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Wednesday, October 31, 2018

October 31: Final Day - Carved Pumpkins, Masks, and Thanks


Guess what day it is?

A.   Hump Daaaaaay
B.    Day 31 of my 31 days of blogs
C.    Halloween
D.   All of the above

That’s right. It’s D. 

Today I’m dressed as Minnie Mouse. (I ordered myself the CUTEST apron from Amazon, to wear for actual cooking. But when it arrived, I realized how perfect it would be as part of a Minnie Mouse Halloween costume, so I put it to the side. After tomorrow, I will commence using it for its intended purpose.) I’m dropping off mummy cookies and monster marshmallow-topped cupcakes for school Halloween parties. I’m attending a parade to see Cleopatra and a vampiress. You know I’ve got deliciousness simmering in the slow cooker. Later, I’ll help my husband move our animatronic decorations out of our house to the driveway where they’ll amuse and/or scare trick-or-treaters. I’ll light the pumpkins we carved last night. Candy will be distributed. Candy will be collected. Candy will be commandeered. Bellyaches will be had. Baths will be taken. Bedtime will be fought (by kids) and longed for (by adults). In other words, HALLOWEEN, Baby!

Speaking of those pumpkins, here’s a look at this year’s masterpieces. They turned out great, if I do say so myself! (My husband really needs to break away from the same old pumpkin face year after year after year, don’t you think?) Side note: my pumpkin was a "story book pumpkin" variety which is why it look different than the others. When I bought it, it was all white. As it aged, it got those interesting orange and green veins running through it. When I cut into it, it was easier to clean than normal pumpkins, too--less stringy--and it smelled like melon instead of that sickly pumpkin stench. Overall, it was a delightful changeup. 

Unlit/Lit - Full Family
My zombie - see that cool veiny storybook pumpkin? 
Older daughter's cat
(though my husband did most of the inner pumpkin clean-out,
and I did 2/3 of the carving (eyes & whiskers), so...)
Younger daughter's "painter boy"
("he's a painter because he's smiling, so he must be painting himself")
My husband's "classic" jack o lantern

Oh, and here we are having fun trying on masks (on two different occasions!) at Spirit Halloween & Walmart.
This ghoul loves his Starbucks!




This is just plain silly!
The scariest mask of all time! 
Thank you all for joining me for this year’s fall blog fest! I hope you enjoyed the content and found some new (and delicious) things to try and love. It's been a pleasure hosting you and I hope you'll continue to check in to see whatever else I've got cookin' up over in my world. 

As always, be safe and have a happy Halloween, friends! 

**I have no affiliation or relationship with any of the brands mentioned or linked in this post. All opinions and experiences expressed herein are my own.**

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

October 30: Mummy Sugar Cookies


You know how I volunteered to make cupcakes for my younger daughter’s class Halloween party? (I made these monster marshmallow toppers for them.) I also volunteered to make cookies for my older daughter’s class. 

I’d been planning to surprise my daughter with a batch zombie cookies using a gingerbread cutout after seeing photos for them on Pinterest. (My older daughter loves gingerbread and insists on a batch every Christmas.) But when I signed up to make cookies, it occurred to me that I could do the same concept for the class. However, since gingerbread can be polarizing, I decided to change the base cookie and do a sugar cutout cookie instead. I also decided to shift my plan from zombies to mummies because they’d be quicker to decorate.

Typically, I’d make sugar cookies from scratch. For this project, however, because I have to decorate the cookies AND make cupcakes the same day AND put on those cake-toppers AND figure out how to box it all up, I decided to go with another Betty Crocker mix. Betty hasn’t let me down yet with her mixes. Also, I made the cookies the night before and decorated them today. 

Before I write out the directions, I’m going to share some of my own mishaps with you so you, hopefully, don’t run into the same issues.

I had a bit of a fiasco at the beginning of decorating. I melted my candy melts in my new Wilton Candy Melting Pot. It was convenient because I was also making cupcakes at the time, so I didn’t have to stir the melts every 30 seconds like I do when I microwave them. I stirred them every few minutes instead. 

Then I scooped my warm melts into my 1-quart-sized freezer-bag piping bag, but I cut too much of the tip off the bag. For the “bandages,” you want thinnish lines, and I knew as soon as I snipped the corner that I’d made the opening too big. I tried it anyway to see how it looked, and the bag felt stiff in my hands, and what came out was just a giant blob. Instead of wasting the blob, I decided to use it as the glue for the candy eyeballs. I’d originally planned to pipe on the bandages first and then go back and place the eyeballs, but when I saw the consistency of the melts coming out of the bags, I decided that might become an issue, so I just stuck them all on first. (Also, I had to discard that original piping bag, so I squeezed all the melty melt back into the melt machine and threw out the piping bag.) 
If you look closely at the clear section to the lower right,
you can see how wide an opening I have there. OY!
I thought maybe a larger gallon-sized bag would work better for the next go-around, and since the freezer bag had felt stiff, I decided to take a risk and use the regular thickness (non-freezer) bag. This time, I cut the tip off at just the right place for the thin line I’d been looking for, but after just a couple mummies, I noticed my bag had sprung a leak! Which is precisely why I typically only use the freezer bags (because the plastic is thicker.) So, once more, back into the melt machine went the melty melts that had been in the busted baggie, and into the trash went Bag 2. 
This is why you ALWAYS USE FREEZER BAGS.
The non-freezer bags spring leaks and you have a mess!
Even the mummies are shocked I'd stray from freezer bags.
Finally, I used a gallon-sized freezer bag and cut the tip off at the appropriate spot, and made quick work of the candy drizzle “bandages.” Better late than never?

So tl;dr: USE A GALLON-SIZED FREEZER BAG for your piping bag, and be sure to only snip a tiny bit off the tip of the bag where the candy will come out.

And now, finally, I give you MUMMY COOKIES!

Mummy Cookies
Yield: about 48 cookies (3” gingerbread man size)

Ingredients:
For cookies
2 bags Betty Crocker Sugar Cookie mix
6 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 sticks butter, melted
2 eggs

For decoration
12 oz bag white candy melts (Note: I used 9.6oz to decorate 36 cookies)
1 tsp shortening or coconut oil
Wilton Candy Eyeballs (small or medium size)
(optional) clear, tan, or light gray decorating sugar

Directions:

1.     Preheat oven to 375 degrees. 

2.     Stir 2 bags of cookie mix with flour. Add melted butter and eggs and stir well to combine.

3.     Work with about a quarter of the dough at a time. Lightly flour your counter, rolling pin, and hands, then roll out dough to about a ¼” thickness. (For my first batch, I used the dough right away. It was easy to roll out and the cookie cutter seemed to be working quite well. However, attempting to remove the cookies from the actual counter to place onto the pans was a fiasco. Of the 12 I cut out, I was only able to successfully move 2 to the pan in a single piece. This trouble prompted me to take the other half of my dough and roll it on a Silpat sheet. I then placed the rolled-out dough into the refrigerator to chill while I worked with the first batch. The chilled dough was MUCH easier to work with and work with the cutouts. I suggest that if you have time, roll out then chill your dough for about a half hour.

1/4" thickness. You can see the dough is very shiny-
it's because of the melted butter.
4.     Use a cookie cutter to cut out gingerbread man shape (we’ll make them into mummies during the decorating stage). Place cutouts 2” apart onto Silpat-lined baking sheet. (The bag said to place them an inch apart but some of mine puffed up and baked together, so I recommend leaving additional space.

      Note: If they aren’t 100% beautiful, that’s okay. First off, they’re mummies, so they wouldn’t look perfect anyway. Secondly, we’re going to cover them with melted candy melts, so it’s not a big deal—the imperfections will likely be hidden.
This is a photo of the batch that wouldn't come off the counter.
Only 2 of these guys made it onto the tray. I had to re-roll and re-cut,
working with a smaller ball of dough and more flour.
But the experience inspired me to chill my remaining dough.
Raw
5.     Bake for 5-10 minutes, or until the outside edges become light brown. (The bag said 5-7, but mine took about 9, and I rotated my pans in the middle.) 

Cooked
6.     Allow to cool on the pans for 2 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.
Coolin'
7.     When ready to decorate, lay out cooled cookies on a large sheet of parchment or waxed paper. 
Ready to decorate
      Meanwhile, melt your candy melts with the shortening or coconut oil (I find it thins it out just enough to make it easier to work with) according to package directions.

8.  (Eyeball Placement Option 1) Working one at a time, spread a small dollop of candy melt on candy eyeballs and place in the eye spot of the cookie’s “face.” (Alternately, if you don’t want to position your eyeballs now, you can do it in Step 11.)

Again, don't worry if it's a bit messy. The "bandages" will
help hide the imperfection/make it less noticeable.
9. Scoop the melted candy melt into a freezer zipper bag, and snip off a small piece of the corner. (For further instruction, see photo directions in this post to see what I mean about making a piping bag from a freezer bag.) 


      You need to work fast as you complete Steps 8-9, because you don’t want your melts hardening in the piping bag. Now, it should stay warm enough for you to complete the entire job (in fact, it’s even a little hot so beware of burning your palm/fingers as I kind of did…) However, if you work particularly slowly, you may want to only use half of your melt at one time. That’s because if the melts begin to firm up in the bag, you can’t microwave the bag itself, but you can re-melt candy in a bowl and scoop it into a new bag.

10. Carefully squeeze candy melt in a horizontal back and forth motion across the body of the cookie man, moving down the entire length of the body. Repeated warning: the melts can feel hot to the touch when you’re holding and squeezing them out of the piping bag, so be careful. 

      To ensure my chocolate didn’t set before I was finished, I did about 7 cookies at a time before pausing to dust with sugar as per Step 11.
Zig zag back across the body.
The sparkles are the optional sugar listed in the next step.
11. While still wet, if you haven't already, place 2 eyeball candies where the eyes go. If you are using the decorating sugar, sprinkle it on now. 

Allow to fully set before storing or stacking cookies. 

I hope the kids enjoy these monstrous delights. I also hope my daughter can forgive her own Mummy for not making them actual gingerbread. 



**I have no affiliation or relationship with any of the brands mentioned or linked in this post. All opinions and experiences expressed herein are my own.**

Monday, October 29, 2018

October 29: Slow-Cooker Chicken Pot Pie Soup & Biscuits


Today I have a second slow-cooker option for your Halloween eve meal. (And, if you want to check the archive, here's a third. Mmm.) 

I’d originally planned to share my Easy Bisquick Chicken Pot Pie recipe with you this season, but when my mom asked me, “Hey, when are you making that fabulous pot pie soup with the biscuits again?” (and my mom, you should know, generally doesn’t like soup), I decided to make a trade and give my fans what they ask for.  

Yesterday I talked about the beauty of the dump-and-go nature of the White Bean Chicken Chili I love making. No work up front except for opening some cans. (Though, admittedly, there’s a bit of work at the end to get it to that creamy, hearty texture that makes it so great.) 

This chicken pot pie slow-cooker option is sort of the opposite: there’s necessary slicing and dicing before things go into the pot, but the end is mostly hands off (except for stirring in a couple cans of soup in the last 30-60 minutes.) My work-around is to do my chopping the night before I make this so it ends up feeling like a dump-and-go situation (plus, frankly, who the heck has time to chop veggies in the morning before work? Not I, said the cat.) 
Turn these...
...into these! Place in zipper bag or storage container &
refrigerate overnight for easy grabbing in the morning!
In any case, even with the chopping, the meal is still insanely simple to make as it does its cooking while you are at work or watching parades or otherwise living your best life, and you can join it already in progress right toward the end and just, you know, bake off some biscuits, stir in some soup, and eat it. We can handle that even on our busiest days, amiright?

This recipe is from Crumb de la Crumb. As always, in the recipe below, I list what I use. I include a little more celery than her original recipe (she only calls for 1 stalk) and I always use the cans of soup instead of the heavy cream (the choice for which she outlines in her recipe). The last time I made it, I used a can of Cream of Chicken and one of Cream of Celery (because those are the two I use in my Bisquick version), but this time I decided to try Cream of Sweet Corn. It turned out well, but I think I prefer the Cream of Celery and will revert back to that next time. You can use what you like. 

Slow-Cooker Chicken Pot Pie Soup 
Yield: about 9 cups
 
See? If you pre-chop your veggies, it's dump-and-go!


Ingredients: 

2 large (about 1 ¼ - 1 ½ pounds) boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 cup frozen peas 
1 cup frozen yellow corn 
1 cup carrots, chopped
1-2 stalks (about ½ cup) celery, finely chopped
2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
1 small onion, diced
4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature (if, like me, you forget to put it out early to come to temperature, you can microwave it for about 30 seconds)
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth 
1 chicken bouillon cube
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 can Campbells Cream of Chicken soup
1 can Cream of Celery soup (you could also use Cream of Corn) 
1 tube refrigerated biscuit dough (I prefer Pillsbury Homestyle Biscuits)

Directions:

1.    Place chicken breasts on the bottom of your 5-quart slow cooker, then add frozen peas and corn (alternately, according to the original recipe, you could also use canned peas and corn, drained), carrots, celery, potatoes, onions, cream cheese, chicken broth, chicken bouillon, and garlic powder. 

2.    Cover and cook on low 4-6 hours. (Chicken will be cooked through and potatoes should be fork-tender.) 
About 5 hours later.
Yes, the cream cheese sorta sits on top if you don't stir it.
3.    30 minutes before serving, shred chicken with two forks, stir in the 2 cans of soup, the cream cheese that has sort of sat on top of your veggies all day (you want to get those lumps dispersed), and salt and pepper to taste. (The original recipe notes that you can use 3-4 cups of heavy cream in place of the soup. However, I prefer the thickness the canned soup lends to the recipe, so I prefer it to the heavy cream.) 
I took my chicken out of the pot to shred it (so I didn't scrape my pot.)

Replace chicken and stir in the soups.
Voila! Creamy and delish!
4.    Bake biscuits according to package directions and serve atop the soup.


I had every intention of making my own biscuits this time (of course I saw a recipe I wanted to try) but I had made other treats the same day and ran out of time. You can make your own or use the refrigerated kind. It doesn’t matter—whichever you use, it’ll be delicious.

The biggest dinner trouble you’ll have now, I suspect, is choosing which of these hearty, filling, easy slow-cooker options to serve on Halloween! That's no trick--but it IS a treat!

**I have no affiliation or relationship with any of the brands mentioned or linked in this post. All opinions and experiences expressed herein are my own.**

Sunday, October 28, 2018

October 28: Slow-Cooker White Bean Chicken Chili


It's Sunday dinner time again, can you believe it? Usually I like to share a more involved recipe for Sunday since, in theory, we have more time to cook on the weekends. But maybe you don't want to spend your weekend cooking. Perhaps you want to spend your weekend weekending. Ain't nothing wrong with that. So...

Raise your hand if you like dump-and-go slow-cooker meals. 

Me too.

Now keep it up if you like chili. 

Meeee too!

My family actually has two chili recipes on rotation: Brian’s Winter Chili, my husband’s take on the beef and kidney bean classic, and the Slow-Cooker White Bean Chicken Chili recipe I’m sharing with you today. 

As you probably already know (or might have guessed), I am sort of obsessed with trying new recipes. There’s so many yummy looking options out there and I want to taste them all. I’m always in search of a new favorite. The good news about this tendency is I have made some mad-tasty meals and desserts over the years. The bad news about this tendency is how easy it is to make something yummy and never make it again. So the fact that I’ve made this white bean chicken chili recipe so many times is, I think, a testament to how good it is. 

First, it’s one of those meals I know will not be met by groans when my kids ask, “What are we having for dinner tonight?” I know everyone will eat it and finish it all. Second, it’s great as leftovers. Not only have I got dinner one night, I’ve also got a few days of lunches, too. Third, it’s easy to make, especially because I don’t have to spend time chopping or slicing or pre-browning or otherwise cooking before I put it in my slow-cooker. In fact, the only real “work” of it comes in the last hour before you eat it. If you make it on a weekday, you could arrive home from work, open the crock pot, shred the chicken, take 10 minutes to make the cream sauce and pour it in and stir, then run up and change into pajamas and slippers and pour a glass of wine and/or help your kids with their homework and then—boom!—it’s dinner time. That’s tres convenient, if you ask me.

It might also be tres convenient to make, say, on Halloween. You can dump and go in the morning and it cooks while you juggle work and/or attending school Halloween parades all afternoon, and it's a warm, filling meal that'll stick in little bellies while they're out begging for candy. It's almost as easy as picking up a pizza on the way home, but so much heartier. It's why I always try to schedule something of this general type for the big night. 

I first found this recipe several years ago on the Lovely Little Kitchen blog. I mostly go by her original recipe, but I made a couple tweaks to ingredients and process, and what I list below is how I make it. Let’s get cooking!

Slow-Cooker White Bean Chicken Chili
Yield: About 9 cups
In the crockpot- for Stage 1
1 ½ pounds (2-3 breasts) boneless, skinless chicken breasts, uncooked
1 ½ teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin 
½ teaspoon onion powder
½ teaspoon garlic powder
dash of cayenne pepper
14.5 oz can chicken broth
4.5 oz can chopped green chilis
11 oz can corn (I get the vacuum-packed corn to avoid the step of draining it; alternately, you could get a 15oz can of corn in water and drain it) 
2 15.5 oz cans white beans, drained (I use 1 can Cannellini & 1 can Navy Beans) 

For the cream sauce- for Stage 2
3 Tablespoons butter
3 Tablespoons flour
1 cup milk
1 bouillon cube, crushed (or equivalent amount of crystals OR 1 teaspoon Better Than Bouillon, per original recipe, though I’ve never used that product so I don’t know how it works in there)
1/8-1/4 teaspoon white pepper (I find the taste sort of strong, so I usually go on the lighter side)
½ teaspoon Lawry’s Seasoned Salt
½ cup sour cream (I always use Daisy Light)

Directions: 

1. Place raw chicken breasts on the bottom of a large crockpot and then top with remaining Stage 1 ingredients (spices, broth, chilis, corn, beans). 
All the raw ingredients in the pot ready to cook
2. Cook on low for 6-8 hours. (Note: I have sometimes started my recipe later than intended. In order to catch up on some lost time, I have successfully cooked on High for 1-1.5 hours, then turned it back to low for 4-5 more hours.)

3. About an hour before the end time, shred your chicken breasts with 2 forks. You can either do it right in the crock pot (though be careful if your crockpot has non-stick coating because metal forks will scratch it) or remove to a cutting board to shred, then replace in pot once shredded. 
Chicken shredding in process. It's very tender so it shreds with ease.
Shredding the second breast. (Remember to BE CAREFUL if your
slow cooker has a non-stick coating. The forks can scratch it. Or so I've heard...) 
All shredded and awaiting cream sauce.
4. Make your cream sauce.
Half of the cream sauce players.
Randomly not pictured: sour cream, butter, and flour.
In small saucepan, melt butter over medium high heat. Whisk in flour and cook about 2 minutes, stirring constantly. The flour will bubble and start to brown. 
Butter and flour. Still in raw-ish form.
Starting to bubble and brown. Time to add milk!
Once the flour is at this stage, add the milk a little at a time (aim for 1/4 cup increments), whisking well after each addition. Don’t add the next portion of milk until the mixture in the pan is smooth. Note: As you can see from the photos, it starts out pretty thick and when you add the milk, it might even seem lumpy at first. Keep whisking and adding in stages. Once it’s all incorporated, it’ll get increasingly smooth and creamy-looking (it’s normal if there seems to be a stickiness to it, too.) 
This is what it looks like after only a little milk is added. 
This is what it looks like with more milk. The lumps are normal,
but you want to keep whisking to get those smoothed out.
About halfway through the addition of the milk, add your crumbled bouillon cube and whisk. 

Once all the milk and bouillon is added, allow the sauce to simmer 2-4 minutes, whisking frequently as it thickens. 

Whisk in seasoned salt and pepper, and turn off the heat. 
This is the texture you're looking for. Smooth, creamy, and thick.
Finally, whisk in the sour cream until incorporated and smooth once more. (The original recipe doesn’t add the sour cream now. It saves it until after you add the seasoned cream sauce to the crock pot. I followed that direction the first few times I made the recipe, but it ended up not fully incorporating into my chili, instead leaving small unappetizing globs of sour cream. Then I tried whisking some of the crock pot broth into my sour cream to smooth it out and that worked to combat the lumps, but still felt like a perhaps-needless extra step. That’s when I started adding it to the cream mixture and that has been the most convenient with the best results.
Add the sour cream
Whisk well and this is the end stage of the sauce.
5. Add the cream mixture to the crock pot (be sure to use a spatula to get it all out of the pan and into the crockpot) and stir to combine.
Add the cream mixture to the pot
Stir to combine. Voila! It's now a cream-based soup! MAGIC!
6. Replace crock pot lid and continue cooking 30-60 minutes more.

7. Ladle into bowls and top with your preferred toppings. Suggestions? Avocado slices, shredded cheddar cheese (though we didn't do it in this photo), Fritos. (The Fritos are another reason my girls like this. I only buy Fritos to serve with this meal, so they feel like a special treat.

I think you'll find this is a solid dinner option for any night of the week (or any candy-based holiday). After you try it once, there’s a good chance it’ll make its way into your family’s Favorites rotation, too. 


Oh, sorry, you can put your hand down now.  


**I have no affiliation or relationship with any of the brands mentioned or linked in this post. All opinions and experiences expressed herein are my own.**