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.

Roasted Fennel. Or, How Not to Be Bested by a Bulb

Ok, I did it. I admitted defeat. It was an exhausting inner struggle and finally I decided that I was the lesser in this battle and the sooner I accepted that, the better. So the garden won, and I gave up and hired a local guy to show my overgrown, weed-infested front yard who’s boss because I clearly could not be bothered was not up for the task. And I feel much improved. And it looks better than it has in years. Sometimes you have to admit defeat. Much like I also did the other night when I couldn’t stop munching on graham crackers with honey….I knew it was PMS….so I went with the flow (ha ha ha…see what I did there?) and caved in to the Borg hormones because I knew resisting was futile. TMI? Bad Star Trek jokes? Sorry….well, we’re all friends here, right?

Well one thing I did not let defeat me was my lack of interest in fennel. I’ve avoided it for years thinking who wants to eat a vegetable that tastes like black licorice? WRONG! It was reminiscent of celery but with a deeper flavour, sweeter, and it was wonderful! No licorice taste….ok maybe the merest hint, but it was so subtle. Cut in quarters, drizzled with olive oil sprinkled with coarse salt and pepper and roasted until tender with crispy bits. It was fantastic. We even persuaded Evan to try some and he replied with “Not bad”, but politely declined any further bites. More for us! Fennel will definitely be on the menu more often.

Roasted Fennel

2-3 fennel bulbs, trimmed of stalks and greens, and cut in quarters
Olive oil
Coarse salt and cracked pepper

Drizzle fennel with olive oil and a splash of balsamic if you like. Sprinkle with sea salt and cracked pepper. Roast at 400° until tender and edges are crispy. About 15-20 min.

First Day of School French Fries

Well, my kid is in Grade 2 now. Sorry, I mean 2nd Grade. My dual-citizen kiddo is really very American and gets mad if you call it Grade 2. There was excitement over a new lunchbox, cool school supplies (I loved school for the school supplies alone! I can spend all day in Staples now….), and a very grown up boy got washed and dressed, made his bed and cleared his breakfast dishes without being asked.

But then the anxiety hit and there was worry, and withering confidence and my very grown up boy became a very teary boy as we walked closer to school. So different from kindergarten when he proudly sat at his Very Own Desk and announced with a giant grin that we could go now. Almost 8 means more to think about, a bit less naïveté about the world, new awareness of things….and more anxiety than Almost 6 did. I hugged him goodbye, loosened his desperate grip on my arm, gave him a thumbs up from the classroom door and managed to get a weak smile in return.

As expected though, I was greeted at 3:20 with light and energy and “My day was AWESOME!!!!”
And then there was the traditional First Day of School Ice Cream and a coffee (milk) together at Starbucks, and home made french fries with dinner.

Home Made French Fries

Use Yukon Gold or another white potato for good crispy fries. Cut them into sticks, place in a single layer on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Brush them with olive oil and sprinkle with coarse salt. Bake at 425º until brown. You probably have to turn them once but you can just push them around with a spatula unless you’re Type A enough to turn them individually with tongs. Serve with ketchup….and vinegar eh?

Roasted Garden Veggies

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I had the house to myself today for the first time in a while. And though I had to spend the majority of it working, the opportunity to wander through the garden looking for lunch gave me a lift. I felt a little bit guilty snagging the first beets and carrots that were ready but I got over it pretty quick.

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I’ve always been pretty sure you can roast just about anything and it will be good. I had visions of turning those green beans into crispy bean-fries or something. I tossed them in olive oil and coarse salt but they were terrible. I’ll have to work on that one. Anyone have any ideas? But the beets and carrots are naturals for roasting. All you need are olive oil, coarse salt, pepper and whole sage leaves (which get all crispy, like little sage chips). Roast at 400º for about 20 min or until fork tender. A rainbow on my plate. Yum.

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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).

Penne Primavera

I’ve been having trouble with wine lately. Not the fun kind of trouble, like <insert posh accent> “Oh you simply MUST try this lovely red we picked up on our last visit to Sonoma/Provence/Piedmont…such a PITY it’s our last bottle”. Or, “...we have GOT to get our architect to design us a larger wine cellar…”  As if.

No, my wine troubles are more like this conversation between me and my body: “WTF body, you used to love red wine…remember the time we toured little wineries in Sonoma with Bob? Remember when we all learned what a real zinfandel was? What happened?”

My body answers, “What do you want? We’re 43 now. We can’t eat whatever we want and still feel 20-something! Especially since you can’t be bothered to exercise me very often. Geez. No respect”.  Gulp, ok, guilty on the last charge. My punishment? Reflux,  a rapid heartbeat and big time flushing.  Sigh. But a least I can still cook with wine!

And no self-respecting red sauce should be without a healthy dose of red vino to deglaze the pan and add flavour depth. Experts disagree on how long you need to keep your dish cooking to burn off the alcohol, some say 20-30 seconds and some say it must boil for several minutes or simmer for a few hours! So if alcohol is something you really need to stay away from, check out this handy table. It’s from Wikipedia so use it as you will…I tried to link to the US Dept of Agriculture Nutrient Laboratory who did the study but the link was corrupt. Fortunately for me, I don’t have to worry that much about it but I thought it was interesting.

So throw some veggies in a pan with some onion, garlic and olive oil, add some basil and oregano, deglaze with some wine and a can of diced tomatoes and go to town!! You can add a touch of cream near the end if you like….or not. It’s super yummy and perfect for spring.

Pasta Primavera

3-4 cups diced vegetables (eg peppers, zucchini, asparagus, mushrooms, snap peas, broccoli, cauliflower etc)
1 onion, diced
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1 19oz can diced tomatoes
1 19oz can tomato sauce (ie pureed tomatoes)
2 tsp dried basil (or 2 tbsp chopped fresh)
2 tsp dried oregano ( or 2 tbsp chopped fresh)
1/3 cup red wine
pinch sugar
salt and pepper to taste
2-3 tbsp heavy cream (optional)
Short pasta, like penne, farfalle, rigatoni.

Dice onion and vegetables roughly the same size. Toss in a deep skillet with some olive oil and a few grinds of pepper on med-high heat. Sauté for 4-5 minutes and add the minced garlic and the herbs. Sauté for another 2-3 minutes. Add wine and let it bubble for about a minute and then add in the tomatoes and a pinch of sugar (and cream). Turn down the heat, add the cooked pasta, salt to taste, and let the sauce simmer for a few minutes to allow the flavour to permeate the pasta. Garnish with grated parmesan and serve.

In our family, we fish out the pasta for Evan so he gets all the flavour but none of the ‘lumps’ of vegetables. We give him a small dish of the vegetable sauce in a separate dish that he usually doesn’t touch but it’s served to him anyway. One day he’ll try it…

Fast Personal Pizza

Maybe it’s because I’m gearing up for a lot more work travel over the next few months and summer is just around the corner and we haven’t figured out which summer camps Evan will be doing…regardless of the reason, it seems we’re in fast forward! Fast forward often requires fast food….but only in the figurative sense. We don’t eat a lot of Fast Food in our family…(though it seems like road trips and McDonald’s go hand in hand and I have no problem with that!)

But make-your-own pizza…that can be really fast and still great. We often get ready-made pizza dough from Trader Joe’s but that still requires rolling it out etc. The BEST super fast mini-pizza vehicle I’ve found, thanks to my mom who tuned me onto it, is Greek style pita. There is no pocket, it’s designed for wrapping around souvlaki or tearing up and dipping in hummus or tzatziki (hmmm…I sense a future post).

However, it also makes terrific pizza crust. Spread your favourite jarred sauce and favourite toppings on the bumpy side. Put it straight on the oven rack flat side down and it gets nice and crisp. About 8-12 minutes on 375° depending on your oven and when you consider your pizza ‘done’. Then, if you’re me, try to get it on the table without a “Mommy, can you finish taking pictures so I can eat it now?”

Hmmm....seems this lunch was particularly orange!