Best Halloween Treats- Peanut Butter & White Chocolate Eyeballs

Peanut Butter Eyeballs
This is actually more of a truffle recipe, because the peanut butter concoction isn’t baked. It’s beyond fatty, rich and creamy. The key is having the dough chilled so you can work with it during the two rounds of molding and shaping. Start with it first, as it takes the most time.
Ingredients
1 1/2 cups creamy peanut butter
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
12 ounces white chocolate, chopped
2 tablespoons shortening
2 drops blue food coloring
1/2 cup miniature semisweet chocolate
chips
red food coloring (optional)
DIRECTIONS
1. Beat the peanut butter and butter with an electric mixer in a large bowl until smooth. Beat in the sugar and vanilla. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Roll chilled dough into small, eyeball-sized balls and place on 2 baking sheets lined with wax paper. Refrigerate for another 30 minutes.
2. Melt the white chocolate and shortening in a microwave-safe glass or ceramic bowl in 30-second intervals, stirring after each melting, for 1 to 3 minutes (depending on your microwave). Do not overheat or chocolate will scorch. Dip each eyeball into the white chocolate and transfer to the waxed paper until the chocolate has set. You can chill them in the refrigerator.
3. Stir a few drops of blue food coloring into the remaining melted white chocolate. Make a round “iris” on the top of the cooled eyeball and press a mini chocolate chip in the center for a “pupil.” For an extra spooky bloodshot eyeballs take a toothpick dipped in red food coloring and make squiggly lines on the eye.
This was the professional version (not use of light
blue around the eyes. I think it makes a big difference)
A couple of tips: 
1. Use a small ice cream or cantalope scooper for the dough. The provide uniformity of size and shape. Drop all these on the lined cookie sheet and put in the fridge.
After melting the chocolate, you can roll the chilled balls around in the choc and then place quickly back on the baking sheet. They will dry fast, but the longer the dough is at room temperature, the soggier it gets, which makes it harder to work with.
2. Use a squeeze bottle of food coloring instead of applying the blue with a toothpick or paintbrush. That takes way too much time. I used black for my color and it was over in seconds. Then me and my 7 year old poured a 1/2 teaspoon (or so) amount of red food coloring in a little ramiken. Take a toothpick (as directed) and then make the lines.
3. An added touch–Blue around the black eyes. My daughter was having so much fun, I then took a bit of blue, gave her a new toothpick and encouraged her to draw a ring of blue around the pupils. She did great.
Only downside of this dessert– after a few hours at room temperature, they get mushy on the inside- but the outside looks perfect.
My version- still yummy!
Next up: Witchy fingers- two versions

Best spiderwebs

Nothing kills my spook-mojo like cheap, inelastic fiberwebs. I spent the extra .50 cents, thinking, in my marketing mind, that it would be better than the cheaper brand (see below), I sprung for BooBatts at Lowes, and have been cursing at myself, throughout my house, ever since. How this product ever passed inspection, consumer tests or the buying manager at Lowes, let alone any retail is beyond me. It tears. It rips. It does NOT stretch. It’s the anti-stretch. It’s like glorified cotton balls packaged together and marketed as “Super Stretch Web.” False advertising claim. If I was a lawsuit oriented gal, I’d join a calss action.

Product review grade: F+. It gets the + because it’s white.

On the other hand, The CelebrateIt Halloween spider web is awesome. No link because the store where I bought it–Michaels— web site is so lame it doesn’t list it as an item. It stretches and holds together, creating the amazing sheer look. I have stretched this stuff five feet, and that’s after cutting it up a bit. LOVE IT.

Yes, it’s actually less expensive and oh, so much better. Grade: A+. The plus is because the price point is $2.49.

Jilted Brides make my Halloween

The final product–but she has windblown hair
need to put a clip in that
The mask- 4 bucks at Goodwill. Looks like Michael Jackson
met up with the joker. Looks like a jilted bride to me

Nothing like writing an entire blog, just to have it lost upon saving. The upside is the mind-popping, blood-vessel bursting anger can now be focused in to an infinitely shorter blog (past readers know I feel of the 5-paragraph-limit ages ago. Maybe this will put me back into recovery. dare to dream).

Step 1- wrap the cotton with
clear tape. Attach the
mask to ensure it fits.

The backstory. I have halloween envy. It’s all my cousin Nancy’s fault. She’s a spooky-time goddess who happens to sew better than anyone I know, and that’s saying something (ok, maybe she is on par with my aunts, but I don’t think they’ve made a 9 foot witch). Hence, the envy.

Step 2-attach the $4.95 wig,
also courtesy of Goodwill

“Go to Fabricland–” Nance starts.

“Full stop,” I interrupt, reminding her Rog sews a hemline better than I do. Nance regroups.

“OK. Right. Go to Goodwill and pick up the witches costume, a wig, some PVC tubing and you’re on your way.”

Couldn’t help myself. It
looked like a size 6, so
I put it on, feeling sort of
gross, like an interloper
on someone’s day of
happiness gone awry

Later that day,  I show up, nary a witches costume in site, but a lovely, armpit stained bridal dress with a three foot rain for the bargain basement price of $19.95. I’m in love all over again, ready to don garters and pumps.

I go home, grab Rog’s disgusting mop, some tape, spraypaint, a few hangers and I’m ready to rock. Here goes the pics. (see, I almost made the 5 paragraphs. We should all thank the buggy-save feature on blogspot).

Step 3- attach the hangers
to the clear tape.
Step 4- attach the bra and undershirt
Step 4- I had to McGyver and use a safety pin,
no bubble gum.

This is right before the paint.
Step 5- use the primer

Step 6- add the reds and the grey

Save the lawsuit- use a an author release form


Out of the blue, I was contacted by a former sports star who is writing about about the travails of bad money management, for lack of a better phrase. The story is the same: elite athlete rises to fame, makes loads of dough (American slang for money, dear Russian readers, who come to this site in droves) for a period of time and then poof. It’s gone. The mysteries of why athletes go broke tend to be the same: blown on wine, women and song (well, exotic cars and way too many babies with different wives (the most famous being 9 babies by 9 woman. whoa. that’s a lot of action), but I digress).

It’s not just America. It’s everywhere. Athletic and entertainment money managers don’t do much good if they are ignored or fired or never hired in the first place. So after a career, the athlete inevitably bemoans that reality of poor money management and repossessed cars. The stats are harsh. 78 percent of NFL players go broke within a few TWO years of retirement, and 60 percent on NBA players w/in 6 yrs. But it’s not just athletes. Entertainers follow the same trent.

When I was told of the story, the athlete also indicated he’d lined up lots athletes so speak on the record, as well as coaches and those in the entourage. His own advisor recommended she have those going on record to sign an author release form, ensuring that she does not get sued by a broke athlete or money manager for a share of the profits of the book, should she be so lucky.

Thus, it was my pleasure to contact my own editor, who used this release form for many of her own projects. These are a little hard to come by (most internet searches produce nada), so if you are going to be writing a book, interviewing folks and don’t want to share a piece of the profits (even to Grandma Nila), then use this author release form. And I must give a plug to the filefactory. It’s fast and free. Two things I appreciate.

Smoke salmon & Cheese

Yesterday Rog did his annual Salmon fishing derby, thereby saving us nearly $300 (at $18/pound, fresh, wild caught salmon is shhhbendy).

As I smoked it and had friends over, the question is always, every year “what’s the cheese you are serving?” followed by some complimentary phrase along the lines of.. “I’ve never tasted salmon so good.”

Hint: it’s not the salmon. Granted, it’s good. Don’t get me wrong, but it really is the cheese.

Use Premium Premium Aged Gouda– the kind I use is Premier and it’s aged 26 months. (tried to find a link-couldn’t) It’s healthy (ingredients- cows milk, salt, cheese culture, rennet & annato). It’s imported from Holland (I still have my wooden clogs from my trip hanging in my house), and only $11. Very worth it.

Serving tips-
You can spear it on a toothpick for bites, or slice it up or even use some crumbles if you want a more casual atmosphere.

If your local grocery/deli doesn’t carry Premier, other premium brands will work-just look for the ingredients and the aged.

Steelhead Trout Northwest style w/dill sauce

Decapitating the trout

Rog brought home two ginormous trout last month, just in time for me to cook it for a couple out of town executives he told me we were entertaining (with 1 hour notice).

In that kind of time, there is only one choice, which, all things considered, works perfectly well for a party of 8-10, and requires limited prep. I highly recommend this simple, amazing, Sarah-created, recipe, along with the simple sides for a super meal.

Heat the oven to 325 degrees.

You will need:

  • Tinfoil
  • 2 lemons
  • 1 medium to large onion
  • Coconut oil (natural, unrefined if you have it)
  • Lemon salt
  • The trout
Open the trout (I had to cut the head off myself. Ugh. Good thing I have a big butcher knife). My ovens are the largest one can buy outside a commercial kitchen. This bad boy was so long, I had to tuck the tail under.
Directions

  1. Fillet the trout (mine came filleted and gutted).
  2. Lay out the tinfoil on the baking sheet (I used one with curled edges to prevent run-off)
  3. Lay the trout inside
  4. Open it up and using a spoon, knife or spatula, spread a nice layer of the coconut oil on the inside. Follow this with a sprinkle of the lemon salt/pepper mix, followed by the sliced up onions and lemons.
  5. Close the trout, and repeat the process above. Even though you won’t eat the skin, I’m convinced the flavours seep in to the fish.
Cook for approximately 2.5 hours, until the fish is just flakey. This is important. If it’s truly flakey, like a croissant, it will in reality, be dry once the fish has a chance to rest.
Remove from the oven and let it rest for about 10-15 minutes. This is also key, as the fish needs time to come back together (e.g. firm up) before you start slicing it apart.
Serve with your choice of rice, asparagus or other salad and you are ready to go!

Now for the Dill Sauce.

I must say, I was a bit offended. The discriminating fishers who attended this feast liked the dill sauce as much, or more, than the fish itself (and this is saying something. The two guests, both in their late 50’s, hovered by the oven, looking/poking, and have fished since they were boys. I was under pressure).

Dill Sauce

                  1/3 cup sour cream
                  1/3 cup mayonnaise
                  1 tablespoon finely chopped onion
                  1 teaspoon lemon juice
                  1 teaspoon prepared horseradish
                  3/4 teaspoon dill weed
                  1/4 teaspoon garlic salt
              Pepper to taste

Discarding food storage

A sunny day in Seattle is to be cherished. Adored like a bright, glimmering object that, like Cinderella in a bubble, will suddenly burst and leave us with a dirty floor and clouds. It is not a time to be squandered, indulgently spent indoors, downstairs, in the food storage room.

Yet today it was.

rotten tomatoes Old food: A fact of food storage life
Old food stinks in any form

There is a backstory. With me, there always is. I’ve recently been asked to visit a woman who has been through some trying times. She and her husband, both accountants, are preparing to send their only daughter off to college, live in a lovely home and in their late forties/early fifties. Over warm banana bread, she revealed that her husband recently landed a job after being unemployed for three years. Through savings and a lot of food storage, they had made it through the first year and a half, relatively unscathed. After that, they had no money for food.

“When you are choosing between the mortgage and food, you choose the mortgage.”

Their church welfare system helped out, making up the difference in food supplies. Her income afforded the basic necessities of utilities gas etc. Beyond the fact that I’d lived in complete oblivion of her situation (from the outside, I’d never have guessed, unless she’d confided in me), I was amazed she had stored away enough food for a solid year and a half. Enough for two adults, one child, two pets, and relatives that had come to stay at her home due to dire circumstances of their own.

Today after church, as Rog took the chitlens to the park, I passed on the gratiutous suntanning on the lawn an opted for the task of taking an accounting of my own food storage. I’d been preening to my mother about having a full six months of wet food (can soups and the like) and a year of dry goods (flour, oatmeal, dried eggs and milk etc).

“And what to my wondering eyes did appear, a whole lot of bad, near-exploding flood, instead of eight, shiny reindeer.”

I was mortified to learn that the majority of my cans had not been rotated in a VERY long time (some dated back to 2003). While lots of vegies, fruits and soups were in the last year, a couple of gems were near to exploding, the metal siding pushing out like Santa after a post-Christmas gorge-fest.

As I pulled and dumped the offending items, I wondered what in the world to do with them. Local food banks? Nope. They won’t accept food past the expiration date. Save for the worst-case scenario. “If you have no food and you are starving, you’ll eat anything.” So said my mother, who returned my call while on her vacation to speak to me like a true Swedish mother.

I looked on line for a few resources, that reiterated what we know about old food storage (losing taste etc, inability to cook right etc), but not what to do with the pounds and pounds of out of date food.

“Chuck it,” said Rog.

I did the only thing a green-minded person can do. I forced myself to open each one, rinse and clean, then separate the cans and glass to be recycled. Let me tell you. Do NOT do this without either holding your breath or wearing a gas mask. Safety first. When I talk to mom next, I’ll tell her my thoughts. I’m not going to eat something I can’t stand the smell of, human food included. I’d rather starve.

Flat cookie culprit

Embarrassment and shame comes in simple forms. Flat cookies being one of them.

When we went to the end of the year teacher celebration at a local family farm, I covered my plate of chocolate chip cookies with a towel, slipped them on table of desserts and skeddadled before I could be associated with the offending items that resembled wilted, flat potato chips with little black mounds. At the end of the event, after goat petting, kitten chasing, pig-humping extravaganza (yes, it’s true. It was a sign), I returned to the table, and, when I thought no one was looking, lifted my plate.

Click to enlarge babygoatnursing-600.jpg
I would have given you a pic
of the flat cookies, but all I
found was a pic of the feeing

“Were those yours?” comes a question from behind me. Ugh. The voice of a friend who happens to be a bonified chef. She is with her husband.

“I’m so sorry they turned out terrible,”  said, cutting off the eventual badness that was going to be next.

“They were great!” her husband said. “What’d you do?”

“I made them flat,” was my response.

“That was how I knew they were homemade,” said the chef.

It was true. The two plates I brought had a smattering of crumbs. The other store-purchased cupcakes, brownies and other items in boxes.

I bemowned the flatness.

“It’s the soda,” said the chef. “It’s probably old.”

Did you know that? Went home, bought some new soda, and walla! no more flat cookies.

**Update- the following morning, 3:42 AM.
I get this text.

‘Sarah. it could be butter. Cut the butter by half and replace with lard or shortening. makes all the difference’

So texts mom.

I was up, sleeping restlessly. I text back:

‘mom. thx. we are bats. go to bed.’

Preventing varicose veins

Back in Sept of 2010 when I wrote about remedies for reducing and eliminating ugly varicose veins, I should have written a section about prevention. Silly me. In my defense, I was trying to keep to She’s comment about the 5 paragraph blog which is the bane of my existence. I’m more writer than blogger, and not so good at that, but I digress on what my readers already know.

I had the uncommon good fortune to have a friend whose family was in the circus. Literally. Three generations of performing with Barnum & Bailey’s traveling circus. What, might you ask, does this have to do with vericose veins? Everything, for it was my friend’s mom bit-o-wisdom that I largely credit with keeping the snake-like demons of ugliness off my legs.

One afternoon, while we were inside their round house, which resembled a four-story high hobbit home (as in, hand-constructed and earthy, more like a mountain than a residence for humanoids, we were having a chat. I was watching my friend’s brother flying around in the trapeze in the center of the room, their practice space. The father was in his wheelchair (he fell without a net) years before I met the family, and my friend was harnessing the belts on her waist. As usual, I was in awe of the graceful, lithe bodies that swirled above me, commenting on keeping a beautiful physique. Somehow, the conversation turned to legs, the mom’s in particular.

“Just don’t cross your legs,” she said, something my mother had also told me. “It’s the most important thing you can do.” She went on to point out that men who cross their legs always have a lot of red marks and bumps above their knees. “And do you notice the women? They have red marks on the top of their thighs from the hours and days of weight on their legs.” She then lifted her calf to show where the pressure on the lower leg creates spider veins.

As a teenager, I took her words to heart, never, ever, crossing my legs. It was hard to sit sideways, knees touching, as the others looked far more compely, sitting with their gams crossing, ankles touching delicately in perfect posture form. As an adult, I struggled to look refined as men and women in business meetings crossed and uncrossed, as much to make a statement as to be comfortable. Not I. I kept the faith, just as I did for not wrinkling my nose, raising my eyebrows or raising my forehead in order to stave off deep lines (that worked!).

Years later, as women of my age started getting saline solution injections or having their veins removed, I have been fortunate to do neither, but have used the horse chestnut oil I mentioned in the earlier blog.

Is it the floors?

Quite a few women I now hang with are firm believes that the floors they stand on have assisted in the maturation of veins. Hard floors, particularly in the kitchen (slate, tile etc) are considered the culprit by many. I can’t say either way, since I have slate and have been standing on that for a dozen years now. Several women have ripped up their floors and put installed bamboo floors or cork. The bamboo is supposed to be quite soft, and the cork feels bouncy in a weird sort of way. It’s an interesting look (not for me) but works well in the right setting.

Teenagers reading this….don’t cross your legs, exercise, and adults, give your feet a rest and keep the horse chestnut oil handy.

PS the last time I saw my friend, she was getting shot out of a canon as I watched in Entertainment Weekly. Yes. people do live that life.

Thick & Rich Pork Chops & Gravy

My cooking zone, complete with two science projects in front
of the cookbook

Pork chops don’t have to be hard, dry or tasteless. After years of failed attempts, I found a great recipe that has been my go-to for all things pork chops for years. It’s easy to make, provided the you do things in the right order, and above all, use good ingredients, starting with the pork chop. I made the (mostly American mistake) of choosing meat that’s overly lean. Had I listened to my dad’s admonitions to “keep in the fat! It gives it flavor!” my results probably would have been much better. 

One of my most often-made vegies. String beans cooked in
organic vegetable or chicken broth. Quick, easy and flavorful

First off, the pork chops. Pick out nice, thick chops, not thin. You will waste your time.  My preferred cut is a 1.5-1.3/4 inch cut of pork chop. I typically make 4 at a time, since the chops I get are so huge, I typically share with someone else in the family. (Surprisingly, Costco has a great selection of thick chops, (for beefy American’s no doubt) but they aren’t organic or natural. When I go to the butcher, I have to request the thickness.

The rest of the ingredients are straightforward, though as usual, I recommend sweet, salted butter and sweet, Walla Walla onions.
Overview
The recipe essentially comes from The New Best Recipe, though I have made some changes as usual. It’s called Smothered Porkchops, for indeed, it is smothered, but this is what keeps it moist and flavorful. What you’ll be doing is flash-frying the pork chops in a butter/onion base while making the thick and rich gravy. You re-add the porkchops back into the main pan, cover and cook for a bit. You have the most divine pork chops and gravy to hit the planet. While this is cooking, you roast the red potatoes and make the string beans. 
Pre and Cook time- @1hr 10 min

Ingredients
3 oz (abt 3 slices) bacon, cut into 1/4 inch pieces
2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
1 3/4 cups low-sodium chicken broth

I used a cast iron press to speed up the bacon and
even out the cooking

2 tablespoons vegetable oil (I split this with butter)
ground black pepper
2 medium size sweet onions, sliced thin (I make mine very small)
Salt
2 tablespoons water
2 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through a garlic press
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves (dried is ok)
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon parsley (fresh or dried)

**note: I’ve actually cut down the cook time about 5-10 min by doing a few of things slightly out of order. The gravy is supposed to be made after the pork chops are done, but I make the gravy first, thereby smothering the pork chops in true southern fashion.

Directions
1. Fry the bacon over medium heat and brightly, rendering the fat, about 8-10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to a paper towel and reserve, leaving the fat in the pan (you should have about 2 tablespoons. Add vegetable oil if you don’t).
2. Reduce the heat to medium low and gradually whisk the flour into the fat until smooth. Cook, whisking frequently, until the mixture is light brown, about the color of peanut butter, about 5 minutes.
3. Which in the chicken broth in a slow, steady stream; increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Cover and remove from the heat; set aside.
4. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a 12 inch skillet over high heat until smoking. Meanwhile, sprinkle the pork chops with 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Brown the chops in a single layer until deep golden on the first side, about 3 minutes. Flip the chops and cook until browned on the second side, about 3 minutes. Transfer the chops to a large plate and set aside.
5. Reduce the heat to a medium and add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil, the onions, 1/4 teaspoon salt and the water to the now-empty skillet. Using a wooden spoon, scrape up the browned bits on the pan bottom; cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are softened and browned around the edges, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and thyme and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Return the chops to the skillet in a single layer and cover them with the onions.  Pour in the reserved sauce and any juices released by the pork chops; add the bay leaves. Cover, reduce the heat to low, and simmer until the pork is tender, about 30 minutes.
6. Transfer the chops to a warmed serving platter and increase the heat to a medium-high and simmer the sauce rapidly, stirring frequently, until thickened, like a gravy.

Red potatoes
Ingredients
Potatoes
Olive oil
Salt and rosemary

Directions
1. Dice the potatoes in quarters, drizzle oil, add salt and rosemary. Toss and place in a convection oven at 400 degrees. Cook for approximately 5-8 minutes then remove, scrape and move the potatoes. Return to the oven for another 5-8 minutes.
2. Remove and serve warm or cool.

The caramel color of the flour