Thursday, October 31, 2013

Easy Halloween Treats!

Halloween Boo Brownies, Ogre Ear Wax Q-Tips, and Goblin Eye Brownies
My hubby's office had a Monster Mash Dessert contest today, so I whipped these up with my Mom-in-Law, who was visiting from out of town, last night.  Although the results of the contest haven't come in yet, I think they came out great (especially for the short amount of time they took!). 

I made a batch of basic brownies. I wanted them to be extra-thick, so I made 1 1/2 times the recipe on that post in a 9x13 pan.  While the brownies were cooking/cooling in the freezer, I made a basic buttercream frosting with 3/4 cup of softened butter and 1 1/2 cups of powdered sugar beaten in my stand mixer for about 6-7 minutes.  I split the frosting in half, and added 7 oz. of marshmallow creme to one half.  The other half got 2 Tbsp. of Creme de Menthe liquor (similar to the Crème de Menthe Brownies posted here).

When the brownies were completely cool, I cut them into 24 squares and placed them on the serving dishes. Then, I piped (but you could spoon) white frosting on half and mint on the other half. For the ghosts, I used a combo of mini and jumbo chocolate chips for the faces.  I actually held the chocolate chips while pointing a long handled lighter to the back to melt the chocolate, which made my MIL nervous.  If you can think of a method that's less hazardous to your health, by all means, use it.

For the goblin eyes, I used mini Oreo cookies that I had sitting around for use as a treat in potty training our son.  Apparently they weren't working so well, since he's still in diapers and the Oreos were on the verge of going stale.  If you didn't have those, you could use more of the jumbo chocolate chips or some dark chocolate candy melts.  For the red, I dyed a bit of the white frosting.  I spooned it into a sandwich bag, cut a teeny bit off the end, and piped it onto the brownies.

The Used Ogre Q-Tips were just bamboo skewers that I cut in half (I would have preferred to use lollipop sticks, but I wasn't able to get the two kiddos to Jo-Ann Fabrics yesterday).  The cotton is mini marshmallows, and the ear wax is peanut butter. 

Happy Halloween!

Sunday, October 27, 2013


I tried out this new challah recipe for Shabbat this week from The Shiksa in the Kitchen.  LOVE her site.  I modified her directions to use my KitchenAid stand mixer, because I'm too lazy to knead the dough by hand.  I'm sure it would have turned out tastier if I had followed her directions, but both boys were sleeping and the laundry was threatening to spill out of its room and into my kitchen.  I also didn't have honey, and so I substituted 1/2 cup sugar, a bit of extra oil, and 1/2 tsp. baking soda for the honey.  I added about 1/2 tsp. of sugar to the egg wash, too.  Tori has wonderful directions for braiding the challah on her site, and it turned out gorgeous on my first ever try at a six-strand version!

Here's the rundown on how I did it.  Know up front that you'll need flour, honey or sugar and baking soda, yeast, eggs, water, and salt.  This recipe made the one large loaf pictured, or you could divide it into two smaller loaves.

1. Add 2 1/4 tsp. yeast (one packet) to your mixer using the paddle attachment with 1/4 cup warm water and 1 tsp. sugar. Mix to combine, and let sit for 10 minutes until the yeast froths and expands.

2. Add 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 tsp. baking soda, 1/4 cup oil, 1 egg, 3 egg yolks, 1 1/4 cup warm water, and 2 tsp. salt, mixing to combine.  Begin adding flour about 1/2 cup at a time until the dough forms a ball and the paddle attachment can no longer move it around (about 3 cups). Change to the dough hook attachment, and continue adding flour until the dough no longer pools on the bottom of the mixer (between 4 1/2 and 6 cups total). Towards the end, allow the mixer to run for 30 secs or so between additions until you can tell if it needs more.  Knead with the dough hook in the mixer for about 10 minutes. I generally err on the side of kneading for a longer time than shorter, because I don't think that you can "over knead" the dough (although correct me if you've done it!).

From there, follow Tori's directions for rising and braiding.  In short, let rise 1 hour, punch down, rise another hour, braid, coat with egg wash, rise 30 min, bake at 350 for 20 min, egg wash, and bake another 20 minutes. 

I'm going to try out some methods for allowing the bread to rise the night before  and in the fridge for those working who aren't able to stay home all afternoon on a Friday to wait for the dough to rise, and I'll let you know how that goes. At the least, you should be able to freeze the challah after you've braided it, and pull it out of the freezer the morning you'd like to use it and let it rise in the fridge all day.  

I hope you'll try out making your own challah when you have the time!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Mother-in-Law Hour

This post is veering away from food and into the "other ramblings" portion of the blog.  I thought it'd be fun to digress a bit and use the blog as a way to share my recent parenting experiences while I have the wonderful opportunity to stay home for a few months with my two boys. 

Since becoming a temporary stay-at-home mama, I've realized that my children become possessed at 6:00 p.m.  My Mom-in-Law calls it the Mother-in-Law Hour, since ideally you could have Grandma swoop in and play with the little ones when they're tired, hungry, and don't have your full attention, leaving you free to finish dinner and tidy the house before your husband comes home.  Unfortunately, most of us don't live in an ideal world where Grandma lives around the corner.  And this scenario also assumes all moms have the luxury to stay at home to cook said dinner and tidy the house. 

In any case, at my house the demons could come a little earlier or a little later than 6:00 p.m., but one thing is for certain: they arrive exactly five minutes before my husband walks through the front door. 

Ten minutes before he walks through the door, I have typically managed to keep the chaos at bay.  I haven't succumbed to the seductive gazes the television is throwing in my direction, and I'm either actively playing with my sons or, at the least, my older son is playing quietly by himself while my younger son looks on from his exersaucer.  Let's say I'm just finishing dinner (I'm probably just starting dinner, but let's not quibble over details).

Five minutes before hubby walks through the door, demons possess the two sweet boys.  Older Son (a) tackles Younger Son; (b) finds something to do that could possibly kill him; (c) whines uncontrollably about how hungry he is; or (d) starts screaming (likely because I've asked him not to do a, b, or c).  Meanwhile, Younger Son begins crying uncontrollably.  He's only six months old, so I'm assuming the demons are limited in the ways in which they can use him to cause me anguish.

I begin bargaining with Older Son, pick up Younger Son, and attempt to finish cooking dinner with one hand while trying to prevent the small sobbing child from sticking his fingers into whatever I'm cooking.  I practice what Daniel Tiger from the Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood knock-off cartoon suggests: "When you're feeling mad, and you wanna roar...take a deep breath and count to four."

And in walks Hubby.  I try to look cheerful, like those 1950s wives from magazines of yesteryear.  I try to convince him that we've had a fun day, and that the children only just began acting like small hellions.  I'm not sure he buys it. 

Does anyone have any good advice for dealing with the Mother-in-Law Hour?  Please share!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Challah French Toast

Challah French Toast

I've been baking a lot of challah in recent weeks for my Friday night dinner.  Since my 2.5 year old *loves* challah, I make at least two loaves and keep them around for him to polish off over the weekend.  Occasionally, he doesn't manage to finish all of the tasty bread, and I have an excellent excuse to make French toast.
The lovely thing about French toast is that the bread can be pretty darned old and it will only make the end product tastier.  Usually, freshly baked bread is only really good for a day or two (not that my 2.5 year old notices, but I do!).  In Florida, I have to keep our bread in the fridge because it's so humid that it gets moldy quickly if left on the counter, so it just gets hard over time (it would take quite a while for it to get moldy).  Hard bread makes great French toast.  The last time I made French toast with my leftover challah, I didn't get around to it until Thursday and it was fabulous.
I usually buy the challah in frozen dough form from our local Publix and pull it out of the freezer on Friday around noon.  By 5:00 p.m., it's ready to be covered in egg wash and thrown in the oven.  Recently, I've been trying to make my own challah.  I haven't come up with a recipe I really like yet, but I'll let you know when I do!  Luckily, it doesn't have to be a fantastic challah to make a fabulous Challah French Toast.
The ingredients for French toast are really adjustable.  For the custard, you'll need eggs, half n' half (milk, cream, or a blend of any of these works), sugar, salt, and vanilla.  I use 1 egg per slice of bread, and eyeball the rest of the ingredients.  Blend these and soak the sliced bread.  Grill the slices until lightly browned on each side, and transfer to a baking dish.  Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 15 minutes (time varies based on the thickness of the bread).  I typically do this in batches, soaking, grilling, and baking one batch of 4-5 slices at a time.  Although it's a bit of an acquired taste, I fry up any leftover custard as scrambled eggs.  Very sweet, creamy scrambled eggs, like a scrambled egg dessert.

This recipe is for approximately 1/2 loaf of challah (about 4-5 slices).
challah, sliced approximately 1/2 inch thick
5 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup cream
1/8 cup sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla
butter or margarine for grilling
Blend eggs, milk, cream, sugar, salt, and vanilla (a stick blender works great for this!).  Soak slices of challah in a single layer for about 5 minutes, flipping after several minutes to ensure both sides soak up the custard equally.  Melt about 1 Tbp. butter or margarine over medium-high heat, and grill the toast on each side until lightly browned.  Spray a baking dish with nonstick spray and arrange slices in the dish (they can overlap).  Bake for 12-15 minutes at 350 degrees. 

Friday, October 18, 2013

Kale Salad

My husband recently decided to go on a health kick (note that this was not my choice...I continue to have nightly servings of cookies n' cream ice cream), and he's suggested that it would be good for all of us to eat more vegetables.  When this occurs (as it typically does once every couple of years), it generally results in me cooking and eating more vegetables, and my hubby complaining that he doesn't like my cooking.  You see, my hubby does not actually *like* vegetables; he just likes the idea of liking them.  I cook the vegetables along with some other tastier (READ: unhealthy) items, and he eats the tasty items and avoids the vegetables.  Go figure. 

And...getting to the point.  Hubby's health kick has lead me on a mission to find recipes for seasonal vegetables.  This involves purchasing vegetables that I have no clue how to prepare, searching for directions on what to do with said vegetables, and hoping that my husband and toddler will at least pretend to enjoy them.  This week's victims were a rather large butternut squash and two heads of kale (The lovely Asian lady at the farmer's market convinced me to purchase both heads of kale.  She was selling them at a cost of $2/head, or $3 for 2 heads.  I can't pass up a bargain, and it's a "superfood," right?). 

With my car full of vegetables that I could barely identify, I headed home to do something with them.  My friend Meg had recently described this awesome kale salad that she created based on a salad served at a local restaurant.  Her recipe used toasted pine nuts (which would be wonderful) and feta cheese (can't go wrong there), but I did not have either of those on hand.  Since going to the grocery with two children under the age of three in tow is never exciting to me, I decided to use what I had in the refrigerator.  I used one full head of kale, and ate almost the bowl of salad in one sitting.  YUM.

Although I chopped everything by hand this time, the next time I make this I will likely make good use of my food processor.  I would start by pulsing the parsley until it was minced, and then add the kale and pulse several times.  Pour in the dressing ingredients (mixed together first) and pulse several times more to combine, and then stir in the nuts and cheese.

Sorry about the lack of pictures; I made this and the Butternut Squash Macaroni and Cheese together, and they were both so tasty that they were gone before I remembered to photograph them!

1 head kale, chopped finely
1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped finely
1/2 cup walnuts
1/2 cup crumbled goat cheese

For the dressing:
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 Tbsp. honey
1/2 tsp. minced garlic
1 tsp. salt
1/4 cup olive oil
pepper to taste

Mix everything together and enjoy!  Ideally, I would mix the dressing ingredients separately (a stick blender works great for this), and then add it to the greens.  I like this salad best at room temperature, and it's really good served with seared fish.