February is a cold and dreary month, shortness being its best quality, for who could take more than 28 days of it? As the hours of sunlight increase, we know that spring will eventually arrive if only that cold wind would just go away. I am huddled in my office looking at a crisp blue sky and a yard full of bright sunshine and am not taken in - it is hovering around the freezing mark today. Even the cat has taken refuge in my bed, having figured out how to turn on the electric blanket. Who among us can blame her?
The saving grace of February is the abundance of mid-winter festivals. Last weekend was Brighid's Day, marking the return of life into the cold dark world with the sprouting of grains and the birthing of sheep. This week brings us the Chinese New Year and Valentine's Day. It also brings us that famous festival to indulgence, the Mardi Gras.
Taken literally, Mardi Gras means Fat Tuesday. This French Catholic celebration is the last day of indulgence before practitioners enter their fasting season of Lent, attempting to emulate the self-induced privations of Jesus as he wandered the wilderness before arriving in Jerusalem to be arrested and crucified. For many modern-day Catholics, and those in other Christian sects, it means foregoing those small physical pleasures to help focus one's attention on the state of the spirit. While I personally think cold and endless February is not the best time for this type of contemplation, this does not stop me from a little Fat Tuesday activities in the cold days of February.
Mini po'boy sandwiches
My counterpart and I participated in on of those MeetUp groups. The one we joined is focused on cooking and food, and the organizer planned a little Cajun potluck on Saturday night. Our assignment was to provide an appetizer or side dish. Gareth decided on a New Orleans classic - the Po'Boy.
First, you will need to make a Roulade. For that you will need:
Garlic, pressed through a garlic press
Salt and pepper
Pickles, minced - we used kosher dills
Make the mayonnaise as per usual. Gareth likes egg yolk, grape seed oil, and a little light vinegar. Reserve some for a little garlic mayo or a bread sauce if you like.
Then add the remaining ingredients, tasting as you go. If the sauce ends up too bitter, add a little squeeze of Karo light corn syrup. This will incorporate into the sauce more readily than granulated sugar, which will make your sauce gritty.
Then cook your fish. We used tilapia fillets. Gareth cut them to size, breaded them with potato starch, and slowly baked them in the oven.
Tilapia fillets, dusted with potato starch and ready for the oven
He also wanted some shrimp in there, so he steamed the medium sized (26-30 count) with just the slightest dusting of Old Bay.
To complete the po'boy, we used butter lettuce, sliced tomatoes, and a little garlic mayonnaise.
We were going to serve ours on a baguette we bought at Wegman's (my bread-making has not ventured into this area yet), but our MeetUp host is a professional chef who was trained at the Culinary Institute of America.He had some sourdough that he baked in (I'm not kidding here) an adobe oven that he built in his back yard. In suburban Maryland. In Joppatown, no less. Who knew?
Our sad grocery store baguette
Actual sourdough baguettes, cooked in an adobe oven
We cooked the fish in advance and assembled the sandwiches at the potluck. They were well received and fit right in with a spread that included coconut shrimp, jambalaya, roasted sweet potatoes, and the best red beans and bignettes I have ever had. We left with full bellies befitting the holiday and a warn feeling of belonging that comes from finding a group of kindred spirits.
Assembling the sandwiches
Ready to eat