Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Leap Day & Pupcakes

The Day: Leap Day
Take a leap on this magical extra day!

According to Kenneth the Page in 30 Rock's Leap Day episode, “Every four years, you get a magical extra day.” The characters agree Leap Day is the day to do something you usually wouldn’t, or “take a leap.” For Jack, it means an extra day of business, for Tracy an extra day to use a Benihana gift card and a “slut off” for Liz and Jenna.

Kenneth the Page as Leap Day William, the scary Santa of Leap Day who lives in the Mariana Trench.

The humor throughout the episode resonated with me as I researched this blog.  There are several jokes about this tradition-less holiday actually having traditions: parades, parties, a holiday character named Leap Day William and a Jim Carrey movie airing all day on USA. 

Liz is surprised by all of the customs she never heard of — I, however, was not as fruitful in my findings.  Though, one Irish legend really stood out.  On Leap Day, there is an old custom of Sadie Hawkins proposals. Back in the day, not only did women propose on Leap Day, but men had to say “yes.” (Though, I found no evidence to this, I can only guess this solved several paternity disputes.) A couple years back, the film Leap Year, starring Amy Adams, was based on this idea. 

I also have a couple of funny Leap Day tales in my family. A female relative of mine who will remain nameless apparently went into labor on Leap Day and didn’t want her child to only have a birthday every four years.  As this familytale goes, she willed herself into giving birth the next day.  In the end, she delivered a healthy March 1st baby. The other tail involves my dog Rasco. 

My maltese will be a puppy forever.  He was born February 29, 2008.  So, today is his first birthday. 

Rasco & me.
*Oddly enough, all of my dogs were born on February holidays.  Boo Boo (my first dog who lived to age 16) had a Valentine’s birthday, my schnauzer Penny turned 15 on Groundhog’s Day and today Rasco turns one.

The Dish: Pupcakes
This week my blog is going to the dogs …

To celebrate the occasion, I made my leap dog pupcakes …

Peanut butter frosted pupcakes. A puppy-safe, homemade treat. 

-       1 box cornbread mix (need milk and 1 egg with mix)
-       Dog treats of your choice (you can substitute with dog food if Fido’s on a diet)
-       Peanut Butter
-       Ball Sprinkles without chocolate!
Mix cornbread package as directed.
Add crushed dog treats to the mixture.
Pour into cupcake pan.
Bake as directed.
Frost pupcakes with peanut butter.
Decorate.  I used a tiny amount of ball sprinkles (make sure topping does not contain chocolate or macadamia nuts!) but you can use a treat or milk bone topper.
… Looking at the photos below, you can see pupcakes were a big hit with the birthday boy and Penny, my dog since first grade (I am now a senior in college).

Rasco sniffing out his first piece.
Penny ate hers in one bite ...

... and then licked the floor clean.
Rasco, weighing in at 10 pounds, ate his in a much daintier fashion. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Lent & Fish Tacos

Things I love about Mardi Gras:
-     The Mayor toasting the city (with champagne) before noon.  
-     We measure a successful Mardi Gras in trash. After the Mardi Gras street sweep, the garbage is weighed. The heavier the load, the better the Mardi Gras.
-     The costumes. It’s like a satirical Halloween. 
-     Making Mardi Gras bead dogs. 

This photo of me and Bowei is from a particularly joyful evening in New Orleans during the 2010 Carnival season ... When the Saints won the Super Bowl — hence, the flying pig. 
My friend Kristen with a Mardi Gras puppy I made for her.

But … The party’s over.

The Tradition: Lent
In New Orleans, the Catholics aren’t the only ones who partake.  

At Mardi Gras, anything goes. But we have one rule: At midnight, when Fat Tuesday becomes Ash Wednesday, men in waistcoats become mice and floats turn back into pumpkins.

The party stops and Lent begins.  And, a lot of New Orleanians, Catholic or not, take this opportunity to rekindle their New Year’s resolutions.

Now, I was not raised Catholic, but my dad was.  So, he brought the tradition of giving things up for Lent into our house and set the example. Dad abides by all the rules and he cuts out coffee and alcohol, only drinking water. Some years, he excludes meat or fried food.  But, this is only after over-indulging on Popeye’s and cracklin Mardi Gras Day. 

My father is never overweight, he exercises daily, running, biking and kayaking in Lake Pontchartrain; but with dietary changes during Lent, he has dropped up to 30 pounds. 

Now, this isn’t a Catholic thing, it’s cultural.  Public school cafeterias abide by these Lenten rules and restaurants adapt with Lenten menus for those who avoid meat on Fridays.  Monday, when you’re back at school (Yes, in the New Orleans area, you get a week off for Mardi Gras), all the kids ask one another what they’re giving up for Lent?

All of my friends growing up gave up things like sweets. One year, I tried to be a vegetarian, but my diet didn’t contain enough outside protein, and I failed miserably — fainting after a shower and being forced to eat pork while still wearing a towel.  Forty days is an accomplishable goal, so when you fail at Lent and discuss it in conversation, it’s embarrassing.  I have, however, successfully cut out soda several times. And, this year, I'm saying "no" to fried food. 

The Recipe:  Julie's Fish Tacos
Not a traditional New Orleans meal, but it is tasty and safe for Lent.

·      1 tbs olive oil
·      1 can black beans
·      1 Mango, diced
·      1 Tomato, diced
·      Taco shells (make it skinny with blues shells or whole wheat tortillas)
·      Salsa
·      1 Avocado, sliced
·      1 lb white flaky fish, such as mahi mahi or orata (I used mahi)
·      1 lime, juiced
·      1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves (I didn't use cilantro)
·      Lettuce
·      Panko
·      Egg

Place fish in a medium size dish. Whisk together the oil, lime juice, seasonings and cilantro and pour over the fish. Let marinate for 15 to 20 minutes. (I used the Whole Foods Tequila Lime seasoning.)

While fish is marinading chop tomato, mango, lettuce and avocado (I also made spanish rice during this time, heated the black beans and sauteed some bell pepper.)

Remove fish from the marinade, dip it in egg, roll it in panko and pan fry. Cook the fish for approximately 8 minutes until golden brown.

Colorful taco assembly line.
Why yes I am wearing glitter nail polish and a Flintstones band aid (I cut my finger on the can of black beans).  But these were literally the best fish tacos ever.

*If you would like to add sour cream to this meal, but want something healthier try greek yogurt with lime juice, cumin, salt and pepper.  That's what I put on my taco and it was delicious — I even converted my sour-cream-loving-boyfriend by the end of the meal!

Dear Readers, 
Over the next 40 days, my blog won’t be all about Lent.  But my posts will have a “make it skinny” alternative. I am interested in slimming down some of my usual recipes because I recently got my cholesterol tested.  I don’t eat fast food, or cook with butter. I try to exercise a couple times a week and I eat tons of veggies. But, my sweet tooth and my genes aren’t in my corner. My results weren’t terrible, but I’ve been making small changes, like switching from peanut butter to almond butter. I would like to use Lent as a way to highlight healthy eating habits.  DO NOT WORRY: This is not a health food blog. In my opinion, there is no point in living if I can’t eat  cake balls. I want you to enjoy all of my recipes, I sure do.  I just am trying to do my  part, after all, it is heart month.
Though I can’t have a cake ball everyday … a glass of red wine with dark chocolate's OK!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Galentine's Day & Ice Cream Cake Balls

WARNING: This week’s post doesn’t have a lot to do with The Old Country,  but a modern tradition inspired by T.V. Oma still makes an appearance.

Things I love about Valentine’s Day:
-     The colors pink and red.
-     Chocolate covered strawberries.  It’s the best way to eat fruit. 
-     The T.V. shows. I love every 30 Rock Valentine’s episode; especially, Anna Howard Shaw Day.  But, I get teary eyed just thinking about The Simpsons Valentine’s episode where Ralph gives Lisa the card that says “I choo choo choose you."

This episode of The Simpsons tears me up inside. 

Things I hate about Valentine’s Day:
-     Those hearts that say things on them.  Writing “email me” doesn’t make them modern.  If anything it ruins their charm.  They are to Valentine’s as candy corn is to Halloween: both disgusting but you end up buying them out nostalgia anyway.
-     Those teddy bears that hold a heart saying “Be Mine,” “I love you,” etc.  I just feel bad for them. If you think about it, they’re in handcuffs, ironically shackled to a heart forever.  Remember how much toys like that stunk as a kid? It totally limited your imagination.   Ok Mr. Bear let’s stop playing Valentine’s and play detective. Oh wait, you have this heart sewn to your hands? This ruins everything. And then the bear sits collecting dust because Mr. Watson would never walk around holding a sign proclaiming his love for Sherlock Holmes.
-     How lonely it makes some people feel.  

Gross. But nostalgiac. 

The Holiday: Galentine’s Day
Why does Valentine’s Day focus on one kind of love, when we experience so many forms?

I am actually very neutral when it comes to Valentine’s Day.  If you have a Valentine (boyfriend, friend or mom) it can be wonderful.  In fact, the best Valentine’s I ever had was with my mom and Oma.  I was 12 and my mom brought me to Oma’s after school, they drank coffee.  Oma had made me the traditional Christmas cut out cookies with pink icing as a special Valentine’s surprise.  My mom bought me a DVD of “Fools Rush In,” a silly romantic comedy I liked. We never usually celebrated Valentine’s, so it all felt special. I’ve had romantic Valentine’s since, but none will match that day.

And that’s what I think Valentine’s should be about, knowing you have someone who cares.  Romance be damned. So that is why (circling back to my love of Valentine’s T.V.) I think Galentine’s Day is genius.

Galentine’s is a holiday celebrated by Leslie Knope, portrayed by Amy Poehler, on Parks and Recreation. Leslie describes the holiday, celebrated Feb. 13, as a day for ladies to celebrate ladies.  Leslie, an overachiever, takes her girlfriends to breakfast and makes them intricate gifts.  No boys allowed, it’s not Valentine’s for goodness sake.

April Ludgate (played by Aubrey Plaza) opens up her thoughtful Galentine's gift: a mosaic of her made from her favorite diet soda bottle, on Parks and Recreation.

My roommate Haley and I were inspired by Ms. Leslie Knope, and we are hosting our own Galentine’s party tomorrow.  Yes, we will be reaping the reward of half off candy for our party, but we will also be celebrating our favorite ladies with Galentine’s cards, wine and DESSERT.

The Dish: Ice Cream Cake Balls
I know, I know, I am doing cake balls two weeks in a row, but I hope you’ll forgive me.  I bet you do after you try one!

Haley is making mini raspberry cheesecakes and other guests have promised everything from baked brie with cherries to sea salt brownies.  In case this isn’t enough cholesterol, I’m making Ice Cream Cake Balls, and kale chips — the greens balance it all out, right?

-       1 box of your favorite cake mix, You could make a cake from scratch
-       1/2 to 1 can of icing, Try to coordinate with cake flavor
-       Bakers chocolate, colored candy melts or almond bark, Once again, think about what matches

Bake the cake as directed. I used vanilla.
After cooling, combine cake with icing (matching vanilla flavored). You should start with half the can of icing and see if the dough is sticky and can be easily rolled into a ball.  If not, add more icing until reaching desired texture.
Roll into 1” cup shape, almost a ball but with no top. Cool for 30 minutes in the freezer.
Scoop ½ teaspoon of ice cream (again, vanilla) and place in the cup.  Make a top for the cup with the dough.
Freeze at least 6 hours, but I think 24 hours is best.
Dip into melted bakers chocolate. I used white chocolate and red candy melts.
Decorate as you see fit, I used Valentine’s sprinkles.

I chose to make vanilla Ice Cream Cake balls, because it was a first attempt.  But, I do recommend this fun combo that I am dying to try in the future: Neopolitan Cake Balls! Use strawberry cake, vanilla ice cream and regular bakers chocolate.  While I saw similar recipes online, I have never seen one like this.  The others had the ice cream as the outside layer, but I chose to make it more like a traditional ice cream cake with an ice cream center.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

King Cake Parties & King Cake Balls

The Fest: King’s Day kicks off Carnival, New Orleans
If you get the baby, the next rounds on you …

In Louisiana, when holiday season (Turkey Day to New Years) ends, Carnival begins.  Parade season begins on Jan. 6, King’s Day (named for the day the Three Wise Men visited Jesus). This is the day everyone is supposed to take down their Christmas trees. In most of the U.S., I can imagine this is a sad day, the party’s over. 

But in New Orleans, the party’s just begun.  Hello half-off green and red candy and — drum roll, please — King Cakes!

What’s a King Cake you say? (If you're in Louisiana, just go with it.) 

A Haydel's King Cake, from their website.

Imagine something not quite the consistency of a cake, but more like a roll or bread. The filling always has cinnamon, almost always has cream cheese and often fruit — popular flavors include: strawberry, raspberry, apple and lemon.

The braided dough is topped with white icing and colored sugar in the traditional Mardi Gras colors: purple, green and gold.  *Tip: If given the choice, eat the yellow; the purple and green sugar are more likely to stain your mouth.

And, inside the cake is a plastic baby, which represents baby Jesus, because Carnival starts with King’s Day (King’s Day = King Cake).  Whoever gets the baby has to buy the next King Cake.  *Tip:  If you're cheap, don’t eat the biggest piece.  The baby is usually in the biggest piece because the person cutting the cake knows the baby’s location and is afraid to cut it.

Found this King Cake baby online.  This is pretty much what they look like, but sometimes gold.  

When I was a kid, we would eat King Cake in class and the kid who got the baby would bring the next cake.  But, in my dad’s day, these King Cake parties were held at home.  But, I should add that my dad is from New Orleans, not a suburb, and went to a small, Catholic school.

At these parties, there would be a King and Queen, just like big Mardi Gras balls thrown by adults. Getting the baby also ensured royal status at these grade school soirees.

My dad recalls having a King Cake party at his house, because he got the baby the previous Saturday, where he acted as my Gammie (his mom) would say, “like a holy terror.”

My dad said he remembers being the ringleader in getting the boys to “pick on the girls.”

“There were no constraints on kids eating sugar back then,” my dad joked. “The results were predictable.”

Now, there are King Cakes and there are king cakes.  In my personal opinion, Randazzo’s and Haydel’s are the best.  And you can order them from anywhere in the country!

The Feast: King Cake Balls
Instead of trying to compete with King Cake masters, I am going to give you a recipe I made up in my mind grapes … King Cake Balls

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before, but I am a cake ball master.  I’ve been doing it since before it was cool and I don’t use one of those kits.  I’ve made skulls, s’more flavored, sparkly and zebra striped.  I have to give credit to my sister for the s’more idea, but still, I was jazzed to try yet another cake ball concoction …

I tried it, it worked, was delicious, here’s the recipe:

-       1 can Pillsbury (whatever brand you like) crescent rolls
-       4 to 8 oz. cream cheese (I try to use the lite)
-       White bakers chocolate or white almond bark
-       Purple, green and gold crystal sprinkles
-       Cinnamon and Sugar

Bake the crescent rolls as directed.
After cooling, shred the crescent rolls and combine with cream cheese. You should start with 4 oz. (half packet of cream cheese) and see if the dough is sticky and can be easily rolled into a ball.  If not, add more cream cheese until reaching desired texture.
Add cinnamon to taste and just a spoon or so of sugar.
Roll into 1” balls. 
Dip into melted bakers chocolate.
Decorate with crystal sprinkles in Mardi Gras colors!

I did mine in color blocks and set them up to look like a real King Cake. AND it really tasted like King Cake.  Oh, I also hid a baby in one!  

Looks like I made a real King Cake ...

But on closer inspection ...

Click here for the 2013 follow-up post.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Jour des Crepes & Candace's Crepe Recipe

The Tradition: Crepe Day, France
My friend Candace explains the lesser known Feb. 2 holiday

Upon meeting my friend Candace, you’ll immediately learn three things …

1.     She loves musicals — and knows more about them than Rachel Berry.
2.     Karen, Lisa, Catherine and Jessica are frankly just the best.
3.     Though Candace loves DC, her Lafayette home is where her heart (family) is.

My sister Julie and Candace getting brunch, they were roommates for a couple of years in DC. 

So when I asked Candace about a custom I thought was unique to her family, she was happy to share.   She told me the origin and tradition of eating crepes on Groundhog Day — which I now know stems from multiple French customs.

This family tradition originates with her maternal great-great-grandparents who emigrated from France in 1904 to Louisiana. Candace said her mother Jackie recalls eating crepes only on Feb. 2 at her Grandma’s house. And, little Jackie knew how to flip a crepe by second grade.

Candace remembers having the same experience with her great-grandmother (nicknamed Ms. Grandma by Candace’s generation), except flipping a crepe is something she jokes she still hasn't quite mastered.

She also had the treat more than just once a year. Crepes became a sleepover staple with Karen, Lisa and Catherine (Jessica came into the picture later). The girls would experiment with the antique recipe, adding nutella instead of plain sugar.

Jackie even gave each of the girls the famous recipe and a crepe pan as a graduation gift.  Tomorrow Candace and the girls will attempt to make crepes on Groundhog Day in DC … and they promise to send pictures.

But … why Groundhog Day?

Well, Candelaria or Candlemass is celebrated on Feb. 2, recognizing the light of God. In France, this holiday is known as Le Chandeleur, Fete de la Lumiere or Jour des Crepes … that’s right, Crepe Day.

Candace said the French celebrate by eating crepes and fortune telling — similar to how Americans spend Feb. 2.  Apparently, if you flip a crepe in the pan (no spilling) while holding a coin in the other hand, your family will be prosperous for the next year.

So World, best of luck tomorrow.  Let’s hope for less winter (hah! it’s 75 degrees in Baton Rouge), more money (yes, please) and a happy Crepe Day! 

*Found Online.

The Treat: Candace's Crepes 
Candace sent over a scanned copy of the recipe from a family cookbook 

Candace, Catherine and the girls celebrate Crepe Day at Candace and Lisa's pad in DC ... just like old times.

Candace has mastered the art flipping crepes. 

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