When February comes around, my thoughts turn to Mardi Gras. I thought I might as well introduce cooking classes to that same concept.

We called what we did Mardi Gras Bites. The concept was food that could be used on a cocktail table, as an appetizer, and as a main course. Let’s take a look at what we did.

We started out talking about that famous New Orleans sandwich — the muffuletta. Many of us had been to the Central Grocery and had their famous sandwich. If not there, we had one somewhere.

First, we made olive salad. That’s what makes or breaks a muffuletta. Instead of making the sandwich, we turn the ingredients into a spread. Olive salad was mixed with chopped ham, salami and provolone. Then went in cream cheese to make a luscious spread.

We tried the spread as it was and baked some to make a hot dip for our table. Then we used it inside croissants to make little sandwiches. It was good every way.

Nuts are a tasty nibble for most any occasion. They give a flavor and texture difference to the other foods offered. We chose pecans. Ours had a nice crunch and a deep toasted pecan flavor. Every class finished off the entire plate.

French onion soup is a restaurant staple. This concoction of caramelized onions and beef stock, topped with a raft of bread, and that piled with cheese, plus being browned in the oven, is a tasty item. It can be messy to eat and easy to get pizza mouth as a result.

Creole onion soup is what we chose. You use the same long cooked onions, but no browning takes place. Instead of beef, it’s chicken stock that is used. There’s no raft of bread. It’s served alongside. There can be cheese mixed into soup, but we chose cream for ours.

The result is a bowl of luscious wonderment.

Red bean hummus

For a number of years now, hummus has become a staple of the American table. It’s no longer mysterious and imported. Popular brands are found in the deli section of markets everywhere. The basis of many of these use garbanzo beans. Yet others have different components like lentils.

My thought was to use the popular Louisiana red bean and make hummus with those. In class, we made that happen.

We took the same seasonings of lemon, cumin, garlic and olive oil. Those were mixed with red beans for a basic hummus. To add a little more seasoning to the picture, we put in some salsa. We gave it a try, and it was pretty good.

For more interest, we added some cream cheese and Cheddar to our red bean hummus. That’s when things really got going.

We served this mixture just like traditional hummus with a drizzle of olive oil, a sprinkle of parsley and surrounded it with chips. Then some went into a ramekin and it became a dip for our table.

There is hardly a more recognizable New Orleans dish than shrimp remoulade. It sure seemed like a good idea to add this to our table.

We made a flavorful sauce to use with boiled shrimp. The result was a great cold dip for our table, plus we used larger shrimp to make an appetizer or luncheon portion served over lettuce.

Way to celebrate

No Mardi Gras celebration is complete without a King Cake. Ours was no exception.

Instead of the traditional coffee cake version, we used crescent dough. We also substituted a rich cream cheese frosting for the traditional very sweet sugar and water application. Of course, we decorated with purple, green and gold to make the cake complete.

As the saying goes, “a good time was had by all” in our Mardi Gras Bites classes. We came away with dishes to use not only this month, but all year long. There’s hardly a better way to celebrate than in Mardi Gras style.

Jim Sikes is an Opelika resident; a food, wine and restaurant consultant; and a columnist for the Opelika-Auburn News. Contact him on Facebook at In the Kitchen with Chef Jim.

Jim Sikes is an Opelika resident; a food, wine and restaurant consultant; and a columnist for the Opelika-Auburn News. Contact him on Facebook at In the Kitchen with Chef Jim.

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