Halloween Fun Food

So Evan wants to live in a haunted house. For real. Every year it’s the same conversation about how the inside of the house needs to be really dark and scary. Thankfully he’s satisfied with some outdoor giant webs and spiders and he’s pretty psyched about the new black cauldron that we’ll fill with dry ice this year.

Having a pumpkin ale and a few laughs…modelling the latest reaper wear from J. Creep.

Pumpkin coffee tables from Crypt and Brimstone

You couldn’t pay me to take a photo like this of a real spider.

Our basement window well has turned into a crypt

Styrofoam balls (cut with serrated knife), painted black and joined with toothpicks, plus some black pipe cleaners.

He’s also psyched about Halloween food, like hot dog mummies, spider dip, witches’ hats and, of course, the puking pumpkin. I took the photos below a couple of years ago, before it had even occurred to me to start writing a blog. I was just one of those weird people who takes pictures of her food. Okay, I’m still am.

Mummy Dogs

Chocolate digestive biscuits (or any round chocolate cookie), Hershey’s Kisses and decorator icing tubes (don’t get the gel kind, it doesn’t dry hard).

Layer refried beans, guacamole, sour cream, grated cheese, black olives and salsa in whatever order you want, ending with salsa on top. Pipe sour cream into a web pattern. You can cut a small hole in the corner of a Ziploc bag and use that to pipe the sour cream.

Lightweight…

All Green Guacamole
There’s no real recipe here, keep tasting as you go.

2-3 ripe avocados, finely chopped green onion, tons of chopped fresh cilantro, juice of 1 lime.

Mummy Dogs
If Pillsbury Crescent Rolls are a guilty pleasure, here’s your excuse to buy them.

Cut hot dogs into 2-3″ pieces
Roll out Crescent Roll dough and use a sharp knife to cut into narrow strips. Wrap the dough around the hotdogs, but not too tight. Don’t forget to leave space for eyes. Bake according to package directions until golden. Dot with mustard for eyes after they’ve cooled down a bit.

Peach Blueberry Galette

I guess it’s fitting that Sanjay Gupta weighed in on whether sugar is ‘toxic’ on 60 Minutes last night. So this galette is probably a bad idea. But it’s a mouthwateringly delectable bad idea. Everything in moderation, right? So make it for when you have company and not when you’re at risk of hanging out alone with your pie. Unless you’re one of those freaks of nature people who can eat just a small, reasonable amount of dessert.
Me? I can’t be trusted.

Soak blueberries in 1 part white vinegar and 4 parts water. Rinse and enjoy. The vinegar will kill any mold spores and they’ll last a lot longer if you buy a big batch.

This is super easy. (Yes, Stacie, even you, self-confessed ‘poser in all culinary endeavours’ can make this 🙂 – though I suspect you are a better cook than you profess given how fit you look!) I was lazy and bought frozen pie shells and it rocked. Put the frozen pie shell (remove from tin plate) on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Leave it to warm up and soften. Then cut up the fruit, toss in sugar and flour, pile in the middle, fold up the sides and bake. See? How hard was that?

Peach Blueberry Galette
adapted from Dinner with Julie

Preheat oven to 400°. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and place frozen pie shell on the parchment. The sides should relax as it warms up and eventually lie flat. If you make your own pastry, roll it out to about 10″ diameter. Stir together the sugar and flour and then toss in the diced fruit. Pile the fruit in the middle of the pastry spreading out to within one inch of the edge. Fold up the sides of the pastry folding it wherever. You can brush the pastry with cream or milk and sprinkle with coarse sugar if you want to. Bake for about 30 min or until bubbly and brown. Don’t worry if the berry juice leaks out. Just let it cool and it will be fine.

1 single crust pie shell (~10″)
2 peaches, diced
1 cup berries
1/3 cup sugar
1 tbsp all purpose flour

Hello Summer! Whole Grain Summer Berry Crisp

I changed my header photo. Like it? Strawberries from my garden, blueberries from the store. Well…that’s not technically true. The strawberries are really from Bob’s garden. He deserves all the credit. I’ve been so lazy this season and haven’t really done much gardening at all (I’m guessing that armchair/backseat gardening doesn’t count).

So with all of these amazing berries staring at me how could I not make a dessert? I mean, Evan likes the crisp part of apple crisp, so this might be a good way to get him to start eating berries. Right? Bob rolled his eyes. “Yeah, you keep telling yourself that.”

Okay fine, whatever. I made it because I wanted it. But I truly did have hopes that Evan would try some. I did make it small. And whole grain. And not a huge amount of butter or sugar.

And Evan didn’t eat any of it. But it was f*cking awesome. Every last bit of it.

Whole Grain Summer Berry Crisp
This is dead simple. Layer the berries in the bottom of the pan. Add a splash of orange juice. If they’re not as sweet as you like, you can sprinkle with sugar to taste. Cover with the topping, dot with butter and bake at 350ºF until bubbly.

2 cups 5 grain rolled hot cereal (or rolled oats if you prefer)
1 cup brown sugar
1 tbsp all purpose flour
2 cups mixed berries
splash of orange juice

Dark Chocolate Sour Cream Zucchini Cake

OK so chocolate. Lots of chocolate, and sour cream for richness and moisture (and as an egg replacer*) and a whole whack of zucchini grated so fine it just disappears into the cake. It’s dense enough to be eaten out of your hand, especially if you’re one of three 7-year old friends, sitting around on the grass discussing what would happen if a superhero fell into a hole to the center of the earth. Apparently Superman might survive if he flew out in time and Wolverine would be fine because he can regenerate. But Spiderman? Spiderman would bite it.

Sorry for the short post…summer has taken over my brain and I can’t think of much to write these days.

Dark Chocolate Sour Cream Zucchini Cake

Adapted from Dinner with Julie.

1/2 cup butter, soft
1/4 cup canola oil
1 3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 1/4 cup all purpose flour
3/4 cup cocoa
1 1/8 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup plus 2 tbsp sour cream
2 cups finely grated zucchini
3/4 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350º. Spray a Bundt pan with non-stick spray.
On high speed, beat the butter, oil, sugar and 2 tbsp sour cream for 2-3 minutes until thick and pale yellow. Add in vanilla and mix to combine.

In a separate bowl, stir together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

On low speed, add about 1/2 of the dry mixture to the wet ingredients, then stir in the sour cream and mix to combine. Mix in the rest of the dry ingredients, scraping down the sides of the bowl. At this point the batter will be really thick, but adding the zucchini will thin it down a bit.

Stir in the zucchini and chocolate chips until well distributed. Bake for about an hour, until the top is springy and a toothpick comes out clean.

I was in a hurry to make this cake and had to get it out of the pan while it was still hot. To my surprise, not one crumb stuck to the Bundt pan. So whether you let it cool completely or turn it out while it’s still warm, you’ll have to experiment. It probably depends on your pan and how well you sprayed it.

*if you’d like to make this cake with eggs, replace the 2 tbsp of sour cream with two eggs. Add them at the same time as the vanilla. Reduce the baking powder to 1 tsp only.

Chocolate Bundt Cake with Dulce de Leche

It was Cinco de Mayo the other day, and so am I giving you a fab recipe for fajitas or enchiladas or even mojitos? No….though Bob made a kick ass fish taco last night. Or so I’m told. I’m allergic to fish, remember? But our friends said it was great. Next time he makes it I’ll take some photos and let you in on the recipe. Because quite honestly, this dinner party was all him….he planned, invited, grocery shopped, prepped and cooked. What a guy! It was really fun too. I did virtually nothing. Except make this cake. And the dulce de leche that is decadently running down the sides. Oh my god, you guys.

This is the easy way to make dulce de leche, using a can of sweetened condensed milk. I picked it up from Stephanie Eddy’s Icing on the Cake column in the Globe and Mail (Canadian paper, for my friends here in the Excited States). There are methods out there that call for boiling the unopened can in a pot of water but you do risk having the can blow up and wasting all that decadent sweetness doing some serious damage to someone or your kitchen cabinets.

For this method, you pour the sweetened condensed milk into a 8 or 9″ pan, cover tightly with foil and make sure the foil is not hanging down. Tuck it up tight like in the photo above.

Then put your covered pan in a larger one, like a roasting pan and fill with water until about halfway up the sides of the smaller one. Pop in the oven at 450º for about 90 min. You will probably have to add more water at some point. Check the water level at the 45 min mark. Don’t add cold water though, boil the kettle and use that to top up the level.

When it’s done, it will be this lovely caramel colour. I did mine on convection and it was finished in about an hour (good thing I decided to check under the foil!) It was about the consistency of pudding. Give it a good whisk to get it all smooth if there are lumps. The first time I made this, my oven was not on convection and I just left it for 90 min. It was not lumpy at all.

It will thicken a bit more as it cools. While it’s still warm eat it by the spoonful ladle it on the crest of the bundt cake and it will slowly drip down the sides. Or, let it cool and spread it between two cookies, or stir it into plain yogurt…keep leftovers in the fridge.

Bundt cakes are trendy right now for some reason. With a traditional round or 8″ square eggless cake, the middle always falls a little. But I wondered if the shape of the bundt pan might lend itself well to an eggless cake. I was right!! It didn’t fall and it rose very well. However, I needed to alter my original eggless chocolate cake recipe because for some reason, in the bundt pan, it turned out dry the first time I made this. So I added 1/4 cup of stewed prunes (baby food prunes would work really well because it’s so smooth, but applesauce or pureed dates would likely be just as effective). Recipe below. If you want to make this with dulce de leche as a topping, make the cake first and have it cooling while the oven is working its magic on the sweetened condensed milk.

Chocolate Bundt Cake (eggless)
Proportions are for a 9″ bundt cake pan. This makes a large amount of batter. Preheat oven to 375º . If you don’t need to make the cake eggless, skip the balsamic vinegar and the prunes and add 2 eggs.

2 1/2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/2 cup cocoa powder
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2/3 cup melted butter
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tsp vanilla
2 cups milk (1/2 milk, 1/2 buttermilk)
1/4 cup stewed prunes (date puree or applesauce would also work)

In a large measuring cup, melt the butter (microwave), then stir in milk, vinegar, vanilla and prunes. Then sift the dry ingredients together in the bowl of a stand mixer and stir to blend well. On low power, slowly pour in the wet ingredients. Once you’ve got a little moisture in there you can turn up the mixer and not have flour flying around everywhere. Let it mix vigorously for a few minutes.

Spray the bundt pan well with non-stick spray. Pour in cake mix and bake until a toothpick/skewer comes out clean. Let cool completely before attempting to turn it out of the pan. Even with a ton of non-stick spray I still lost thin patches of cake, but that will be covered up by the dulce de leche (or whatever you frost it with). For a good review of bundt pans go here (you’ll need to sign up for a free trial to see the whole article if you’re not a member).

Salted Chocolate Matzah Crack

Ok so this is crazy good and oh so addictive. Plus it’s super easy to make…the hardest part is waiting for the chocolate to completely cool so you can snap and crack it into pieces. Wish I could take credit for the name and the recipe but I took it from Dinner with Julie last year and made it for book club. It was an instant hit and made me realize that I cannot make this unless I’m about to share it with several people because I don’t even want to think about what would happen if it were just me and the Crack. Ok, so I have thought about it…a lot! It’s so hard to just sit here on the couch and write about it and not get up and make a batch!

Place the matzah in a parchment and foil-lined cookie sheet with sides, pour melted caramel over it, spread it, then bake it until golden.

Then scatter chocolate chips all over the matzah and let the heat from the caramel melt the chips until you can spread them.

Sprinkle some course salt and then let it cool completely. Break into pieces. Then I dare you not to eat it all! We packed ours up and most of it made it over to our friends’ house.

Salted Chocolate Matzah Crack
adapted, barely, from Dinner with Julie

The proportions are 1:1 so really you could easily make as large or small a batch as you like.

4-6 sheets matzah (or any other thin crisp flatbread, really)
1 cup butter
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup chocolate chips (or more…)
coarse salt

Preheat oven to 375°.  Line an edged baking sheet with tin foil and then parchment paper. Place matzah on the sheet, breaking some to fit.

Make caramel by melting the butter and brown sugar in a saucepan, then bring to a boil for 3 minutes stirring constantly. It will get all bubbly.

Pour the caramel over the matzah and spread it with a heat-resistant spatula. Bake for about 10 minutes, until caramel is golden. Then scatter chocolate chips over the caramel and let them melt with the existing heat. Spread melted chips with the spatula, sprinkle with coarse salt and let cool completely (putting it in the fridge helps if you’re impatient!)

Crazy Gingerbread Family

Life, work travel, failed recipes and/or crappy photos have been interfering with my blogging lately!! But daylight savings has kicked in (natural light- yay!), and I’m trying my brother’s camera so that certainly helps! May have to invest in a little artificial light that looks natural though….but I’m kind of amazed at the good photos I’ve been able to take just with my li’l old iPhone. I haven’t quite found the right balance between fun hobby and obsession yet though. Seems I’m quite good at neglecting my family while dinner gets cold as I’m trying for the best shot! But I try to make it up to them by spending a lot of time reading to Ev after dinner.

I can’t tell you how many different gingerbread men books we’ve been reading lately. Evan keeps bringing them home from school, plus we have the lovely Jan Brett version, The Gingerbread Baby. So it’s kind of all gingerbread all the time these days! But hey, if he’s willing to practice reading, we’ll sit through another story! So naturally when I asked him if there was anything special he wanted to do with his Nana at our upcoming visit, he immediately said “make gingerbread men!”

He floured (a bit), rolled (a bit), cut out (a bit) and then announced he was bored.

Note Nearly Headless Nick (we’re also into Harry Potter these days) on the top left. The cookies do swell somewhat in the oven which provided some much needed treatment for our friend NHN, who became just Nick.

Decorating brought him back along with, in typical 7 yo boy fashion, the request to make some of them look creepy or fierce. So Nick ended up with crazy eyes and “blood” dripping from his neck!

Lots of fun and they were delish! Plus I got to eat Smarties, which are NOT the slightly-sour-like-a-SweetTart candies you see at Halloween in the States. No, those are called Rockets, thank you very much. Smarties, for my US friends, are like M&Ms only better. (I’m not biased or anything). Anyway, the cookies were pretty mild as far as gingerbread goes which is good for a younger palate. If you wanted it to be a bit sharper you could use a darker molasses and add more ginger and allspice. You can make the dough ahead of time and keep it in the fridge for a couple of days or freeze it for a couple of weeks if you want.

Gingerbread
Adapted from Bon Appetit, Dec 2006, via Epicurious.com

2 1/4 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
1/4 cup mild-flavored (light) molasses

Whisk first 6 ingredients in medium bowl and set aside. Beat butter and sugar in large bowl until fluffy, then add in molasses, then add dry ingredients. With your hands, work dough in to four balls and flatten somewhat into discs. Wrap in saran and chill for at least 2 hours and up to 2 days.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment. Roll out relatively thin and cut into shapes. Transfer to cookie sheet and bake until almost firm in the center. In the meantime, gather the scraps and roll out again. At some point the dough will get warm and sticky and will need to be chilled again. Just wrap it back up, put it in the fridge and use another chilled disc in the meantime. Wait until fully cooled to decorate.

Banana Bread

If I’d bubble-wrapped the bananas I brought on my annual girls cross-country ski weekend we’d be having a different conversation right now, but bubble wrapping bananas is just this side of nuts. Bananas definitely don’t travel well. Plus, they can’t have have more than one or two brown spots for me to eat them fresh. Bob is more forgiving and doesn’t mind a bruise or two and Evan?….he won’t eat them, period. Fresh, that is, banana bread is a different story entirely.

I’ve been making this banana bread for more than 20 years…I still use my stained and spotted hand-written recipe, copied from my mom’s before I headed to Montreal for university. I don’t think either of us uses Crisco anymore though!

You can make this with or without eggs and you can’t really overmix it. For the eggless version it’s definitely best if the butter is pretty soft so that it ends up kind of whipped up when mixed with the sugar and egg substitute. The final batter will be pretty thick but it rises well.

It will make one standard loaf or three mini loafs. I tend to make the smaller loaves because one or two slices are the perfect size for E’s lunch box, and to make it last longer I’ve been making it with eggs lately, which prevents me from eating it!! The egg thing is interesting and a novelty for me. Until a couple of years ago I’d never cracked an egg…weird, I know, but with a severe allergy there was a) no need and b) paranoia about dealing with raw egg. Disposable nitrile gloves solved the latter problem and it’s been fun.

Banana Bread
I usually use white whole wheat flour for this, or a mix of all purpose and white whole wheat. For the egg substitute, I’ve used EnerG egg replacer, or any of the sour dairy products listed and all work fine. Applesauce also works well (same amounts as below). If you use EnerG egg replacer, be sure to give it a good whisk so it gets foamy and well mixed before adding it to butter/sugar. Also, overripe bananas (particularly those that have been frozen and thawed) give the best flavour. You can also throw in 1/2 cup of nuts if you’re inclined, or chocolate chips (yum) at the end.

Preheat oven to 350˚

3/4 cups sugar (1/2 white, 1/2 brown)
1/2 cup butter
2 eggs (or 4 heaping tbsp yogurt/sour cream/buttermilk)
2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3 large bananas, mashed (about 1.5 cups)

Beat together sugar, butter and egg/substitute for 3 minutes at high speed (or med on stand mixer). Fold in mashed bananas.  Sift together flour, baking soda, powder and salt. Fold into wet ingredients. Pour into buttered/sprayed loaf pans and bake 45-60 min or until toothpick comes out clean. Let cool.

Eggless chocolate brownies


I’ve been on a quest to make a decent brownie without eggs. It’s been tricky…they’ve either turned out really flat or too dry and crumbly. But then I came across the ” (Gluten Free!) Black Bean Brownies That Don’t Suck” recipe over at Dinner with Julie, AND my sister-in-law sent me a black bean brownie recipe as well. Brilliant! Must be meant to bean. (OMG, I am so sorry). The beans add some much needed ‘heft’ to the eggless brownies I’d tried in the past that tended to just fall apart and since I don’t need to avoid gluten, I decided to play around with adding some flour as well for extra structure.

They don’t have a whole lot of sugar compared to other brownies and I even decided to use white whole wheat flour to see if they might possibly edge toward *gasp* healthy. Leaving out the eggs means you need to replace that liquid plus their binding property; plain yogurt, sour cream or buttermilk work well. One heaping tablespoon per egg. Adding baking powder allowed them to rise a little higher than without and voila! I think I’ve hit on something pretty good, but then I’ve never had a ‘real’ brownie for comparison. Let me know what you think if you make them.

Ok, Bob says they’re good. Especially with the chocolate chips stirred in. At his request, the rest of them are now tucked in tight waiting to be taken out of his reach. Hello annual girls’ XC-ski weekend!

Eggless Chocolate Brownies

1 19oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter, melted
1/4 cup cocoa
2 tbsp buttermilk or sour cream or plain yogurt
2 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup white whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 cup chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 325˙F.
Put the black beans, sugar, melted butter, cocoa, buttermilk, vanilla and salt into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse to combine initially, scraping down the sides. When well combined, let it go for a while, until quite smooth.  Measure out the flour and baking powder into a mixing bowl and go and check your e-mail for a few minutes while the food processor does its thing.

Pour pureed wet ingredients into the mixing bowl with the dry and stir well to combine. Stir in chocolate chips. Pour into a buttered (or sprayed, or tin foiled) 8″ X 8″ baking pan. (I used an oblong dish that was 10X5 because my square pan is 9X9 and is too big for this recipe). Bake for 25-30 min or until a toothpick comes out relatively clean (a few crumbs sticking is a good thing), but not wet. If you can, wait until they have cooled completely….

Wacky Cake (Eggless Chocolate Cake)

Just when I finished congratulating myself for not gaining any weight over the holidays we had a belated birthday dinner a few nights ago for my brother and Evan and there are were two different kinds of ice cream in the freezer along with some leftover holiday chocolate. Oh well. I went for a run today (the fact that I even mentioned it gives you a clue as to how novel that is). Does it still count if I only really ran for about 5 minutes before I needed to walk? Probably better than just wearing my workout gear around the house all day, right? Good thing I work from home.

Wacky cake, if you didn’t know, is an old recipe…believed to be from WWII when ingredients like eggs and milk were rationed.  But since eggs and milk are common allergens, it works well for the allergic set too. Cakes without eggs can tend to be crumbly so I use milk (usually 1% because we have it around but it would probably be even better with whole milk) and melted butter instead of the vegetable oil from the original recipe as I think it makes it a bit more substantial.

It doesn’t rise too much so it’s better as a layer cake if it’s for a birthday. (And mine sunk in the middle but my oven is old and doesn’t heat evenly). If it was to be brought to someone else’s place I’d have doubled the recipe to make two full layers. But since any leftovers would be hanging out in our kitchen (not for long I might add), I decided to use loaf pans, split the single recipe batter in half and make an oblong layer cake instead. It still tastes good even if it’s a different shape!

There are many variations of this recipe on the internet and I have no idea where I found the one I’ve adapted. Lots of them say to make 3 separate wells in the dry ingredients and pour the vanilla, water (milk) and oil (melted butter) in each but you don’t need to do that. Just mix the dry, mix the wet, pour wet into dry. Couldn’t be easier.

Eggless Chocolate Cake

1 1/4 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup melted butter
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350

Sift all dry ingredients together and stir to blend well. I used the whisk attachment on my mixer so I’d have my hands free to get the wet ingredients together but you can use a fork or a hand whisk. In a 2 cup measure, melt the butter and then add the milk, vanilla and vinegar to it and stir well. The milk will start to curdle a bit but you want that. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and mix well. (Over-mixing doesn’t hurt this cake and I think it even helps). Pour into an 8″ pan (round or square) and bake for 35-40 min or until a toothpick comes out clean. If you want this to be vegan, substitute vegetable oil for the melted butter and use 1 c. water instead of milk.