Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Halloween Tricks, Treats and Decor

Ok, no tricks here, all this stuff is fun and easy to make! Luke and I love entertaining, and I also love Halloween. So, why not host a party?! Here are some ideas for both food and decor. We had so much fun with this, and I hope you'll try one or all!

First, some costume fun! Luke and I were Branson and Lady Sybil from Downton Abbey:

And Benji, our little chef!

Butternut squash vase
I LOVE squash, and when I saw this on The Kitchn, I had to give it a try. Luke made my life easy by using a drill to get into the squash. Note, don't leave the flowers in here, they'll die quickly! Do it only for your party, then off to a vase.

Gourd FireplaceI saw something like this on Pinterest, and just had to try it. Couple that with walking past gourd-eous pumpkin displays at Whole Foods Market, and I made my decision. The best part? Other than transitioning into November nicely, half of these are edible, so I've got big plans :) 

Simply spooky centerpiece
How easy is this? I scored some sassy gold candles on sale at Bed, Bath and Beyond on a whim a couple months ago. All you need is a dish, some candy corn, and candles (or really whatever else - a small pumpkin would look cute here too).

It's Halloween, so why not dessert first?!

Graveyard brownies: Simply prepare your favorite brownie recipe (line the dish with parchment paper), then let it cool. Invert the pan to remove the brownies, then, upside down, cut out the gravestone shapes. I made a simple buttercream frosting and then died some red and some green, and then have baggies of white, red and green frosting and cut out a tiny tip so that you can decorate.

White chocolate ghosts: SO cute! After fumbling through a couple, they were easy to make too! Get the recipe from Martha Stewart.

Barfing pumpkin: I've always wanted to try this. Simply cut the top off the pumpkin and rip out the seeds (save them for roasting!). then, cut out whatever barfy face you like. Make your favorite guacamole recipe and then let the fun begin!
Pumpkin dip holder: Perfect for hummus! Just cut off the top and clean out the inside REALLY WELL to avoid gross stringy stuff getting into your dip. Make sure to provide a spoon for whenever the dip starts getting low so people don't have to stick their hands in.

Mummies: Pigs in a blanket get a makeover here - a MUMMY makeover. I bought some full-sized all beef hot dogs and cut them in half to make them short, and then cut them in half lengthwise so it wouldn't be too big or awkward to bite into. Then, you roll out crescent dough and cut it into strips and wrap the mummy up 2/3 of the way. Then, wrap a little bit around the top to make a little hat. Bake according to the crescent roll directions, let cool, then make little faces with ketchup or mustard. Thanks for the idea, Our Best Bites! (I didn't get a good photo, but they have a beautiful one on their site!)

Witch's Brew: Luke and I REALLY wanted to do a green witch's brew, but we didn't like any of the recipes we saw on the internet. So, we simply combined 1 jar unfiltered apple cider (for a cloudy look) with 1/2 of a 750 of vodka and 1 bottle of champagne, then dropped in a few squeezes of green food coloring. Bonus points if you drop in some dry ice - such a fun effect!

Keys to the Kitchen Cookbook

It's not often I do a cookbook review (ok, well, ever), but recently Benji, in his puppy chewing stage, chewed and destroyed half my cookbooks. Since then, I've taken a special fondness to the ones I have left, and I was thrilled to add another one to my collection, from Food Network's Aida Mollenkamp herself.

Who is Aida? Why, a lovely, vivacious, down-to-earth foodie (you may have seen her on Food Network or being awesome on Chow) I had the chance to meet a few weeks ago at a cookbook event for her new book, Keys to the Kitchen. You know you're off to a good start when you walk in to an event and there are more wine bottles than there are people - that's my kinda lady! We had a great time talking about being food dorks (and commiserating over our triumphs and failures at fontorcheese.com).

So, the cookbook. It's rare that I find a cookbook that would appeal to both Luke and me, but this one did it. The whole first half is for both novices and people just REALLY curious about how/why stuff works (insert why Luke would like here). From all the food staples you should know, to how to tackle grocery shopping, this is a great guide for anyone who claims they don't know how to cook.

Then the second half is all about taking those skills and putting them to work. I love how with each recipe, it includes what skill you're mastering - that's right, each recipe has a purpose! I love that. It's not 5,000 salads with different proteins, dressings and cheeses switched out.

I went a little crazy and tried four recipes in one week of hers. But Lindsay, you hate following recipes all the time - yes, that's true. But sometimes you need a crutch when you're not feeling creative. And ok, I did my own thing on a couple of them, but that's why you love me, right? :)

So what would I rate this book on a 10 point scale? I'd say an 8.5, only because I didn't love all the recipes I made 100% (that may or may not have been because my whole chicken didn't completely thaw before I cooked it - even though I took it out of the freezer and let it thaw in the fridge for 2 1/2 days!!). Also, I'd like to see more photos, simply because I'm a visual person.

Would I recommend this to a friend? You bet! Would I give this as a gift? Absolutely!

In case you're curious, the recipes I tried were:

Roasted squash pasta with sage brown butter (pg. 223) - OMG this was AMAZING. Helped in large part by the fact that I think I got the BEST BUTTERNUT SQUASH ever. Seriously, it was super bright orange and extra sweet.

Cranberry Bean Ragout with Olive-Citrus Butter (pg. 250) - So, I kind of F'd this one up, but I made it work. That's what happen when you don't follow directions. But, it was a lovely bean soup. And Luke, the soup fan, was all over it. Dunked with lots and lots of Parmesan thyme bread from the Whole Foods Market bakery that we're now obsessed with.

Balsamic Caramel Chicken with Roasted Eggplant (pg. 264) - See previous note on chicken not cooking through all the way. Totally my fault. The sauce was lovely. Also, I was reminded that I hate eggplant. I don't cook it for 2 years, then I try again thinking, why don't I ever cook eggplant? I hate the texture and the flavor - end of story. But, if you like it, try this! Or, be smart and just sub in other veggies to roast.

Prosciutto-sage chicken with pan-roasted figs (pg. 278) - Ding ding ding! We have a winner! This one was DA BOMB. Salty prosciutto, sweet figs - what's not to love? And the addition of apple cider to the pan sauce? Amazing! A+
Action shot!

And, here are some recipe links I CAN share, from her article in this month's Food & Wine! Brussels Sprouts salad with pepitas and dates (LOVED the pepitas and dates, but I think next time I'll roast the sprouts). And,  Root vegetable and cauliflower tagine with parsley yogurt (SO good!!!! Made a huge vat and Luke is so excited. Note I didn't do turnips but did extra sweet potatoes and parsnip, and some carrot).
Thanks for sharing Aida - it was lovely to meet you!

Ignore my cheesy grin - I'm so lame when I meet famous people :)

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Oktoberfest Potato Salad

Central Texas has a strong German heritage - with towns with names like Fredericksburg - it's not hard to see why. Every year, we enjoy heading down to New Braunfels for Wurstfest to drink delicious beer, see the costumes and enjoy the music. This year, I held an impromptu Oktoberfest feast to watch the Texas-OU game (let's not talk about that one...) and the potato salad really stood out. It's super simple and very flavorful. Great year-round, but especially for Oktoberfest!

Oktoberfest Potato Salad

3 pounds red potatoes
2 pieces bacon
1/4 onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 cup grainy mustard (I used Fredericksburg Farms brand)
1/3 cup mayo (I like canola-based)
2 scallions, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

Place potatoes in a large pot with cold, salted water. Bring to a boil and let cook about 30 minutes, until fork-tender. Drain and let cool, then half.

Meanwhile, heat a cast iron skillet and cook bacon. Remove bacon, then add onion  and garlic and saute 3-4 minutes. Add in halved potatoes and cook another 3-4 minutes. Remove from heat.

In a large bowl, whisk together mustard and mayo. Add potato mixture and toss to combine. Add scallions and season with salt and pepper to taste. Enjoy with brats, spaetzle, beer and pretzels!

Note the Shiner Oktoberfest in the background :)

Monday, October 15, 2012

Chard, Squash & Farro Salad

I won't lie, my garden is looking really happy right now and I'm thrilled! After buying our house this spring, I got this uncontrollable ITCH to start gardening, and once the crazy hot weather passed, Luke and I went about building our first few boxes and filling them with kale, collards, chard, spinach, beets, cauliflower, brussels sprouts and carrots (ambitious much?). Things are sprouting nicely and I can't wait to start plucking the leafy green goodness. In the meantime, however, I've been satisfying myself with store-bought goods and experimenting with recipes I hope to make once I can start harvesting my crop. 

This is an adaptation of a mustard greens and squash recipe in this month's Bon Appetit. Honestly, I think mustard greens would've been better than chard here, but work with what you've got!

Chard, Squash & Farro Salad

Adapted from this Bon Appetit recipe for Mustard Greens, Roasted Squash and Hazelnut Salad

1 2-lb. butternut squash

2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup hazelnuts, skins removed
1 cup farro
1 large bunch swiss chard, stems removed and leaves cut into 2-inch pieces
3 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
1/3 cup walnut oil
1/3 cup white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon maple syrup
 1 tablespoon grainy mustard

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Half, peel and seed butternut squash, then cut into 1-inch pieces. Spread out on a baking sheet and toss with 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Roast about 35 minutes, until soft and browning. 

Meanwhile, spread hazelnuts on a small baking sheet and roast about 10 minutes, until fragrant. Remove from heat and let cool a few minutes, then cut into large pieces. 

Bring 3 cups water to boil, then add farro and let cook about 18 minutes. Drain whatever water remains and add to a large bowl.

In a large skillet, head remaining 1/2 tablespoon olive oil. Add chard and saute until somewhat softened - 2-3 minutes. Add to bowl with farro then also add butternut squash, hazel nuts and goat cheese.

In a small bowl, whisk together walnut oil, vinegar, maple syrup and mustard. Pour over salad and toss to combine.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Sausage and Poblano Chili

I can't help it - any time there's a "cold snap" in Austin, my mind instantly turns to chili. Luke and I don't eat a ton of red meat, but I'd say the majority of what red meat we DO eat at home is in chili.A longstanding favorite in our house is The Pioneer Woman's version in her cookbook - so tasty! I've tried doing "healthy" chili before that's broth and vegetable based with some ground turkey, but Luke turns his nose up at it. When I saw this recipe in Cooking Light's October issue, it caught my eye, but I knew a couple small tweaks would make it Luke-friendly. I was right!

Sausage and Poblano Chili
Adapted from Cooking Light's Poblano-Turkey Sausage Chili

1 tablespoon canola oil
1/2 white onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 links sweet italian sausage, casings removed
1  tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 bayleaf
2 poblano peppers, halved, seeded and chopped 
1 8-oz can tomato sauce
1 14-oz can diced tomato, undrained
1 14-oz can pinto beans, drained
1 14-oz can black beans, drained
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons chicken broth OR water
1/4 cup cilantro
Optional toppings: sour cream, cilantro & shredded cheddar

Heat oil in a medium to large pot (I use a 5 qt dutch oven). Add onion and garlic and saute 4-5 minutes. Add sausage and break it into crumbles, then add spices and poblanos and saute another 4-5 minutes. Stir in tomato sauce, diced tomato and beans and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes. In a small bowl, whisk together flour and broth to make a slurry, then add to chili. Cook another 2 minutes, stir in 1/4 cup cilantro, then serve.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Pumpkin Granola

You may remember my pumpkin month from four years ago. To me, when October hits, all I can think about is all things orange - pumpkin, sweet potatoes and butternut squash! You can bet those lovely orange colors have made it into our breakfast, lunches and dinners. And now, granola!

My sister was always the pumpkin lover in our family - I was more drawn to apple pie rather than pumpkin on Thanksgiving. While I've come around, I actually made this granola to bring to her as part of the weekend celebrating a BIG birthday for her. But, I think it will be joining in our regular rotation - at least if Luke has anything to say about it!

Pumpkin Granola
Adapted from this recipe from Skinny Taste

2 cups rolled oats
1/4 cup quinoa, rinsed and blotted dry
3/4 cup coarsely chopped walnuts or pecans
1/4 cup flax seeds
1/2 cup raisins or dried cranberries
1/4 cup pureed pumpkin
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 tablespoon honey
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons coconut oil (olive oil will work or butter too)
Pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Place parchment paper on a large baking sheet and spread out oats and quinoa. Roast 10 minutes, stirring once.Remove from oven and reduce oven temperature to 300 degrees.

Place oat mixture in a bowl. Add nuts, flax and raisins.

In another bowl, stir together pumpkin, maple syrup, honey, spice, vanilla, oil and salt. Pour over oat mixture and stir. Spread over the parchment and bake 20 minutes, stirring once. Remove and let cool, then enjoy!
Happy birthday Lauren!