Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Dog Ice Cream & Rasco's Big Weekend

Hello! My name is Rasco and I'm 10 pounds of cute. My mom's been pretty busy lately working on her project, so she asked me to post for her this week. But don't worry, she still makes time for me ...

We went to the Dog Park on Saturday, but I was too shy to hang out with the other dogs. There was one dachshund that seemed OK, I guess.

I got a little dirty running from bigger kids at the park.

But I got a reward for enduring the park and the bath. It was the greatest thing I ever tasted. My mom made me dog ice cream. She told me to tell you guys that she made a tiny cupcake sized portion for me (that I only ate half of because I am so small). All you do is add 1/2 tablespoon yogurt, another half peanut butter and a dab of honey. She had a lick before me and said it could be a good human treat too.

Om nom nom nom

I couldn't get enough. When she put the other half away for later, I begged for her to give me the rest now. She wiped my beard clean, even though I resisted, trying to explain I was keeping it in my flavor savor for a snack.

Overall, it was a pretty successful weekend. We ended it by snuggling on the couch and watching Netflix.

I guess I was tired after my big adventures.

*Just because I can eat yogurt doesn't mean all puppies can. Dietary restrictions for your dog should be taken into consideration.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Pralines & Do you know what it means?

The Confection: Pecan Pralines 
An old Louisiana family recipe passed down from my great-great aunt

3 cups granulated sugar
2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
1 cup butter
1 ¼ cup  half & half or cream
½ teaspoon salt
 2 tsp. flavor: Vanilla, or Almond or Rum — as long as it is real
About 2 ½ cups chopped pecans — more or less to taste

Recommended equipment: 8 quart or larger nonstick stock pot, candy thermometer, nonstick jelly roll pan, parchment or wax paper.
Line nonstick jelly roll pan with parchment paper or wax paper. 
In nonstick stockpot, melt butter on low to medium heat until butter is melted. 
Next, add granulated sugar and stir until sugar is melted.  
Then, add and blend in the brown sugar.  Add one ingredient in at a time. 
Mix in the cream and stir until blended. Add the salt and stir the mixture until blended. 
Continue stirring.
Raise the stove temperature to high to bring the mixture to a boil, stop stirring when boiling is reached.  
When the mixture comes to a rolling boil, lower the stove temperature to medium high and maintain a rolling boil.
Use your candy thermometer to track the temperature of the cooking temperature of the candy mixture.  
Do not let the thermometer touch the bottom of the pot. 
If the thermometer clips to the side, detach it every few minutes to check the temperature at the center of the pot. 
Stop cooking the candy mixture.  
Remove the candy from the heat when it reaches a temperature of 239 degrees F.  
To check for doneness: plop one drop of candy mixture into a cup of cold water and see if it forms into soft round ball.
While the candy mixture is still boiling, but off the heat source, stir in the flavor extract of choice, and stir in the pecans.
Pour candy mixture into lined jelly roll pan and spread into rectangle.  
Allow to set, and nearly cool. 
Cut into squares and let completely cool.

Photo by Robert Giglio

The Story: Sending a little love from New Orleans
Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans?

It’s no secret that a lot of Louisiana’s famous dishes hail from France. But when the recipes immigrated to Louisiana, a lot of them assimilated to delta terrain. 

Pralines are a perfect example of such adaptation.  This French confection of sugar and nuts was originally created with almonds. When the dish settled in America, by way of New Orleans, plentiful pecans took the place of sparse almonds.

New Orleans still prides itself in the production of pecan pralines (not prayleens), while other places in the world have also seen the recipe evolve to fit their location — most notably Belgium where the candy is a decadent chocolate. 

You don’t have to be a confectioner to make a mean New Orleans praline.  In fact, my family has a pretty great pecan praline recipe (above) that has a special place in our hearts.

My grandpa's care package had pictures and pralines.

When my grandfather was serving a very long tour in Korea, quite far from home, his new bride would send sweet Louisiana pralines. These candied treats traveled so well that even after crossing an ocean they still tasted and smelled like home.
When my mother was young, she would bake these sheet pralines for loved ones that were far away but wanted a little taste of New Orleans.        
And, when my cousin in San Antonio graduated from high school earlier this month, we brought some Louisiana with us to Texas in the form of homemade pralines.    
Whenever someone misses New Orleans, we send some pralines. 

Check out this post on National Geographic's Daily News blog.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Dad's Day & Animal Pancakes

The Festivity: Dad’s Night, Louisiana ~1993
This story takes place at a pre-school function when I was three years old, but I remember it like it was yesterday — and sadly it is 100% true

I remember sitting silent and still at the circular pre-school activity table. The kids around me were all coloring furiously. I, however, was stricken. For the first time in my rule abiding three years, I could not complete the assignment. The other kids were drawing their Dads.

No, this is not a sob story. I have a great father, the kind that coached softball, tells the best jokes, finds my mom's keys daily and makes awesome animal pancakes. My problem was that I had no idea what a Dad was …

All these other kids had a Dad and were bringing him to Dad’s Night. All I could think was I’m just bringing my lame Daddy. And, what the hell was a Dad? Who was this third parent that all other kids had but me? Or was it more of an uncle or cousin-type situation? Whatever the case, we were supposed to be drawing this male (I think it’s a male) family member and give it to him as a gift. I just copied the kid next to me — a blond haired and blue-eyed dad, why not?

It’s after school and my brown-haired daddy is driving me to the event. My mind was racing, Oh-my-god, I-am-going-to-be-the-only-one-there-without-a-Dad. But, honestly, I got distracted because my mom let me put on my sister’s rainbow lip gloss.

We walked into the pre-school and my teacher approached us, shaking my Daddy’s hand. “Caroline,” she said in a sweet, caregiver voice,“This must be your Dad.”

I cringed and thought, no this is just my Daddy. But, to my surprise, he said “Yes.”

Holy Heck. Dads and Daddys are the same guys.

In the end, the night was amazing, I met grandpas, step-dads and dads of all my classmates. I showed my Dad my spot at the table and the hook where I put my coat. And a guy with a giant camera took my picture. It ended up in the local newspaper.

My Dad and Me in the Times-Picayune circa 1993. Overall, Dad's night was a big success.

The Breakfast: AnimalPancakes

On Father’s Day, I would like to thank Dad for the delicious animal-shaped pancakes. That’s right, he’s not only smart and tough (like Don Fey or Red Forman), but he is also the best pancake-maker in the land. Imagine Clint Eastwood flipping flap jacks shaped like bunnies. You want dinosaurs? He’ll make you three different types and they’ll have laid crispy eggs — He makes egg-laying hens in the same vein. Whales? No problem. He can also whip up dogs and pretty much any other quadruped, you name it.

T-Rex and Sideways Chicken

Two Hens

Whale, Turtle and Duck, an aquatic theme if you will.

And the best part is, you are never too old for animal pancakes. He makes them for all thespecial occasions, or just the weekends when my sister and I are home together— which is getting more and more special and sparse as the years pass.

But we aren't all artists. I would make a huge batter mess if I attempted to make a zoo breakfast free-hand. My cousin Stephanie gave me an adorable book for Christmas with instructions for making animal pancakes. Extreme Pancakes also came with an "easy batter squeeze bottle" to help create better batter shapes. But for those of you who don't have the dough to buy a pancake book, an idea on pinterest showed a good substitute for the squeeze bottle ...

Use an old ketchup bottle to pour pancakes

If you use this batter bottle, or the one from Extreme Pancakes, it is very easy to make animals with just circles. I used the book to create the monkey below.

This little guy is mostly circles.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Secret Ingredient & Arak Icing

The Secret Ingredient: Arak

Many of my posts circle back to that pink icing Oma uses to top her Christmas cookies and beautiful chiffon cakes. But beyond confectioner’s sugar, red food coloring and butter (sometimes by the bucket load), is a secret ingredient. This syrup is so hard to find, that we have literally scoured the Earth in search of it.

For years we couldn’t find it in the U.S. There was occasional luck on military bases (Oma could shop there as Opa was career military). But our main supply came from a flight attendant friend of the family who would pick it up for us while overseas.  When she stopped flying, we had to ask friends and family to grab some when they went abroad.  Supplies started run sparse, but all that’s changed now …

Before I get ahead of myself, I should tell you what the miracle ingredient is called: Arak. The tantalizing extract has a coconut-y, anise-like flavor. It originates in Southeast Asia and gained popularity in the Middle East in a new form — there it is a licorice like alcoholic drink.  Its adoration as coconut liqueur in Europe brought the flavoring into my German Oma’s kitchen.

Honestly, to me Arak’s toasted almond-esque fragrance smells like Christmas because all of the delicious holiday treats Oma spikes with it.    

After this Christmas and Valentine’s and Easter, Oma was down to the last drop. So, my mother took the Internet for what she thought was another hopeless search.  But, to her surprise a store in Washington sells arak. My mom literally bought a case. And, for the first time ever, my mother, Oma and me all have our own bottles (plural) of arak in our kitchens!

To celebrate, I decided to share our arak buttercream icing recipe that we use on cakes and cookies — now that you can buy the mystic extract too! 

The Goods: Buttercream Icing — with Arak flavoring

The famous icing atop some cute cupcakes. 

 1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks = 1/2 pound), softened (not melted)
 3 cups + 1 cup confectioner's (powdered) sugar, sifted (regular won't ruin it).  The +1 cup is ready to use only if the mixture needs thickening.  
 1/4 teaspoon salt (optional)
 1 tablespoon flavoring extract (Arak; but since it is scarce almond or vanilla can work)*
 2 tablespoons + 2 tablespoons milk.  The +2 tablespoons are ready to use only if the mixture needs thinning.
 Electric Mixer (But I did it by hand — I dug right in.) 

Let butter sit at room temperature until it softens —  but do not melt it. Melted butter won’t yield the right texture for buttercream frosting.  Softened butter should deform when pressed with a spoon, and be easily cut with a spoon or knife. 
Beat the butter until the butter opens up (medium speed on mixer): it’s fluffy and easy to add in ingredients.   Beat in the pre-sifted sugar a bit a time (low speed) until all of the sugar is blended into the butter.  Whisk in the salt (don’t substitute salted butter in the recipe), flavoring extracts and the first two tablespoons of milk. Beat at medium speed for about 3 minutes.  If it’s too stiff and hard to beat, add a little milk and beat it into the mixture.  If it’s too thin, runny and not fluffy, then stir a little sugar and beat it again and see if it’s fluffy.  Chill the frosting in a covered bowl if not going to be used right away, and beat in a little milk to soften it again, if needed, just before you’re re ready to use it.

With the bottle. 

*Feel free to add a little extra Arak to taste, I did!

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