Add some zest to your Mardi Gras party with a few items from the store that are easy to prepare and full of flavor.
Beignets are more than just a New Orleans version of a doughnut. The fried dough, buried under a blanket of powdered sugar deeper than the snows in Washington, D.C., has a unique flavor and texture. Cafe du Monde, the temple of these crisp yet airy confections offers a mix at Central Market, 4821 Broadway, that will get your day off to a sweet start.
You'll also be able to find Cafe du Monde's chicory coffee in a regular and decaf version. (Scoff at the latter, if you will, but the flavor is surprisingly robust and full-bodied.)
Costco offers Cajun Hollar's version of dirty rice made with andouille and boudin sausage. This heat-and-eat treat is marketed as a "rice, pork and chicken product."
Many supermarkets offer Zatarain's New Orleans-Style Dirty Rice Mix that calls for you to add your own meat "to make a complete meal." The company also offers jambalaya, red beans and rice, and gumbo mixes as well.
The meat you add could be andouille sausage or boudin, both of which are often among the sausages at your neighborhood grocery.
Check the frozen meat section for crawfish tails that have already been peeled. These are great to toss in a gumbo or jambalaya at the last minute.
Check the condiments section for olive salad, if you have a hankering for a muffuletta. The deli section should have everything from the mortadella to the provolone cheese. You may have to make a special trip to Central Market, though, for the special round bread.
Oysters from the gulf are available at most fish departments, if Oysters Rockefeller, an oyster po' boy or Oyster Artichoke Soup is on your agenda.
Pick up a king cake at your nearby H-E-B bakery. The soft cake with the white glaze and the multi-colored sprinkles on top are made fresh daily during the season. And if you get the slice with the baby, you host the party next year.
All of these shortcuts will help you let the good times roll. And that's really what Mardi Gras is all about.