Today was Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, or Carnival – whatever you want to call it – it was today. For Christians, it’s the day before the start of the Lenten season (Ash Wednesday), which is typically a period of extended fasting and penitence before the feast of Easter. In true Christian fashion, they kick off the season by having one last day of general over-indulgence and debauchery. They let it all hang out one last time before the fasting begins. Most Americans think of the great city of New Orleans when in comes to the ultimate Mardi Gras celebration, although the celebration in Brazil is supposed to be the biggest in the world. I’ve been tuning into the Instagram and Twitter accounts of THE Cookie Rojas (@TheCookieRojas) and his lovely wife Kristin over the past few days to see the New Orleans Mardi Gras action which they have been expertly documenting. They are fans of this blog but more importantly, they are now living in NOLA and seeing the Mardi Gras festivities in person for the first time. Plus they have been sharing their experiences online, so we are getting the inside scoop as it happens. From what I gather, their adventures have included times with KISS, Brett Michaels, Harry Connick Jr., Flo Rida, Dave Chappelle and even former New York Yankee great Johnny Damon. Plus lots of pictures of the insanity surrounding it all – the revelers, the floats, the beads and the fun. It was neat to see such an inside perspective, so thanks to them both for sharing the memories. It made me excited for the holiday.
Mardi Gras is great, but it’s harder to celebrate in Rhode Island than it is in New Orleans. We tried. I stood on our balcony all morning with a handful of beads and I made Lola parade on by doing her patented Treme dances and making her earn some beads by flashing me. We had hurricane drinks flowing throughout the day and all was great until the neighbors interfered, who apparently weren’t interested in earning beads and didn’t much like the commotion we were causing or the fact that Lola had flashed the school bus. (I’m kidding, of course). No, you can’t really get a good Mardi Gras party going on a Tuesday afternoon in rural Rhode Island. The Krewes around here just don’t assemble like that.
I thought I might be able to partake in some of the foods that are often associated with Mardi Gras, but that too had its challenges. The most famous food is the King Cake, which thankfully Kristin had schooled me on over the weekend. It’s essentially a ring shaped cake that is decorated in the Mardi Gras colors of Purple, Green and Gold (representing justice, faith and power). However, when it is baked, the baker bakes a little plastic baby figurine inside the cake. The baby represents the Christ child who the three kings bared witness to and which is celebrated as the Feast of the Epiphany which concludes on Fat Tuesday. When the cake is eaten, the lucky soul who finds that baby not only gets a chipped tooth, but also gets a year’s worth of luck. However, I couldn’t see baking this because it was only going to be me and Lola eating the cake. What would happen if neither of us got the baby in our slice? Would that mean bad luck? Would we have to binge eat the whole cake in search of the baby? No, a King Cake is not practical for a party of two. I then thought about looking for some Pączki donuts. These are a polish traditional donut that is usually eaten on Fat Tuesday as the final hurrah before Lent. I was able to find some at Clements Market, however they were still kind of frozen and all they had were lemon filled. It just didn’t seem appetizing to me. That’s when I decided to leave Mardi Gras to the professionals. It just wasn’t in the cards for me today. I’ll let Cookie and Kristin do the celebrating for that. We’ll be happy observers.
It was National Chocolate Soufflé Day, so luckily I had a back up plan. However, the thought of making a soufflé was a little intimidating. Soufflés are always talked about in a threatening tone. “You have to be careful with them otherwise they will fall!” That sounds drastic. “If you want a soufflé you have to order it NOW because they take time to cook.” Ok, but do I have to order dessert before I even order my drink? The talk around soufflés can scare you especially if you are about to try and make one. The recipes can be intimidating too. Super-detailed and a long list of ingredients. Even the ratings were at the intermediate level (I’m always looking for the Easy rating – which is also how I met Lola). But ok, this quest is making me stronger. I can do this. I kept searching and before long, I actually found a recipe through the Food Network which they attributed to Gourmet Magazine. That’s never a selling point because Gourmet Magazine can be a bit sophisticated for my taste, however this recipe was used on one of our old favorite shows: Sara’s Secrets. That show was hosted by chef Sara Moulton, who come to find out was the Executive Chef at Gourmet. Sara was one of the early Food Network hosts and we used to watch her on Saturday mornings. In fact, if Lola is reading this, she’s probably humming the theme song. Sara had a nice easy style and relatable demeanor that we enjoyed. She was nice and we took a liking to her. That made me think I could make her soufflé recipe. Plus, compared to the other recipes, it looked fairly easy.
Soufflés are best when they are served fresh from the oven, so I had to put this into my planning. I started getting everything ready (chopping the chocolate, separating the eggs) while dinner was cooking, and then after dinner, I started to make the recipe. The was later than I am usually cooking. You first butter and sugar your soufflé dishes. The recipe was for one big soufflé, but I wanted to make individual ones. There was a comment on the recipe that someone had left that said they had done this with good results, so I felt it would be ok, but it was still a risk. You melt the chocolate and then add in your egg yolks. In a separate bowl, you beat the egg whites along with a pinch of salt and some sugar. When you get your stiff peaks, you fold in the chocolate mixture. This was the hard part, only because I wasn’t sure if I was doing it right. But then it started to come together and it was looking ok, I think. I loaded it into the dishes, then put them in the oven for about 25 minutes. While they were cooking, I made some fresh whipped cream.
I wasn’t sure on the cooking times because I was using a smaller dish, but in the end, I can say I nailed it. I served it up right away and the whipped cream on top started melting instantly. It tasted like a very light an airy chocolate cake. You use bittersweet chocolate, so it had a slight bitterness to it, but when you mixed it with the sweet whipped cream, it kind of balanced out. I wondered if it would be better with a semisweet chocolate. The recipe had actually been specific about what kind of chocolate to use. In fact they said to use a “not unsweetened” bittersweet chocolate. A double negative in the instructions? Regardless, it was still delicious. Nice and fluffy. I think Lola liked it too because she housed it. She was kind of in the middle of doing other things so she didn’t give me her usual color commentary, but an empty ramekin was probably proof it was good. She’d probably agree on the bittersweet chocolate too as she has told me before she is not a huge fan.
Laissez les bon temps roulez! That’s the famous phrase you hear when you listen to the crowds at a Mardi Gras celebrations. It means,”Let the Good Times Roll!” That’s what we tried to do today. And even though our celebration didn’t come with beads, masks, King Cakes or the usual bacchanalian festivities associated with Fat Tuesday, it did include a freshly made chocolate soufflé topped with a delightful whipped cream. That’s more our style of celebrating anyway. Maybe next year we can join Cookie and Kristin on their NOLA adventure and get a true taste of the Mardi Gras experience. Until then, we’ll just keep celebrating our own way and Lola can keep earning her soufflés by flashing the cook. Laissez les bons temps rouler dans le style de Rhode Island!
Next Up: National Peanut Butter Lover’s Day