Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Seriously — It's Delicious — Veggie Loaf

This week I made meatloaf. 

April Fools.

It's Veggie Loaf. 

And, it's still delicious. 
No joke!

Baked whole wheat mac n cheese, green beans & lentil loaf.

Lentil Loaf  
A tricky take on a classic dinner. 

1 cup dry lentils
1 small onion, diced (totally optional)
2 cloves minced garlic
Stalk of celery, chopped (totally optional, I didn't add it this time)
1 cup instant oatmeal or quick oats
2 cups cheese or more, whatever — American, Monterrey Jack, Cheddar or Swiss or a combo. I used Monterrey Jack. 
1 egg, beaten
4 1/2 ounces spaghetti sauce or tomato sauce
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon dried basil
1 tablespoon dried parsley
dash of Italian seasoning if you got it 
2 or 3 tablespoons BBQ sauce
& keep the bottle of BBQ sauce close ... 
salt and pepper 

Make lentils like you would rice, boil 2 cups of water. Add lentils and simmer, allowing water to cook out. When lentils are done, remove from heat and slightly mash. 
Combine lentils, dry oatmeal, cheese, garlic, celery and onion. Make sure it is mixed well.  
Blend in egg, tomato sauce, BBQ sauce, seasonings and salt and pepper.
Spoon into greased loaf pan. 
Spread BBQ sauce on top. 
Bake 45 minutes to an hour at 350. 
Allow to cool about 10 minutes. 
Cut edges with knife and serve, if you want to be fancy. Or enjoy! 

This recipe served as my inspiration three veggie loafs ago. It's an evolving dish, I guess? Thanks is still in order. 

April Fools Facts 
What's so funny? 

1. In Portugal, it is customary to throw flour at a friends face — and the holiday is not celebrated on April 1, but a different Lenten day. 
2. In the UK, April Fool is shouted at a prank's recipient. It is a silly moniker. 
3.  In France, the holiday is called "Poisson d'Avril."
French kids tape paper fish to friends' backs and the prankster will yell, "Poisson d'Avril," or April Fish! 
4.  In the '50s, the BBC broadcast a fake story about Swiss farmers harvesting fresh spaghetti ... off the vine. The network was inundated with requests to purchase such trees and they had to make an announcement on April 2, explaining it was a prank. 
5. Burger King once released a left-handed whopper as an April Fools prank. 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

German Chocolate Cupcakes

When I asked Robert what he wanted for our third anniversary, his answer was, of course, food related. Robert requested German chocolate cupcakes — and I delivered. I am happy to share this chocolate cupcake recipe that I have painfully perfected over the past couple of years. They were the perfect pair to my German chocolate topper. Which isn't German at all ... 

German Chocolate Cupcakes 
What's in a name? 

1 cup all purpose flour 
1 ¼ cup cake flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoon baking powder
2 1/4 cups sugar 
1 cup milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoons arak extract (or almond)
½ cup oil
2 eggs

Combine flours, salt, baking powder and baking soda — set aside. 
Blend sugar, extract, oil and eggs. 
Fold in dry mixture little by little, alternating with milk. 
Mix in cocoa powder. 
Bake for about 20 minutes at 350 in lined (or greased) cupcake tin. 
Allow to cool and make topping ...

German Chocolate Icing 
1 cup evaporated milk
1 cup brown sugar
3 egg whites
1/2 cup butter
2 teaspoons vanilla
Maybe some almond extract as well ...
1 cup crushed pecans — I lightly crumbled mine by hand
1 1/3 cup coconut shavings

In a large saucepan, combine eggs, brown sugar, extracts and butter over medium heat. Stir constantly over heat until thick and hot. Remove from heat at desired consistency and mix in coconut and pecans. Allow topping to cool to room temperature before using as cupcake icing.


Not German at All ... 
But the Germans do love cake. 

Whenever I would mention the traditional German pastries my grandmother made growing up, people would always ask how her German chocolate cake was ... 

As a German foodie, this perplexed me. My Oma did not make a German chocolate cake. Though, the Germans do love their kuchen. When I was in Germany, I don't think I saw a single cookie. Cake was the what's for dessert. 

German chocolate cake, however, not so much. 

That's because German chocolate cake is not German at all. In fact, it is named for its inventor, American baker Sam German. Our stomachs thank you, Mr. German. 

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Purim & Hamantashen

Leah's Hamantashen

My sweet friend Leah sent over her favorite Purim Hamantashen recipe from Smitten Kitchen

We invite you to try the recipe here! But Leah also provided a few tips on how to perfect these triangle cookies. 

- Be sure to seal corners with an egg wash.
- Tightly pinch corners together. 
- Don't overfill ... otherwise they spill out into your oven. 
- Suggested fillings: apricot jelly, strawberry jelly or Nutella! 

As many of you know, Purim is just around the corner (Sat./Sun., March 15-16). As a non-Jewish New Orleanian, Purim seems kind of like a Jewish Mardi Gras. There are costumes, it falls during Lent (the season piggy-backing Carnival) and is before Passover, like Mardi Gras is to Easter. Purim is also a time for feasting and taking joy in being alive. 

The holiday stems from a foiled plot to kill the Jews. Haman is the villain of the story — hence hamantashen — as the political advisor to a Persian king, probably Xerxes I, he sought to  destroy the Jewish people. His plan was foiled by Mordecai and his adopted daughter Esther, who rose to be Queen of Persia. This story can be found in, you guessed it, the Book of Esther.  

So Haman, Hamantashen ... The pastries are a holiday staple named in victory. The triangle shape symbolizes a three-corner hat worn by Haman.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

National Geographic Reblog on Cajun Carnival

Due to the loss of my Gammie, I found myself home during Mardi Gras.  And though I was home for sad circumstances, the visit was still a sweet showcase of the hometown my Gammie loved so much. I also spent Carnival celebrating with my family, which Gammie would have loved. 

In addition to doing the French Quarter with my Dad (and running into some cousins there), I also went with my cousin Laura and her husband to Cajun Mardi Gras. This was a totally new experience for me and I wrote about this time-honored tradition for National Geographic News Watch. The piece was pretty successful online yesterday — even getting a mention in The Atlantic

I have reblogged the post below, but please feel free to see the original post on News Watch here

With Laura at Church Point, La. Mardi Gras, all Courir de Mardi Gras photos are courtesy of Laura. 

Growing up in the Greater New Orleans Area, I thought knew everything there was to know about Louisiana Mardi Gras.

I was wrong.

I grew up with the big, spectacular floats and bejeweled kings and queens of New Orleans Carnival. About 150 miles away from the hustle and bustle of the Crescent City’s biggest party of the year, there is another indigenous Mardi Gras celebration in Louisiana’s Cajun country.

This was my first year experiencing the country cousin of my usual Mardi Pardi. My friend Jake and I weaved through country roads following my cousin Laura Gerdes Colligan and her Cajun husband Lucas Colligan — he grew up in Church Point, La., where we were headed to see the Courir de Mardi Gras.  His family property hosts the last stop on the Church Point parade route, a coveted position.

When we arrived at the family estate, it was a different setting from where I usually catch parades in New Orleans. Instead of iron balconies and formidable crowds, space outnumbered people. The property was a few football fields in length.  The houses were far apart and faced the road, sharing acres of land for a backyard.

When we got out the cars, we noticed license plates from across the country: Oregon, Iowa, Nevada and more were spotted, all present to observe this venerable Cajun celebration. Lucas explained that we were parked outside his aunt’s house (the parade crossed on the road in front of her home), and the houses facing the perpendicular street off the shared field all belonged to kin, other aunts and uncles, his own childhood home and the site of his great-grandfather’s dairy and house.

“And, across the street is all cousins,” he said with a smile.

When we entered the house, it was a pretty typical Mardi Gras scene. A clock ticked on the wall that had fives in place of every number. And, though there were more than one hundred people, there was no way we could finish all the food. A huge pot of chicken and sausage gumbo simmered on the stove, which several people assured me was cooked by cousin Paul, the best cook in the state of Louisiana. I have to say that was some damn good gumbo. There was jambalaya, king cake, pralines and, of course, being in Cajun country, boudin — a spicy meat and rice stuffed sausage casing.

A Cajun band played (yes, there was a washboard) on the covered patio. People danced to songs that caught their attention or quietly listened in lawn chairs. A “Cajun microwave,” or enclosed wooden pit, cooked a whole pig inside, a cochon de lait. Guests began to arrive in the traditional Cajun Carnival costumes, especially children.

These fringed fabric outfits stem from medieval satirical dress, similar in appearance to a court jester’s garb.  Since Carnival is historically a time to enjoy life before Lenten penitence, the costumes are a way to make fun of life’s hierarchies. The hats, or capuchons, still worn today at Cajun Mardi Gras reflect these feudal origins: conical hats (capuchons in French) mock nobility, Bishop’s miters represent the papal state and four corner hats symbolize academics.  Similar to New Orleans, parade members wear masks to hide one’s identity and let loose before Lent.

Carnival is a day to turn society on its head and revel in the roles you don’t live on a daily basis. The costumes I saw still reflect these origins, but with a contemporary twist. Some of the fabrics were modern in print, with men in NFL Saints patterns and children’s donning their favorite cartoon characters. One little girl wore a Dora the Explorer emblazoned piece.

The tradition of the Cajun Courir de Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday run, was brought with Cajuns from rural France to Acadie (modern Canada) to Louisiana where it evolved into a quest for Gumbo. Men on horseback would travel from house to house throughout a Cajun town, begging for ingredients for a communal gumbo — offerings could be anything from onions to a live chicken.

Today, the gumbo is made before and during the run, not after, and modern stops only collect one item: the chicken.

Every house on the route has a few live chickens or guinea hens ready in a cage to throw for the riders to race and catch  — and the competition is fierce.

Lucas explained that men ages 15 and up ride in something called the chicken wagon, or large trailers, and go with the men on horseback from house to house competing to catch the most chickens.  The winner gets a trophy at the end of the race. Some families passionately defend this title, their surname synonymous with chicken getting. Lucas said he rode on the wagon in his teens and early 20s.

“I did it every year. It’s a right of passage,” he said, adding that in his tenure he caught about three chickens. Lucas noted that one house varies from the modern chicken tradition, with a race to capture a greased pig.

Photo by Laura Gerdes Colligan. 

After the men on horseback dance as an offering for the house and the chickens are caught, they perform a few more stunts and ride on with a parade following. At Lucas’s family compound, the riders and chicken wagon linger here longer than other houses on the route as his is the last stop. And the action is everywhere. The field was inundated with dozens of horses as spectators mingled among them freely. Riders stood on their mounts before swiftly riding off the property as a daunting group.

The parade that soon followed was different from what you see in New Orleans, though it was just as much fun.

Parade members don’t wear intricate gowns or uniform silk jumpsuits like krewes, parade groups, in the Big Easy. Instead they don themed t-shirts or homemade costumes. The parade was pulled by trucks instead large tractors and floats are adorned with handmade decorations. The overall schedule is pastoral and relaxed.

There are fewer restrictions than at New Orleans parades too, riders can leave their floats and visit with the crowd and coveted parade throws — in addition to beads — are jell-o shots.

After 100 truck floats passed, our necks heavy with beads, Laura, Jake and I sat on the patio with our chairs facing the open field, blue skies and 70-degree weather. There was no rush to get across town or leave the house.

I think I could get used to Cajun Mardi Gras.

Craving some Cajun Gumbo? Check out my Aunt Kathleen's here

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