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Tag Archives: halloween

Buffalo Chicken Pasta Bake (and Giveaway Winner!!)

Well, we did it! We made it through Halloween. I enjoy Halloween, especially now that I have kids to celebrate it with – but to be honest, for me it’s mostly just the gateway holiday to Thanksgiving and Christmas. Those are the holidays which really have my heart. I’ll admit, a small tear of joy may have run down my cheek when I walked into Target the other day to find the first of their holiday decorations hung from the ceiling. I have no problem with celebrating Christmas even as we prepare for Thanksgiving. The two go hand in hand for me.

But Halloween was fun this year. Really fun. The boys dressed up for the pre-Halloween party at their school. There was a dj, a disco ball, and hundreds of costumed children, half-blinded by masks, crashing into each other on the school gym dance floor. All varieties of goblins, ghouls, princesses and superheroes roamed the school cafeteria with slices of pizza and pumpkin cookies hanging from their mouths.

On Halloween, the boys put on their costumes for their school parade. Liam was Harry Potter, a costume I’m certain he selected for the pretend glasses it came with. Lucas was a terrifying werewolf, a costume I believe he selected for the shredded jeans it would give him a reason to wear. The kid’s got a weird love for jeans, as long as they have a real, functional button and zipper…none of those faux buttoned, elastic-waisted toddler jeans for him!

After school, we attended a pre-trick-or-treating party at our friends’ house. I dressed as a princess with baby James as my frog prince. We brought along a bucket of spooky eyeball cake pops, which everyone enjoyed after the delicious dinner served by our friend. There was pasta and meatballs, a vibrant pasta salad, Italian bread and butter, jumbo shrimp, fresh veggies with dip, cheese and crackers, baked ziti and chicken wings.

And that’s when the seedling of an idea began to take root, right there surrounded by ninjas and vampires – baked ziti and chicken wings…

Y’all know I’ve got a little thing for inserting buffalo chicken wing flavor into all varieties of other foods…chicken wing dip, buffalo chicken lasagna, buffalo chicken monkey bread, buffalo chicken pizzabuffalo chicken meatballs, buffalo chicken potato skins… so, why not buffalo chicken baked ziti? As my sister put it, “Why have we not eaten that before???” It’s a practically ludicrous idea to consider. Fortunately, we no longer need to commiserate over the absence of buffalo chicken baked ziti in our lives. I made it last night and my hybrid baked ziti-buffalo chicken world is now beautifully complete.

Focus on Technique – Poaching Chicken

It’s common to find recipes calling for poached chicken. Poaching is simply the process of very gently simmering a food until it’s cooked. Eggs, poultry, and fish all responded well to poaching. Foods can be poached in a variety of liquids, including water, milk, wine, and broth/stock. Various herbs and seasonings can be added to the poaching liquid to impart delicious flavor into the chicken. When poaching, it’s important to control the heat in order to keep the liquid at a gentle simmer.

Properly poached chicken breasts remain moist and tender. Poached chicken works well on its own, in chicken salad, on pizza, in soup, or mixed in with pasta.

To poach chicken breasts, place the chicken in a pot large enough for the chicken to fit comfortably. Cover the chicken with cool water (or chicken broth). Over medium heat, bring the liquid to a gentle boil. Adjust the heat so that the liquid maintains a gently bubbling simmer. Cook for about 10-15 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through. An instant read meat thermometer is the most effective way to determine doneness. Chicken is done once it’s reached 165 degrees.

Buffalo Chicken Pasta Bake

Ingredients

  • 1 pound pasta
  • 1 pound of chicken, poached and chopped into small pieces
  • 1/2 cup celery, chopped
  • 1 cup Frank’s Red Hot hot sauce (or your other favorite hot sauce)
  • 1 cup blue cheese dressing (I always recommend Marie’s)
  • 3/4 cup ricotta cheese
  • 2 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • 1/4 cup blue cheese, crumbled (optional)
  • Salt and pepper (optional)

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Cook the pasta for about a minute less than the package directions call for. Strain and rinse with cool water to prevent overcooking. Return the cooled, strained pasta to the pot. Add the chicken and chopped celery.

In a bowl, combine the hot sauce and blue cheese dressing. Pour the mixture over the pasta. Add the ricotta cheese and 1 cup of the mozzarella. Stir to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt, pepper, or additional hot sauce, as desired.

Transfer the pasta mixture into a large 13×9 baking dish. Sprinkle the remaining 1 cup of mozzarella cheese and the crumbled blue cheese (optional) over the top. Bake for about 30 minutes.

*You can prepare the entire dish, up to the baking step, ahead of time. If preparing ahead of time and refrigerating, allow for approximately 10-15 minutes of extra cooking time. 

Werewolf and the frog prince

GIVEAWAY WINNER!! We have a winner! Using http://www.random.org to select a number at random, out of the 28 entries received for the dairy-themed gift bag giveaway, the winner is #12 , Jessica M. Congratulations, Jessica!! I’m going to send you an email at the address provided with your comment to get the information necessary to send you out your prize!!

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Candy Corn Krispie Pops

I had the coolest adventure this past weekend, at an event hosted by the American Dairy Association and Dairy Council in upstate NY. I pet a baby cow. I drank wine. I ate cheese. Mmmmcheese. I’m in the process of organizing my thoughts so I can tell you all about it. I’ll even be hosting my first ever giveaway in conjunction with this dairy adventure!! I’m really pretty excited about it all!

In the mean time, I wanted to share this straightforward and adorable idea for a fun Halloween treat. These candy corn krispie pops almost never happened, as a series of wild events ensued in their making, beginning with the microwave dramatically giving up the ghost in a plume of stinky gray smoke as I was trying to melt the candy for coating these pops. That was just the beginning. I won’t go into the rest.

Suffice it to say, my life set a series of obstacles between starting and finishing these sweet pops. My end result lacks a bit of the finesse they may have had if I weren’t simultaneously jumping hurdles as I made them. But they’re too darn cute not to share. Yours will look nicer than mine!

Line a small baking sheet or baking dish with wax paper or parchment paper. Prepare rice krispie treats by melting 3 tablespoons butter and 4 cups of mini marshmallows in a large pan over low heat, stirring until melted. Turn off the heat, then stir in 6 cups of rice krispies cereal. Press the mixture into the baking dish in an even layer.

Once cool, cut the rice krispie treats into triangles. You can make them any size you wish, but smaller is easier to dip.

Try not to eat them all…yet.

Insert lollipop sticks into the bottom of the triangles. Cool in the refrigerator for at least an hour or two.

Melt about 3 cups of yellow candy melts in a double boiler or in the microwave until smooth. Dip the entire pops in the yellow candy melts. Cool until hardened. Then, melt about 2 cups of orange candy melts and dip the top 2/3 of the pops. Cool until hardened. Then, dip the final 1/3 in white candy melts.

A piece of styrofoam is handy for arranging the pops in an upright position as the candy hardens.

Finished pops can be stored at room temperature for a couple of days or in the refrigerator for several days. Take them out of the fridge a few minutes before serving so they soften up a bit.

A Few Other Spooky Treat Ideas for Halloween…

Spooky Eyeball Cake Pops

Chocolate Covered Spiders

Bloody Molten Lava Cakes

Wormy Apple Pops

Coconut Custard Pie

Halloween has come and gone. Just like that. The costumes have been washed and packed away (though I think I’d put my baby in his monkey costume everyday if it were socially acceptable to do so). The candy has been picked over for the good stuff. (You know who I’m talking about, Almond Joy.) And the daily morning frost makes it feel more like winter than autumn. We’re on the fast track to Thanksgiving.
And with Thanksgiving comes one of my favorite meals of the year. Comfort food just doesn’t get much more comforting than Thanksgiving dinner. Savory stuffings, tart cranberry sauce, vegetables doused in cream, doughy buttered rolls, and pie. Sweet, delicious pie.
This recipe comes by request of a reader in search of a recipe for a graham cracker coconut crust to use for a fresh pumpkin pie. I decided to use my crust to make a seriously satisfying coconut custard pie, but this crust would also work beautifully with a fresh pumpkin coconut pie filling or any other filling you can dream up.
This recipe is written for use with a deep pie dish. If you have a more shallow pie dish, you will probably have some extra crust and custard. Spoon the extra custard into cups and top with some of the extra crust mixture for a tasty little treat!
Coconut Custard Pie
For the Crust:
  • 1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 3/4 cup shredded coconut
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 stick (8 tablespoons) melted butter (I use salted butter.)

For the Custard:

  • 3 cups milk*
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup cornstarch
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 2 cups shredded coconut
*If you’re looking to reduce the calorie and fat content, skim milk will work just fine!

Directions

To make the crust: Combine graham cracker crumbs, coconut, brown sugar, and melted butter. Press the mixture onto the bottom and sides of a deep pie dish. Bake for 13-15 minutes at 350 degrees.

To make the custard: Bring the milk, sugar, vanilla, salt and cornstarch to a simmer over medium heat, whisking frequently so that the sugar and cornstarch dissolve. Once the mixture begins to bubble and thicken, reduce the heat. In a separate bowl, lightly beat the egg yolks. Gradually whisk about 1/2 of the hot milk mixture into the egg yolks, starting with a slow drizzle. (Gradually incorporating the hot milk into the egg yolks tempers the eggs, allowing them to slowly rise in temperature without scrambling.) Gradually whisk the egg mixture into the remaining hot milk mixture in the pot. Bring to a gentle boil over medium heat, whisking constantly for about 3 minutes, until thickened and smooth. Stir in the shredded coconut.

Pour the custard into the prepared crust. Cool for a few hours, until set.

Garnish with whipped cream and toasted coconut or crushed graham crackers before serving.

Snickers Caramel Apple Dip

Last year, I wanted to be a bumble bee for halloween. I was a few months pregnant at the time and thought it would be cute to be a big, round bumble bee. But the only costume I could find was for a “sexy bumble bee”. When did bumble bees become sexy??

So, I let the boys pick my costume instead. They picked out a cowgirl costume. It didn’t say it on the package, but it was a “sexy cowgirl” costume. I had to wear it with a pair of jeans underneath.

Seriously, when did Halloween become a holiday for dressing in expensive, provocative clothing?? I object! Bring back the cheap, plastic ET, Darth Vater, and Strawberry Shortcake masks or the homemade scarecrow, bum, and clown costumes (the funny kind of clown…not the creepy kind).

The older two boys are dressing as ghostbusters for halloween. They know the theme song. I giggle every time they sing it and wait with eager anticipation for the part when they scream, I ain’t afraid of no ghost,which follows an extended period of them singing, do, do, do, do, do, do, do, do.

My husband has been assigned the role of “ghost”. If I’d been thinking, I would have ordered myself a Stay Puft Marshmallow Man costume…the regular version, not the “sexy” one.

While my husband takes my two little ghostbusters around the neighborhood to collect their treats, my sister will hang at home with me and my littlest munchkin to pass out candy to the ghosts, ghouls, and miscellaneous sexy bugs who come to my door. We’ll be dining on Connecticut Supper and snacking on this sweet dip; a perfect way to use up some of those extra Snickers bars you may have on hand after tonight’s festivities!

Happy Halloween, my friends!

Have fun. Be safe. And by all means, eat more candy than you ought to. 

Snickers Caramel Apple Dip

Ingredients

  • 1 8-ounce bar cream cheese, softened to room temperature
  • 2/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons prepared caramel dip
  • 1/4 cup finely diced nuts (walnuts or peanuts)
  • 6-7 fun-sized Snickers bars, chopped
  • Sliced apples

Directions

Combine the cream cheese with 2 tablespoons of caramel and the chopped nuts, until well-blended. Spread the mixture into the bottom of a serving dish. Spread the remaining caramel on top of the cream cheese layer. Top with chopped Snickers. Serve at room temperature with freshly-sliced apples.

Spooky Eyeball Cake Pops

My dog is regressing in his old age. Only his behavior is becoming so much worse than when he was a puppy. And it’s a lot less cute.

Amongst an assortment of other undesirable hobbies, which he has taken up in his senior retirement days, my dog has become a garbage-picker. He first taught himself how to nudge open the lid of the can in order to drag out each item, tear it into shreds and scatter it throughout the house. And let me tell you, the last thing you want to find when you walk into the house with 15 bags of perishable groceries and three cranky children, is a house covered in shredded bits of garbage.

So, we bought a garbage can with a lever-controlled lid, which he taught himself how knock over in order to complete his garbage scavenging mission.

We then decided to abandon the garbage can completely, in lieu of a plastic bag hanging on the doorknob, which we could easily throw into the garage before leaving the house. (He never fails to notice if we forget to throw the bag in the garage.)

In the absence of garbage to go through, he jumps up and pulls items out of the sink to lick clean; glasses, storage containers, cookware. You name it. I had to see it to believe it. This massive dog, with bad hips, jumping upright to pick through the sink. The force of motivation is strong within this one.

So, we learned to become diligent about making sure the sink is empty before leaving the house. But, as you may have guessed, he finds other mischief to get into, namely wrapped packages of food on the countertops. Say, an entire package of hamburger buns or a string-tied box of bakery cookies. Or perhaps a clean wooden spoon from my cookware canister. Are you beginning to understand how time-consuming it’s become to leave the house for even the simplest errand?? And this is on top of preparing three young children!

And now, his acts of mischief have become so brazen, or perhaps his brain is just slowly melting into a state of pure self-satisfaction. For lately, he runs straight to the garbage or jumps up to sink the very moment a door in the house closes. It doesn’t even matter if the house is still full of other people. A door closes and he heads straight to the kitchen to engage in his mischief. Seriously, buddy? I’m standing right here! At least show me the respect of waiting until I leave.

My fuzzy, senile friend is lucky he’s so good with the kids.

Speaking of the kids, I made them these cake pops. Cause the boys are totally into anything gross and spooky these days. Aren’t they cute? Cute and a bit time consuming to make. But, totally worth it for the perfectly creepy final product. They’re made with bright red velvet cake and have a fruit gusher candy nestled into the center to make them extra gross. I couldn’t wait to pack these disturbingly delicious treats into my sons’ lunch boxes for a surprise treat which would evoke shrieks from their tables of little friends at school.

Except, my dog; my darling, elderly dog; ate the cake pops, which I’d falsely believed were safe in the very center of the dining room table, surrounded by a barricade of heavy chairs. He ate every hand-crafted cake pop. Leaving a trail of chewed lollipop sticks scattered throughout the house as evidence of his misdeed.

Want to know the kicker?

He ate the cake pops while I was dragging the three kids out in the rain to pick up the dog food we needed for his dinner.

I wonder if he shrieked as he bit into the gushy center…

Learn from my mistake, dear friends. Make these cake pops, but be sure to store them in a place where your fuzzy friends are unable to help themselves.

Spooky Eyeball Cake Pops

Ingredients

  • 1 13×9 inch red velvet cake
  • 1 16-ounce container of cream cheese frosting (you won’t use it all)
  • Approximately 48 Gushers candies (available near the fruit roll-ups and fruit snacks)
  • About 4 dozen lollipop sticks
  • Approximately 4 cups white candy melts
  • Approximately 1/2 cup red candy melts
  • Approximately 48 gummi Lifesavers candies
  • Approximately 48 mini M&M candies

Directions

Prepare the cake pops according to the step by step directions found HERE. Insert a Gusher candy into the center of each ball as you roll.

Dip each frozen cake pop into melted white candy melts. Adhere a gummi Lifesaver to the pop while the white candy is still soft. Stand the pops upright in a piece of styrofoam until the candy has hardened. Place a small amount of the melted white candy into a small baggie. Cut off the tip of one of the corners of the baggie. Use the baggie to squeeze a bit of candy “glue” into the center of each gummi lifesaver. Place a mini M&M into the candy glue. Allow to dry. Melt the red candy melts according to package directions. Use a toothpick or fine-tip paint brush to give the eyeballs a bloodshot appearance. Store at room temperature for a few days.

Gusher center and candy decorations inspired by Confessions of a Cookbook Queen.

A few more cake pop hints and tips:

  • You can prepare the cake pops up to adhering the balls to the lollipop sticks and freeze them until you’re ready to dip and decorate. You can then dip and decorate a small batch at a time and leave the other pops in the freezer for later (or for when you dog eats all of the other cake pops).
  • If your candy melts are too thick for dipping, try stirring in a small amount of solid vegetable shortening.
  • Make sure not to introduce any liquid while melting the candies, which can ruin the candy’s meltability. Keep bowls and spoons dry throughout the melting process.
  • Dip the cake pops right up the the stick. The hardened candy will help the cake balls to remain adhered to the sticks.
  • Cake pops can be stored at room temperature for a few days.

How to Roast Pumpkin Seeds

Got pumpkins?

Perhaps a few small ones destined for fresh pumpkin pie? Or maybe a great big one, awaiting its jack-o-lantern fate?

Whatever the case, save those seeds! Pumpkin seeds, or pepitas, make a delicious and incredibly nutritious snack. Follow this simple step-by-step guide on how to roast your fresh pumpkin seeds.

Step 1: Use a spoon to scoop seeds from the pumpkin.

Step 2: Rinse the seeds under cool running water, while removing any stringy, orange pulp.

Step 3: Dry the seeds on a paper towel.

Step 4: Spread the seeds onto a baking sheet. Drizzle the seeds with a little olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Move the seeds around to evenly distribute the oil and seasonings.

Step 5: Bake for about 20 minutes at 375 degrees.

Enjoy!

You can have fun with the seasonings for your seeds. I prefer basic salt and pepper pepitas, but you may enjoy cinnamon sugar, parmesan cheese, garlic salt, or even chile flavored seeds!

How to Prepare Fresh Pumpkin Puree

When it comes to Thanksgiving desserts, does it get any more classic than pumpkin pie?? Pumpkin is the bright orange star of autumn produce. They play a leading role in Halloween celebrations and an even tastier role at Thanksgiving. As far as I’m concerned, serve whatever other desserts you’d like on Thanksgiving, as long as there’s at least one pumpkin pie. So, in honor of our Thanksgiving Week here at The Gourmand Mom, we’ll be making a pumpkin pie, using my mom’s tasty recipe for Fresh Pumpkin Coconut Pie.

Like many families, we purchased several pumpkins to adorn our front steps throughout October. They lasted out there for a month, until one afternoon, we opened the door to find the remnants of what used to be the Frankenstein pumpkin. We were all a bit flummoxed upon finding the remains. The boys were devastated. What horrific event could have caused the brutal destruction of our little pumpkin; so thoroughly ravaged on our front steps. We all felt a bit violated. But, my husband dutifully cleaned up the remains and we did our best to put the past behind us. And then, the very next day, the vicious pumpkin villian returned.

Let’s just call him Squirrely. Squirrely stood there on our front steps, staring at me with his beady little eyes, looking all cute with his fluffy tail. And then he strutted himself over to the next largest pumpkin, and shamelessly went to work. So strong was his passion for pumpkin, that he worked diligently at his task for at least an hour, as we all stood staring in awe. Squirrely was clearly a master of pumpkin. To his credit, he waited a month before devouring our decor.

Clearly, I wouldn’t be using any of those pumpkins to make my pumpkin pie. Luckily, our grocery store is well-stocked with pumpkins. For the purpose of making pumpkin puree for pies or other pumpkin desserts, your best bet is to pick up a Pie Pumpkin or Sugar Pumpkin. They are smaller and will produce a less watery, more flavorful result. When my mom prepares the pumpkin for her pies, she typically prepares the puree in a similar fashion to mashed potatoes. She cuts the pumpkin into chunks, removes the skin, boils, then mashes. It’s a technique which has always worked well for her. However, an easier alternative to chopping a hard pumpkin into pieces and removing all of the skin is to roast the pumpkins. Once roasted, the tender insides will scoop out with ease. Here is a step by step guide on how to prepare fresh pumpkin puree by roasting.

1. Thoroughly rinse the pumpkins.

2. Ideally, cut the pumpkins in half, from the stem to the base. However, if you happened to purchase the world’s hardest pumpkins or perhaps left your pumpkins in the freezing car overnight, you may have to settle for simply sawing and prying off the top. After trying every one of my very sharp knives on my stubborn pumpkins, I considered inviting Squirrely inside to help. (He clearly knows how to get inside a pumpkin.) Seriously, a hacksaw wouldn’t have cut through my pumpkins. But, eventually I managed to wrestle the tops off. Don’t worry, if you can not manage to cut your pumpkins in half, rest assured that the  pumpkins will roast just as well with only the tops removed.

3. Use a spoon or ice cream scoop to remove all of the seeds and stringy parts from the pumpkin. Save the seeds for roasting.

4. Place the pumpkin upside down on a baking sheet (cut sides down, if you were able to cut your pumpkin in half). Fill the bottom of the baking sheet with a thin (1/4 inch) layer of water.

5. Roast at 375 degrees for about 90 minutes. Test by inserting a fork into the inside of the pumpkin. It should be quite tender. Allow to cool.

6. Scoop out the tender insides.

7. Use a blender, food processor, or immersion blender to puree until smooth. Refrigerate until ready to use.

** Two small Pie Pumpkins should produce about 3-4 cups pumpkin puree.

If you’re preparing fresh pumpkin puree, be sure to roast the seeds separately for a tasty snack. I seriously ate so many pumpkin seeds yesterday that I’m beginning to suspect I may be sprouting a pumpkin in my belly. They are a delicious and highly nutritious snack.

To roast the pumpkin seeds: Rinse the seeds and separate from the stringy pumpkin pieces. Discard the stringy pieces. Lay the pumpkin seeds in a single layer on a paper towel to dry. Spread the seeds onto a baking sheet. Toss with a bit of olive oil. Sprinkle with sea salt and pepper. Bake in a 375 degrees oven for about 20 minutes. Enjoy!

Stay tuned for the recipe for Fresh Pumpkin Coconut Pie, coming up next!

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