

Braces Off Celebration plus Election Dinner Preview

My older son finally got his braces off yesterday & I planned a celebratory meal based on foods he wasn’t allowed to eat with braces on (but did anyway). Here is my adorable son.

Nate without Braces

I wasn’t going to serve candy apples and LaffyTaffy for dinner so I decided on corn on the cob, nuts & crunchy raw carrots.

For the nuts I made a Pecan-Crusted Cod based on this Pistachio-Crusted Cod from

Pecan-Crusted Cod
  • ½ cup pecan pieces⅓ cup panko
  • 2 Tbsp. grated Parmesan (from the green shaker can, horrors)
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 4 pieces of cod
  • 2 Tbsp Dijon mustard

Preheat oven to 425º. Mix pecans, panko, Parmesan & olive oil together in a small bowl (I forgot the olive oil & just ended up drizzling it over the fish after topping with pecan mixture.)

Line a rimmed cookie sheet or broiler pan with foil & mist with spray oil. Place fish pieces on foil & spread with the Dijon. Carefully cover each piece of fish with the pecan topping. Season with salt & pepper. (This is when I drizzled the olive oil on top)Bake for 10-12 minutes until the fish is cooked through and the topping is crisp & browned.

For the raw carrots I just served a veggie tray with bottled ranch (gasp!).

And, we used our standard method for the corn:
  • Shuck corn
  • Lay out piece of foil big enough to wrap one ear in.
  • Put pat of butter in the middle of the foil.
  • Place corn on the butter.
  • Season with salt & pepper.
  • Wrap up.
  • Repeat for all ears
  • Grill corn (that’s Eric’s job – one of these days I need to learn how to use the grill).

Last but not least, the preview for tomorrow’s Election Night Dinner…..

Election 2012 Dinner Ballot

Grilled Mahi Mahi Tacos

My family loves fish. We eat it frequently so I buy it in bulk from Costco (those big bags of individually flash frozen pieces). Then, I just defrost what we need for that night. If you’ve never had fish tacos then you are in for a surprise – they’re amazing. Most restaurants will serve fried fish tacos but I like the fish grilled for several reasons – (1) it’s much healthier, (2) you can actually taste the distinct flavor of the fish, and (3) the smoky flavor from grilling adds another dimension to the tacos.

Eric & I like it with corn tortillas but the boys prefer the flour so I warm up both. There are numerous toppings you can add to your tacos. I like offering a fruit salsa, pico de gallo, shredded cabbage and a chipotle yogurt sauce. You can probably tell after reading through these recipes that I like lots of cilantro and chipotle peppers (which are smoked dried jalapeños). Adjust to your own tastes.

These tacos are a complete meal for 4 but if you want to stretch the fish add a side or two such as rice and beans.

Mahi Mahi & Spicy Chipotle Rub

  • 4 6-oz. pieces Mahi Mahi or other firm white fish such as cod or halibut
  • Olive oil
  • 1 tsp. cumin
  • 1 Tbsp. dried oregano
  • 1 tsp. Chipotle Chile Pepper or to taste
  • 2 tsp. kosher salt
The Chipotle Chile Pepper is ground chipotle peppers. It is different from “Chili Powder” which is a mix of chili pepper, salt & other spices; the Chipotle Chile Pepper is spicier than Chili Powder.

Chili Powder on the left; Chipotle Chile Pepper on the right

Mix cumin, oregano, chipotle pepper & salt to make rub. Brush fish lightly with olive oil & sprinkle rub over both sides. Refrigerate up to 30 minutes.

Mahi Mahi with chipotle rub ready for the grill

Grill or broil until cooked through. Flake with a fork into large pieces and place in a serving bowl.

Fruit Salsa

  • 1 c. diced fruit – pineapple, mango, watermelon, peach, strawberry or nectarine
  • ½ sweet bell pepper, small dice – red, yellow or orange (color to contrast with the fruit)
  • 1 Tbsp. lime juice
  • 2 Tbsp. red onion, minced
  • 1 Tbsp. cilantro, finely chopped

Mix all fruit salsa ingredients together & season with salt. Set aside to combine flavors. This is amazing served with grilled fish or shrimp regardless of what else you are serving.

Pineapple Salsa

Pico de Gallo

  • 1 c. tomatoes, chopped
  • ⅓ c. white onion, chopped
  • 1 Tbsp. lime juice
  • 1 Tbsp cilantro, finely chopped
  • ¼ tsp. green Tabasco, or to taste

Mix all pico de gallo ingredients together & season liberally with salt. Set aside to combine flavors.

Pico de Gallo

Spicy Chipotle Yogurt Sauce

I make this with fat-free Greek yogurt but you could use sour cream if you prefer.
  • ⅔ c. fat-free Greek yogurt
  • 1 tsp. adobo sauce from canned chipotle in adobo
  • 2 tsp. lime juice
  • ½ tsp. Kosher salt
  • 1 Tbsp. cilantro, finely chopped

Chipotle Peppers in Adobo Sauce

Some recipes call for a pepper from the canned chipotle in adobo; others call for the sauce. You will have most of the can leftover. I put it in a plastic container and freeze it (be sure to label it). Then, when you have another recipe that calls for it, just defrost in the microwave, scoop out what you need and return to the freezer.

Mix all chipotle yogurt sauce ingredients together. Set aside to combine flavors. I also offer plain sour cream for those who don’t like their food spicy.

Spicy Chipotle Yogurt Sauce


  • Corn or flour tortillas, fajita or soft taco sized – 3 per person
  • 1 bag angel hair cole slaw
  • Fresh limes – cut into wedges for squeezing over your fish

To warm up the tortillas: lay a piece of plastic wrap about 3x the diameter of your tortillas on the counter. Take a piece of paper towel about 2-3x the diameter of your tortillas, wet it thoroughly and squeeze until damp but not dripping. Lay this on the plastic wrap and then place a stack of tortillas in the center. Fold the damp paper towel over the tortillas, then wrap in the plastic wrap.

Wrapping tortillas for warming in the microwave

Microwave until warm, about 30 seconds per side for a stack of about 6-8 tortillas.

Place warm tortillas, grilled fish, fruit salsa, pico de gallo, shredded cabbage, chipotle sauce and lime wedges on the table for dinner to build their own tacos.

Building Your Taco Step 1 – place fish on tortilla

Step 2 – add some salsa (pico de gallo on left; pineapple salsa on right)

Step 3 – add some shredded cabbage

Step 4 – add chipotle yogurt sauce

Take a bite. Close your eyes. And imagine you’re in Mexico. Someone pass the margaritas please. I guess that will have to be in another post….

Cedar Plank Salmon with Corn Relish and Caprese Pasta with Fresh Pesto Sauce

We ate well last night. Wild Alaskan salmon. Summer corn and tomatoes. Fresh pesto made with basil from my garden…. Since you’re probably already drooling I won’t bore you with any further introduction and go straight to the pictures and recipes.

Cedar Plank Salmon, Corn Relish, Caprese Pasta with Fresh Pesto

Cedar Plank Salmon Rub
Makes a lot – store in an airtight container in your pantry and use as needed.  Keeps forever. Salmon could be broiled instead of grilled.

  • 2 Tbsp. kosher salt
  • 2 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 Tbsp black pepper
  • 1 Tbsp garlic powder
  • 1 Tbsp dried basil
  • 1 Tbsp sweet paprika

Cedar Plank Salmon Rub (one piece left plain for the picky child)

Corn Relish
Delicious with salmon or flank steak

  • kernels cut from 2 ears of fresh corn
  • 1 large tomato, diced
  • 2 Tbsp minced red onion
  • 1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp chopped oregano (can use basil or cilantro instead)

Cook corn kernels in microwave for 1 minute.  Set aside. Cut up tomato & onion. Add to corn. Add olive oil and red wine vinegar. Season liberally with salt & pepper. Chop herbs and add to corn.  Mix well. Let sit at room temperature until ready to serve

Corn Relish

Caprese Pasta with Fresh Pesto Sauce
Serves 6-8 as a side dish or 4 as a main course

  • 1 13.25-oz. box medium shells pasta
  • ¾ cup packed basil
  • 1 large garlic clove
  • 2 Tbsp pine nuts
  • 3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 pints cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • 8 oz. fresh mozzarella, cut into large dice

Make fresh pesto: place basil, garlic, pine nuts and olive oil in a food processor and mix until it becomes a thick paste. Set aside.

Prepare tomatoes and place in the bottom of your serving bowl.  Season liberally with salt. Set aside. Prepare mozzarella and place in separate bowl; set aside.

Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain, reserving some of the pasta cooking water. Pour hot pasta directly over the tomatoes. Add pesto. Stir to combine. Add about ¼ cup of the reserved pasta cooking water to the pasta-pesto bowl and stir to incorporate. Add the mozzarella and stir gently. Serve immediately or let sit and serve at room temperature.

Notes: For this dish I left the customary Parmesan out of the pesto sauce because I was combining it with fresh mozzarella. To make a more traditional pesto, add 3 Tbsp. grated Parmesan to the food processor before blending.

Caprese pasta with fresh pesto sauce


— Suzanne

Moules Frites – Guest Post by Eric

Hi everyone!  I was in St. Louis last week visiting my parents with my two boys. And my dog. I haven’t gotten back to the kitchen yet but my husband did some yummy cooking before we left and agreed to do a guest post for me….

Hi, I’m “hubby” and I’m doing a guest blog this week. My first jobs in high school and college were at restaurants and I’ve cooked ever since. It’s great that Suzanne and I both enjoy cooking since it brings us closer together. I’ve written a couple blog entries about doing stuff you love and food which you can read at these links:

Doing Stuff You Love
My Un-Food Blog

Last weekend, Suz said she wanted to take things easy for dinner and I said I’d take over for Sunday. She reminded me that I had mussels on my brain and I figured I should go for it. I’ve cooked them a few times before and in general, it’s pretty a painless and fun dish. Even our youngest son, the picky eater, enjoys them. For the most part, it’s all simple prep and you get a tasty meal that looks fabulous. In the past, we’ve wanted fries to complete the “moules frites”.

My first challenge was getting enough mussels for the main dish. We went to a smaller seafood seller near us but they only had just over two pounds. Then we went to Whole Foods near us and they had plenty. I believe they were farm-raised and they were definitely de-bearded which was great. De-bearding mussels is a pain because each mollusk has to be done. The guy at the counter tapped each mussel to make sure it was alive – great service! Make sure your mussels are NOT in a sealed plastic bag and do not put them directly in a bowl ice or they’ll drown. Dead mussels are no good. I put mine in a colander on top of some ice and only lost one of them out of pounds. Any melting ice will drain and you can just add some more on top if needed. Here they are being happy as clams.

Mussels in a colander.

Mussels in a colander. Ice and let it drain so they don’t drown.

My next step was to prep what I was going to add to the mussels. The first thing was to get our Dutch oven and brown a few strips of bacon over medium high heat. Leave the fat at the bottom of the pot, you’ll use it. Next, I chopped the bacon as well as the rest of my ingredients: 4 tomatoes, about a cup of parsley, and two very large shallots which I sliced. Wash the mussels well, which the colander works perfectly for. If there’s an open one, tap it with one of its friends. If it doesn’t close, pitch it because it’s dead.

Prep work done

Prepped parsley, tomatoes, bacon, and shallots.

Cook the shallots about 5 minutes in the bacon fat until they’re tender. Then deglaze the bottom of the pot with a cup and a half of white wine; I used Chardonnay. Cook off the alcohol and reduce the contents for about another five minutes. Add in the tomatoes and cook for another two minutes.

Shallots and Tomatoes

Sauteed shallots with the tomatoes added.

Add the mussels and stir them in with the shallots and tomatoes, then put the lid on the pot and reduce the heat to medium. Leave them alone for 15 minutes then either transfer the contents of the pot to a large bowl or serve them in what you cooked them in. Sprinkle the chopped bacon and parsley on top and lightly toast something like a baguette to sop up the broth. Also, make sure you’ve got an extra large bowl for the shells.

The completed dish

The Completed Dish

Since the dish is known as Moules Frites, fries are a requisite compliment to the mussels. In the past, we’ve used a variety of frozen fries. They’ve all been a bit disappointing. I did some research and tracked down the following recipe: Perfectly Thin and Crispy French Fries.

The fries came out very tasty and I give the author full credit as both a cook and a geek. That’s a high compliment from me!

Moules Eric
Serves 4-5 as a main course.

  • 3½ Pounds Live Mussels – Preferably PEI
  • 4 Strips Bacon
  • 1 Bunch Fresh Flat Leaf Parsley – Chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 2 Large Shallots – Sliced
  • 1 Cup White Wine
  • 4 Large Tomatoes – Chopped
  • Several slices of toasted bread such as a baguette. At least two per person.

De-beard mussels if needed and rinse in fresh cold water. Do not drown them.
Brown the bacon on medium-high until crisp in a large pot or Dutch oven. Remove the bacon and drain on paper towels.
Sauté the shallots in the bacon fat until tender, about 5 minutes.
Pour 1 cup wine in bottom of the pot and deglaze the bottom while scraping with a wooden spoon. Cook off the alcohol for another 5 minutes.
Add chopped tomatoes and cook for two minutes. Reduce heat to medium.
Add all live mussels (they should be closed or close when tapped).
Cover the pot and let the mussels steam for 15 minutes. Chop the bacon during this time.
Add the chopped parsley and bacon.Either serve the contents of the pot in a bowl or in the pot.