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The good times continue to roll at Universal Studios Florida's Mardi Gras celebration

The good times continue to roll at Universal Studios Florida's Mardi Gras celebration

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Happy Mardi Gras Day!  Although the festivities in New Orleans officially end tonight at midnight (as Fat Tuesday gives way to Ash Wednesday), the party's just getting started at Universal Orlando.

So if you find yourself in desperate need of "Beads, Bands and Good Times" now through April 23rd, Universal Studios Florida is the place you need to be. For Mardi Gras lives on at that theme park. Thanks - in large part - to Universal Orlando's attention to detail. Making sure that they get all of the essentials of this annual street celebration just right.

And by that I mean ...


Copyright Universal Studios. All rights reserved

The Food: From Gumbo and Jambalaya to Beignets, Universal Orlando's French Quarter Courtyard has all the New Orleans favorites covered.

The Alcohol: Vendors had everything from Bud Light to Jello Shots for sale, including classic Mardi Gras beverages like Abita Beer and the Hurricane.

The Music:  Zydeco bands flown in from New Orleans play most Friday and Saturday nights.  The evening that Max and I visited Universal Studios Florida, We watched Lil Malcolm and the House Rockers. And between the bounciness of the music (one of the band members played a washboard!) and the excitement of the crowd, more than a few people were dancing in the street. 


Copyright Universal Studios. All rights reserved

The Parade: Unlike Mardi Gras in New Orleans, Universal Orlando's parade is entirely G-Rated.  Floats are designed and built largely by Blaine Kern Studios in New Orleans (who also designs and builds many of the floats featured  in the Big Easy's Mardi Gras parades).  The theme for the 2011 parade is "The Elements." And if you're paying attention , you'll notice that the floats symbolize Earth, Air, Fire, and Water.  The parade lasted about a half-hour and is then immediately followed by that evening's headlining band performing on the Music Plaza stage.

The Headliners: Each Friday and Saturday night until Universal Orlando's Mardi Gras celebration officially ends in late April, a headlining band will perform live onstage at USF's Music Plaza.  This Saturday night, March 12th, it's Foreigner. And the weeks ahead, Neon Trees (March 18th), The Roots (March 19th), One Republic (March 25th), Blake Shelton (March 26th), Sean Kingston (April 1st), Ne-Yo (April 2nd), Lifehouse (April 9th), The Beach Boys (April 16th), and Thirty Seconds to Mars (April 23rd) will be wowing the crowds at Universal Studios Florida.

The Beads: It just wouldn't be Mardi Gras if there weren't beads. If you feel like you just didn't collect enough of those tens of thousands of strands that are thrown nightly from those floats that parade through Universal Studios Florida ... Well, this time of year, street vendors all over the Universal Orlando Resort have a grand & gaudy assortment of beads for you to choose from. I also noticed USF staffers who work in that theme park's French Quarter Courtyard handing out beads to guests who were dancing and having a good time in front of the zydeco bandstand.


Copyright Universal Studios. All rights reserved

I know, I know. If you're far away from New Orleans and Orlando right now, it might make you sad to think that (today, anyway) you're missing out on all this Mardi Gras-related fun.

So let me tell you about my most recent experience at the Universal Orlando Resort. Where - thanks to the kind folks in Universal's PR office - Max and I got to take part in a cooking class which was Steven Jayson, the executive chef who is responsible for all the menus and recipes at Universal Orlando. 

Step by step, Steven led us through creating a delicious New Orleans-style gumbo - from cooking the onions, celery, and peppers in rendered bacon fat, all the way to adding the gumbo file for a final punch of flavor and thickening.  Chef Jayson recommended customizing the gumbo to suit your personal tastes . For example, he suggested adding oysters instead of (or in addition to) the shrimp.  Crawfish, chicken, whitefish or other shellfish are also great alternatives.


Steven Jayson, Executive Chef for the Universal
Orlando Resort. Copyright Universal Studios.
All rights reserved

And given that Steven was generous enough to share his gumbo recipe with Max and I ... well, I now thought - as kind of a Mardi Gras present - that I'd share this recipe with you. 

Universal Orlando Resort's Mardi Gras Creole Gumbo

Ingredients:

1/2 cup onions (diced ¼")
1 cups celery (diced ¼")
1/2 cup red bell peppers (diced ¼")
1/2 cup green bell peppers (diced ¼")
4 cloves garlic (chopped fine)
5 slices bacon (diced into pieces)
1 bay leaves
1/2 Tbsp. Thyme leaves
1/2 lb. Okra, frozen (cut into bite size pieces)
1 28 oz. Can tomatoes diced with juice
1 Tbsp. Fish or shrimp base
¼ tsp. Black pepper ground
1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
4 cups Fish stock strong, hot
1 Tbsp. Gumbo file
1/2 cup water, cold
1/2 lb. Shrimp (raw, peeled 26-30 count)
1/2 lb. Andouille sausage
4 Tbsp. Butter unsalted
4 Tbsp. Flour all purpose
½ tsp. Tabasco


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Directions:

1.Prepare brown roux by cooking flour and butter.

2.Heat bacon in soup pot and cook until lightly brown add onions, celery, bell peppers and garlic and cook until tender.

3.Blend in okra, bay leaves, thyme, black pepper and Tabasco, stirring constantly.

4.Add fish stock, sausage and tomatoes and bring to a boil and then blend in roux mixing well.

5.Bring back to a boil, turn down heat and simmer for 45 minutes. Stir frequently.

6.Add shrimp, Worcestershire sauce and simmer 10 more minutes.

7.Remove from heat, blend gumbo file and water with wire whip and stir into soup. Adjust seasoning.

8.When serving, put one spoon of boiled hot rice into cup, pour in enough gumbo to cover and garnish with chopped green onions.


Copyright Universal Studios. All rights reserved

I know, I know.  The above recipe might seem almost overly complicated. But Chef Jayson assured us that most of the ingredients necessary for his  gumbo recipe can be found in your local grocery stores.

Though - that said - some of the rarer ingredients like gumbo file (sometimes called powdered sassafras) will be admittedly harder to find. Which is why - before you get started here - that you might want to consider making a quick side trip to your area's gourmet cooking store. Just to stock up on those little things that will make a good gumbo great.

Anyway ... At the end of our cooking class, Chef Jayson dismissed us with: "Laissez Les Bons Temps Rouler!" Which means "Let the good times roll!"


Copyright Universal Studios. All rights reserved

And the good times continue to roll at the Universal Orlando Resort. So if you find yourself in need of  a"Beads, Bands and Good Times" fix, be sure and check out Universal Studios Florida's Mardi Gras celebration now through April 23rd.

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