Double indulgence this year

Today is Fat Tues-day, the day before Lent starts. It’s the day when you have permission to eat everything rich and fatty in the house, before the traditional big fast, which starts tomorrow on Ash Wednesday. But tomorrow is also Valentine’s Day, which creates a conundrum: start an austere fast, or celebrate a day set aside for the foods of romance, such as steak, lobster, chocolate, and champagne. So if we can choose a two-day pass to indulge our palates as we celebrate these culinary feasting days back-to-back, are you with me?

Before feeling like a kid in a candy store, let’s dive into the big question: what do you consider to be indulgent foods? The things mentioned above? Maybe add butter, ice cream, cakes and cookies, a big plate of lasagna or giant pastrami sandwich? Or are you thinking oysters, caviar, and a very pricey bottle of wine? I will bet that indulgent food means different things, some quite surprising. This time, let’s stick with the foods that help celebrate these two occasions year after year. Perhaps we can “double indulge” by combining favorite flavors from each holiday to create recipes that celebrate both at the same time. Here we go:

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Crab Cakes

While crab cakes are found at many Mardi Gras parties, we’ll add a rich, finger-licking aioli that also pairs them perfectly for a Valentine’s Day champagne toast.

Easy Crab Cakes

Recipe from “Taste of Home” magazine; makes 4 large cakes, 2 per person.

1 cup seasoned bread crumbs, divided

2 green onions, finely chopped

1/4 cup finely chopped sweet red bell pepper

1 large egg, lightly beaten

1/4 cup mayonnaise

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

12 ounces crabmeat, drained, flaked, and cartilage removed

1 tablespoon butter

In a large bowl, combine 1/3 cup of the bread crumbs, the green onions, red bell pepper, egg, mayonnaise, lemon juice, garlic powder and cayenne; fold in the crab. Place remaining bread crumbs in a shallow dish. Divide crab mixture into 4 portions; shape into balls. Gently coat each piece in bread crumbs, then shape into 1/2-inch-thick patties. In a large nonstick skillet, heat butter over medium-high heat. Add crab cakes; cook 3 to 4 minutes per side, or until golden brown. Top with aioli and serve.

Saffron Aioli

Dress up the crab cakes with this bright, exotic-tasting topper from “Small Bites, Big Nights” by Govind Armstrong; makes 1 cup. Store unused amounts in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator for a few days.

1 clove garlic, smashed

Salt and pepper to taste

Yolk of 1 egg (organic if possible)

Pinch of saffron threads

Juice of 1/2 lemon

1/2 cup good quality olive oil

1/2 cup grapeseed oil (or a blend)

In a large mortar or bowl, add garlic and a pinch of salt and pepper; pulverize and grind with a pestle or heavy spoon. Add egg yolk, saffron threads and lemon juice; work into a paste. In a very slow, steady stream, whisk or blend in the oils until emulsified.

Bananas Foster Milkshake

The traditional New Orleans flaming bananas and rum dessert turns into a milkshake with two straws for our Valentine’s Day lovers. Recipe from Chowhound.com; makes one big creamy drink.

1 banana, cut into large chunks

1/4 cup dark rum

1 pint Dulce de Leche ice cream

Place banana chunks in a blender container; add rum and pulse 5 or 6 times until smooth. Add ice cream; pulse 10 to12 times more, until smooth and pourable. Place mixture into a large chilled glass and top with whipped cream if desired. Add two straws and sip with your loved one.

Southern Beignets

There are many recipes for these puffy, sugary little New Orleans pillows of dough; some fried, some baked. We will indulge in the full fry here, then add a rich Valentine’s-worthy chocolate sauce for dipping.

2 1/4 teaspoons dry yeast

1 1/2 cups warm water

1 cup cream

1/2 cup sugar

1 teaspoon salt

2 eggs

1/4 cup butter, softened

About 7 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 quart frying oil

1 cup powdered sugar

In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in the warm water. Add sugar, salt, eggs, and cream; blend well. Mix in 4 cups of the flour; beat until smooth. Add butter, then remaining 3 cups flour. Cover and let rise for 1 to 2 hours in a warm spot. On a floured surface, fold dough over itself a few times to make a rectangular shape, then roll out dough into a 1/4-inch-thick rectangle. Cut into 2-by-2-inch squares. Heat oil in a deep, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Slide dough squares slowly into hot oil to avoid spattering. Fry each batch 3 to 5 minutes, until they puff up and turn golden brown. Carefully remove to a rack with paper towels underneath; cool until able to handle. Arrange beignets on a platter; using a fine mesh strainer, dust with powdered sugar. Eat warm, with chocolate sauce for dipping.

Chocolate Sauce

I went to a chocolate guru for this perfect recipe, which you can modify to your personal taste and type of chocolate. Leftover sauce will keep for several days in the refrigerator. Recipe from “A Year in Chocolate” by Alice Medrich; makes 1 3/4 cups.

10 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped into small pieces

1/2 to 3/4 cup milk, half-and-half, or heavy cream*

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a small bowl, combine chocolate and the lesser amount of liquid (and butter if using, see note)

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And melt gently over a barely simmering water bath. Alternately, you can microwave on medium power (50 percent) for about 2 minutes. Stir until smooth. Add more liquid if sauce seems too thick or looks curdled. Remove from heat; stir in vanilla. Use the warm sauce immediately, or set aside until needed and rewarm briefly.

*Using milk instead of half-and-half or cream will yield a more intense chocolate flavor. Using bittersweet chocolate labeled between 66 to 72 percent will also give a more intense chocolate flavor.