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February brings the absolute busiest schedule of the year. Part of the commotion is a trip to Disney World, a must for my 6-year-old grandson, who claims to be the only one in his class who hasn’t been. That aside, we find ourselves merging Super Bowl with Mardi Gras, both a cause for much cooking.

Pulling out some of my old recipes, I shocked myself with the realization that one of my favorites went the way of the dinosaur. How could something so good as oyster patties disappear from the party scene? As a beginner cook in my 20s, I ordered a few dozen oyster patties from a reputable bakery and picked them up only to find the puff pastry shells empty of oysters. Eeek! The party was that night. With no Internet to tap, I hustled to find a recipe from  River Road Recipes – that Baton Rouge Junior League wonder that taught numerous generations to cook. They weren’t called oyster patties in River Road but its oysters en croustades recipe served me well. For years, I considered this dish the ultimate appetizer. Now, I’m putting it back on my list with the Super Bowl in mind.

Winter in New Orleans breeds the best oysters and early-season crawfish. New Orleans chefs have snatched the great South Carolina dish, shrimp and grits, putting it on their menus all over town. It occurred to me that crawfish might pair just as well with grits, giving it a unique twist. I checked that out and found a truly perfect marriage. What a great Mardi Gras dish for your own party or for taking it to someone else’s!

And speaking of Mardi Gras parties, my favorite dish is a slow-cooked brisket that feeds about 30 people. I cook mine the way a friend taught me. I knew I wanted her recipe when she entered a gate on St. Charles Avenue, the scene of a parade party, and only half of the brisket made it to the kitchen. Revelers were grabbing bites of the aromatic meat all the way through the yard, living room and dining room. Now that’s when you know you’ve got a winner!

3 dozen miniature puff pastry shells, frozen or bakery-made
3 dozen oysters with extra oyster liquor, if possible
3 tablespoons butter
1 bunch green onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup flour
1/2 cup whole milk
Salt, pepper and cayenne pepper to taste
2 tablespoons chopped parsley

If using frozen pastry shells, bake according to package directions.

Drain oysters, saving their liquor and checking for shell. Chop oysters roughly.

In a medium skillet, melt butter and sauté onions and garlic. Add flour, stirring well, and cook for about 2 minutes.

Stir in 1 cup liquid (about half oyster liquor and half milk). When mixture has thickened, add chopped oysters, seasonings and parsley, and cook until oysters curl.

Just before serving, spoon oyster mixture into pastry shells. Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven until bubbly and brown.

Serves 15 as appetizers.

4 tablespoons butter
2 pounds Louisiana crawfish
      tails with fat
1 bunch green onions, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons tomato sauce
1 cup dry white wine
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1 bay leaf
Salt, pepper and Creole
      seasoning to taste
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 cup heavy cream
2 cups grits, cooked according
      to package directions

In a sauté pan, melt butter and sauté crawfish tails for 1 minute, stirring, over medium-high heat. Remove crawfish from skillet. Add green onions and garlic and sauté, stirring, until softened. Add flour and stir over medium heat for a minute or two until flour is light brown. Add tomato sauce, wine and seasoning. Simmer for 5 minutes. Add crawfish and simmer 2 more minutes. Stir in parsley and heavy cream and heat; do not boil. Serve over grits. This can be served in a platter with crawfish topping grits or on individual plates.

Serves 6.

1 large beef brisket, 8 to
      10 pounds, untrimmed
Salt, freshly ground pepper and
      Creole seasoning
3 large onions
1/2 cup Worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 cups barbecue sauce
1 bottle liquid smoke

The day before serving, trim brisket slightly, removing only the heaviest fat, leaving some fat on. Season liberally with salt, pepper and Creole seasoning. Place in a large baking pan, fat side up.

In a food processor, chop onions finely, almost until ground. Pack the onions on top of the brisket and sprinkle with whole bottle of liquid smoke. Cover with aluminum foil and refrigerate overnight.

When ready to cook, pour or spoon liquid smoke out of pan, being careful not to disturb onions. Pour Worcestershire over onions. Cover and seal tightly with heavy duty aluminum foil and bake in a preheated 275-degree oven for 5 hours. Midway through baking, pour off excess fat and pour off fat again after the 5 hours. Spread barbecue sauce over meat and return to oven uncovered. Continue to bake at 325 degrees for another hour, until browning on top.

Let brisket stand for 15 minutes before serving. Skim any remaining fat. Slice thin across the grain. Serve on French buns with your choice of sauce: a mixture of mayonnaise, mustard, barbecue sauce or gravy made from the drippings.

Serves a crowd.

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