Do You Groupon?

So my good friend and co-worker, LRB, tells this joke.  A man comes home and finds an elephant sitting rather unhappily in his living room.  Immediately he calls his wife and asks "What's with the elephant?" and she replies "What? It was on sale!"

Sexism aside, that joke summarizes a kick we've been on since, oh, August of 2008, to seek out and take advantage of great deals.  We paid for one and only one item of furniture in our comfy living room (it's a leather-topped, carved mahogany coffee table from we got at cut-rate from a self-described "junk shop." I love it.)  The generous people of Craigslist provided us with two large bookcases, a charming leather wingback chair, and a burgundy damask print couch with carved wooden accents--all for free.  Similarly, our dining room set, which can seat 8 (and includes an awesome dining room table Mr. Luz made out of an old farmhouse door bolted to two cast-iron sewing machine treadle bases) cost less than a plane ticket to NOLA.  And I won't tell you how little we spent to kit out our kitchen.  Apparently rich D.C. folks regularly give things like unused KitchenAid standmixers to the Salvation Army to sell to people like me for $20. Ok, so, we love getting great stuff for little to no moolah.

Which is why we love  If you're not checking Groupon regularly, you're really missing out on great deals.  As I understand it, Groupon goes out and bargains with businesses in major cities across the country for deals like half-priced spa packages, restaurant gift certificates, cases of wine, and otherwise pricey adventure experiences (including sky-diving, ropes courses, hot-air ballooning) in exchange for the advertising and new customers that a Groupon deal inevitably brings to the business.  And oh, do we take advantage of those deals. 

As a food lover, obviously most of my disposable income goes to food, wine, and gadgets-but mostly food.  (See above re: cheap gadgets).  As a reader, I assume that to some extent that's true for you as well.  So it's incumbent upon me to share with you my knowledge of how to get more wonderful food and wine for less disposable income.  Groupon.  Thanks to Groupon, I've been able to eat for half-price in New Orleans, St. Louis, and time and time again in D.C.  And now I'll be doing some fine dining for half-off at home, too.  Yep-for a mere $40.49, and Kansas City Steak Co. delivered to my front door just yesterday: 2 lbs. of gourmet cheeses, including a raw aged sheep's milk manchego from Spain and a blue cheese from the oldest purveyors in France, and 6 lbs. of wet-aged bone-in NY strip steaks.  My head exploded a little, just typing that.  I paid $1.49 for two pounds of gourmet cheese!! Seriously, I can't think of a clever way to end this post, and now all I can think about is the sharp, musky aged provolone cheese sitting in my fridge right now. So....I'm going to go eat some.  Groupon.  Do it.

It's Soup (and Alliteration?) Season: Sweet Potato and Sausage Soup Recipe

 Hey guess what.  It's winter again.  And with winter comes many guilty pleasures to pass the time and make the frigid temperatures  more bearable.  These guilty pleasures include Ugg boots (atrocious, but so cozy), Grey's Anatomy on the T.V., snuggies, and booze-spiked beverages that are otherwise completely innocent, like coffee, hot chocolate, and cider.  Hell, in winter, they even add stronger booze to already-boozy drinks! (see: port wine, mulled wine, and tequila-ed wine.  Ok, I made that last one up.)

Amidst all this decadence, it can be hard to eat healthy UNLESS you have a good stash of broth in your freezer for soups (which you should.  Shrimp shells, crawfish shells, crab shells, steak bones, chicken bones, lamb bones, turkey bones--they all make excellent stock with a little water and a long simmer. DO IT.)  Soups can take a not so fantastic out-of-season tomato and turn it into a dark, complex dish.  They can also take anything in your fridge and turn it into a meal with the right care and a stash of dried lentils nearby.

This soup recipe seems so simple and straightforward, it's hard to imagine that something sweet, spicy, fresh, and satisfying can result, but it does.  The sweet potatoes add body, color, and sweet earthiness to broth that's made richer with the sausage while brighter with the spinach.  All of this comes together in a satisfying, healthy soup.  This recipe is courtesy of Bon Appetite magazine, with some edits and notes of my own.

Satisfying Sweet Potato & Sausage Soup Recipe:

2 Tbs. olive oil 
10 oz. cooked linguiça sausage or chorizo sausage, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices (see note below re: uncooked sausage, which I prefer here) 
2 medium onions, chopped 
2 large garlic cloves, minced 
2 lbs. sweet potatoes (about 2 large), peeled, cut into 1/2 inch thick semi circles
1 pound baking (I use yukon gold) potatoes, peeled, cut into 1/2 inch thick semi circles
6 cups low-salt chicken broth 
1 9 oz. bag fresh spinach
salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil in heavy large pot over medium-high heat. Add cooked (see note below re: uncooked sausage) sausage; cook until brown, stirring often, about 8 minutes. Transfer sausage to a bowl. 

Add onions and garlic to pot and cook until translucent, stirring often, about 5 minutes. Add all potatoes, reduce heat, and cook until potatoes begin to soften, stirring often, about 12 minutes. (When things start burning on the bottom of the pot, I move onto the next step)  Add broth; bring to boil, scraping up browned bits. 

Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until potatoes are soft, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes. Using potato masher, mash some of potatoes in pot. Add browned sausage and any collected juices to the soup. Turn off heat. Stir in spinach just before serving.  Season with salt and pepper. Divide among bowls and serve.

NOTE:  I made this soup with a buffalo and pork chipotle chorizo sausage that a friend gifted me and Mr. Luz. It was AWESOME and I'd recommend buffalo chorizo if you can find it.  The flavor's just amazing.  
Uncooked sausage is less compact than cooked sausages and therefore will absorb the broth for a more satisfying experience, though it adds one more step to the process.
To make this recipe with buffalo chorizo or some other uncooked chorizo, use vegetable oil instead of olive oil, and brown the whole chorizo in the oil.  If it still isn't cooked, add 1 inch of water to the pot, cover, and simmer until the sausages are firm but not hard. Remove the sausages to a bowl and slice upon cooling, being careful to retain any juices to add to the soup later. Boil off as much water as you can from the vegetable oil and sausage flavoring before adding the vegetables to the pot and commencing with the above recipe.   

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Happy Thanksgiving!

We can't celebrate Thanksgiving here at BaCon without recalling the most outrageous one we've celebrated to date.  It was 2007, and Mr. Luz and I had been dating for a little more than a year.  He'd just said "I love you" and then promptly moved to New York City, then Paris, France until January 2008.  (Law school wasn't hard enough for Mr. Luz, he had to go to Paris to study law in French.)  It was difficult, but I got to fly to Paris three times in one semester, including Thanksgiving and New Year's Eve. Somehow, I survived.
The only way to really sum up that Thanksgiving is to come out with it. We made a Turducken.  The Turducken is medieval preparation given new life in NOLA. Essentially, a deboned chicken is stuffed inside a deboned duck, which is stuffed inside a deboned turkey.  Its rich excess is borderline offensive for most non-New Orleanian Americans, so you can only imagine what our French guests thought.  Poor, poor French guests.

It took three days and several trips to the butcher and the American Section of the Bon Marche in downtown Paris (where we found canned cranberry sauce to serve as a bit of a joke even though I love it, cajun seasoning,  single cans of Dr. Pepper, and 12 types of pancake mix) to prepare The Turducken.  Mr. Luz and his flatmate and landlord, Beube (Bob, with a French accent) spent hours deboning each bird, layering them together and seasoning each layer, and then stitching the whole thing up. 

I, on the other hand, spent days drinking wine, sighing happily, and making stuffing and then pumpkin pie in shallow, frozen tart pastry shells.

In line with NOLA custom, our Turducken was stuffed with traditional herb dressing and New Orleans sausage and corn bread stuffing, and it tasted heavenly.  While it roasts, the duck fat permeates the turducken so it becomes self-basting and everything starts to taste fat.

In addition to The Turducken, we had cornbread, green beans, homemade cranberry sauce, sweet potato casserole, mashed potatoes and gravy, a cheese course, chocolate truffles, the aforementioned pumpkin pie/tart, and wine.  Lots and lots of glorious wine and champagne (presumably to make amends with our French guests for subjecting them to our holiday of obscene excess.)
It was an experience I'll never forget and reinforces the saying, "you never know where you might end up."  It just might be Paris, France, eating four whole animals all at once and drinking wine older than you are in celebration of our many blessings.  In other words, let's start planning for 2011.

Fruits of Your Labor: Sweet & Spicy Pumpkin Bread Recipe

I loathe paying some one to do something I'm capable of doing myself.  This particular personality quirk means I give myself wretched haircuts, knit my own lopsided scarves, and make my own ill-designed stationery with my discontinued Japanese screen-printing machine. It also means that housekeeping is constantly on my To Do List.

In response to the never-ending housekeeping, and after a few tense months in La Casa de Luz y Lee, Mr. Luz developed a chore chart to track our individual contributions to the household. We avoided it for a long time because of the stigma that comes with "keeping score," but Mr. Luz in his wisdom decided that keeping score is exactly what we need.  As in, he's initiated an informal contest to see who can do more around the house and we keep track on the chore chart.  I have to say, I take certain joy shoving him out of the way to put my initials in the "Cooking" box, and I really love to see both of our initials side by side next to "Laundry." 

Last night because of the Chore Chart, after work I cooked two meals and baked my seasonal favorite, Spicy & Sweet Pumpkin Bread in a clean kitchen, and we finished the laundry, and squeezed in a movie, knitting, and reading all before midnight.  Domestic bliss doesn't even begin to describe it. 
This recipe makes one 8 x 4 or larger loaf of Pumpkin Bread and 6 dense, cakey Pumpkin Muffins or two loaves of Pumpkin Bread.  The muffins and bread are both moist without being greasy, and flavorful without being too sweet.  I serve mine with a room-temperature honeyed goat cheese and it's almost too decadent to describe, with the rich, warm spiciness of the pumpkin and the sweet, earthy tang of the goat cheese.   And you don't need any special equipment to make these-everything must be mixed by hand and just until uniform, otherwise your batter will toughen.  You can also easily alter the recipe to suit it to your preferences/the contents of your pantry. 

Some variations include adding:  sunflower seeds, chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, golden raisins, a cream cheese filling (cream cheese mixed with powdered sugar and vanilla, which you'll just spoon onto half of the batter in the loaf pan or muffin tin before carefully covering it with the rest of the batter)  Also, if you don't have garam masala, plain cinnamon will do.  The garam masala adds some spice and intrigue with pepper, cardamom, and star anise.   Finally, using all white sugar won't impart as much dark molasses flavor as using some brown and some white sugar, but the bread will be tasty nonetheless.
Spicy & Sweet Pumpkin Bread or Muffins Recipe

1 Can pumpkin puree (15 oz.)
4 Eggs
1 Cup vegetable oil
2/3 Cup water
2 Cups packed brown sugar
1 Cup white sugar
3 1/3 Cups unbleached or all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1 1/2 tsp. garam masala spice
1 tsp. nutmeg
1 cup of chopped dried cranberries and walnuts/almonds (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease and flour your loaf and/or muffin pans.

In a large bowl, combine the wet ingredients (the first four). In a separate bowl, combine the remaining dry ingredients.  

While stirring the pumpkin mixture with a fork, add in the flour mixture and stir until just combined.  With a spatula, fold in the nuts and dried fruit (optional) and pour into your baking pans.  Bake the muffins for 35 minutes and check for doneness (knife inserted in the middle comes out clean).  Continue baking just until the muffins are done and then remove to a cooling rack. Bake the loaf pans for 50 minutes and check for doneness.  Continue baking until the loaves are done then remove to a cooling rack. 

  • It's best to get these muffins and loaves out of the pan asap so they don't steam and get soggy.  Run a knife around the edge of the loaf/muffins, let them rest for approx. 10 minutes, then carefully remove them to a cooling rack.  
  • These baked goods are great candidates for the Bread Trick.  Tear a slice of bread into small pieces and scatter them around the loaf/muffins before covering them for storage.  The bread will absorb the oxygen and become stale while the bread will remain soft.  
  • You can freeze a tightly wrapped loaf of pumpkin bread for a few months.  Thaw in a warm space and then heat before serving.

BaCon's Virgins and Veterans Crawfish Boil, 2010!

Hey ya'll, it's me again. And I come bearing excuses, one for each of you! Now, now, don't shove, there are plenty to go around.

Yes, I've stayed away for awhile. At first, I was on a post-litigation high. I get a lot of satisfaction from working late nights with nothing but my work, a pizza, and a smuggled bottle of wine to keep me company at the office. So I did that for a few months and wallowed in the strange sickness of an occasional workaholic. There's also that pesky Gaga obsession that has led me to make/wear fourteen costumes since I last blogged. Now that I've counted, I'm sort of embarrassed. Errr. Moving on.

After that, things got weird in la casa de Luz y Lee, and cooking felt more like a burden than a reprieve. So I threatened to move to the guest house and live in tidy, well fed, laundered splendor ALL BY MYSELF DAMNIT. NOTE: We don't have a guest house. Happily, Mr. Luz and I have worked through those problems and we again share (the benefits AND burdens of) tidy, well fed, laundered splendor.

Now, we just have too many ridiculously awesome friends, which gets to the point of this post.  (Only one paragraph later than usual, I might add.)  After reading through my old posts, I realize that I complained a lot about D.C. and 2009 in general.  Much has changed, and though it would make my imaginary therapist cringe to hear me say this, 2010 has been amazing and it's because of my friends. 

The realization that we are truly blessed here in D.C. hit me with full force at our First Annual Veterans n' Virgins Crawfish Boil.  One sunny day in May, we rolled an icy cold keg of beer on to our twee front yard in downtown D.C. and got ready to boil the 120 lbs. of live crawfish that FedEx delivered from Louisiana that morning.

The front yard was packed with happy people enjoying the Spring day.  Some of them were crawfish veterans and Tulane alum, most just adventurous people ready to try something new and unique to the land we live in in our dreams and speak of often, NOLA.   All of them were sexy, sexy people and that's really what matters, isn't it?  I digress.

The afternoon began with a demonstration of how to pinch da tail and suck da heads for the virgins, and for the next 4 hours, we sipped Ramos Gin Fizzes (thanks, NickV!) and beer and ate through all but a few pounds of the crawfish as well as the garlic, corn, andouille and smoked sausages, and artichokes we threw in da boil with the mudbugs. 
As day turned into night, everyone stayed around and a few more showed up for more cocktails, some impromptu cajun fiddle playing (thanks again, NickV) and a concert by the ladies, who all raided the costume closet before belting out Salt n' Peppa songs (remember those?! Of course you do) in the living room and then outside while marching around the block.  In sum, it started sunny and spicy and ended up wild and weird--I don't know what more I can ask for.

That day more than any so far, I felt like I was in the middle of a big and ever-expanding family where things are fun, easy, and open-hearted. Really, although we were trying to bring a little NOLA to our friends that day, they brought it to us instead.  That feeling still overwhelms me when I look at the pictures on this post, and it's something I'll never forget.  Thanks again to our friends in D.C.-you guys make my divided heart (one half here, one half in NOLA) so, so

Wino Homemade Chocolate Cake Recipe

Hey ya'll. If you read my earlier post, you know for the past 6 weeks I've been prepping for and then making my debut as a Baby Lawyer. Well. I'm officially a Debutante.

When the hearing started, the (40+) lawyers and expert witnesses in the hearing room didn't know my name. And anyone in their twenties who has put on a suit that costs a month's rent knows what its like for a suit to wear you, rather than the other way around.  Then, I put the tiniest of hurtings on a few expert witnesses on cross-examination, successfully argued against opposing counsel's objections, and managed to protect my (amazing) witness during her cross-examination with some coaching and objections of my own. And all of the sudden I'm the Homecoming Queen of the trial.  During every break, seasoned attorneys and experts who I very much respect wanted to chat with me about a.) the case b.) NOLA c.) how old they are and how many trials they've been in or d.) "my cross-examination style."  Everyone knows my name, and says things like "we were just talking about you" when I walk into the room, and now, I wear the suit.
It's been pretty amazing.  And all that positive recognition has gone a long way to fortify me against the challenges that have come with the victories. (The security of govt. employment + a strict personnel policy of "avoidance"=the worst co-workers get rewarded, not punished. Yay! Put them on my cases! Give them a sense of entitlement, so they think they have a "right" to under-perform, and an abusive personality while you're at it, whee!)

Last week, after a particularly rough day, I spent the evening with a bottle of wine, the Hershey's website, and my kitchen. I guess you could say that on that particular day, the positive recognition and my general feeling of "badass lawyerness" wasn't getting me through.  So after a few hours, I had a tasty, moist chocolate cake with a chocolately, not-too-sweet rich and smooth icing, and a good buzz.  And all of the sudden, nothing else really mattered.  To that I say, thank you for small miracles and I think I'll have another piece. 

Hershey's Kitchens Dark Chocolate Cake Recipe:

2 cups sugar
1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup boiling water

Heat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour two 9-inch round pans or one 13x9x2-inch baking pan. (I used one 9 inch springform pan and just let it bake a little longer.)

Stir together the sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in large bowl. Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla; beat on medium speed of electric mixer 2 minutes. Stir in boiling water (batter will be thin). Pour the batter into prepared pans.

Bake 30 to 35 minutes for round pans, 35 to 40 minutes for rectangular pan or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks. Cool completely. Frost with "perfectly chocolate" frosting, recipe below.

Hershey's Perfectly Chocolate Frosting

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine
2/3 cup HERSHEY'S Cocoa
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Melt butter. Stir in cocoa. Alternately add powdered sugar and milk, beating to spreading consistency. Add small amount additional milk, if needed. Stir in vanilla. About 2 cups

Seafood Paella (or Paella Valenciana), on the Grill!

Disclaimer:  I make no claims about how "authentic" this recipe is.  I try to write recipes that are true to the time-honored and time-consuming cooking techniques of the originators, while keeping in mind that most folks don't have pimento wood laying around for a true Jamaican jerk experience, for example.

After months of research, I've learned that paella-making varies with each cook, so there isn't any one "authentic" paella recipe. But you can't go wrong with seafood, garlic, and a grill-so use this recipe as a backbone for your own paella-making approach and have some fun.

Traditional paella is made over an open flame in a large, handled paella pan.  A lot of recipes call for cooking the paella over two burners on your stove, or sauteing then baking the dish.  My recipe is even easier, and there are a lot of benefits to cooking the paella on the grill.  One, your kitchen doesn't heat up, so it's great for summer. Also, people are impressed when you can cook more than brats and burgers over an open flame.  (Why? I have no idea, but try it and you'll see what I mean.) Finally, grilling the chicken and chorizo while you make your sofrito saves some time and adds the perfect smokiness to the dish that you don't get from sauteing them on your stove.

 This recipe can feed approximately 8 people, so plan on leftovers or call some friends.  Paella is even better the next day, so you can legitimately have guests over for "leftovers" with this recipe, and they will love you for it.

And I've said it before, but if you cook at home, there's no reason why you can't take the chicken carcass and the shrimp shells and make your own stock.  It's easy, healthy, and will save you loads of money. I can't tell you how many times I've been able to make last minute meals making soups or risottos with whatever is in my fridge/pantry and some homemade stock from the freezer. Think about it.

Paella Valenciana with Shrimp, Squid, Chorizo, Chicken, and Clams Recipe

1 whole chicken, skinned and cut into thighs, drumsticks, and breast pieces and seasoned w/saltpepper
8 cloves garlic, minced
3 ripe tomatoes, chopped (some say to "grate the tomatoes." That thought grosses me out)
1 medium onion, chopped
3 Tbs. olive oil
4 cups shrimp stock, fish stock, or clam juice
Large pinch saffron
2 cups arborio or another short-grained rice (important-the rice has to absorb the broth. Short grained rices do this well)
1 lb. uncooked shrimp, peeled but with tails intact
1/2 lb. chorizo sausage, pierced with a knife in several places
3-4 whole uncooked squid, with the bodies cut into rings
12-15 uncooked clams, scubbed
1 cup peas (can use frozen + thawed)
1 yellow and 1 red bell pepper, cut into strips
2 tsp. salt,  more to taste
2 tsp. smoked paprika
3 Thyme sprigs
3 lemons, cut into wedges
Black pepper to taste

Bring the stock to a boil, then add the saffron.  Keep the broth/saffron covered and simmering on low for at least 1 hour before you add it to the paella. 

Prepare the grill for direct medium-high heat (If you're using your weber kettle, fill the charcoal chimney up with coals.  Once they are hot, dump them into the middle of your grill and add 8 or so cold coals on top of the hot ones.)  Cover the bottom of your paella pan with foil to protect it a little from the fire.

Put the pan on the grill, and heat the olive oil.  This may take a minute or two. Add the chicken pieces to the grill surrounding the paella pan and let them cook. The boneless breast pieces and will need to be pulled off the grill long before the bone-in pieces, so have a clean plate standing by. As you remove the cooked breast pieces from the grill, add the chorizo and grill until browned. (This adds flavor to the sausage, and allows some of the grease to cook out so your paella tastes fresh and light, not greasy). Remove the chorizo and once cooled, cut into slices.

Once the oil is hot, add the onion and cook 5 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook one minute.  Add the tomatoes and cook, stirring constantly until the tomato mixture darkens and reduces to the consistency of jam.  Now you have a sofrito.  Woohoo!

Bring the broth mixture on your stove back to a slow boil. Add your rice to the sofrito in your paella pan and toast the rice for 2 minutes. Stir in the boiling broth mixture, peppers, squid, chicken, paprika, salt, a pinch of pepper, thyme, and chorizo. (Classic case of "do as I say, not as I do." Don't add the peas yet!).

Cover the grill and let cook for 35 minutes. After 35 minutes, check to make sure your paella is cooking. If some of the rice looks wetter than other parts of the pan, push it towards the center of the pan gently with a spoon. Once the rice is almost cooked, add the peas, push the clams down into the rice, and lay the shrimp on top. Cover the grill and cook another 10 minutes, or until the clams open up. Carefully remove the paella from the grill, remove the thyme sprigs, and serve with lemon wedges for people to squeeze over their paella before

Summer Sides: Black Tea Tarragon Couscous Salad Recipe

In honor of the trial I'll be lawyering it up for through May and June, I'd like to sing a little jingle from OSSS (Old School Sesame Street) with the lyrics updated for my grown up life. (Sing to the tune of "Cooperation")
Makes it happen. 
Shirking together!

That's right.  Every weekend I take a stack of papers home to read, review, mark-up and every weekend I cook, eat, drink, and make merry instead. This wouldn't be a big deal, except that I'm still a baby lawyer and I'm essentially making my Trial Attorney Debut (does that make me a debutante?) in front of the lawyers I will be working for, with, and against for the rest of my career. No pressure or anything.

Anyway, I cook tons of food and develop new recipes in order to perfect my procrastinating skills (a woman has to have goals!), so consider this recipe the fruits of my labors at avoiding real work.  The black tea flavor is subtle, but it adds a dark, tannic undertone to an otherwise bright dish, and the tarragon adds a little sweet lingering aftershock to the crisp lemon and cucumber flavors.  This salad would be good as a snack with some hummus and pita, or even as a side for a rich lamb dish.

Black Tea Tarragon Couscous Salad

2 cups pre-steamed dry couscous (if the instructions say to mix w/boiling liquid, it's pre-steamed)
2 1/2 cups hot, strong black tea-divided
Juice of 2 medium lemons
Zest of 1 medium lemon
2 cucumbers, seeded and thinly sliced
2 Tbs. olive oil
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 Tbs. smoked paprika
2 tsp. cumin
4 Tbs. chopped fresh tarragon
2 Tbs. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Salt to taste

Stir together 1/2 cup of black tea with the lemon juice and zest, olive oil, paprika, cumin, tarragon, and parsley.  Let it sit and let the flavors combine while you prepare the couscous.

Place the dried couscous in a larger bowl and stir in the minced garlic. Bring 2 cups of the black tea to a boil.  Pour the tea over the couscous/garlic, stir to combine, cover with plastic wrap and let steam.  After 15 minutes, fluff couscous with a fork. Stir in the cucumbers and the herb/tea/lemon mixture.  Season with salt (it may need a good bit of seasoning, since the flavors are all very light and crisp) and serve cold or room

Hot Gratuitous Bacon Action

Just when I thought I couldn't love Chef DeBarr of the Green Goddess any more (check out my review here) he brought this into my life.

The Green Goddess “Notorious” Bacon Sundae: Pecan praline ice cream with a creamy bacon caramel sauce carrying a bit of both Pink Himalayan & Black Lava Salts, & micro-planed Nueske’s Applewood Bacon.

Fievel likes it, too.

More to Love: Star & Shamrock Tavern and Deli

"H Street."  It's a phrase that gets spoken in our household approximately 3,400 times a week.  If you didn't know better, you might assume that "H Street" is the name a fancy narcotic that we are addicted to (rather than a kicky, urban area in DC that keeps springing up unique bars, restaurants, and clubs faster than we can grow tired of the ones already there.)

Substitute "H Street" with the name of your favorite illicit drug in the following statements, and you'll see what I mean: "We went to this bar on H Street; No matter what we do on the weekends, we somehow always end up on H Street; We had the most transcendent experience at a restaurant on H Street; Why, we're on H Street right now!"

And don't stage an intervention just yet, ya'll, because our obsession with H Street is getting worse by the day. [See:, re: the Biergarten Haus, NoMa Summer Screens Event, ect.]  Yesterday before hitting up a free Bourbon tasting event (you guessed it, "on H Street") Mr. Luz and I stopped by H Street's new "New York Deli slash Irish Pub,"  Star and Shamrock, and the experience was just hedonistic enough to leave me very happy and perfectly full for the rest of the night.  I ordered their Black Chocolate Stout (a bottled beer from Brooklyn Brewery) after consulting with our server and it was pretty awesome.  A little sweet at first, then after a few sips the burnt chocolate malt flavor overtakes the sweetness, and  for a stout, it's very light and drinkable.  Then...our sandwiches came.

Mr. Luz ordered The Latke Madness, 3 potato crispy fried potato pancakes instead of bread (think "club sandwich" style), corned beef, griddled sauerkraut, swiss, and 1,000 island dressing with a pickle and Mr. Luz got the coleslaw side. This was basically a meat, cheese, crispy potato casserole disguised as a sandwich--there was no away around this thing without a fork--and it was as tasty as it sounds.  The corned beef was perfect--warm, tender, not too salty but flavorful enough to hold its own.  I'm also giving 2 thumbs up to the coleslaw for its fresh dill.

I ordered The Chicken and the Cow (which I felt especially delicious ordering: "I'll have the black chocolate stout, and the chicken, and the cow for dinner, please.") It was billed as hot pastrami, swiss, 1,000 island, and chopped chicken liver, and I got mine on pumpernickel with macaroni salad.  By itself, the macaroni salad wasn't making my day, but after I ate my rich ass sandwich, I could appreciate the light, creamy, celery flavored-side dish a little more for its cool simplicity.  As for the sandwich, it was pretty brilliant.  It came with about a 3/4 inch slather of chopped chicken livers that had been mixed with a tiny bit of minced egg and some gherkin of some sort.  And the chicken livers really made the sandwich. The pastrami was very good--thicker cut, sweeter, and sort of herbaceous--but imagine a tasty and satisfying sandwich covered in a good, earthy, meaty pâté, and that's the Chicken and the Cow.

All in all, Star and Shamrock was a cool place with fun beers and food, and we will definitely be back.  I'm already planning a late night beer, booze, and dancing fest, followed by Star and Shamrock's reuben egg roll wraps and their pan friend matzo balls, "on H Street."

I'm Officially a New Orleanian, thanks to Chrissy Gemmill and Etsy

Hello and Happy Spring! I hate to say that the blogging will be a little light through the month of April--Mr. Luz and I have 3 weddings (one in D.C., one in New Orleans, one in St. Louis) in the next 5 weeks--but who wants to cook right now, anyway? I'm living off a diet of takeout, beer, and sunshine until I get my fill of all 3 and only then will I go back to my tiny kitchen.  In the meantime, guess what? More non-food related posts! Just be happy that I'm not detailing the ever-downward spiral of my Lady Gaga obsession. (Anyone in the market for a custom-made Gaga lavender blonde/yellow/platinum wig? Visit my Ebay shop. I wish I was kidding.)

Unlike alot of my posts, this is about someone else's passion.  I found Chrissy Gemmill while Christmas shopping on (a crazy awesome site where talented people sell their handmade artistry to lucky people like you and me) last year.  Her inspired and edgy-yet-elegant metal-work creates jewelry that, for lack of a better descriptor, gets taken seriously. WTF does that mean, right? I mean that her jewelry gets noticed, not because it's frivolous or flashy but because it's unique, boldly expressive, and beautiful.  In sum, I'm a big fan.

And maybe you heard that the Saints won the Superbowl.  For me, that moment cemented the rebirth of New Orleans in a mixture of tears, confetti, and hardships packed down by thousands of dancing, jumping, joyous feet, and so I started looking for a keepsake that would represent all that crying, stomping, and celebrating every time I looked at it. I started looking for my fleur de lys.  If you've spent much time in New Orleans, you know that it's the only place where it's cool--actually, where it's required of you--to proudly sport any and all logos, symbols, colors, whatever, associated with the city.  It doesn't even matter if you get your New Orleans t-shirts at a tourist shop. 

So it's about time that I got my "signature" fleur de lys.  I didn't want one that would be mass produced and, while beautiful, generic. I didn't want one that would be perfect, and polite because New Orleans is neither of those things.  And so I asked Chrissy Gemmill to do her unique, expressive, inspired magic for me.  And though it's probably impossible to be happy doing custom jewelry pieces when you are an artist with your own vision, Chrissy agreed and was great to work with. (Thankyouthankyouthankyouthank you, Chrissy!!) 

Coincidentally, I was boarding a plane to NOLA when she emailed me these photos of my necklace, and it wasn't 100% the airport bloody marys that made me a little teary when I saw them.  Chrissy hand cut/hammered the pendant pieces, and incorporated the team's colors in the black patina on the fleur de lys and in the vintage brass chain.  Then she threw in her signature chainmail element to amp up the gothic New Orleans theme while keeping it elegant. 
Thanks to Chrissy, I finally have my own fleur de ly and it's 100% me while also being 100% New Orleans. And when I'm not wearing it, my big blue plastic shark from Lucy's Retired Surfer's Bar on Tchop. Street in NOLA proudly sports it on my dresser. I have to say, it looks pretty cool on both of us.

Chrissy Gemmill teaches jewelry-making classes in Frederick, MD (not too far outside of D.C. and worth the trip) and you can purchase some of her pieces at The Muse in Downtown Frederick.  You can also buy her pieces at her Etsy store, available here, and check out her latest projects on her blog, Chrissy Gemmill Jewels.  

NOTE: Anyone who would like to bestow a gift on me at any time--and feel free to do so--I'd gladly accept a Chrissy Gemmill Skeleton Key Bracelet. Please and thank

Finally, Ethiopic Restaurant Comes to H Street!

It's been a long week already, so to cope, Mr. Luz and I spent the night tucked into a huge pile of some amazing comfort food at Ethiopic Restaurant.

Ethiopic just opened behind Union Station on H Street NE, and the space and staff are as welcoming as the food.  Mr. Luz and I sat in a romantic alcove with a large window, so we had a little privacy while also sharing the softly lit dining room and piano music with the rest of the guests.  (Ethiopic is lined top to bottom with windows, and I can't wait to go there for a sunny Friday lunch.) Sam, the owner, accepted our ecstatic compliments on the food and the decor but said in the same breath "please tell us if anything changes, we are always looking for feedback."  Everything was so wonderful, I think we'll just have to go back at least once a week to stay on top of that for Sam.

If you've never had Ethiopian food, you'll love Ethiopic.  It serves richly flavored, spiced and stewed meat dishes with lamb, beef, and chicken and dark, delightful vegetarian dishes like curried potatoes with garlic, herbs and jalapeno, and split red lentils stewed with red pepper sauce.  And yes, you eat with your hands.  Like people used to do for thousands of years, until someone somewhere around 1800 B. C. (Before CrateandBarrel) decided to make a quick buck by telling folks that they should eat with metal shards.  In a comparably civilized manner, at Ethiopic you pick up each bite in spongy injera (a soft, sometimes sour flat bread).  And after you've scooped up the last bit of each dish off of your communal plate, you can fight over the large curried-potato-lentil-lamb covered injera that sat under it all.  Mr. Luz always manages to distract me when this time comes, and he always gets the lentil-sauce-drenched section of injera.  It happened again tonight, but make no mistake, I'm already plotting for next time. (And wondering if employing a wardrobe malfunction would be "so 2004")

On the flip side, if you're experienced with Ethiopian food, you'll also love Ethiopic.  We ordered the Lamb Tibs, and the Vegetarian Platter for one (with 4 vegetarian dishes and the spicy lemon tomato salad) with crispy fish.  Everything was cooked to maximize the flavor of the ingredients, meaning it was simmered so the flavors just melded without reducing everything to berbere-flavored mush. And speaking of the berbere (a fragrant and earthy blend of chilies, ginger, cloves, coriander, paprika, and other spices), everything was so fresh that each bite held one hundred flavors at once.  Even their collard greens-a dish done so often that now when it's bad it's still okay-tasted sweet and fresh rather than bitter or bland.

Invariably, Ethiopic will go through growing pains as all new and ultimately successful restaurants do.  But if Ethiopic's food continues to exhibit the same loving care and fresh ingredients that we experienced tonight, I predict that Mr. Luz and I will happily spend a good portion of our summer waiting in a line around the block for a table at our new favorite Ethiopian

Guinness Braised Corned Beef & Cabbage with Garlic Mustard Glaze and Parsnips

Now this here meal is for the meat eatin', beer swigging best of you.  I'm serious.

Even though my favorite vegetarian says she used to love corned beef back when she was a carnivore, I don't entirely trust her opinion-she's from the Midwest like me, and we'll eat anything.  Let's face it, no matter what the vegetarian says-corned beef, in all it's brined, hot-pink glory, is not something that everyone's going to be excited about.

In an attempt to make Mr. Luz love corned beef as much as I do (see: my Midwestern heritage) I douse mine in Guinness for a long braise in the oven.  After it's fork-tender, I mash the braised garlic in with some mustard for flavor and apple butter (see, supra, Midwestern), slather that over the top, and broil it for a second for a deep, not-too sweet, garlicy caramel glaze.  And though it still looks rather curious, Mr. Luz has happily eaten it for 3 days straight now (I like to indulge myself over St. Pat's day and make two briskets) and all I heard at dinner were happy noises.

As for the side dishes, I like to make a mash with the root vegetables that go into the braising liquid.  That way you can mix them with some non-braised veggies to even out the saltiness of the veggies cooked in the briny corned beef braising liquid, and you're not eating squishy potatoes.  I also simmer the cabbage separately so it's lighter in flavor and acts as more of a foil to all the earthy, salty goodness in your braising pot.
Note: March being the month after the Birthmonth and all, I have never succeeded in brining my own corned beef. Next year?

Guinness Braised Corned Beef & Cabbage with Garlic Mustard Glaze and Parsnips
(serves 4-6)

1 3-4 lb. Corned Beef Brisket
1 head of garlic (trust me)
3 medium carrots, coarse chopped
1 small onion, coarse chopped
3 potatoes, halved
4 large parsnips, peeled and coarse chopped
2 stalks celery, if you have any-coarse chopped
1 bay leaf
3 bottles of Guinness or another Stout beer
2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
Balsamic vinegar
1 Tbs. fresh Thyme, chopped
2 Tbs. butter
5 cups of coarse chopped green cabbage
3 Tbs. apple butter
2 Tbs. Dijon mustard
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.  Add the carrots, onion,  celery, potatoes, and bay leaf to your roasting pan.  Remove the skins from each clove of garlic, and add all but two large cloves to the roasting pan. (Give the large cloves going into the roasting pan a good whack with the flat side of a knife to flatten/crush them a little).

Thoroughly rinse the corned beef and reserve the spice packet for the cabbage.  Put the corned beef on top of the veggies in the roasting pan, and pour the two bottles of Guinness over the corned beef.  Cover the roasting pan, and braise for 2.5 hours in the oven.  After 2.5 hours, if the brisket isn't fork tender, recover and increase heat to 350 degrees for an additional 30-45 minutes.
When the brisket has 30 minutes left, put the parsnips in boiling water and cook until soft.  Remove from heat, drain, and return to the pan to mash with a potato masher or a fork.

Add the cabbage to a pot with the remaining Guinness, and the reserved 2 cloves of garlic, chopped.  Add water to almost cover the cabbage with the cooking liquid.  Simmer, partially covered for 15-20 minutes-until the stalks of the cabbage are soft but the leaves still hold their shape. At this point you can remove the cabbage and reduce the braising liquid by boiling it, or you can leave your cabbage more "soupy." Add the Worcestershire sauce, and taste. If still doesn't have enough "zip" add 1 tsp. of the Balsamic vinegar at a time. 

Take the corned beef brisket out of the oven.  (Important: always let braised dishes cool in liquid or they'll dry out).  Remove the potatoes and carrots from the braising liquid, mash, and add to the mashed parsnips.  Add thyme and butter, and cook over very low heat until the butter is melted and the thyme is fragrant. Season with salt and pepper.

Remove the garlic from the braising liquid, mash, and mix with the mustard and apple butter. Place the brisket on a broiler pan, spread the garlic mixture over the top, and broil-checking often-until browned.
Slice the brisket and serve with the reserved braising liquid, the parsnip mash, and

Puppies!! Snorglesnorglesnorgleaaaaaackk!

If you read the post below, thanks for sitting beside my imaginary therapy couch for a few minutes.  To show my appreciation, I give you puppy kisses:

Have a Little Faith, or "Let's talk about Me for a minute."

With the help of a few too many endorphins (see: Saints, Superbowl Champions) and alot of time spent with good friends and my wonderful partner, I finally had a much-needed "breakthrough" this month and it's feeling pretty damn good.

After one specific heart-to-heart with an especially sympathetic and wise soul (me in my Lady Gaga inspired eye make-up and medieval night costume, she with her lovely smile. Yeah, it was a little awkward, but I needed it) I realized that I've been struggling with a whole hell of alot of self-doubt for over a year, and I didn't even know it.  Not to get too far into the essentially boring depths of my personal life, but to say that I have a different outlook on life than the people I have been closest to since I started law school is a fairly healthy understatement (right up there with "Something's a little off with that Eric Massa guy").  When things are going wrong, I discuss, dissect, and seek real closure.  It's just what I do, and in general I'm proud of the fact that people know that I'll stand up for them should the need arise.  The rest of the group? It's avoid "conflict" AT ALL COSTS.  I've been ostracized more than once merely for standing up for myself or for people I care about, because, like I said, AT ALL COSTS and I guess I'm expendable. After awhile, all of that conflict avoidance starts stacking up between you and your friends, and all of the sudden, the people you were closest to are miles away.  And you start to feel like something's seriously wrong with you.

Scene II:  SELF-DOUBT enters stealthily, stage right.  Without making its presence explicitly known, it simply settles into the scene like a sinister arm chair, always bringing with it a sense that "something's not quite right."

Let's be honest...I really like myself.  I think that most bloggers have pretty high self-confidence--we talk about ourselves all the times, and people without a pretty strong sense of self-worth aren't really up for that.  But here I am, wrestling with this "Am I really a monster?" crap. ("Ouch, who put this sinister arm chair here?")  It took someone forcefully telling me that I'm pretty normal and non-monstrous, Gaga eye-make up and all, for me to start appreciating "me" again-confrontational, assertive-however you want to put it-me.  And that helped alot.  I guess the goal now is to get to the point where I don't have to ask other people "am I still a good person?" every time I get a conflicting message.  I have to believe in myself, and trust my decision-making even if the people closest to me would make different decisions. And if I have to check myself every now and then, which I do, I need to rely on the people who accept me for who I am and listen to what they have to say (when it's "Monster, absolutely" but more importantly, when it's "Monster? Are you crazy?") over the people who don't.

Because seriously, this self-doubt crap? It stops

Giant Homemade Girlscout Cookies III: Somoa Yoah

Hey ya'll, my birthmonth may be over (why have a birthday when you can celebrate the whole month?) but that doesn't mean the party has to stop.

This year my birthmonth was outright amazing, thanks to my friends and family. First, Mama and Papa BaCon flew into D.C. just a few miles ahead of a giant snowstorm to throw a Superbowl party (Who Dat!) and traipse about a creepy, snow-silent city after too much wine. (Mama and Papa BaCon are hardcore.  At Wisdom-a great bar-Mama ordered a drink called the Nacho Libre. From the menu: "Habanero infused tequila and pomegranate. Only an a**hole would drink this.")

From there we lived it up with good friends in New Orleans (with a detour in Shreveport for Me'me Williams' fantastically fun wedding). My birthday presents from Mr. Luz? Silver high-heel ankle boots with rhinestones, hot pink "snakeskin" and black velvet pumps, and a top hat. How can I not love this man?

Finally, Mr. Luz rounded up a wizard, a fair maiden, a witch and her newt, three medieval pirates, and a few unfortunate souls (unfortunate because they weren't in costumes while the rest of us got to be incognito idiots) for a quest to the Medieval Times Dinner Theater. I'm not sure that there's much to say besides "16 grown folks in paper crowns, drunken and shouting."

After celebrating for a month, I'm going cold turkey on sugar, alcohol, meat, and eye makeup. Just kidding!

Which brings me to the point of this post.  Cookies! Giant cookies! Giant Girl Scout Cookies! Seriously, you should make this.  It's easy, and cheap, and sort of scary but awesome.

The caramel is sort of "pull out your fillings" chewy, but worth it. Stick to the cheaper Brachs caramels or something similar.  They stay soft where the fancier caramels (ie: Werther's Chewy Caramels) get rock hard after they've had the chance to set more.

Giant Samoa Girl Scout Cookie Recipe:

Sugar Cookie
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup butter, softened
1 large egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 tsp. salt

4 cps shredded coconut
16 oz. cheap chewy caramels
1/2 cup milk
2 Tbs. butter (if unsalted, add 1/2 tsp. salt to melted caramel mixture)
10 oz. chocolate chips

Make the Samoa:
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.  Spread coconut in a deep baking dish and toast.  Stir every 5 minutes for 10 minutes, and more often for the last 10 minutes. Coconut should be toasty brown and crispy but still soft.
Turn oven up to 350 degrees, and grease a 11 inch round tart pan with fluted edges. (You could probably also do 2 pie pans, and bake for a shorter period of time. You'll just have a less-giant cookie). Cream together the sugar and butter. Beat in eggs and vanilla. On low, slowly beat in flour and salt until large crumbs form. Press dough into your prepared pan and cut a circle out of the center with a water glass. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until base is set but not tough. Cool.
Melt 1/2 of the chocolate in the microwave or over a double boiler (one larger saucepan with an inch of water heated to boiling, with chocolate in a smaller sauce pan placed over the boiling water but not touching the boiling water.) Using a paint brush or basting brush, carefully paint a thin layer of chocolate on the bottom and sides of the cookie. Place in the fridge until set.
Melt the caramels in the microwave or a double boiler with the milk and salt, stirring frequently.  Stir in the coconut.  When the chocolate on the cookie has set, carefully flip it over.  Spread the caramel coconut mixture onto the cookie base.  Melt the remaining chocolate.  Once it has cooled a bit, put the melted chocolate a plastic baggie, cut a small corner off of the baggie, and drizzle chocolate across the Samoa.  Bravo, you've done it!

NOTE: Don't put this cookie in the fridge once you've put the caramel on it. Trust me.

Saints are World Champs!! And New Orleans Style BBQ Shrimp Recipe


Mama and Papa BaCon flew from St. Louis to get snowed in and watch Superbowl XLIV with us, Foxy, and some crazy, lovely D.C. folks. Black and Gold beads, the dark smell of gumbo, and friends in Saints gear filled our house while "Superbowl Mambo" streamed from the Times Picayune website, and it felt like a true N'awlins romp. To everyone who came out for the party and to those who couldn't come due to the storm/work but who were there in spirit (JKarlin, we missed you!): because of you guys, Mr. Luz and I didn't miss home when we could have missed it the most. So thanks for being there with us.

As far as the game goes, I couldn't tell you what actually happened because I was too amped up to think. All I know is the K. Gates song "Stand Up and Get Crunk/Black and Gold to the Superbowl" kept blaring on our speakers, Mr. Luz kept doing his own secondline dance through the crowd in the living room and dining room to the kitchen and back again, and I got and gave alot of "touchdown hugs."

But there was a moment towards the end of the game when I checked the clock and saw that there were only 44 seconds left in the 4th quarter, and then it hit me full force--"Holy S*** this changes everything-how fantastic for NOLA!" and then "Is this really happening??"  When I came to my senses after a few minutes, there weren't 25 different people, with different hometowns and even hometown teams, at our house . . . I only saw Saints fans, overcome with collective joy-shouting, hugging, crying, and all out getting crunk (look it up).

What a surprisingly blissful and unpredictably beautiful life we live.  

On to the recipe! This is Mama Bacon's recipe from Southern Living for New Orleans BBQ Shrimp, and it's one of my favorite foods, though surprisingly easy. You can serve it as an appetizer by itself, or as an entree over cheese grits.  The shrimp is marinated (in Nawlin's they do shells and head on, but peeled is okay too)and then baked in a spicy, tangy lemon butter sauce with a little Worcestershire sauce for depth and garlic. We double the marinade recipe so we have plenty left over for French bread-dipping. Only make this for the people you really love, because they'll likely request it at every pot luck you attend from now till the end of time.  Though if they are anything like my friends, they are worth it.

New Orleans Style BBQ Shrimp Recipe
(photo and recipe courtesy of Southern Living)
4 lbs. large unpeeled shrimp (6 lbs. w/heads on)
1 cup Butter
1 cup Olive oil
1/2 cup Chili Sauce
1/2 cup Worcestershire Sauce
2 Lemons, sliced
8 Garlic Cloves, chopped
4 Tbs. Creole Seasoning (I use Tony's Light)
4 Tbs. Lemon Juice
2 Tbs. chopped Parsley
2 tsp. Paprika
2 tsp. Oregano
2 tsp. ground Red Pepper
1 tsp. hot sauce
2 loaves French bread

Spread shrimp in a large baking dish.  Combine butter and next 12 ingredients in a saucepan over low heat, stirring until butter melts, and pour over shrimp. Cover and chill 2 hours, turning shrimp every 30 minutes.

Bake, uncovered, at 400° for 20 minutes; turn once. Serve with bread and/or

Exotic, Interesting Food? Blah. Or, What I Do When I'm Not Cooking

It's that time of year again--the dead, cold, dreary D.C. winter.  The time of year where I can't even think about the yummy flavor combinations that complement cilantro, and tomatoes are only for soup and marinara sauce.  All I want is an I.V. of hot chocolate--it can even be the cheapo Swissmiss kind just GIVEITTOMENOWBEFOREITOTALLYFREAKOUTMAN! And don't even think about trying to feed me a cold vegetable. What's that you say? It's organic swiss chard wrapped with the most exquisite white truffle and served with tears of joy? Is it cold? Then f*** off.

Needless to say, we've been eating alot of heavy, uninspired dishes in our house lately, and my mood and my waistline are paying the price. Luckily it'll be Spring again oh so soon, and then I'll be back in action. Until then, I thought I'd give you a lil taste of what I, Princess BaCon, get up to when I'm not slaving away in my kitchen. 

I channel the rockstar, her Majesty the Queen of Deliciousness and Ass-Kicking, Lady Gaga. 
As you can tell, this is a consuming and makeup-laden affair.   Apparently 5 wigs isn't enough, as I've exhausted each of them before March. 

In sum, when I'm not cooking I spend 45 minutes putting on eye makeup, fake hair, and crazy shoes and then I get drunk in public.

I also get crafty.  Mr. Luz pulled a miracle, finding our dream rowhouse at rent we could afford.  But the kitchen was, oddly enough, my least favorite room in the house. (Perhaps that's why I drink so much when I cook?) In the before picture, we'd already pulled off all the wonderfully greasy cabinet doors, but you get the picture. And I have no idea how the linoleum got that nasty, but it felt like walking on 30 years of caked on mud. So, we woke up one morning, and over coffee decided to overhaul it. That day.

Our plan went something like this-Me: "Let's do something sort of retro, since we have all these retro appliances anyway." Mr. Luz: "Ok." Off we go to the Home Depot for robin's egg blue and vanilla paint, chrome-looking hardware, and some shiny black and white floor tiles.  TaDa!

So when I'm not cooking, Mr. Luz and I scrub, sand, nail, paint stuff funny colors and lay floor tiles and then I brag about our "home renovations" as if I just re-installed our entire gas line blindfolded, with one arm tied behind my back, uphill both ways.

Mardi Gras King Cake - You Know Dat!

{Mr. Luz's second guest post tackles yet another baking task - it's a little late for King Cake season, which ends tomorrow night at midnight, so bookmark this one for next year -it's a keeper)

Squeaking in just before Mardi Gras/Fat Tuesday comes this recipe for King Cake, adapted from Emeril Lagasse's recipe that can be found all over the internet (why Emeril Lagasse has become synonymous with New Orleans cuisine is somewhat of a mystery, considering he is originally from Fall River, MA.  Of course, he used to be Executive Chef at Commander's Palace in Nola, Home of the 25 Cent Martini Friday Lunch, so he can't be all that bad.  Ask Mr. Luz about his Gentlemen's Quarterlies during law school, and he'll regale you with purple drank boozy haziness.  Seriously, they only charge .25 cents for martinis EVERY FRIDAY* - *with purchase of entrée).  Mr. Luz has tweaked the recipe subtly, primarily because the oven chez nous is a landlord special, it's been snowing a lot here lately and grocery stores have been low on basic necessities, and frankly, recipes are like maps: half the time, if you don't already know where you are going, you won't likely get there if you follow the map religiously (Google Maps, I'm talking to you!).  Actually, you probably shouldn't follow anything religiously, but that's a topic for another blog....

King Cake is basically brioche bread formed into a circle with a sweet cream cheese filling - which means that it ranges from sublimely light and flaky to downright concretinous: spackled with too much lemon icing and pavéed with 1/4 inch thick bark-rinds of sickeningly sweet sugar sprinkles.  In New Orleans, sadly, the vast majority of King Cake you are likely to encounter is supermarket-spawned, mass-produced shoe leather masquerading as King Cake.  Sure, Mardi Gras is all about masquerading, but the fraud perpetrated on the citizens of the Crescent City is frankly of Crying Game proportions, y'all.  We eat it because of the tradition, not because it tastes good.   A home-made King Cake, even in New Orleans, is a rarity, and you are sure to impress by making your own (unless you buy your King Cake from La Boulangerie on Magazine Street - they have both the traditional almond custard and puff pastry Galette Des Rois, as well as the Mediterranean brioche Nola-style King Cakes, and are light-years tastier than the supermarket fare).

What You'll Need: 

 *Stand Mixer with Bread Hook Attachment (seriously, you can make bread dough the easy way or the
    hard way, and without this basic equipment you'll get too frustrated if you've never made brioche
 * Large Glass Bowl for Dough Rising (you ought to have a set of these anyway, they are awesome)
 * Damp Kitchen Cloth or Saran Wrap to Cover Your Dough While It Rises
 * Standard-Size Sheet Pan (the biggest one that will fit in your oven)
 * Parchment Paper With Which to Line your Sheet Pan
 * Set of Measuring Cups
 * Set of Measuring Spoons
 * Two Sauce Pans (one to heat milk and one to melt butter, unless you have a microwave to melt     
 * Small Bowl to store Egg Yolks
 * Medium-Size Bowl to store flour
 * Cup to combine rest of dry ingredients


 * 2 packets active dry yeast
 * 1/2 cup granulated sugar
 * 1 1/2 sticks (6 ounces) unsalted butter, melted
 * 1 cup warm milk (about 110°F)
 * 5 large egg yolks, at room temperature (use organic eggs if you can - the yolks are healthier and heartier - regular eggs are anemic and thin, and don't fluff as nicely)
 * 4 1/2 cups bleached all-purpose flour (I used unbleached and it turned out fine)
 * 2 teaspoons salt (I used sea salt, and again, it turned out nicely)
 * 1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (I used dried, powdered nutmeg, but Mr. Luz is not a huge fan of medieval spices, use sparingly)
 * 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
 * 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
 * 1 pound cream cheese, at room temperature (there is no other cream cheese but Philly Phull Phat
    Cream Cheese - don't you dare use light!)
 * 4 cups confectioner's sugar (prolly too much by at least a 1/2 cup - I had a lot of extra icing)
 * 1 plastic king cake baby  (or Pagan Symbol of your choosing)
 * 1 cup crushed pecans or walnuts (skip the nuts if you are worried about allergies, but I like nuts)
 * 5 tablespoons milk, at room temperature
 * 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
 * Purple-, green-, and gold-tinted sugar sprinkles (New Orleans Mardi Gras Colors, but you can go
    crazy and make any color theme you like - I made a Black and Gold Saints Cake for our Super Bowl

The Construction:  If you are like me, you like to Get Organized before you bake.  Most recipes just jump you right in to the middle of the recipe, but Mr. Luz likes to lay every out everything in advance, assembly-line fashion.  Believe it or not, the timing of adding your ingredients to the mixer MATTERS, so you don't want to be fumbling about finding your ingredients as you struggle to keep up.

- Take your eggs out first and separate the yolks, placing the yolks in a bowl so they can come to room temperature (unless you are a freak of nature who can separate yolks from whites while dangling the shells over your stand mixer.).
- Measure out your 4 1/2 cups of flour and put it in its own bowl.
- Combine your salt and nutmeg in a small cup.
- Melt your butter and warm up your milk (DO NOT try to warm up your milk by adding it to your melted butter.  This will result in disastrously dense dough - I know, because I tried.  I alluded to the problem of overcombining ingredients in my Apple Pie post - the key to any good dough is to NOT overmix - you want to try to combine the ingredients without synthesizing them into an overly homogenous whole).
- Get your stand mixer all set up. You'll want to be able to lift the mixer arm up out of the bowl at the end, so if you aren't familiar with that switch on the side, learn how to use it before you begin.
- Pour your vegetable oil into your glass bowl and roll it around the sides to coat. Take your cream cheese out of the refrigerator to let it soften.

Let The Dough-Making Begin!
- Add your two yeast packets and granulated sugar to the stand mixer bowl, and then add the melted butter and your warm milk. 
- Beat at low speed for about a minute. Without stopping the mixer, add the egg yolks (I dumped them in all at once), and then beat for 1 minute at medium-low speed. 
- Again, without stopping the mixer, add the flour.  Don't dump all the flour in at once - hold your bowl of flour at an angle and use a spoon to slowly push the flour into the bowl.  Next add the salt and nutmeg, but DO NOT simply dump it in all at once - sprinkle it evenly through the bowl - otherwise, you will end up with clumps of salty nutmeg throughout your dough)
- Beat until everything seems to have mixed together evenly. Then, increase the mixer speed to medium high until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl, forms a ball, and begins climbing up the dough hook (this is one of the coolest things about dough hooks. It's as if the dough comes alive and starts CLIMBING out of the BOWL!!  If the dough does not separate from the sides of the bowl, DO NOT ADD liquid like every recipe out there says.  This will only make the dough sticky and gooey and impossible to spread out later. Add small amounts of flour, a tablespoon at a time, along the edges of the bowl until the climbing alchemy begins.  Believe me, I tried adding warm water like the recipe says, and it was a complete mess every time. If the dough doesn't separate from the bowl, I guarantee you it's because it's too wet, not too dry). 

Dust your fingertips with some flour, and then tilt the mixer head up.  Use your fingers to pull the dough from the dough hook, letting it fall back into the mixer bowl. Tilt the dough ball out of the mixer bowl into your hand and then gently form it into a ball shape.  It doesn't have to be perfectly smooth or round - the rising will take care of that.  Put the dough ball into the glass bowl, and flip it over a few times to coat it with oil - this will prevent the dough from sticking to the bowl). Cover dough with plastic wrap or a wet kitchen towel and let it rise in a warm, draft-free place for two hours, or until doubled in size (an obvious place to do this is in your oven set to Warm - but be careful, Warm on landlord-issue ovens can be too hot, and some newer electronic ovens don't even have a Warm setting. If in doubt, set to warm for 20 minutes, then turn the oven off for the remainder)

Filling: While the dough is rising, wash out your stand mixer bowl and attach the regular mixer attachment.  Combine the cream cheese, the nuts, the lemon zest, and 1 cup of the confectioner's sugar until everything is good and mixed together (you can also use brown sugar as pictured below).  Do not put it back in the fridge - it needs to be pliable for spreading on your dough. 
Next, line your sheet pan with parchment paper.

Also cover your work space with parchment paper, and then lightly powder your the parchment with a few pinches of confectioner's sugar (I prefer this to flour - it's sweeter, and dissolves into the dough more readily). Powder your fingertips as well.

When the dough has finished rising, remove the dough from the bowl and place it in the center of the parchment on your work surface.  Using your fingers, pat it out into a rectangle about 30 inches long and 6 inches wide.  Try to keep an even thickness throughout.

 Next, spread the filling lengthwise over the bottom third of the dough, making sure to spread the filling all the way to BOTH ends of the rectangle (you don't want to end up with one section of the ring lacking filling).

PLACE YOUR BABY (or Pagan Symbol of Your Choosing) randomly in the bottom third of the dough NOW (I always, always forget to put the baby in there. It's like a crippling amnesia or something).
Pull the dough from the bottom edge and begin rolling it up over the filling. Seal the edges, pinching the dough together to seal up the tube.
Now, work one end of the roll open wide so that you can insert the opposite end into it like a sleeve (imagine stuffing one sleeve of your warmest sweatshirt into the opposite sleeve) Next, pull the dough into a cylinder and attach the ends.  

Now for the Fabu Flip.  Your seams are on the top, and you want them on the bottom, so place the sheet pan with the parchment paper over the top of your cylinder, centering it.  Grasp the corners of the parchment paper that is on your counter surface, and simply flip the whole thing over like a sandwich - then remove the bottom layer of parchment paper.  Presto Change-o!

Cover the ring with plastic wrap or a moist kitchen towel and place in a warm, draft-free place (again, your oven works nicely). Let the dough rise until doubled again in size, or about 45 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Brush the top of the risen cake with 2 tablespoons of the milk. 
Bake until golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. (You'll have to really watch this one if you have a landlord-issue oven,  because at 25 minutes my cake wasn't nearly done.  I made another few of these in my neighbor's convection oven, and not only did they cook faster, they rose even more as it baked).

Remove from the oven and let cool completely on a wire rack.

Icing: Combine the remaining 3 tablespoons of milk, the lemon juice, and the remaining 3 cups of  confectioner's sugar in a bowl. Stir to blend well. With a rubber spatula, spread the icing evenly over the top of the cake. Sprinkle with your colored sugar crystals, alternating colors around the cake.

You can get crazy and make all kinds of other designs, like this one to the left, or the Super Bowl design below: 
Finally, a word on the "Who Gets The Baby" controversy.  In New Orleans, if you get the baby in your piece of King Cake, you are supposed to bring the next King Cake to the next social gathering. Mardi Gras season lasts from Epiphany (early January) until, well, Mardi Gras, so there is typically plenty of time for you to man up and bring one in.  Some skin-flint types wait until everyone has had their piece of cake to see if someone else will get the baby.  Not only does this go against the spirit of the thing, there is a moral to the story:

Baby-Jesus-Eating-Avoiders were designated "The Goat", and in ancient times if you played wait-and-see, you were ostracized from the community for an entire year.  Of course, those who were hesitant had good reason to prevaricate over their slice of the tasty pie.  It used to be that if you got the Pagan Symbol in your slice, you were made King for a Year, and could have sex with all of the village's virgins or some such awesomeness, after which you were promptly and summarily executed, and your blood poured over next year's crops to ensure a good harvest.  Nowadays, kids in France get to wear silly gold paper crowns that look like they came from Burger King instead of free sex for a year, and here in America you merely shoulder a vague obligation to bring the next cake.  Traditions used to have real consequences, I guess is the moral of the story.  And of course Mr. Luz is just making all of this up* because he is just annoyed that he almost ALWAYS gets the Baby, yet has never been offered a single virgin...

Happy Mardi Gras and We'll See You In New Orleans!!!