Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween

Happy Halloween

the day when it's perfectly acceptable to play with your produce!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Ghosts in the Graveyard

This was a classic example of a "back of the box" or magazine advertisement recipe. Simple to make, approachable ingredients, and oh so fun to eat.

If I recall correctly, we even added some gummy worms into the dirt for a bit more creep factor. Easy to do when your Mom has a store with a candy counter!!!

There are many great spooky desert ideas out there for Halloween - the cupcake variations alone are amazing!!!

If you are looking to put together your own Halloween feast, Family Fun has a great list of creepy spooky recipe ideas to cover every course of the meal. Most are family friendly to make and serve, but also are a great starting point for creating your own creepy goodness. Better Homes and Gardens is another ghoulish resource.

Happy Haunting!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Head of Medusa

Boy do I wish I had a picture of this dish.

This dish all started when my sister Terri and I found a package of Squid Ink Pasta. Now I don't remember where we bought it - but I do remember thinking it would make a great Halloween Dish - just with red sauce.

Terri thought it looked kind of like Medusa's snake hair.

So she got ambitious.

She made some bread dough. Then she inverted a pyrex mixing bowl onto a baking sheet. She covered the bowl with foil (and I think sprayed it with cooking spray), and then proceeded to mold a bread bowl of Medusa's face and a few snakes out of bread. The whole thing went into the oven to bake.

After it was baked, she flipped it over, cooked the pasta, tossed it with red sauce and filled the "head" with the black pasta.

It was deliciously creepy.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Dem Dry Bones

These aren't really "dry" - but they make great spooky body parts!
And they have bacon - everything's good with bacon!!!


* 1 box sesame seed breadsticks
* 1 lb. bacon
* grated Parmesan cheese - probably about 1/2 cup.


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Wrap breadsticks in uncooked bacon. (frugal note - you can stretch the bacon further by cutting it in half lengthwise down each strip. You will be able to wrap more breadsticks but they won't be as tightly covered in the bacon. Up to you.)

Place on a cookie sheet or jelly roll pan and bake for 30 minutes. (I like to cover mine with aluminum foil for this -makes clean up easier)

Put the Parmesan cheese in a shallow dish. Roll each stick through the cheese while still hot.

Allow to cool and crisp, then serve.

...there are a lot of variations of this recipe out there in cyber land. Different kinds of breadsticks, some with garlic (keeps those vampires away), and some with different baking temperatures.

But they've all got bacon -so they all must be good, right?

Monday, October 27, 2008

"I Want To Drink Your Blood"

When you are having a spooky Halloween dinner, of course the punch MUST be red. And what better way to serve red punch than in bottles with old style "blood bank" labels on them.

This recipe will make both + (spiked) and - (un-spiked) versions, so be sure to label your bottles accordingly.

Regina's Quick and Easy Red Punch

1 bottle cranberry juice
1 bottle club soda

(spike with your choice of alcohol - or you can swap things out and use red wine in place of the cranberry to make a wine punch)
Serve in a carafe (ours are recycled wine bottles) - with a "blood bank" label on them.


Sunday, October 26, 2008

What's In Your Cauldron?

A few years back, Matt and I hosted a Halloween Party. We asked each guest to bring a "spooky" dish to pass, and then labeled each one with a big manila "specimen" tag, giving the spooky name of the dish as well as a goofy made up Latin name for it.

It was loads of fun.

Unfortunately it was loads of fun pre-digital camera, and I have no idea where the prints and/or negatives are from that event. I hung on to the tags for a long long time, but think I finally let them go.

At any rate - in the spirit of Halloween we thought we'd share some "spooky" recipes with you all this week. Some are things we have made again, some are memories from that party.

Our first one is "Great Green Gobs of Greasy Grimy Gopher Guts" - better known in non-Halloween (or non-elementary school) circles as Sausage Stew.

This dish was provided by one of our guests - and was DEELICIOUS!
Unfortunately he never shared the recipe - so I went hunting online for one instead.

And I found this one.
It even has pumpkin in it - for those of you looking for ways to recycle Jack's innards.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

On the Shelf - "The Joy of Cooking"

When I first started learning to cook, recipes came in one of three places - handwritten recipe cards in a number of well worn magnetic photo albums (where most of mom's best cookie recipes still are), the back of the product package (Rice Krispies and Nestle Toll House Morsels were the two biggies here), or a cookbook.

Today the proliferation of cookbooks, online recipe collection websites, and just great "word of blog" recipes is almost overwhelming. Nevermind almost - it IS overwhelming. It's also a treasure trove of yummy goodness.

And yet I am still attracted to the cookbook - the book you can hold on your lap curled up in a chair with a cuppa and browse through - the book you can prop open on the counter as you figure out the next step in making something new - the book you can use as a booster seat when little people need to sit at the table.

Our cookbook collection is not huge - at least not by Matt's mother's standards - and some books are referenced more than others - but as the infrequent-cooking member of this blogging trio, I thought I would bring you the occasional book review, proven recipe - or even some of the droolicious recipes we've read about but not yet tried.

So grab your cuppa - here we go with our first one.

"The Joy of Cooking"

WOW - this book has been around for 75 years now!!! And to be honest - some of the recipes in it read "old fashioned" - but they have been doing an awesome job of keeping it up to date and relevant.

I will admit that I have not made many full "recipes" from this book - but it is an awesome reference on "how to use" a lot of ingredients. Had a sudden windfall of brussel sprouts? This book will tell you how to prep them for cooking. Need to boil an egg? You'll get a clear explanation of soft and hard boiling, as well as poaching and all sorts of other things to do with eggs.
Tried and tested. Dependable. And thick enough to make a good booster!
This one gets a five spoon rating on my scale of must have books.

Friday, October 24, 2008

east buffalo chicken

We like Buffalo wings just as much as anyone. The problem I have with them is that you end up paying a heckuva lot of money for not a lot of meat. And don't even get me started on dealing with chicken wing bones...

So here's our improved version... lots of meat, lots of flavor (lots of spice!) and no bones. We call it "East Buffalo Chicken" because, well, we live East of Buffalo, and we live on East Buffalo Street. Cool, eh?

East Buffalo Chicken
(serves two)
2 boneless chicken breasts, cut into wide strips*
pure olive oil
3 Tbsp hot sauce (use your favorite)
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
Louisiana Seasoning ver. 2.0 (find recipe here)

*okay, I'm cheating here. We like to keep a bag of frozen chicken breast tenderloins in the freezer for a variety of dishes. These bags o' chicken can be found at your local wholesale warehouse-style store, and sometimes at your local grocery store. You could also do what Bobby and Shelly do and pick up extra chicken when you see a good price, and pop it in the freezer.

I like the frozen tenderloins because I can drop them in pan frozen, and they STILL cook up quickly. What can I say, I'm all about the easy.

1. Heat about a tablespoon, or two, of pure olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. When the oil starts to ripple slightly, carefully place the chicken in the skillet to cook. While the chicken cooks, sprinkle a generous amount of the Louisiana seasoning over the chicken.
2. When the one side is cooked, flip the chicken and hit the other side with the seasoning. Continue cooking until it's almost done.
3. Now, take your utensil of choice (I prefer a slightly flat-edged spoon) and go medieval on the chicken to break it up into bite-sized pieces. Let the chicken finish cooking.
4. Move the chicken to the outside of the skillet, and drop in the butter to melt.
5. Add the hot sauce, stir just to combine, and turn off the heat. It's like this... further heating will cause the butter to seperate and leave your sauce very oily instead of creamy (the sauce will "break"... yup, that's a cooking term for "fail". Use it sometime, and watch the looks you get.).
6. Serve and enjoy!
We like to serve the chicken over steamed white rice, with a big honkin' (that's a technical term) dollop of bleu cheese dressing. Serve up a side of your choice and you're good to go.
(that's spinach saddled up next to the chicken right there.)

Thursday, October 23, 2008

herbed butter and crostini

We seem to have a string of quick and easy sides lately, so how about another? This hardly constitutes a recipe, but it's ridiculously easy to do, and adds a nice little touch to a dinner. Also, you sound cool saying "crostini."

Basically, just take half a stick of butter and place it into a bowl on the counter to soften.
Meanwhile, cut a loaf of french bread into 1/4" slices, spread them on a baking sheet, and put them in a 375F oven for about 8-10 minutes -- enough to brown the edges and turn them slightly crispy.
As the butter softens, mix in about 2-3 teaspoons of dried herbs. This could also be done with chili powder, garlic powder, or any other combination of herbs and spices you can think of.
Well, not much more to say about mixing herbs in butter and spreading it on bread, so I'll leave it right there!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

easy sides: rosemary roasted potatoes with garlic

We have one little "thing" in our household... I like potatoes, and Regina, well, let's just say that she'd rather eat something else. So you could imagine my joy when Regina came back from a local farm market and handed me a sack containing a bunch of red potatoes. And yes, she was smiling.

Here's my really simple-quick and dee-licious way to prepare them, even for a weeknight.

And if you were wondering, these are "Regina-approved"... so I got that going for me... which is nice.
Rosemary Roasted Potatoes with Garlic

small potatoes, about 3-4 per person
3-4 fresh rosemary sprigs, stripped and loosely chopped
1 Tbsp. minced garlic (fresh is best, but "jarlic" works great for this dish.)
pure olive oil
fresh ground black pepper
kosher salt

1. Preheat your oven to 400°F, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper (makes clean up that much easier... I said this was an "easy side."

2. Wash and coarse dice the potatoes. There's a whole lotta flavor in those skins, so leave 'em on. If you want to save time and dice the taters in advance, just be sure to store them in a bowl of cold water to prevent them from oxidizing, and be sure to drain them well before continuing.
3. Add the drained potatoes to a mixing bowl. I LOVE red taters.
4. Add the rosemary, garlic, a few grinds of pepper, a few pinches of kosher salt, and then drizzle on about 1-2 Tbsp. of the olive oil.
5. Stir to combine.
6. Spread the taters out onto the parchment-lined baking sheet, being sure to spread everything out to a single layer.

I noticed that there just wasn't enough black pepper in it already, so I added just a bit more... and a bit more salt... and a bit of dried parsley.
7. Roast at 400°F for about 20-30 minutes, depending on your oven. We have a convection oven (swanky!), so it only took about 20 minutes.
8. When done, move the hot taters to a serving bowl, and um, serve.These were so good, that I was thinking about making these up some Sunday morning (we can shift the waffles to dinner) and serving them with eggs and country sausage. Mmmm... tastygood.

We had enough taters for two meals, so a few nights later, I traded the rosemary for dill and parsley and it came out great. Explore your herbs and spices, come up with a few variations of your own... just don't forget to share.


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

crockpot mac and cheese

This is a super-easy mac and cheese that you can throw together in under 10 minutes... and then wait 3 hours to eat. I'm making this for a Sunday ham dinner, should be a great side item, ready in about the same time as the ham takes to cook.

crockpot mac and cheese
16 oz elbow macaroni
4 T butter
1 pint whipping cream
2 eggs, beaten
3 cups shredded extra sharp cheddar
1 cup shredded mozzarella
1 t ground mustard
1 t paprika
1 t dried thyme
fresh ground pepper

1. Boil the macaroni, drain, then place in crockpot.
2. Cut the butter into small pieces, then mix into the still warm macaroni until it melts.
3. Mix in whipping cream, then the beaten eggs.

4. Mix in the cheeses, reserving some (1/2 cup or so) for adding to the top later. Add the spices and mix well.
5. Turn the crockpot to low and cook for about 2.5 hours.

6. If your crockpot can put in the oven, heat the oven to 400F, sprinkle the remaining cheese across the top, and put in the oven until the cheese melts -- about 10 minutes.

I'm certainly not calling this the greatest mac and cheese ever, but it's pretty easy to put together. I'll try to make some improvements on it in the future. Any suggestions? Anyone?

Monday, October 20, 2008

homemade mustard take I

I love mustard. It's easily my favorite condiment. I've decided to try my hand at making my own. This will be the first in what will likely be several installments of my experiences (good and bad) in making homemade mustard.

Ultimately I'll want to make mustard utilizing some of my homebrewed beer. But first, I thought I'd try one of the more basic recipes I could find. This one is based on a recipe published by Emeril Lagasse. As you'll see, I made a few substitutions for ingredients I didn't have on hand, or had recently run out of. (No McCormick, I'm not paying you $3.72 for 1 ounce of white pepper.)

Homemade Mustard, Take I
3 T yellow mustard seed
3 T brown mustard seed
1/3 c white wine
1/3 c white wine vinegar
1 T onion powder
1/4 t cinnamon
1/4 t black pepper

1. Mix everything together in a small glass bowl and put in the fridge overnight.

2. Good morning! Blend everything together in a blender or a small food processor until you achieve the desired consistency (pasty).
3. Store in an air-tight container in the fridge.

• It took me about 3-4 minutes with the food processor before it started to come to a mustard consistency. As the seeds are ground up, they start mixing with the liquid to thicken it.

• The mustard was quite strong in flavor, but has calmed down a good bit with some aging. It still has a pungent kick to it -- nice if you like a spicy mustard.

• From reading I did after I made the first batch, I found that the darker mustard seeds are stronger in flavor. I think next time I will scale back the proportion of those a bit.

This would go great with some freshly baked soft pretzels. I wonder where I could find some of those?

Sunday, October 19, 2008

sunday morning scones

My friend Jeff gave me this recipe for blueberry scones, which I found ultimately comes from Cook Illustrated. I've made these quite a few times now, and they've been a hit each time. Recently I've found a couple techniques to make them a bit easier, and have been playing around with the fillings.

sunday morning scones
1 stick of unsalted butter, frozen
2 T butter, melted
1/2 cup milk (original recipe called for whole, but 1% turned out fine)
1/2 cup sour cream
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 t baking powder
1/4 t baking soda
1/2 t salt

for blueberry scones:
1 cup blueberries (helps to freeze them)

for cinnamon chocolate pecan scones:
1/2 cup crushed pecans
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips (or crushed chocolate bar)
cinnamon sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 425F.

2. Grate the frozen butter. You can use a box grater and it'll take 15 minutes, or you can use the grating attachment for a food processor, and it will take 30 seconds (and your hand won't ache.) Put the grated butter back into the freezer until ready.
3. Whisk the milk and sour cream together, and put in the fridge until ready.
4. Mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt together.

5. Add the frozen butter to the dry mixture. Coat the butter by tossing it with your fingers.
6. Pour the milk mixture into the butter & flour mixture. Fold carefully until combined, then move the dough to a floured work surface.

7. Knead the dough just enough that it holds together fairly well. Be careful not to overknead. The dough is going to be a bit on the dry side.
8. Roll the dough out into a 12" square. Fold it into thirds top to bottom -- kind of like a letter. Fold it again into thirds left to right, leaving you with about a 4" square. Place this in the freezer for a bit while you get some coffee on. A fresh ground French Roast will be nice -- I'll take mine black, thanks.
9. Roll out the dough again into a 12" square. Place the appropriate filling material evenly all across the dough, and press it down so that it sticks. Fold it in thirds again -- top to bottom. Press it down to form a flat, 12" x 4" log of dough.
10. Cut the log in half across the short side. Cut each half in half again, forming 4 equally sized rectangles. Cut each of those rectangles diagonally. You should now have 8 triangles.
11. Lay the triangles onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Brush the melted butter onto the top of each one. Sprinkle cinnamon sugar on the chocolate pecan scones, or turbinado sugar (sold as Sugar in the Raw) on the blueberry scones.
12. Bake for about 20 minutes or until golden brown on the tops. Cool for as long as you can manage to withstand the smell. Enjoy.

These have been a hit every time I've made them. They reheat really well, if they make it longer than the first hour or so.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Building Tastebud Memories

It never ceases to amaze me how powerfully the senses of taste and smell are connected to our memories. I think that must be why we turn to favorite recipes from childhood - especially around the holidays - those little mouthfuls of memories that take us back to the magic of the season as it was when we were young.

Matt's pretzels from yesterday's post were more than just a tasty treat last holiday season, they were a special memory for me. It was not exactly a holiday memory - but these big puffy soft hot pretzels brought back memories of my own childhood attempt at pretzels, straight out of Cricket Magazine - of which I was an avid reader. I still have them all - from Volume I Issue I on up for about 5 years. I am saving them to share with the Munchkin when he is old enough - and I hope that he finds as much enjoyment in them as I did.

In the meantime, we are starting to share the kitchen with the Munchkin, giving him more and more of a role in "helping" as we cook, create, and consume, starting to build his own Tastebud Memories.

I wonder, when he grows, what taste or smell will bring him back to his childhood? I am sure it won't be the same as mine, or Matt's or Bobby's.

What is your tastebud memory?

Friday, October 17, 2008

golden brown & delicious

Note: This is another repost from my MattTheWebguy blog. It kinda explains my "condition". Hope you enjoy it!

After a weekend of holiday prep, cooking and baking (and a few days of a nasty tension headache), I hung up the apron for an enjoyable Christmas Day with Regina and Boomper, the Boy Wonder.

But after making "Southern" Russian Teacakes, a crock pot full of three-bean chili, a pot of Greens 'n Beans soup, a pot of Chicken Soup with Orzo, Chocolate AND Chocolate-Peanut Butter Truffles, a huge gingerbread cookie boy, and two other doughs that I just ran out of time to bake (but will be a nice treat next month), the day off of cooking left me with a bit of cook's withdrawal.

As Boomper and I sat on the living room floor, playing with the Mr. Potato Heads that Santa left under the tree, I spied one of the many accessories Aunt Cathy brought back from Disneyworld: a small plastic Mickey-shaped soft pretzel. I had found my inspiration...

I soon set forth to track down the recipe I remembered from the "Pretzel Logic" episode of Alton Brown's Good Eats on Food Network. With printed page in hand, I presented my idea to Regina, and then headed to the kitchen to make sure I had everything I needed. We decided to have them with dinner, so I had some time to plan and prep.

A few hours before dinner, I started the dough. I gave up on 'active dry' yeast a long time ago in favor of instant yeast. I like the instant yeast because when I'm making pizza dough, or baking bread in the bread machine, it can be added to the dry ingredients. No proofing necessary.

This recipe called for for proofing the active dry yeast in lukewarm (who WAS Luke, and why was he always so-so warm?!?), salt and sugar, so I decided to proof the instant yeast. I swear I could hear the little yeasties burpin' and tootin' (well, that's what they do). Soon the yeast was nice and foamy, and ready for the flour and melted butter.

After a thorough mixing, kneading and a one-hour rise, the dough was ready to be portioned, rolled, and pretzeled.

Now comes the science. Prior to baking, each pretzel took a 30-second dip in pan of boiling water-baking soda solution. Dipping each pretzel in this slightly "basic" solution, helps the pretzel brown to a deeper mahoghany finish, helping the pretzel look more like a pretzel, and less like a funky-shaped dinner roll.

Each pretzel then got a quick brushing of eggwash, and a sprinkle of Kosher salt, and then into the oven. Yes, pretzel salt is ideal, but I wasn't planning on heading to the grocery store just for it. Maybe on my next trip.

The picture above is all that is needed to tell of the end result. That, and the "yummy" I got from Boomper. That one makes it all worthwhile.

If at all possible, keep an eye out in your TV listing for this episode of Good Eats, as it has a great explanation on the whole process, in a rather entertaining way. And follow the link below for the recipe and instructions: Good Eats Homemade Soft Pretzels