As a resident of the St. Louis neighborhood of Soulard, home to the second biggest Mardi Gras parade outside of New Orleans, I tend to get the heck outta dodge during the festivities these days, but I still can’t help but recall fond memories of my younger days, riding on floats in the Mardi Gras parade, dressed in a costume representing whatever that year’s theme was, and throwing beads to the thousands of screaming, partying drunks, er, I mean, spectators.
For the history buffs out there, Mardi Gras, which is French for “Fat Tuesday,” is a huge festival that takes place the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. It begins a season of fasting for many Christians (ie, Lent), which lasts until to Easter Sunday. It’s called Fat Tuesday because it’s the last day that many people eat meat and fatty foods before Lent begins.
The two weeks before “Fat Tuesday” are the most festive, when local carnival organizations called “krewes,” the first of which dates to 1857, hold almost nonstop balls and parades. Every krewe has a king and queen, whose identities are kept secret until the night of the ball. It’s all part of the fun and mystery of Mardi Gras.
In honor of Fat Tuesday, The Chef and I will be making a healthy, creamy Cajun chicken pasta and cornbread for dinner tonight, using recipes from another one of my favorite recipe sites, Eating Well. I’ll let you know how they turn out tomorrow!
Laissez les bon temps rouler! Let the good times roll!
Creamy Cajun Chicken Pasta
- 8 ounces whole-wheat fusilli or rotini
- 1 tablespoon canola oil
- 2 slices bacon, chopped
- 1 large sweet onion, halved and thinly sliced
- 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1 medium red bell pepper, sliced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 4 teaspoons Cajun seasoning
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
- 1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
- 1/3 cup reduced-fat sour cream
- 1/2 cup sliced scallions for garnish
1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook pasta until just tender, 8 to 10 minutes or according to package directions. Drain.
2. Meanwhile, heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add bacon and onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until beginning to brown, about 2 minutes. Add chicken, bell pepper, garlic, Cajun seasoning and pepper. Cook stirring, until the onion and bell pepper are beginning to soften, about 4 minutes.
3. Add flour and stir to coat. Add tomatoes and their juice; bring to a simmer. Cook, stirring often, until the sauce is bubbling and thickened and the chicken is cooked through, about 2 minutes.
4. Remove from the heat. Stir in sour cream.
5. Stir the pasta into the sauce. Serve sprinkled with scallions, if desired.
Makes 6 servings, about 1 1/2 cups each.
Per serving: 329 calories; 8 g fat (2 g sat, 3 g mono); 50 mg cholesterol; 43 g carbohydrates; 0 g added sugars; 25 g protein; 6 g fiber; 656 mg sodium; 691 mg potassium.
NOTES: I suggest replacing the can of crushed tomatoes with a can of diced tomatoes, plus one or two tablespoons of tomato paste to thicken. I found that the crushed tomatoes overwhelmed the sauce and the flavors of the bacon and red pepper were lost.
- 3 tablespoons canola oil
- 2 cups yellow or white cornmeal
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 large egg, beaten
- 1 1/2 cups nonfat milk or nonfat buttermilk
1. Preheat oven to 450°F. Place oil in a 9-inch cast-iron skillet or similar-size glass baking dish and transfer to the preheating oven.
2. Mix cornmeal, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. Add egg and milk (or buttermilk); stir until just combined.
3. Remove the pan from the oven and swirl the oil to coat the bottom and a little way up the sides. Very carefully pour the excess hot oil into the cornmeal mixture; stir until just combined. Pour the batter into the hot pan.
4. Bake until the bread is firm in the middle and lightly golden, about 20 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes before slicing. Serve warm.
Makes 8 servings.
Per serving: 172 calories; 7 g fat (1 g sat, 3 g mono); 27 mg cholesterol; 24 g carbohydrates; 0 g added sugars; 5 g protein; 3 g fiber; 228 mg sodium; 85 mg potassium.
NOTES: This recipe makes a very firm and dry cornbread, which should be consumed as soon as it comes out of the oven … preferably smothered with butter to add a bit of moistness!