We can't all head to Naw'lins for the madness of Mardi Gras, which falls on Tuesday, Feb. 28 this year, but we can all make a favorite Creole or Cajun dish for serving at home.

Or, why not enjoy a full-blown Mardi Gras celebration? Make out the menu, invite people over, turn on the Zydeco tunes and pretend your dining room is an eatery in the French Quarter, following the unofficial motto of New Orleans, "laissez les bon temps roulet," or "let the good times roll." Don't forget the beads, lots of them.

Jambalaya is a must. Since Marilyn Halstead shared one of her favorites on last week's Taste page, I chose another classic must-have main dish from southern Louisiana: Southern gumbo, a full-bodied stew with a spicy kick.

An easy side dish for a Mardi Gras gathering is cheese grits, baked in the oven the last 30 minutes before serving time.

Another classic side? Red beans and rice, originally served only on Mondays, which were the traditional wash days in early New Orleans. This dish could simmer all day and be ready for supper, along with a generous pan of Southern corn bread.

For those who serve Creole dishes on a regular basis, you can stir up a Creole seasoning to have ready for adding to your favorites. Rub it on chicken pieces before grilling, or sprinkle on veggies or French fries or chicken kebabs.

For main dish so delectable it shouts out "Creole cooking" with each bite, try Louisiana meat balls and okra served over hot rice.

A Mardi Gras feast wouldn't be complete without a king cake with its purple, green, and gold sugar-sprinkled icing. With a plastic baby tucked inside, whoever gets the serving with the baby is instantly the king or queen of the party.

The traditional king cake is made with yeast and takes lots of time, so I chose a simpler version, provided by Mr. Food of television and newspaper fame.

Another food tradition in the Big Easy is the beignet, a fried doughnut-like delight famously served in the French Quarter. A grandson brought me a beignet mix a couple of years ago after vacationing in New Orleans. They are so easy, and so good.

For those who love the taste of Southern pralines, praline bread pudding with a rich sauce, is a great way to finalize the feast.

One more sweet treat: Praline brownies perfect for sending home with your Mardi Gras guests.

With a handful of Creole recipes, make out your menu and shopping list, send out invitations to your party people, and "let the good times roll."

Dixie Terry, of Goreville, is a food writer for several publications and serves as a food editor of Taste of Home Magazine. Dixie loves hearing from readers and can be contacted at 618-995-2491; at dixieterry85@yahoo.com; or at Teapot Cottage, 101 Sidney Lane, Goreville, 62939.

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