Friday, October 28, 2011

Halloween Extravaganza!

Hi everyone.  First off, there is a slight chance that I might have misled you when I called this a Halloween “extravaganza”.  I really only have a few cute ideas for you.  So maybe just a “vaganza”.  There really isn’t anything “extra” about it.  But I do have a lot of pictures, so let’s start this thing…..

My first recipe/idea won’t surprise any of you after reading about me and bourbon.  Apparently, I have taken up drinking because I am going to show you how to make Halloween Jell-O Shots.  Maybe I will put down the bottle after the holidays. 

I realize that Jell-O Shots aren’t anything new and exciting.  We all drank them in college, right? The difference is that I make them with champagne instead of vodka.  I totally prefer the taste of champagne….how about you?  Plus, I make them cute and Halloween-ish.


I made two versions.  My “adult” version uses a 3 ounce box of orange Jell-O and champagne.  My “kiddie” version uses a 3 ounce box of orange Jell-O and club soda.  You will notice that I am using the best champagne I could find;)  Don’t you judge me.

Let’s start with the adult version…..

I start by boiling one cup of champagne.  I add that to the Jell-O and mix for 2 minutes.  Seriously, 2 minutes.  This will keep the Jell-O from being grainy.

Then, I add a cup of chilled champagne to the mixture and stir that.  I pour this into a 9x9 pan and pop it in the fridge for at least 4 hours.  I would recommend doing this in the morning.  I don’t pour the Jell-O into shot glasses yet.  I am using plastic glasses and if it sets in the glasses, it would be hard to get the Jell-O out at eating/drinking time.  I like to cut it into small chunks before I put it into the glasses.

The kid’s version gets made with one cup of boiling water and one cup of chilled club soda.  This will make the Jell-O fizzy and bubbly.  It is way cooler than plain water.

This is the big “ta-da”. I serve these in little plastic glasses that are supposed to look like jack o’ lanterns.  If you are making an adult version and a kid version, I would recommend only drawing faces on the kid’s cups.  This will help everyone know the difference between kid and adult. 

Aren’t these the cutest thing ever?  How cute would these be at a Halloween party?  Or a pre-Trick or Treating party?  My kids loved these.  The club soda ones….of course.  I loved the champagne version.  But I am sure that doesn’t surprise you.

My next idea/recipe is also a beverage.  I made a “fall cider.”  I am obsessed with apple cider.  Not just apple juice, but the spicy version you can only buy in the fall.  I also love Starbuck’s Caramel Apple Cider.  I came up with my own recipe that cooks in the slow cooker.  It is perfect for a Halloween party.  You can keep it warm in the slow cooker and your guests can serve themselves. 

I use apple juice, cranberry juice, pear nectar, cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, ginger and a couple of clementines.  You could use regular oranges too, if that is what you have. 

This is so easy….I literally just throw everything (ok, not literally…that would make a mess), in the slow cooker and let it go for about 3 hours.  The flavors will all meld together over that 3 hours.  The spices, clemetines and ginger will all release their flavors.  Then, I pull the big chunks out and it is ready to go. 

I serve this with whipped cream on top.  I love this stuff.  It tastes like fall in a glass.

The grown-ups might like it with a shot of Apple Jack in it.  Man, I am a drunk;)

For a yummy and super cute Halloween party appetizer….I will show you how to make my Halloween cheese ball….This is the perfect appetizer to serve to everyone whether you are carving pumpkins, handing out candy, or fuelling up for the trick or treating.  Let me give you a sneak peek of the finished cheese ball…..

It’s a pumpkin!

This recipe starts with 2 bricks of cream cheese that have been left out at room temperature to soften.

I also use mayonnaise, a splash of half and half, Worcestershire sauce, cheddar cheese, dry ranch dressing mix, green onion, pimientos, and chopped pecans.  This is basically my pimiento cheese recipe gussied up a bit.

I start by blending the cream cheese with mayo, the dry ranch mix, Worcestershire and a splash of half and half.  I beat this until smooth.

Then, with a spatula, I stirred in the green onion, drained pimientos, and chopped pecans. 

Two cups of cheddar cheese also gets stirred in.  And what’s that at the top?  That is the bacon that I forgot to tell you about.  It was in the oven so it didn’t get its picture taken with the other ingredients.  Sorry to leave you out, bacon.  Anyhoo, I stir this until well blended.  This is hard work at this point.  Use your muscles…this stuff is thick!

It is hard to tell from this picture, but I dumped the mixture onto plastic wrap and formed it into a ball.  This ball will sit in the fridge for a couple of hours.  Don’t worry about your ball shape yet.  Once it is chilled, it will be easier to form it into the perfect pumpkin shape.

When the ball comes out of the fridge, place it onto its serving platter.  Then, take your last bits of cheddar cheese and press it gently into the cheese pumpkin.  Cover the ball completely. 

I used a piece of zucchini for the stem.  I served my pumpkin with slices of baguette and celery.  Crackers would be great too!  If you are super creative, you could make a jack o’ lantern face with bell peppers, black olives, etc.  Not only is this the cutest thing ever, it also tastes amazing.  The pecans and bacon give it smokiness and crunch.  I easily ate half;)

My final recipe isn’t for you at all.  It is for your dog.  They always seem to get the shaft at Halloween.  Not only do we dress them up in ridiculous costumes that you can tell embarrass them….they also get the pleasure of freaking out every time the doorbell rings for a trick or treater.  At least my dogs do.  I swear Halloween ages them 5 years.  My dogs hate the doorbell;)

I came up with a recipe for dog treats that lets your dogs share in the fall spirit too.  This recipe has pumpkin and apples in it.  My dogs thought they were the best things ever!  Not that they told me that.  I could tell by their expressions;)

The treats are made with flour, peanut butter, salt, eggs, apples and canned pumpkin.  You might want to use whole wheat flour if you have it.  I didn’t, and my dogs didn’t care.

With a hand mixer, I beat together the flour, salt, pumpkin and peanut butter.  Be careful, this is a dry dough so it will shoot flour out all over.  Just don’t wear black.  Once that was blended, I added the eggs and beat some more.  Finally, I stirred in the apples.

This dough gets rolled out on a floured board.  And when I say “floured” I mean more flour then you would ever think necessary.  This is a sticky dough.

I used a pumpkin shaped cookie cutter because my dogs totally care about appearances.

These bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes on a greased cookie sheet.  The cookies won’t rise or spread out as they contain no baking soda or baking powder.  They will come out super hard, which is exactly how they are supposed to be.

See how the cookies still have flour on them after they are baked?  Don’t worry about that.  Just dust it off and reward your doggies accordingly.  Maybe these will decrease the terror of Halloween for your dog.  All the people in hats, scary costumes, etc. can really do a number on the poor little guys;)

Ok, was that long enough for you?  I hope you hung in there.  Normally I don’t like to throw so much at you, but Halloween kind of snuck up on me this year.  All of a sudden, I had a bunch of stuff to show you and only one post.  Next year I will try to be more prepared.  Again, I blame it on the bourbon.

See you next week!  Have a safe and fun Halloween!  Did I just wish you a “safe” Halloween?  I am such a nerd.

Champagne Jell-O Shots*

3 ounce package Jell-O

2 cups champagne

In a small pot, boil one cup of the champagne.  Stir the boiling champagne into the Jell-O mix.  Stir for 2 minutes.  Add one cup of chilled champagne.  Stir.  Pour into a 9x9 pan and refrigerate for at least 3 hours. 

*you can replace the champagne with club soda.

Fall Cider

3 cups apple juice

3 cups pear cider

3 cups cranberry juice

4 cinnamon sticks

8 whole cloves

3 inch piece of peeled ginger

2 clementines, cut in half

Place all ingredients in slow cooker.  Cook for 3 hours.  Remove sticks, cloves, ginger and clementines.  Serve warm.

Halloween Cheeseball

2 eight ounce packages of cream cheese, softened

1/3 cup mayonnaise

2 tablespoons half and half

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

1 pack dry ranch dressing seasoning

1 small jar pimientos, drained

½ cup green onions, diced

4 strips bacon, cooked and crumbled

½ cup pecans, chopped

3 cups cheddar cheese, shredded

One small zucchini end for garnish

In a large bowl, beat together cream cheese, mayo, half and half, Worcestershire and ranch mix with a hand mixer.  Stir in pimientos, green onions, bacon and pecans until mixed.  Stir in 2 cups of cheddar. 

Shape mixture into a ball and cover with plastic wrap.  Chill in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours. 

Once chilled, remove plastic wrap and place ball on serving platter.  Cover ball with remaining cheddar by pressing the cheese into the ball.  Press zucchini end into top for stem.

Serve with crackers, bread or crudité.

Pumpkin Apple Dog Treats

2 ½ cups flour

2 eggs

½ cup canned pumpkin

2 tablespoons peanut butter

½ teaspoon salt

1 apple, diced

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, beat together flour, pumpkin, peanut butter and salt with a hand mixer.  Once blended, stir in apple.  Roll out dough on a floured board.  Using a cookie cutter, cut shapes out of dough.

Bake cookies at 350 degrees for 40 minutes.

Makes about 24 treats.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Bourbon Pumpkin Butter

Let me set the scene for you….It is 8:30am on a Monday morning.  I am wearing sweats, hair is not brushed, and of course, I am not wearing a smidge of make-up.  I pull up to the gas station/liquor store.  Paisley refused to get out of the car.  I force her to get out, so she is crying.  I go in…and I ask for a bottle of bourbon….I don’t care what brand.  In my head, I didn’t realize anything was amiss with this.  I was planning on making Bourbon Pumpkin Butter that day.  It wasn’t until I saw the look on the cashier’s face that I realized what I must look like……crying child, haggard mom, buying bourbon at 8am.  I felt that I had to explain to the cashier that it was for a recipe.  For some reason, I think that might have made it worse.  I probably came off as a lying drunk.   Do you see what I do for you people?  I might have just completely blown my rep in South Reno;)

Now that I have my liquor, I can tell you just how to make my Bourbon Pumpkin Butter.  I love this stuff.  It takes like pumpkin pie in a jar.  It can be used in so many different ways!  I love to give it as gifts too….so if you plan on seeing me this afternoon, plan on getting some pumpkin butter shoved at you.

Have you ever made a fruit butter?  They are super easy to make.  They don’t involve any pectin; you basically just cook it for a long time, stirring occasionally.  You can even do it in a slow cooker.  I will show you how I made my Bourbon Pumpkin Butter, and I will show you a couple of things to do with it.

I make a huge batch of this…it makes 8 cups.  If you want to cut the recipe in half, feel free.  I use 2 cans of pumpkin, 29 ounces each.  I also use the aforementioned bourbon, apple juice, sugar, nutmeg, ground cloves, ground ginger, and cinnamon.  Notice how classy my bottle of bourbon is?  Yep, that’s plastic. 

Everything gets dumped in a big pot.  I cook this for about 3 hours, over low to medium heat.  It has to be stirred every once in a while, but don’t get to crazy.

I also put a lid on it…kind of.  I leave the lid a little off kilter to keep the pumpkin from splashing out, but I don’t want it completely covered.  It needs to be exposed to the air to evaporate and thicken.  But if you don’t cover it mostly…it will sploosh out all over.  The way spaghetti sauce does…..

After 3 hours, it will be thickened and darker…..like this:

It will never have the consistency of a jam.  That isn’t what a fruit butter is.  It will be thick, but not thick like actual butter.  It will be like very thick applesauce.

Once important thing to know about pumpkin butter, is that it cannot be safely canned at home in a water bath.  It is due to its ph.  This must be kept in the fridge.  It will, however, keep for about a month in the fridge.

We needed to eat some immediately, so we ate it with butter cookies.  This is a perfect easy dessert, especially if you have unexpected, or expected, guests.  Take out a jar of Bourbon Pumpkin Butter and serve it as a dip for cookies.  Could.  Not.  Be.  Easier.

I also like to serve this butter warm, over vanilla ice cream…..

This really tastes just like pumpkin pie a la mode.  You will cry a little when you try this……it is that good.

I also like to make little Bourbon Pumpkin Butter Pies too.  I buy mini phyllo dough shells from the freezer section at the grocery store.  They are made by a company called “Athens”.  I put about 2 teaspoons of the butter in each shell, and I top that with whipped cream.  They taste just like pumpkin pie, but they are 10 times easier and 10 times cuter.

Right?  Super cute!  I would totally serve these at a holiday party.  They are a perfect finger food.

Like I said above, my recipe makes about 8 cups of fruit butter.  This is enough to feed your entire neighborhood.  Both the neighbors you like, and the ones you don’t like;)  Jars can be found at most grocery stores, hardware stores, the Walmartz and even Target.  Remember, you can’t “can” this, but you can still put it in a pretty jar, and stick it in the fridge.  Just remember to tell the people you give this to that it has to be refrigerated.

Wouldn’t you love to give this as holiday gifts?  If you have a spare 3 hours….you have to make this.  You might even have everything you need to make this already in your kitchen.  If you don’t have bourbon….make sure you look as gross as possible before you go to the liquor store.  The cashiers will like it.  They can talk about that unfit mom that bought bourbon at 8am.

Bourbon Pumpkin Butter

2 cans pumpkin puree, 29 ounces each

2 cups apple juice

1 cup bourbon

3 cups sugar

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon ground cloves

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon cinnamon

2 teaspoons nutmeg

In a large pot, stir together all ingredients.  Simmer, over low to medium heat, for 3 hours.  Keep pot slightly covered by placing lid on slightly askew.  Stir occasionally.  After 3 hours, mixture should be thickened and darker in color.

Keep in refrigerator.

Makes about 8 cups.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Spaghetti and Meatball Pie

Hi guys!  Paisley is watching The Princess and the Frog while I write this.  Have you seen it?  It is really cute.  I am sure it makes most girls want to be a princess, and marry a prince.  It just makes me hungry for Gumbo and Beignets.  There is a restaurant in Reno, near downtown, called “Daughters Café” that serves beignets and sweet potato donuts.  Yum!  I can’t wait to go…..hopefully this weekend we can.  We have one last football game for Addy to cheer at….and then we are free!  Beignets here I come.  I can’t wait to choke on the powdered sugar.

I got slightly off track there, didn’t I;)  I will get back on now…..I have been getting some really good feedback about the easy family meals that I have posted.  I know that we are all so busy at night, and getting dinner on the table is a challenge.  Today’s recipe is an easy weeknight meal.  It is not quick, as it bakes for almost an hour, but you can make it in the morning, and pop it in the oven as soon as you walk in the door.  It is made almost completely of leftovers too.  And, it is just as good served at room temperature as it is warm.  This helps when you have everyone eating at different times.  We definitely have that issue here.  Addy has cheer practice, Chris gets home late, Paisley won’t come inside from playing with the neighbors, etc.  I am the only one ready to eat at 6pm.  Of course, I am always ready to eat.

So have I kept you in suspense for long enough?  Are you dying to know what it is? It is a Spaghetti and Meatball Pie.  Does that sound weird to you?  It won’t to your kids….they will love it.

Remember, I said this is made of leftovers.  When I make spaghetti and meatballs, I always make twice as much as I would need.  I mix the noodles with a bit of sauce before I pop them in the freezer, just so they freeze a little bit better.  The picture above is my spaghetti and meatballs, defrosted.  I freeze the noodles and meatballs separately.  When the meatballs are done defrosting, I fish them out of the sauce and slice them up, into about 3 pieces each.

I make my own sauce, but jarred will do.  I will give you my recipe at the end of this post.  It is super easy.  I also freeze the excess sauce in its own dish.  The extra sauce isn’t pictured above.  It was feeling shy.

To bind the noodles together and make it a “pie”, I also used 2 eggs, smoked mozzarella cheese, parmesan cheese, extra sauce, and fresh tomatoes.  The fresh tomatoes don’t bind.  It was just a chance to get some more healthy stuff in….plus, I have a bazillion tomatoes from my friend Janna….so tomatoes in everything!

I prefer smoked mozzarella in this, but if you aren’t a fan, plain ol’ mozzarella will work too.  I am just fancy like that.

In a large bowl, I gave the eggs a quick beating.  I also swore at them to add to the horror of a beating.  And called them names.

I dumped about a cup of the mozzarella into the eggs.

And about ½ a cup of parmesan cheese.

Then, I stirred in the leftover spaghetti, about ½ a pound.  Notice that this isn’t too saucy yet.  I will add more sauce later.  Remember, when I froze my noodles, I had mixed them with a bit of sauce, about 1 ½ cups.

Half of the noodle mixture gets put into the bottom of a greased springform pan.  My pan is 9 inches in diameter.  Size doesn’t matter for this;)

I layered the sliced meatballs and chopped tomatoes over the bottom layer of noodles.  I have been known to sneak veggies in at this point.  I have used broccoli, zucchini, etc.

I put the rest of the noodles over the meatball/tomato layer and packed it down.  I topped that with about ½ a cup of the extra sauce.

I also sprinkled on additional mozzarella and parmesan cheese.  I covered the whole thing in foil and baked it for about 55 minutes.  If you are putting the pie together in the morning, you would pop it back in the fridge after you cover it in foil.  You can go to work, and when you come home….pop it in the oven for about an hour.  After the hour, it needs its foil jacket removed, and it will bake for another 5 to 10 minutes.

After it cools for a few minutes, you can take it out of its springform sides.  Doesn’t that look good?  It is a whole ‘nother way to eat spaghetti and meatballs!  Nobody will realize that it is leftovers! 

I like to pour a bit more sauce over the top to serve.  I love what the smoked mozzarella does to this.  It gives it a smoky flavor that goes so well with the meatballs.  My kids love that it looks like cake.  It is good hot, room temperature or even cold!

Yummy, cheesy deliciousness!  I hope you try this recipe!

I will see you on Tuesday with another pumpkin recipe!  Nope, I’m not out yet;)

Court’s Marinara

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 small onion, diced

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 teaspoons dried basil

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon pepper

1 teaspoon sugar

2 tablespoons tomato paste

28 ounce can crushed tomatoes

In a medium sized pot, sauté onion and garlic in olive oil over medium heat until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes.  Add basil, salt, pepper and sugar.  Stir in tomato paste and sauté for additional 2 minutes.  Add crushed tomatoes and cook sauce, over medium heat, for another 5 to 10 minutes.

Spaghetti and Meatball Pie

½ pound leftover spaghetti mixed with about 1 to 1 ½ cups marinara sauce

2 cups leftover meatballs, sliced

1 cup marinara sauce

2 eggs

1 ½ cups smoked mozzarella cheese, divided

1 cup parmesan cheese, divided

1 cup fresh tomatoes, chopped

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease a 9 inch Springform pan, or spray with cooking spray.

In a large bowl, beat eggs.  Stir in 1 cup smoked mozzarella and ½ cup parmesan cheese.  Add leftover spaghetti to bowl and mix well.

Pour ½ of the spaghetti into the bottom of the springform.  Layer meatballs and tomatoes over the noodles.  Top the meatball layer with the rest of the noodles.

Top pie with additional marinara and the remaining cheese.  Cover with foil.  Bake at 350 degrees for 55 minutes.  Remove foil and bake an additional 10 minutes.  Let cool for at least 10 minutes before slicing.  Top with additional marinara if desired.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Easiest Pumpkin Pasta Sauce Ever!

Hi guys!  I am going to make this short and sweet today…..I have a 4 year old begging me to go outside and play with her.  I am not much of a “player”, but I can get on board with sitting on the lounge chair while she plays.  She told me she wants to hunt for lizards.  She certainly is the opposite of me when I was little.  I would rather have scratched my eyeballs out with a nail file then play outside with lizards.  I just wanted to play dolls…..inside.  Where no reptilian creatures lived.  But I guess we live in the country/forest now.  This is what us hill-folk do;)

As promised, I have another pumpkin recipe for you.  And it is a savory one!  I have been making this pasta for years.  I tend to only make it in the fall, which is weird because it is so delicious.  I guess it is the lack of canned pumpkin in the stores all year around that keeps me from making it……Too bad.  It comes together really easily.  Quickly too!  You can throw together this sauce in the amount of time it takes you to boil your noodles.  That is the best kind of weeknight meal, I think.

The starting line-up for this sauce is chicken broth or stock, canned pumpkin, butter, Philadelphia “Cooking Crème”, half and half, parmesan cheese, salt, pepper, nutmeg, shallot and garlic.  As you might have guessed….this isn’t low-fat.  Just don’t eat the whole pot, and you should be fine.

FYI-if you can’t find Philly Cooking Crème, regular cream cheese will work.  That is what I have always used, up until now.  This cooking crème is a more recent invention.  It is cream cheese that is a bit thinner so that it melts into food easier.

I start by finely chopping the shallot.  As you can see, I have yet to chop the garlic.  I smashed it to get its skin off, but I will use my garlic mincer to mince it.  If you don’t have a fancy tool, just mince it with a knife.

In about ½ a stick of butter, I sautéed the shallot and garlic, just until softened.  Do not brown this.  This means that you need to cook it over medium heat, and watch it.  Don’t walk away.

After about 5 minutes, the shallot and garlic will be sufficiently softened.  Then I added one cup of pumpkin, and mixed well.

Next goes the chicken stock, cooking crème and half and half.  And oh yeah, salt, pepper and nutmeg.  Mix again.

Once the cooking crème is melted in, I stirred in the parmesan cheese.  Now I just let it go, over medium heat, until all the cheese is melted and the sauce is starting to bubble.  It is pretty much done.  If your noodles aren’t done yet….just keep the sauce at a low simmer.

I used rigatoni noodles with this sauce.  You want a cut of pasta that is thick and has ridges.  You need pasta that will really hold the sauce on it.  Spaghetti won’t work as well.

My last touch, my garnish if you will, is frizzled sage.  I picked a few fresh sage leaves out of my yard and I quickly fried them in hot oil.  Literally, only about 30 seconds.  I laid the sage on a paper towel to drain, and then I crushed it up over the top of the pasta.  This step is optional.

How quick was all of that????

Oh man, I could easily eat a pound of this.  It is that good.  It is almost like a pumpkin alfredo…it is that rich and creamy.

The sauce is thick and delicious.  You will want to eat it like soup.  I have been known to skip the noodle part all together.

Even if you think this recipe sounds weird….pumpkin with pasta??....You have to try it.  I have never steered you wrong.  You will love it, and it will be your fall “go-to” sauce.  Your kids will love it too!

I will see you on Thursday with another quick, easy weeknight meal!

Pumpkin Cream Sauce

4 tablespoons butter

1 shallot, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 cup canned pumpkin

1 cup chicken stock or broth

1 cup Philadelphia Cooking Crème

½ cup half and half

½ cup parmesan cheese

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon nutmeg

½ teaspoon pepper

In a medium sized pot, melt butter.  Add garlic and shallot and sauté over medium heat until shallot is soft and translucent, about 5 minutes.  Add pumpkin, stock, cooking cream, half and half and parmesan cheese.  Simmer over medium heat until cheeses are melted, stirring frequently.  Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg.

Serve over pasta.  Top with frizzled sage.