"Laissez les Bons Temps Rouler"- Let the Good Times Roll!

Since most people in the South pronounce my name “Mar-di” –  and not "Mar-tea" --Mardi Gras has always been a holiday I love to celebrate… I’m the Queen of “Martie Gras”!  Did you know that contrary to popular belief, Alabama is the birthplace of Mardi Gras? In 1703 French settlers in Mobile established the first organized Mardi Gras celebration. As settlers migrated west to New Orleans, the tradition accompanied them there.

That is me, getting ready to leave on the Duck Dynasty float -- dressed in my camo gear! I have made the trek to New Orleans and Mobile for balls, parties, and parades but most often, I find myself celebrating Mardi Gras at home. Many people don't know what Mardi Gras is. Or Fat Tuesday. The question I'm asked most often is my favorite Mardi Gras recipe ---and why is there a baby in the King Cake?

What is Mardi Gras?
It is the season of events surrounding Carnival, which begins after Epiphany ands end on Fat Tuesday. (This year, that is February 28th, 2017.) Fat Tuesday falls on the day before Ash Wednesday, and so it is a final time to indulge before giving up favorite foods for Lent.

Many cities along the Gulf coast with French Colonial heritage celebrate Mardi Gras with parades, masquerade balls, and large food festivals. Contrary to popular belief, Mardi Gras began in Mobile, Alabama – not New Orleans – when in 1703 French settlers in Mobile established the first organized Mardi Gras celebration. As settlers migrated west to New Orleans, the tradition accompanied them there.

Why is there a baby in the King Cake? The cake is associated with Epiphany celebrations at the end of Christmas season. A figurine of a baby is hidden inside the cake, and is said to represent the Baby Jesus. The person who finds the baby in his or her slice of cake is designated king or queen for the evening and is said to receive good luck and prosperity in the year ahead.

These days, New Orleans bakeries and restaurants are so clever with King Cake flavors... and some even go as far as to place a signature element inside rather than a baby... for example, the fine folks at Donald Link's Cochon Butcher have a pig baked inside their cakes. They even have "The Elvis" stuffed with peanut butter, banana and topped with candied bacon. Go to Willa Jean for a chocolate version and Sucre for one with almond flavor.

What is your favorite Mardi Gras recipe? For me, it has to be gumbo! The secret to a great gumbo is in the roux and having the patience to stir it to that dark brown- almost chocolate color. I learned about making roux (a French technique combining fat and flour as a thickener) from the Godfather of Cajun and Creole cooking, Chef John Folse. Together with Chef Rick Tramonto, football legend Kenny Stabler, and our host, Bob Baumhower, we set the world record for the largest pot of gumbo: more than 5,000 lbs. in a single pot!

Here’s my recipe for gumbo – friends from all over the world have made it and it always gets rave reviews from the cook as well as their guests.

Here are a few other favorites:




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Pate a choux pastry is used to make all sorts of dessert deliciousness. Churros, éclairs, profiteroles, and even towering croquembouches are made from choux pastry. Beignets can also be made from choux but isn’t often used in the South; most chefs make the chewier, rolled yeast variety of beignets like they serve at Cafe du Monde in New Orleans. I prefer a fluffy choux beignet which have been made famousby my buddy Panini Pete. If you make it to his place in Fairhope or Mobile, Alabama, you'll see an early morning line forming for Pete's beignets. They taste more like a hot doughnut and are delicious fried dough heaven. Sprinkled with Confectioners’ sugar while they are hot. Serve with a squeeze of lemon. These won’t hold well once your squeeze the lemon over them but then again, they’ll go so fast you won’t have to worry about that.


Prep Time: 12 minutes   Cook Time: 7-8 minutes per batch


1 ½ cups water

6 ounces unsalted butter

1 ½ cups all purpose flour

6 eggs, room temperature

1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Canola oil for frying

Food thermometer

Confectioners’ sugar and lemon wedges for garnish


Put canola oil in a large Dutch oven over medium high heat and bring it to 350 degrees F.

Mix the salt into the flour.  

Put the water and butter in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and whisk in the flour all at one time to combine and form dough which will pull away from the side of the pan. Switch to a wooden spoon. Add the eggs, two at a time, blending well with the wooden spoon between each addition. Beat the dough with the wooden spoon until it goes from ‘slippery’ and glossy to matte.  Add the vanilla and stir to incorporate.

Scoop the dough with a small ice cream scoop and place in the hot oil. Take care not to over crowd the pot or the temperature of the oil will drop and your beignets will soak up oil. Fry for 7-8 minutes, turning the beignets around frequently in the oil. Drain on paper toweling.

Serve warm with a dusting of Confectioners’ sugar and lemon, lime, or orange wedges.

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In certain areas of the South, you’ll most certainly find  Milk Punch on the menu for brunch, especially during the Christmas and Mardi Gras seasons. I always make them for Christmas morning and I cannot wait to have Milk Punch when I travel to New Orleans; it is one of my travel traditions. Favorites are from Commander’s Palace and Arnaud’s. The one pictured is from Tableau; so good, I had two.

This recipe can easily be doubled or multiplied for a crowd. For a big batch, pour the ingredients into a gallon container with a lid and shake well. Pour into a chilled silver or glass punch bowl and serve over crushed ice.

Traditional New Orleans Milk Punch Recipe



Makes 1

1 ½ ounces brandy (brandy is traditional but you may use bourbon if you prefer)

½ ounce dark rum (optional)

2 ounces whole milk

¼ cup heavy cream (omit for a lighter drink)

½ ounce simple syrup* (substitute 1 tablespoon powdered sugar if you don’t have or want to make simple syrup for 1 drink)

1/4  teaspoon vanilla extract

Freshly grated nutmeg

Crushed ice


Put the brandy, rum, milk, cream, simple syrup, and vanilla into a cocktail shaker filled ½ full with ice. Shake until sugar is completely dissolved.

Strain into glasses of crushed ice. Grate nutmeg over the top and serve.

*To make simple syrup: Add equal parts granulated sugar and water to a pot, bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Once it comes to a boil, immediately remove it from the heat and allow it to cool before using. Store up to 2 weeks in the fridge.

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