Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Trick-or-Treater's Delight Tablescape

This Halloween table setting is designed with children in mind. The centerpiece is something that will certainly delight every Trick-or-Treater today.

From the spooky little House of Frankenstein, to the mini pumpkins and curious crows, to the apothecary jars full of candy, children will find this table an absolute delight.

The small plates on top, reflecting reproductions of old-time postcards, are colorful and inviting.

The galvanized tin chargers make this a rustic and easy care table for one and all.

The green from the centerpiece is reflected in the green dinner plates, as well as the glassware.
It’s a fun table to look at, absolutely delightful to dine at, and dessert is built right in!
Happy Halloween to one and all, no matter how you celebrate. This year, I'll be celebrating by crouching in the dark watching Game 6 of the World Series.

Galvanized chargers  - The White Rabbit, St. Louis Missouri
Green melamine dinner plates - Williams-Sonoma
Halloween postcard salad plates - Williams-Sonoma
Green glassware - Villeroy & Bach
Bamboo flatware - eBay
Napkins -
Glass apothecary jars - Amazon
Black skull candy jar - Cost Plus World Market

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Monday, October 30, 2017

DIY Halloween Bunting

I know that I refer to my blog as a "food and lifestyle blog," but let's face it, it's mainly about food -- food, and table settings, and my pithy commentary. But today, it's going to be that lifestyle blog that I hoped it would be, because I just have to share with you this Halloween bunting that I made.

To you it's probably nothing special; to me it is remarkable. I'll tell you why. I do not sew. I want to sew, I mean I really, really want to sew, but ever since junior high Home Ec, when I was assigned a sewing machine that would continuously run amok, causing me to end up with the nickname of "the ripper," I just couldn't bring myself to do it.

It's not that I don't have a sewing machine, I have two. One is a Singer from the 1940s that belonged to my great aunt who, only partially sighted and into her 90s, sewed her own clothes. (You've read about her before in
this post.) I also have my mother's Singer sewing machine from the 1970s, and this is the one that I decided to unveil.

I have a fascination with fabric. I buy a lot of it, and tend to use it in various food displays, or make it into napkins that are hand sewn, or table runners, table toppers, anything that I can cut, pin, and sew by hand. But I really wanted a Halloween bunting for my mantle.
I searched the web for various patterns, thinking that I would indeed sew mine by hand, and then realized the futility of that. So, I got out my mother's machine and, taking it out of the case, was shocked and thankful to see that it still had thread! I used this pattern (I love this one because it requires only one seam per flag), and gingerly started to sew. In no time I had sewn each of the flags, trimmed them, turned them, and attached them to some binding (the latter by hand because, by this point, my nerves were shot).
I love the look. This probably doesn't seem like much to you, but it represents a giant step for me. And, I can't tell you how proud of myself that I am.
P.S. If you happened to notice the ragged cut lines, rest assured that I will be no longer using fingernail scissors to cut fabric. I bought myself a shiny new pair of Gingher's!

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Sunday, October 29, 2017

Panera Chicken & Wild Rice Soup (Crockpot Copycat)

Because I have a food blog, you probably think that I cook all of the time. No. In fact, I have managed to get it down to no more than three, maybe four days a week. I'm not all that different from you, some days I like to cook, but some days I really don't. Unfortunately, even on the days when I don't want to cook I still have to eat. So I always seek the path of least resistance, and by that I mean the crockpot.

It's warm and breezy as I write this, but big changes are in the air. Next week the highs are going to be in the 40s, the lows in the 30s, my kind of fall weather. I cleaned out the fireplace today, set a fire, and decided a big batch of chicken and wild rice soup would be perfect. I had seen the copycat recipe for Panera's Chicken & Wild Rice Soup, but the thought of paying attention to something on the stove was not appealing. I took a look at the recipe, and just knew that it could be easily done in the crockpot.

As it turned out, I was right! Essentially, after I chopped the celery, carrots, and onion, I threw everything into the crockpot (including an entire frozen breast of chicken), with the exception of the dairy ingredients. Because I had thrown the chicken in frozen, I cranked it up to high and let it do its thing for about six hours. At that point, I removed the chicken, cut it into bite-size pieces, added it back to the pot, along with the cream and cornstarch slurry, and had a wonderfully delicious and soothing soup. The remainder of it went into single serve containers (I use
these, that also make soup easy for gifting.) that I marked and stuck in the freezer. I am set with chicken soup all winter.
Panera Chicken & Wild Rice Soup (Crockpot Copycat)

6 cups homemade chicken stock
1 large chicken breast, cut into bite-size pieces (or not)

1 box Rice-A-Roni Long Grain & Wild Rice
2 large carrots, sliced
2 large ribs of celery, sliced
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1/2 teaspoon dried parsley flakes
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 cup water

Spray the interior of your 6-quart slow cooker with Pam. Place all ingredients EXCEPT the heavy cream, cornstarch, and water, into the slow cooker in the order listed. Set to "high" and cook 5 to 6 hours, until vegetables are fork tender and the chicken and rice are done. 

Remove chicken (if, like me, you tossed in an entire breast), cut into bite-size pieces and return meat to the pot. Pour in heavy cream stirring to combine. Mix 2 tablespoons cornstarch with 1/4 cup water whisking to ensure there are no lumps, and stir into the soup. Return the lid, and allow to cook another 15 minutes until it reaches desired thickness. 
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Thursday, October 26, 2017

Fifth Dimension Powder

I recently became aware of the existence of tomato powder. Think about that. Tomato in powdered form. A way to inject the taste of tomato into a dish without the sogginess of having it in liquid form. Once I became aware of this, and thanks to Amazon who loves to tempt me based upon previous interests, I also became aware of Worcestershire Sauce Powder, Portobello Mushroom Powder, Porcini Powder, and a host of others. This has changed the way I cook. Allow this into your life, and it will change the way that you cook too. In addition to that, it's going to enhance everything you make with amazing flavor. Just think about what mushroom powder could add to your favorite soups, stews, meatloaves, burgers, the list is endless. People in your family who may not like the texture of mushrooms, surely will not object to having that wonderful earthy flavor in the food that they're eating.

This rather lengthy introduction was meant to do more than alert you as to the existence of these wonderful products, but also to act as prelude for this recipe that you definitely need in your life. It comes from the book
Wicked Good Burgers: Fearless Recipes and Uncompromising Techniques for the Ultimate Patty by Andy Husbands. If you are a burger lover like I am, you have to go get it, and I am talking NOW! The Fifth Dimension Powder recipe contained within the taste-tempting pages of this fantastic book is going to turn your burgers, whether grilled outdoors or cooked inside on top of the stove, into taste sensations.

How often have you dined at a burger place and wondered why it is that their burgers taste so much better than yours? I mean, come on, it's a beef patty, am I right? How can they vary so much? Sure, there are different cuts of meat, but my guess is that the burger you're having out somewhere, unless it's a high-end restaurant, is probably a lesser quality meat than what you have at home. The difference is taste. The difference is adding flavor without altering the texture of the meat, and powdered flavoring is how you do it.

You have to try this recipe for Fifth Dimension Powder. Once you do, you are going to find yourself adding it to everything. It is going to make such a huge difference that you will wonder where it has been all your life. I don't think I have ever been as excited about a recipe as I am this one. While you’re licking your chops, head on over to Amazon and buy
the book.  Need I mention the upcoming holidays?

Fifth Dimension Powder

6 tablespoons Porcini Powder
2 tablespoons onion powder
2 tablespoons garlic power

Place all ingredients into a small bowl and mix thoroughly. Pour into airtight jars and seal. This will keep at room temperature for up to 6 months. Use 1 generous tablespoon powder per pound of ground beef to make the most delicious burgers!

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Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Dead Guy Stew with Skull Cornbread & VooDoo Butter

I must confess that I am a sucker for packaging, particularly when it comes to the liquor department at my local market. I cruise those aisles every week, even though it's not all that often that I come home with something. Last week a bottle of Dead Guy Ale from Rogue caught my eye. I don't drink ale, mind you, but I had to get a bottle of Dead Guy (Okay, I also got some cans, if you must know.), because I could only imagine how delicious it would be in a soup or stew. How perfect, I thought to myself, would it be to include this in a recipe for Halloween or Day of the Dead, and thus my Dead Guy Stew was born.
In thinking about the Day of the Dead holiday, Mexican in origin, I knew I wanted a stew that was not only rich in taste, but with a nod to the taste of Mexican food rather than a good old-fashioned American variety. I rummaged through my pantry, and pulled out every item that I would normally use in Mexican food, and set to work creating my stew.
Here is the end result, and it is delicious!If your family enjoys a nice hearty stew for dinner, and love the spices of Mexico, they are going to love this too. Naturally, with the holiday in mind, and because I tend to serve stew withcornbread, I did so using my corn my skull mold pan with excellent results, as you can see. Then, using a smaller skull mold I made something with which to slather that delicious cornbread that I decided to call VooDoo butter, named for the spices used.

You can find the recipes below.
Dead Guy Stew

1 16-ounce can refried beans
1 cup Rogue Dead Guy Ale
1 3-pound chuck roast, cubed
1 large onion, diced
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 package taco seasoning (or make your own)
1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 10-ounce can Rotel
Tomatoes with Green Chilies
1 15-ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup fresh or frozen corn
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

In a small mixing bowl, whisk together ale and refried beans. Place all ingredients in the order listed into a greased 6-quart slow cooker; stir to combine. Cook on high six hours. Serve, garnished as you see fit.

NOTE: I seared my cubes of chuck roast before putting them into the crockpot, but I can't imagine that it made any difference, so do whatever is easier.
VooDoo Butter

4 ounces unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon sweet chili sauce
1 teaspoon honey
Worcestershire powder

Place all ingredients into a medium bowl and beat with a mixer 1 to 2 minutes until combined. Place into decorative molds and freeze until set, or place into a small ramekin and serve table side.

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Friday, October 20, 2017

Slow Cooker Lasagna Tortellini Soup

My number one son directed me to this recipe that he had found on the Chelsea's Messy Apron site. We both decided to make it, each of us changing the recipe up a bit in order to suit our specific tastes. He wasn't interested in using a can of diced tomatoes, because he's not particularly fond of them, so substituted with an equal amount of Bloody Mary Mix. I have no problem with diced tomatoes, but my interest was in using both meat and cheese tortellini, and a bit more than the recipe called for in order to make it heartier, so, I ended up using 10 ounces of cheese tortellini and 10 ounces of meat tortellini.

As it turned out, we were both pleased with the outcome of our adapted recipes. One thing we did agree on is that it needs more ground beef. So when we make it again, and we both insist that we will, both of us have decided to increase the amount of ground chuck (which is what we used) to one and 1/2 pounds rather than just one. You can find the original recipe
here; my recipe is below. Based upon our combined experiences, or your own personal tastes, feel free to adapt it in any way that suits you; that is the beauty of crockpot cooking, the recipes are infinitely adaptable.
Slow Cooker Lasagna Tortellini Soup

1-½ pounds ground chuck
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 28-oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 14.5 oz. can petite-diced tomatoes
1 6 oz. can tomato paste
1 10.75 oz. can condensed tomato soup
1 teaspoon white sugar
1-½ teaspoons dried basil
½ teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 cups beef broth
10 ounces frozen cheese filled tortellini
10 ounces frozen meat filled tortellini
Sprig of basil, for garnish
Parmesan cheese, for garnish

In a 12” skillet over medium heat, brown the ground beef, onion, and garlic until the meat is cooked through; drain.

While the beef is cooking, pour the tomatoes, tomato paste, and tomato soup into the slow cooker. Add sugar and seasonings.
Stir in the cooked ground beef with onions and garlic. Add beef broth and cover. Set the slow cooker on high, and cook for 3-4 hours or low for 5-7 hours.

About 15-20 minutes before you are ready to serve, pour the frozen tortellini into the soup. Turn the slow cooker up to high (or leave it if it was already on high) and let the tortellini cook for 15-20 minutes.

Serve in bowls topped with freshly grated Parmesan cheese and a fresh basil sprig.
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