Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Engagement Pictures

Robert and I wanted our engagement pictures to capture a moment in our lives. We didn't want to focus on the ring or take pictures in a place where we had never been before. Instead, we worked with Ben Filio, who snapped pictures of us in our natural habitat. Ben took pictures of us -- all three of us, including Rasco -- at home in our apartment and on a stroll in our neighborhood, The Pittsburgh Strip District. Our pictures feel so natural and special to me, because I think they are truly a reflection on Robert's and my time together as a young couple in a new city. 

Monday, April 13, 2015

The Old Country Blog is now ...

Welcome to Menu du Jour
The blog formerly known as The Old Country Blog

Dear Readers, 

When I started blogging in 2012 as a student at Louisiana State University, it was a way to record the traditional Lebanese, New Orleans and German recipes my grandma taught me — along with global food roots and traditions.

But this little blog grew to document all of life's celebrations and reflected my own changing life as I graduated, moved to Washington DC and then to Pittsburgh and worked as a writer.

There are so many new things happening today, that I wanted to share more aspects of my life on cgerdes.blogspot.com. I was talking to my mom about how, like a diary, I wanted to blog about daily moments like wedding planning (I’m engaged!), travel stories, crafts and FOOD — but maybe now I’m not always the one cooking it. She suggested renaming the blog Menu du Jour, or Menu of the Day, because it fits my mission of blogging about food and daily life — like a peak into my journal.  So, thanks for the new name Mom, and, you know, my actual name …

I hope you stay awhile for recipes, travel stories, wedding planning, crafts and cute pictures of my dog Rasco.


Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Halloween Recap and Butterbeer Cupcakes ... YES Butterbeer CUPCAKES!!!

I love Halloween. It is my favorite holiday. Well, Christmas, Halloween, Mardi Gras, it's a toss up.

This year, Robert and I did Halloween in DC and we had a fabulous time visiting my sister. On Thursday night, the night before Halloween, we went to a dog Halloween party hosted by my sister's dog's (Louis) trainer. (My uncle's cousin's roommate's brother, just kidding.) We kind of had an SNL theme at the party. I was Wayne to my brother-in-law's Garth and Louis, my dog nephew, was Phillip the Hyper Hypo ... 

On Friday night we got the Po' Girls back together and took our Zapp's potato chip costumes out for a second fabulous year! The rest of the weekend included trying on wedding dresses for the first time (eeek!), delicious pumpkin curry, quirky/scary Halloween movies and TV and the horror board game Betrayal at House on the Hill — which is all fun and games until the haunting begins.

We missed you this year, Leah! 

Hope you had a Happy Halloween!

Butterbeer Cupcakes 
A perfect muggle Halloween treat ... 

This recipe was originally featured on HelloGiggles.com

2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour (2 cups all purpose, 1/3 cake flour)
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
3 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/3 cup milk
1/3 cup beer (*If you would like to skip the beer, simply use 2/3 cup milk.)
3/4 cup butterscotch chips, finely chopped

Combine dry ingredients and set aside
Combine milk and beer, set aside
Cream butter and sugar
Blend in egg and vanilla
Add dry ingredients, alternating with beer and milk mixture
Once combined, mix in finely chopped butterscotch
Bake at 350 for 20 minutes in lined muffin tin. Allow to cool and frost cupcakes with Butterscotch Buttercream frosting

For the Butterscotch Buttercream

1 cup unsalted butter, softened
3 cups confectioners sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup butterscotch morsels, melted

Combine butter, sugar, salt and extract with electric mixer
Melt morsels and beat in buttercream mixture


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Proposal Pie

I'm engaged! 

Instead of building up  to it, I decided to spare you the suspense! On October 11, Robert and I went apple picking just outside of Pittsburgh at Simmons Farm.  I was jazzed to buy baby pumpkins and pick fresh apples to bake a fall pie. Robert and I also were enjoying bona fide fall with changing orange leaves — something you don't really see where we are from in New Orleans and Baton Rouge.  While we were strolling through the orchard in an empty grove where all of the apples had been picked, Robert proposed. Very sweet and simple.

When we got home, we went to dinner at a favorite neighborhood restaurant and baked an apple pie for dessert, with the apples we had picked that day, our Proposal Pie! 

Proposal Pie 
Fresh picked apple pie

This apple pie recipe is derived from this one.

8 freshly picked roma apples
1/2 cup unsalted butter
3 tablespoons flour
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons cinnamon
a sprinkle of nutmeg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg

Make crust, set aside.

Melt the butter in a saucepan. Stir in flour to form a paste. Add water, white sugar and brown sugar, and bring to a boil. Reduce temperature and let simmer. Add in vanilla, nutmeg and cinnamon.

Place apples in the crust, and pour mixture over the apples. Place lattice or rolled out crust atop, or keep open faced.  We chose to roll out crust and cut out a heart shape with a cookie cutter.

Bake for 15 minutes at 425. Remove from oven, lower temperature to 350 and continue baking for about 35 to 40 minutes, until apples are soft.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Dish: What it's REALLY like to make a Cronut

The Cronut ... 

This post originally appeared on HelloGiggles.com 

Photos by Robert Giglio

I made Cronuts so you don’t have to! Unless you want to, because they are delicious.

Before I get too ahead of myself about the three-day Cronut process, let me first explain the delicate, deep-fried pastry and what the fuss is all about. In 2013, New York City celebrity chef Dominique Ansel released the Cronut, his flaky croissant, fried donut hybrid. Instead of using a machine from The Fly or sorcery, Ansel created the pastry after months of toiling with butter, flour, and more butter.

And, this is one serious recipe. It has been highly sought-after due to its success, and Cronut copycats popping up across the globe from Germany to Japan.

Earlier this week, Ansel finally released the Cronut bible. The recipe for the coveted pastry is online to promote his new cookbook, “Dominique Ansel: The Secret Recipes.” And though his recipe is not a secret anymore, his secret is probably safe with him. Not because of how Cronuts taste, but because of the amount of effort that goes into making them. Which, let me tell you, is a lot of effort.

When I embarked on my quest to make Cronuts for HelloGiggles (I think anything longer than two days can be defined as a quest), I was excited and ready for a new culinary challenge. I am always excited to try new food and preparing new things.  But after a trip to the grocery store and looking over the recipe for a third time, this time really studying it, I felt less prepared than ever. It was like driving to a final exam. How could I possibly get all of this right?

I enlisted the help of my engineer boyfriend. While I am very add this or throw in some of that in the kitchen (the food usually turns out delicious, might I add), he is helpful when it comes to meticulousness and moral support.  I had already made the pastry dough and let it sit for three hours; now it came down to the precision of rolling it into a 10 inch square and making a seven-inch butter block — yes, this is a 7” by 7” square of pure, unadulterated butter. My boyfriend assisted, using a tape measure. It was intense.

The next day, I had to take these squares and “laminate.” That means to put the butter atop the dough (like a diamond on a square) and fold the butter inside. Now we’re making layers, people. For the first time, I realized that the flaky, thin sheets of a croissant were not made by elves. This is tedious stuff. When I told my boyfriend about the process, he said with a grin, “Respect the Cronut.” Eight layers later, the work for day two was done.

On “The Day Of” as the recipe excitedly declares, I woke up with an It’s Cronut Day feeling — kind of like Christmas morning, but way better. Because butter.

In a nutshell, “The Day Of” consisted of rolling out the dough, cutting it into doughnut shapes, proofing and frying. My boyfriend helped with the frying, popping fried Cronut holes in his mouth when he thought I wasn’t looking (I was, but who am I to judge?).

There had been multiple filling flavors to choose from, and I dangerously chose the chocolate ganache. “Dangerous,” only because I had a bowl of chocolate ganache in my fridge for two days that I wasn’t allowed to touch. It was a triumph of will. When I finally stole a finger scoop, it was beyond incredible. I injected the donuts with the filling, getting more and more excited with each one. Then, I rolled the sides in my hand-tossed vanilla bean sugar (there had also been several sugar and glaze options to choose from). Lastly, I dipped the donuts in the chocolate glaze.

I looked at my masterpiece sitting on the tray. A dozen perfect Cronuts with 96 flaky layers, after three days of laboring. These were my Cronut babies and they were beautiful. In fact, before I ate one, I just admired the sheets of fried dough and took in the heavenly smell of vanilla and chocolate. . .and fry oil. This had been my Everest and I was on top. I MADE CRONUTS.

The hard work felt worth it.

And it was.

These bad boys (or girls) were delectable. Which really shouldn’t be surprising considering the name. After all, a Cronut is a butter-y croissant, cut and fried like a donut in sweet, sweet glaze. What’s not to love?

This post originally appeared on HelloGiggles.com 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Pumpkin Beer Cupcakes

Pumpkin Ale Cupcakes 
With Cream Cheese Frosting

These boozy babes first appeared here on HelloGiggles.com

It's Fall, Y'all!!!

Have Mercy! 

What you’ll need! 

• 2 ¾ cups sifted cake flour, half all-purpose, half cake (I proportioned it 1 ¼ Cake Flour and 1 ½ all purpose)

• 4 teaspoons baking powder

• 1/4 teaspoon salt, just a tad less is good.

• 3 eggs

• 1 ½ cups sugar

• About 14 oz of pumpkin puree, I used about 3/4 of a 16 oz can of pumpkin puree

• 1/4 cup milk

• 3/4 cup pumpkin ale

• 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

• Fall spices: 1 teaspoon cinnamon, ½ teaspoon cardamom, ½ teaspoon clove, ½ teaspoon nutmeg

Let’s get baking … 

Combine dry ingredients and spices, set aside.

Combine milk and pumpkin ale in one bowl, set aside.

Cream sugar and eggs. Blend in extract. Mix in Pumpkin. Add dry ingredients alternating with milk/ale mixture.

Stir until combined, try not to over mix.

Bake in lined muffin pan for about 20 minutes at 350 F.

Now for the cream cheese frosting … 

• 1/2 cup butter, one stick, softened

• 4 oz. cream cheese

• 1 tbs almond extract, vanilla is OK

• 2 cups powdered sugar

Mix it all together!


Photos by Robert Giglio

Thursday, September 18, 2014

A Cake that's Out of this World!!!

A couple week's ago, my boyfriend's company asked me to bake a cake for an office party. It couldn't be an ordinary cake, it had to be out of this world ... 

I'm not sure that I've mentioned it before, but my super smart boyfriend works for a technology startup competing for the Google Lunar X Prize ... Basically, they are building a rover to land on the moon. 

Can you guess where I'm going with this?

I baked a moon cake.

Moon Cake 
Make two cakes. I made two white cakes from scratch with my grandmother's confetti cake recipe, sans sprinkles ...

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

Sift together flour, baking powder and salt.
Beat egg whites until foamy with cream of tartar. Gradually add ¼ cup granulated sugar and ¼ cup confectioners sugar.
In a separate bowl, cream butter and add remaining 1 cup sugar.  Blend egg mixture into this bowl.
Add sifted ingredients alternately with milk a small amount at a time – this is where you see if you use all the milk.
Pour in extracts.
Bake at 350 degrees F. A regular sheet cake or cupcakes would bake at around 20 minutes — my half sphere cake baked at about 50 minutes.

I baked the first cake in a well-greased eight-inch glass bowl.  
The second cake was baked in an eight-inch circular cake pan. 
Allow cakes to thoroughly cool. 

You may need to cut dark areas off the sphere cake, as it takes nearly double the expected amount of time to bake in a bowl. Do not go cutting happy. I simply rubbed the exterior of the cake gently and let the over-baked dusting fall off. 

Now for the buttercream frosting ...
This recipe.

1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks = 1/2 pound), softened (not melted)
3 cups + 1 cup confectioner's (powdered) sugar, sifted (regular won't ruin it).  The +1 cup is ready to use only if the mixture needs thickening.
1/4 teaspoon salt (optional)
1 tablespoon flavoring extract (Arak; but since it is scarce almond or vanilla can work)*
2 tablespoons + 2 tablespoons milk.  The +2 tablespoons are ready to use only if the mixture needs thinning.
Electric Mixer

Grab your cake board. 

Before you assemble the cakes, this step must be completed on the surface on which you are serving the cake! Once the sphere shape is made and held together with frosting, you will not be able to move the cake. See the gold cardboard cake board I used in the photo above. These boards are great because they can be wiped clean at the end. 

Once the cakes have cooled, apply buttercream frosting on the circular cake and place the half sphere atop. Apply a layer of buttercream around the outside of the cake, really getting in the grooves to attach the two cakes together. 

Roll out marzipan from a can or tube, I used two 11 oz. cans ... 

What is marzipan? Almond paste.
When rolled out, marzipan is a similar sheet texture to fondant.  I prefer the almond flavor of marzipan to fondant when sculpting and shaping baked goods.
I covered the cake in the rolled out, quarter inch thick marzipan. 

Decorate ...

To decorate the cake I used:
- Black spray mist food coloring
- Grey buttercream (done with food coloring) to delicately brush on small swirls and add dimension
- Silver sprinkles ... a lot of silver sprinkles
- Loose rock candy
- An American flag toothpick is a great moon topper. The other toothpick flag is a logo for my boyfriend's company. 

I also gently manipulated the marzipan to form craters. 

Feel free to get creative with your moon design! 

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