Saturday, October 31, 2009

Treats Only, Please

Oh Halloween... how you haunt me each and every year (of my adult life).

I think I have finally diagnosed why Halloween and I have what you might call issues: growing up, I had (still have... hi, mom!) an amazing mom who (with less than adequate help from yours truly) dreamed up and handmade each and every one of my very creative costumes. It'd be here, if I was a savvy blogger, that I would post some black-mail worthy pictures of myself traipsing around in the likes of a Christmas tree (complete with battery-powered twinkling lights), a carrot, or a bunch of purple balloons, er... grapes.

With such a prestigious list, it's pretty clear that there's just no way I can live up to the Halloweens of my childhood. And I certainly don't want to re-live them. So that leaves me no choice but to ignore the holiday completely. But turning your back on one of the most ostentatious holidays has proven no easy feat.

Instead, it's much easier to hide out in the kitchen churning out some cute goodies to distribute to our neighbors - after all, just because I've got no tricks (and the best I can do for a costume is to change up which apron I normally wear), doesn't mean I can't participate in the treats. And I certainly don't want to miss a single chiming of the doorbell (the only other part of the holiday I look forward to) - greeting all of the adorably clad little ones.

And with that, maybe just maybe we can co-exist. If Halloween'll let me remain costume-less (no tricks either, please!), then I promise to always enthusiastically celebrate the holiday's better half - "... or treat".

Easy Ghost Cookies

a package of Nutter Butters (yum)
your choice of candy coating (white chocolate or bark, etc.)
large handful of mini-chocolate chips (you'll need at least 64 for one pkg of cookies)

Cover a half sheet pan with wax paper and set aside.

Melt the candy coating in a small saucepan, stirring constantly, over very low heat so the coating does not scorch. Dip the cookies into the candy coating and using a small pair of tongs (a fork would work as well), fish the coated cookie out and tap it against the side of your pan to ensure complete coverage. Place the cookie carefully on your sheet pan and immediately apply two mini chocolate chips for eyes. Let sit until dry, usually a couple of hours.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Just Like I Remember

Growing up, one of my dreams was to have my birthday party at this cute little food shop, where they hosted many a hands-on food preparation event (and so the story begins... perhaps this is where all of this stems from). Picture a local, everyone-knows-everyone, version of Williams-Sonoma, but with early 1990s pricing (and menus, but we'll get to that later). Even though I never realized my own dream *tear*, I was fortunate enough to attend a few of my friends' birthday parties at the shop, and they were all I'd imagined they'd be... and some deep dish pizza.

You see, at one of those fateful shindigs, the star of the show was a delicious deep dish pizza. It was so good in fact that I did what any obedient little girl in my shoes would do: I brought that recipe home and announced to my mom that we just must make it (and at this point in my life, by "we", I meant "she"). And so, over the course of my childhood, we (err... she) did, again and again and again.

Unlike the original, however, which as I recall is prepared in a 9x13 baking dish, this recipe bakes up in a well-oiled and cornmeal dusted (which, by the way, is the answer to all of your homemade pizza-making woes) cast iron skillet. Also unlike the original, this is done Chicago-style which means the cheese is layered directly on top of the crust (along with your choice of meat and/or veggies) and then the sauce is spooned over the toppings ("over the toppings" - that's ironic).

But like the original (or the version stuck in my head), both are eaten mostly with a fork and knife since their gooey yumminess makes it a bit hard to eat with your hands (though that didn't stop some people from trying).

So while this isn't the recipe I came home with that day, *see, I don't always go running to my mom for ideas or recipes (shhh... mom, can you send it to me?)*, it was a darn good rendition, and perhaps it just might be 2009's answer to cooking-store-birthday-parties-that-dreams-are-made-of's deep dish pizza.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Forecast

I think it's going to be a good one... this weekend, that is. Sure there are storms in the forecast, but there's also a certain little almost 4-year old's birthday party at a local fire station and baking, cooking, cleaning, and painting to be done. And I'm beyond excited about 3 out of those 4 (and secretly not really even dreading that 4th... yes, I'm one of those weirdos that likes cleaning - well, except for dusting blinds and wouldn't you know... ).

But let's talk about what I'm going to be making... since we're still celebrating another certain someone's birthday (or at least I am), tonight's dinner is his all-time favorite: Chicken Parmesan. This will be my first venture into a non-baked version and I have a feeling it'll be worth every calorie.

I'm also planning on a batch of these after Amber so rudely tempted me with their butterscotch-studded cousins last night. Although I'm feeling guilty even mentioning this as it's like I'm cheating on my very own version. And even worse, as much as I hate to admit it... Joy outdid our recipe (sorry mom).

And lastly, when we actually will eat this one is still to be determined... but for some reason, this spinach quiche struck a chord with me. Maybe it's that my mom used to make a similar recipe with some frequency growing up, maybe it's that I have all of the very accessible ingredients already, or maybe it's just because I want to... but no matter what, I want this - and now (or in the next 3 days, at the very least).

Oh wait - if you're still there. It's fall (you come here for pieces of information like that, I know this) which means lots of baking (course so do spring, summer, and winter to me). I've found these delicious and waist-increasing recipes and can't decide which to make. Would you be so kind as to help me choose one? Plus, if you're local, I promise I'll share!

1) Peanut Butter Candy Bar Brownies

2) Double Chocolate Brownies with Caramel Frosting

3) Death by Caramel Bars

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Pretty Good List

The other day, I came across this handy checklist listing some simple, but thoughtful, tips to prepare for houseguests. If I was organized or strategic enough, I would start enacting some of her suggestions now, before guests appear on our doorstep, but knowing me (and probably you), life always seems to get in the way.

So even though I wasn't pushed into action, the list did prompt me to reflect on how I actually go about preparing for friends and family whom (who?) we are so lucky to host. Martha's list had some new ideas that I loved and also held some oldies but goodies that were useful reminders, but if you can believe it, she forgot something!

Being completely honest, the first thing (maybe second to preparing a 'food calendar' of sorts) that I rush to do after hearing the news of an impending visit is bake! Duh, right? And seeing as how you already know what you'll have for breakfast and where you'll stay, dessert is next in the natural progression (of baking - you know, the ole' natural progression of baking).

Whether the baking happens immediately before you (er, or the guests) arrive or well in advance (making sure to carefully wrap the goods before sending them off to our extra freezer) all depends on the day, week... minute. But no matter when it happens, there's a pretty good chance that this Chocolate-Cinnamon Bundt Cake (with a scoop of vanilla ice cream) will greet you at the front door.

It's the perfect dessert (although when you visit, I promise it won't be the only one) to have awaiting your guests - assuming they like chocolate. Because you'll soon find out that there's quite a bit of it baked underneath that glaze.

And uh, not speaking from personal experience or anything but you might just find yourself wanting to sneak a slice of this for breakfast the next morning too. But not in this house, we don't allow that - you must follow my rigid food calendar (kidding... kind of).

Saturday, October 17, 2009

And Now, the Off-Season

Lately, there's been abundant talk about seasons - and with the recent dawning of what looks to be a beautiful fall, I don't blame you! Around here, though, seasons are typically defined by something other than the color or existence of leaves on our trees.

Sports. We're either in the midst of one harrowing season or dreaming of the next season (though admittedly, just yesterday I was already bemoaning the late-March/early-April NBA and NHL-only time of the year).

That time of year, when only show-boating, over-paid professional ball-bouncers (tell us how you really feel, Kara) and grown men racing around on skates (disclaimer - I have no problem with ice hockey but growing up in Atlanta didn't exactly put the sport front and center in my life) hog the sports page in the morning or the TV in the evening... well, that's our off-season.

The day that "the Tournament" ends and all that's left is well... see the aforementioned description of the remaining sports... is a day of mourning. For you food-types... think of the day when your last box of Girl Scout cookies is tossed into the recycling bin... not to be revived for another entire year. First you feel sadness and regret that you'd already eaten that last cookie. Then you recover and begin calculating how long it'll be until the your next morsel.

Well, thanks to Nicole and this delicious rendition of Samoas, it could be tonight! Believe it. These cookies are just as good (if not better!) as the purple-boxed real thing. I recommend making the Samoa bars over the actual hole-in-the-middle cookies - just as you'd expect, what with my bar cookie obsession and all. Turns out your off-season just might not be so bad!

The only thing left wishing for is that my off-season had a similar outlook.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Seasons

Just as I was about to open this post with a big proclamation of "I love fall" I realized... it's not so much fall that has me all sorts of giddy these days... sure, I love the changing leaves, the chill that makes you zip up those boots and throw on a sweater, the crockpots and soup bowls being dusted off... but what I like best is simply the good ole' fashioned dawning of a new season. Just when you think you can't take one more day of Mother Nature's creation, she delivers another... and this next season, again full of promise and anticipation.

Or, er - maybe it's just me.

Either way, I know this is where I am right now; I'd had just about all I could take of the humidity of our summer, ready to give up entirely on these seasons when suddenly fall poked its head out reminding me of the beauty of that elusive next page on the calendar.

And lovely she is...

The very best part about this? I'm confident that right when I'm done with the uneven temperatures and sometimes dreary, rainy days of fall, along will come Christmas-time (it's right around the corner - already!), in all its 'decked-the-hall' glory and a whole new, exciting season.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Fairy Tale Dreams

I have this dream... this weird dream - that one day someone other than my brother and sister-in-law will let me, heck - dare I say even ask me - to take pictures of their kids. And/or (entire) family... the more the merrier. In this fairy tale, I'm confident of my abilities and knowledge of my camera and (get this) my gracious friends are actually excited to get their proofs back knowing at least one good shot will emerge. Hey, it's my dream... anything can happen.

'Course I'm a pretty realistic person... even in my imagination I'm not cashing checks from these activities, I'm certainly no professional. Fairly simply, I'm happiest in my dream when I can just get the picture I want, when I want it... and give friends and family the same service.

This dream, surely not unique in its generality, is the culmination of me figuring out that I love taking pictures - so subjects beware, I go no where without a camera these days, practice makes perfect, after all! The optimistic part of me keeps the dream alive... and along the way, I just hope that sometime I'll luck out and capture a moment, just how it happened.

*speaking of pictures...
honey and jam
Mike Moreland Photography
Pioneer Woman
Smitten Kitchen

Thursday, October 08, 2009

And On the Weeknights...

Recently our nights have felt packed... with nothing extra special - just a few unexpectedly long days at work, a couple of evening meetings and the usual running around trying to accomplish a thing (or 47, if you know me). And I know I'm not the only one... no complaining here - these types of weeks somehow push me to be more productive - seems that the fuller the days (and nights) are, the more I try (being the operative word) and pack in.

On those harried nights, it's become much my norm to walk straight through the front door into the kitchen. More than once I've even found my work bag still attached while I'm already rummaging through the fridge to uncover the ingredients to my (hopefully) previously thought-out quick, easy, delicious and healthy meal (don't give me too much credit, though - my attempts at menu-planning often leave much to be desired).

Assuming that I've remembered to defrost two fillets ahead of time or that we actually have fresh salmon on hand (the former is the more likely scenario), this seasoning has played an key role on more than one of the aforementioned evenings. It simply doesn't get much easier than applying a liberal dose of this mixture of paprika, crushed red pepper, and a blend of herbs, to your fish. And best of all, in the amount of time it takes for the fillets to grill (or sear) to perfection, you can throw together a green salad or veggie to complete the meal.

I generally can't be trusted anywhere near the temptation of a Williams-Sonoma store but their Potlatch Seasoning is one of the only things that I will break policy for. And at just $9 a pop, even without a gift card, I will confidently march myself right into the store when we are in need of our next tin of "key-to-our-weeknight-meal-happiness".

*while I won't reveal exactly how long (ah-hem), I feel compelled to mention that our current stock has lasted us quite a while so I sadly haven't 'needed' to go to Williams-Sonoma recently

Saturday, October 03, 2009

These ARE (My) Mother's Cookies

Recently we were here.

It rained. But not nearly enough to ruin our fun.

We used this...

And ate this...

Among other things.

But these... my (say it with me now) baker-cook extraordinaire mother, she made these...

And you should too! This weekend. Delicious with vanilla ice cream or a cup of coffee (trust me) - so no matter your version of fall weather, you have no excuse.

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chunk Cookies
adapted slightly from the Barefoot Contessa
yield: 24 to 30 large cookies

1/2 lb unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 c light brown sugar
2/3 c sugar
2 extra-large eggs, room temperature
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 c smooth peanut butter
2 1/2 c all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp kosher salt
1 lb good semisweet chocolate chunks
sugar, for finishing

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time. Add the vanilla and peanut butter; mix. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt and add to the batter, mixing only until combined. Fold in the chocolate chunks.

Drop the dough on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, using 1/4 cup measure. Dip the base of a glass with a flat bottom into the remaining sugar; using the sugared glass, flatten the dough lightly. Then press the tines of a wet fork in both directions. Bake for exactly 17 minutes (the cookies will seem underdone). Do not over-bake.

Oh - and of course these girls... they joined us, too.

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