Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Halloween Caprese Salad

The week before last we had a little bit of spooky fun with a skull-shaped cheese ball. This week the skulls are of a smaller size and part of a Caprese salad. You have probably seen this online as it seems to be quite popular this year. It’s easy to put together, and quite tasty, working equally well as a side dish, or as a part of a charcuterie tray. The skull molds are a breeze to use (I got them here), and you can even mess things up and still come out just fine. The directions call for you to soften the cheese in the oven, and then press it lightly with a paper towel into the mold.  I was busy the day that I made these, left them in the oven too long, and the cheese melted. Not to worry, I put them right into the fridge, and after 30 minutes popped them right out. Are they perfect? No. Do they look just fine? They certainly do, and have the added benefit of looking as though they’ve rotted away a bit.  Great fun for Halloween.Halloween Caprese Salad

8 oz. fresh mozzarella balls 

1 pt. Melissa’s organic heirloom tomatoes

2 T. balsamic vinegar

2 T. good olive oil

¼ c. fresh basil leaves

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

 Make the mozzarella skulls:

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Place the  silicon molds onto a rimmed baking sheet for stability. Lightly spray the interiors of the skull molds with PAM. Add a ball of mozzarella to each skull cavity. Bake for 6-8 minutes to soften the cheese. Use a folded paper towel to press the softened cheese into the molds (the paper towel will absorb the liquid that is released from the mozzarella). Transfer the molds to the refrigerator and let chill for 8-10 minutes, then remove from the mold and repeat with remaining cheese until all the mozzarella is formed into skulls.

Slice the cherry tomatoes in half and then toss the tomatoes and mozzarella skulls, with the balsamic and olive oil. Scatter basil leaves over top and sprinkle with salt and pepper before serving.

 Happy Halloween, everybody!

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Monday, October 30, 2023

Broccoli Pasta Salad with Bacon and Sunflower Seeds

I was experimenting in the kitchen over the weekend and ended up making this pasta salad. This is the first time, as well as I can remember, that I have ever added broccoli to pasta salad. It was so good that I could hardly stop eating it. My intention was to use it as a side dish, but I ended up tossing it with some grated pepper jack cheese, and had it as a meal. If you would prefer your pasta salad, be less creamy, then just use your favorite vinaigrette and toss it all together. I’m thinking that you’re probably going to like it either way.

 Broccoli Pasta Salad with Bacon and Sunflower Seeds

1/3 c. your favorite vinaigrette
½ c.
Duke’s mayonnaise
2 T. sour cream
1/8 t.
dry mustard
Seasoned salt, to taste
White pepper, to taste

6 oz. vegetable rotini pasta
2 c. chopped broccoli, florets
1 3-oz. pkg.
Melissa’s dried tart cherries
¼ c. dry roasted sunflower seeds
4 thick slices of bacon, cooked and crumbled

In a large bowl whisk together vinaigrette, mayonnaise, sour cream, dry mustard, and salt and pepper to taste; set aside.

In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and rinse with cold water.

Add drained pasta, broccoli, red onion, dried cherries, sunflower seeds, and bacon to bowl with dressing, toss to combine. Refrigerate for one to four hours to allow flavors to meld before serving.

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Thursday, October 26, 2023

Salted Caramel Nut Bars

A couple of weeks ago, I provided you with a delicious recipe for Artichoke Portobello Soup that came from the wonderful Kneader’s Bakery and Cafe Cookbook. Here’s another one that is simple to make, perfect for the holidays, and fabulously delicious! It’s the last recipe from this cookbook that you’ll get from me, you’re just going to have to buy it yourself, and let me say it is well worth it.

I realize that there are nut people and non-nut people. Clearly these nut bars are for nut people, however, feel free to just use one type of nut, rather than mixed, if there’s one in particular that you prefer. I’ve adapted this recipe to make it even easier than it already is. They suggested mixing the dry ingredients together using a pastry blender to cut in the butter, but who has the time? I threw everything into a food processor, pulsed about seven times, and it came out perfectly.Salted Caramel Nut Bars

Adapted from the Kneader’s Bakery and Cafe Cookbook

1½ c. all-purpose flour
¾ c. packed brown sugar
¼ t. salt
½ c. +2 T. unsalted butter, softened, divided
2 c.
salted mixed nuts without peanuts
1 c. butterscotch chips
½ c. light corn syrup

Preheat oven to 350° F.

Place flour, brown sugar, and salt into the work bowl of a food processor. Pulse to combine. Add ½ cup butter that has been cut into cubes. Pulse eight times to thoroughly blend. Turn out into a
9”x 13” baking pan with straight sides. Press evenly into the bottom of the pan. (I used a tart tamper for this.) Sprinkle nuts evenly over the crust.

In a 1-quart saucepan over low heat, mix the butterscotch chips, corn syrup, and remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, stirring occasionally, until the chips are melted. Drizzle butterscotch mixture evenly over the nuts, being careful to cover the edges of the crust. Bake for five minutes. Cut into 12 pieces while still warm.

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Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Pumpkin Crumb Cake with Maple Bourbon Glaze

Generally speaking, I get a craving for pumpkin in mid-August, which is why you’ll find a lot of pumpkin recipes here on the blog during that time. I got the same craving this past August, bought quite a few cans of pumpkin purée, and then I never got around to using them. That changed last weekend when I was a whirling dervish in the kitchen. Over the course of three days, I spent about 24 hours on my feet in the kitchen experimenting with recipes. This one is delish! It’s good at breakfast, brunch, as a dessert at dinner, or any old time of the day. I found that it tasted better the second day, so that makes it wonderfully make ahead.Pumpkin Crumb Cake with Maple Bourbon Glaze

1¾ c. flour

1 t. baking soda

2 t. ground cinnamon

1 t. pumpkin pie spice

1/8 t. ground cloves

½ t. kosher salt

½ c. vegetable oil

½ c. sugar

½ c. packed dark brown sugar

1 15-oz. can pumpkin puree

2 large eggs, room temperature

¼ c. milk, room temperature

Crumb Topping

¾ c. flour

¼ c. sugar

¼ c. packed brown sugar

1 t. pumpkin pie spice

6 T. unsalted butter, melted

Maple Icing

1½ c. confectioners’ sugar

2 T. pure maple syrup

2 T. bourbon

 Preheat oven to 425°F. Line  an 8” x 8” pan with parchment paper, leaving a 2” overhang on two sides; spray with nonstick spray. .

 For the cake: In a large bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice, cloves, and salt together until combined. Set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk the oil, granulated sugar, brown sugar, pumpkin puree, eggs and milk together until combined. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, then fold everything together gently just until combined and no flour pockets remain.

 Pour into prepared pan.

 For the topping: Whisk the flour, granulated sugar, brown sugar, and pumpkin pie spice together until combined. Stir in melted butter with a fork until crumbs form.

Bake for 5 minutes at 425°F and then reduce the temperature to 350°F. Bake for an additional 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool for 30-40 minutes.

Lift cake from pan using parchment paper overhang and place on serving plate. Slide the parchment out from beneath the cake and drizzle on glaze.

 Make the glaze: Whisk glaze ingredients together until combined and smooth. Cover tightly and store at room temperature for 1-2 days or in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. I think this tastes better on Day Two.

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Monday, October 23, 2023

Ina Made Easy: Portobello Mushroom Lasagna

Who doesn’t love Ina? She makes some of the most delicious food, her cookbooks are wonderful, and recipes simple to follow. Never has she let me down. That said, there are ways to make her recipes easier and less time consuming by taking a few shortcuts.

 One of my favorite things is Ina’s Portobello Mushroom Lasagna, but I rarely make it because it’s a bit of work. I decided that I wanted the lasagna without the trouble, so I made it without cooking the noodles, and instead used No Boil. In my experience, you can use these noodles in every lasagna recipe that you prepare. The thing that you have to remember is that it needs to be refrigerated for 24 to 48 hours to allow the noodles to soften. What this means is that you can make a dinner a couple of days ahead of time and then just pop it into the oven when you get home from school, work, or however you spend your busy days. Another thing I did here, because I like thicker lasagna, was to make this in an 8” x 8” pan. Yes, you’re not going to have as many servings, but the servings that you will have can be cut smaller because of the thickness of the lasagna, and make for a lovely presentation. I found the amount of sauce worked far better in an 8” x 8” pan than it did in a 9” x 13” pan. Trust me on this. I have made this lasagna using the bigger pan, and the noodles that I had to cook ahead of time, and this version is so much easier.

Ina Made Easy: Portobello Mushroom Lasagna
Adapted from Ina Garten

Good olive oil

12 No Boil lasagna noodles

4 c. whole milk

12 T. (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, divided

½ c. flour

1 t. freshly ground black pepper

1 t. freshly ground nutmeg

1½ lbs. Melissa’s portobello mushrooms

1 c. freshly ground Parmesan

 Separate the mushroom stems from the caps and discard the stems; remove the gills using a spoon (I find a grapefruit spoon works wonderfully). Slice the caps ¼” thick. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil and 2 tablespoons of the butter in a 12” sauté pan. When the butter melts, add mushrooms, sprinkle with salt, and cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes, until the mushrooms are tender and they release some of their juices.

 For the white sauce, bring the milk to a simmer in a saucepan;* set aside. Melt 8 tablespoons (1 stick) of the butter in a large saucepan. Add the flour and cook for 1 minute over medium heat, whisking constantly. Pour the hot milk into the butter-flour mixture all at once. Add ½ tablespoon salt, the pepper, and nutmeg, and continue whisking until mixture, thickens, about 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

 To assemble the lasagna, spread some of the sauce in the bottom of an 8” by 8” by 2-inch baking dish. Arrange a layer of noodles on top, then more sauce, then 1/3 of the mushrooms, and 1/4 cup grated Parmesan. Repeat 2 more times, layering noodles, sauce, mushrooms, and Parmesan. Top with a final layer of noodles and sauce, and sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan.

 Covered with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for 24 to 48 hours. This will allow the noodles to soften from the sauce and taking a day or two heads.

Bake the lasagna in a preheated 375° oven for 45-55 minutes, or until the top is browned the sauce is bubbly and hot. Allow to sit at room temperature for 15 minutes and serve hot.

 *Doing this makes the process go faster. Do you need to warm the milk? No. If time is less important to you and the number of dishes that you’re going to have to wash, then use milk right out of the fridge.

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Friday, October 20, 2023

Spooky Cheese Ball

If you are looking for something simple, but effective, for your Halloween party, look no further. This delicious cheese spread can be used at any time of the year, served in a crock as is, rolled in chopped nuts and molded into a cheese ball, or formed into a skull to use as a clever hors d'oeuvre at your Halloween or Day of the Dead party. The beauty of this is that the cheese mixture can be made up to two days ahead of time, even molded into shape and placed on the serving plate, for you to remove, garnish, and serve. Nothing could be easier or more delicious. Spooky Cheese Ball

 1 8-oz. pkg. cream cheese, room temperature

1 2-oz. pkg. dried beef*, finely chopped

6 small pimiento-stuffed olives, finely chopped

2 scallions, finely chopped

1 t. Worcestershire sauce

¼ t. garlic powder

¼ t. onion powder

2 whole olives (for garnish)

2 sliced almonds (for garnish)

8 whole almonds, tip cut off (for garnish)

 Place all ingredients (except those used for garnish) into a medium bowl. Beat with a hand mixture until smooth and creamy. Scoop out of bowl onto square of plastic wrap, cover, flatten slightly, and chill at least 30 minutes, or up to 24 hours.

 Remove from plastic wrap, place onto serving dish, mold into a skull shape with your clean hands, and press olives into the skull for eyes, slivered almonds for the nose, and whole almonds for the teeth. Surround with crackers, and serve.

 *I used Buddig brand.

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Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Product of the Month: Wooden Salad Bowl Set with Bamboo Tongs

It’s not often that I find myself as enamored with a product as I have with this  salad bowl, that is really more art than bowl. Made from natural acacia wood and bamboo, it is large in size with an elliptical shape, and a top edge with soft dips on either side. The pictures cannot possibly do it justice. The pattern appears pieced together with various rectangles of smooth, polished wood. There are low- and highlights throughout, making it quite eye-catching. A pair of bamboo salad tongs, making the tossing and transferring of salad greens from bowl to plate quite easy, accompanies it.

This is not a bowl that you should take lightly. While it is hand wash only, you surely will find your
Zen thoughtfully washing this bowl while you admire its beauty and quality. Like other wooden bowls, cutting boards, and the like, it does require treatment with oil in order to keep it looking new, well-conditioned, and preventing it from possible cracking.

It can easily hold enough salad to serve four, or a large amount of popcorn for movie night. Placed at the center of a table, it’s an attractive piece of home decor, particularly when filled with fresh fruit. This perfect example of form and function would make a wonderful gift for someone just setting up a home, or someone who has decades of household experience behind them because of its unique beauty and multiple uses. If all of this isn’t enough, it comes with a lifetime guarantee. How often does that happen? If you have always wanted a beautiful wooden bowl for serving or display,
this should be the one.

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Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Beef & Macaroni Bowls

October is “Pasta Month.” I have been embracing this celebration of semolina for the past number of days, cranking out one pasta dish after another, varied and delicious. I have a wide variety to share with you between now and month’s end, beginning with this one. This soothing bowl of tomato-y comfort is easy to make, can be ready in between 30 and 40 minutes, is both kid and family friendly, and makes a wonderful meal with a side salad and crusty roll.  Beef & Macaroni Bowls

 1 T. olive oil

3 Melissa’s shallots, diced

2 ribs celery, chopped

5 crimini mushrooms, chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 lb. ground chuck

1 10.5-oz. can beef consommé

1 soup can water

1 14.5-oz. can diced tomatoes

1 29-oz. can tomato sauce

2 T. brown sugar

1 T. Worcestershire sauce

1 t. dried basil

1 t. dried oregano

1 t. dried thyme

2 bay leaves

2 c. cavatappi (or, for the kids, elbow macaroni)

¼ c. heavy cream

In a large pot, heat oil over medium heat. Add shallots, celery, and mushrooms, and cook until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook 1 minute more.

Add beef and season with salt and pepper. Cook until no longer pink. Drain off excess fat, if needed.

 Stir in consommé, water, diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, sugar, Worcestershire sauce, basil, oregano, thyme, and bay leaves.

 Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and let cook 10 minutes. Stir in pasta and continue simmering until pasta is tender, about 10 minutes more. Stir in heavy cream. Adjust seasoning to taste, and enjoy.

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Friday, October 13, 2023

When Witches Go Riding Tablescape

Does this table surprise you? Well, it surprises me! I had no intention whatsoever of doing a Halloween table this year. This came about when my aunt and my cousin came over to join me for lunch to celebrate my birthday earlier in the month. My cousin brought the napkins made out of Halloween fabric, as well as the spider tea light candleholders. She said now that her children are grown (they’re both in high school) she no longer sets tables to celebrate Halloween, and wanted to know if I would like these items. Would I? Yes, I would! The next day I took down my neutral fall table (that I really enjoyed during the month of September), and set about creating this one.
I started by topping the table with fabric by J. Wecker Frisch; it is not a Halloween fabric, per se, but one that lends itself quite well to the holiday.I topped it with black placemats, and Italian green chargers (that I brought forward from last week’s table). On top of the chargers, I placed bright yellow Waechtersbach ceramic dinner plates. To complete my plate stack, I added vintage Halloween plates, that I got a number of years ago from Williams-Sonoma.
I was trying to decide what flatware to use, and at one point was considering gold to pick up the gold elements in the plates (that may not be visible to you, but are very much so in person), but ultimately decided to go with that pop of orange, and I’m happy with my choice. You can find the orange flatware here. 
Witch broom handled mugs, ample enough to hold soup, a latte, or a big cup of cocoa topped with whipped cream, got a number of years ago from Pier One. The owl stemware is new this year and I found it here.

I paired my cousin’s luncheon size napkins with solid green dinner size napkins to pick up the green elements in the fabric and give the table some added interest.
The skeleton hand napkin ring holding the napkins can be found here. The spider votive candleholders hold green tea lights.
The skeleton candlesticks I got it Michael’s a couple of years ago, the candles are from Colonial Candle of Cape Cod.
In the center I have a vintage look pumpkin from World Market filled with fresh flowers and fern fronds.
Beverages (Serpent’s Venom and Cauldron Cola) are from The Potion’s Cauldron. They have a variety of fun flavors, and bottles to match.
Considering that I wasn’t planning a Halloween table at all, I’m very pleased with the way that this one turned out.
BOO! And Happy Friday the 13th!

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This post is linked to: Tablescape Thursday