When the Parade Passes By

When the Parade Passes ByYears ago we lived one house off St. Charles Avenue when Carnival’s Uptown parade route started at Louisiana Avenue. We hosted a Monday night party when the only parade passing our house was the Krewe of Freret. Then the route moved up to Napoleon Avenue. Our place became box seat quality for the big day and more than 100 friends usually arrived on Mardi Gras. For those of you who don’t know what this entails, let me explain.

If you live in Metairie, or Mid-City for that matter, you have to leave your house early or you’ll never get a parking place around the St. Charles Avenue parade route on Mardi Gras. So when we were there, friends began to arrive at 7 a.m. That meant breakfast. Usually nothing more than King Cake, doughnuts, coffee and juice but by the time Rex turned off Napoleon onto the avenue, smudges of King Cake sugar were well-embedded in the rugs by the little feet of frolicking costumed children.

With Rex on his way to Canal Street, it was time to cook the hot dogs, break out the chili and potato salad and organize the dishes brought by generous friends. At least the children were on their ladders engaged in the trucks passing by so there was plenty of time to sweep up the place and start on lunch.

There’s something about a parade that makes everybody hungry and unknown amounts of food can disappear in a couple of hours. Backup is mandatory – more hot dogs and all the cookies and chips you can find. In those days, Comus paraded Mardi Gras night and many of our guests stayed around. On some occasions, it was 10 at night when, bone-tired, we said good-bye and put off cleaning to the next day.
I shouldn’t complain. We now have friends who invite us and many others for all the parades passing their house – that’s one or more for about 10 days straight. How do they hold up?

While hot dogs and Popeye’s fried chicken are the norm, it can be fun to have a small brunch for a daytime parade. When the weather is pretty, there’s nothing more delightful than the sound of a parade coming by and joining friends for Bloody Marys and an early meal on your patio or in your yard. The following dishes can make up such a brunch or serve as potluck to take to a party. Most hosts appreciate a special dish from a guest as too many chips, dips and King Cakes can get old after a while.

SPINACH AND OYSTER BAKE
3 dozen oysters
2 packages frozen chopped spinach
1 8-ounce package cream
      cheese, at room temperature
1 stick butter, at room temperature
1 large can artichokes, drained
      and sliced
Salt, pepper and cayenne pepper
Half of 1 lemon
1/2 cup Italian breadcrumbs
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon butter
 
Drain oysters and check each one to remove any shell.
Cook spinach according to package directions and drain. In a large bowl, mix cream cheese and butter together. Stir in spinach and artichokes. Season to taste with salt, pepper and cayenne pepper.
Place mixture into a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Top with oysters. Squeeze lemon over oysters. Mix breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese and sprinkle over oysters. Cut tablespoon of butter into small pieces and scatter on top of dish.
Bake in a 350-degree preheated oven until dish is bubbly and beginning to brown on top; about 15 minutes. Serves 6 to 8.
 
CHEESE GRITS
1 cup quick grits
4 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 stick butter
1 6-ounce roll garlic cheese, cut
      into small chunks
4 ounces sharp cheddar cheese,
      cut into small chunks
1 tablespoon Worcestershire
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup milk

Stir grits into boiling, salted water. Lower heat to a simmer, cover and cook until done, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in remaining ingredients. Place in a 2-quart casserole or baking dish and bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 20 to 30 minutes, until nearly firm in center. Let sit for 10 minutes while it continues to firm and serve. Serves 6 to 8.
 
SAUSAGE BALLS
5 green onions
2 cloves garlic
2 pounds Italian sausage
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup Italian breadcrumbs
Salt, pepper and cayenne to taste
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 jar hot pepper jelly

Finely mince onions and garlic. Remove sausage from casings, if necessary. In a large bowl, mix onions and garlic with sausage. Add remaining ingredients except pepper jelly and mix well. Roll into 1-inch balls and place on a baking sheet. Bake in a preheated 400-degree oven until brown, about 20 minutes. When ready to serve, heat jar of pepper jelly in the microwave. Add a tablespoon or two of water to thin to dipping consistency. Serve on toothpicks with melted hot pepper jelly for dipping. Serves 15 to 20 as hors d’oeuvres.
 
FRUIT-STUFFED FRENCH TOAST
Cream cheese filling:
1 8-ounce package cream cheese
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg
1/4 cup sugar

Toast:
12 slices white, raisin, cinnamon
      or egg bread*
3 eggs
2 cups half & half
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup sugar
Applesauce or sliced fruit or berries
Dash nutmeg
Warmed syrup, optional

To make filling, beat together ingredients until creamy.

To prepare toast, trim crusts. Arrange half of bread to cover bottom of greased 2-quart glass baking dish. Beat eggs with half & half, vanilla and sugar. Pour half of custard over bread, top with cream cheese filling and fruit. Arrange other half of bread on top and pour over remaining custard. Sprinkle with nutmeg. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Bake covered at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, remove cover and bake for about 30 minutes longer. Let stand for 10 minutes before cutting into six pieces. Served with warmed syrup and additional fruit, if desired. Serves 6.

*A friend in Washington state recently gave me this delicious recipe. In keeping with Creole-style cooking, I substituted 16 1/2-inch slices of large-loaf French bread. For the fruit, I used 2 cups of frozen blueberries picked from a Louisiana farm.

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