Are you ready for Halloween? We spent the weekend sawing, cutting, taping, painting and shaping Jackson's costume and I think we just might be ready in time for the parade around the school tomorrow morning. This year's outfit requires copious amounts of spray paint, which isn't exactly ideal when you're living amongst the aftermath of stormy Sandy. What were we thinking? Here's a photo from Saturday morning where we spent a chunk of time at Home Depot buying supplies for his costume. Any guesses as to what he's being this year?
So, while I spend a bulk of my day shuttling between the house and spray paint alley the storage shed, I wanted to leave you with these beef and bean pies. They were just the thing for dinner last night, when I had exactly 30 minutes to get something on the table. Something hot and comforting, not to mention Halloween themed - this is Ben's holiday so we try to add in some spooky details wherever we can - and what could be better than a chili-eqsue concoction topped with cheddar cheese and pie crust?
When I was looking for some quick dinner inspiration, I went and checked out the Life Made Delicious website for ideas, and was completely smitten with these individual beef and bean pot pies. The tops in the original recipe were made with a Bisquick base, but since I've stocked my freezer with half a dozen pie crusts, I pulled one out for this meal instead. A bowl was used to cut circles from the pastry and it took 3 seconds and a paring knife to create some seemingly scary faces. Perfect for Halloween night dinner, don't you think?
Beef and Bean Pies
Adapted from Life Made Delicious
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place four oven-safe soup bowls on a baking sheet and set aside.
Heat the oil in a medium skillet set over medium-high heat. Add the beef and cook, breaking it up with a wooden spoon. When it's no longer pink, add the beans, sauce, brown sugar and chili powder. Bring the sauce to a boil and reduce the heat, simmering for 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and remove from the heat.
While the sauce simmers, lightly dust a work surface with flour and roll out the pie dough. Use a bowl that's similar in size to your soup bowls, and cut out four dough circles. Feel free to cut Jack o'lantern faces into the dough using a paring knife.
Divide the beef and bean mixture evenly between the bowls. Top each with 1/4 cup grated cheese. Cover with the pie dough circle and lightly brush with egg wash.
Bake for 15 minutes, or until the dough is golden brown.
Disclosure: I'm working with Life Made Delicious this year as part of their blogger program.
Sometimes, when I get an idea, I head straight to Google to see how many times my brilliant concept has been created before. There are times when I type in a search word and see over 2,000 photos in the results. I feel both elated and depressed when that happens; content knowing that there are people out there who think like me, and then silently shaking my fist at them for coming up with my great idea first.
Fortunately, this isn't what happened when I looked up hamburger hand.
I remember seeing Julie make a meat hand a few years ago, and I also remember thinking how great it would be to turn that meat hand into a smaller, portable portion; something to be served at a party, or just plain fun for the kids because we all know they love anything that's presented in miniature form.
Speaking of kids, mine were quite wowed to see these on their dinner plates last night. The shallot fingernails grossed them out a little - only because anything from the onion family isn't really their friend, but beyond that they were thrilled with this creepy creation. In fact, Jackson assures me that these were the best burgers he's ever tasted, even though they were made exactly like all the others.
Makes 10 burgers
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Line a baking sheet (or two if necessary) with parchment paper. Divide the sirloin into 10 equal portions and shape into balls. I weighed mine on a kitchen scale to ensure they were each a little over 3oz.
Tear each ball into two pieces. Shape one into a round, flat disc and set in on the parchment paper and divide the other into five small pieces - one for each finger and the thumb. Roll these pieces into thin logs and insert them into the hand where the fingers and thumb would go. Work with the meat and shape it until you're happy with the look of the hand.
Season the meat hands with salt and pepper. Bake for 15 minutes, remove from the oven and slather the tops with ketchup. Turn the oven to broil and pop the hands back in for 1-2 minutes, or until the hands are a little crispy and the ketchup is thick and gooey.
While the burgers are cooking slice the shallot into fingernail-like shapes and press them onto the fingers when the burgers are removed from the oven.
Serve with assorted condiments and buns.
Here's another fun idea for any kid's party: pretzel party sticks. They are easy to make, requiring only three or four ingredients, and can be customized to match the theme or colour of any celebration.
My kids love the salty-sweet combination of the pretzels and chocolate and often request these for a classroom party if I happen to be on snack duty. It's a nice change from the typical cupcake that winds up being sent into a party, and everyone is always charmed by them, surprised that such a simple idea can have so much impact on the kids.
My little people can now make these on their own, and have been able to do so for a while. Depending on the age, your kids may need a little help with the melting of the chocolate, but beyond that let them loose to have a little fun. The pretzels used are very important; I like thick and salty ones and usually purchase mine at my baking supply store, although if you keep your eye out you might find them at the grocery or bulk foods store.
Pretzel Party Sticks
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
Melt the chocolate in the microwave, in 20-second intervals, or in a heatproof bowl set over simmering water, stirring occasionally, until smooth and glossy.
Dip the ends of the pretzels in the chocolate, covering at least 1/3 of the stick with the chocolate.
Decorate with sprinkles, or in this case candy googly eyes, and lay on the parchment paper, allowing the chocolate to set at room temperature.
Store in an airtight container for up to 1 week.
The photo from my recent Thanksgiving dinner that attracted the most attention was the cookie tree I made for the kids in our family. Since there were a lot of comments about how people might like to do this for Christmas, I thought I would give you a quick breakdown of how I put it all together (minus photos - I didn't take many!).
1) For starters, I made my sugar cookies three weeks before Thanksgiving weekend. There is enough to keep you busy in the days leading up to a big holiday that I'm sure you can think of other things that will need your attention more than cookies. Take a free afternoon a few weeks before the big day and whip up a batch, cutting them into shapes that match the theme of your event.
2) Before baking, use a straw and poke a small hole in the cookie. This will be where you thread the string or ribbon that you use to hang them. Make sure it isn't too close to the top of the cookie; I make my holes 1/4" down from the top. Bake the cookies as per the recipe and store them in an airtight container in the freezer until you need them for decorating.
3) Make the royal icing one week before decorating. My friend Marian assures me this okay. Because I used her recipe, which is made with meringue powder and not egg whites, it can be stored in a lidded container at room temperature. Colour your icing at this point, or do it just before using it. Keep different colours in separate containers.
4) Two or three days before your party/holiday send your husband and youngest son on a walk to find decent, yet barren, branches. Dig out a tall container - I used a stainless steel one I had picked up at the dollar store - and fill it almost full with sugar. Insert the sticks into the sugar, positioning them however you like. The sugar will hold them in place. To me, it looked like the branches were in snow so I covered mine with leaves from my front yard. For winter holidays I would leave it as is...it will look pretty and seasonal.
5) The day before you need your tree, remove the cookies from the freezer and decorate them with the icing. Allow the cookies to dry for a minimum of 8 hours in a non-humid space. Slide the dried cookies onto your ribbon/yarn/string and tie a double knot at the top. Hang the cookies from the branches, spreading them out evenly over the tree.
I think this would be a brilliant addition to any birthday party. Just cut out cookies that match the theme of the party, or go with something fun and festive like balloon-shaped cookies paired with ones that are cut out in the number of the birthday child.
The Presidential debates were on TV this week and instead of paying attention, I headed to the kitchen and made six pie crusts. I've become obsessed with stocking my freezer with pastry, and if you were to open it up this morning you'd see a towering stack of frozen dough waiting to be used.
It's not that I plan on making an abundance of pies, although, I don't think there would be anything wrong with that if I did. It's just that it's as easy to make six pie crusts as it is two, and if I'm going to go to the effort, then I may as well make a lot of them. Fortunately, at the same time I was also staring down some shaggy Swiss chard in the bottom of the fridge, a few extra eggs and some pancetta that was barely enough to feed one person, let alone four. Clearly the Universe was telling me to make quiche, and that's exactly what I did.
Here's the thing about Swiss chard. A lot of people think they don't like it, but to be honest, when it's chopped and sautéed in a pan that's laced with rendered pancetta fat, it's pretty difficult for it to taste terrible. In fact, it almost looks exactly like spinach, so if that's what people - like the young ones in your house - want to call it, just go with it. But if you really aren't a fan feel free to swap it with the greens that you know will be met with approval.
Swiss Chard, Pancetta and Aged Cheddar Quiche
1. Press the pie crust into a pie plate and crimp the edges. Pop the dough back in the fridge to chill while you prepare the filling.
2. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. In a skillet set over medium heat, cook the pancetta until it's crispy and most of the fat has been rendered. Transfer it to a paper-towel lined plate to drain. Remove all but 2 tablespoons of the fat from the pan and add the Swiss chard, shallots and garlic. Toss to combine and cook until the greens are wilted and the shallots are softened, about 3 minutes. Add the pancetta back to the pan and stir to combine. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly.
3. Whisk together the eggs, cream, salt and nutmeg.
4. Spread the Swiss chard mixture over the dough and cover with the shredded cheese. Pour the egg mixture over top, filling the pie to just below the crimped edges of the dough.
5. Place the pie plate on a baking sheet and bake for 35-40 minutes or until set. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 5 - 10 minutes before serving.
When I shared my Thanksgiving photos on Instagram last week, it was this trifle - the maple pecan pumpkin trifle with white chocolate ganache and cinnamon whipped cream - that garnered the most attention. Well, this and the cookie tree, which tells me people really do favour the sweeter things in life.
I'll keep this short today and let you know that this is a seasonal riff on a candy cane trifle I made last Christmas. That one was fashioned from red velvet cake and peppermint cream, and a simple swap of pumpkin cake and cinnamon cream made this the perfect compliment to fall's most popular meal.
It looks like a lot of work, but to be honest it isn't. I made the cakes almost two weeks ahead of time, wrapped them tightly in plastic wrap and tucked them into the freezer. I took them out of the freezer the day before I made the dish, and allowed them to thaw in the refrigerator. The white chocolate cream cheese ganache comes together quickly and only requires a 30-minute rest in the fridge, allowing you to whip your cinnamon cream and slice the cake.
What is your favourite fall dessert?
Maple Pecan Pumpkin Trifle
Adapted from LCBO and Country Living
For the pumpkin cake
For the cream cheese & white chocolate ganache
For the cinnamon cream
For the garnish
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly coat three 8-inch cake pans with softened butter. Dust the insides with flour and shake out the excess.
2. In a large bowl of an electric mixer set on medium speed, cream the butter until smooth. Add the sugars and mix well. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition, until the mixture is smooth and light. Set aside.
3. Combine the pumpkin purée, buttermilk, and vanilla in a medium bowl and set aside. Combine the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, baking soda, and nutmeg in a large bowl and set aside. In thirds, alternately add the flour mixture and buttermilk mixture to the butter mixture, blending well after each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary to make sure everything is well combined.
4. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans and bake until a toothpick inserted into the middle of each cake comes out clean, about 35 to 40 minutes. Cool the cakes in the pan on wire racks for 30 minutes. Remove cakes from pans and return to the wire racks until completely cool.
5. To make ganache, bring cream just to a boil on medium heat. Remove from heat, add the white chocolate and allow to stand, stirring occasionally, until white chocolate is melted and mixture is combined.
6. Place cream cheese in a bowl and whisk in white chocolate mixture a little at a time until fully combined. Place the mixture in the refrigerator for 30 minutes, or until the ganache is cold and slightly thickened.
7. To make cinnamon cream, beat cream with sugar and cinnamon oil until it holds soft peaks. Reserve.
8. To make the garnish, combine the pecans and maple syrup in a small saucepan and stir to combine. Cook until the syrup is bubbling and transfer the mixture to a piece of parchment paper. Pour the nuts out into a single layer and allow them to cool.
9. To assemble, cut cake into 1-inch cubes with a serrated knife. Spoon about ⅓ cup of ganache into the bottom of a large trifle dish or decorative bowl. Place half of cubed cake into dish fitting them tightly to make a single layer. Spoon about 1 cup of ganache over cake to make an even layer. Dollop on a little less than half of the cinnamon cream, and repeat layers, ending with cinnamon cream. Sprinkle trifle with maple pecans just before serving.
Anytime I make sausages for dinner, I know everyone who’s eating it will devour the meal effortlessly. I mean, who doesn't love a good sausage? But sometimes they just taste like, well, sausages, and it's nice to elevate them a little, which is what I did here by pairing them with crisp pear, pure maple syrup and Chinese 5-spice.
Speaking of which, I think five-spice must be one of the most underrated spices around, don't you agree? It pairs so nicely with pork, and duck, and yet it seems as though it's rarely used. Seeing that it's made from cloves, cinnamon, star anise, fennel and pepper, it's practically perfectly for fall eating, and when brushed over pears it's a seasonal flavour explosion that the kids will no doubt love. There will be no complaints from the adults either, especially the one making the meal, since this comes together in less than twenty minutes, giving you just enough time to make a pot of basmati rice and warm up some French green beans.
Maple and 5-Spice Sausage and Pear Kebabs
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and soak the wooden skewers in a bowl of water for 10 minutes.
Thread the sausage and pear pieces onto the skewers and place them on the baking sheet.
Combine the maple syrup and 5-spice in a small bowl, reserve 1 tablespoon, and brush the kebabs with the remaining mixture.
Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the sausage is cooked through and the pears are tender. Remove from the oven, lightly brush each skewer with the remaining syrup and serve warm.
For the first time in three years, we ate our Thanksgiving dinner indoors. With temperatures barely reaching 10 degrees Celsius, it was inconceivable that we would dine al fresco, and although I was initially a tad disappointed that we couldn't keep up with our new tradition, I think it worked out just as well in the end.
I don't have any photos of the main meal - I find it difficult to serve food while simultaneously taking pictures - and to be honest there's nothing remotely photogenic about an overflowing plate of poultry and its accompanying sides doused in thick gravy. Instead I grab a few Instagram shots before our guests arrive, or during the fun with the kids, and then tuck my camera away for the evening.
What you see above is a cookie tree I made for the kids. I wanted something special for the little ones who were coming, so the cookies were made from the initials of all the kids at our dinner, plus a few fun items like pumpkins, leaves and apples. It was certainly popular and I already have ideas for making another one at Christmas.
I kept my holiday decor really simple this year and made apple votives for the dining table and a bucket I set up outside. Halloween is around the corner and I promised the kids we'd decorate this week, so for Thanksgiving it was really simple: a few pumpkins, the cookie tree and the apples.
For the past few years the kids have had a donut-eating-on-a-string contest. Each year we have new participants as the babies in the family become toddlers, and can finally join in the fun. We have two more little ones who will hopefully be able eat their way through the fun next year.
The main attraction was none other than the bird. All 26 pounds of her. She was so big, Rob had to fashion a roasting pan from a few different foils in order to accomodate her girth.
With this many people we have to do dinner buffet-style. It's china dishes, linen napkins and silverware for the adults, and plastic plates and cups for the kids. They had their own table downstairs this year, and I hear there were some interesting food combinations being ingested without the watchful eye of the parents around. That's all part of the fun though, right?
We almost always exclusively serve wine and beer when we have company, but this year I made a welcome drink. Spicy Caesar's serve in mason jars and garnished with lime and celery.
I really don't like serving ice cream tableside. So I pulled out a trick I learned from Martha, and pre-scooped the ice cream for the pie. It made dishing up dessert much easier, and cleaner, and the kids were all clamouring for the ice cream and skipped the pie altogether.
The pie. Oh, the pie. I made this cinnamon crumble apple pie. It was spicy and sweet, and even though I made it on Saturday and we ate on Sunday, I think it tasted best on Monday, when I had a slice for an afternoon snack. Next time I'll reduce the sugar a little. It was a bit too much for even my sweetest tooth, but definitely worth making, if you're looking for a recipe to try.
Lastly, there was this lovely thing. A maple pecan pumpkin trifle with cinnamon whipped cream and white chocolate cream cheese ganache. Don't worry, I'm sharing the recipe later this week.
I hope you're weekend was a lovely one filled with good food and your favourite people, even if you weren't celebrating a holiday.
We're one month into the school year, and I can honestly say this is the best start we've had to date. The kids are happy; the marks are good, the friendships uncomplicated and the emotional growing pains few and far between. At least for now. I look at both of my boys and I'm so insanely proud of them, but more importantly, I really like them! They're fun and smart and such good company at this age, and it's probably the first time I can confidently say that I don't miss them being younger.
In addition to embracing my growing kids, I'm also opening up my arms to using my slow cooker a little more. I've gathered, what I hope, are the best slow cooker cookbooks, and I'm learning how to turn out interesting, and most importantly, tasty, meals using my neglected electronic cooking device.
The problem I have with slow cooker meals is that they're often a little bland and a lot watery; not a tasty combination for even the plainest of palettes. That can all be changed though, if you're willing to spend a few minutes stove side before throwing everything into the cooker, which I totally am. And I hope you are too, because this marriage of chili and macaroni and cheese was pretty much the best thing I put on the table in the past month, according to the people I live with. It made plentiful portions, extras for lunch, and cooked while Jackson and I snuck out for a rare weekday afternoon movie. See, that's some of the fun you get to have when your kids are older.
Adapted from America's Test Kitchen
1. Plug in the slow cooker and make an aluminum foil collar buy stacking three sheets of aluminum foil (about 16" long) on top of each other and folding the top 1/3 down and the bottom 1/3 up. Spray it lightly with cooking spray (or brush it with olive oil) and press the collar into the back side of the slow cooker. This will prevent the pasta from burning, as it's hottest at the back of the cooker.
2. In a large bowl, mash the bread and milk into a paste using a fork (this is called a panade). Mix in the ground beef and 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper and mix well using your hands.
3. In a Dutch oven set over medium heat, warm the olive oil until it shimmers. Add the onion, garlic, chili powder and cumin and cook until the onions are soft and lightly browned, about 6 - 8 minutes.
4. Stir in the beef mixture and cook until no longer pink, about 3 minutes. Break up the meat with a wooden spoon as it cooks in order to avoid large chunks. Stir in the beans, tomatoes, tomato paste and brown sugar, scraping the brown bits from the bottom of the pot (big flavour!), and simmer until slightly thickened about 4 minutes.
5. Stir in the pasta, 2 1/2 cups water, the cheese and 1 teaspoon of salt; transfer to the prepared slow cooker. Cook until the pasta is tender, about 2 hours on high.
6. Remove the foil collar from the pot. Stir well and add additional hot water to loosen the sauce if desired. Season with salt and pepper, if needed, and serve with sour cream or additional cheese, if desired.