Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween! (His & Hers Edition)



Friday, October 29, 2010

Friday Firsts - Halloween Goodies

Friday Firsts

Hello everybody and Happy Friday! (Click the image above or on my sidebar for more information.)

Between my birthday and Halloween fun around here I'm a little backlogged in posts. I have been trying out some new recipes, but they're just not posted yet!

So for this week my firsts will be a whole bunch of the Halloween fun I've been sharing with you this week.

I've shown you some of the Halloween decor around our house.

And I've shared two really cute recipes - witches' broom cookies and cheesy toes with stinky dip.

Now it's your turn to tell me about your first! To participate in Friday Firsts create a blog post featuring a "first" of yours. Next, link that blog post below and tell us about it! If you don't have a blog or a specific post to link to please tell us about your first in the comment section! Any and all participation is welcome!

If you would like to display the Friday Firsts button as a badge in your post or on your side bar, you can copy and paste the following code:

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Cheesy Toes with Stinky Dip

Another cutesy Halloween treat! This time, these came from the Cooking Club magazine. I kept the recipe as is, but changed the dip up some.

Please note: The recipe says it makes 5 dozen toes. Ours were ~1 1/2" long and we only got like 40.

Official warning: If you are on a diet please shield your eyes. I have my own growing thighs to worry about, I can't be held responsible for your undoing too.

Cheesy Toes:
2 cups extra sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, cubed
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/4 cups flour
sliced almonds

Stinky Dip:
1/2 cup sour cream
2 Tbsp mayonnaise
1/2 tsp dried basil
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper

Pulse cheese, butter, and salt in a food processor until well-blended. Add the flour and blend until a dough forms. Form dough into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for an hour until firm.

Remove dough from the refrigerator and shape into toes, making about 1 1/2 inch long, by 1/2 thick. Press a sliced almond onto the tip for a nail, and use a spoon to press "knuckle creases" into the dough. Place on a parchment lined baking sheet and freeze for 30 minutes, until firm.

Heat the oven to 400° and bake 10-12 minutes until golden brown (I checked the bottoms because the tops didn't brown.)

To make the dip, simply combine all of the ingredients and stir well. Serve chilled dip with warm or room temperature toes.

YUM! The toes were deliciously cheesy and soft on their own, but the dip definitely kicks it up a notch! I'm not sure if it's the fresh garlic or the lemon juice, but there is a definite tangy, biting punch that is enjoyable for your taste buds! You can't help but giggle when you're munching these down - they really do look like little toes!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Witches' Broom Cookies

Bear with me, I'm in a cutesy Halloween baking mood. These came from Betty Crocker and were too adorable to pass up making!

1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
2 Tbsp water
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups flour
1/8 tsp salt
pretzel sticks/rods (*see note)

2 tsp shortening
2/3 cup chocolate chips
butterscotch chips, optional

Preheat the oven to 350°. Mix the brown sugar, water, and vanilla in a medium bowl. Add the flour and salt, mixing until the dough resembles coarse crumbs. It should hold together when squeezed with your fingers.

Shape dough into twenty 1 1/2 inch balls. Press onto the ends of each pretzel stick/rod. (Note: I purchased pretzel "dipping sticks" which were about 4" long and the perfect size. If you are using full-sized pretzel rods, break them in half.) Shape the dough ball into a broom shape, and use a fork to create "bristles."

Bake for about 12 minutes, not allowing them to brown. Remove from the cookie sheet and let cool.

Place the cooled cookies on wax paper. Over a double-boiler melt the chocolate and shortening. Spoon chocolate over the brooms, "sealing" the part where the pretzel meets the cookie. Optional: drizzle with melted butterscotch chips.

  • I read in some of the reviews that these do not keep well. In a closed container the cookie moisture tends to make the pretzels stale. These are best eaten day-of. (Don't mind if I do...)
  • This would be a great recipe for kids to make with you. There are no raw eggs in the batter so it's safe for little mouths to "taste test."

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Top Chef Polenta with Braised Meatballs

This was meal 2 of 2, ordered from Schwan's Top Chef meal line. (For meal 1 review click here.)

I had high hopes for this one because it was Kevin's polenta with braised meatballs from season 6. Johnny and I both loved Kevin from the start. He was so sweet, so loveable, and above all the drama.

Unfortunately, this contained whey so Johnny couldn't try it, I was on my own.

First impression? It was pretty small - see my finger on the left for comparison. This was packaged as three (yes, 3!) serving sizes. In what world?

I divided it up into two portions, eating one for lunch and reheating the second half later.

Braised meatballs = pretty good, but were more like sausage balls. They kept having those little hard chunks in them too, which really grosses me out.

Roasted cauliflower = a lot better than any other frozen vegetable I've ever had. You could tell they went through a lot of effort to make these good, even adding lemon zest for a nice flavor burst.

Creamy polenta = mind blowingly good. Also, probably mind blowingly bad for you. But I couldn't stop gobbling it up! By far my favorite part of the meal.

The stats on this were horrific. The entire package contained 69 grams of fat, 30 grams of saturated fat, and 2760 mg of sodium - or 114% of your daily amount!!!

Besides the polenta being good, I wouldn't eat this again. Not only for the taste, but especially for the stats.

At the end of the day it was fun to try some Top Chef meals, but I think I'll stick to my home made dinners. I'm just not cut out for processed foods and boxed meals, I guess! They were both way too salty and not fulfilling for me, personally.

This is not a compensated review. Top Chef and Schwan's have no clue who I am. I bought this meal with my own money and this is my honest opinion of the product.

Monday, October 25, 2010


Maybe it's because it's the same time of year as my birthday, but I love Halloween! I think it's so much fun to dress up as something else and play games and trick-or-treat and go to parties. It's such a great start to the holiday season!

In the spirit (har har, get it!??) of Halloween, here are some things going on around here!

Kitchen towels bought at The Center

Witch ornament, also from The Center - she's an old lightbulb!

Bat I made from a coat hanger and garbage bag.

Mice on the stairs I made from an old orange juice container and a template.

Taking a step outdoors are the items I'm REALLY proud of. Creations from plywood, jigsawed and painted by yours truly! (The witch still needs her broom and lantern affixed.)

Close-up of the kitty's face - those are elecrtical wire whiskers!

Close-up of the google eye couldron.

Heading up the walkway is a sparkly witch's hat ...

... and a spooky bat!

And last but not least, a vegetable tray we brought to a recent gathering. What's that you say? There's nothing Halloweeny about an old, boring vegetable platter?

Not so, my friends!! Simply purchase an orange bell pepper, and using a small paring knife make him into a tiny jack-o-lantern! Fill with your favorite dip. (In this case I filled him with my delicious homemade hummus.)

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Birthday Eats

Johnny took me out to dinner at Big Tuna, a local Japanese restaurant. I'd eaten there once before, but this second time really won my heart!

First thing to hit the table was the edamame.

We started with the usual ginger salad and miso soup. I need to find a recipe for the ginger dressing they always serve at Japanese restaurants. It is so frickin' good. Johnny and I were sitting there trying to think of words to describe it, but eventually gave up and just stuffed our faces.

Johnny's appetizer was their vegetable gyoza. I had one and it was good, but I didn't want to waste any of my precious stomach space on them!

My appetizer was a Godzilla roll. I was going to snap a picture of the description, but I forgot and by the time I remembered she'd already taken the menu! From what I can remember it was spicy tuna, eel, avacado, and cream cheese. Then it was tempura fried and had an eel sauce and this spicy pepper jelly on it. It was one of those "I'm feeling adventurous" kind of orders, so I wasn't sure how much I'd like it - but I loved it! The texture was spot-on and all of the flavors complimented each other so well. Plus the cream cheese created this really nice gooey creamy aspect to it.

Johnny's entree was teriyaki steak. He offered me a bite, but I never took him up on his offer because I was too busy eating everything else!

My entree was the seafood tempura platter. There were two skewers of scallops, two shrimp, two hunks of white fish, and two crab legs, not to mention a boatload of tempura veggies.

Both entrees also came with rice and we were too full for dessert. But they did bring us some fresh honeydew melon cubes to end the meal while our check was being processed.

When we got home and digested a bit we were ready for my birthday request: cheesecake!!!! I'm not a huge fan of cake and I hate frosting. So Johnny made me cheesecake from my dad's recipe he always made for me when I was growing up.

Sorry for the photos in this post! I was in "birthday girl mode" instead of "food blogger mode." So they're darker and more hurried than usual!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Big Two Six

In honor of my birthday, a very close family friend (and mother of my God daughter) made me a special cake from afar and shared it via Facebook. Thank you Lyn, Marissa, and Cecelia! I love you guys!!!

I thought I'd share it with you guys too, because it's fantastic!

The recipe for this "kitty litter cake" can be found here.

Doesn't it look real!? Perfect for Halloween or April Fool's Day!

I love the "escaping" poo on the edge!

Swirly poo made with tootsie rolls!

Obvious disclaimer: Use a brand new pan and a brand new scoop!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Friday Firsts - Spotted Dick

Friday Firsts

Happy Friday!! (Click the image above if you need more information on Friday Firsts.) Also, please see the exciting announcement/invitation at the end of this post!!

Tomorrow is my birthday! I've requested Johnny take me to Big Tuna for dinner and make me my family's cheesecake in lieu of a cake.

Four years ago my brother e-mailed me the recipe with the subject line "damn cheesecake" because I'd been bugging him about it for days. The first line of the e-mail is "cheese cake *do not share with anyone, cook it in private, i will kill you*" and he ends it with "DONT LET ANYONE KNOW ANY OF THIS OR I WILL SERIOUSLY KILL YOU. ps. happy birthday." Brothers - gotta love 'em, right?

Ok, onto my first because I'm sure you're dieing of curiosity after a title like that.

We found it in the ethnic food aisle and had to get it. It's British. And when you shook the can (which was very light), there was a solid mass that rattled back and forth inside.

Upon opening the can, I discovered it's like some kind of cake. I don't know, it's hard to describe, but I think maybe it was baked in the can.

I cut a wedge out and heated it in the microwave, as it instructed. It's impossible to make this stuff look pretty. It was really dense, dry, crumbly, and sickeningly sweet. I would describe it as a dry, heavy coffee cake that tastes as if molasses were poured over it. Not my favorite thing. But then again, it's not everyday you can say you ate Spotted Dick!

Now it's your turn to tell me about your first! To participate in Friday Firsts create a blog post featuring a "first" of yours. Next, link that blog post below and tell us about it! If you don't have a blog or a specific post to link to please tell us about your first in the comment section! Any and all participation is welcome!

If you would like to display the Friday Firsts button as a badge in your post or on your side bar, you can copy and paste the following code:

Chicagoland Blogger Meet-up Announcement/Invitation:

Beth, Mara, Jenn, and myself would like to extend a welcome to any fellow Chicagoland bloggers and/or readers to come have lunch with us on Sunday, November 21st. We will be meeting at Big Bowl in Schaumburg, which looks absolutely delicious and offers a gluten free menu. If you would like to come or need more information, shoot me an e-mail!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Lea & Perrins Recipe Challenge

Recently, I was given some coupons to purchase Lea & Perrins for FREE, to enter their "Shine at Dinner Time" Video Recipe Challenge.

All you need to do is make a home video (under four minutes) featuring their sauce. Six finalists will be featured on their web site, and voting will determine the final winner. The grand prize winner receives $10,000 and a chance to meet Claire Robinson (from Food Network's 5 Ingredient Fix). The five runners-up will receive $1,000.

This video challenge is open to anybody. You can submit your video through November 14th.

Comment on this post and I will select two winners to mail a FREE Lea & Perrins coupon to so you can create and submit your own video recipe! (Coupons only good in the USA.)

I received three FREE coupons through FoodBuzz and Lea & Perrins. This informative post allows me an entry to win $500 in their sweepstakes.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Cinnamon Ice Cream

Ok, finally! The very last recipe from my dinner party! I knew I'd cooked a lot that day, but it wasn't fully clear just how much I'd cooked until I sat down to write out the recipes for you guys.

Although, technically, I didn't cook this one - Johnny did. From start to finish, all by his pretty little self.

As most of our home made ice creams do, this came from The Perfect Scoop. If you have an ice cream maker I highly recommend getting this book to go along with it. It's the perfect companion, with everything from ice creams, sorbets, sherberts, mix-in recipes and ideas, sauces, toppings, and even recipes for cones and edible bowls! We got this book as a "starting point" for our ice cream collection, but we haven't bought another book because we haven't needed to!

1 cup milk (we used skim)
3/4 cup sugar
pinch of salt
5 six inch cinnamon sticks, broken up
2 cups heavy cream
5 large egg yolks

Warm the milk, sugar, salt, cinnamon sticks, and 1 cup of the cream in a medium saucepan. Once warm, remove from the heat, cover, and let steep at room temperature for 1 hour. (Holy cow this step smells really good!)

Remove the cinnamon sticks with a slotted spoon, discarding them. Pour the remaining 1 cup of cream into a large bowl.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, and slowly pour the warm mixture into the yolks, whisking constantly. Add everything back to the saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until the mixture thickens and coats the spatula.

Pour the cooked mixture through a mesh strainer into the large bowl with the cream. Stir over an ice bath until cooled. Chill the mixture in a refrigerator for a few hours, or overnight. Freeze in your ice cream maker according to directions.

Makes 1 quart.

Interested in making your own ice cream at home? Below is the ice cream maker Johnny and I use. We've had it for a year and a half and we love it! It's really convenient and requires no salt or ice. Just freeze the bowl for 24 hrs ahead and you're ready to go!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Friday Firsts - KitchenAid mixer

Friday Firsts

Happy Friday everybody! (Click the image above for more information.) This week flew by for me, but I'm glad because I'm excited about a party we're going to Saturday and next week is MY BIRTHDAY. (does a little dance)

When people ask me my favorite holiday I always say "my birthday!" Only the ones that don't know me well reply with "um.. birthdays aren't holidays." That depends on how you celebrate, my friend.

Last year I celebrated with a giveaway. Who knows, perhaps there will be a repeat this year? It was fun to spread the birthday joy!

Before I share my first I have a confession to make. I was in line for the deli, holding my little ticket (number 19 if you were curious) when I spotted it. Head cheese loaf. I walked closer and stared at this fascinating selection, with hunks of all different shapes, colors, and textures, floating suspended in a clear gelatin of sorts. With a determined act of bravery I thought "that's going to be my Friday Firsts this week!" As I waited for the clerk to slice the orders I'd already given her, I leaned in closer for a look at the ingredient list. Oh. Em. Gee. Tongues? Brain? May contain feet??? I guess I expected cheeks, which are good. But what do you want with a name like "head cheese" anyways? (shudders) So I chickened out.

Instead, my first for this week is my new (to me) KitchenAid mixer!!! Last weekend I spotted it in a thrift store for $39 and pounced! It's pretty grimy and I haven't cleaned it yet, so it hasn't been used but still - it's mine! Mine, mine, mine! I never thought I'd own a KitchenAid mixer of my own. Perhaps if I were to get married I could put it on a registry as a long shot, but really, who buys somebody a $400+ wedding gift?

Now it's your turn to tell me about your first! To participate in Friday Firsts create a blog post featuring a "first" of yours. Next, link that blog post below and tell us about it! If you don't have a blog or a specific post to link to please tell us about your first in the comment section! Any and all participation is welcome!

If you would like to display the Friday Firsts button as a badge in your post or on your side bar, you can copy and paste the following code:

**Edited to add** - I finally did something with Dinner at Christina's Facebook page. Click here to like me, or use the box on the sidebar! Thanks!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Pumpkin Seed Brittle

As I said, my dinner party had a theme of late summer-early fall. I knew I wanted to make a pumpkin tart, and Johnny would want to make an ice cream. But both are so gushy, what to do for some texture? Then it hit me - pumpkin seed brittle! I found a simple peanut brittle recipe and just substituted in pumpkin seeds. It worked out perfectly.

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup water
1 cup pre-toasted pumpkin seeds
2 Tbsp butter, softened
1 tsp baking soda

Grease a large cookie sheet and set aside. In a large saucepan, bring the sugar, corn sugar, salt, and water to a boil, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Stir in the pumpkin seeds and affix a candy thermometer. Continue cooking and stirring until the temperature reaches 300°, or the hard crack stage.

Remove from the heat and immediately stir in the butter and baking soda. Pour at once onto the cookie sheet. Use a butter knife to help spread the mixture to about 1/4" thickness. Cool completely and then twist the pan to help remove. Snap into pieces and store in an airtight container.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Pumpkin Tart

You won't find any canned pumpkin in this recipe! No sirree, this is real pumpkin, roasted whole and scooped out! A little more work, but a lot more taste. Nothing but the best for my dinner party guests! (By the way, the above photo is for you, Mara! No pumpkin shortage in my local grocery store!)

For the pie:
1 pie pumpkin (3 cups, cooked)
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
4 eggs
1 1/2 cans (12 oz.) of fat free evaporated milk

For the crust:
1 1/2 cups flour
2 Tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 Tbsp plus 2 tsp shortening
1/3 cup butter
1/4 cup cold water

Hack the pumpkin into 8ths, removing the seeds and guts. (Reserve the seeds for toasting if you know what's good for you.)

Spray a baking pan and the pumpkin with Pam and roast at 425° for about 45 minutes, until soft. Let cool enough to handle, then remove the flesh from the skin.

Using a pastry cutter, mix the crust's flour, sugar, and salt with the shortening and salt until it resembles peas. Add the cold water until a dough forms. Turn out onto a floured surface and roll into a large circle. Transfer to a 10" tart pan, pressing dough into the ridges and removing any excess from the edges.

In a large bowl combine the pumpkin and all of the remainging pie ingredients and blend until smooth. The mixture will be runny, like a loose pancake batter.

Pour into the tart crust. Any additional filling can be baked in a well-greased dish alongside. Bake at 425° for the first 15 minutes. Then lower the temperature to 350° and continue baking for an additional 45-60 minutes. A knife entered into the center of the pie will come out clean.

Remove from the oven and cool on a rack. Then refrigerate for at least 4 hours, or overnight. Serve with homemade cinnamon ice cream and pumpkin seed brittle (recipes in next 2 posts).

Monday, October 11, 2010

Thrift Share Monday

This Saturday we had another "drywall party" at our house. Also known as free labor. Also known as Johnny's siblings coming over to help us try and get the house renovation done sometime this decade, since it didn't happen in the last decade.

Johnny's sister, Di, sister-in-law, Kelly, and I weren't much help in this department so we decided to bake cupcakes and go thrift store shopping.

I had the thrift store score of a lifetime, just in time for an early birthday present to myself!

A Kitchenaid stand mixer in "avacado" (slightly faded in areas) with glass bowl and whisk for $39 and YES it works. I know!!!! I could barely keep it together while I was checking out at the consignment store and burst through the front door to show Johnny and immediately called my mom to gush about it.

I also found another Fire King piece, to add to my small collection I've acquired the past couple of weeks. I'm now up to 5 pieces, which I just listed on eBay. They're beautiful, but I'll see if anybody else wants them before I resort to using them myself.

I'm linking this up to April Thrift Girl's Thrift Share Monday and Coastal Charm's Nifty Thrifty Tuesdays, weekly collections of thrift store finds.