Terry Kueker’s cooking captures the spirit of Mardi Gras. Also known as Shrove Tuesday, Mardi Gras — French for Fat Tuesday — is next week and commemorates the final celebration before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, which is a time of repentance, fasting and preparation for Easter.
Kueker and his wife, Lori, have been visiting New Orleans annually since 2000. Both retired, the couple have been bringing a bit of the Big Easy into their Overland Park kitchen since 2004, with Mardi Gras parties for about 100 friends.
Q: For those who haven’t gone, how would you describe the New Orleans Mardi Gras experience?
A: On an average day, New Orleans — especially in the French Quarter — is alive with music, food and the culture of a vibrant people. Mardi Gras is just an amazing party with thousands of people on the streets. Everyone is happy and dancing, and the party can have a raucous reputation.
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But the folks from New Orleans are both resilient and hospitable. For people who live in New Orleans, Mardi Gras is a time to share food and fun. They will have crawfish boils or barbecues set up along the street, and people freely share their food and stories with you. Some of the stories we heard after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005 were both heartbreaking and heartwarming.
Q: So are your Mardi Gras parties about bringing a bit of the bayou vibe back home with you?
A: We picked up the Mardi Gras spirit and have had two parties annually for 50 friends each on Friday and Saturday night before Fat Tuesday for the last dozen years or so.
We decorate the house in Mardi Gras colors: purple signifies justice; gold embodies power, and green means faith. We play Cajun music and provide several traditional New Orleans dishes: muffulettas — a giant sandwich with cured meats, such as salami and ham, cheeses and marinated olive salad on Sicilian sesame bread; jambalaya — a Cajun dish of rice with shrimp, chicken and sausage that includes the holy trinity: celery, peppers and onions.
And we bake our own King Cake: a ring of cinnamon roll-style dough, topped with icing in the Mardi Gras colors. The King Cake is a New Orleans tradition, which involves hiding a small plastic baby inside, and the person who receives that piece is to host the next party. But Lori and I are happy to continue to host the Mardi Gras parties.
Q: Lori is the day-in, day-out cook in the kitchen, except for the Mardi Gras parties. Did you develop this cleverly titled recipe?
A: Yeah, a little whimsy in the recipe title makes it fun to serve. “Fleur-de-lis” translates to “flower of the lily,” and the symbol depicting a stylized flower has been used to represent French royalty. The fleur-de-lis has become the emblem known throughout New Orleans.
Because New Orleans is a port city at the mouth of Mississippi River that spills into the Gulf of Mexico, many cultures have left their mark on the city. This is especially true of the food, which is a melting pot of French, Spanish, African and American cultures.
The highlight of our Mardi Gras parties are the many hors d’oeuvres we serve. We try to make them part of the entertainment, and something comes out of the oven every 20 minutes or so and is served tapas-style. Nothing says Mardi Gras like some good Creole seasoning, cheese, a little pastry and, of course, andouille sausage.
Q: You have to enjoy entertaining to host these parties. What is the secret to doing it well?
A: Lori and I love entertaining, and we like making people feel at home and getting everyone involved. From the moment friends walk through the door, they can grab a boa and Hurricane drink, and we treat each guest as though they are part of the family. Part of that means getting people to help in the kitchen, and even complete strangers are friends before the night is over. That’s the New Orleans way.
Mary G. Pepitone is a freelance writer who lives in Leawood. She also writes a nationally syndicated home column. Email her at email@example.com to nominate a cook.
Fleur De-Lis-ious Appetizers
1 (16-ounce) package andouille sausage
4 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup chopped green bell pepper
1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper
1/2 cup minced onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups diced fresh tomatoes, juices drained
1/2 teaspoon dried ground tarragon
1/2 teaspoon dried ground oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried ground basil
1/2 teaspoon dried ground thyme
2 teaspoons Creole seasoning
1/4 teaspoon red hot sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
2 (9.5-ounce) boxes puff pastry cups
If present, remove casings from andouille sausage. Place into a large sauté pan over medium heat on stovetop. Using a wooden spoon, break sausage into small chunks and brown for about 5 minutes. Remove sausage with a slotted spoon and transfer to a plate lined with paper towels. Allow to cool and set aside.
Wipe pan of sausage fat and place on stovetop over medium-high heat. Melt butter and sauté peppers, onion and garlic until soft and fragrant. Reduce heat to medium and stir in tomatoes, tarragon, oregano, basil, thyme, Creole seasoning, hot sauce, salt and pepper. Stir until mixture is warmed and thickened slightly.
Turn heat to low and add sausage and cheese to mixture. Stir until cheese is melted.
Meanwhile, bake puff pastry cups on baking sheets, according to package directions.
After baked and while pastry is still warm, evenly divide warm sausage mixture, filling 48 puff pastry cups. Serve immediately.
Note: Kueker uses Pepperidge Farm brand puff pastry cups.
Per appetizer: 123 calories (72 percent from fat), 10 grams total fat (4 grams saturated), 12 milligrams cholesterol, 6 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams protein, 148 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber.