Host the Perfect Joe Cain Brunch

Ann Pond knows a lot more about Mardi Gras than most. So much, in fact, that she has written the book on it — actually, a trio of short books that tell the true tale behind the mystic and the myths. A love of the lore, pomp and pageantry of Carnival came naturally for Ann, who grew up in New Orleans and later married a Mobilian and moved to his hometown.

Not surprisingly, she and her husband, Steve, enjoy the festivities and the food associated with both cities. Several years ago, the Ponds settled into the historic Oakleigh Garden District within walking distance of the parade routes. It is a neighborhood where many are known to make merry during Mardi Gras, especially on Joe Cain Sunday and Fat Tuesday when brunch is often the order of the day to get the party started. So, in celebration of the season and the publication of Ann’s new trilogy,  here are some fun recipes for brunch to help you create a fete of your own.

Frozen Red Roosters 

Slushy and spirited, these frosty libations make the perfect eye-opening early morning cocktails.

1 1/2 quarts cranberry juice
1 (6-ounce) can frozen orange juice concentrate, thawed but not diluted
2 cups vodka

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1. Combine all ingredients. Freeze several hours or overnight. Makes about 2 quarts.

Almond Miniature Muffins

Like many of the popular modern king cakes, these tasty, petite treats have a cream cheese filling tucked in the middle of each muffin.

12 ounces cream cheese, softened
6 eggs, divided
2 tablespoons plus 1 1/2 cups sugar, divided
1 tablespoon grated orange rind
1 cup butter
3 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 cup chopped almonds, toasted

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Beat cream cheese, 2 eggs, 2 tablespoons sugar and orange rind together. Set aside. 
2. Cream butter and 1 1/2 cups sugar until light and fluffy. Add 4 eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. 
3. Stir flour and baking powder together. Add flour mixture and milk alternately to butter and sugar mixture, starting and ending with flour. Add almond extract and fold in almonds. 
4. Fill each lightly greased muffin tin half full with muffin batter. Spoon a small spoonful (about 1/2 teaspoon) of cream cheese filling in each tin and top with remaining batter. 
5. Bake about 8 – 12 minutes. Makes approximately 5 dozen mini muffins.

Brandied Berries

The Ponds have a pronounced passion for brandy. This recipe uses a splash or so of their favorite spirit to macerate berries for a fresh, flavorful accompaniment to egg dishes, such as Crab

1 – 2 cups blueberries
1 – 2 cups raspberries
1 – 2 cups blackberries
1 – 2 cups strawberries, hulled and halved
2 – 3 tablespoons brandy
2 – 3 tablespoons honey

1. Place all berries in a serving bowl. 
2. Stir together brandy and honey, and spoon over berries, gently tossing once or twice to coat. (Feel free to add more brandy or honey to suit your taste.) 
3. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Serves approximately 8 – 12.

Tomatoes Rockefeller 

Ann loves to serve fresh, red, ripe tomatoes as a side dish at brunch. This hearty dressed-up version is a terrific twist on a New Orleans classic.

6 large tomatoes,  cut in half
salt and pepper, to taste 
paprika, to taste
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1/4 cup finely chopped parsley
2 tablespoons butter, softened
1 1/2 cups cooked chopped 
spinach, well-drained
1/4 cup breadcrumbs

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 
2. Place tomatoes in a shallow baking dish, cut side up. Sprinkle with a little salt, pepper and paprika. 
3. Mix together onion, parsley, butter and spinach, and season with salt,  pepper and paprika. 
4. Top each tomato half with spinach mixture, then sprinkle with breadcrumbs on top. 
5. Bake for 20 minutes, or until breadcrumbs are toasted and golden. Serves 12.

Crab Quiche

This easy yet elegant crabmeat laden quiche is perfect for breakfast, brunch, lunch or dinner. Make two or three to feed a crowd.

1 (10-inch) unbaked piecrust
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 cup crabmeat
2 tablespoons finely chopped green onions
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon flour
1 1/2 tablespoons dry white wine
3 large eggs
1 1/3 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1/3 cup grated Swiss cheese

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. 
2. Prick the bottom of the piecrust with a fork and brush with the beaten egg. Bake piecrust for 8 – 9 minutes. Remove crust from the oven and let cool. Reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees. 

3. Spread crabmeat over the bottom of the piecrust. Sauté the green onions and parsley in the butter for 1 minute or so over moderate heat, until softened but not browned. Reduce heat to low and sprinkle in flour. Stir to combine for about a minute. 
4. Gradually stir in the wine and cook for another minute,  stirring constantly. Remove from the heat and set aside. 
5. Combine the 3 eggs, cream, salt, cayenne and white peppers and cheese. Mix thoroughly and then add green onion and parsley mixture. Mix well, then gently pour over crabmeat in the piecrust. 
6. Bake at 375 degrees for 35 – 40 minutes or until the quiche is firmly set in the center. Serves 6.

Soniat’s Seafood Gumbo

Ann says, “When we have a big crowd, we usually serve a big pot of gumbo. One year, after an early morning Toy Bowl game,  we had the football team and parents over for gumbo and Bloody Mary’s at 9 a.m. I thought it would be too early for all that,  but everything was gone by 10. So obviously gumbo is good for breakfast, brunch or any other meal.” Ann says her father loved to cook and got lots of his recipes from the late Leon Soniat, a food columnist for the New Orleans Times-Picayune, back in the 1970s. This is Soniat’s gumbo recipe from a yellowed news clipping Ann inherited along with her dad’s cookbook collection.

3/4 cup oil or lard
3/4 cup flour
3 onions, chopped
1 cup chopped celery
1 bell pepper, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
1 (15 1/2-ounce) can whole tomatoes
2 1/2 quarts water (preferably the water from boiling the crabs,  see below)
1 teaspoon basil
1/2 teaspoon thyme
4 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
Tabasco, to taste
salt and black pepper, to taste
1/2 stick butter
2 tablespoons oil
2 pounds shrimp, peeled
6 boiled crabs, cracked in half and cleaned
2 – 3 dozen oysters
1 cup chopped green onions
1/4 cup minced parsley

1. In a large, heavy pot, heat the oil or lard until it is very hot, then add the flour. Stir constantly until the roux turns medium brown. 
2. Add chopped onion, celery and bell pepper to the pot. Sauté the vegetables, stirring constantly, for 10 minutes, then add the garlic, tomato paste and tomatoes. Lower the heat and simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring constantly. 
3. Slowly add the water, bring back to a simmer and add basil, thyme, bay leaves, chili powder, Tabasco, salt and pepper, to taste. 
4. In a skillet, melt together the butter and oil, and sauté the shrimp for a few minutes. Remove and set aside. Add crabs to the skillet and sauté for about 5 minutes. Remove from heat. 
5. After the gumbo has been cooking for about 20 minutes, stir in the shrimp, crabs and all the contents of the skillet. Let this simmer another 20 minutes. 

6. Add oysters and their liquor, along with the green onions and parsley. Cook for 5 minutes, then turn off heat and let gumbo stand for 10 minutes. Serve over hot, fluffy rice. Serves approximately 8.

Follow up your Joe Cain Brunch with these festive Mardi Gras dessert recipes

text and styling by Sallye Irvine • photos by Elizabeth Gelineau

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