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 linguiƧa 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.   

Read More

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