Friday, October 30, 2009

Halloween Stew

Halloween 2005
10 points to whoever can guess who we were for Halloween that year. And FYI, that baby was born 6 days later, so I don't usually look that bad!

One of my favorite dishes of all time is Halloween Stew. I've written a few previous posts about how tradition-loving my mom is. I'm pretty sure she didn't get her love of traditions out of thin air. Every Halloween of her entire childhood, she ate Halloween Stew for dinner, made by Nana. Every Halloween of my entire childhood, I ate Halloween Stew for dinner, made by my mom. And every Halloween so far of my girls' childhoods, I've made Halloween Stew for them to eat. It is delicious, filling, and hearty, and we only make it on Halloween, which makes it all the more wonderful! I don't have any pictures, but I'd feel remiss if I didn't post this recipe in time for others to possibly try it. So if you don't have a traditional Halloween meal, give Halloween Stew a try!

Halloween 2006

Halloween Stew
from my Nana

Halloween 2007

5 Tablespoons pearl barley
heaping 2/3 cup split peas
2/3 cup lentils
1 1/2 cups chopped onions
lots of water
1 1/2 lbs ground beef or ground turkey
5-6 cups sliced carrots
5-6 cups diced red potatoes
brown gravy mix
salt and pepper

Halloween 2008

Rinse and pick over the split peas and lentils to make sure there aren't any rocks hiding in there. Boil the barley, split peas, lentils, and onion in 6 cups of water until legumes are tender. Meanwhile, brown and drain the ground beef. Sprinkle the ground beef with about 2 teaspoons of brown gravy mix and stir until coated. Add ground beef, potatoes, carrots, and 4 more cups of water to the legumes and simmer until the vegetables are tender. Add more gravy mix, salt, and pepper to taste. If it seems too thick, add more water. If it seems too thin, add more gravy mix. Remember, this is a stew, so it should be thicker than a soup without being gelatinous or gloopy!

Halloween 2009
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Sunday, October 25, 2009

Sweet Melissa Sundays: Devil's Food Cupcakes

I have inherited my mother's love of celebrations. Birthdays were always a huge deal in our family when I was growing up. We started the day with a new outfit and breakfast of our choice (we usually chose Toaster Strudel) and ended it with banners, cake, candles, and presents galore. Holidays both big and small always got the star treatment. St. Patty's Day, for example, meant that we could have Lucky Charms for breakfast, absolutely had to wear green, and ate our traditional Irish Fry. We even, on occasion, got little gift bags full of green and/or Irish-themed goodies (ask me about the notorious Irish Spring incident sometime!). And the really special holidays--Halloween and Christmas, to be exact--even got extra days of fun thrown in.

Every October 1st and December 1st of my entire life has been celebrated with a special party to kick off the holiday month (and we actually weren't allowed to celebrate until this party, which made it all the more exciting). When I was growing up, these shindigs involved eating holiday food, distributing, making, and putting up holiday decorations, and dancing around the holiday pillowcases. What was that last part, you say? You mean you don't dance around the holiday pillowcases in your family? Well then...When I was very young, my mom had someone make Halloween pillowcases and Christmas pillowcases for all of us. Our Christmas pillowcases were actually assigned to us, but the Halloween ones changed owners every year, and my mom decided who got which pillowcase by laying them on the floor, covering them with a tablecloth, and making us dance around them while she sang holiday songs. When she hollered, "Stop!" we threw aside the tablecloth and laughed with childish delight at whichever pillowcase we got. Unless you were unlucky enough to get the candy corn pillowcase. I don't know what that poor pillowcase ever did to us, but we universally hated it. Whoever got it each year was the butt of jokes for the rest of the evening!

Anyway, to make a long story short, this week's Sweet Melissa Sundays recipe was supposed to be Devil's Food Cake with Peanut Butter Frosting, but I'm on vacation, so we'll have to settle for the Devil's Food Cupcakes that I made for our annual October 1st Party this year! This cake recipe actually appears three times in The Sweet Melissa Baking Book--once as Devil's Food Cake with Peanut Butter Frosting, once as Brooklyn Brownout Cake, and once as Chocolate Malted Layer Cake. Since it pops up so many times, you have to assume that it is delicious. And it is! Rich, moist, and chocolatey. And it is pretty easy to put together (i.e. it doesn't call for any whipped egg whites, which is always a good thing if you ask me!). The Brooklyn Brownout Cake version is scaled down a tiny bit, so I used it to make almost exactly 24 cupcakes (just a tiny bit of batter left over). I can't remember how long I had to bake them, but I'm guessing I started at 20 minutes and then checked them every few minutes until they were done. The frosting I made was just a standard vanilla frosting with butter, milk, vanilla, and powdered sugar. They turned out great, and actually got better on day 2!

Many thanks to Holly of Phe/mom/enon for choosing this delicious recipe; I hope to get around to the peanut butter frosting sometime! You can find the recipe on Holly's blog by clicking here.
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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Cake Slice, October 2009: Mother's Cinnamon-Pecan Coffee Cake

I'm grateful for the little things in life, things like a baby's first smile, sleeping in on a Saturday morning, and oxiclean stain remover. And I'm grateful that we've got a new Cake Slice cookbook to work from over the next 12 months, a book that has something other than layer cakes! Who would've thought that I'd get so sick of making layer cakes in the short space of one year?! Our new cookbook for the 2009-2010 Cake Slice Bakers season is Southern Cakes by Nancie McDermott, and it has already won me over completely. Beautiful pictures, yummy-sounding recipes, only one chapter of layer cakes...

This month's winning recipe was Mother's Cinnamon-Pecan Coffee Cake. In the recipe's introduction, Nancie talks about how her mother made this every Christmas morning. What a delicious holiday tradition! The cake was tender and moist, and the cinnamon made the whole house smell delightful. I cut the recipe in half and baked it in an 8" square pan, but otherwise followed the recipe exactly. My only complaint is that because the cake baked for almost 1 hour, the raisins in the top layer tasted a little charred. When I make this cake again, I plan on leaving the raisins off the top completely, and just sprinkling a few of them into the middle layer.

Mother's Cinnamon-Pecan Coffee Cake
from Southern Cakes by Nancie McDermott

Cinnamon-Raisin Filling:
1 1/2 cups light brown sugar
3 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 Tablespoons ground cinnamon
1 1/2 cups raisins
1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped pecans
3/4 cup butter, melted

Coffee Cake:
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup milk
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 eggs

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease a 9x13" pan. Combine the brown sugar, flour, and cinnamon in a medium bowl, and stir with a fork. Combine the raisins and pecans in another bowl and toss to mix. Set aside these two bowls, plus the melted butter. Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl and mix well. Stir the vanilla into the milk. In a large bowl, combine the butter and sugar, and beat on high speed about 2 minutes, until pale and evenly mixed. Add the eggs and beat for another 2 minutes, scraping down the bowl occasionally. Using a large spoon or spatula, add the flour mixture to the creamed butter mixture in three additions, alternating with the milk mixture and beginning and ending with the flour. With each addition, stir just enough to keep the batter smooth. Spread half of the batter evenly oven the bottom of the greased pan. Sprinkle half of the cinnamon mixture over it, followed by half of the melted butter, and half of the raisin-pecan mixture. Repeat batter, cinnamon, butter, and raisin layers, covering the cake evenly. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 to 50 minutes. Serve warm.
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Sunday, October 18, 2009

Sweet Melissa Sundays: Spiced Pumpkin Cookie Cakes

Another fantastic fall recipe from The Sweet Melissa Baking Book by Melissa Murphy! This week's Sweet Melissa Sundays recipe for Spiced Pumpkin Cookie Cakes was chosen by Debbie of Everyday Blessings of the Fivedees, and it was absolutely perfect for the rainy October weather we had this week.

The cakey cookies were sweet, tender, and perfectly spiced, and the tangy orange-flavored cream cheese filling was the perfect complement. But, they reminded me of the Pumpkin Whoopie Pies from some issue of Everyday with Rachel Ray from a few years ago, and I think I liked Rachel Ray's recipe just a tiny bit more. If anyone wants to do a throwdown, I'd love to see if you agree!

PS--I followed the serving suggestion and sprinkled them with powdered sugar before taking them to bookclub (and before taking pictures), but those little suckers were so moist they sucked the powdered sugar up before I could photograph it!

PPS--Thanks to those of you who have signed up for the Brown Paper Package Exchange! I promise that it will be fun! And for anyone who still wants to sign up, you have until this Saturday, October 24th, to do so. Just click here to get started!
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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Cooking with Kids: The Toddler Cookbook (and Chicken Cakes)

Have you ever bought a book out of the bargain bin? If you haven't given in to the urge, you've probably at least been tempted. Who can resist discount books? Who can look at those red clearance price tags with things like "$1.00" written on them and just walk away? I already have a weakness for shopping. Combine that with my love of books and I'm completely hopeless! Sometimes you can find great books in the sale bin, but usually, they're at least a little wacky. Case in point: The Toddler Cookbook by Annabel Karmel.

The large, hardbound cookbook for kids from DK Publishing has just 19 recipes, many of which my child would never eat or I would never take the time to make! It has a section at the beginning with some helpful tips--how to crack an egg--and some that for a toddler cookbook are just plain weird--hand whisking egg whites to stiff peaks, using ring molds to make mini cheesecakes, etc. Unfortunately, my daughter loves to look at it and constantly asks me to help her make things from it.

Good things
--It has a picture index of kitchen tools, neatly labeled and everything, which would probably even be good for anyone who doesn't know their way around a kitchen.
--Each recipe gets a two-page spread, and the steps are all numbered AND pictured.
--The kids are cute.
--The pages are engaging and brightly colored without being annoying.
--We've only made one thing from this cookbook, but it was actually really tasty. Scroll down for more info on that.

Bad things
--The recipes are a little weird. Maybe mine is the exception, but I just don't think toddlers want to eat meringues or tuna salad boats. I know I don't!
--At just 19 recipes, there simply isn't a lot going on.
--Several of the recipes require a lot of parental set-up to be anything special, which just doesn't work for everyday in my house (i.e. the Artist's Fruit Palette and Dips [an actual painter's palette full of sliced fruit and four different kinds of homemade fruit dips]).
--This is another cookbook that has lots of chopping and frying, things I wouldn't let my toddler do without help, yet nowhere in the directions does it say anything about an adult helper.

Overall: If your library has a copy of The Toddler Cookbook by Annabel Karmel, it would be worth checking out, but I wouldn't recommend buying it. There are so many other cookbooks out there with more recipes and better recipes

Chicken Cakes
from The Toddler Cookbook by Annabel Karmel
I am not a seafood eater, so when my daughter kept requesting the Salmon Cakes from the Toddler Cookbook, I was at a loss. Then it occurred to me that I could easily substitute canned chicken for the canned salmon called for in the recipe. Even with that substitution, however, I was fully prepared to eat cold cereal for dinner the night my daughter and I made these! I have never been more pleasantly surprised in my life! They were actually good! Hot, savory little chicken cakes studded with scallions, covered in bread crumbs, and fried until golden brown!

1 can chicken
2 medium scallions
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 Tablespoon mayonnaise (I used probably double that)
1/2 Tablespoon ketchup
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 egg
3/4 cup dried breadcrumbs (I used Italian-style)
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil

Drain the liquid from the chicken, then put the chicken in a bowl. Mash lightly. Chop and add the scallions. Add lemon juice, mayonnaise, and ketchup and mix it all up. Add the fresh breadcrumbs, then mix again. Divide the mixture into 6 and form into balls, pressing firmly together. Then gently flatten into round patties. Put the flour on a plate. Beat the egg in a shallow dish and put the dried breadcrumbs on another plate. Take each cake, dust it with flour, then dip it in egg, and coat with breadcrumbs. Wash your hands. Heat the oil in a nonstick frying pan and fry the cakes over medium-high heat for 1 1/2 minutes on each side, until they turn golden. Blot on paper towels and cool slightly. Really good served with ranch, in my opinion!

PS--According to King Arthur Flour, tomorrow is World Bread Day. I think this is the first time I've found out about a World _______ Day or even a National _______ Day before the fact! I guess I'll be making bread tomorrow!
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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Childhood Treats: Peanut Butter Balls and No Bake Cookies

There is something comforting in the foods we ate as children. They are usually simple and easy to make, short on ingredients, and big on flavor without being spicy or complex or fancy. And, of course, they always have wonderful memories associated with them!

Here are some of our favorite childhood treats--peanut butter balls from me, and no bake cookies from my husband. The peanut butter balls are delicious and relatively wholesome, and the no bake cookies taste like fudge. Is it any wonder we liked these when we were growing up?!

Peanut Butter Balls
I made peanut butter fudge last Christmas. It was a lot of work and turned out to be a disappointment. These tasty treats, on the other hand, come together in about 5 minutes and taste amazing! Don't tell the kids, but I'm the one who polished off the last four or five!

1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup nonfat powdered milk
1/2 cup quick-cooking oats

Combine all ingredients in a bowl; mix well. Using your hands, roll the dough into balls about the size of large gumballs. Place on a cookie sheet lined with wax paper, and refrigerate until set.

No Bake Cookies
When my husband wanted to make these for me for the first time, I was skeptical. I didn't think they could be that good. But they are that good! We routinely eat the entire batch in one sitting!

2 cups sugar
1/2 cup milk
1 stick butter
3 Tablespoons cocoa powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup shredded coconut
3 cups rolled oats
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup chopped nuts (optional)
1 cup mini marshmallows

Combine sugar, milk, butter, cocoa powder, and salt in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Remove from heat, add remaining ingredients, and stir well. Drop by spoonful onto waxed paper to cool.

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Sunday, October 11, 2009

Sweet Melissa Sundays: Cinnamon Buns

This week's recipe from The Sweet Melissa Baking Book was supposed to be Sticky Buns with Toasted Almonds, but a cinnamon roll variation was provided in the book, and I had leftover cream cheese frosting from a project earlier in the week that I was hoping to use. So I made Cinnamon Buns instead. And boy, were they delicious!

As stated in the forward to the recipe, these sweet rolls do take a little time; you have to do most of the work the night before you want to eat them and let them rest overnight before rising and baking in the morning. But they were really, really amazing, and as busy as I am, I would make them again. Strike that. I will make them again!

My only issues with this recipe were the times. Both of my rises took quite a bit more time than the book said, and my baking time took quite a bit less time! But all in all, a delicious treat. We ate them all in just two sittings!

Thanks to Jen of Not Microwave Safe for choosing this week's recipe. It is yet another winner from this amazing cookbook! You can find the recipe on Jen's blog here.

If you'd like to participate in the Brown Paper Package Exchange, click here!
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Thursday, October 8, 2009

Nana's Applesauce Cookies

I love my Nana. She is the kindest, sweetest person I know, and I actually have a hard time imagining that kinder, sweeter people even exist! She is a wonderful cook, and passed that skill on to my mom, who in turn passed it on to me. If you're reading this Nana, I love you!

These cookies are a Nana original, and I think at any given moment, Nana probably has a stash of these in her freezer. They are wholesome, spicy little cakes full of chocolate, fruit, and nuts. Perfect for an autumn snack!

Nana's Applesauce Cookies
Here's what Nana says about the cookies. "This recipe I developed with my sister Aunt Minnie's help. I have made these cookies for all these years, and they freeze very well." This is the recipe exactly as Nana typed it. Any changes I made will be noted in green.

1 1/2 cups shortening (I used 1/2 butter and 1/2 shortening)
2 1/2 cups sugar
4 eggs
4 cups oats
5 cups flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons salt
2 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cloves
1 1/2 teaspoons nutmeg
2 1/2 cups applesauce
1 package chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups raisins
1 1/2 cups chopped walnuts or pecans

Cream the shortening; Add the sugar, eggs, and oats. Combine dry ingredients; add to creamed ingredients, alternating with the applesauce. Add chocolate chips, raisins, and nuts. This makes about 125 cookies (I halved the recipe and got almost 4 dozen). Bake in 400 degree oven for 15 to 20 minutes until brown. My mom and I often talk about the differences between old recipes and new recipes. One major difference that we've noticed is the baking time. They must have really liked their cookies well done! I baked mine for 10-12 minutes, until they were just beginning to brown around the edges. Also, I didn't know if I should grease the pan or not, so I went the safe route and lined my pans with parchment paper.

And I've had a lovely response to the Brown Paper Package Exchange sign-ups, but I think I speak for everyone involved when I say we'd love to have more people! I tried to make it fun and bakey and crafty, but still doable! Sign up today; we'd love to have you!
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Sunday, October 4, 2009

Sweet Melissa Sundays: Apple Orchard Pecan Crumble

***It seems that my apple ramekins are the hit of the week! I bought them in the middle of September at T.J. Maxx/Home Goods. They come in packs of 2 and are available in either red or apple green.***
I know that pumpkin is the quintessential October flavor, but I actually prefer apple no matter what season it is! This easy, delicious apple crumble tasted just like Autumn, and made the entire house smell warm and festive while it baked. I used a combination of Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, and Honey Crisp apples, which produced a delightfully tart filling. I followed the recipe exactly, only I cut it in half and baked it in four 8-oz ramekins. I decreased the baking time to 30 minutes, which ended up being perfect! A big thank you to Cristine of Cooking with Cristine for choosing this amazing recipe. You can find the entire recipe on her blog, which is a veritable treasure trove of delicious meal ideas. Have fun browsing!!

And if you're interested in joining the Brown Paper Package Exchange, scroll down!!
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Friday, October 2, 2009

The Brown Paper Package Exchange

Dear friends,

I love getting packages in the mail. There is something so singularly exciting in taking a box from the postman's hands, a box with my very own name on the top, and delightedly opening it to see what wonderful treasures lie inside. I also get a rush of joy from giving gifts, from carefully choosing the perfect present, something my friend or family member will love, and wrapping it just so.

It is with excitement that I invite you to join me in The Brown Paper Package Exchange! It's just a little something to get us all ready for the holidays. A little food, a little fun! I would love for my foodie friends to participate in this fun, festive package swap with me. Click here for the details.

And yes, I am hosting it! We were sitting at dinner tonight eating BBQ take-out (is it bad for a food blogger to admit to eating take-out?) and I smiled and said, "I want to host a package exchange!" And The Brown Paper Package Exchange was born!

Hoping to hear from you all soon!
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