Thursday, October 29, 2009

Are you ready for the Goblins...

Are you ready for the little goblins and the big pumpkin at your house?  I have my few little decorations out, not many, mostly fall leaves and a last minute pumpkin on the table, but I do have my big bowl of candy already near the front door.  There has been a lot of talk about when trick or treat will take place this year, Friday or Saturday so, whatever day or both days, I am ready.  We don't get many children these days but the ones that are around we know so I have gotten full size bars to make it a little special.  If  truth be told it is partly because we love to have the left overs in full sizes. 
So what's with using the wonderful pumpkin at Halloween?  It seems that in the 1800s when so many immigrants came to America because of the Irish Potato Famine, they brought with them the traditions of Halloween and the use of the pumpkin.  Traditionally, the Jack-O-Lantern was carved from potatoes, beets and turnips and then lit with a burning lump of coal or little candles.  I find it hard to imagine, because we are so used to a big orange pumpkin, a home decorated with small potatoes and beets with a lump of coal inside. These vegetable lanterns were made to represent the souls of the dear departed ones and they set them on porches and in windows to welcome home the deceased. They also believed the little scary lanterns served as protection against malevolent spirits or goblins freed from the dead. Since turnips and gourds were not as readily available in the Americas the pumpkin was used and found to be a terrific and more scary replacement. Today the pumpkin Jack-O-Lantern is an essential part of Halloween celebrations.  As to the trick or treat giving of candy it is said to also come with the Celts to America at the same time. They tried to appease these wandering spirits or goblins by offering them gifts of fruit and nuts. They began the tradition of placing plates of their finest food and bits of treats that the household had to offer on their doorsteps, as gifts, to appease the hunger of the ghostly wanderers. What started out as something very serious to the Druids has turned into a fun time of decorations, parties, candy and lots of sweet little goblins wandering the neighborhood.  Are you ready for your little goblins yet?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Halloween Candy Curse....

I walked into the grocery store this afternoon and the smell of sugar that hits you at the door is super strong.  Sweet, but strong.   During the Halloween season surrounding all the entrances to stores is candy, all kinds of candy.  It's a dieters nightmare and a childs happiest dreams.  One of my favorite Halloween candies is the little pieces of candy corn.  Super sweet and honey tasting but I love it.   Problem is that one serving, about 14 little kernals, is around 150 calories and I have yet to get away with just having 14 kernals. I tried it this week, I counted out my one serving and ate them slow.  I  felt happy that I did so well, then it drove me crazy for the next couple of hours that there were more in the bag calling my name. So of course, I got out the bag and munched on them untill I had eaten several more servings.  I wasn't happy anymore.  They know people do this to themselves, so why not add more pieces to a serving and count the higher calories to begin with, then when you eat your serving your guilt factor isn't so bad.   Who are they fooling anyway, nobody eats just 14 little kernals and stops. A cruel marketing trick I think or rather I try to make myself believe, so I don't have to take all the blame for my self-induced sugar rush.

            If you think I am naughty with candy corn, well you haven't seen anything when it comes to the guilt trip I take when it comes to little chocolate candy bars. I love each flavor especially the little Krackel bars. I do try to have some of each kind including the dark chocolate since "they" claim it has health benefits. Actually, if I pasted the bags to my hips it would be the right thing to do, make the candy curse go quicker.
How about you, do you have a favorite Halloween candy?  Hopefully you don't have the same candy curse I  have with all those little pieces.  Trick or treat huh, well it tricks me everytime.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Turning leaves and cold rain calls for soup...

Looking out my window at the beautiful turning leaves, dripping from the rain, makes me feel cozy and contented.  I love fall, my favorite season, and watching the leaves out front turn red gives me such a nesting feeling.  With me, besides staying warm and cozy, means cooking something from the comfort food family, soup.  My family thinks I am little weird, well actually I am but you never heard that from me, because I can eat soup everyday from now to springtime and not get bored.

After searching through my vast collection of recipes in books, magazines and lots of little cards I have decided this weekend would be perfect for the warm and creamy, and one of my most favorites, Cream of Cauliflower Cheese Soup.  This recipe I found once in the Taste of Home Magazine (it's their photo also) and it quickly became a family favorite.  There are so many Cream of Cauliflower recipes out there and many are fabulous and I love them too, but today I want the cheesey one.  I love this with some green salad, crusty bread and a couple glasses of merlot and I am very content.  Try it, it is good for warming your soul.
Cauliflower Cheese Soup
1 medium head cauliflower, broken in florets
1 medium onion, chopped,1 can  14 1/2 oz chicken broth   
1 chicken boulillon cube
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
3 cups milk
2 cups (8 ounces shredded cheddar cheese
1 tablespoon dried parsley flakes
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon each cayenne pepper, curry powder and white pepper
In large saucepan, combine cauliflower, onion broth and bouilion. Cover and cook over medium heat until the vegetables are tender.  Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, melt butter, stir in flour until smooth.  Gradually add milk.  Cook and stir until bubbly, and thickened, about 5 minutes.  Reduce heat, add cheese and seasonings. Pour into the cauliflower mixture. Simmer slowly for 30 minutes. Do Not Boil.  Makes 6-8 servings.  Taste of Home says a 1 cup serving has 220 calories but I make it with 1% Milk and it is still great and the calories and fat are lowered.  I have also left out the curry powder before and I liked it just as well.  I would rate this a 10 when it comes to comfort food and I love having left overs the next day for lunch.

Try it, I know you'll love it too. 

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A Wonderful Fall Treat and Yummy Anytime...

 Looking through my recipes for something fall and yummy to come up with for a shower later this week I was reminded of this fabulous pumpkin dip I make so often at this time of the year. It is so easy to do, and it always goes so quickly, that it is perfect for parties. I also served it with slices of apples and pears, ginger snaps or any fruit that is handy.  Fresh fruit is best because it still has some firmness to the pieces.  Use your favorites and for an extra treat I have spread it on toast, muffins and toasted pound cake slices.  Yummy!!  

Creamy Pumpkin Dip
2 - 8 oz. packages of cream cheese, softened
1 cup brown sugar (I like the light best but use what you have)
1 cup of powdered sugar
1 can of Libby's pumpkin - 15 oz size (my favorite but any brand you use is okay)
2 teaspoons maple syrup (have left it out before but the maple gives it a little extra kick)
1 tablespoon of pumpkin pie spice
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, ground
Beat together all of the ingredients with a mixer until it is extra smooth and creamy.  Put in a pretty bowl that looks like fall, cover and put in the refrigerator for at least an hour before serving.   Set you bowl out on a pretty platter and surround with fresh slices of fruit and any other goodies you would like on your plate. I know you and your company are going to love this and if you want to make it a bit healthier it works just as well with low fat cream cheese.  Just make sure you use the same amounts.

For an added goodie I often serve either mulled wine or apple cider, but lately I have had a few pumpkin spice lattes and when I figure out that recipe, that will be on menu as well.  Anyone with the pumpkin spice latte secret let me know?

Monday, October 12, 2009

Cherry Pie for Breakfast

While writing tonight I kept having memories of the unique treat I had for breakfast this morning.  I ate a slice of cherry pie and a cup of coffee and have not been able to get the memories out of mind all day.  Sure it was a great tasting pie and it was homemade and given to me by a dear friend, but it wasn't that actual pie that has been haunting me all day.

It isn't my habit to have pie for breakfast and I am sure it has been more years than I would care to count since I have made it anything more than dessert.  But this morning it was there and the memories of my Dad and I came floating in when I saw it on the cabinet next to the coffee pot.

When I was a little girl it was a regular thing for me to go to church with my Dad each Sunday morning.  We lived only a few blocks from the old church and unless the weather was bad we would walk together to the 11am service.  My 6ft Daddy in his suit and little me, always in a dress with patent leather Sunday shoes, would walk hand in hand to the church and sit together on the strong wooden pews.  I can picture him now holding his bible in front of him and me sitting there, swinging my shiny shoes under the seat and not always paying attention to the service being preached.  I loved being there with him, and I am sure like any young child I was very anxious for the preacher to stop talking so that Daddy and I could take our walk to the little resturant we walked past on our way home.

It was a tiny little place and besides the few tables and chairs it had a counter like you would find in a diner.  We would always go to the counter and he would set me up on the high stool next to him.  I would order the small hamburger from the childrens menu, with a soda, and he would always order a slice of cherry pie with a hot and steamy cup of black coffee.  We would talk and I would giggle alot and he would always give me his last little bite of cherry pie.   He would pay the couple of dollars to the lady behind the counter and we would walk home from church.

Thinking of my Dad today I thought of all the old memories involved, dressing up, walking hand in hand to the church, sitting and praying with him or the little game he would always play with the one bite of cherry pie.  I am sure as a little child going to the resturant and having a bite of cherry pie was high on the list of fun things to do, but today the memories are all those things because I was with my Dad.  What memories that cherry pie stirred up in me today, but that piece of pie and cup of coffee this morning brought me happy tears, and a feeling of being a little girl again, being so loved by the man who is my Daddy.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Fall apples and cinnamon pie, my hips and I love it!

When fall hits I think of apple pie. It just goes with the weather and is so comforting on a chilly evening when the taste of cinnamon and sugar makes me smile. Bad for the hips but great for the soul.  I used to go to lots of trouble and make a scratch pie crust, roll it out perfect and make fancy crimps but the last couple of years I have gone rustic.  I don't think it really matters much if it is rustic or not since I am going for the taste and not trying to win a pie contest.  They actually call this style of pie a rustic tart that can be made with any of your favorite fruits but fall apples are my choice.  I like to mix up my apples, some sweet like Golden Delicious and some tart like the Granny Smith.  It doesn't matter what you choose since apples are a bit different depending on how ripe they are and the best pies for your family should be made with your favorite apples.  My family is crazy about vanilla ice cream on their pie but me I love an ice cream called Pecan Praline (made by Safeway) on mine.  It makes it so yummy and gives the pie a hint of caramel and pecans.  So good and I want some right now right after dinner!  Here's my super easy recipe, adjust it to your favorite apples, but try it cause I know you'll love the ease and taste. 
1 refrigerated pie crust (from 15-ounce package)
1 egg white, lightly beaten
3/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons Cinnamon, Ground
4 cups thinly sliced peeled apples (about 4 medium)
1 teaspoon sugar  (I love the raw sugar for sprinkling on crust, it gives a great effect)

1. Preheat oven to 425°F. Prepare crust as directed on package. Place on foil-lined 12-inch pizza pan or a large cookie sheet. If necessary, press out any folds or creases. Brush crust with about 1/2 of the beaten egg white.
2. Mix 3/4 cup sugar, cornstarch and cinnamon in medium bowl. Toss with apples. Spoon into center of crust, spreading to within 2 inches of edges. Fold 2-inch edge of crust up over apples, pleating or folding crust as needed. Brush crust with remaining egg white; sprinkle with 1 teaspoon sugar.
3. Bake 20 minutes or until apples are tender. Cool slightly before serving.

I usually serve it right from the oven, since it is so quick, with a scoop of ice cream melting on top but really this rustic tart is fabulous cold the next day.

I have made this tart in the summer with mixed berries and with peaches and raspberries and they are both wonderful.  Use your favorite fruit and have fun with it, your hips will love you for it!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Some southern food for the soul....

It feels so good to be back home again, funny though when I was still in North Carolina I was feeling like I never wanted to leave. What is it with vacations that we can't wait to get there, not want to leave, then can't wait to get back to our own bed? I hated coming home but I brought something home with me to remind us of the Outer Banks until we get back next September. Shrimp!

Each year before we leave the OBX we go down to Wacheese and wait for the the big shrimp boats to come in with their wonderful treasures. We take our biggest cooler and have it loaded at the dock with 50 pounds of just caught shrimp. The fishermen layer and pack the shrimp with crushed ice till it is very secure to drive back to Maryland. When we get home we load them into freezer bags, of various sizes, and then fill the bags up with water to keep them from getting any freezer burn during the year. It is very economical this way and it always tastes super fresh.

My first shrimp meal back this year is my favorite southern touch for the soul, none other than Oh Boy, Shrimp and Grits. It's warm, and yummy and tastes fantastic with every bite. You can find the recipe so many places but one of my favorites is one by the reigning queen of southern cooks, Natalie Dupree. Look for her Shrimp and Grits Cookbook, it's terrific.

My recipe is a mixture from different people and my family is crazy about it. Give it a try, I think you'll love the ease and taste.

Shrimp and Grits
Start your grits by putting 2 cups of water and 2 cups of milk in a sauce pan. Bring to a low boil and stir in 1/2 stick of butter till melted, then add 1 cup of stone-ground or quick grits (important - NOT Instant Grits). Add salt and pepper to your taste. Stir well and occasionally, then cook on low for 20 to 25 minutes. The grits will have absorbed all the liquid and be very creamy. Remove from the heat and stir in another 1/2 stick of butter and two cups of Sharp Shredded Cheddar. Put a lid on pan and set aside to stay warm.
In a frying pan, fry up 8 slices of your favorite bacon till crispy. Remove bacon from pan and stir in 1 cup of sliced, fresh button mushrooms. Then add 1 cup sliced scallions and 1 large clove of minced garlic. Stir everything in the bacon grease left in pan until they begin to soften. Stir in 1 pound of peeled and deveined fresh shrimp and cook until the shrimp turn pink. Add about 4 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice, 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper, 1 tablespoon of Louisiana hot sauce and a couple of tablespoons of fresh chopped parsley. Crumble up your bacon and give the shrimp mixture a final stir. Pour your warm, cheesy grits into a big bowl and dump the shrimp mixture on top for a fantastic treat. Its great with a green salad and some crusty bread. Rich, wonderful, tasty and pure southern comfort food. I am so happy we brought back 50 pounds of shrimp, a year seems like such a long time to spread them out. Enjoy!
PS. I have been getting a number of emails about the freezing of shrimp so I thought you may like the process. Fill the bags about half full with the shrimp then the rest of the bag gets filled with cold water. Use a bag size based on the amount you may want to thaw out at a time. This also works for freezing fish. The seafood last a very long time staying as fresh tasting as when you put them in the water because of the water. We have been doing this for years and it is perfect for big sales and purchases like this one.