Thursday, October 29, 2009

Adorable (Healthy) Halloween Snack Ideas!

I just came across this article at the Disney FamilyFun site - they have some absolutely adorable (and healthy!) Halloween snack ideas!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Halloween 2009 Dinner Date!

It's time to start thinking about what to serve to your little ghouls and goblins on Halloween night! We gave the girls a little "trick" with some spaghetti n' eyeballs for dinner, and a "treat" with a fall-flavored cake for dessert.

Spaghetti and Eyeballs

1 lb ground beef
1 egg
1/3 cup fresh bread crumbs
1 handful canned black olives, chopped
20 or so large pimento-stuffed green olives

spaghetti and marinara sauce

Preheat oven to 425F.
In a large bowl, mix together the ground beef, egg, bread crumbs, and chopped black olives. Do not add any salt - the olives make these salty enough! Grab one or two tablespoons of the beef mixture and flatten it into a circle. Place a green olive in the center, sideways, and wrap the beef all around. Place seam side down on a baking sheet. Repeat with remaining meat and green olives.

Bake for 15-20 minutes, until the meat is well-done. Use a serrated knife to slice each meatball in half to reveal the "eyes"! Serve over some cooked spaghetti that has been well-bloodied with marinara sauce :-)

Maple Cake with Cinnamon-Chocolate Frosting

1 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 tsp maple extract

Preheat oven to 375F. Grease and flour two 9-inch round cake pans.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flours, baking powder, and salt. Using an electric mixer, cream the butter for about 1 minute. Add the sugar and beat until fluffy. Beat in the two eggs.

Whisk together the milk, maple syrup, vanilla extract, and maple extract. Add the milk mixture and the flour mixture to the sugar-butter mixture, alternating between adding the wet and dry ingredients. Beat until well combined.

Divide the batter evenly between the two pans. Bake for about 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool before frosting.

1 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 cups confectioner's sugar
2 Tbsp cocoa powder
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
pinch salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
8 oz semi-sweet chocolate, melted and cooled slightly

In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter with an electric mixer for about 1 minute. Add the confectioner's sugar, cocoa powder, and cinnamon, and beat on medium-high speed for 3-5 minutes, until very fluffy. Add the pinch of salt, vanilla extract, and melted chocolate and beat until light and fluffy, about 5 more minutes.

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Looking for more Halloween ideas? Check out Celeste's Halloween Dinner Date from last year, with Candy Corn Pizza and Monster Milkshakes!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Boston Dinner Date!

The idea for this dinner date was born (pun intended) out of an intense pregnancy craving for a giant bowl of New England clam chowder. I was hesitant at first to make it for the girls because clam chowder doesn't scream 'toddler food' but after some thought I decided that kids in New England have probably been warming themselves up with hearty bowls of chowder during chilly autumn months as long as New England clam chowder has been around. I'm a firm believer that the earlier a kid is exposed to a food the more likely they are to appreciate it in adulthood. I ate sardines and pickled herring with my Grandpa when I was very young and will happily eat either today.

I poked around at a couple chowder recipes for reference and quickly learned just how RICH (to put it nicely) it actually is. I considered (for a quick minute) trimming the fat and replacing some of the cream with milk, omitting the bacon fat (yes bacon fat), etc. but here's the thing...I really, really wanted GOOD, restaurant good, clam chowder. I'll justify my final ingredient choices by saying that its fall, winter is right around the corner and our little girls are truly little girls who could stand a little winter insulation. ;o) Plus, I'm there.

Million Dollar (read: RICH) New England Clam Chowder
(aka "Cracker Soup")
(serves 8)

8 slices of bacon (I have learned that this is the essential KEY to the best of the best clam chowder. If you make this recipe you will understand why its so important.)
8 small to medium potatoes (I used russet), peeled and cut into small chunks
1 large yellow onion, diced
2 8oz bottles clam juice
1/2 c. butter
4 Tbsp. all purpose flour
2 c. half and half
1 c. heavy cream
3 cans minced clams
Salt and pepper to taste


1. In a large saute pan fry the bacon until most of the fat is rendered. Remove bacon (I'm saving mine for a bread I'm trying later in the week).
2. Add potatoes and onions to the bacon drippings and cook over medium heat until onions begin to become translucent.
3. Add the clam juice and cook over medium high heat until potatoes are tender.
4. In a large stockpot melt the butter over medium heat.
5. Gradually add the flour to the butter, whisking constantly, to form a roux. I like my chowder soupy but I think most people like it thick. 4 Tbsp. of flour will make a more soup-like chowder so if you like it thicker adjust with flour at this step.
6. Gradually whisk in the half and half and heavy cream.
7. Stir in the potato and onion mixture.
8. Drain one of the cans of clams and stir into chowder. Add the remaining two cans (juice and all).
9. Salt and pepper to taste. Simmer over medium low heat until desired temperature is reached. Serve with some oyster crackers on top!

My original plan was to make homemade sourdough bread bowls to serve the soup in and I started gathering ingredients for the bread and learned that the starter you need to make for sourdough bread takes about 4 DAYS to make! Whoops. I made the starter anyway and am dreaming up a concoction for the weekend. (Hint: It involves the bacon I saved...and some maple syrup....)

This was stellar joke. It might be the best chowder I've had and I'm not kidding. Neko ate it and showed absolutely no aversion to it. Abby took one big bite and said "Mmmmm,..mmmmm" but then refused to eat it and said it wasn't good. However, I started calling it "Cracker Soup" and that seemed to pique her interest a little. We cleared the table after we thought they were done and when she realized her bowl was gone she got very upset. I'm taking it as a good sign.

So every good fattening dinner needs a fattening dessert to go with it right? In further celebration of Boston I created:

Two Bite Boston Cream Cupcakes
(The picture makes it look giant but it really was 2 bites worth...We cut this one in half and Kara ate her half in a bite and I ate mine in a bite.) ;o)

For the cupcakes-
I just used a box vanilla organic cake mix I found at Whole Foods and prepared according to package directions (baked in a mini muffin tin for about 10 minutes)
For the filling:
2c. milk
1/2 c. sugar
3 Tbsp. corn starch
1 Tsp. vanilla extract
1 Tbsp. butter
For the topping:
1c. heavy whipping cream (plain heavy cream works too)
2 Tbsp. sugar
2 Tbsp. cocoa powder
1 Tsp. vanilla extract

Trader Joe's Chocolate Syrup (no yucky ingredients)


1. Heat the milk in a medium saucepan over medium heat until bubbles begin to appear around the edges (not boiling)
2. Gradually whisk in the corn starch and sugar.
3. Cook until filling begins to thicken and coats the back of a metal spoon. (I didn't cook it quite long enough so it was a little runny for what I wanted so I would shoot for slightly thicker than runny in the pan (it will firm up a bit more in the fridge).
4. Remove from heat and stir in the butter and vanilla. Transfer to a glass bowl, cover with saran wrap and cool completely in fridge (at least 1 hour).


1. Beat the cream on high speed, gradually adding the sugar and cocoa powder. Beat until peaks form (slightly thicker than whipped cream consistency works best.)

Assemble the cupcakes:
1. Slice a cupcake in half.
2. Top the bottom half with a dollop of the filling. Put the top of the cupcake back on.
3. Frost the top layer with the chocolate whipped cream.
4. Drizzle with chocolate syrup. Enjoy! 1. Chomp...2. Chomp...mmmmm

Needless to say the girls devoured these without any nudging. (The Mommies did too.)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Spinach-Prosciutto Casserole

I wasn't so sure if my kids would go for this, but I took a picture of it before we ate just in case. And I'm glad I did - both kids ate their entire portion, without complaint and without me having to coax them one bit. In my family, that's the equivalent of my kids giving something 4 Michelin stars!

This made enough to fill two 2-quart casserole dishes (I froze one for a future dinner).

Spinach-Prosciutto Casserole

1 box elbow pasta, prepared according to package directions
1 1/2 cups ricotta (I used part-skim)
2 cups shredded mozzarella (again, I used part-skim)
1 egg
20 oz frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed as dry as possible
salt & pepper
2 cups marinara sauce
1/4 lb prosciutto, chopped
1/2 cup grated parmesan

Cook and set aside the elbow pasta.

In a large bowl, mix together the ricotta, 1 cup of the mozzarella, and the egg. Stir in the spinach. Season with salt & pepper.

In a small bowl, mix together the marinara and the prosciutto.

Layer the casserole; into one casserole dish, layer 1/4 of the pasta, then 1/4 of the marinara mixture, then 1/4 of the cheese-spinach mixture. Repeat the layers. Layer the remaining ingredients into your second casserole dish. Divide the additional 1 cup mozzarella over the tops of each dish. Sprinkle each casserole with 1/4 cup grated parmesan.

When ready to eat, heat the oven to 400F. Bake a refrigerated casserole for about 30 minutes, or until completely cooked through (remember, there is egg in there!). The cooking time will be longer for a frozen casserole, but I haven't tried that yet :-)

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Oktoberfest Dinner Date

October is here, and I knew I just had to do an Oktoberfest dinner date! My husband and I went to Germany a few years ago, and on our last night in the Bavarian Alps we had the most amazing dinner. Just thinking of it now can send us both into fits of drool. My Oktoberfest dinner date was an attempt to recreate that dinner (though on a slightly smaller and less sausage-intensive scale!). The wienerschnitzel nuggets and savory green beans were a huge hit with the kids!

Wienerschnitzel Nuggets

1 pork tenderloin (1-1.25 lbs)
4 cups fresh bread crumbs (not dried, and white bread works fantastically)
salt & pepper
3 eggs
olive oil for pan frying

Slice the pork tenderloin into 1/2 inch thick pieces. Toss the bread crumbs with some salt and pepper in a shallow bowl. Beat the eggs with a fork in a separate shallow bowl. Dip the pork tenderloin slices into the egg and coat with the bread crumbs.

In a large pan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Fry breaded pork slices for 3-5 minutes per side, until a golden crust has formed and the nugget is cooked through.

Savory Green Beans

1 lb fresh green beans, trimmed
3 slices bacon, chopped small
1 shallot, minced
1/4 cup water
2 Tbsp white vinegar
1 Tbsp canola oil
salt & pepper

In a large pan, fry bacon and shallot together over medium heat, until bacon is starting to crisp and shallot is translucent and tender. Add 1/4 cup water and the green beans. Cook, stirring, until water is evaporated and beans are crisp-tender.

In a small bowl, whisk together the oil and vinegar. Add salt & pepper to taste. Pour over the green beans, tossing to mix.

Black Forest Cupcakes

1 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
2/3 cup unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled
1 ounce semi-sweet chocolate, melted and cooled
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups water
1 cup dried cherries

1 pint heavy cream

fresh or frozen cherries, pitted, for decorating the tops

Prepare enough muffin tins for about 24 cupcakes (either grease or line with cupcake liners). Preheat oven to 350F.

In a large bowl, sift together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter with an electric mixer for one minute. Add sugar; beat well till combined. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each (scraping the bowl if necessary). Beat in the chocolate and the vanilla. Alternate adding the dry flour mixture and the water, beating after each addition. Stir in the dried cherries.

Fill each muffin cup 1/2-2/3 full. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool.

When the cupcakes are cool, beat the heavy cream with an electric mixer until peaks form. Top each cupcake with a dollop of whipped cream and a cherry.

* * * * * *

Now of course, we all know what Oktoberfest means....

But, if you're pregnant like Celeste, or under 21 like the girls, or just generally not a drinker, I cannot recommend this Virgil's root beer highly enough! I found it at Trader Joe's, so it doesn't have all the icky artificial stuff. And it was GOOD.

The girls hated it, but Celeste and I don't allow them to have carbonated drinks as a rule, so they were appalled by the fizz. But Celeste and I thought it was tasty!