Saturday, September 27, 2008

I savor breaking the rules

Well, not really. I'm a pretty straight-laced rule follower. But for this, my first (and a perhaps THE first?) savory Daring Baker's Challenge - I did indeed break the rules.

For September the Daring Bakers stepped away from desserts to make Lavash Crackers:
Salted lavash crackers with chicken livers & guacamole
and Cinnamon & Sugar lavash crackers

The first thing that came to mind when I read we were going to make crackers, was pâté. My mom and auntie used to make chopped chicken livers that they still rave about. I've been wanting to make their recipe for the past 6 months or so and just hadn't gotten around to it. So goshdarnit I was gonna make chopped chicken livers/chicken pâté to go with these crackers; Vegan Dip requirement or not!! (OK, ok I really just can't totally break the rules - I made a little vegan guacamole to feel better about myself...)

Lavash: It is similar to the many other Middle Eastern and Northern African flatbreads known by different names, such as mankoush or mannaeesh (Lebanese), barbari (Iranian), khoubiz or khobz (Arabian), aiysh (Egyptian), kesret and mella (Tunisian), pide or pita (Turkish), and pideh (Armenian).

The Rules:
These crackers could be made vegan OR gluten-free. The recipe that I'm assuming most of us followed was the vegan recipe but host, Shelly did include a gluten-free recipe as well. Recipes were from The Bread Baker's Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread by Peter Reinhart. We were given a lot of room to play in terms of how to season our crackers. They could be sweet or savory; topped with salt or spices; be thick or thin; cut nicely or broken to shards. We were asked to also create a VEGAN dip/chutney/spread to compliment the crackers.

My Spin:
Well - we already established that I broke the vegan dip rules. But I felt guilty about it and made some guacamole just before serving! Arika from My Yummy Life started the "sweet lavash" trend with some cinnamon-sugar lavash. And soon MANY of us were following her lead! They sounded great - so I added these to my repertoire as well! I kneaded about 3 tablespoons of cinnamon & sugar into the lavash dough before rolling it out, then sprinkled more over the crackers before they baked, and finally lightly spritzed the crackers with vegetable oil and tossed them in a bag with more before serving them.
What a feast! Appetizers for 4!

The Verdict:
The crackers were great. I couldn't keep my brother out of them before serving them as an appetizer last weekend. They were sorta like pita chips - especially the thickness I made mine. They were great with the pâté though I still prefer store bought crackers: lighter and buttery-er!! I did not, however, like them with the guacamole. Since I'm used to eating guacamole with chips - eating it with lavash just made me feel like I was eating stale chips! The cinnamon sugar ones were okay. Even with all the cinnamon & sugar I thought I had incorporated into/on them they still weren't all that "cinnamon-sugar-y" but I noticed that none got left behind!

They were so fast and easy to make I did an easy 2 batches in the same weekend!
Follow along with me for all the different elements!
-Salted Lavash Crackers
-Cinnamon Sugar Lavash Crackers
-Chicken Liver Pâté
-Chopped Chicken Livers

Salted Lavash Crackers:
This started like any other bread - with flour, yeast, salt, sugar and water. Mix it together, knead and let rise. Then an hour and a half later it was ready to roll out, salt (season), cut and bake! Voilà! Crackers!

This is how all bread starts -- Ready to roll! -- A few more cuts and into the oven

Cinnamon Sugar Lavash Crackers:
The cinnamon & sugar ones were done the same way except that I incorporated a few tablespoons of cinnamon and sugar into the dough as I kneaded it then sprinkled it with cinnamon and sugar.

See the flecks of cinnamon? -- Two trays ready to go!

Mmm - cinnamony!

Chicken Liver Pâté:
As I started thinking about doing the chopped chicken livers my family loves I couldn't help but also think about chicken liver pâté. What was the big difference? Well since I had a pound of chicken livers to play with - I decided to find out and make some of each! I used this recipe.
All the ingredients lined up and ready to go!

Since so many of the reviews recommended increasing the Cognac, I did too. But I overdid it. I think a full tablespoon would be perfect; not the 2+ I added (one reviewer recommended 4 *gasp*!) The pâté will need to be made again sometime since the extra Cognac really ruined the flavor for me. It was okay, but not excellent.
Said it before, will say it again: I love my Cuisinart!

Chopped Chicken Livers:
This is the recipe I'd heard so much about - and it didn't let me down. It was very vaguely written so I had to use my cooking know-how to make it, but the results were wonderful! It tasted like liverwurst (I suppose "wonderful" is only a word to use if you do in fact love liverwurst as I do.)

Simpler (in this case) is better -- Cooking the livers in ~2T of butter -- Getting ready to chop

Recipe as given to me:
1 pound livers
3 hard boiled eggs

1 medium onion



Brown livers thoroughly in butter.
Put livers, eggs, onions in food processor.

Add mayonnaise as desired for consistency.

Add salt to taste and chill.

Chopped chicken livers on the left, Chicken pâté on the right

I used about 2 T of butter and honestly don't know how much mayo or salt. Just start with a small amount and add as you see fit.

"Vegan" Guacamole:
Technically this is just my trusty guacamole recipe but I decided to call out that it is vegan since, well - it is! And to also prove that I didn't break the rules ENTIRELY!

2 ripe avocados
2 tomatoes (seeds removed)
Green taco sauce
Garlic powder

Mash the avocados.
Season with taco sauce, salt and garlic powder.
Stir in cut tomatoes.
Pretty enough to eat!

Don't forget to visit all the other Daring Bakers who will also be posting about their lavash experiences today. Many of them were way more creative than I with regards to the vegan dips (and I have yet to find another who broke the rules like I did too!!) You can also find the cracker recipe on many of their blogs since I (as usual) am too lazy to include it here. See you next month my Daring Bakers!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Falling for carrot cupcakes

It's been quite a while since I blogged about my cooking or baking - but it doesn't mean I haven't been! I've just (surprisingly) had more exciting things going on than feeding myself. I actually have 2-3 food blog entry drafts right now that I'm waiting for steam to finish! But since this post seemed timely - I made these to welcome the first day of Fall on Monday - it's going to be posted *dagnabit* today!

Fall ~~ my absolute complete and total FAVORITE time of the year. Technically my love of the season begins closer the mid-October than September (I love it when the weather gets cool), but The First Day Of Fall is an exciting day for me all the same. It signifies harvest and apple cider and pumpkins and orange, red and yellow. It means crisp, cool nights and beautiful sunny warm days and apples, pears and squash. It means light sweaters and closed-toe shoes and scarves; throw blankets and spiced cake. It means family. Fall makes me so very happy!

So to celebrate - I baked up some carrot cupcakes with luscious cream cheese frosting. I had the carrots in the fridge from a couple weeks back - plans for carrot salad with raisins and pineapple (definitely a warm weather dish) fell to the wayside somehow. But the carrots - while no longer fresh, were still fine for baking. And since the weather cooled (a bit) and Fall came in - I decided to welcome it.

How do I love my Cuisinart? Let me count the ways... 1, 2, 3, 4...
I've joked before how I think I might eat anything if it was slathered with cream cheese frosting. But Mom's carrot cake recipe is actually quite excellent even on its own. She throws in a can of crushed pineapple! I've had thoughts of making this with whole wheat flour to make a more "hearty and healthy" muffin too. But haven't yet tried it.
Carrots, raisins, pineapple and pecans

So I took Mom's recipe for carrot cake and made cupcakes instead. That way I could easily pawn them off on folks at work! I was NOT about to eat a 9x13 cake aka 28 cupcakes! Well I suppose I very easily could - but then I might become too large to fit in my chair to ever sit down and blog about it.
I wasn't thinking clearly and made enough frosting for a layered cake - that means almost double what I'd need to top cupcakes. You know what that means? I might have to make an apple cake to welcome the Fall too. Oh too bad, so sad!!
Whatever shall I do with the leftover frosting??

I don't really think they are - but carrot cupcakes seem like a reasonably healthy dessert to me. I mean heck - it's better than the donuts I'm thinking of frying with leftover pizza dough, right? (I keep hearing it totally works!)

It's so decadent - I have to drink a glass of milk every time!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Oops - she did it again

Only a little more destructive this time.

Two words...
Puppy Adolescence

Three pictures...
"At least I'm not into drugs, Mom!"

I could be a forensic scientist

I guess we'll be waiting a year or more to remodel the bathroom

Monday, September 22, 2008

Lucca goes to Bark in the Park

It was my first time, but the festival's eleventh: Bark in the Park, San Jose. It's the largest dog festival in the country! ~10,000 people and ~3,000 doggies head to William Street Park in San Jose for an afternoon of activities, vendors, food, slobbering and sniffing.
This is what a tired but thoroughly exhilarated doggie looks like

I have become a "Dog Mom". 100%. Having a dog must satisfy some type of maternal instinct for those of us in the correct age-range. And I am the epitome of a Dog Mom: not wanting to leave her at home too long, paying ridiculous amounts of money for toys/services/food that will maybe make her life better (she's a dog - that's a plush life right there), taking her to things and enjoying them because she's enjoying herself. If that's not a Dog Mom, I don't know what is.

Not that you have to be a Dog Mom to go to Bark in the Park, but I would not have missed it - knowing what a blast my little ankle-biter [literally] would have.
You can splash in it AND quench your thirst at the same time!

There was so much to see and do! Demos, contests, activities... You could learn about clicker training after watching dogs dress up as their owners. You could see a herding demo before cooling your dog off with the misters and doggie pools. You could shop for doggie beds while munching on hot dogs (wait...?)
This is just a portion of the "scene"

Just trying it out!

Tracey and Kohl met my brother Mark and me there. I suppose we collectively got a lot of attention: so many people stop to greet a puppy and Kohl was the largest dog we saw at the park that day.
Two Dog Moms and their fur babies

We learned that Lucca is actually very rude. She gets so excited to see other dogs and hopefully play with them that she runs/jumps/barks at them to get her way. Tracey (who is a prof. dog trainer) likened it to a human stranger running up to you - kissing and hugging you all the while squealing at how excited he/she is to see you. Right - not my idea of a good time either. Oh puppies... so cute, but so much work. We'll add this to the list of things to work on!
She can see dogs coming - she's already pulling! (on the way to the park from the car)

But we had a great, great time. Lucca even got a souvenir. I just couldn't help myself!! The "famous" Sniffany & Co. squeaky toy! What more could a girl ask for?
zzz... I love my new toy... What a great day! zzz..

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Miami Beach - for reals

I gave you a taste, but here's the "real" entry...

South Beach / Miami / Florida
That's right Lis - your picture is my "Main" Picture!

I'd been in Miami about 10 years ago to depart on a cruise to the Caribbean. But that was Miami. This time it was South Beach... When Debbie and I started talking about where to have her Bachelorette Party, a few places came up - the typical, Vegas; Cabo San Lucas; New York City... We finally decided on South Beach. Someplace neither of us had been but were both curious about.

This is South Beach, Miami!!

My overall impression: well, I don't need to go back. It was a ton of fun. And there were beautiful beaches and warm water. And good food and fun bars and clubs. And some shopping. And palm trees. But really all of the above can be found much closer to home for those of us in California.

But instead of being a Debbie Downer... let's talk about Debbie the Bachelorette and our trip to celebrate her. Our group ended up being bridesmaids only - which while being small, was actually very nice. Not too large a group to coordinate or keep happy and small enough that we could all share a room!
Guess which one is the bachelorette?

Last weekend, Connie, Deb and I took a red-eye from San Francisco into Miami and got lucky enough to actually check-in at 8:30am! The South Beach Marriott really made our day right there. We were worried we'd be stuck wandering the city until 3pm. The hotel really was beautiful and perfect for what we wanted. Comfy beds, a nice large pool, beach access, lots of mirrors in the room (a must for a group of girls!) and most importantly - walking distance to both Nikki Beach and Privé!! I mean literally each was under 500 feet away!

After a nap, our first stop was Uhma Spa for massages. Have you any idea how good a deep tissue massage feels after a 6 hour red-eye? They welcomed us with flavored green tea - hot or cold. Then an hour of blissful massages before strolling back to the hotel to lie at the beach and sip [expensive] drinks at the pool. What a rough life!

Ang and Lisa came in from LA that afternoon and thus - The Party Started. Of course a lot of this "Party" was lounging at the pool/beach and eating. But we definitely did some celebrating at Mango's, Mansion, Nikki Beach, Barcelona Lounge (barely) and Privé on Friday and Saturday nights.
Cheers! at Nikki Beach

The rest of the weekend was full of (like I mentioned before) eating. We also spent an afternoon shopping - at one point being "forced" into Zara due to a sudden 20 minute downpour. Sillily enough, the highlight of our shopping trip was actually getting Kidrobot Zipits (zipper pulls). They're a surprise - you don't know which one you'll get until you open it.
Opening Kidrobot Zipits!

Good thing we ducked into Zara during the 20 minute downpour!

Our last day was back to Connie, Deb and I again after Lis and Ang flew out in the morning. Hurricane Ike was on his way over Cuba at the time and we could really feel a difference in the weather. We still had sun, but lots and lots of wind. The ocean was rougher today and the palm trees all had side parts! So we walked to the promenade and shops along Lincoln Road with a stop at Miami Ink along the way. None of the guys from the show were there - but we still took touristy pictures.
None of the guys were there - Miami Ink

After snapping some final pictures of the hotel and the windy/rough water it was off to the airport to escape Miami before the effects of the hurricane really brought rain into town. We got pretty lucky!

Relatively rough water -- Palm trees with side parts!

It was a great trip and a perfect way to send Debbie off relaxed and excited about her upcoming wedding!
Only Deb would look that good in a corny veil!