It's Mardi Gras time. And that means parades and parties.

There’s always a group gathering to catch some beads when the parades roll, and this Gumbo Dip is party-ready, perfectly representing Louisiana cuisine.

You'll get everyone into the spirit with my mini muffulettas. The classic New Orleans muffuletta is a variety of bold Italian meats and cheeses — ham, salami, provolone and mozzarella — piled onto a crusty bread and dressed with a rich savory olive salad.

To make them a little more diet friendly, use purchased rolls — I love Hawaiian bread — olive salad (look for jarred or raid a salad bar and finely chop), lean ham and shredded cheese. These make-ahead-and-freeze toasty bites are pretty impressive hot out of the oven, but they're really good at room temperature, too. I confess, I like to keep some in my freezer to pop into my toaster oven for an afternoon snack!

ADVOCATE-TESTED RECIPE

A festive mix of oranges, bacon, carrots, red onions and green spinach with a slightly sweet dressing makes this delicious Mardi Gras salad a winner. For easy entertaining, I like to make the dressing ahead of time, have the salad ingredients ready to mix together and toss when ready to serve.

My personal favorite sweet treat and most popular Mardi Gras recipe is my trim and terrific Mardi Gras King Cake. I get bombarded with recipe requests every time I make it. It's made with crescent rolls filled with luscious cream cheese filling and lots of cinnamon! No complicated yeast dough, here, and many have said it's better than the king cakes in the bakery!

The icing uses food coloring to represent the classic colors of the season — purple (justice), green (faith) and yellow (power). Get the kids involved; they'll love figuring out how to make purple (equal parts of red and blue food coloring).

Now, to wash it all down you're going to need Mardi Gras Punch. This purple one is packed with good juices and floating limes.

The madness of Mardi Gras is about having a good time, so start the music, toss the beads and enjoy the food that has garnered a reputation all over the country. 

Mardi Gras Party Tips:

Use an assortment of green, purple and gold paper products to enhance your theme and for easy clean up.

Make your own centerpiece with layers of raw red beans and raw rice in a glass container and top with votive candle.

Pair your themed Mardi Gras party with traditional New Orleans-style dishes like my king cake, jambalaya, muffuletta sandwiches and a Louisiana soup.


Holly Clegg, author of the best-selling trim&TERRIFIC & Eating Well cookbook series, specializes in easy, healthy everyday recipes. Follow her on Facebook facebook.com/HollyClegg, Instagram @holly_clegg and Twitter @hollyclegg. Her website is thehealthycookingblog.com. You can reach her at holly@hollyclegg.com.