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!!

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!!!)

Holiday Hen Party

My aunt hosts a great holiday get-together each year that her husband refers to as the “hen party.” ¬†She’s a wonderful hostess and we are always so happy to kick off the holidays with a yummy lunch and a goodie swap.

My aunt, grandmother and mother...and little Addison hiding her face at the end

Look at that pretty table! Christmas china and linens and freshly-polished silver…beautiful!

The other half of the table...and Addison is not hiding her face now. Such a cutie!

And since the hostess was taking the photos, she’s not in them! So I’ll just rave about her food instead. There was a green chili chicken stew that was so yum I could have just eaten that. Of course, I didn’t. There were too many other options: chips and guacamole and crackers and dips (including a wonderful pesto torte) and a huge green salad.

It was lovely.

I’m particularly grateful for holidays with my grandmother, whose health, as regular readers know, has been declining this past year.

My aunt's mother-in-law (left,) who is over 90, and my grandmother who is not yet 90.

We got to hear some great stories about how Laura, my aunt’s mother-in-law, used to bake for the holidays…and when I say “bake” I mean like you can’t imagine. Reportedly she produced hundreds of dozens of goodies every year for friends and neighbors. Did you hear that? HUNDREDS – plural. They were telling stories of how her dining room would be buried in containers of cookies and breads and endless treats. Amazing. Wish I could have seen that!

And, for the record, my husband’s favorite treat from this goodie swap was hers. I didn’t even get to try one. He ate them all.

Here’s the platter of holiday delights that I came home with. Let’s review:

Graham crackers covered with gooey goodness and chocolate. (Recipe Below)
These are called Fat Ladies...really, no need for further explanation. (Recipe below)
An oldie but a goodie, date-wrapped pecans rolled in powdered sugar.
Chocolate cookies with chocolate-mint candies melted on top.
Dubbed "Reindeer Droppings," they couldn't be simpler. Peanuts and marshmallows coated in chocolate. The other variation is cashews and dried cranberries. Who doesn't love "candy making" without the pesky thermometer? (Recipe below)
And finally, my husband's favorite, the glorious macaroon. Wish I could tell you how yummy they were, but I can't. So pretty though!

I love this annual tradition for several reasons. Simple time with loved ones is up there. A fantastic lunch that is served to me is also high on the list. But it’s really nice to have this gorgeous tray of delicacies on my kitchen counter without having to do any of the work, too! (And my visitors the past few days have been pretty happy about that as well.)

Now, I didn’t include my contribution to the swap. That’s coming in another post. But I do have recipes for some of these sweets, so don’t despair.

And also, one last photo of my family…and our gorgeous hostess is IN this one! Let’s hear it for the party planners!!

Me, my mom, my aunt/our hostess, my grandmother and my aunt. Or, I could list them all by their "grandma names" because that is fun, too: Me, Gigi, Aunt Granny/Grammy, MeMaw and NaiNai.

CHOCOLATE CHIP TOFFEE GRAHAMS

as written to me by Aunt Kathy

11 whole graham crackers broken into squares
1 cup  butter
1 cup  sugar
1 tsp  ground cinnamon
1/2 c  chopped pecans
1 6oz package chocolate chips (I use a bit more)
Arrange graham crackers in single layer in jelly pan. Combine butter and sugar in a small saucepan and cook over medium heat. (Slight boil  2 minutes.) Stir in cinnamon and pecans. Pour over graham crackers and bake at 350 for 10-12 minutes. While still warm out of oven sprinkle with chocolate chips and cool for 5 minutes. Transfer to wax paper and refrigerate. I put in a tin can and freeze. They are best  when cold.

 

REINDEER NUGGET CANDY (aka Reindeer Droppings)

from the newspaper, source: Teegie Collins

6 oz semi-sweet chocolate bark

12 oz dark chocolate chips

8 oz lightly salted dry roasted peanuts

5-6 oz small white marshmallows

Microwave the bark and chocolate chips for 30 seconds on high. Stir. Continue for 30 seconds longer (until melted.) Stir in peanuts and marshmallows. Drop on foil by the tablespoon. Let stand until hard.

Really. That’s it. So…any last minute need for a holiday treat? No excuses. You can whip these up in less than 5 minutes. OK, onto the Fat Ladies…

 

FAT LADIES

from “Flavor” the San Antonio Junior League cookbook – and a big THANK YOU to Marquel for my copy! I’m pretty much restricted from purchasing any more cookbooks…but no one said anything about getting them as gifts! Love that.

1 roll refrigerator chocolate chip cookies

1 6-oz package semi-sweet chocolate chips

32 Kraft light caramels

1/4 cup light cream

1 cup chopped pecans

Cut cookie dough 1/4 inch thick and press into a 9x12x2 pan. Bake at 375¬į for 20 minutes. While baking, melt caramels into cream. Cool cookie slightly and sprinkle with chocolate chips. Spread with caramel mixture. Top with chopped pecans and refrigerate. Cut into squares.

Next: Cranberry Pumpkin Bread, Chocolate Gingerbread Tea Cakes and Peppernuts.

Turkey Pie and Turkey Cakes

Tonight we had turkey for dinner AND dessert.

Aren’t those cute? In an ugly-turkey-kind-of-way?

My son helped make them…and by “helped” I mean that he stood in the kitchen next to me while I made them and asked every thirty seconds if he could have a candy corn, or a sprinkle, or a mini chocolate chip and also “when will my turkey cupcake be ready so I can eat it?!”

That’s not entirely true. He did put on the little chocolate eyes and some of the sprinkles and tried to help with the fruit leather feathers, which were sort of sticky-tricky. ¬†But mostly he was scavenging for stray candy pieces and waiting for his bird.

We found these cute little cakes here (along with a bunch of other clever ideas) and promptly went out and got the goods to copy them…and also the ingredients to make a Turkey Pot Pie, which was much more yummy than the cupcakes, in my book.

It’s been awhile since we had pie for dinner, and I was glad to have it back. What an easy and versatile comfort food…and timely for any leftover turkey you might have in your near future.

I used a store-bought crust, pre-roasted turkey and pre-chopped veggies. I can hardly even call this cooking, right?! And it got the stamp of approval from the four-year-old, which is always nice. Although he might have just been saying that to hurry me along to the turkey cupcakes. Whatever the case, it was a fun way to kick-off the last week before Thanksgiving…turkey all around!

To make the turkey cupcakes you need:

cupcakes, frosted and covered with sprinkles

Nutter Butter cookies – turkey body

White icing or decorating gel – “glue” for eyes and beak and wattle

Mini chocolate chips – eyes

Candy corn – beak

Multi-colored fruit leathers – wattle and feathers

Toothpicks – to secure feathers

And if you want yours to look just like mine, you should also throw a pair of four-year-old hands in the mix to insure the turkeys all look cross-eyed!

Turkey Pot Pie

Adapted from allrecipes.com

1 10-inch double crust pie

4 tablespoons butter, divided

1 small onion, minced

3 stalks celery, chopped

3 carrots, diced

2 tablespoons dried parsley

1 teaspoon dried oregano

salt and pepper to taste

2 cubes chicken bouillon

2 cups water

4 potatoes, peeled and cubed

2-3 cups cubed cooked turkey

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

3/4 cup milk

Preheat oven to 425. Roll out bottom pie crust, press into a 10-inch pie pan, and set aside.

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large skillet over medium heat; add the onion, celery, carrots, parsley, oregano, and salt and pepper. Cook and stir until the vegetables are soft. Stir in the bouillon and water. Bring mixture to a boil. Stir in the potatoes, and cook until tender but still firm.

In a medium saucepan, melt the remaining 2 tablespoons butter. Stir in the turkey and flour. Add the milk, and heat through. Stir the turkey mixture into the vegetable mixture, and cook until thickened. Cool slightly, then pour mixture into the unbaked pie shell. Roll out the top crust, and place on top of filling. Flute edges, and make 4 slits in the top crust to let out steam.

Bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350 and continue baking for 20 minutes, or until crust is golden brown. Let sit 5-10 minutes before slicing and serving.

 

Birthday Pie…of the blueberry variety

I’ve been on a quest. For years.

My husband’s dream pie is blueberry. For ages he’s been asking me for blueberry pie. And I’ve found it particularly difficult to get just right. Too runny. Too gelatinous. Not enough berries. Soggy crust. Frustrating.

So I’ve tweaked and I’ve tweaked some more and, finally…I think I got it.

My dilemma with berry pies is the liquid. There’s so much of it. Usually, by the time I slice more than one piece of it, it might as well be cobbler for all the berries running all over the place. And yes, even after it is completely cooled. There are lots of suggestions out there for how to get a berry pie to firm up. I think I’ve tried most of them. And I found some that worked, well, they worked a little too well. The pie would nearly be stiff in the center…all wiggly and weird.

To create a filling that could stand up to slicing, but just barely, without the berries being embedded in a shiny, jello-like substance – that has been the blueberry pie grail.

An actual SLICE of blueberry pie - I was so excited!

I’ve used tapioca in the past. I’ve used flour. I’ve used corn starch. I’ve used pectin. I’ve cooked the berries first. I’ve not cooked them at all. I’ve used fresh and I’ve used frozen.

Here’s what I have settled on for now: corn starch (more of it than you might think), frozen berries, mostly wild (because they are smaller/less juicy) and some regular/larger berries (which are cooked down first), and a pie crust that is actually a p√Ęte bris√©e (because it can handle being a little thicker and makes a lovely lattice for the top.) Throw in some butter, nutmeg and lemon zest and there you have it. After his first slice the birthday boy announced, “This is MY pie. This is the one. I want this for my birthday from here on, like, until the end. Every one.” Which is when I said, “Gee, I sure hope I can remember how I made it. I didn’t exactly write anything down.” ¬†(I mean, really, doesn’t he know about my red velvet cake tradition??)

Ron’s Blueberry Pie (aka “The One”)

2 pints (4 cups) frozen wild blueberries + 1 cup large juicy (regular) blueberries (fresh or frozen)

¬ĺ cup sugar (5 oz)

scant ¬ľ cup corn starch (1.5 oz)

1 oz cold water ‚Äď for dissolving cornstarch

2 oz butter

1 teas lemon zest

1 teas nutmeg

1 recipe for pate brisee/ pie crust (double)*

Mash the 1 cup of regular berries with the sugar over medium heat and bring to a boil. Thicken with the corn starch dissolved in water. Simmer and add butter, zest, nutmeg. Stir into 2 pints of frozen berries and set aside.

*You can certainly use refrigerated pie crust here, I won‚Äôt tell! ¬†But if you want to up the ‚Äúscratch factor‚ÄĚ of this pie, I recommend a P√Ęte Bris√©e: place 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon sugar in a food processor and pulse to combine. Add 1 cup chilled, unsalted butter (2 sticks) cut into small pieces, one piece at a time until the mixture resembles coarse meal. With machine running, add anywhere from 1/4 to 1/2 cup ICE water a few tablespoons at a time ‚Äď just until the dough holds together ‚Äď no more than 30 seconds. Divide the dough in half, flatten into disks and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate at least an hour or overnight. Makes a double crust for 9-inch pie.

Have bottom crust prepared and in pie pan ‚Äď cool in refrigerator. When berry mixture has cooled slightly, add to crust. Use top crust for lattice. Refrigerate completed pie for at least 20 minutes. Egg wash top crust. (I actually forgot this part which is why the crust isn’t as golden as it should be.) Bake in preheated 425¬į oven for 20 minutes. Reduce heat to 350¬į and continue baking for 30-35 minutes, until crust is golden brown and filling seems to have set a little. COOL COMPLETELY before slicing. Serve with vanilla ice cream, of course.

A French trend continues with Daring Bakers

In keeping with my apparent French theme, here’s some more food made with lots and lots of butter. ¬†The September 2009 Daring Bakers’ Challenge was hosted by Steph of A Whisk and a Spoon. ¬†She chose the French treat Vols-au-Vent based on the puff pastry recipe by Michel Richard from the cookbook Baking With Julia by Dorie Greenspan.

vols-au-vent

I use puff pastry on occasion, but haven’t ever made my own and I expected it to be much more difficult than it was. ¬†The dough is some of the smoothest and silkiest I’ve ever worked with – very, very nice. ¬†And, just in case you were wondering, it’s the perfect dough to make when you have an extremely fussy newborn in your house. ¬†It’s OK if you have to stop and start one million times because this dough needs to go back in the refrigerator through the whole process to get cold again between “turns,” which is the technique of incorporating the layers of butter into the dough.

Typically these little vols-au-vents are filled with something savory, but they lend themselves nicely to sweet as well. ¬†By the time the pastries were finished, my boys had decided that my time in the kitchen was up…so I didn’t really get a chance to experiment will filling options like I wanted to. ¬†I did manage to get some berry filling and cream into one of them.

filled vols-au-vent

I only baked a few of these since I knew I wouldn’t really have time to do multiple fillings…and once baked they will only last a day or so in an air-tight container. ¬†However, this dough freezes beautifully, formed or not, and is great to have on hand since it can be used for so many things.

Like palmiers…or mini-palmiers:

mini palmiers

I love these pastry cookies. ¬†We used to get them at the awesome bakery across the street from the Pike Market in Seattle. ¬†These are tiny because I just used the pastry scraps to make them. ¬†But I have 2/3 of the dough still in the refrigerator…and according to my husband, palmiers is what I am doing with the rest of it. ¬†He may be right.

mini palmiers

I was delighted to do this challenge – fussy-baby-interruptions withstanding – because I love having a fundamental like this on-hand, and it’s so much better when I’ve made it myself! ¬†I can’t wait to see what’s next in the French culinary adventure…you’ll be the first to know!

puff pastry items

For tons of photos by other bakers and the full recipe and tips, visit The Daring Kitchen.

Daring Bakers’ Challenge: Marshmallows and Milanos

The July Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Nicole at Sweet Tooth. She chose Chocolate Covered Marshmallow Cookies and Milan¬†Cookies from pastry chef Gale Gand of the Food Network.

This is the other part of The Daring Kitchen website which I joined a month or so ago…remember the fish and the powders? ¬†Anyway, this is the first baking challenge I’ve done and I was excited for two reasons: ¬†I’ve always wanted to try homemade marshmallows and I *heart* Milano cookies. ¬†(Also being nine-plus months pregnant certainly helps in the chocolate craving department.)

The Mallows as the chocolate was setting up (sort of)
The Mallows as the chocolate was setting up (sort of)

Since it is particularly hot here in South Texas in late July, I did have a little trouble keeping the chocolate firm when these cookies were out of the refrigerator. ¬†Next time I will omit the oil from the coating mixture…although storing these in the ‘fridge wasn’t all that bad since they were like a cold, cloud puff of sugary treat each time I snagged another. ¬†Yum.

The cookie dough was easy to work with (although the recipe as written makes WAY more cookies than needed for the marshmallow and chocolate amounts.)  Thankfully, people were already discussing that on The Daring Kitchen forums and I knew to save back half of the cookie dough to use for something else (like blueberry tartlets!)  The cookies by themselves are a great little cinnamon shortbread and could be flavored in any number of ways Рa handy recipe to have around with or without the marshmallows.

Nice thin little shortbread cookies with marshmallow "kisses"
Thin little shortbread cookies with marshmallow "kisses"

The marshmallows were much easier to make than I imagined. ¬†However, they are sticky, sticky, sticky and need to be used immediately as they start to set-up fairly quickly. ¬†Just moments before the above photo was taken, I dropped my camera right on top on these and the tip of a kiss went smack dab into the lens cover and lens of the camera. ¬†I’m pretty sure the auto lens cover will never be the same again! ¬†What a mess!! ¬†I think I managed to salvage the camera…at least it is still taking photos. ¬†Anyway, there are all sorts of interesting ways to form marshmallows, as it turns out. ¬†I put mine in a cake decorator tool and pumped/piped it onto the cookies. ¬†Some people spread the marshmallows and then cut them. ¬†Others used an old-school flour mold method that looked really cool.

Don't they look like mini moon pies?
Don't they look like mini moon pies?

Overall, we loved these cookies and I will certainly be making them again sometime with different flavors mixed into the marshmallows…or a layer of caramel might be nice, too.

Now for those Milano cookies…

Milanos

Pepperidge Farm’s Mint Milanos are one of my very favorite cookies…I love to keep them in the freezer. ¬†So, I was delighted to try making these at home. ¬†The cookie dough is really more like a batter and gets piped out onto the cookie sheet…which was a test for my piping skills (or lack thereof!)

You can see how they start to spread on the warm cookie sheet
You can see how they start to spread on the warm cookie sheet

You can use a Silpat or a silicon baking mat on the cookie sheet to help get them really thin and crispy. ¬†I don’t have an honest-to-goodness Silpat baking mat (but would love one, hint, hint, to anyone who reads this and must buy me occasional gifts!) but my Kitchenaid silicon mat seems to work fairly well most of the time. ¬†These cookies take a little practice just because of the shaping issue – since you make them into little sandwiches, it would be nice for all the cookies to be as uniform as possible. ¬†Several bakers on the Daring Baker forums noted that if you let the dough/batter sit for a little while before piping, it holds up better and is a little easier to work with.

The filling is dark chocolate and orange zest - delish!
The filling is dark chocolate and orange zest - delish!

Don’t be alarmed by the seemingly large amounts of extract in these cookies – those amounts are correct (2 TB of each.) ¬†These cookies are meant to have a nice big flavor – much more so than the ones you buy in the store. ¬†And because they are so thin when they bake, a bit of that extract cooks off, too. ¬†When I make these again, I plan to use mint for the filling…and maybe I’ll even make the cookie part chocolate, too.

My little kitchen helper trying to steal a sample!
My little kitchen helper trying to steal a sample!

It was a wonderful way to spend an afternoon and both recipes were really successful. ¬†My 3-year-old was very interested and very involved (puffed sugar and chocolate – what’s not to love?) which is always part of my goal, too. ¬†I let him have a big hunk of the cookie dough, his own pastry roller and a handful of cookie cutters and he crafted his own little masterpieces right alongside me. ¬†Much better than Play-Doh, right?

(Here’s another¬†super-detailed post from a fellow Daring Baker with more information about these recipes that you can imagine…and also alternative recipes, chocolate blooming information and another great example of the flour mold marshmallow method!)

For the complete recipes, check out The Daring Kitchen’s website.

So, go on – get thee to your kitchen and make marshmallows…and let me know if you drop anything important into them!