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Monday, November 2, 2015

Halloween and How to Use Up Leftover Halloween Candy

I don't know about you, but Halloween here felt SO LAME this year. I imagined Halloween falling on a Saturday would mean tons of extra kids--maybe even groups of older kids--roaming the streets in costume, possibly staying out later than normal because it wasn't a school night. I was prepared for my normal crowd (we average around 50 trick-or-treaters each year, though last year we had closer to 70) and then some, with 87 bags each filled with 3-pieces of candy. (My younger daughter and I spent an evening last week sorting all our individual bags of Fun- and Snack-sized candy bars and then portioning three different bars into each festive bag. There was just one Milky Way left over. Oh, and the Twix and Xtreme Snickers I sampled while we worked...)

My husband is the one who takes the girls out. I'd like to go along and keep him company, but then there would be no one here to hand out candy. People have said, "Oh, just leave the bowl out with a sign to take a certain amount." But guess what? NO WAY. We did that one year--the year of the swine flu outbreak about four or five years back. My husband and older daughter (who, at the time, was an only child) were both sick, and I didn't think it was responsible to be opening the door over and over again and potentially spreading swine flu to unsuspecting kids, so I set the bowl out front around 6:30 with a note to take 3 pieces each. I peeked out at the bowl at 7. IT WAS EMPTY. Some jerk stole the contents of the entire bowl! Not cool. Soooo not cool. Anyway, never again with that.

Thus, I remain at home and hand out candy. Last year I started tracking my trick or treaters to help me better prepare for future candy-buying. (When I mentioned this to two of my friends, both of them laughed and said, "Only you..." I guess other people aren't as into collecting statistical data as I am. Hmm.) Anyway, I made a chart broken into 15-minute increments and tallied how many kids knocked on my door per time chunk. Because there were so many repeat costumes, I also tallied anything I saw on several kids. The most popular costumes last year in my neighborhood were Anna & Elsa, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Spider Man, and those dumb one-piece skin costumes that young boys like to wear for some inexplicable reason even though they look like walking...well, you know. 

This year, we only had 33 kids. 33! In three hours. UGH!

In case you're wondering at the breakdown (I know you aren't, but since I assembled the data, you're seeing it, dammit!) here it is:

6-6:15 --> 0
6:15-6:30 --> 1
6:30-6:45 --> 6
6:45-7 --> 4
7- 7:15 --> 3
7:15-7:30 --> 7 (all in one group)
7:30 - 8:15 --> 0!!! What is going ooooonnnnn?
8:15-8:30 --> 10 (6 in one group; all 10 in the latter part of the time chunk)
8:30-8:45 --> 2
8:45-9 --> 0

Interestingly, the array of costumes this year was quite broad. I didn't note any repeats, which is abnormal, but nice. And there were a lot of quality costumes. My favorites were a very well-done zombie, Dorothy (complete with Toto in a basket and really nice ruby slippers), and a duo in a Queen of Hearts and Alice in Wonderland garb. They all happened to be on teens/tweens.

While I was at home sitting around with the kittens waiting to hand out candy to people not coming to collect said candy, my kids were having a fab time getting tons of their own loot--my older daughter counted hers and had collected 235 pieces.

For perspective, that's 91 more pieces than the 144 I had remaining when the night was over. UGH!

This lead me to lament: WHAT AM I GOING TO DO WITH ALL THIS LEFTOVER CANDY???????????????????

I love baked goods, as you know. But candy on its own? Not so much.

The most logical thing to do with the candy, then, was figure out how to turn it into a baked good. I had to look no further than my favorite baking blog, Sally's Baking Addiction. There, I found a recipe for Candy Bar Blondies. (Just when you thought candy couldn't be less good-for-you, these happened. Lol!)

Unfortunately for your waistline, they were a snap to make. Here's a photo journal of how mine came together.

I started by chopping up 1 1/2 cups of candy bars. Use whatever you have on hand. I used 16 bars of Twix, Butterfingers, Snickers, Crunch, Baby Ruth, Milky Way, and 100 Grand. (I don't know if you noticed, but those Fun-size bars are shrinking more every year...What a rip-off!)

I mixed my wet ingredients in one bowl, my dry ingredients in another, then combined them according to the directions in the linked recipe.
Then in went the candy. It's almost equal parts candy and batter!
I folded in all that beautiful candy.
Next, I spread the thick batter in pan lined with foil. (This was the first time I've ever used regular and not heavy-duty foil. It is also the LAST time I will ever use regular and not heavy-duty foil.) It's a gooey, gloppy mess. But the yummiest mess with which I've ever dealt!
It baked at 350 until lightly browned on top. Mine took 30 minutes.
When slightly cooled, I removed it from the pan and peeled away from foil.
Then cut it into bars.

Finally, I served it. It can be warm and gooey, a la mode... (Admittedly, that was gluttonous. It really didn't need the ice cream. A glass of milk, however, is sorta necessary.)
...or on its own when completely cooled.

As you might imagine, it tastes like all your favorite candy bars had a baby. A delicious, caramel-y, peanutty, soft-yet-chewy baby that it is acceptable--nay, encouraged--to eat.

Now I just need to make 8 more pans of these and the candy will be gone.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

October 31: Witches' Brew Green Smoothie

So delicious the witch is reaching for it! Lol!

This is Halloween! Finally! (By the way-- these people are hard core for Halloween! How cool does that look?)

My kids are thrilled. Their cousins are coming over to trick-or-treat with them this year, so they're extra excited. I've got a big pot of chili simmering on the stove ready to fill lots of bellies with warmth and lean protein before they go out into the chill of night to get the junk.

Speaking of junk, I've made a lot of baked goods this month, recipes filled with added sugar. It all tasted good for sure, but very little of it was good FOR you. Such is the nature of baked goods, I suppose.

Today I'm sharing a recipe I developed of a delicious green smoothie (yes! DELICIOUS. GREEN. SMOOTHIE. I mean it.) packed with vegetables, fruits, some nut butter, and NO added sweetener. (Only the natural stuff in the fruit.) I've enjoyed this smoothie as a late-afternoon snack, or as part of breakfast.

Here's what you need for 2 servings:

1 banana, frozen
3/4 ripe Bartlett pear, or 1 whole smaller pear
1 generous handful (about a cup) baby spinach
1 tablespoon almond butter
juice of one lime
2/3 cup Unsweetened Almond Breeze Coconut Almond milk
1/3 cup cold water

Blend all the ingredients in a blender until smooth. Pour into a glass and enjoy!

The frozen banana takes the place of ice cubes, plus it makes everything thick and rich. Although the spinach makes it undeniably green, you get all the healthy vitamins but can't taste them. The almond butter adds both a creamy flavor and healthy protein.

It's just good.

I painted that spider picture at one of those Uncorked Artist events a few years ago

Now, if you'll excuse's the witching hour. I have some candy to hand out.

Happy Halloween to all!

Friday, October 30, 2015

October 30: Boo-Boo Boo-Ya Mini Pizzas

Here they are in their uncooked state, when they're still just Boo-Ya pizzas...

So what did you do today? I went to two Halloween parades and one Halloween class party. Then I came home, changed out of my pirate costume, made a batch of Oreo fudge for a fundraising bake sale happening tomorrow, and then made mini pizzas for dinner tonight.

I've seen recipes for these mini pizzas before (in fact, I've made these) but the recipe calls for using biscuit dough. My kids hate biscuits. But they do like regular pizza dough. So I decided to be all clever and buy a ball of dough from my supermarket to cut out my own biscuit shapes to make the base something they'd eat. Sometimes I'm so clever.

Here's the (easy) process, with photos, so you can also feel clever.

Use sliced mozzarella cheese and a ghost-shaped cookie cutter to cut out cheesy ghosts.
There will be a scrap heap. 
Run a knife through over the scraps so they're more like shreds. 
Set all the cheese to the side. 
Take the refrigerated dough out of its bag and put it on a lightly floured surface. Open the sauce.
Roll out the dough until it is about 1/4-1/2 inch thick, then use a 3-inch round biscuit cutter to cut circles from the dough. (These are likely smaller in diameter than the cheese that gets placed on it, but the dough is about to get worked into larger rounds.)

Stretch the cut circles so they're slightly larger than the cheese ghosts. This isn't as easy as it sounds. Don't be surprised (or upset) when shapes other than circles are produced, and when they are in no way uniform. Lay the amorphous blobs on a cookie sheet.
(Note: Because I only used 10 slices of cheese, I only made 10 mini pizzas. I used the remaining dough to form a larger semi-circle and used some of the "shredded" cheese as topping.)
This is the point in my process where I made a boo-boo, hence the name of my pizzas today.

I topped each pizza with our favorite pizza sauce, then with a cheese ghost, and some mini pepperonis in the vague formation of faces.


Then I baked them in a 450 degree oven for 14 minutes (the dough package said 20 minutes, but because everything was kinda thin and rather smaller, they were done at 14.) 

When I took them out, they looked bubbly, cheesy, perfectly delicious...but the ghosts--as is the way with ghosts--had disappeared.
...and here they are in their cooked state, when they have become Boo-Boo Boo-Ya mini pizzas.

Suddenly, not feeling so clever anymore. Alas, this has happened to me before. Last Halloween. But I forgot. Until I opened the oven and saw these. (Thankfully, I showed the girls the pre-baked version so the aesthetic value wasn't totally wasted.)

It's not too late for you, though. You can still feel clever because when you make these, you can avoid my boo boo. What I SHOULD have done (and what you should do) is bake the dough and sauce, then add the cheese slices when the dough was done. Then the ghost shape would have held up. 

Oh well. Live and learn. 

Or live and learn, forget, live and learn again, have to share that learning on the blog, feel dumb, talk self out of feeling dumb, know it doesn't actually matter, eat delicious pizza that only looks like mini pizza instead of mini ghost pizza, rename blog post accordingly.

You know. Whatever it ends up being for you.

Be clever. Eat pizzas. Natalie...out!

Thursday, October 29, 2015

October 29: Carving Party--Jack O' Stuffed Peppers to eat and Pumpkins to decorate

Last night was CARVING night at our house. We carved our pumpkins and to help the girls feel extra enthused for that activity, I made a centerpiece of our dinner in an adorably carved orange pepper! (My friend sent me a stuffed pepper recipe a few days ago which featured the carved pepper idea. I used the concept though not the recipe.)

Therefore, to help you feel extra enthused for this post, I'm giving you a two-fer. You get a recipe for the stuffed pepper AND you get to see my family's carved masterpieces. Happy day!

So let's talk stuffed peppers.

I grew up eating stuffed peppers because it's one of my dad's specialties. He uses rice, ground beef, cheese, peppers, onions, and diced tomatoes. They're delicious.

For as much as I enjoy eating them, though, I rarely bother making my own. For one thing, we don't eat a ton of ground beef at our house (we routinely sub ground turkey for things like tacos), and for another, I've always been more partial to the stuffing inside the pepper than the exterior pepper in which all the goodness is stuffed. (Also, my dad always makes a ton and gives me some, so it makes no sense to cook my own if I can get the good stuff done for me, right? Thanks, Dad!)

That said, a few months ago, I adapted a recipe I found on Pinterest for a One-Skillet Mac and Cheese with Sausage and Bell Peppers. When I took my first bite, it reminded me very much of my dad's stuffed peppers, and I knew it was much less labor-intensive than his recipe. Win-win! Turns out everyone in my house loves it, too, so I've made it several times since. Including last night when I stuffed some of it into a carved pepper.

Here's how to do it.

For the jack o' pepper part, you'll need an orange pepper for every pepper you want to stuff and serve. As I noted, I only actually stuffed ONE pepper because I like the stuffing and I knew my kids wouldn't eat the plain pepper (even though they enjoy eating raw peppers, they wouldn't eat this much of a pepper in one serving.)

Slice off the top of the pepper and save the lid, and remove seeds from within the pepper.

 I know this one looks kind of yellow-ish in the photo, but I promise it's orange

Carve a face using a small, sharp knife. Here's a tip: carve your face closer to the top of the pepper than I did mine. When my little guy was stuffed, he was sort of looking down.
You can do one of two things with your peppers now: blanch them for 5-7 minutes before setting aside, or skip the blanching and set aside until later. What the blanching does for a pepper you're planning to stuff is help to partially cook it and cut back on the raw taste and crunch of them. When they cook, they get slightly sweeter and softer. I didn't bother blanching mine because it was only one pepper. (For what it's worth, my dad blanches his and often does NOT bake them at all.)

Set the jack o' pepper aside and let's get to the good part: the stuffing!

Over medium heat, brown 1 pound of sweet Italian turkey sausage (you could use pork sausage, too, if you prefer) in a large skillet (I use a 12" non-stick). Keep in mind this is the only skillet you'll be using during this recipe so make sure it's big enough AND has a lid. 

Obviously not done yet because there's still some pink. 
I always use Shady Brook Farms turkey sausage links for this. I remove the casings and just use the meat.

While that's cooking, dice up two peppers (any color). I used yellow and red.
You'll also need a 24oz jar of your favorite marinara sauce (I always add 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1 teaspoon of sugar to my sauce to round out the flavors and cut the bitterness I sometimes taste in jarred sauces), 12 oz water, and two cups (half a standard one pound box) of elbow macaroni.

When the meat is brown, drain any liquid that may be in there. (When I use the turkey sausages, mine rarely has excess water.) Add the peppers, sauce, water, and dry macaroni to the drained meat.

It's getting crowded up in here. This is why you need a big pan!

Stir to combine, then bring to a boil.
Look at those beautiful bubbles! (Do you know how hard it is to capture bubbles in photos? Quite a challenge!)

Once it's doing its bubbling thing, give it a stir, pop a lid on it, and lower the heat. Simmer for 20 minutes or until pasta is cooked. It's a good idea to stir it a couple times while it simmers so nothing sticks to the bottom of the pan.

At the end of the 20 minutes, stir it again, then add 1/2 cup of half-and-half. (I'm sure you could substitute whole or even 2% milk for the half-and-half if you're in a pinch. It'll just lesson the creaminess a tad.)
Stir to combine, then add 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese and 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese. 
These additions are perfect work for little helper hands!

Turn off the heat and stir to combine. It's ready to serve when the cheese melts. Usually that's after a minute or so.

If you are making this on a regular night and stuffing nothing, you're done and can eat up. Nom nom nom!

If you are stuffing a pepper or a jack o' pepper, now is the time for that. Fill the pepper with the stuffing, give the little guy his hat topper, and arrange in baking dish. Cook in 350 degree oven for 15-25 minutes or until pepper starts to soften. (I did mine for 15 and the pepper still had a bit of a bite to it. Had I blanched it first, it would've certainly been done at that point.)

Here he is. I like how the noodles are coming out of his mouth-- they almost look like teeth!

After we enjoyed our dinner, we brought our pumpkins in from outside and set to work.

I took care of cutting the tops off of my daughters' pumpkins, but they scooped out the guts on their own. Then they used a marker to draw the faces of their jack o' lanterns. I did the cutting for my younger daughter, but I let my older daughter try her hand at carving this year. Hers is entirely her own work!

As for me, I used a template from one of those grocery store pumpkin carving kits. I chose the kitty pirate in honor of our new kittens and because my younger daughter and I are being pirates for Halloween this year.

My husband, as always, carved a classic jack o' grin into the largest pumpkin he could find at the patch.

Here they are, all lit up!

Happy carving, friends!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

October 28: Dressed-up Rice Crispy Treats

I'm going to start off right away by stating that I'm well aware that the word "crispy" as it relates to the title of my post should technically be spelled with a k, as in "krispy" since it's the brand name of the cereal for which it is named. However, I'm not going to do that for two reasons. (1.) I hate when companies misspell things for effect. Like "krazy" instead of "crazy," for example. I won't be party to that. (2.) I have been known to go about referring to these snacks as RCTs. If I use the K, my made-up acronym is ruined.

That is all. Breckenridge. (Another one of my favorite old Disney shorts. The girls and I love watching it. Meanwhile, where the heck does Donald live in this thing? A hotel? Why is the table so long? Why are there so many floors to his house??? Sure looks like a regular house at the beginning...)

As it were, I guess I should get on with it. you have to send a treat to your kid's school on Friday for the big Halloween par-tay? Well,  rice crispy treats are always a safe bet (literally, since plain ones are nut-free, perfect for everyone to enjoy!) But you can do more to jazz up the base yumminess. Today I'm showing you three different decorating options to add extra pizzazz to your treats. (It should be noted that while these additions are themselves nut-free, they may not be safe for people with severe nut allergies as the packaging notes that the product may contain trace peanuts/tree nuts as they were produced on shared equipment.)

For the treats, I always use this recipe because it tastes great and I like the cereal to marshmallow ratio. I definitely wouldn't go any higher on the cereal or it would be too dry. 6 cups of cereal as opposed to 7 would increase the marshmallow gooey factor (and is the official amount listed on the RK brand website.):

1/2 stick butter
1 bag mini marshmallows
7 cups crispy rice cereal (confession: I use the generic brand more often than not.)

Melt the butter in a large pot. Stir in marshmallows and stir constantly until melted. Remove from heat and quickly add in the cereal. Stir to coat. Pour into a buttered dish/pan to cool slightly before cutting.

If I'm making these for general snacking purposes, I use a 13x9 dish for this. When I want to do cutouts of my treats (or get a higher yield), I use a cookie sheet. This time, I used the cookie sheet.

I made three variations this time.

1. A flat pumpkin shape, using a pumpkin cookie cutter
2. A few round pumpkin balls, using the scraps from the cutouts (if your scraps are too firm, microwave them for 5-10 seconds and then mold them into a cereal snowball)
3. A rectangular bar shape, using a section of the pan on which I no longer felt like using the cookie cutter- ha!
I could have cropped my dog out of that shot, but it was such a funny photo bomb I left him in. 
If he had a bubble above his head, it would read: "What is she doing now? Why is she holding a plate aloft and photographing it?"
(Yes, my dog is clearly a reader.)

Once my shapes were made, I dug out another bag of candy melts--this time in orange--and melted them according to package directions.

Time to decorate!

For 1, I used the back of a spoon to spread some candy on the side facing up. Then I sliced a green gum drop candy and put it in place as the stem.

For 2, I also used the spoon-as-paintbrush method and smeared orange melt all over the cereal orb except for the very bottom. I again used a slice of green gum drop as stem.

For 3, I covered both sides of the bar, leaving a section of plain RCT showing (and making it easier to grasp as I was working!) and then sprinkled Halloween-shaped sprinkles on top of the still-wet melts. (Be sure to add the candy prior to the melts firming up.)

And how do they taste, you ask? Like sweet superfluity. The firm shell against the chewy interior is a pleasant textural foil, while the candy coating and decoration up the sense of occasion of this classic go-to dessert. If you make these for a Halloween party treat, they're sure to impress.

That is all. Breckenridge. (And this time I mean it.)

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

October 27: Stack of Bones and Witches' Whiskers

 Who is hungry for a stack of bones and a side of witches' whiskers?

I don't know about you, but all I can think right now is this Dr. Seuss rhyme "Never Give Your Daddy a Walrus" from Oh Say Can You Say:

A walrus with whiskers
is not a good pet.
And a walrus which whispers
is worse even yet.
When a walrus lisps whispers
through tough rough wet whiskers,
your poor daddy's ear
will get blispers and bliskers.

What? Just me? Okay then.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah--dinner.

So I busted out the slow cooker today. I love when my dinner bubbles away without my constant participation. It was a good day for it, too, since I spent the 3:30-5:30 hours running hither and thither, picking up my daughter at school, going to the doctor (sinus infection, anyone? Oh yeah, me. Boooooo!), trying to pick up my medicine but being told it wasn't ready for 30 minutes, killing time at Target, returning for the medicine, picking up my other daughter at school. But all the while, I knew dinner was a-makin' so I didn't stress.

The "bones" are baby back ribs (I know this is what you're thinking. If not that, than this.) and I used a recipe I found in the 2013 Taste of Home Special Edition Ultimate Halloween magazine. Apparently it, like so many others I've paid $9.99 per magazine to have, is available online. The witches' whiskers is a broccoli slaw, the recipe for which I honed over the past two years. It's refreshing and tasty and easy to pull together just before serving.

Shall we, then? Yes, let's.

For the "bones," combine the following ingredients in a large bowl and set aside.

1 cup chili sauce
2 green onions, chopped
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar (I used my cherry balsamic vinegar for a fun twist)
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon Worchestershire sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce (I always use low sodium soy sauce)
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
(optional) 1/2 teaspoon liquid smoke (I exercise the option NOT to include this. Why?)

Cut 4 pounds of pork baby back ribs (I used a little less-- my package had just under 3.5 pounds worth) into individual ribs.

I'm not gonna lie: this part of this recipe grossed me out. First of all, when I went to the market to buy the ribs, I found them vacuum sealed (a good thing) but there was still some degree of air in the package because there's blood in there. The thought of having to cut open the package to expose the blood was bad enough. But then actually doing it, and having to handle raw, cold, slippery ribs afterward so I could saw through them? Ugh. Handling raw meat-- especially poultry--grosses me out so much. I do as much with a fork as humanly possible. I don't care that these ribs aren't poultry and are, in fact, "the other white meat" -- I still don't like it.

While I was standing there alternately whimpering at the grossness of the meat slipping through my fingers and grunting at the knife not slicing through as easily as I'd hoped (no doubt it wasn't sharp enough), I couldn't help but think negative thoughts about how my girls probably wouldn't even end up eating this. (My husband is the true rib-lover in our house.) Sigh. I know--everyone is super enthused to try making these at home now after my descriptions. haha. The thing is, I tell it like it is. That's how I roll.

Ribs in their raw state that I painstakingly cut apart. Mmm...raw-ribby.
(Don't skip that clip. It's the funniest section of the movie Big Top Pee Wee. 
The egg salad scene is hysterical and then Pee Wee wanting his cheese sandwich... Hahahaha.)

Moving on. Once you get through that unpleasantness, dip each individual rib into the sauce you made, then transfer the dipped ribs into a 5-quart cauldron. Er, slow cooker. Pour the remaining sauce over the ribs in the slow cooker.

 They look kinda like saucy buffalo wings, don't they?
Meanwhile, I'm the only person I know who takes a crock pot filled with raw ribs outside for a photo shoot...

Cover and cook on low for 4-5 hours or until meat is tender.

The snazzy Cuisinart crock pot my mother-in-law bought us for Christmas a couple years ago!

About 20 minutes before you're ready to serve the "bones," assemble the slaw. It allows the flavors to marry and the slaw to soften just a touch.

For the slaw, you need:

juice of 1 lime
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 green onion, sliced (for zing)
1 handful of sliced or slivered almonds (for crunch)
1 handful of craisins, raisins, or even dried cherries (for sweetness & chew)
10oz bag broccoli slaw (NOT regular cole slaw mix which is cabbage-heavy, and NOT rainbow slaw which is cauliflower heavy &, in my opinion, gross)

In large bowl, whisk together the lime juice, EVOO, and salt. Add broccoli slaw, onion, dried fruit, and nuts.
Toss to coat. Set aside until ready to serve.

I usually half my own recipe because my family doesn't ever seem to consume the full 10 oz in one sitting.

That's about it. 

When it's time to serve, stack those bones on the plate so you can justifiably call them Stack of Bones. Feel free to either serve with the juices from the crock pot or with your fave BBQ sauce (which is what I did because SWEET BABY RAY'S).

I liked mine, but felt like some of the rib meat was more tender than other meat. In addition, I need a little more heat and tang on my ribs, which is why I added BBQ. My husband agreed. As for my worries that all my toiling was in vain, I ended up pleasantly surprised. My older daughter devoured two (granted, I had to rinse the rib, remove the meat from the bone for her, and serve it with Caesar dipping sauce. Still, whatever works...) and my younger daughter liked them straight from the slow cooker.

What a relief. Now I can put the cauldron away for another day and think about dessert...