Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Baptist Pumpkin Center & 2 Ingredient Pumpkin Cookies

The Passage: Baptist Pumpkin Center
Kind of like how the band Sleater-Kinney got its name ... 

Baptist Pumpkin Center is ...
A) A baptist church
B) A pumpkin patch cultivated by devout baptists
C) The middle part of pumpkin pie baked by pious individuals
D) An interstate exit

If you guessed D, you are correct.  Every time I drive 1-12 in Louisiana, I have to chuckle at this funny interstate exit.  The two very odd names together, Baptist and Pumpkin Center, make for a statement that your brain just wants to interpret and make into something else.  Like a pious pie.

Photo found online. 

I have actually been to Pumpkin Center once, because the town plays on its name and has big pumpkin patches in the Fall. People bring kids from all corners of the state to get a pumpkin.  I went on a field trip with school in first grade on said pumpkin pilgrimage and this day was forever remembered as the one time I ate a hotdog ...

Yes, until I was 21 years old (and had Gray's Papaya), this field trip was the one time I ate a hotdog. I can tell you no other events from the day because I was so nervous leading up to lunch that I would have to eat a hotdog and so proud of myself after.

I also remember all of the girls being very protective of the pumpkins they had fastidiously chosen.  No one wanted to put them on the bus out of fear of losing their thoughtfully chosen pumpkin. So, I remember being six and eating a hotdog with a pumpkin in my lap under a big autumnal oak tree.

And this image is just why I have pumpkin on the brain. Fall is here and Louisiana is getting that great crisp, Fall smell. It is my favorite time of year.

Fast Food: Two Ingredient Pumpkin Cookies
And some canine cuisine ... 

My Treat: 

Pumpkin photos by Robert Giglio 

These beauties are just two ingredients: 1 can pumpkin + 1 box of spice cake mix. Bake at 350 for 10 minutes and voilĂ  cookies. 
I have been making them for a couple of years and honestly can't remember where I found the recipe online, but I have seen it multiple places. 
To make the cookies extra delicious, I add cinnamon sugar and clove
Isn't the smell of clove just delightful? 

His T-R-E-A-T:

If you thought my people recipe was easy, try this canine cookie ... 
I scooped out the last tablespoon of pumpkin and set it aside for Rasco.  Then I added a tablespoon peanut butter and a teaspoon flour. I rolled it out and cut it with a fall cookie cutter. This made one big treat for my little man.  I came up with the recipe because I saw pumpkin was an ingredient in many homemade dog treats - as is peanut butter. 

In fact, I saw a few articles that described how pumpkin is soothing on your dog's digestion, kind of like how people medicate with ginger. As always, check with your vet about the benefits; but Rasco really liked his treat :) 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Get to know me a little better ...

Writer. Blogger. Explorer. Journalist. Dog Mama.

Just a few things you may already know about me ... 

I finally got around to adding an about me section to the blog (See it in the upper right corner?).  It describes my inspiration behind The Old Country Blog and provides information about my work with National Geographic. 

I hope you guys get to know me a little better and that I can get to know more of you.  Please let me know if there's anything else you would like to know!

-Caroline ...

... and Rasco! 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

My First Request & Confetti Cake

The Challenge: Homemade Confetti Cake 
Think outside the box ... 

Several weeks back, I was excited to get my first request.  Well, it wasn't my first request. But, my first request from someone with whom I do not share DNA.  And, honestly, it was a little bit of a challenge. 

Ashley wanted to know if I had a recipe for Funfetti Cake. Not box cake. Bona Fide funfetti.  I did not. 

So I took to the Internet, found a few good white cake recipes and decided I would add sprinkles from there.  

I needed approval from the baking grandmaster, my grandmother. Oma and I then crafted a genius, and delicious, Confetti Cake recipe. 

In short: Ashley, I hope you enjoy your custom recipe.  Robert and I sure did!


This one's for you Ashley! Photos by Robert Giglio. 

Ta-Da: Homemade Confetti Cake!

   2 ¾ cups sifted cake flour, half all-purpose, half cake (I proportioned it 1 ¼ Cake Flour and 1 ½ all purpose)
   4 teaspoons baking powder, just a tad less is good. Do Not Exceed 4 teaspoons
   ½  teaspoon salt, just a tad less is good. Do Not Exceed ½ teaspoon
   4 egg whites
   ½  teaspoon cream of tartar 
   1 ½  cups sugar ( ¾ cup granulated half white, ¾ cup confectioners sugar)
   ¾ cup butter, softened
   1 cup milk (maybe more or less depending on softness or hardness of batter at the end, I used the whole cup)
   1 teaspoon vanilla extract
   1 teaspoon almond extract (I used my secret ingredient arak, if you use 1 tsp arak, still include ½ tsp almond extract)
   ½  half cup sprinkles

Naked Cake. 

Sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Oma said three times, I accidentally did it once … oops!
Beat egg whites until foamy with cream of tartar. Gradually add ¼ cup granulated sugar and ¼ cup confectioners sugar.
In a separate bowl, cream butter and add remaining 1 cup sugar.  Blend egg mixture into this bowl.
Add sifted ingredients alternately with milk a small amount at a time – this is where you see if you use all the milk.
Pour in extracts and sprinkles.
When batter is evenly blended, pour it into a standard baking sheet (10 x 15) lined with parchment paper.
Bake at 350 degrees F for 20 minutes.
Allow cake to cool.
Frost … I frosted the cake with the same arak icing recipe I shared before over cupcakes. See this recipe and learn about my secret ingredient here.
Decorate with Confetti Sprinkles.

Got any requests or would like to share some fun family traditions? Let me know

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Born This Way & Baba Ghanoush

The Story: Puerto Rican? Lebanese. I feel it. 
If you get this Mean Girls reference, I love you. 

When I first saw the “Born This Way” episode of Glee, I wanted this shirt:

Found online.

Ok, I wanted this one too ... 

Found online. 

But, back to the "Lebanese" top Santana is wearing ... 

Read the following in the voice of the guy who does the recap at the beginning of the show (If you don't watch Glee, then imagine it as narrated by Morgan Freeman):  So Santana is wearing a shirt that says "Lebanese" because Brittany is a little ... off? And she wants Santana to feel comfortable enough to come out as a Lesbian, not to be confused with the ethnicity.  And that's what you missed on (high-pitched voice) Glee! 

As sweet as Brittany is, I wanted the shirt because I am Lebanese.  And because the Glee Lebanese/Lesbian joke is not new to my family at all.

When my sister was in first grade, the class was discussing Asia.  And Asian students could volunteer to discuss their heritage before the class.  The teacher thought it would be interesting, knowing we were Lebanese, to ask my sister a few questions. With students pointing out China and Lebanon on the map, you could see how big Asia is.

So my sister stood in front of the class and pronounced herself a quarter Lesbian.  She explained that since my grandfather was a full Lesbian, my mom was half and she was a quarter.

The teacher thought it was funny and innocent. But my mom did get a note, just letting her know there appeared to be some confusion.  

Kids just say the darnest things, don't they? 

The Dish: Baba Ghanoush
Speaking of Lebanese ... 

I would like to tell you this Lebanese recipe for Baba Ghanoush is authentic, but it isn't. My German-New Orleans dad, who learned to love Mediterranean food through my mom's Lebanese family, actually came up with this super simple Baba Ghanoush recipe, prepared on the grill.

1 Eggplant
2 Teaspoons Garlic
3/4 oz. Tahini
1 Teaspoon Olive Oil (I may add another tsp.)
Lemon Juice

Eggplant, tahini and garlic ...  Photo by Robert Giglio. 

Heat up the grill.
Allow eggplant to cook for about 30 minutes, until soft.
Poke holes in eggplant so steam can get out and let it cool.
Peel the skin off, you don't need to be OCD about this, a little skin won't hurt.
Add garlic, tahini and olive oil.
Mash it together.  You may need to cut chunks of eggplant with a knife.
Add salt and Lemon juice to taste. Continue mixing.
Top with Cilantro.

Baba Ghanoush - delish.  Photo by Robert Giglio. 

Friday, September 7, 2012

I've had some work done ...

Hello All,

I am just so excited about my lovely new banner (thank you Stephanie Lyles) that I had to share. I especially love how Rasco and I are at one end and my Oma and her dog Carlo are at the other — with food bridging the generations together.  This is exactly what The Old Country Blog is all about. 

There are more improvements still to come! And, quite honestly, I am proud of some of my new skills (thanks to Robert), so if you have any questions about changes, don't hesitate to ask.

I hope you all have a happy Friday, here is a shot of Rasco that is sure to put a smile on your faces!

Photo by Robert Giglio.

Love, Caroline 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The End of Summer & Gumbo

The Soup: Labor Day Means the End of Summer
And the start of football season ... 

As Labor Day marks the official end to summer, Louisianans hope the weather will soon take notice to the changing seasons. 

Cooler temperatures not only mean a decreased chance of hurricanes (on my mind because of recent coastal pest), but also the start of football season. And Louisianans take their football quite seriously.

While, I’m a Tiger fan and alum, a branch of the family roots for University of Louisiana at Lafayette and dare I say it … Alabama.

But there’s one team we can all agree on: The Saints.

Politics aside, we can also agree that gumbo is the perfect tailgate dish.  To learn about gumbo and get the best recipe in the South, I called my Aunt Kathleen — who has perfected her gumbo over the last 40 years and makes multiple types for Christmas dinner.

Gumbo 101 … My Aunt Kathleen explained that there are two different types of gumbo in Louisiana, Cajun and Creole.  I recently described these two variations in a blog post for National Geographic Traveler:  

Gumbo is … a synonym for the word mix, an alternative definition that can be traced back to the dish’s origins. Louisiana’s people represent a gumbo of cultures — African, American Indian, Spanish, and French – and gumbo, the food, is a product of that mixing. Accordingly, the way chefs prepare this signature dish often depends on their heritage. Creole gumbo is prepared with tomatoes (Spanish and French influence), while Cajun (descendants of French Acadians) gumbo is thicker, darker, and spicier. Some recipes use American Indian file powder made from ground sassafras leaves. Gumbo can also be prepared with seafood, chicken, sausage, or alligator.

My aunt joked that there are so many kinds of gumbo that every time she makes it is different than the dish before.  She was raised in New Orleans, while her husband is Cajun — so she is a pro at all things gumbo.  When I asked her about how she makes two pots on Christmas, one Creole and one Cajun, she said: “I have to! I have Cajuns that come for Christmas and New Orleanians.”

Aunt Kathleen has her hands full when she hosts Christmas ... Here are a few of the cousins at my sister's wedding.

All of us together ... A lot of mouths to feed. 

No matter what other ingredients are added, Aunt Kathleen said in her usual fun way that “The Trinity” is always included: onions, celery and bell pepper.

The best thing about gumbo is that it’ll last. She said when she was a working mom (with three hungry boys) she was glad to make a big pot of gumbo on the weekend that could carry into the week.

While seafood gumbo is a little more involved and reserved for holidays, my aunt said Cajun Ladies make gumbo throughout cold weather months. It’s also customary in Louisiana to share.  When you make a big pot of gumbo don’t forget to bring some next door. 

The Soup: Seafood Gumbo

My Aunt Kathleen was not only kind enough to share her special seafood gumbo recipe. But, she also included a set of tips at the bottom that she has acquired over her four decades of gumbo making.  Thanks for the awesome recipe and instructions!

Robert and I made Aunt Kathleen's creole seafood gumbo (see variation under recipe) today and we are going to have a lot of leftovers.  Photo by Robert Giglio

1.5 cups of vegetable oil
1.5 cups of all purpose flour
2 large onions
1 large bell pepper
4 ribs of celery
2 to 3 tablespoons of diced garlic
4 bay leaves (optional)
4 tablespoons of diced green onion tops
4 tablespoons of diced parsley
Salt, Black Pepper and Red Pepper to taste (Cajun seasoning can also be used)
3 quarts of seafood stock (Prepare stock by boiling shrimp shells and heads)
2 pounds of shrimp
1 pound of claw crabmeat
Oysters & liquid – (Quantity based on taste - one or two 8 ounce containers)
File (optional)

Prepare a roux with oil and flour in a large heavy pot.   While roux is cooking, it must be stirred often at first and constantly as it approaches a “chocolate” brown color. 
Dice onions, bell pepper and celery and add to the roux once dark brown.  Stir this mixture and cook a few minutes until vegetables have softened. Add garlic and stir.  
Slowly add hot seafood stock to mixture, stirring while pouring, until desired consistency is achieved —use a mesh strainer to ensure no shells get into the gumbo.  Add the bay leaves and seasonings to taste.  Let this cook/simmer for about two hours.  This smoothes the consistency and lets the flavors blend.
Add shrimp and cook on low heat for about 20 minutes.  Add crabmeat and cook another 10 minutes.  Oysters and oyster liquid are added during the last five minutes of cooking time, as well as the onion tops and parsley. 
Serve over desired amount of cooked rice.  Add file if desired.

Aunt Kathleen's Gumbo Tips ... 

If your gumbo is too thin, you can add powdered roux.
If your gumbo is too thick, you can add water to thin it.
If your gumbo is too light in color, you can add Kitchen Bouquet to darken it. 
If you don’t have time to cook the roux, you can use prepared roux from a jar.
However, there is nothing you can do to fix a burned roux.  Stir constantly as the roux darkens and have the diced vegetables ready to drop in once the desired color is achieved.  The vegetables will cause the heat in the roux to reduce.  Keep stirring the vegetables as the temperature drops and the stock is added. 
Gumbo freezes well and is always better on the second day!

“Creole” Seafood Gumbo variation to the above recipe
A Creole gumbo will include okra and tomatoes.   To adjust this recipe, once the shrimp stock has been added, add a 16 ounce package of cut frozen Okra and a 28 ounce can of diced tomatoes.  Cook this mixture for two hours then continue the remaining steps presented above. 
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