CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Nothing beats the winter blues like a festive celebration.
With Mardi Gras around the corner, there is good reason to feast, or as they say in New Orleans, "Laissez les bons temps rouler," which is Cajun French for "Let the good times roll!"
Break out the party hats, the carnival masks and the colorful beads. Crank up some zydeco music and ring up some friends. Invite them and the chill-chasing cuisine of the Big Easy right into your kitchen.
There are so many tempting dishes that highlight this famous city and its annual street party, it's not easy to choose a menu. Each host has their preference -- and mine always features gumbo.
If you're going to be sacrificing during the six-week Lenten season, you might as well go all out on Fat Tuesday. Gumbo is one of those all-out dishes, rich with spice, a velvety roux base, and loaded with your choice of flavorful meats or seafood.
It is also incredibly fun and rewarding to concoct a cauldron of gumbo. You start with relatively basic ingredients that transform into something exceptionally sublime.
Patiently follow the steps: Brown the roux just so. Add the colorful vegetables and stir. Cue the accordion, the washboard. Suddenly, all of that patient stirring yields a soulful stew fit for the Mardi Gras king himself.
I have made gumbo for hundreds or just an intimate handful, and each time I am transported to the lively traditions of the French Quarter.
Below is a favorite recipe, but if you're hungry for more, check out my Mardi Gras celebrations class Feb. 25, one week before the big day, at 6 p.m. at Ferguson's Kitchen Gallery. For more information, visit www.aprilskitchencounter.com.
Either way, I hope you'll join the parade!
Chicken and Sausage Gumbo
The critical step here is slowly browning the roux -- you will be handsomely rewarded with a huge pot of deliciousness! Great news: Reheated gently, the gumbo is great the next day. Recipe inspired by David Rosengarten in "It's All American Food: The Best Recipes for More than 400 New American Classics." Makes 8 to 10 servings.
1 cup flour
1/2 cup vegetable oil (preferably safflower)
1 onion, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup dry white wine
8 cups chicken broth