We all Know It’s Coming

We all know it’s coming — the mad pile of Halloween booty that the kids bring back from a night of epic Trick-or-Treating. All the Greats will be there. The good, the bad, and the nasty orange and black wax paper wrapped peanut butter taffy things. I like to think about the goods though. Snickers, Skittles, Reeses, Nerds. . . . Need I go on? My inner six-year-old taste buds are dancing. I love the delight of Halloween and the childhood magic of all that candy. I enjoy it right along with the kids, because I remember the thrill of owning my own private stash. It only happened once a year and it was pure bliss.
My adult brain however, is fully aware of what a seemingly bottomless stash of candy means for the days to come – stomach aches, spoiled meals, begging for sweets at totally random and inappropriate times. . . and the kids, well, they’re no better about it.
So what to do with all that loot? I have a much better idea this year. I’m not planning on denying the kids the joy of mad sugar overload on Halloween night, but after that, we’re going to divvy up the treats. I happen to know of a few people who would get an even bigger kick out of snacking on those commercially wrapped goodies until THEIR taste buds dance. Any Soldier is a charity that was established in 2003 for soldiers who are on active duty over-seas, and who are in harm’s way. In a nut-shell, we are able to send letters and/or packages to a contact, and the contact will then pass them out to soldiers who aren’t receiving any mail. They are able to request items through the contact, and one of the most frequently requested items is snacks or treats. They don’t have any, and they miss them. For more information on Any Soldier, click here. We have sent a couple of things so far. It’s really very easy – and not too expensive. The flat rate boxes at the post office still apply to military packages flying into war zones. Last time we crammed a box full of chips, Little Debbie snacks (they specify NOT to send anything home-made), candy, drawings, and a short letter. So for $10.50 (plus the cost of the contents – about $8), we made a lonely soldier very happy. I can just see the smiling faces when a box cram-packed with Halloween booty arrives in a couple of weeks. Would you like to join us?? If you do, let me know – I’d love to post how many packages we were able to inspire!
Happy Halloween!

Friday Night Mini-Pizzas

These have quickly become a family favorite of ours. Fridays are supposed to be fun, and easy, and fun. And, well, easy. So here we are – Friday night is approaching quickly, and I want to be able to put dinner together even quicker. Another great thing about these pizzas besides the hot melty cheese, delicious Italian meat combo, the light crunch crust, and fresh basil on top? All the prep can be done in advance, and then it’s as easy as slapping it all together when everyone’s (almost) ready to eat. Get a little crazy and let the kids make their own — nothing like lots of little olive oiled fingers flinging sliced meat and banana peppers across the table at each other. Remember? Fridays are supposed to be fun!

Recipe:

This is truly a recipe you can alter to fit your own taste. The greatness of the pizza is in the crust and the fresh toppings sprinkled on at the end. All quantities listed below are estimates. Feel free to change them to fit your preferences! Makes 8 servings of 2 mini-pizzas each.

8 fresh-baked hamburger buns (from your grocer’s bakery)
Olive oil for brushing buns
1 8 oz can tomato sauce with garlic, basil, and oregano
2 C shredded mozzarella cheese or shredded Italian cheese blend
1/2 C finely diced red onion
2 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced (if you don’t have time, garlic powder works great here too)
1 C thinly sliced deli ham (we use Boars Head Tavern Ham) cut into
strips
1/2 C thin sliced salami, cut into narrow strips
1/2 C thin sliced pepperoni, roughly chopped
1 C banana peppers, drained
1/4 C freshly grated parmesan
8 basil leaves, snipped or torn
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste, and maybe even a little crushed red pepper flakes.

Pre-heat oven to 375F. Slice all buns in half and brush or rub the “inside” sides liberally with olive oil. Place them face down on a cookie sheet (a silicone baking liner is perfect here). Spoon a layer of tomato sauce onto each bun and spread evenly. Sprinkle each bun with Mozzarella cheese, red onion, garlic cloves, all three meats, and banana peppers. Add another little sprinkle of Mozzarella over the top. Bake in the oven for about 8-10 minutes or until cheese is lightly browned. Remove from oven and sprinkle on salt and pepper and/or red pepper flakes to taste. Then add Parmesan and fresh basil.

Then sit down, get comfortable and take a delicious bite. It’s OK if you feel the need to moan in delight. Really. I’ll join you.

Recipe inspired by Sunny Anderson’s Avenue J Pizza on The Food Network.

Keepsake Halloween Banner


I realize it’s a little last-minute to be suggesting this, but this is easy and quick, and you probably have some stuff hanging around the house that you can use without having to make a trip to the store. It’s one of those things you can pull out every year, and the kids will reminisce and tell stories of Halloweens past. Truly, it would look really cool draped along a hearth or down a banister, but since I have neither, let’s just use our imaginations to picture it there – with moody candles and dim lighting too.

The ghosts on this banner are footprints – in white tempera paint on black paper (either construction or card stock). Little googly eyes give them some personality, and the photos are commemorative of the season – a trip to the pumpkin patch, your carving masterpieces, this year’s (and last year’s, and the years’ before that. . .) costumes. With time, it turns into a chronicle of happy Halloweens and autumn memories that can be displayed and updated each year. This is pretty darn simple – some paper trimming, some gluing, and clipping the final products to a stretch of ribbon with mini clothes pins. I doubt you do, but if you need it, see below for a quick little tutorial on how to make yours happen soon! Quick! Before Halloween is over!

Materials:
Black, Orange, and White card stock or construction paper
Acid-free glue
Photos from this autumn/Halloween and years past
White tempera paint, paper plates, and wet wipes
Googly eyes
Ribbon to twine
Mini clothes pins
Black marker

Directions:

For the ghosts, squirt a bit of the tempera paint on a paper plate and spread it around evenly in an area large enough for your child’s foot.
Set a piece of black paper next to the plate.
Have your child carefully step onto the white paint with his foot, then gently pull his foot out of the paint and press it onto the black paper. (we did ours outside to prevent ghost footprints from appearing all over the floor of the house). Set them aside, and away from curious little hands, to dry.

While the paint is drying, start gathering your papers and cropping them to frame your favorite photos. My personal preference is to have photos printed with a white borders for a crisper finish. Crop your solid colors (black or orange) to be about 1/4″ larger than your photo on each side, then crop your next solid color to be about 1/4″ larger than that. Start your layering by first gluing your photo to the smaller ‘frame’, then glue those two to the larger one. Repeat this with all your photos.

See in this photo at the top? Those cropping tools? They’re pretty much the best crafting gift anyone has ever given me. Cropping paper and photos and trimming random shapes got about a million times easier when these cutters came into my life.

Next, when your ghost prints are dry, trim them with about a half-inch border of black on all edges. Rest them on a white piece of paper, and trace a nice, loose ghost outline about a half-inch larger on all sides. Then cut out your white border, and glue it to the back of your ghost.

Once your ghosts are all glued together, add on the googly eyes with a little dab of glue, and draw on a ghostie mouth with a black magic marker.

Now use mini clothes pins to clip all those cropped, trimmed, glued and decorated photos and ghosts to a stretch of ribbon or twine, and hang it up!

You’re done! Phew! With just enough time to enjoy it this Halloween.
But NEXT year — NOW we’re talkin’! Next year you’re already SO done. You’re actually way ahead of the game. . . .

*Some of the example photos used in this project were clipped from the October 2011 issue of Family Fun magazine.

Doughnut Muffins

When I first saw this recipe my mouth started to water and my stomach started to rumble. Not that this is an unusual reaction when I am drooling during a recipe browsing session, but this was different – my heart skipped a tiny bit of a beat too. Homemade doughnuts are a winter tradition my grandmother established with us decades ago, and the proposition that I could whip up something quickly and easily with almost no mess and no fuss was immensely appealing to me as a Saturday morning breakfast option. Add to that the fond mental connection we all have with fresh, warm doughnuts and we had a very special recipe in our hands.
These were soft and moist and not overly sweet — that’s where the cinnamon and sugar topping comes in. Instead of brushing the muffins, I just dipped the tops in melted butter, then in the cinnamon and sugar mixture and they came out with a nice thick/crunchy topping that stayed put. These little beauties will definitely be making many appearances at our weekend breakfast table, warm from the oven.

Recipe:

Doughnut Muffins

Prep: 15 mins Bake: 20 Mins
Cool: 5 mins Oven: 350

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup shortening
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease the cups of two 6-cup muffin pans, or line muffin tins with paper liners, set aside.
In a small bowl stir together the flour, baking powder, and salt. In a large bowl beat 1/2 cup sugar and the shortening with an electric mixer on medium to high speed until well mixed. Beat in egg and vanilla until combined. Alternately add flour mixture and milk to egg mixture, beating well after each addition. Spoon batter into the prepared muffin cups, filling each about two-thirds full.
2. Bake about 20 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted in centers comes out clean. Cool in muffin cups on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Remove from muffin tins.
3. In a small bowl combine 1/2 cup sugar and the cinnamon. While still warm, brush all sides of muffins (or just the tops if you’re using paper liners) with melted butter and dip into the cinnamon sugar.

Source: Adapted only very slightly from Better Homes and Gardens Special Interest Publications “Food Gifts” 2011

Trick-or-Treat Kabobs

No, I didn’t actually cook anything here, but they’re cute, right? I have a wicked sweet tooth fit for a six year old. I also have the freedom of an adult to decide how much sugar I will ingest on any given day. Six year old sweet tooth + adult decision-making freedom = stomach ache. Make a mental note.

When I was a kid we lived on the very outside of a rural town, so our nearest neighbors were about a half mile away. Of the few neighbors we had, even fewer of them had kids of trick-or-treating age at the same point in time as us. All of these things combined actually made for some pretty sweet trick-or-treating. . . in the modern sense of ‘sweet’ as in “awesome”, and in my favorite sense of the word as in ‘tasty’. Because we were the only trick-or-treaters, our neighbors tended to hand us something unusually large by regular trick-or-treat standards – as in a giant candy bar, a full bag of candy, or on very lucky years, a $5 bill. Awesome!!

My point is, I want to have something special to pass out to a select few trick-or-treaters on Halloween, and this year I need something that is cute but quick too. These little kabobs will go to our favorite neighborhood buddies. You can leave them propped up in a bowl like in the photo and hand them out “naked”, or they’d be super cute wrapped up in clear cellophane and tied off with pretty ribbons. Either way – they’ll be devoured by your fave little ghosts and goblins in no time!

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Peanut Blossom Cookies


It doesn’t have to be difficult, does it? These cookies are the epitome of what this blog is about. They are simple, they are delicious, and they make the house smell like happy memories. These cookies stay delicious for days, but there is a window of heavenly, warm, melty chocolatey-ness that lasts for about 4 hours after they come out of the oven. The chocolate kisses hold their cute little shape, but when you bite into the cookie, it’s like beautifully smooth chocolate frosting melting on your tongue. You might have to close your eyes and sigh to fully appreciate it.
One of my girlfriends brought these over after our last baby was born, and I promptly sat down and popped roughly eight of them into my post-baby mouth in one sitting. In her house, they are a Christmas tradition – but I think you’ll be like me – unable to isolate them to holidays. These are the kind of cookies your kids cheer about when they see them sitting on the counter waiting for them after school – and the kind that make your not-so-sweet-tooth husband ooh and ahhh. . . even though he doesn’t really like sweets so much. Or does he??

Recipe

    Peanut Blossom Cookies

1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup Land O Lakes® Butter, softened
1/2 cup peanut butter
1 Land O Lakes® All-Natural Egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup sugar
48 milk chocolate candy kisses, unwrapped

Heat oven to 375°F. Combine 1/2 cup sugar, brown sugar, butter and peanut butter in large bowl. Beat at medium speed until light and fluffy. Add egg, vanilla and salt; continue beating until well mixed. Add flour and baking soda. Continue beating, scraping bowl often, until well mixed.

Shape dough into 1-inch balls. (If dough is too soft, refrigerate 30 to 60 minutes.) Roll balls in 1/4 cup sugar. Place 2 inches apart onto ungreased cookie sheets.

Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until very lightly golden brown. Immediately press 1 chocolate kiss in center of each cookie. Remove from cookie sheets; cool completely on wire racks.

Calories: 100Fat: 5gCholesterol: 10mgSodium: 70mgCarbohydrates: 12gDietary Fiber: 0gProtein: 2g

Source: Land O’ Lakes