Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Witches and broomsticks and pesto...oh my!

Cute witch (and pattern) found here

I probably should have started October with a warning:  Our family REALLY likes Halloween.  No, not just a little, REALLY, REALLY likes Halloween.  So much so that our house has become a neighborhood destination for Halloween weekend, and we have been in the local paper the last 5 years running. 

Don’t believe me?  Check out our website: http://millcreekhauntedhallow.com

After you see the lengths we go to when decorating our yard, it may make more sense why at least half of our meals in October are Halloween themed!

On that note, here is what we had for dinner last night:

Pesto Flatbread Witches

1 package (8 to 9 oz) naan bread, or what I used...which is what the good people at QFC happened to mark down that day:

2 tablespoons of prepared pesto sauce OR...if like me, you start cooking without checking for ingredients first, you can use the buttery-pesto spread from the Cheesy Bat Biscuits:
     2 tbsp butter
     ¼ cup Parmesan
     1 tsp dried parsley
     1 tsp dried basil
About ¾ cup shredded mozzarella

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Using Halloween cookie cutters (I got mine in a big bin of seasonal cookie cutters from Michael’s) cut out shapes.  (I was running with a witch theme, so I used the witch head and cat shapes.)
Place on baking sheet.
Spread pesto in a thin layer over bread.
Top evenly with cheese.
(If you are more ambitious than I, you can cut decorative shapes and faces or whatever out of red peppers.)
Bake 8 minutes or until cheese is melted.

Pretzel Carrot Broomsticks

1 package (8 oz) cream cheese, softened
½ cup shredded cheese
¼ cup salsa (the recipe called for ½ cup, but I chose to only use ¼ cup, because little kids do tend to have more sensitive palates.)
2/3 cup julienned carrots (I cut up baby carrots, but you could also buy “matchstick carrots” at the grocery store, and save yourself some time)
9 pretzel rods, broken in half

Mix the cream cheese, shredded cheese, and salsa.  Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour, or until chilled.
Place one heaping tsp of cheese mixture on the end of each pretzel half, round into a ball.  Roll the dip on the shredded carrots…or just place them on one at a time, whatever works!

The verdict:

5 thumbs (mostly) up!

The dip for the broomsticks was especially popular.  #3 and #4 both pulled all of the carrots off their brooms, and ate the dip, then asked for more! 
I think next time I would use a slightly different dip recipe, one that included some pureed veg, especially since the carrots were the least popular part.

Oh, and I probably should have mentioned this 3 recipes ago, but here is the book that I got the recipes for Cheesy Bat Biscuits, Toasted Cheese Jack O' Lanterns, Pesto Witches and Carrot Broomsticks:

Friday, October 14, 2011

Because I didn’t have enough ways to make grilled cheese

Glow in the dark Jack (and pattern!) found here

I pulled out my trusty Halloween cookbook yesterday, and thought I’d try to involve #2 in the dinner making process, so I let her pick what to make for dinner.  After (repeatedly) saying no to dessert recipes (“But, why can’t we have chocolate whoopee pie spiders for dinner?”), she settled on “Toasted Cheese Jack O’ Lantern Sandwiches.”  Really?  All of the crazy ideas in this book, and she wants grilled cheese?

But, hey, I asked for her help! 

The interested thing about this spooky sandwich recipe is that you toast the grilled cheese in the oven!  First time for everything.  It does make sense, since cutting holes in the top piece of bread would make it pretty messy if I flipped it in a frying pan the way I usually do!

Here's the recipe:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Spread butter on one side of four bread slices.
Place bread slices, butter side down, onto an ungreased cookie sheet.
Top each with one slice of cheese.  (I used Tillamook Cheddar, house fave)
Cut out shapes from 4 additional slices of bread.  
Place on top of cheese.  Butter tops of bread with faces.
Bake 10 to 12 mins or until cheese is melted.

I served the sandwiches with Campbell’s Tomato Soup, made with milk, the only brand/way all four girls will eat tomato soup…which leads me to the question, is it me?  Did I somehow encourage this narrow vision of what food should be?  How is it that even my 4 year old can tell the difference between Campbell’s canned, and Trader Joe’s boxed tomato soup?

Anyway, the verdict is:

Four thumbs up!

I was a little surprised; after all, the toasted sandwiches came out much crunchier than the usual grilled.  However, one moment made all of that careful cutting of shapes out of the bread worth it:  when #4 sat down at the table and saw the Jack O’ Lantern face smiling on her plate, she giggled! 

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Bats and ghosts for dinner...must be October!

Adorable bat found here
It's October!  Fall weather has fallen with it's usual, graceful THUD...which always inspires harvesty and Halloween-inspired foods.

I know I'm not the only one, but I do have an usually large collection of Halloween cookbooks.  Seriously, I have dozens!  And every year, I pick up another one...or two...or three...

Anyway, you shouldn't be surprised to find out that while at the grocery store today, with only soynut butter on my list, I decide to make a Halloween themed dinner...of course, I didn't have any of my cookbooks with me, so I HAD to buy a new one!  Oh, look, I don't have that one!  Squeee!

Anyway, this particular recipe appealed to me for it's simplicity, and potential to appeal to all 4 girls.  After all, at it's heart, it's pretty much just bread and butter!

Cheesy Bat Biscuits

1 can jumbo buttermilk biscuits
3 tbsp butter (or margarine), divided
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 tsp dried parsley flakes
1 tsp dried basil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Flatten each biscuit in shape just large enough to fit 3 inch bat (or whatever shape your kids might like: trains, cars, cats, etc) cookie cutter.
Cut out shape, discard scraps (I have to admit, I couldn't throw out that much dough, so I rolled and rolled, and rolled and rolled and squished and rolled some more until I could cut out some pumpkin shapes...but they contracted and made very sad, wrinkly pumpkins.)
Place biscuits on baking sheet.
Brush with 1 tbsp butter.
Bake 7 minutes. (The biscuits will NOT be completely done, that is ok!)

Meanwhile, mix remaining 2 tbsp butter, parm, parsley and basil in a small bowl.

Split biscuits in half.  (They're hot!  And admittedly, kind of a pain to cut in half...)
Spread about 1 tsp cheese mixture on bottom half of each biscuit, top with remaining biscuit half.  Bake 3 minutes, or until golden brown.

I served the bats with mashed potato and pea ghosts:

The ghosts are super simple!  Just make instant mashed potatoes, spoon into a ziploc bag, cut a small corner off, and pipe into a ghost shape. 

And the verdict:

Five thumbs up for the bats!

I actually love the flavor of the cheese mixture.  This is one I want to save to use on everything, it is a super simple version of pesto! 

The ghost were not so popular.  #3 in particular, refused to touch the ghost, but asked for a bowl of potatoes.  Go figure!

Oh, and from my 15 year old:  "Everyone likes it when you make something from a book.  Just don't make any recipes up any more!"  Hmph. Thanks. 

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

One big squash=lots of baking fun!

Happy squash rattle found here
Squash.  Squish.  Squish-squash-squashity-squish-squish-squoosh...

Ok, now that I got THAT out of my system...

I greatly admire people with green thumbs.  I do not have a green thumb.  I have whatever the opposite of a green thumb is.  Brown thumb?  No, wait, that just sounds gross...

Anyway, my mom is one of  those people with an amazing green thumb.  I want her to spend spring at my house making things grow.  Another fabulous person in my life whose green thumb I am frequently a benefactor of is my mother in law.  So far this fall, we have enjoyed a variety of lettuce, corn on the cob, and my oldest has enjoyed her tomatoes...I don't know why out of 6 of us, she is the only freak weirdo gourmand who likes to eat raw tomatoes.

Last week, my husband came home with another harvest from my mother in laws garden:

(I actually had to post this photo on facebook to ask what they were.  Yellow squash and the fattest zucchini I've ever seen, as it turns out!)

I cut up the yellow squash, steamed it, and pureed it.  Then I put in in my freezer in 1/2 cup portions.  I knew "Deceptively Delicious" had several recipes that called for yellow squash, and I was excited to try them...So excited it only took me a week to get out the cookbook...oops.  Oh well!

Quick tip:

Yellow squash blends very well into boxed macaroni and cheese, even the white cheddar kind!  When I was pureeing the squash, I took 4 tbsp and replaced the butter in a box of TJ's Shells and White Cheddar:

My little monkeys didn't even notice the difference!  #2 noticed the slight color change, but she said it tasted the same.

I did finally get out the cookbook and defrost some squash today, and here is the recipe I made:

Chocolate Chip Cupcakes Muffins

1 cup canned pumpkin
1/2 cup yellow squash pureee
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup water
1/3 cup canola oil  (I think I have mentioned it before, but use canola, not vegetable!  Canola is much better for you.)
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups flour (Sigh.  Normally I would use TJ's White Whole Wheat Flour...but when I asked my husband to pick some up, apparently the only words he heard were "White Flour".  So, I in this recipe, I used my last 1/4 cup of whole wheat, and the rest is just white.)
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt (Ha!  I almost typed "cup"!  Those would have been some nasty cupcakes!)
1/2 cup chocolate chips

(The recipe also has instructions for frosting, but I found the muffins were sweet enough without them!  Which is also why I called them muffins...no expectation of frosting if you tell them it's a muffin!)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Coat muffin pan with cooking spray.  (Yet another aside...the recipe claims it only makes 12 regular size muffins, but she must be using bigger muffin pans that me!  I made 12 regular size AND 24 mini muffins!)

2. Put the pumpkin, squash, brow sugar, water, oil and vanilla in a large bowl, and beat until well blended. (I'm just full of parentheses today!  I just used a bowl and whisk, but you could use a mixer...I just didn't want to lug my KitchenAid out...that thing is heavy!)

3. Add the flour, baking soda, and salt, and mix thoroughly.  Fold in chocolate chips.  Divide the batter among the muffin cups.    For the mini muffins, I used a spoon:

4. Bake until the tops of the muffins are lightly browned and spring back to the touch.  10-12 minutes for the minis, and 20-25 for the bigs.  Turn the muffins out on a rack to cool.

Finished muffins:

And the verdict:

Five thumbs, way, way up!  I think the littles each had 5 of the minis for snack!

PS, Quick shout out to all of the MOPS mommies who stopped by, this is for you:

Cute ghost mop found here

Monday, October 3, 2011

Apple cr...oops...compote!

Tiny crochet apples (and pattern!) found here
Today I was supposed to be writing about this:

Crockpot Apple Crisp recipe here

But, through a series of mistakes and interruptions, it didn't happen.

I started with a big bowl full of tiny apples, delivered to my door by a friendly neighbor with an abundant apple tree.  (I really should pick the apples off the tree in my backyard.  They're quite tasty, but it is a rather tall tree...and I'm not a big fan of ladders.)

I started the Crockpot Apple Crisp recipe, got halfway through...and realized I was out of butter.  So, I took the apple mixture, covered it, put in the fridge, and planned on finishing it the next day...but went to the zoo instead.  I finally got the apples out again Sunday evening, but by then it was too late to start a crockpot recipe, so I cooked the apples in a big saucepan, and served them over waffles.

Predictably, #1 loved them, #2 nibbled, and the littles would touch the apples, but loved the waffles.

Note to parents: maybe it's just my kids, but apparently having waffles for dinner causes small children to be extremely hyper right before bedtime!  As much as the girls love breakfast for dinner, it may be a while before I do that again.

Here's the recipe for Apple Compote:

  • 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 6 Granny Smith (or homegrown!) apples, peeled, cored and cut into 1/2-inch wedges 
In a large bowl, whisk together sugar, lemon juice, cornstarch, ginger and cinnamon. Stir in apples; toss to coat.  Put in the refrigerator up to 2 days.
Pour apple mixture in a large saucepan.  Add about 1/2 cup of apple juice (enough to cover the bottom of the pan).  Sprinkle a generous amount of pumpkin pie spice over top, and stir in 1/2 cup of brown sugar.
Cover, simmer for 10 or so minutes, until the apples are soft and most of the juice is evaporated.
Serve warm over waffles or pancakes.