October 31, 2012

Dragons and Knights and Steeds, Oh My!

Halloween is my most beloved of all the holidays. Between the food, the weather, and the sheer festiveness in the air, I can't get enough. The fall food alone is sufficient to put me in a jolly mood. I really look forward to giving candy out to all the kids and seeing what fun and creative costumes they come up with.

This year, though, I have a vicious beast in the house- an awesome and terrible monster known as the Beagle-Dragon.

Terrifying, I know.
I made this pet costume several years ago, in high school actually, for my family dog, Dante. I made it for him when he was still a puppy, and it turned out it didn't fit him the following year. Piper, though, is smaller and with a few slight modifications (a few choices snips of the scissors), it now fits her quite well. But who will save us from this terror?

A very stoic savior.
Why, it's Sir Barksalot and his noble steed, Woofyluffagus! They'll keep us (and the trick-or-treaters) safe from the fire breathing creature. My parents are on vacation, so I have two furry friends for a while. I put this costume together for Dante in about two hours yesterday. Would have been less, but certain dogs weren't terribly cooperative.

The Noble Steed costume was very easy to put together. It has a tie around the front and elastic ties around his chest to keep the back half from sliding off. Sir Barksalot wouldn't stay glued in place, so I ended up having to stitch him down with a few hand stitches.

Have a happy Halloween!

October 29, 2012

Onion Roasted Chicken & Veggies

I hope you are weathering the storm well. Near DC, we are experiencing high winds and a steady rain, with it getting stronger all the time, but fortunately we've not been severely impacted yet. We still have power (obviously) and I was able to bake roasted chicken and vegetables for dinner tonight, instead of my power-outage backup plan (peanut butter and banana sandwiches).

This is incredibly easy to throw together and if you line your pan with foil, cleanup is super simple, too.

Onion Roasted Chicken and Vegetables
makes 4 servings

What You'll Need:
4 small chicken breasts
3 large potatoes, cubed
4 carrots, diced
2 Tbs olive oil
1 packet of onion soup mix

The Process:
   Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Line a 13 x 9 pan with foil and spray with cooking spray to prevent sticking. Combine all ingredients into a bowl and mix until onion soup mix is well distributed.
   Remove the chicken breasts from the bowl and place them into the pan. Distribute the vegetables evenly around the chicken. Bake uncovered for 40-45 minutes, checking potatoes for doneness.

This is also excellent for beef, either cubed or a roast. If you're going to use a roast, instead of just tossing all the ingredients together, I reserve half of the onion mix packet to use as a rub on the roast. Either way, it's simple and satisfying.

Please be careful if you're in the path of the storm. It's dangerous out there, and it's going to get worse before it gets better.

October 19, 2012

Baked Apple Crisp for Two

In an effort not to turn orange, I've put aside the pumpkin this week. I couldn't just ditch all the fall goodies, though. I had some apples laying around and didn't want to do anything too complicated with them. A nice apple bake fit the bill perfectly.

I love the oatmeal topping on these so much. It goes so spectacularly with the apples and cinnamon. You could easily double the recipe to serve a few more people, but for just Hubs and I, it's sometimes nice to make just two servings and not have any leftovers.

Baked Apple Crisp for Two
makes 2 servings, 5 Points+ per serving

What You'll Need:
1 medium/large firm apple (granny smith, etc)
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tbs brown sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
dash of cloves
dash of nutmeg

For Topping:
1 tbs brown sugar
1/4 cup old fashioned oats
2 tbs butter, room temp

The Process:
   Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Peel, core, and dice the apple. Mix apples in a bowl with lemon juice, sugar, and spices until well combined. Divide between two small oven safe bowls. Mix the topping ingredients together with a fork and put on top of apples. Cover and bake for 30 minutes until apples are tender.

For an extra decadent treat, top with a little whipped cream or serve with some vanilla icecream.

October 15, 2012

Pumpkin Steel Cut Oats

All this pumpkin means I'm starting to get creative with it. There's only so much pumpkin bread and pie that one family can handle. I wish I had made this oatmeal sooner, so much sooner, because it is absolutely a delicious way to start the day.

If you recall, I am an avid steel cut oats fan. Mixing pumpkin into it should have been something I thought of ages ago. But, I've made it now and it does not disappoint. I had to alter this one a little bit from my usual steel cut oat recipe, because pumpkin is mostly water and it needed a little extra sweetness.

Pumpkin Steel Cut Oats
Makes 5 servings

What You'll Need:
1 cup steel cut oats
1 cup water
2 cups milk
1 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cloves
2-3 pats butter
optional: 1/2 cup walnuts

October 12, 2012

Classic Pumpkin Pie

I couldn't possibly go through 14 cups of pumpkin puree without making at least one pumpkin pie. This recipe is adapted from the one my father made when I was growing up. I actually haven't made it myself since I was in college. There's usually so much when I head to my parents' house for the holidays that I haven't felt the urge to make my own.

In fact, it turns out that I probably haven't made any pies since college- because I don't have a pie pan! I had to use my cake round for this pie. I should probably rectify this egregious error since I'm in charge of Thanksgiving this year.

Classic Pumpkin Pie
makes 8 slices, 8 Points+ per slice

What You'll Need:
   1, 9" pie crust
   1, 15oz can (or 2 cups) pumpkin puree
   2 eggs
   1, 14oz can sweetened, condensed milk
   1 tsp cinnamon
   1/2 tsp ginger
   1/2 tsp nutmeg
   1/4 tsp all-spice

The Process:
   Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line pie pan with crust. Mix all the filling ingredients together and pour into pie shell. Bake 45-60 minutes or until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack. Chill before serving, and top with whipped cream.

October 10, 2012

Cooking a Pumpkin Four Ways

Over the weekend, my in-laws and my nephew came by for a visit. They live quite a ways from us here in DC, so I planned a whole bunch of things for us to do. One of those things included going to the pumpkin patch and doing a bit of pumpkin picking.

Our pumpkin haul.
We went over to a local place and with the price of the hayride, we each got a free pie-sized pumpkin. That means in addition to the pumpkins we bought for carving, we ended up with 5 small pumpkins for pureeing. I weighed them all out and I had 22 pounds of pumpkin!

Growing up, my dad and I made our own pumpkin puree many times, by baking it in the oven. When I started looking around for a time and temp, though, I discovered there are three other ways to cook pumpkin that I never considered- steaming, slow cooking, and microwaving. Since I had more pumpkin than I could fit in my oven, I decided to try out all four ways and see which I preferred.

You can use these methods to cook any pumpkins or squash- just keep in mind that the large pumpkins for carving jack-o-lanterns don't have a very good taste. Stick to pumpkins that are small, under about 6lbs. They're also easier to cut up and cook because they're smaller.

Beginning steps:
   Regardless of method, wash pumpkins off to remove the dirt. I cut off all the stems to make them fit better into their various cooking containers. I used my pumpkin carving knife to do it, just like you would on a jack-o-lantern because it's fast and easy. Then, cut the whole pumpkin in half. Use a serrated knife and cut with a sawing motion. Scoop out the seeds and pulp. If you want to save the seeds, set all the pulp aside in a bowl for later.
   Cut the pumpkin into big chunks. For the crock pot method, you may need a few smaller chunks in order for them to fit. Fewer pieces are better, because later it will be easier to scoop the cooked pumpkin off the rind.


   Turn your oven on to 325 degrees. Place your pumpkin pieces into a roaster pan with rinds up and add about 1/2 an inch of water to the pan. Put into the oven and bake for an hour. Use a fork to check the tenderness of the flesh. If not quite done, bake for another 15 minutes.

October 2, 2012

It's a Bird! It's a Plane! No! It's Beer Bread!

   I recently made some bread from my Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day book. There is a plethora of recipes in there, but one kind of bread is conspicuously missing from their book- beer bread. I love beer, and I love the beers that the fall season brings- the Octoberfests and the pumpkin ales.

   After a little trial and error, I finally came up with a modification to their basic recipe. Most beer breads I've seen are soft loafs that you pour into a loaf pan and bake. But I'm in the market for a crusty loaf, akin to the ones I often make. I started with that recipe for Basic Bread to make my modifications.

   The first batch I tried by replacing half the water with beer. Conveniently, a 12 oz bottle of beer is 1 1/2 cups of liquid- precisely half of the water in the original recipe. I also reduced the yeast by half. The beer flavor was very mild in the resulting bread, and it didn't rise quite as much as it should have. This means I needed more beer, and a little bit more yeast. Another batch was made with these changes, and the result was breaded beery goodness.

Beer Bread
adapted from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day
makes 4, 1lb loafs

What You'll Need:
2, 12oz room temp bottles of beer, I used and Irish Red.
2 tsp granulated yeast
1 Tbs salt
6 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
a large container, preferably with a lid

The Process:
   When selecting a beer, just remember this is where you'll get almost all the flavor. If paring it with a meal, choose a beer that will go well with your meal. I chose an Irish Red because I like that style a lot. Also keep in mind that the beer has to be room temp in order to get the yeast to activate correctly.
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