Archive | November, 2009

We Have A Winner!

24 Nov
Pastry Chef Online logo

My first book title (whenever I get around to writing it) will be...

Well, it’s the 24th, the day after my birthday.  Yes, it was lovely, thankyouverymuch.  Anyway, as promised, The Impartial Beloved has chosen the Incredibly Lucky Winner of my first co-authoring endeavor, Starting from Scratch.  And the winner is…………………………..Camille, from Croque Camille, for her submission of a)Pastry Chef Offline, with a pithy subtitle (TBD), about freeing Onesself from looking up things all the time and for b)leaving feedback about the new site.  She digs the A Day in the Life page.  If you’re wondering if you’d like to be a pastry chef in a restaurant, read this (she modestly declares).  It’ll give you an idea about how it goes.

If the Choux Fits, submitted by Libby from At the Very Yeast, was a strong contender.  That Libby, she is witty! 

I also got a lot of good feedback including having a FAQ page, perhaps doing a section on Foods I Would Never Willingly Ingest (I’m looking at you, Cool Whip), and pointing out of some (many) Links to Nowhere.

Thank you all for your participation.  With such a good response, I might just have to give away some more stuff at some point…

Camille, I shall be contacting you Shortly to get your address so I can send the book across the Big Water to La France.  Also, so you can let me know if you want a One of a Kind Autographed edition!

The roll-out of Pastry Chef Online is just the first step.  I’ll be tweaking and adding and Tweaking and Adding for the Rest of My Life.  I truly want PCO and PMAT to be resources that you turn to over and over for answers to questions, new ideas or maybe just a laugh or two.  As always, if you ever have any questions or feedback, shoot me an email at pastrychefonline at yahoo dot com, and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.  You can also join The Forum.  Right now, most of the posts are questions for me, but I’m hoping that one day it will reach Critical Mass and folks will ask each other for help.

Okay, that’s it.

Oh, St. Cecile, How Sorely They Have Used You.

19 Nov
how to make your own hot cocoa

Poor, poor Cecile. She never saw it coming. Literally.

Dear Miss Swiss Miss,
I wonder what your real name is? I took the liberty of doing some research, and I’ve decided that your given name, heretofore lost in the sands of time, is probably Cecile. You must be Cecile, the blind patron saint of music. First, the ConAgra people told you that they were naming a Wonderful New Chocolate Beverage in your honor, and then they made you sing their Inane Advertising Jingle. You see, they knew they had to choose a blind spokesperson. Otherwise, you would have looked at the ingredients listed on the box of “your” eponymous hot cocoa and refused to be a part of such a Travesty.  There is precedent for this.  I give you:
Unless you have tons of time on your hands, go to 5:01.

Unfortunately for the Farmers’ Pride folks, Leopold had a sense of taste. Hard to tell just by auditioning. But you, oh Unfortunate Cecile, with your red-tipped cane, dark glasses and harnessed German Shepherd–it was glaringly obvious that you were blind. Alas for you; they pounced.  You were duped into shilling for ConAgra. And now, I’m here to read to you the ingredient list from that box of Evil Brown Powder that you are selling.

  • Sugar–check
  • Nonfat Dry Milk–okay
  • Modified Whey–because the milk powder isn’t milky enough
  • Cocoa (Processed with Alkali)–Dutched cocoa is pH balanced; okay
  • Corn Syrup–because I guess the sugar isn’t sugary enough
  • Hydrogenated Coconut Oil–because you can never have too many trans fats

Less than 2% of:

  • Salt–Nice
  • Dipotassium Phosphate–another salt that is Extremely water soluble.  Because apparently salt isn’t salty enough
  • Carrageenan–seaweed!
  • Sodium Caseinate–more milky-type stuff
  • Disodium Phosphate–to keep the powder nice and powdery
  • Artificial Flavor–because cocoa and sugar and milk aren’t tasty enough on their own
  • Mono- and Diglycerides–emulsifiers, to keep the transfatty goodness nicely mixed with the seaweed, et al

Oh, Cecile.  I’m sure you a damp towel for your forehead and a cold beverage to refresh you.  I hate to be the bearer of Ill News, but you needed to know.  After all, your integrity is At Stake.

Love,
Jenni

The following is for Cecile and for anyone who wants a nice cup of hot cocoa without worrying about, you know, dying from Phosphate poisoning.

St. Cecile’s Most Excellent Hot Cocoa

  • cocoa powder–Dutched is preferable
  • sugar–I use demerara.  You could also use agave nectar or Your Preferred Sweetener
  • pinch of salt
  • wee splash of vanilla
  • milk–whatever kind you like.  Except buttermilk (But I shouldn’t even have to say that.  You’re just being difficult).
  • Optional–a sprinkle of cinnamon or cayenne.  Maybe some orange zest or extract.  Or mint extract. 

There are no measurements, because I don’t know how you like your hot cocoa.  Do it to your taste, and taste it frequently.  Write down what you did, and then you’ll have the formula for Your Perfect Cup.  Here’s how to put it together.

  1. Put all the ingredients in a large-ish saucepan.
  2. Whisk and heat over medium heat until all the cocoa has dissolved into the milk.  Don’t let it come to a boil.
  3. Put in mug.
  4. Drink.

Cocoa really doesn’t like to mix with milk, especially cold milk.  If you want, you can make life a bit easier by whisking the cocoa with a little bit of milk to get a thickish paste.  Then, you can whisk that into the rest of the milk, sugar, etc.

Rich Caramel Cocoa for the Daring

If you’re feeling spunky, you can caramelize some sugar–take it to medium to medium dark–and stop the caramelization with some half and half.  Off the heat, stir until smooth.  Add milk, cocoa, salt and vanilla or other flavoring of your choice, and whisk over medium heat until hot.  You won’t be sorry.

Two Things

  1. If you’re interested in winning a copy of Starting from Scratch, make sure to enter by going to my Pastry Chef Online post and commenting on the new site design and giving me an idea for my first book title.  The Beloved will be choosing a winner on Tuesday, November 24. 
  2. There are Fun Pastry Polls up at PCO.  Please go take a look and vote.  I’ll be using the polls to see what folks are most interested in.

If anyone is in need of a Spokesperson with Integrity, Cecile needs a job.  ‘Kay, that’s it. 

 

 

Sunday Suppers (Late Monday Edition): An Amusing Tale, and A Very Tasty Pork Chili

16 Nov

Glad you’re here, all–and just in time for Story Time!  Okay, so I went walking with Roberta, my Most Excellent Neighbor, on Saturday.  Given a choice of walking in the neighborhood or walking at a couple of parks in Garner, I chose parks. I was then presented with two choices:  Lake Benson Park or White Deer Park.  Without knowing anything about either park, being relatively new to the area, I chose White Deer Park.  And, let me tell you, I am Glad I Did.

Roberta’s husband, Thomas, said something along the lines of “Be sure to say hi to the albino deer.”  I laughed, assuming that he was just Being Funny.  I mean, just because Central Park is in the middle of a city and Lake Benson Park is on Lake Benson and Grand Canyon National Park contains said canyon does not mean that there really is a white deer at White Deer Park.  Right?

Wrong.

So, we got to the park, and Roberta was all, “Hey, let’s go see the white deer first.”  And I was, “Seriously?  There is a white deer here For Real?!I thought you guys were just messing with me.”  I expected some sort of micro petting zoo, with Deer Kibble for sale in wee brown paper bags and a Morbidly Obese white deer in a pen.  And then, she dropped the bomb, “Well, it’s dead….”

white deer
This isn’t the Actual white deer(yes it is)–after all, this one is alive, but as soon as I go back (which I have obviously done), I’ll update this picture. And I have.

Now, I will switch to reporter mode so I don’t have to keep typing quotation marks.

Here’s what happened:  Several years ago, the good residents of the Lake Benson area were all atwitter over occasional sightings of a white deer.  Obviously, these residents had been Blessed by Diana, Goddess of the Hunt, and she had sent unto them a Mystical White Deer (MWD) as proof of her affection.  The residents put their heads together and decided that Diana would want them to build a park to honor the MWD.  Plans were Set in Motion.  But, the gods can be fickle and cruel, and some Unnamed god–let’s call him Chad, shall we?–decided that Diana had Taken Liberties when she bestowed her favor upon the good folk of Lake Benson.  Chad thought that maybe the residents would get too Snooty because they had a white deer.  He could picture Rude Interactions wherein they would taunt other folks with, “Naa naa na na naa.  We have a white deer because Diana Loves Us.  We are Awesome.”

Rather than bestow to some other Worthy Community a Unicorn as a Checks and Balances measure, Chad caused a Motorist to hit Diana’s gift just a mere days after the plans for the park were Put In Place.  Cruel, perhaps, but direct.  Undeterred, Diana’s Chosen had the deer stuffed and mounted, and it sat in a wee hut that they Caused to Be Erected for the purpose for the next few years.  And then, Hooligans (sent by Chad, who realized that the sacrifice of the deer just made it more powerful an Icon), in the dark of night, set the stuffed and mounted deer On Fire.  Seriously.  Oh, deer!  Again, the Chosen People of the Deer rallied their forces and paid to have the deer repaired.  I don’t know how they managed to repair the fur and What Not, but they did.  At that point, it was More Than Clear to the Chosen that the deer needed, nay deserved, its own shrine, complete with walking trails and playgrounds.  And a Dead Dear Diorama Behind Glass.  They bravely soldiered on until they Realized Their Dream.

The park opened just a couple of weeks ago, and I must say, shrine aside, it is a pretty cool park.  Be that as it may, I’m pretty sure that Chad is trying to come up with other ways to put Diana in her place.  Just between you and me, my money is on Diana’s Chosen.  Unless I start hearing reports of Unicorn sightings.  Then, all bets are off.

I have a playground story, too, but that will have to wait for another day.  After all, the chili awaits.  I was just so amused by the deer story that I had to share with you guys.  Oh, let me leave you with a quote from my mother, Jane.  She emailed it to me after I had told her the Saga of the MWD.  Here’s what she said in her email.  And I quote: “Listen up people of Garner…for a true experience one does not have to go to Burning Man like Adam Lambert.  Just go to Burning Deer Park in Garner and get spun out into space….Woo woo!”  Now, I’m going to have to see if we can start a yearly counter-culture festival in the park.  Great idea, Mom.  And maybe our boy, Adam, will come and perform in all his glittery glory.  Just sayin’; it’s something to think about.

You’ve been very patient.  On to the pork chili.

pork chili with sour cream

Okay, so maybe the buttery crackers aren't traditional, but it's what we had, and it was tasty. A little dollop of sour cream never hurt chili, either.

Originally, this chili was supposed to be a green chili.  Then, since I wasn’t using any sort of recipe, I decided that I’d add some chipotle peppers in adobo sauce.  If you don’t know what that is, I will tell you.  Chipotles in adobo are smoked jalapeno peppers in a spicy red sauce.  Red plus lots of green equals sort of a brownish-gray color.  Not overly attractive, but like my friend DS over at The Daily Spud, I don’t hide from my ugly foodie forays.  I celebrate them.  As long as they’re tasty, anyway.  And this chili was Absolutely Fabulous.  If you want yours to be a true green chili, do leave out any red ingredients.  If you don’t care, just go for it.

Ugly Piglet Chili
Like I said, there is no real recipe for this.  There are also no real measurements.  I did it all to taste, but I’ll try and give you a ballpark idea.

  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 1 pound fairly marbled pork.  I bought something called “pork steak.”  I’m not even sure that’s a real term, but it was for sale and looked good.
  • 1 cup black beans–canned is fine.  I used dried, because that’s what I had.  I boiled the heck out of them in some chicken stock while I was doing the rest of the mise en place.
  • 2 medium onions, diced
  • kosher salt, to taste
  • hot chili powder (another red ingredient that you can leave out if you want), about 2 tablespoons or so
  • red pepper flake–some
  • ground cumin–a very lot because I love it
  • ground coriander–about half as much as the cumin
  • vegetable oil–enough to thinly coat the bottom of a large pan
  • 12 tomatillos (I counted them as I scooped them into the bag at the grocery store)
  • 3 poblano peppers
  • 5 Anaheim peppers
  • 1 jalapeno pepper
  • 3 small hot peppers of Dubious Origin that Neighbor Chuck gave us
  • 1 serrano pepper
  • 5 Cubanelle peppers
  • 2 bell peppers
  • chicken stock, to barely cover everything
  • about 1 tablespoon bittersweet chocolate chunks–I had to use them in something, and chocolate in chili is Excellent
  • fistful of cilantro
  • fine corn meal, for thickening.  I probably used about 1/3 cup or so

Okay, so it’s a long list of ingredients.  About all those peppers–just use whatever green ones you have/can find.  It’s more about technique than recipe, anyway.

Here’s how I did it:

  1. Dice the pork steak (or whatever) into about 1/2″ dice.
  2. Brown the porks in a little vegetable oil in a large skillet.  Add salt and pepper.
  3. In a Dutch oven, heat oil until hot.  Over medim-low heat, cook onions, salt, pepper, and whatever spices you’re using.  Stir and stir so the spices don’t burn.  You might need to add a touch more oil.  Cook until onions are soft and the whole thing is ridiculously fragrant and lovely.
  4. Now, it gets easy.  Drain off any excess fat from the meat, and add it to the onions.  Add the beans and cooking liquid, if using dry.  If using canned, hold off for a bit.
  5. Cut up all the green stuff and toss it all into the pot along with a bit more kosher salt.
  6. Barely cover with chicken stock, and bring to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer and simmer gently, mostly covered, for about an hour.  Taste, and adjust the seasonings a bit, but don’t go overboard since it’ll prolly reduce some more.
  7. If using canned beans, add them now.  Stir in the chocolate and simmer, uncovered, for about 15-20 minutes, just to reduce a bit.
  8. Taste again for seasoning.
  9. Stir in fine cornmeal until the chili is as thick as you want it.
  10. Either go ahead and eat, or chil and reheat the next day.  Or both.

We ate this over rice, with pita chips, over half of a baked potato (each–for a total of one potato.  I didn’t just bake half a potato, thankyouverymuch).  We had it with pepper jack cheese melted on top.  It was All Good.

Now, for your enjoyment, a Photo Essay:

pork chili, step one

pork chili, step 2

pork chili, cooking beans

chipotle in adobo

It's a chipotle pepper in adobo sauce, but am I the only one who thinks it looks like a wee dead pig? It's prolly because of the deer...

tomatillos

Hello, little green tomatillo inside your papery husk. If you're wondering, they taste very green and tangy, not unlike a green tomato.

making pork chili

pork chili simmering

pork chili

Announcing the New and Improved, Nipped and Tucked, Snazzified Pastry Chef Online. Plus, PMAT’s Inaugural Giveaway!

12 Nov
Pastry Chef Online logo

It took me long enough, but here it is! Introducing, the re-worked Pastry Chef Online!

Friends, here it is.  All the sweating, the work, the blisters-on-my-fingers.  All of the Amazing Linda’s work–long hours, making nice on the crazy woman (that would be Me), the pulling-out-of-hair.  As an aside, yesterday I offered to have made the Best Wig Ever for the Amazing Linda.  She chose hot pink.  Um, back to the announcement.  At long last, I present to you the New and Improved, Stronger/Faster/Better, Easily Navigable Pastry Chef Online!……………………..chirp, chirp………………………………..cricket, cricket……………………..Oh, what?  Some of you didn’t even know that there was an Old and Unimproved, Weaker/Slower/Worse, Unnavigable Pastry Chef Online?  Well, there was, and it’s prolly just as well that you didn’t know about it, because it was All That Stuff. 

Now, it’s lovely.  The Amazing Linda, from Linda Braun Graphic and Web Design, worked with crazy me for Ever So Long to pull this together.  She designed the keen logo and the look of the site.  I said something vague about having the site look like a ’57 Cadillac or something.  I’m sure she Rolled Her Eyes heavenward, but apparently she understood, because I love it!  Please do go over and take a little tour.  I’m not big on recipes, as you know, but there are plenty there to get you started.   You’ll find discussions of mixing methods and ingredient function and a great segment called Restaurant Style in the Intermediate/Advanced section.  Plus, there’s a section called Baking Essentials with my recommendations for cook books, gadgets, appliances and ingredients.  There’s also a Special Section called “Don’t Waste Your Money.” 

PCO, like PMAT, is a work in progress, so I’ll often be adding pages–more recipes, more discussions, more categories (like maybe laminated doughs, to start), more recommendations.   Tell me what you’re interested in, and I’ll add it to the site.  As long as it has to do with Pastry Stuff.  Just so we’re clear, I’m not going to add a page about how to shape a surfboard or how to install a doggie door.  I’m just not. 

Now, in Honor and Celebration of the relaunch of Pastry Chef Online, I’m giving away a copy of the keen cook book, Starting from Scratch, of which I am a co-author.  The book is currently all wrapped up in plastic and cardboard, but the lucky winner need but Say the Word, and I’ll wrest it from its wrappings and write a Suitable Inscription on the inside cover.  Here’s all you have to do:  Leave some feedback about the New and Improved Pastry Chef Online–what you like, what you don’t like, what you wish you could see.  Plus, come up with a title for my first cook book.  No, I haven’t written it yet, but a title is a good place to start.  The Beloved will pick what he considers to be The Best Title from all the entries, and that person will win the book!  No, it’s not an objective, random-number-generator way to choose a winner, but it’s my blog.  So there.

If you’d like more than one chance to win, just make separate additional comments, each with some feedback on the site and a Proposed Book Title.  I’ll let The Beloved look at all the entries Sans Identifying Names, etc, and he’ll choose his favorite.  He probably won’t accept bribes, but do what you can.

Oh, you can enter between now and my birthday, November 23.  Enter as many times as you like.  Tell your family and friends.  Alert the media.

Huge thank yous to all of you for hanging out at PMAT.  I hope you find PCO as comfortable a hang-out.  If you want, I also have a forum that you can get to from the website, in the sidebar over there, and also from right here.

To recap:  New site=Yay!  Giveaway=Starting from Scratch–signed, if you’d like. Win by submitting a comment with feedback on the new site and a title for my first cook book.  Enter=Often.  Deadline=November 23.  I’ll announce the Incredibly Lucky Winner on November 24.

Sunday Suppers: An A-Maize-ing Meal

8 Nov


I am a sucker for a theme party.  So, with Ken’s Korny Corn Maze right around the corner from our new house, we knew that we’d eventually have to have a Ken’s Korny Corn Maze Extravaganza.  We did that Very Thing two weekends ago.  The only rule was that every dish had to have some sort of corn in it.  Everyone was a good sport, and we ended up with a huge corny feast.  Rocque and Peggy and Chuck and Susan made tamales.  Mary Lou made creamy corn pudding.  Thomas and Roberta brought cheesy corn casserole, chocolate/pretzel/Oreo/M&M/candy corn bark and pop corn.  Mom made chicken vegetable soup with corn in it.  Naomi made shrimp corn chowder.  Jeff brought Indian Corn, plus there was candy corn, too.  We ordered pizza for our young guests, who apparently hate all things corn related.  Who knew?

It was a Big Fun Time.  They grilled tamales outside on a grate on the fire pit.  Mary Lou’s power had been out all day, so she and Naomi cooked once they got to our house.  It was like having a Progressive Dinner without ever changing houses.  When a dish was ready, we ate it.  We had a great time.  The original plan had been to actually go to Ken’s Korny Corn Maze and Haunted House that evening, but it had rained all day, and we weren’t really interested in going to Ken’s Muddy Corn Maze.

The Beloved and I offered up some homemade corn dogs.  We used the leftover batter to make hush puppies.  There were Lots of hush puppies.  We used good old Alton Brown’s recipe for corn dogs, and it was G.U.D. Good.  I did find the batter to be just a bit too thick, so I think I added maybe another 1/3-1/2 cup buttermilk.  And because I can never leave Well Enough alone–to the point that one time Well Enough actually took out a restraining order against me–I added a bunch of black pepper to the mix.  Otherwise, it was pretty much his straight-up recipe, peanut oil and all.  Friends, peanut oil is Expensive.  I had no idea.  I looked longingly at the $7/gallon vegetable oil, but I went with the $17/gallon peanut oil because Alton told me to.  I’m such a sheep.  Baa.  But it is really great oil, and we strained it to use again, so there.

I bought some kind of hot dogs that were billed as “The Steak Lovers’ Hot Dog,” and it was a Very Good Choice.  (I just looked them up.  They were Curtis Beef Master Hot Dogs). I made 16 of these guys, and some folks ate three.  I think I might have had two.  Anyway, next time, I’m making 32 of them.  I doubled the amounts for the cornmeal batter, and still had enough goo left over to make about Eleventy-Billion hush puppies, so I’m thinking that you could probably do 16 with a 1X batch, even though AB writes that the recipe serves 8.  I’m not going to copy the recipe here, because you can go see it for yourselves with that link over there, but I will write down some Thoughts and Tips.

1)As I mentioned before, I added more buttermilk than what the recipe called for.  The batter was still very thick–think pâte à choux.  In Alton’s video, his looks thinner than mine was.  This is why volumetric measures are so Annoying.

2)When it says to coat the dogs in corn starch, really coat them well.  Mine were white.  I rubbed corn starch on them and then made sure to only leave a thin layer, but they were still white.  Plus rubbing hot dogs with corn starch is just kind of…suggestive.  Be prepared to giggle a lot.

3)Alton says to use those restaurant chopsticks that come stuck together.  I found some long, squarish chopsticks at the grocery in the Asian section, and they worked Just Fine.

4)Grated onion is very wet–just go with it.  I didn’t measure it; I just grated until my eyes stung too badly to continue grating.

5)I read on someone’s blog that they wished the batter had stuck better.  I humbly submit that they were perhaps Somewhat Lacking in the Technique Department.  Alton says to put the batter in a tall drinking glass and then dunk the dog into it, swirling to coat.  The batter is Way Too Thick for that, so I just left it in a big bowl, shoved the dog in the goo at a shallow angle–kind of like how they stick the needle in your arm when they’re getting a blood sample–and then used my hand to make sure it was evenly coated.  If the layer of goo is not uniform, big deal.  It’s homemade, by crackie, and it’s Way, Way Better than anything you could ever get in the freezer section or at the fair.  Get over it.

6)I think I limited my frying to 3 dogs at a time, just to keep the oil temp from dropping too much initially.  I just used a big pot–I don’t have a swanky restaurant-style deep fryer.

7)We mixed up some honey mustard, and that was Quite tasty.  But these guys were so good, they really didn’t need any sort of Condiment or Accoutrements of any sort.

And I think that about does it.  Please, enjoy the photos.  Thank Mary Lou for them–she is more conscientious than I.  Sadly, I didn’t think to take pictures of the corn dogs, or maybe I was just being Moody and Passive Aggressive.  Either way, the picture of the dogs is representative, not literal.

tamales

Mmmmm...Tamales!

Shrimp and corn chowder

Look how great--Naomi's shrimp and corn chowder.

Ken's Korny Corn Maze feast

The spread, minus the soups, which were in the kitchen, and the corn dogs, which were in the Lucky Few's tummies.

Here are pictures of happy, corn-fed (literally) folks:

Hanging out by the fire

We built up the fire a bit after the tamales were all cooked. We use Ye Olde Fyre Pit more frequently than we thought we would. Fun.

Jeff, Michael and Jenni

Here I am with friends Michael and Jeff. Michael is pointing towards The Beloved, so he's kind of in the picture, too.

Naomi and Warren

It was Naomi's birthday, so I made that Creamsicle Pound Cake that I talked about a couple of weeks ago for her.

Rocque and Peggy

Rocque and Peggy. We are so lucky to have such great neighbors.

Submitted for your Approval: An Analogy. I am to Halloween as Clark Griswold is to Christmas.

6 Nov

Just about the time The Beloved starts rubbing his hands together in anticipation of making his fruitcake, I begin dreaming of ghouls and goblins.  Not in a Wake Up Screaming sort of way, but in a How Can I Scare the Children kind of way.  I started talking to The Hansens, our Most Excellent Neighbors, and found out that they were all into The Scare as well.  We decided to do a Haunted Path leading from our house to theirs.  And then, we contacted our other Most Excellent Neighbors, The Walls, to see if they wanted In on the path idea.  Much to our delight, they were All Over It.  Thomas was all, “I’ll hide in the blackberry bushes with a fog machine and jump out and scare kids.”  Very, Very Cool.

As you know, I am a Rotten Photojournalist, so I didn’t get pictures of the Walls and Hansens stops on the Haunted Path, but let me paint a picture for you.  The Hansens had tombstones, black lights, a scary light-up tree and a crazy mister skull (not Mr. Skull, but a skull that spews out mist) with blood and a spider crawling out of one eye.  Hooray.  The Walls had Real Animal Skulls hanging from their weeping willow tree, a graveyard with plastic skeletal arms coming up out of the ground, a strobe light that made thunder sounds and an Enormous Spider on their porch.

The Beloved and I decided to decorate the Entire Wrap-Around Porch and send kids all around the porch and down the side steps.  If they were Brave Enough.  Here is Photo documentation of said decorated porch.  All the gray tattery stuff is dyed cheese cloth, cut/shredded so as to add to the Eeriness.

Haunted steps

Thomas let us borrow some rope lighting so no kids would trip and fall. We just didn't want to deal with a lawsuit.

Halloween front door

The only thing that prompted kids to come on up was the Lure of Candy.

Halloween ravens

I had two of these guys--one on each top post. Very Hitchcockian, no?

Skull plant

Okay, so I don't water my hanging baskets. In a burst of inspiration, I hot glued some wee skulls into the poor, dead plant. Very effective skull plant, I think.

Hanged ghost

This corner was a little bare, so at the last minute, I shoved a bunch of plastic grocery bags under some old white curtains, creating instant ghost dude. His sign says "Hanged for Trespassing." I never got around to making a sign that said "No Trespassing," but there's always next year!

Gypsy head fortune teller.

My friend Jennifer gave this to us a few weeks ago. How cool is she? She tells five different fortunes, plus she lights up all blue and green, and her head sways AND her eyes roll around. The least we could do was name her after Jennifer.

halloween shrunken dead

So, we had a little niche to fill up with...something. I got these wee dead guys from the $ store, and hung them Strategically About with a sign: 'Ware the Shrunken Dead. Awesome.

shrunken dead

Eeek! Another shrunken dead dude!

one eyed jack o lantern

The pumpkin had a natural scar across its face. I used it To My Advantage, don't you think? The blood is red food coloring and glue. I free-handed his look of anguish.

halloween side door

If we had kids come up the side step (which we did), they were met with a sign that said "Do not ring bell. Look what happened to him (the jack o'lantern with the dagger in its eye). Around the corner await treats for the brave."

Stay on Path sign

Kids exiting by the side steps were reminded to Stay on The Path. Or PERISH. Mwah ha ha.

haunted path made with caution tape

The caution tape (thank you, $ store) led the kids down and around to Thomas' house.

Okay, so that’s all the decorations in the calm light of day.  Now, here’s what the front looked like at night, with the strobe light and the fog machine going.

Halloween decorations at night

Cool, huh? Plus, the dude on the door moans and rattles. Double cool.

And where, you ask, is the Madam of Ceremonies?  Here:

Scary, scary me

Originally, I was going to go for serene, icy vampire. I ended up as Drunken Dead Italian Grandmother. Whatever. The children were Still Afraid.

Okay, so if you’ve suffered down to the end of my Obsessive Halloween Decoration Extravaganza, you deserve something for all your trouble.  I posted this Ages Ago, but here it is again.  A perfect adult snack for Halloween.  Or whenever.

Spiced Caramel Corn

First, you need Some Sort of Spiced Nuts.  Pumpkin seeds are Festive and Seasonal.  Or get some of those pepitas, Mexican pumpkin seeds.  Mix up some egg white, salt, cumin, chili powder, orange zest and brown sugar.  Lightly coat the nuts/pumpkin seeds with the mixture, spread out on Silpat and bake at 250F until dry and golden.  Let cool, and break apart any big chunks.  Or not.

Sorry, but you’re on your own as far as measurements.  The recipe for the caramel corn makes a Ton, so you might want to shoot for 4 cups of nuts and 2 egg whites as the base for the spice mix.

Now, for the Corn

  • 3 1/2 cups popcorn, popped.  This makes a ton.  Seriously.  Like 3-4 GALLONS.  That’s about 12-16 LITRES for you Metric Folk.  Half the recipe if you aren’t that hungry, or if you don’t want to share.  If you can find “mushroom popcorn,” use that.  If not, don’t worry about it.
  • 4-ish cups spiced nuts
  • 1 1/4 c. corn syrup
  • 20 oz. butter (5 sticks)
  • 30.5 oz. brown sugar
  • 3 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt.  Yes, tablespoons.  You can cut back a bit, if you want, but salty is Good for this
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda

Put the popcorn in two Very Large roasting pans that you have coated Liberally with pan spray.  Add half of the nuts to each pan.

Melt everything but the baking soda together in a Very Large Pot.  Once the butter is melted, turn up the heat and bring to a gentle boil for 5 minutes.  After 5 minutes, kill the heat and stir in the baking soda.  It will seriously bubble up and look just like caramel shaving cream.

Pour half of the shaving cream over each vat of popcorn.  Stir it in as well as you can.  Bake at 225F for 1 hour and 15 minutes.  Every fifteen minutes or so, open the oven and stir.  Each time, the popcorn will get more evenly coated, so don’t stress if there is some Naked Corn in the pans when you first put them in the oven.

After the Requisite Time, take the pan out of the oven and stir again.  Stir it every few minutes to keep it from clumping up into a large Brick O’ Popcorn.

And now you’re done.  What are you waiting for?  Eat some.  Mangia, mangia!  Oh, sorry, that’s the Dead Italian Grandmother coming out.

So, how was your Halloween?  If you didn’t make anyone cry, you’ll just have to try harder next year.

PS Whether or not you know who Clark Griswold is, you deserve to see his Handiwork:

Halloween (or Hallowe’en) Extravaganza Teaser

3 Nov

Hello, all.  I think I have sufficiently recovered from two extravaganzas in a row–first, Ken’s Korny Corn Maze Extravaganza, about which I shall write on Sunday.  Second, Halloween.  Or Hallowe’en.  It is my Hands Down favorite Holiday, and my life is not complete unless I make at least a couple of children cry.  Just a little.  Plus, I bestow upon myself an Award of Merit if a)They tell me they aren’t scared (lies!), b)They run down the steps screaming and/or c)If they back away from me in Horror.  All in all, it was a Very Satisfying Event this year, especially when compared to last year’s Dismal Failure.  I’ll share more, as well as some vaguely Pastry-Related Items on the morrow.  Until then, please consider this a teaser:

Scary carved pumpkin

Oh, the things that can be accomplished with a melon baller and some red food coloring...

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