Halloween Food

One of the things I try to do every year is to send some treats to school with my kids for Halloween. Some years those treats aren’t food, and instead come in the form of seasonal trinkets such as erasers and pencils (especially the stacking point kind because it brings back so many happy memories from my childhood). If I choose to send along food, I prefer for it not to be straight-up candy, since I know that the kids will be getting enough of that when it comes time for trick-or-treating. This year, Thing 2 requested that I whip up another batch of her favourite Graveyard Five-Layer Dip, which was an easy enough wish to grant. But since Thing 1’s favourite thing is, in her words, “chocolate with chocolate in it and chocolate on top,” I had to make something else for her.

I was inspired by Delish’s Pumpkin Patch Brownies for Thing 2’s dish, enough so that I even baked a second batch for her to take to her Girl Guides Halloween party as well. However, I wanted to make the brownies themselves from scratch instead of from a boxed mix. (I generally find that if a boxed mix requires additional eggs, water, and oil, you’re really just paying a lot extra per pound to have someone pre-mix your dried ingredients for you.) I used the Book Club Brownies recipe on page 762 of the Joy of Cooking (75th Anniversary Edition, Rombauer & Becker, 2006). It’s a solid recipe that is based on the Brownies Cockaigne that has appeared in Joy since the original 1931 edition. Since I knew that these brownies would be eaten in a classroom, I opted for making them slightly less messy by not adding the frosting and Oreo “dirt”. Instead, I just traced the “vines” on with green icing and made sure that every square got a pumpkin — since every kid argues about which piece is “better” based on number of toppings.

As can be surmised from my Happy Halloween! post, we also carved our pumpkins this year. In an attempt to waste as little food as possible, I had the girls separate the guts from the seeds while I cleaned out the pumpkins. Then I roasted the seeds with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt, on a sheet pan in the oven for about 30 minutes at 300°F (150°C), checking every ten minutes or so. They turned out lovely and will make a wonderfully crunchy, salty snack while they last. It always surprises me how few seeds you get from a single pumpkin! This is the result of five quite large gourds, and it probably won’t last us a week.

When Hunger and Exhaustion Collide

So I had kind of a mini food crisis the other night. I was home alone with my sleeping children; my husband was out visiting some friends. Since I hadn’t been home much lately, the fridge had become very empty, and the pantry wasn’t faring much better. I’d been up since 5:30am that day doing all kinds of lifting and lugging out in the heat, and I was exhausted. However, I couldn’t go to sleep yet because I had time-sensitive tasks that had to be completed. But I was just so exhausted that I couldn’t even think of cooking. I’d left it too late to order delivery, unless I wanted pizza, which my gut just can’t handle. (My friends told me afterwards that there is a local place that makes vegan pizza, i.e. it’s dairy free, and I may try that next time. Or order chicken wings from a pizza place, which didn’t even occur to me.)

In the end, starving but too tired to cook much from scratch, I tried making a microwaved baked potato, but even then I was thwarted: upon cutting it open, I discovered that it was rotten inside. I only got to eat a potato on my second try. I was so tired and frustrated that I was brought to tears over this stupid potato.

And all that time, all I could think about was how good Two Bite Brownies would taste.

So! I finally am able to go to bed, tummy actually full, but when I woke up the next morning I was absolutely determined that the same kind of thing wouldn’t happen the following night. Hubby home and children awake, I popped out to the grocery store and purchased the ingredients for one of my favourite easily-baked items: banana nut bread (or muffins, in this case). They’re filling and more or less healthy and very difficult to mess up. No was was I going to be exhausted and hungry and frustrated to that degree if I could help it.

I did buy a bag of Two Bite Brownies as well, though.

Valentine’s Day Sweets

Yesterday was Valentine’s Day, which for me meant that the day before was spent in the kitchen baking. Okay, well, not the whole day; some of my time was spent in the kitchen dealing with a leaking dishwasher. That slowed things down immensely. Luckily, the issue was a slightly-clogged drain pipe and dirt in the door seal that kept it from being watertight, and a good cleaning of the machine fixed the leak. If your dishwasher is going to leak, a fix without having to purchase expensive parts is best, really. Also, there wasn’t enough water that came out to cause much damage. The basement ceiling is a drop ceiling and the walls and floor are only half-finished, so there’s not much there for the water to damage anyway.

When I did get to bake, the first thing I tried was a double-batch of White Layer Cake found on page 110 of Essential Cooking Basics: The New Cook by Mary Berry & Marlena Spieler (1997). I used crab apple jelly that I’d made back in the fall as filling. This recipe was very nicely illustrated and easy to follow. It yielded lovely cupcakes that had a crumbly, buttery texture, which were similar to a good cornmeal muffin on top but with a softer middle. The recipe does call for self-rising flour, which I’ve come to realize is a really common ingredient in British recipes, but isn’t something the average cook would have in the pantry around here. Heck, not all grocery stores carry it. Fortunately, it’s easy enough to make with all-purpose flour, baking powder, and salt: directions here.

As I discovered, a single batch only yields about a dozen cupcakes, and I wanted to make 48 (half for Thing 1’s Guide troupe, and half for Thing 2’s Sparks troupe). By the time I’d figured this out, I’d run out of a few ingredients; this recipe takes a lot of eggs. I was getting a bit pressed for time, so I dug out a package each of IKEA Muffinsmix Choklad and Muffinsmix Citron (just-add-water chocolate and lemon cake mix, respectively). Thing 1 got the IKEA cupcakes and Thing 2 got the Mary Berry ones, and I honestly think that Thing 2 got the better end of the deal by a long shot.

Next came the treats for the treats for the girls’ homeroom classes at school. I’d planned on making orange sugar cookies for which I’d found a vintage Bake King recipe sheet tucked into an old cookbook, but those required the dough to be chilled and I had simply run out of time. I fell back on a recipe that I’d used successfully in the past for Fudgy Pumpkin Coffee Brownies (minus the coffee, since the intended audience was children). This recipe can be found on page 222 of Purely Pumpkin by Allison Day (2016). Once again, I substituted whole wheat flour for einkorn or light spelt flour, and even with this change, the brownies turned out great. This recipe invariably yields moist, rich brownies with just the right level of sweetness. As a bonus, I got to use up some of the Halloween pumpkin puree that’s still in my freezer. And none of the brownies came back home, so I figure that at least some of the kids (and/or the teachers) liked them.

Holiday Sweets

It seems like I have spent most of the last few days either cooking or driving around town to deliver Christmas presents, with a bit of housecleaning and last-minute decorating mixed in. On one of those gift deliveries, I received my very first gift of the season!

That’s three types of homemade fudge, all cooked up by my friend and her daughter, and then wrapped prettily. Thing 1 and Thing 2 keep asking me to share, but I have selfishly been hoarding it all for myself. (They’ve been on the receiving end of many other treats, so I don’t feel too bad.) I have a weakness for fudge.

One of Thing 2’s Sparks leaders has organized gifts to bring to one of the local retirement homes. Parent volunteers baked cookies and squares, which the leader will package into gift bags. One of the baked goods that I contributed was mini lemon cupcakes, which is actually just IKEA Muffinsmix Citron baked into tiny IKEA Snodriva paper liners (now discontinued). Is it a bad thing that I don’t always make things from scratch?

I did bake these Fudgy Pumpkin Coffee Brownies (page 222, Purely Pumpkin by Allison Day (2016)) completely from scratch, though. These also went to the retirement home gift bags. I used some of the Halloween pumpkin that I’d roasted, too! I really liked how moist these brownies ended up, courtesy of the pumpkin puree inside. I successfully substituted equal amounts of whole wheat flour for einkorn wheat, which I couldn’t find around here (and honestly had never heard of until I read this recipe). I did use a dairy-free chocolate chip, but I think I may go for a standard kind next time — I hear that they’re even making a dark chocolate chip now that’s available in most grocery stores.

First Bake of the Christmas Season

I wanted to spend today working on my last-minute costume, but the weather has started to change for the colder, and that meant that I had to make some changes to my house. The Weather Network is calling for rain, freezing rain, and snow over the weekend, so I had to be prepared. First, I had to put up the Christmas lights, since climbing on a ladder in the ice and snow is not a good idea.

Second, I had to clean the garage. I know it may not look like much, but it took me the rest of the day to get my garage this tidy. I really prefer to park under a roof in the winter; the car starts easier, it takes less time to get out the door because I don’t have brush/scrape off snow/ice, and it’s just generally better for the longevity of the vehicle. In warmer weather, however, my garage becomes my workshop-slash-storage-space, and it becomes cluttered and messy, and there’s no way you can get a car in there for about six months. So every fall I have to give it a good clean, and this year I’d let it get bad enough that it took me most of the day.

We still had to eat, of course, so I kept in the same mind-set as yesterday’s Clean Out Your Refrigerator Day — this having nothing to do with the fact that I still hadn’t gone to the grocery store, of course. I made grilled cheese for the family using yesterday’s Light Rye and Caraway Bread (page 75, Bread Machine: How to Prepare and Bake the Perfect Loaf (Jennie Shapter (2002)) and leftover cheese from the cheese-and-crackers tray from the Halloween party, which I think was mostly cheddar and Havarti, possibly Gouda. Sadly, there was just toast for me, since I have yet to find a non-dairy cheese that I actually like. Alongside the sandwiches I served cream of carrot soup that I had made up around Easter and frozen.

This weekend there is an annual fundraiser to send the area Pathfinders on an excursion, for which the younger girls (Sparks, Brownies and Guides) help out. The fundraiser is a holiday tea held at a local church. Parents supply beverages and baked goods, the Pathfinders organize and run the kitchen, the Guides serve the hot drinks, the Brownies serve cold drinks and treats, and the little Sparks just serve treats. The younger girls only work in one-hour shifts and are always given the chance to sit down and have tea and treats afterwards, so they love participating in this fundraiser. Plus, it makes them feel really grown up.

Thing 1 helped me choose and bake the treats we’ll be providing, which after a perusal of my cookbooks Thing 1 proclaimed had to be brownies-without-the-capital-B. She picked the recipe from Cookies: Recipes for Gifting & Sharing (Publications International Ltd., 2016), the classic brownies on page 35. Other than taking longer to bake than the directions specified, they went off without a hitch! Of course, I had to try one of the brownies before I packaged them to drop off tonight, and they’re rich and chocolatey soft, firm on the outside with a soft, moist (but not under-cooked) center. I am definitely pleased with this recipe, and not only because it’s so easy! My only qualm is that it has a bit of dairy inside, so maybe in the future I’ll be able to come up with a non-dairy version.

Mom’s Birthday Dinner

We celebrated my mother’s birthday this past Saturday. At her request, I hosted dinner at my house and made her up some of my ramen — which somehow she had never tried before. The version that I chose to make was Furikake Salmon Ramen (page 82 of Simply Ramen by Amy Kimoto-Kahn (2016)); the recipe is also available online here. This recipe uses a shoyu base (page 8, or online at easypeasyjapanesey.com), which I made up in advance in my slow cooker. I remain rather enamored of this base recipe, but every time I make it I remind myself that sometime I really need to try the tonkotsu base, which is my favourite but appears much more difficult. I used soft-boiled eggs instead of marinated half-cooked eggs, mostly due to time constraints. I also used packaged noodles; one of these days I will make my own, but that really requires a pasta maker, which I don’t own. I didn’t use the kind from the instant soup packages, as I find they get soggy much too quickly, but instead a package of dried noodles on their own for which I unfortunately can’t read most of the label.

The real star of this dish is the salmon. I was lucky enough to find it on special at the grocery store, pre-portioned and ready to go. The furikake topping was delicious even though I used North American mayonnaise instead of Japanese-style. There were some leftovers and I really look forward to having them served over rice in the next few days. I think that this topping is going to become part of my regular dinner roster; it would probably be good on other pink, oily fish like sea trout.

In our family, there’s always dessert with a birthday dinner, even if you’re stuffed from the meal itself — that just means that you take a breather and have the treat later in the evening. This year I made apple pie using fruit that I’d grown on my own tree in the back yard. For the chocolate lovers, Dad made brownies with chocolate icing, which were delicious and, if you know my dad, a very special treat, since he rarely bakes. We served it all up with whipped cream and/or vanilla ice cream (and dairy-free alternatives thereto). Oh, and candles! I was thrilled to find that it’s possible to get the candles that burn with coloured flame at the dollar store these days. I used to have to go downtown to a specialty store to buy them.

So happy birthday to my mom! Love always to the woman who helped shape me into the person that I am (whether that’s a good thing or not is a matter of opinion).