The Best Fudge I’ve Ever Had

We interrupt the Halloween Party recap to bring you my favorite recipe find of the month. I came across this recipe in Sharon Bower’s book Goulish Goodies. Even though I have never been a fan of fudge, this recipe seemed easy enough to try, and therefore ideal to include in our party menu. I loved the idea of a dessert that actually had the pumpkin and spice flavors of Fall, since the rest of the  selection was geared more toward the kids.

Needless to say, I loved this stuff, which is definitely saying something since I don’t like fudge. My husband says it may be the best fudge he has ever had. I probably should re-name it “Diet Killer,” because I was hard pressed not to eat the whole dang pan. Luckily, I remembered that I really like my skinny jeans, and exercised a little self control…though I am having to suck in the tummy this week.

I have never made fudge before, but luckily for me, this recipe was pretty much fool-proof.

Vanilla-Spice Pumpkin Fudge

  • 3 cups sugar
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1/2 cup evaporated milk
  • 1/4 cup canned pumpkin puree
  • 1 (7-ounce) jar marshmallow cream
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 (12-ounce) package white chocolate chips
  • 1 cup toasted chopped pecans
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (use the good stuff!!! no imitation!!!)

1) Grease a 9-inch square baking dish

2) Combine first 10 ingredients in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Stir constantly with a wooden spoon until the sugar has dissolved; stop stirring and bring the mixture to a boil. Boil for a full 5 minutes without stirring.

3) Remove pan from heat and stir in the white chocolate chips, pecans and vanilla. Stir until the chips are completely melted (this took  longer than I expected, so just be patient and keep stirring. It probably took me 4 minutes to get the chips completely incorporated). Pour fudge into prepared pan and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate until firm. Cut into pieces, and serve. Try to exercise some self-control.

Tell your skinny jeans I’m sorry.

The Halloween Party Part 2–Desserts!

When I was originally planning the desserts for the Halloween party, I wanted food that was fairly simple, kid-friendly, and that did not require special slicing or serving during a hectic party.

Here is what I came up with:

First, we have the tombstone sugar cookies, decorated with a little royal icing. I loved the tombstone cookie cutter as soon as I saw it, so I had to include these, despite the fact that they were pretty labor intensive.

Next we have some cupcakes that did not turn out quite how we planned. They were supposed to have marzipan tentacles like a sea monster, but after J and I waged an epic battle with the marzipan, the marzipan won.

Then we have my trifecta of Halloween goodness: pumpkin-shaped Rice Krispie treats, pumpkin cake balls (salvaged from cake-pops gone wrong), and the best find of all, Vanilla-Spice Pumpkin Fudge.

My husband swears that the fudge is probably the best he’s ever had, and I’ll be posting the recipe this weekend. I’m just too busy with heathen children tonight.

J made some caramel apples:

I also made some extra of the Rice Krispie Treats, because who doesn’t need more of those?

So, there ya have it. My dessert plan was good in theory, but required quite a bit of improvisation due to a minor disaster here and there, specifically cake pops that went way off course, and a marzipan feud that I ultimately lost. While I am normally not into such labor intensive food for such a large gathering, I think half the fun of a Halloween party is the creative/goofy/fun food that goes with it.

If I had to do anything differently, I would have test driven ALL of the recipes beforehand, so that I would not have had so many last-minute surprises. Zero-hour before a huge event is not the time to experiment…you think I would have learned that by now….

The Halloween Party–Part 1: Setting the Mood

Our big Halloween party was definitely a labor of love.  For the past two months, we’ve been working on projects like this:

and this:

and this:

We’ve decorated like crazy:

and tried to make every space a spooky, eye-catching nook:

Overall, our goal was to have a little bit of  each room decorated in some form or another (with the obvious exceptions of our bedrooms…even I am not that ambitious). I think we accomplished this, and our outdoor decorations far surpassed our initial vision.

On the night of our party, I received a compliment that made those weeks of effort worth it…one guest repeatedly commented that our home looked like a magazine photo shoot. At that point, I felt marginally less guilty for dragging my husband, friends and everyone that would stand still long enough to hold a glue gun into my madness.

The key word there is marginally….

Tune in tomorrow for food!!

No, I am not lost…I’m tired

In case you’ve missed it, this weekend was our big Halloween party. I have been a busy girl. I’ve cleaned, cooked, cooked some more, had J talk me down from a ledge or ten, and finally had the Halloween party of my dreams.

I am tired. My poor husband is practically comatose (with good reason…he managed to keep 15 kids entertained, happy, engaged and out of trouble). After two months of planning, dreaming, and dragging our friends into the Halloween madness with us, we accomplished everything we wanted and more. Like any clueless hostess, I managed to throw a party and take…maybe 5 pictures of the whole shebang. Luckily, I have some good friends, and super-awesome in-laws, and they covered my proverbial behind. They managed to capture some great shots of our party, and as soon as I round them all up, you’ll get a play-by-play of the day. This will include some recipes that impressed us all, some harsh lessons about checking kids’ pockets for chewing gum before the pants hit the dryer, and a special thank-you to J and her husband L, who were right there with us through the whole messy thing…you know a gal is your friend when she is right there with you at midnight, hand-making party food and washing dishes like she lives here.

So, tune in this week for the play-by-play… I promise it is coming…after I sleep, eat, and have a restorative cocktail or …three.

Boy’s Weekend

Last weekend, my husband took my monkeys off into the wilderness for a Cub Scout camping weekend, along with all the packs in our area.

He asked me if I wanted to go. I laughed so hard I almost wet my pants.

Not really, but I decided to pass on this trip, because camping can be a lot of work, and I was just not up for it the weekend before our big Halloween party. Besides, J and I had pressing matters to attend to…like brunch…and shoe shopping.

Apparently, they had a blast, because they came back filthy, exhausted, and cute as can be.

My husband managed to text me some pictures on the iPhone of their shenanigans:

Did I mention they had a Civil War re-enactment?

Meanwhile, J and I just barely managed to hold down the fort…brunch is hard work, ya know.

Five Things for a Fall Friday

With the temperature yo-yoing like crazy, we’ve seen days as warm as the mid 90’s in the past week. I definitely have a difficult time getting into the Fall spirit, especially when I can still wear shorts and tank tops outside. Louisiana weather is fickle and unpredictable like that. To help me combat the feeling that summer will never end, I have five things to remind me that other seasons do, in fact, exist.

My mums…they are pretty, pretty, and I’ve actually managed to keep them alive…for now….

 

My latest Halloween find was too cool to pass up, and is there to greet me on my porch when I get home:

I have the Great Pumpkin on DVD, and can watch it as needed…You’re never too old for some medicinal Charlie Brown…luckily I still have kids and can act like I’m watching it for them. Riiiggghhtt.  

  The canned pumpkin shortage in my town continues, but I still managed to find some. Therefore, I can bake up a storm this weekend, and fill my house with the smell of Fall baked goodies.

And if all else fails, I will hit the Starbucks for a Pumpkin Spice Latte, channel my inner-Linus and bring cooler weather to my town by the sheer force of my will and Autumn sincerity.

I just checked the weather, and the high tomorrow is 89 degrees….

Dang it!

Dinner + Picky Eaters + Stubborn Mama = Mexican Stand-Off

Meal planning at my house is very similar to Cold War disarmament negotiations.

My husband is a picky eater. He will not eat a variety of things, including but not limited to green onions, under-cooked yellow onions, purple onions, squash, zucchini, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cooked carrots, spinach, most shrimp etc. The few vegetables he does eat, he prefers cooked nearly to death, preferably with some form of pork for flavor.

My boys are excessively picky eaters who are genuinely flabbergasted that I will not alternate between chicken nuggets, pancakes and macaroni and cheese for every meal. What can I say? I am the meanest Mom ever.

I, on the other hand, am a stubborn-ass who continues to try and make well-balanced, diverse meals, with the theory that they don’t have to like it, but they dang sure better try it. (Except the squash…my husband put his foot down on that, and said he would not punish his children in such a cruel manner….*sigh*)

As such, at least one, if not all these guys are less than enthusiastic come dinner time. I’ve accepted this fact…in a grumbly, passive-aggressive, eye-rolling kind of way.

I did have one meal experiment this week that was a definite victory in the husband department. I made this recipe from this month’s Better Homes & Gardens:

It is Chicken Enchilada Pasta. The recipe looked a little weird, and of course I had to tweak it for Captain Picky, but it definitely impressed my husband. After all, it is a meal of chicken, beans, pasta, well-hidden vegetables and a liberal sprinkling of Doritos. What’s not to like? Here’s the recipe:

Chicken Enchilada Pasta


Ingredients

  • 1  12-oz. pkg.  dried jumbo shell macaroni
  • 3  large  green and/or red sweet peppers, chopped
  • 1-1/2  cups  chopped red onion (I used yellow onions)
  • 1    fresh jalapeño chile pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 2  Tbsp.  vegetable oil
  • 2  cups  chopped cooked chicken (I used the grilled chicken breasts strips from the deli…it was a weeknight after all)
  • 1  16-oz. can  refried beans
  • 1/2  of a 1.25 oz. envelope  taco seasoning mix (3 Tbsp.)
  • 2  10-oz. cans  enchilada sauce
  • 1  8-oz. pkg.  shredded Mexican-style four-cheese blend
  • 1  cup  sliced green onions (Obviously left these out)
  • 2  cups  nacho cheese-flavored tortilla chips, crushed (2 oz.) (I used Baked Doritos in an effort to convince myself it was more healthy)
  •     Avocado dip and/or sour cream

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Cook pasta according to package directions; drain. Rinse; drain and set aside.

2. In skillet cook sweet peppers, onion, jalapeño, and 1/4 tsp. salt in hot oil over medium heat for 5 minutes or until tender. Stir in chicken, beans, taco seasoning mix, and 1/2 cup enchilada sauce. Cook and stir 5 minutes. Stir in 1/2 cup each of the cheese and green onions.

3. Divide filling among shells. Spread 1 cup of the remaining enchilada sauce in 3-quart rectangular baking dish. Arrange shells atop sauce. Drizzle with remaining enchilada sauce.

4. Bake, covered, for 30 minutes. Uncover; sprinkle with remaining cheese. Bake 5 minutes more or until cheese is melted. Sprinkle with chips and remaining green onions. Serve with avocado dip and/or sour cream. Makes 8 to 10 servings.

As I said, my husband loved this meal. As for my kids?

Well, I can’t win them all, I guess.

Holiday Planning: Nerdy? Yes. Unnecessary? Oh No.

Despite the obvious Halloween fever that is raging through our home, I still have an eye toward Christmas.

Am I that weird? No.

What I am is a woman with a fairly large family, and not a lot of money (especially in December). When my husband and I first got married, planning early for Christmas was a necessity. At that time, I spent all year catching sales at the craft stores, because I made a good chunk of the Christmas gifts for our extended family. By doing this, we were able to focus our holiday budget more on the kids and the big meals at our home. I’ve made TONS of gifts over the years, and in the coming weeks, I’ll share some of my favorites.

Before we get to gifts, let’s talk about planning. I used to scoff at people that actually had Christmas planners. That is, I scoffed until my Christmas stress hit Chernobyl-quality. Nothing sucks the fun out of the holidays like the last-minute shopping.

A couple of years ago, I finally broke down and tried to add a little organization to my holidays, because by the time I made and stored 20 gifts, I could not remember what I had done, or had left to do. I channeled my inner-nerd, and created a binder with a list of people, gifts, gift ideas, the location of gifts I had hidden, recipes I wanted to try, dinner menus, calenders, etc. Let me tell ya, after that Christmas, I was converted. Even as we shopped, my husband noticed how much more relaxed it was, because we already had a clear plan at our fingertips. We could instantly see who we already had gifts for, what they were, and had ideas already in place for those still left on our shopping list. By keeping that binder handy all year, I brought the fun back in my holidays.

Last year, I found this website:

http://christmas.organizedhome.com/printable/christmas-planner

And I was one happy Mama. Since I am not at all creative, and coming up with my own planner from scratch was too much work for me, this site was a very welcome discovery. It is full of printable planner pages. Some are actually part of a guided planning strategy from some organizational guru, while other are just handy and easy to mix and match. There are also printable divider pages, which is useful for me in separating gift stuff from food stuff.

I love the Master gift list:


This sheet is handy for an at-a-glance update when shopping, but I also save it year-to-year so I don’t do repeat gifts by mistake. However, I also use the gift idea pages to store more detailed info on each person, such as ideas and sizes:

There are dozens of pages for cleaning, decorating, cooking, etc. I was especially fond of this page, because I constantly find recipes I want to try, then subsequently forget about them with my goldfish-like memory:

By going through all of the possible pages on this site, I was able to customize a binder planner that had only what I needed in it.

So, yes, I may have become so neurotic that I actually need a Christmas planner, but as I bask in another year of stress-free holidays, I find I’m ok with that.

Halloween Lawn Silhouettes—Just One More Reason My Husband Wants a Moratorium On Magazine Purchasing

About a month ago, I was combing through magazines and saw this in Martha Stewart:

And this in Better Homes and Gardens:

These lawn silhouettes are made from plywood, and secured in the ground with some spare pipe (acting as a stake) and pipe fittings. Needless to say, my Halloween obsession demanded that we try this, and of course I roped my husband, my friend J, and her poor husband into helping. Several trips to Lowes and a bucket of cocktails later, we went to work on this project. The first challenge was figuring out how to get the pattern from the computer to the plywood, since none of us has any particularly descent artistic talent. My husband solved this issue by hooking up a projector to a laptop, and we were able to capture most of the images on the plywood, while free-handing the rest. I am sure an easier solution could have been found, but we just were not willing to expend that much mental effort into figuring one out.

Once we traced the images with a Sharpie, the guys grabbed their jigsaws and went to work cutting:

I got to supervise. I love it when he breaks out the power tools…

But I digress. Along with the witch, cats and lamppost, we also cut out several rats from templates we found in Better Homes and Gardens:

After all the plywood was cut, J and I painted everything with plain, old black exterior house paint. We later picked up the lanterns at Hobby Lobby, and by watching the sales, we purchased them for 50% off. To secure the witch and lamp post silhouette in the lawn, my husband cut some spare metal pipe with a hacksaw, so that a foot of pipe could be driven into the ground, with about three to four feet remaining above. Once he drove the pipe into the lawn with a sledge hammer (the ground was REALLY dry), he secured the larger silhouettes to the pipes with screws and pipe fittings. The cats and rats only needed some wood stakes screwed into the backs, since they are smaller and lower to the ground. The end result turned out great:

At night, the eyes of the cats and rats are lit with those little LED votive lights. We just stick the bulb through the eye holes and duct-tape the base to the back of the cutouts. We also got a small spot light that we staked into the ground behind the witch, so she is back-lit at night.

Overall, we really enjoyed this project. We definitely had some issues in the beginning, as we figured out the logistics of it, but we loved the end results. Now that we know how easy this is, I think we are all looking toward Christmas, and wondering what we can cook up. If you want to try this, both Martha Stewart and Better Homes and Gardens have the instructions on their websites.

Tell your husband I’m sorry.

Fall Baking Under the Influence: One-Bowl Pumpkin Bread for the Terminally Lazy

The past week as been a rough one, as my little boys gave me some germs that knocked me off my feet. I finally gave in on Friday and went to the doctor, where a Nurse Ratched wannabee stuck me full of needles with a smile on her wicked, wicked face. After a stern lecture from the doctor, and a pile of pharmaceuticals, I feel close to human again, though I swear my butt still hurts from too many shots. I am better not a second too soon, because Fall weather has finally arrived in Louisiana.

Obviously, as one sick mama, I was not up for too much in the way of Fall homemaking this weekend. However, I was able to make the first and most basic recipe in my autumn kitchen repertoire: Pumpkin Bread.

I found this pumpkin bread recipe years ago, and have tweaked with it over time because I thought the initial spice proportions needed some adjusting. It is a very basic recipe, but has remained a staple for two basic reasons: it can be made quickly, with ingredients I always have on hand anyway, and it only uses one mixing bowl, so I can whip it up without trashing my kitchen. Basically, this recipe gives me the warm-fuzzy feeling of satisfaction that comes from doing a little Fall baking, without the headache of washing 57 dishes before dinnertime.

Here are the players:

Just a little flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, baking soda, eggs, vegetable oil, canned pumpkin, ground cloves, ground cinnamon and grated nutmeg.

First, a word on the whole nutmeg thing: after watching entirely too much Food Network, I can safely say that Alton Brown has turned me into a fresh nutmeg convert. Freshly grated nutmeg tastes so much better than the pre-ground stuff, and once I realized how easy it was to do myself, I never looked back. While whole nutmegs used to be harder to find, McCormick now sells a jar of them in your everyday grocer’s spice section. Out of the jar, a whole nutmeg looks like this:

All you need to turn this little nut into a ground spice of happiness is a micro-plane grater, which is also useful for zesting any citrus fruit:

I always grate my nutmeg over a small bowl, for easy measuring later. Just rub the nutmeg steadily back and forth across the grater until you think you have enough of the good stuff for your recipe:

Return the unused nutmeg piece to the jar, where it will keep for a verrryyy long time. I’ve been working on the same jar for a year. Now that you see how easy that is, let’s get back to the Pumpkin Bread:

In a large bowl, I combined the flour, sugar, baking soda, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and baking powder. I gave it a quick stir:

And then added the “wet” ingredients, which were the eggs, vegetable oil and pumpkin:

I mixed this until it looked like a nice, uniform batter:

And poured it into two greased loaf pans:

I popped those into a 350 degree oven, and about an hour later, I was rewarded with these:

This bread is best served warm, with a little butter….or whatever else you want to throw at it.

So, to recap, for about five minutes worth of effort and only one dirty mixing bowl, I got two loaves of yummy Pumpkin Bread, and the satisfaction of baking something up to celebrate Fall without sending myself back into my sickbed. Not too shabby for baking under the influence…

Bayou-Mama’s One-Bowl Pumpkin Bread

  • 3 cups flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • ½ tsp. ground cloves
  • 1 ¼ tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 ¼ tsp. fresh grated nutmeg
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • ½ tsp. baking powder
  • 1 15-ounce can pumpkin puree (NOT pumpkin pie mix)
  • 2/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 3 eggs, slightly beaten

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease two regular loaf pans. In a large mixing bowl, combine first eight ingredients, stirring well. Add pumpkin, vegetable oil and eggs, and mix until well-blended. Divide batter evenly among the loaf pans, and bake for about an hour, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.