Best Halloween Treats- Sweet Witchy Fingers

The only difference between this recipe and the original “almond” witchy fingers is that this has more sugar (shocker) and no almonds. the outcome on the dough is about the same.

Ingredients

2 tablespoons red food coloring

The almond with the skin gone

30 blanched almonds
2 large eggs (room temperature is best)
1/4 tsp pure vanilla extract
8 tbs unsalted butter (1 stick) room temp
1/2 confectioners sugar
5 tbs white granulated sugar
pinch of salt
1 2/3 cup flour

Directions

  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with Silpats (French nonstick baking mats) or parchment paper, and set aside.
  2. Place food coloring in a shallow bowl. Using a small paintbrush, color one rounded half of each almond. Set aside to dry.
  3. Separate 1 egg. Set aside the white. In a small bowl, whisk together yolk, remaining egg, and vanilla. Set aside.
  4. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine butter, confectioners’ sugar, granulated sugar, and salt. Beat on medium speed until well combined. Add egg mixture, and beat until smooth, about 2 minutes. Add the flour, and mix on low speed just until incorporated. Wrap the dough in plastic, and chill until firm, 20 to 30 minutes.
  5. Divide the dough in half. Work with one piece at a time, keeping remaining dough covered with plastic wrap and chilled. Divide the first half into 15 pieces. On a lightly floured surface, roll each piece back and forth with palms into finger shapes, 3 to 4 inches long. Pinch dough in two places to form knuckles. Score each knuckle lightly with the back of a small knife. Transfer fingers to prepared baking sheets. Repeat with remaining dough.
  6. When all fingers are formed, brush lightly with egg white. Position almond nails; push into dough to attach.
  7. After the fact, I made the sweet
    witchy fingers w/ black nails
    Tip: Unless you are going to eat immediately,
    place in a container or the cookies will dry out 
  8. Bake until lightly browned, about 12 minutes. Cool completely.

Best halloween Treats- Almond Witchy Fingers

Witchy fingers- you can use any color for the nails
I mixed it up with black

Almond Witchy Fingers

Ingredients
1 cup sugar
1 egg (room temp best)
1 tsp Almond extract
1 tsp Vanilla extract
2 2/3 cup Flour
1 tsp Salt
3/4 cup whole Almonds, blanched
2 squares melting chocolate (optional)

Directions

1. Combine the sugar, egg, butter, almond extract, and vanilla in a bowl. Mix in the flour, and salt. Cover and refrigerate the dough for about 30 minutes, or until it’s firm.
Once you have the (chilled) dough, use a scooper to create
a nice uniformity of size
Cut the ball in two or you will have ginormous fingers
Roll out the door
Enlist your kids and start painting
2. When you’re ready to shape the cookies, only take out a small portion of the dough at a time. Shape the cookies into fingers by rolling and working with your hands. Score the top of the cookie with a knife or spatula to make it look like the wrinkles in your knuckle. Press an imprint into the tip of the cookie with your finger to make a spot for the almond finger nail. Press an almond into the tip of each finger to look like a fingernail.
3. Placed on a cooking sheet lightly coated with no-stick cooking spray and bake at 325` for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the cookies are a very light golden brown. Let the cookies cool on a drying rack.
This will make about 30 fingers (depending on how
much dough you devour)

Tips:
1. I was very intimated by this, since I’m as artistically akin to a walrus (I flounder in my fatness on the beach as I watch others do the real work). However, used my scooper (same as previous recipe) to place the (chilled) dough on the parchment paper (on the cookie sheet). I failed on the first two attempts, as this resulted in a Fessick-size finger (that would be the giant in The Princess Bride). Go for something more human size. I then cut the dough ball in half. This was more realistic.
Remember to ‘score’ the fingers to make it took realistic
2. Round the dough into a ball (rolling between your palms)
3. Using your fore-and middle fingers, roll the dough on a flat surface (I used my breadboard with a bit of flour), pressing a little harder, resulting in one end being a little thinner.
4. Cut your time down dramatically by skipping the chocolate rims. I made it easy on myself and fun for the kids. I took a paintbrush, dropped red food coloring in a ramiken and painted the top of the (dried) blanched almonds. It definitely needed 2-3 coats to attain the deep-red color.
Allow the fingers to cool entirely before moving.
5. Last but not least- this recipe didn’t call for an egg white application, but I added it after the first batch looked–boring. Take 1 egg white and apply a nice, thin coating (using another paintbrush). This makes the finger shine in a nice-crusty-sort of way.
6. OH! be sure to push the almond fingernails in the dough a little ways–otherwise the fingernails will fall off.

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

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

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.’

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

Starch-less Vanilla pudding in a pinch

7:32 PM and the husband and kids just left the building. Water park time after a day of skiing. I’ve got the excuse of my monthly gift from above that allows me to stay where it’s warm and dry, in front of the fireplace, an entire hour and fifteen minutes of peace. Wash my hair? Clean the condo? Nope.

I race to the kitchen, all the while considering my options for the fastest, creamiest, thicket desert possible, feeling like a convict imprisoned for making a cake with regular bread flour. I’m on the lam and in a rush. Flan? Creamy to be sure, but cold and takes too long. Rice pudding? Sounds divine but I don’t have my mom’s recipe, and even if I did, I don’t have the oranges or the rice. Pudding though hits a button. I flip open The Ultimate Southern Living Cookbook, knowing I lack the cornstarch in my cupboard but hoping for options.

This once again proves my theory that most
American food is some combo of egg, sugar, flour and
butter w/a titch of vanilla extract and salt,
 though not necessary in that order

There it was, page 166. The Vanilla Pudding recipe (cook time 11 minutes), was right above the Banana Pudding recipe (35 minutes to cook). I combined the two (well, using the flour from the second recipe instead of the cornstarch from the first) and changed some of the measurements. In no time flat, I had a full cup full of creamy, vanilla pudding, appropriately hidden in my cup, disguised as warm milk, should my family arrive and catch me in the act.

Creamy Vanilla Pudding 

Ingredients
1/3 cup sugar (I used 1/2 cup)
2 tbs flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 cups milk (I used 2 cups whole milk plus 2 tbs whipping cream)
3 egg yolks (original recipe calls for 2, but since this is w/out the cornstarch, I bumped it up)
1 tbs butter
1 tsp vanilla extract

Process
1. Combine sugar, flour and salt in a saucepan. Cook over medium heat, gradually adding the milk, cooking approximately 6 minutes or until a boil (I used a timer and guess what…at exactly 5 min 55 seconds, it came to a boil).
2. Beat egg yolks 2 minutes or until thick and pale. Gradually stir in 1/4 of the hot mixture in to the egg bowl, stirring constantly. Take this mixture and add back in to the mixture on the stove, bringing to a boil and cook about 3 minutes.
4. Remove from heat; stir in butter and vanilla.

Pour in to small, unassuming little cup and use the smallest spoon possible to elongate the pleasure that will slide down your mouth.

Add bananas if you so desire, or toasted coconuts. Divine.