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Sunday, September 29, 2013

Witchy-Poo Cookie Craft (It's Edible!)

And so it begins, the ramp-up to my favorite holiday.  YAY!  This weekend I was invited to keep my friend Michelle company while she hosted her 8-year-old daughter's Halloween-themed sleepover.  One of the fun projects on the evening's docket was decorating cookie ball witch heads.  She thought it might be a fun project to share with you and I very much agreed.

If you are brave enough to try this with your kiddoes (or growed-up friends), I would recommend following it up with an activity that let's them run off the sugar rush that follows.  You have been warned.

Witchy-Poo Cookie Craft

witch heads
1 pkg. (16 oz.) ready-to-bake sugar cookie refrigerated dough
1 can white icing
1/2 (12 oz.) bag of green candy melts

hats and parts
8 sugar cones (hat tops)
16 thin chocolate wafer cookies (hat brims and collars)
chocolate icing (for hats)
licorice strips, Twizzlers, or sour straws (hair)
chocolate-covered sunflower seeds (for noses)
candy eyes or flat sprinkles (for eyes)
assorted Halloween sprinkles (hat decoration)

chocolate-coated sunflower seeds
Sorry no photos for the first couple of steps, I got so carried away with what we were doing that I forgot to grab some photos.

For the witch heads, you need to bake the sugar cookies according to the package directions EXCEPT that you want to cook them for the least amount of time listed.  The cookies should be on the slightly undercooked side (very chewy, little to no crunchy). 

When the cookies are done baking, transfer them to a rack to cool completely.

When the cookies are cool, put them in a food process and run until they are little crumbles.

Mix the cookie crumbles with 1/2 cup of white icing and moosh together until it forms a (not smooth) dough.  Because you undercooked the cookies, the crumbles will be moist and dough will be more malleable.

Roll the dough into eight (8) 2" balls.  Set on a plate and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

When the dough balls are ready, remove from fridge and set aside while you melt the green candy pieces.  In a thick bottomed saucepan over low heat (setting 2 or 3) or in a double broiler, stir candy pieces until fully melted and smooth.

Dip the balls in the melted candy and roll around until well-covered.  Remove and set each ball on a thin chocolate wafer cookie.  Smooth down the chocolate with a butter knife or small spatula.  The candy will set within 5-10 minutes.

The only other pre-decorating frenzy prep we did was to pull apart the licorice strips so the girls didn't have to do it.  We used Cherry Twizzlers which we cut in half lengthwise and then separated into strands of threes.

Each girl then got a plate with a blank witches head, the hat parts and some hair and license to go crazy.

It was a fun project and everything is edible.  The results were adorable and the girls had a great time building their masterpieces.


We learned the hard way that you want to make sure to put the candy-coated cookie balls on the cookie wafers right away, or at least on a sheet of parchment or wax paper, because the candy coating will start to harden immediately and then need to be pried off the plate that you unwittingly put them on to start with.

If you want different color hair, Punch Straws would work, they have a sugary coating though so won't look the same as the licorice or Twizzlers.

You can usually find chocolate-covered sunflower seeds in specialty stores or grocery stores that stock non-traditional candies.  Michelle got hers at Trader Joe's, I believe.

The eye candies and Halloween sprinkles can be found at Michael's or A.C. Moore's craft stores, or any place that sells Wilton products.

Other variations -- use white candy melts and decorate them as vampire heads or instead of cookie balls, make cookie cylinders, cover them with the green candy coating and decorate them as Frankenstein heads.  Get creative and go crazy with it, there's no wrong answer here.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Holy Mole Spicy Crockpot Chicken

More fun with crockpot food.  As the weather gets cooler, this spicy dish will make you feel warm inside and out.

Holy Mole Spicy Crockpot Chicken

8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 2 lbs.)
1 tbsp. flour
1 (14 oz.) can diced fire-roasted tomatoes
1 (10 oz.) can RoTel diced tomatoes and green chilies
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1 tbsp. soy sauce
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. brown sugar
1/2 to 1 tsp. Rooster Sauce* (depends on how hot you want it)
2 medium carrots, peeled and sliced chunky
1/2 medium onion, chopped

Put fire-roasted tomatoes, RoTel tomatoes, peanut butter, soy sauce, cumin, chili powder, brown sugar and rooster sauce in the crockpot on low.

Cook for 10-15 minutes until the peanut butter is melted and everything is blended together.

While that is cooking, trim any excess fat off the chicken thighs.  Sprinkle with flour until pieces are evenly coated.

Add chicken, carrot chunks and chopped onion to the crockpot.

Cook on low for 5-1/2 to 6 hours, stirring often.

Serve over rice, garnish with toasted peanuts and/or cilantro.  Enjoy the heat.

*If you're not familiar with it Rooster Sauce is a chili garlic sauce available in some grocery stores and in Asian markets.  It's pretty potent, so adjust usage to suit your heat level preference.
You can use bone-in skinless chicken thighs for this recipe.  My grocery store just happened to have some that were boneless, so I went with those.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Yammy Pecan Roll-ups

For me, when the weather getting cooler, there's nothing like fresh-baked goods and a hot cuppa joe to get my Sunday morning started.  Combine that with a fall veggie favorite and you have a golden day ahead of you. 

Yammy Pecan Roll-ups
(makes 36 roll-ups)

2 (8 ct.) rolls of Pillsbury crescent rolls
1/3 cup cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup canned yams, mashed
1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
1/3 cup finely chopped pecans
1 tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon

In a bowl, blend together cream cheese, mashed yams, and pumpkin pie spice.

Roll out each crescent roll triangle and cut in half (to make two smaller triangles each).

Spread a layer of the yam filling on each triangle. Sprinkle with pecans and roll them up.

In a shallow dish, mix together the cinnamon and sugar.

Roll each mini crescent in the cinnamon sugar and set on a prepared (lightly greased or foiled) baking sheet.

Bake at 375 degrees for 12 minutes or until lightly browned and cooked through.

Remove pan from oven, transfer roll-ups to a plate.  Allow to cool for a moment or two (so you don't burn your tongue on the filling) and enjoy.

Mmm mmm mmm, welcome Fall!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Conventional Oven vs. Convection Oven

My friend David and I were talking over lunch yesterday about food prep and he asked me if I had ever used a convection oven and what my thoughts were about using that versus a conventional oven.  Since I think the last time I used a convection oven was when I was working on my culinary degree, I didn't know what to tell him. I may have some problems remembering back that far back these days.  But I did know one thing -- RESEARCH PROJECT!!!


Let's start with some basics...oven cooking is all about heat transfer and that's where the main difference between the two lies.

* A conventional oven uses conduction.
* A convection oven uses convection.

Conduction-duction, what's your function?

In so-simple-even-K2-can-understand terms:

Conduction => something hot touches something cool and that something cool gets hot

Example, put a pot of water on the stove, heat from the burner touches the pot, the pot gets hot, the hot pot heats the water. 

The Convection Connection

Convection => something hot touches something cool and that something cool gets hot faster because the heat is being blown around...usually by a big it covers more surface of the thing being hotted.  Yeah, that's not really a word, but you get my drift.

Example, put an egg in the pot of water which is boiling all around the egg and the heat transfers through and it quickly cooks the egg.

By having the heat surround an item (versus transferring from one direction) the advantages are a reduction in cooking time (by all accounts about 25%) and more even cooking.  Additionally, convection cooking will brown foods quicker.  So if you are cooking meats, the browning helps seal the surface, trapping in the moisture and resulting in a juicer product.  

Most people use a low-sided baking dish when cooking with convection because it exposes more surface area and allows the heat to circulate around the item more freely.

You find convection ovens in most commercial kitchens, because if you think about it, time is of the essence in getting food prepped for service.  Convection ovens show up in home kitchens too, or more often you'll find conventional ovens that have a convection option.

So there is a quick-n-dirty.  If you have a convection option and want to learn more there are many discussions online that have more detail or you can find convection cookbooks that specialize in that.  I myself only have a conventional oven right now, but maybe in my next kitchen iteration, I'll try something new.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Gluten-free Pecan Apple "Crisp"

Fall is here!  Which means cooler weather, apples are in season, and having something baking in the oven makes you feel all cozy inside.  Because the new flour I bought is gluten-free, thought I'd do a twist on one of my fall favorites -- a crisp.

Gluten-free Pecan Apple "Crisp"

6 tart apples, peeled, cored, chopped
2 tsp. lemon juice
1 cup Sugar in the Raw
3/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. cloves
1/2 cup chopped pecans

1 cup coconut flour
1/2 cup butter, chilled
1/8 tsp. salt

Mix together chopped apples, lemon juice, sugar, cinnamon, cloves, and chopped pecans.  Pour into a baking dish.

Using a pastry blender or fork, combine coconut flour, butter and salt until it forms a crumbly mixture.

Sprinkle the crumbles over the apple mixture in the baking dish.

Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes, until the crumbles turn a nice light brown.  Cover and bake an additional 20-25 minutes until apples are fork tender.

Remove from oven.  Let cool for a moment or two (will be scalding hot if you try to eat right away).


Crisp is "crisp" because with the nature of coconut flour, you don't get the same crispy crumble that you would with a wheat flour, but it makes for a nice light topping.

The recipe is gluten-free, but please note that if you have a tree nut allergy, do not use coconut flour.  If you want another gluten-free option, try buckwheat flour instead.

FYI, cold leftover pecan apple "crisp" is delish.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Apple Cinnamon Buckwheat Pancakes

Okay, figured if I'm going to go down the pancake path, I'm going to take the scenic route and this is what I came up with.

Whipped these tasty cakes up for a Breakfast-for-Dinner treat at the GPP.*

(GPP -- formerly known as the spelled-out Guinea Pig Parents but since Mom is adverse to having "pig" used as a reference to their volunteer habits, I have acronymized them.)

Apple Cinnamon Buckwheat Pancakes

1-1/4 cup buckwheat flour
2 tbsp. Sugar in the Raw
1-1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 cup milk
1 egg, lightly beaten
4 tbsp. butter, melted
1 cup apples, peeled, cored and chopped

Mix together the flour, sugar, cinnamon, baking powder and salt, then set aside.

Whisk together the milk, egg and melted butter.  Pour mixture into the dry ingredients and stir until just combined.

Fold in chopped apples.

Heat a large skillet over medium high heat.

Add a dollop of butter to the hot pan and then drop about 1/4 cup of batter onto the skillet (1/4 cup per pancake).

Cook on one side until bubbles form, then flip and continue cooking until pancake is golden brown.

Serve up with some butter and syrup and you have a good time.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Homemade Tortillas I haven't found a buckwheat flour recipe I like yet.  It's actually trickier than I thought it might be and I may just throw in the towel and just do some buckwheat pancakes. BUT, until then, here is a little something different.

When I went to buy the buckwheat flour, I came across some masa harina which is the corn masa flour used to make tortillas which gave me a craving for Mexican food.  In addition, I've never made tortillas from scratch before so I thought it would be fun to try.

My tortillas were not beautiful, by any means, but they were tasty.  Had that fresh tortilla smell and flavor.  Add in some of my favorite fillings and voila! Muy delicioso!

Homemade Tortillas

2 cups masa flour
1 cup water

Mix together masa flour and water to form a soft malleable dough.  Add water or masa as needed to get the right consistency.

Knead for 5 minutes, then form into small balls (about 1-1/2" each) and allow to sit for 20 minutes.

Once the dough has rested, roll the balls out as thin as possible.

I followed the recipe on the back of the bag to make these and found that I actually ended up rolling two small balls together to make one tortilla.  My dough was a little drier than was good for rolling out without breaking along the edges.  A slightly more pliable dough would have rolled out more easily.

Put the tortilla in a heated greased pan and cook for 2 minutes per side.

Ready to serve.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013


Since I’m just back in town from my extended disco version geek-fest weekend, I’m going to keep this short and sweet, with a promise of something tasty this weekend.

not just a Lil’ Rascal

Interestingly enough, despite its name, buckwheat isn’t wheat it’s a grass. It’s actually in the same family as rhubarb and sorrel.  Buckwheat was first cultivated in Southeast Asia in the 6000 BCs. Over time it spread to Tibet then to the Middle East then made its way to Europe.

Buckwheat flour is made up primarily from the starchy endosperm of the seed. The dark specks you sometimes see in the flour come from hull bits (the hulls are dark brown or black).

Buckwheat noodles have been eaten in Northern China and Tibet for centuries. The noodles are made using a special wood log press that presses the dough into boiling water to make them. The Koreans and Japanese also make buckwheat noodles (known as soba noodles in Japan) using a similar method.

In Western Asian and Eastern Europe, buckwheat groats (the hulled grains from cereals like oats, barley, or wheat) were used to make porridge. Especially in the middle ages, it was an inexpensive way to sustain a family and keep them from starving. Porridge was made from roasted groats that were then cooked and softened with water or broth. 

A dish similar to porridge was brought to American by Polish and Russian immigrants and was known as kasha.  Kasha was used to make filling for knishes and blintzes.

The most well-known item made from buckwheat is probably pancakes. What else can more readily conjure up the image of American pioneers days?  Buckwheat pancakes were a common and oft-made staple. Anyone who ever read the Little House on the Prairie books will remember that Ma made the lightest and foamiest of buckwheat pancakes, served up with fresh-churned butter and big woods-tapped maple syrup.

Buckwheat contains no gluten, which makes it a good flour option to consider for those with gluten allergies or wheat intolerances. Though do take heed, apparently buckwheat can be an allergen itself and for the super sensitive may cause anaphylaxis.

As with other grain cereals, buckwheat can be used for making beer or whiskey.

I'm looking forward to seeing what fun and interesting new thing I can make for you with buckwheat flour.  I tell you, I love having an excuse to buy some of the more out-of-the-ordinary (for me) items I see on the grocery shelves.