Fuss-free Halloween Treats

DSC_0002Because the bags and bags of candy lying around the week of Halloween aren’t enough… I thought, “Hey, let’s make that bark stuff where we pile it all together and coat it in chocolate!”

So easy – and it does kind of look like a party on a plate.

I modified the recipe here because I couldn’t find the Halloween Oreos, so I used brownie crisps, instead. The boys had fun stealing candy while I tried to make it before all the ingredients were gone.

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Oh! And I almost forgot! The other day I made these silly mummy dogs to help us get into the Halloween spirit…also super easy and a big hit.

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Yes, they are exactly what they look like. Hot dogs (organic, non-cured, non-nitrate of course ;-)) wrapped in crescent rolls and baked…with mustard dots for eyes. The boys had a good laugh at breakfast and started asking when they could wear their costumes.

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Well, they aren’t THAT scary. ūüôā

Happy Halloween Week!!

The kitchen is overrun…and Father’s Day!

Each year at about this time I have one of my favorite “problems.” ¬†Remember this? Well this year we have the bounty of our CSA share, a generous co-worker and my in-laws’ incredible garden (they have tomato plants growing “wild” in their compost pile that are producing more tomatoes than any plants in my garden ever have – true story.) I feel kind of fortunate, actually, that my garden is full of weeds at the moment – we never made the time to get anything in it before it got too hot…you know, back in February – because I don’t know what I’d do with any more vegetables!

Tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers, peppers, basil , squash, and more tomatoes. I’ve made zucchini cakes and zucchini bread…two kinds of pickles…squash casserole and even pickled some peppers. But we’re not talking about any of that today. Tomatoes are what we are talking about today. I’m not a huge fan of canning, though I wish I were. But I do like to make big batches of things and freeze them. Like tomato sauce.

I read a bunch of different recipes for tomato sauce and settled on a combination of two, with some adjustments for my own laziness. I’m not going to peel tomatoes. I’m just not going to do it. And I sort of seeded them…if you count cutting them in half and quickly squeezing them over the sink as “seeding.” What can I say? I like to cook, but come on, I also have a million other things I must get to before midnight.

So with those exceptions, I generally followed the recipes and wound up with a tomato sauce that my husband said was one of the best he’s ever tasted – and that included all those trips to Italy…I was sure to clarify that. ¬†He made sure I kept my notes. And also wanted to know how much of a stash was going in the freezer. Oh, and could he please have this for Father’s Day over gnocchi followed by¬†blueberry pie?

This sauce is not unlike the Bolognese sauce…but without the meat. And I only reduced twice instead of three times. ¬†Oh, another thing the recipe does not call for is the blender. I added that part to make up for the fact that I did not peel them. ¬†And also because I think it looks prettier when it’s all smooth like that.

I think it clings to the pasta and meatballs better when it’s smooth like this… divine!

And so went Father’s Day dinner…and the boys liked it as much as he did, so that’s a bonus. ¬†(I didn’t tell them about all the other vegetables that were in there!)

Followed up by blueberry pie with “yuck” cream (as we call it in our house thanks to my younger brother’s honesty at a semi-fancy restaurant one time when we were little. The chef asked him how he liked it just as my brother skimmed a big spoonful of real whipped cream, sans sugar, off the top of his dessert…disappointed and confused that it didn’t taste like CoolWhip as he’d expected, he looked up and said, “It’s YUCK.” Cue: my mother’s mortification. My brother has never lived it down. However, that chef would be pleased to know that CoolWhip has rarely, if ever, been in my house, I just can’t eat the stuff, and I happily whip fresh cream when we need it…with a little bit of sugar and vanilla, just in case my brother shows up.)

A perfect pie for the Fourth of July, if you are so inclined.  The recipe can be found here.

And finally, tomato sauce…

Tomato Sauce

6-8 pounds of fresh tomatoes

2 TB olive oil

2 TB butter

8-10 cloves of garlic, minced

1 large onion, chopped

1 green bell pepper, chopped

4-6 carrots, chopped

2 cups vegetable stock

2 bay leaves

2 cups red wine

1/4 – 1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped (depending on taste)

Cut tomatoes in halves or quarters and squeeze out as many seeds as you can. Coarsely chop tomatoes and set aside.

In a large stock pot over medium heat, melt butter and add olive oil. Add garlic, onions, bell pepper and carrots and cook until they start to soften, 5-8 minutes. Add tomatoes, vegetable stock and bay leaves. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a low simmer and let reduce for at least 90 minutes. (Watch for the lines on the inside of the pot to tell how much liquid has cooked off Рit should be at least an inch, two is better.)  Repeat with the wine and reduce for 2 hours. Add chopped basil for the last 10 minutes and remove bay leaves. Allow to cool enough to go into a blender (or use an immersion blender in the pot) and process until smooth.

If freezing, be sure to cool completely before placing in bags for freezer. ¬†Also, I made this the following week with the next batch of tomatoes and I omitted the peppers and carrots…simpler flavor, but just as yummy.

Best Summer Dessert Ever

That’s what we call this in my house.

It was first served to us at a pot-luck-style dinner party at our house in Seattle by Sarah Casey (well, that wasn’t her last name then, but it is now.) In my recipe box it is filed as “Best Summer Dessert Ever compliments of Dave Casey’s girlfriend Sarah” and, well, he married her…so yeah, it’s pretty good.

The best part…also ridiculously easy.

I serve this in martini glasses sometimes, but this particular night I was feeling nostalgic for my grandmother and these were her glasses. They are funky vintage and I love them. But I’m telling you, you could serve this in a styrofoam cup and it would still be a hit!

Put these things into a serving dish of some kind:

Mango sorbet – not sherbet…a good quality sorbet…which can sometimes be hard to find, so you might have to make your own if you get addicted and then can’t find it in the store.

Raspberries

1 crushed up Bordeaux cookie (by Pepperidge Farms) or gingersnaps…I’m sure most cookies would be good, but I think not too sweet and definitely crunchy.

Slices of candied ginger (this stuff is amazing!) It can be tricky to find in the grocery store, too, sometimes. I find it in the bulk section sometimes and other times it is with all the bagged nuts and trail mix and dried fruits. It looks like this when it is whole:

Credit: Game Widow from Recipes Wikia

If you like ginger at all, you can just eat it like this. It’s like a sugar-coated gummy candy for grown-ups.

The sugary stuff you can see here is the ginger. I sliced it, but some people find that too strong, so grating it is a good alternative.

A sprig of mint

One more cookie for decoration

And then…drizzle some Amaretto over the whole thing. ¬†We used 2-3 spoonfuls, but you do what floats your boat.

I’m telling you all that wonderful sweet, tart, spicy, minty, cool, crunchy put together in one Amaretto-drenched bite is a little bit of heaven. Especially when it is nearly in the triple digits outside. And yes, it’s doing that already here.

Here are the exact directions as given to me in the summer of 2004, all in one place, for those of you who get distracted by photos and my commentary. You know who you are.

Best Summer Dessert Ever

2 scoops of mango sorbet in a fun dish or martini glass

finely grate candied ginger over the scoops

top with fresh raspberries

garnish with mint and gingersnap cookies (Or Pepperidge Farm Bordeauxs)

drizzle with several teaspoons of Amaretto (or more, to taste)

(and then taste and applaud!!!)

Another Birthday Already

He’s six. And the next chapter in the super hero story is Green.

These are the sugar cookies made for his classroom party at school. He ventured away from our traditional “birthday cake” this year and went all-cookie. It was a fun change. I made a giant sugar cookie cake for his family party…which was a total experiment as I’d never made one like that before. Based on the rave reviews at the party, I think it worked out well. Of course, it was mostly family, so maybe they were just being nice. (But the platter was totally empty at the end of the day – which rarely happens with a regular cake!)

I wish I’d taken a picture of the inside of it when it was cut…it was really chewy and moist with a kind-of-crunchy outside. In my house that is pretty much the definition of a perfect cookie. Sometimes my experiments work out!

We added a new birthday tradition to the mix this year. I’ve seen this wreath on Pinterest over the past few weeks and I thought it would be great to have one to pull out whenever we are celebrating a birthday. We already have “Happy Birthday” banners for each of the boys that we put up in the living room, so this is just an addition to the celebration decor.

It was a very easy little project – as long as you have nearly 200 balloons on hand!

Key points to making one of these:

Leave the plastic on the wreath so it doesn’t shed straw everywhere.

Use greening pins (found in the floral sections at craft stores) for an easy way to stick the balloons and pipe cleaners onto the wreath.

The original tutorial (linked above) says she used 144 balloons. I used about 200. It didn’t quite look full enough to me at 144, so I kept going. But the back is left bare.

I also thought about adding some ribbon to it, but I didn’t. I think that could be really cute…maybe I’ll add it next time we bring it out for a birthday.

And one more little piece of birthday fun was the early morning balloon gauntlet right outside the birthday boy’s door. Yet another thing I’ve seen floating around on Pinterest that was a big hit. I think the boys played in it for an hour when they got up. ¬†Which was really nice for me while I was busy getting birthday breakfast on the table!

I highly recommend the celebration gauntlet the next time you are party planning!

I was quite happy to have all these projects to keep me busy…it prevented me from really thinking about the fact that he is already SIX. (insert deep sigh here.)

And here’s the cookie details for those of you who might crave a giant cookie.

Sugar Cookie Dough (especially good for icing and bouquet-type cookies)

1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, at room temperature

3 cups sugar

4 eggs

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (for the large cookie cake.  If making smaller cookies, use 5 cups.)

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

Cream together butter and sugar. Add eggs and vanilla mix well. Add dry ingredients and mix well. Chill dough in refrigerator at least an hour. Preheat oven to 400. (For small cookies, roll dough out to 1/4-1/2 inch thickness, cut and place 1 inch apart on a cookie sheet. Bake 6-8 minutes.) For the large cookie cake, press the dough into a spring form pan (mine is 9-10″ I think.) Cover with foil and bake for at least 20 minutes. (Now this is where it gets a little sketchy because I just kept checking it every few minutes and I’m not entirely sure how many more minutes it was in there. I’m going to say between 24 and 30 total.) ¬†I was just waiting for the center to firm up…and the toothpick test was a good way to tell. The foil kept the edges and the top from getting too brown and too crispy, but you can take it off at the end for the last few minutes.)

Once it was completely cooled, I removed it to a rack and iced it with store-bought cake icing. I cut it like a pie…and, come to think of it, save one tiny taste I took while slicing, I never even got a piece! Maybe next time.

 

Warning: The contents of this post may be habit forming

Have you had these??

I bought some of these several weeks ago…and they’ve been haunting me since. They aren’t available at my regular grocery store (Thank Heavens) so I only get them when I go to the fancy-schmancy grocery store, like I did today.

I don’t even really like marshmallows that much. I mean, sure, I eat the occasional s’more, but that’s about it. And I made my own marshmallows once for fun. But I’ve never tasted anything like these. Never.

They are SO flavorful and like a cloud. Last time I got the Triple Citrus flavor – and assortment of orange, lemon and lime – and I bet I checked the ingredient list like 100 times trying to figure out how they were so full of such natural deliciousness. That’s the best part – there’s nothing in these you can’t pronounce. Really.

I got these coconut ones for my husband. I’m not a coconut fan. However, these marshmallows are so good I was tempted to try one just to see if I would still like it in spite of the coconut! But I didn’t.

The label says they are in Katy, TX. So check your stores if you are near there. And if you live here, I get them at the Central Market on Broadway.

Have mercy.

And this is not an advertisement. Queen Bee has no idea who I am. I’m just a loyal addict fan.

And we’re back…

 

Were you beginning to wonder?

 

Did you think maybe I’d just fallen off the edge of the earth?

 

Well, I didn’t. I’m here. I’m just not really cooking much. I mean, not anything terribly interesting. The littlest one is back on a very restricted diet and all kinds of supplements – we’re still trying to figure out what his deal is – and with all the end-of-school-year craziness and a new office, I’ve been feeling pretty good to just get ANYthing on the table. Some weeks are like that, right?

 

So, it’s cakes to the rescue!

 

In the midst of all of that other craziness, my mother and I took four weeks of cake decorating classes. We had a really fun time and we learned a ton of cool tricks. So…here you are…CAKES!!

 

This was my first practice cake - the buttercream base. Mostly in this class we were just learning the basics of building and icing a cake...
This is my mom's first practice cake - her buttercream really looked more like fondant. That was one of the cool tricks we learned.
One of our classmates' cakes - look at that gorgeous flower transfer!

 

Flowers don't go over so well in my house...so how about a little Batman?

I’m sorry to say that I did not manage to click shots of the finished versions of the flower and the cupcake – they were both quite lovely, though. I did get a shot of the Batsignal cake…which was a huge hit when I got home. Is there anything cooler than Batman to a 5-year-old? (And to certain late-30s-year-olds?)

Look! It's a kind-of-crooked Batsignal! Well, I did say practice cake, right?

As long as I don’t wind up on Cake Wrecks, I’ll be just fine.

After we learned cake basics we moved on to a whole host of other flower and border techniques…which we practiced on cupcakes. Who doesn’t love cupcakes? I mean, even me, who doesn’t really like cake all that much, will indulge in the occasional cupcake – they are just so cute.

My refrigerator has been full of these colorful bags of icing for the past month.
My mom's practice flowers...aren't they cute?
Some of my practice flowers...I love the messy mum flowers.

 

Cupcakes of classmates...I really loved the colors of her icing - so dramatic. I wish the photos were better, because these were more beautiful than they look here.

 

More cupcakes in progress from a classmate - such vivid colors!

 

I think the cupcakes were my favorite part of the class...

\

...these little flowers were so easy and so pretty.

For the final class we each had to do a layer cake utilizing a variety of the techniques we learned. Lucky for me and my mother, one of our dear family friends was having a birthday that weekend…so our finale cakes got to go to a party!

One of our classmate's cakes...we learned roses at this last class. Isn't hers pretty?

 

Another cake in progress...he was making this for his grandmother. So sweet!

 

My mom's cake...which you will see again...because she redid it later.

 

My final cake with those wonderful messy mum flowers.

 

Lincoln's favorite part of cake decorating class, of course.
This is my mom's cake, again, redone. She wasn't pleased with it the first time. I am so impressed that she could take stuff off and put new stuff on again - very cool.
And here were our cakes at the birthday party... (sorry for the phone camera quality here.)

Had enough cakes yet? ūüôā

I have. I promise that there will be real food coming soon.

Happy Summer Everyone!

 

 

 

Holiday Baking: Two Breads and a Cookie

You know the thing you have to have or it just isn’t Christmas? That’s what this post is about. Every year around Christmas my mom would make Cranberry Pumpkin Bread. Nothing super-wham-a-dam fancy…just a nice, basic holiday bread…but it is so “Christmas” for me.

She would make huge batches of it…some to keep and some to give away. I can vividly remember eating it for breakfast well into January…toasted with big globs of butter on it.

I decided I was going to make multiple batches of it this year to give to my son’s teachers and to use for our family holiday goodie swap. Which was a good decision because it is so easy to make.

I just love that pumpkin color. And then when you add the bright cranberries…it screams “holidays” to me.

I baked one batch in some mini-bundt cake pans so they would look a little bit like wreaths. And if I were a better blogger, I would have remembered to take a photo of the cute little loaves BEFORE I wrapped them up as gifts. But I’m not, so I didn’t.

But you probably still get the idea, right?

Clear plastic baggies, some snowflake stickers and ribbons…

…and how cute are those little Christmas-themed brads on the gift tags? I found them in the scrapbook section at the craft store. Voila! Teacher gifts.

For my family party I baked the pumpkin bread in mini loaf pans and I also added some gingerbread cakes. I had never made this recipe before…but I figured if it didn’t work out, I could just give them the mini loaves and they wouldn’t know the difference.

This recipe is a little different from other gingerbread I’ve seen. It has crystallized ginger in it…which means the ginger flavor is more pronounced than usual. Which is great if you like ginger…and not so great if you are like my husband who said, “Too much. It’s bitter or something.”

There’s the batter, dark with molasses, and the ginger and chocolate chips being added at the end. I knew they wouldn’t be very sweet because there’s not much sugar in them…perfect batter for tea cakes. To be eaten with coffee or latte or hot cocoa or tea or whatever other hot beverage you prefer. Or even Mountain Dew, as my father suggested.

He loved them, by the way. Of course, now that I’ve shared the Mountain Dew pairing advice, you are probably skeptical about his taste.¬†

One thing we can all agree on – they are cute little cakes.

Once paired with the mini loaves of pumpkin bread, my family swap gifts were ready.

And I got to use more of those cute little brads on these tags, too.

That’s two breads. One old. One new. Both yummy. (Unless you are my husband, and then just one is yummy.)

Now for the cookie.

This is also a holiday tradition from my childhood. And my father’s childhood. And it’s him who makes them every year.

That’s another tradition I remember vividly…my mother trying to be nice about the mess he always made in the kitchen…she wasn’t always very successful and he always made a mess!

I’ve rarely gone without these cookies in December. Even when we lived in Seattle, I would get a little tin of them in the mail.

Aren’t they cute? You can practically pop a whole one right in your mouth. And I don’t know about you, but that’s a plus in my book. They also have a fun sort of surprising ingredient. OK, it’s not so surprising if you know the name of the cookie. Pfeffern√ľsse.

Well, these are a version of pfeffern√ľsse, anyway. Roughly translated (German, Danish, Dutch) into “peppernuts.” ¬†There’s no shortage of different versions of these little cookies – they’ve been around forever and each family tended to have their own spin on them. More typical is the peppernut that is in a small ball, rolled in powdered sugar. My family’s version puts the powdered sugar in between in the form of icing. But they all have pepper in them. That’s right. Ground black pepper. A delightful foil to the sweet, nutty flavor of the molasses.

My father remembers getting a tin every year from his grandmother. We’ve always had them. Just isn’t Christmas without them.

MY MOM’S CRANBERRY PUMPKIN BREAD

2 slightly beaten eggs

2 cups sugar

¬Ĺ cup oil

1 cup solid pack pumpkin

2 ¬ľ cups flour

1 TB pumpkin pie spice

1 tsp baking soda

¬Ĺ tsp salt

1 cup chopped cranberries

Combine eggs, sugar, oil and pumpkin ‚Äď mix well.¬† In a large bowl mix flour, pie spice, soda and salt.¬† Make well in center and pour pumpkin mixture in ‚Äď mix just until dry ingredients are moist.¬† Stir in cranberries.¬† Spoon batter into 2 greased and floured 8x 3 ¬ĺ x 2 ¬Ĺ in. aluminum loaf pans.¬† Bake for 1 hour at 350. (Adjust time to 40 minutes for mini loaf pans. Test center until done.)

CHOCOLATE GINGERBREAD TEA CAKES

2 1/4 cups white whole wheat flour (or 2 cups all-purpose flour)

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

1 1/2 tsp. ground ginger

1 tsp. cinnamon

1/4 tsp. each cloves and nutmeg

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted

3/4 cup molasses

1/4 C. water

1 large egg

1 C. buttermilk

1/2 cup diced crystallized ginger

1 cup mini chocolate chips

Grease and flour a mini muffin pan. (Or a 9×9 pan) Preheat the oven to 350¬į. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. Melt the butter in a heatproof measuring cup. Add the molasses to the cup, and pour into the dry ingredients, mixing to moisten. Add the water, stirring until everything is moistened. Whisk together the egg and buttermilk. Stir into the batter until it’s evenly combined. Stir in the crystallized ginger and chocolate chips. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, and bake for 15-18 minutes, depending on the size of your muffins (30 to 35 minutes for a 9×9 pan) or until the cake just begins to pull away from the edge of the pan. Remove from the oven and cool on a rack.

PFEFFERN√úSSE (PEPPERNUTS)

1 cup sugar

1 cup molasses

1 cup butter (1/2 lb.)

1 cup hot water

1 tsp. baking soda

1 scant tsp. ground black pepper

1 scant tsp. cloves

1 scant tsp. ginger

1 scant tsp. salt

about 5 cups flour

Put baking soda in hot water. Cream sugar, molasses, butter together. Add soda water mixture. Mix well. Add sifted dry ingredients (pepper, cloves, ginger, salt.) Then add enough flour for a spoon to stand. (Usually about 5 cups.) Let batter stand overnight in refrigerator.

Roll and cut into small circles. Bake 6 minutes at 400 degrees.

ICING

¬Ĺ cup soft butter, margarine, or shortening

1/8 tsp. salt

About 3 cups sifted confectioners sugar

About 1/8 – 1/4 cup milk or light cream

1 ¬Ĺ tsp. vanilla extract

Mix butter, salt, vanilla and 1 cup sugar at medium speed. Add milk and rest of sugar alternately until very smooth. Spread icing on half of cookies and make into sandwiches.