The Nightmare Before Christmas Garage

Halloween is all over but for the consumption of vast quantities of candy. Due to rainy weather, we didn’t get as many trick-or-treaters as I thought we would this year, so we have boxes of full-sized candy bars on top of what the kids accumulated. I think I’m going to have to Google “things to make with leftover Halloween candy”.

Of course, after Halloween there’s also lots of cleaning up and packing away to do, but before I get to that I’d like to share my favourite part of this year’s decorations: the Nightmare Before Christmas garage.

You see, this year marks the 25th anniversary of one of my favourite movies (and Thing 2’s all-time fave so far), The Nightmare Before Christmas. I thought that part of my outdoor decor should definitely reflect this fact. I purchased the little Jack Skellington inflatable on the right, and the larger one on the left was a generous gift from a friend. I made the Oogie Boogie “moon” light cover out of a plastic platter, a black Bristol board cut-out, and a yellow light bulb. The “hill” on the garage door was just more Bristol board taped on and cut out in the desired shape, with breaks and slight overlaps between the panels so I could still open and close the door. Honestly, it wasn’t terribly difficult, but I was really happy with it all in all.

As for actual costumes the day of, I wore my Robin Hood: Men in Tights costume during the day, and my Discworld Death to take my kids trick-or-treating at night. Death was very well received by most, although he did frighten a few little ones (he’s enormous, after all). I really did enjoy chasing the teenagers. The kids wore their Borderlands 2 costumes, and they were thrilled when a few people even knew who they were supposed to be.

I’d say that it was a pretty great Halloween.

Graveyard Five-Layer Dip a.k.a. Wacko Taco Dip

Every year for our family Halloween party, Thing 2 gets really excited when I tell her that I’m going to make what she calls “Graveyard Dip”. It’s really just a basic five-layer dip that I learned how to make from my cousin, decorated a bit to fit the Halloween theme. My cousin calls it “Wacko Taco Dip”, which is what we call it the rest of the year when I bring it to parties without the “gravestones”. It’s really quick and simple to make, and can be made the night before (or even a few nights before) if you’re well-prepared, or immediately before an event if you’re not. It will taste just as good either way. The measurements of the recipe may seem kind of arbitrary at first glance, but they’re made to be the size of a single package of that ingredient. If you’re doling out the ingredients from larger containers, don’t be too worried that your measurements are totally precise, since this recipe is very forgiving.

When I discovered that I was lactose intolerant, one of the reasons I was sad was that I couldn’t have this dip any more. However, I’ve discovered that it’s now possible to buy lactose-free cream cheese, lactose-free sour cream, and lactose-free cheddar cheese. I substitute them in equal quantities for their counterparts in the recipe and it doesn’t bother my tummy at all!

Graveyard Five-Layer Dip a.k.a. Wacko Taco Dip
Yields one 9″ X 13″ pan of dip

Ensuring that it is broken into small pieces, fry until lightly browned and cooked through:
450g lean or extra lean ground beef
Pour off fat. Line a plate with paper towels. Put ground beef on paper towels to soak up any residual fat.
In a small mixing bowl, mix until smooth:
250mL sour cream
227g cream cheese
Spread mixture evenly on the bottom of a 9″ x 14″ pan. Glass is preferable for looks alone; plastic or metal work just as well.
Sprinkle cooked ground beef evenly over the mixture as the second layer.
For the third layer, spread evenly over the contents of the pan:
650mL salsa
For the fourth layer, spread evenly over the contents of the pan:
320g Tex Mex shredded cheese
For the fifth layer, spread evenly over the contents of the pan:
227g shredded iceberg lettuce

If making Wacko Taco dip, the dish is complete! Serve alongside a bowl of your favourite tortilla chips.

If making Graveyard Five-Layer Dip, take:
10 to 12 round tortilla chips
On each of them, write “RIP” with a:
black, fine-tipped edible marker
Push each of these chips into the dip halfway so that the “RIP” is visible on the top. Now you have your gravestones. Serve alongside a bowl of your favourite tortilla chips.

Soup & Bread

I’m still trying to keep the energy consumption around the house as low as possible post-tornado, in an attempt to do my part to keep demand on the grid low until the Merivale power station is repaired. So tonight’s dinner was as simple as possible:

That’s Slow Cooker Caribbean Lobster Bisque that I had made back in August in bulk, so all I had to do was thaw it in the microwave and serve with the last of my ciabatta buns! Super easy. Make-ahead meals are perfect for times like this when it’s just not possible or practical to make a complicated homemade meal. Sadly, this marks the last of the bisque I had in the freezer, so I’ll have to make some more the next time I find lobster on sale — after all of the repairs to the grid are made.

Chicken Salad Sandwich

Yesterday I made a visit to Costco, and was it ever slammed! I guess a lot of people lost a lot of their perishables to the power outage, and had to stock up. Not only that, but with the power out for so much of the weekend and a request for people to stay off of the roads Monday, most people weren’t able to do their weekend grocery shopping.

While I was at Costco, I picked up a rotisserie chicken, which at $7.99 for a fully cooked bird is the best price around, so far as I know. I honestly am not certain whether buying poultry cooked at a grocery store is more energy-efficient than cooking it at home, but I have an inkling that it is. If not, well, at least I wasn’t cooking it near dinner time, which tends to be a peak time for energy usage because so many of us have electric stoves and microwaves.

From what I understand, the rerouting of power around the downed Merivale power station means that the grid is just holding until the station is repaired. However, a large spike in energy usage, such as everyone running their A/C on a hot day, would likely black out the city again. So, to do my part I’m trying to be as conservative with my electricity as possible. (And did I mention that the tornado count for last Friday has gone up from two to six?)

At any rate, I decided to do another cold dinner, so I stripped the chicken carcass and chopped up all of the meat into bite-sized pieces. Then I mixed them with some chopped green onions and mayonnaise. I served the chicken salad with baby spinach on toasted ciabatta bread (also from Costco). As sides, I peeled oranges and sliced strawberries.

The weather yesterday was rainy and dull, so while cooking outdoors could have been done if necessary, I wasn’t really looking forward to it. Sadly, tomorrow’s weather isn’t predicted to be any nicer; actually, we’re supposed to get thunder and lightning again. Yay?

Bacon-N-Egg Bagels & Spinach Salad

What with the tornado over the weekend, and the resulting damage and power outages affecting hundreds of thousands of people across the city, my focus hasn’t exactly been on cooking for this last little while. Not only that, but the city has asked that we stay off the roads as much as possible to allow priority use for emergency and Hydro vehicles, and to use as little electricity as possible so as not to overload what’s left of the grid. Luckily it hasn’t been so hot that we’ve needed air conditioning, which is a huge power suck, and it hasn’t been super cold — although to take the edge off the temperature in the evenings, I’ve smelled a lot of fireplaces in the area being fired up earlier in the season than usual.

Not wanting to use a lot of electricity means that I’m not doing a lot of cooking that has long cooking times. That means no canning (which requires hours and hours of time with the stove running), or slow-cooked dishes that can run 24 hours or more to make. Bacon and eggs is honestly one of the quickest hot meals that I know how to make, so that’s what I went for. Fry up a package of bacon, make up four eggs over easy, and toast four bagels. Add the condiments of your choice and you’ve got a lovely sandwich that’s as good for supper as for breakfast. To make it a bit healthier, I added a nice salad made with baby spinach, avocado, and tomatoes from my garden. And that’s dinner in a flash!

Grilled Salmon & Trout Teriyaki Rice Bowls

It’s been unseasonably warm this fall, so I thought that another light, refreshing meal was in order. The girls requested rice bowls, so that’s what we ended up doing! I found a few pieces of both salmon and trout on special at the local grocery store, but neither one had quite enough to feed the entire family. In the end, I served each person a slice of each kind of fish.

I marinated the fish in Kikkoman Teriyaki Marinade & Sauce, and then my husband put it on the smoker grill. I always cook this kind of fish on a baking sheet even on a grill, and even if it’s skin-on like ours normally is, because once done it tends to fall apart into the machinery beneath. While the meat was cooking, I put on the rice, steamed some bok choy, thinly sliced some carrots, cut up one of my many home-grown cucumbers, chopped the onion tops from my garden (they’re a great substitute for chives), and cut up some enoki mushrooms. By the time all that was done, the fish was ready. Then all that was left was to assemble the bowls, and to eat!

Beet Pesto

One of the things I love about beets is that pretty much the entire plant is edible; both the roots and the leaves not only taste good, but they’re great in other dishes. Case in point: beet pesto. As I’ve pointed out before, pesto is a really simple, no-cook pasta sauce to make, and it can be made with beet greens! Well, the ones I grew this year had red leaves instead of the more common, green, but they taste more or less the same no matter the colour.

The neat thing about making pesto with red beet leaves is that the pesto itself turns red, which makes for a much more colourful dish. As a warning, if you’re making or cooking with this kind of pesto, protect your clothing! Red beet juice stains very quickly, and this will also happen when it’s in pesto.

In this pesto I also used basil (from my mother’s and my mother’s friend’s garden), garlic, extra virgin olive oil, parmesan (from the deli, not the shelf-stable stuff that’s much harder and more powdery), and pine nuts.

This big batch made up sixteen 250mL jars that went straight into the freezer, plus one that I set aside in the fridge for use in the next few days. Each one of these tiny jars is easily enough to make dinner for our family of four. If stirred into prepared dried pasta, this means I’ll have sixteen easy meals (or at least side-dishes) over the coming winter. I like that kind of math!