Decadent, audacious and over-the-top sums up Mardi Gras festivities and the carnival season, in my opinion. The parades and Mardi Gras balls have a party-like atmosphere with lots of revelry, good times and costumes –some elegant, others more brazen and some just plain silly. This over-the-top appetizer, “Tipsy French Quarter Praline Pecan Cheese Spread,” fits right in. It is so, so rich. Like Mardi Gras, this appetizer is decadent, delicious and addictive. It is full of sugar and calories — but we’re indulging during these festivities. And Lent is coming soon. The cream cheese base has savory seasonings while the praline topping (brown sugar, butter, nuts and bourbon) is very sweet. Oddly enough, the sweet and savory flavors complement each other.
“Praline Pecan Cheese Spread” is named for the French Quarter, which is the heart of New Orleans. This part of the city is known for great restaurants, jazz music, entertainment bars and halls and elegant old hotels. The French Quarter is on slightly higher ground and received only minor flooding during the Katrina Hurricane aftermath. (Plus the levees which were breached during the hurricane are located far from this part of town.) The French Quarter, which is built along the Mississippi River, dates to 1718 when French explorer, Jean Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville, settled here. The streets are narrow and lined with multi-story buildings with balconies which overlook the streets and sidewalks. New Orleans has seen both French and Spanish rulers with their architectural influences — such as the iron work on these balconies. We like to spend an afternoon, wander along the streets and to the river, with nothing particular in mind, and end by eating at one of the many venerable restaurants in the French Quarter.
At one time, the Mardi Gras parades meandered through the narrow streets of the French Quarter. However, as floats became taller and longer, this became impossible. And so the parade routes moved out of the French Quarter to larger streets. This year, Mardi Gras is back in full swing after being canceled in 2021 due the Covid-19 pandemic.
Even without parades, there is a party-like atmosphere in the French Quarter around carnival season and Mardi Gras. And the closer you get to the center of this part of the city — the more brazen and brassy are the costumes and activities. Not for the faint of heart. The official “Carnival Season” begins with the Twelfth Night, January 6, and ends with “Fat Tuesday” which is the day before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. This year the date is March 1.
Mardi Gras for Spectators
For the most part, “Mardi Gras” consists of “krewes” or private organizations who stage “royalty courts” along with elegant balls, costumes, parties and parades. The above young lady is a princess in the Krewe of Endymion, one of the three “super krewes” in New Orleans. It is a prized honor to be selected for this role. If you are a member of the krewe, you may participate in these activities as well as be a rider of one of the floats, throwing beads to the crowds. However, most of us are spectators and make up the crowds of folks who come to Mardi Gras, vie for catching all the trinkets and beads. Some of the balls and parties are open to the public; many remain closed events.
The Mardi Gras parades operate not only in the City of New Orleans, but also in the suburbs and in many cities in south Louisiana. The parades in the suburbs, such as shown in this one in Metairie, have more of a family-like atmosphere.
“Tipsy French Quarter Pecan Praline Cheese Dip” Recipe
Back to the recipe. Here are the ingredients. The recipe makes enough to serve 15 to 20 guests, so it is easy to cut the ingredients in half for a smaller crowd.
To make the recipe you need to work ahead. Soften the cream cheese on the counter for an hour or more. Then stir in the minced garlic and onion powder into the cream cheese and form into a disk which is about 3/4″ to 1″ in height and at least 6″ in diameter. This is a 6″ diameter disk. Next time, I’ll use a 9″ Pyrex pie dish and spread the cream cheese disk larger in diameter to an 8″ diameter disk — and shorter in height. There’s plenty of topping to accommodate the wider disk. Let the cream cheese harden in the refrigerator after forming the disk with your hands and spatula..
Meanwhile, if the pecans are stale, toast them in the oven at 350 degrees for 5 minutes to freshen them up. Then chop them finely. I used a food processor.
Mix up the topping. This is a rich topping — butter, brown sugar and pecans plus seasonings of Worcestershire sauce and Dijon mustard. My friend Regina, who gave me the recipe, also added a little Bourbon to thin the filling, making the topping just a little “tipsy.”
To make the topping, melt the butter and brown sugar on the stove, just until the sugar dissolves. Remove from the stove and stir in the remaining ingredients — Worcestershire sauce, Dijon mustard and the finely chopped, aromatic pecans. Let the topping cool completely and then thin it down with the Bourbon.
Spread over the topping over cream cheese disk. Refrigerate. This may be prepared a day ahead or several days ahead of time.
Then serve this decedent dip with crackers and fruit, if desired. Serve any extra topping in a small bowl.
This is a delicious appetizer. The garlic and onion flavors in the cream cheese are a little different, I confess, but I loved all the eclectic flavors of this dip and topping. Your family, friends and guests are sure to be impressed, too. It is easy to get carried away eating this dip. Enjoy at taste of the French Quarter in New Orleans where ever you are. It’s Mardi Gras weekend!
Tipsy French Quarter Praline Pecan Cheese Spread
- 2 (8 oz) packages cream cheese, softened
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 Tbsp onion powder
- 1 stick (1/2 cup or 8 oz) butter
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tsp prepared (not dry) mustard such as Dijon
- 2 cups pecans pieces
- 1-2 Tbsp Bourbon whiskey (may substitute dark rum or Southern Comfort)
- crackers and fruit for serving
Instructions and Steps:
- If the pecans are stale, toast them in the oven. Heat oven to 350 degrees.
- Spread pecan pieces evenly on a rimmed baking sheet. Toast pecan pieces for 5 minutes in oven until aromatic. Immediately remove from oven and transfer to a small bowl to stop baking and avoid burning. Chop pieces until very fine. I used a food processor. Set aside.
- Mix together softened cream cheese, minced garlic and onion powder. Spread into a disk shape about 3/4″ high and 6″ to 9″ in diameter on pie plate or dish. Refrigerate.
- For topping, melt butter in small saucepan. Add brown sugar and stir until sugar dissolves thoroughly mixed together. Do not boil. Do not cook.
- Remove from stove. Add Worcestershire sauce, mustard and chopped pecan pieces. Stir to combine.
- Stir in Bourbon whiskey (or dark rum or Southern Comfort) a little at a time to thin sauce so it is spreadable.
- Let topping cool completely. Spread over cream cheese. Place excess topping in small bowl to serve along with extra crackers and fruit.
- Refrigerate. May be prepared one to two days ahead.
- Serve the next day with crackers and fruit.
*NOTE: May reduce recipe ingredients in half for fewer guests.
And perhaps you might recognize the handsome rider in the center in this photo. Of course, it’s Mitch Landrieu, New Orleans lawyer and politician, who served as Mayor of New Orleans from 2010 to 2018. He is now Biden’s senior advisor of the “Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act” responsible for coordinating the implementation of our historic infrastructure law. Anyway, it is reassuring to know that our public officials can still do the basics such as ride horses. I am sure that Mitch’s horsemanship weighed heavily into Biden’s decision to making Mitch responsible for repairing our roads and bridges. Hey, “throw me something mister”; how about little money, Mitch!
What, no money? Then throw me some beads!
Just throw any kind of beads, mister. I’m here.
Gotta’ love the Clydesdale horses. They are so magnificant.
And after the parade, enjoy a party somewhere. I’m bringing this dip!