I’ve always wanted to go to a Mardi Gras celebration. The beads, the parades, the music, the copious amounts of alcohol consumed. I mean, doesn’t that sound like fun? What if you threw in Mardi Gras at an American theme park? Like say, Universal in Orlando, Florida? It might not be New Orleans but it was a hell of a lot of fun nonetheless. When Eat Like A Girl (Niamh) asked me if I was available for a trip to Florida, I jumped on it like a duck on a June bug.
I hadn’t been to a theme park in years and I still don’t like big roller coasters but Universal has so many rides In both it’s parks, (Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios) that are not roller coasters that there’s plenty to do. My favourite had to be The Mummy, although technically it’s a rollercoaster, it’s more like a baby roller coaster with no huge drops. We did however ride on the River Adventure in the Jurassic Park area of the park and that has the sharpest water ride drop, 55 degree angle, plunging 85 feet. Our guide neglected to tell us that but it was so much fun we wanted to ride it again anyway. Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey was fun and threw you all over the place, although technically it’s not a roller coaster and Spiderman, complete with fire in your face and smoke in your eyes, was another simulator ride I ‘d do again. The only ride I didn’t really care for, but Niamh loved, was The Simpsons. That simulator was way too realistic for me, I thought I was gonna puke.
We were there not only to visit the park but also to sample some authentic Cajun gumbo as Niamh was covering the food side of Mardi Gras for iVillage. For those who are unfamiliar with it, gumbo is of Cajun origins. The Cajuns being the Acadian French who were kicked out of Canada by the Brits during the French and Indian wars of the 17th century. They settled down mostly in Louisiana and the cuisine is French derived but heavily influenced by Native American and African foods. Cajun food is most justly famous for being spicy and we set down to make a spicy gumbo with one of Universal’s Executive chefs.
Seeing as it’s Mardi Gras, I got to thinking what would go with that gumbo and not surprisingly, I came up with champagne. I mean what’s a better drink to celebrate with then that? I think bubbles would go splendidly. And the food is technically French. Bubbles always put me in a good mood and the Perrier Jouet Belle Epoque Rose would be perfect. Very pretty with lovely red fruits, go on, it’s Mardi Gras and you know what that means….Lent the day after…time to give up everything fun.
After the gumbo demo, we got to participate in the Mardi Gras parade and ride the floats while throwing beads to the masses. All great fun! Mardi Gras is going on every weekend at Universal until April 23rd so it’s not too late to get in. And, as if you needed anymore incentive, the weekend we were there, it was 28 degrees and sunny!
Below is the gumbo recipe we made, adapted from the American recipe by Niamh into European measures. For her full post, click here.
Authentic Gumbo Recipe
I onion, finely chopped
2 sticks celery, finely sliced
½ red pepper, diced
½ green pepper. diced
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
5 slices streaky bacon, diced
1 bay leav
½ tbsp Thyme leaves
200g okra, cut in 1cm chunks
1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1l fish stock, hot (can substitute with light chicken stock)
1 tbsp gumbo file, dissolved in 200ml cold water
250g raw peeled prawns
250g sliced Andouille sausage (substitute nduja or chorizo)
50g plain flour
To serve: enough boiled rice for however many you are serving and a bunch of spring onions finely chopped to garnish.
Prepare brown roux by melting the butter and adding the flour. Cook over a moderate heat, stirring so it doesn’t burn, until the roux is brown. Take off the heat and leave to the side.
Sauté the bacon in its own fat until starting to brown, add the onion, celery, peppers and cook until tender over a medium heat, should take 5 minutes or so. Add some oil if its starting to stick. Add the garlic and cook for a further minute.
Add the okra, bay leaf, thyme, some black pepper and Tabasco, stirring constantly.
Add fish stock, sausage and tomatoes and bring to the boil. Blend in the roux mixing well.
Bring back to the boil, turn down heat and simmer for 45 minutes to let the flavours develop. Stir frequently.
Add shrimp, Worcestershire sauce and simmer 10 more minutes.
Remove from the heat, stir the gumbo file and water with a whisk and stir into soup. Adjust the seasoning to taste.
When serving, put one spoon of boiled hot rice into the serving bowl and pour in enough gumbo to cover it. Garnish with chopped spring onions.