Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween and Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes

Halloween is up there along with my top three favorite holidays. In fact, it is this season that I love the most. It starts with a chilly October, when it finally feels like fall in Texas. I love to carve pumpkins, and decorate the house with fall-ish decor. This year however I was on the road so much with work that Halloween snuck up on me. There are no carved pumpkins on my doorstep, no toasted pumpkin seeds in my kitchen.

I got two things for Halloween this year. A sinus infection that I'm trying hard to keep from turning into strep throat, and these lovely flowers from my Jim. Thank you hunny!!

I have never seen a mum this color before. They are beautiful, and spooky, and the perfect gift to cheer me up while I lay on the couch with hot tea and lots of kleenex.

I probably will not go out tonight dressed up, but if I WERE to go out, I was planning on being a Japanese Geisha.

I found a wig that looked just like this gal's hair, with chopsticks criss-crossing in the back. I just love her makeup, and was hoping to do something similar with my MAC makeup.

Here is a pic of my dad vacationing in Japan.

Isn't she beautiful? I wanted to pretend to be her tonight, but instead I'm watching movies with my porch light off. (The universal sign to trick or treaters, "stay away.")

Many of you will dress up your kids and walk around your neighborhood or attend a Fall Carnival. Until we have kids of our own, Jim and I will torture our two dogs. Here is Cole, dressed as a chicken!

He really didn't mind the costume that much at all.

We found these dog costumes at Target, and originally planned to make Cole the shark, and Madeline the Chicken, but when we pulled them out of the shopping bag, Cole immediately lunged for the chicken we put it on him.

We tried to switch it up a little, Madeline did NOT like the headpiece, I had to hold her still in order for Jim to snap a quick picture - and their eyes look super spooky in this shot.

I think the chicken suite looks better on Cole.

Madeline was NOT having that head piece.

My baby boy! This is just the cutest costume!

Jim trying to get the headpiece on Madeline.

Oh my gosh, we laughed so hard at these two.

On to my Halloween treats! I found a great Pumpkin Spice Cupcake recipe on and what I loved most since this is a busy month for me, is that you start with yellow cake mix.

Here is what you need for quick and easy pumpkin spice cupcakes with cream cheese frosting:
Makes 24 cupcakes
Hands-On Time: 15m
Total Time: 40m

1 18.5-ounce box yellow cake mix (plus the ingredients called for in the package directions)
1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1 15-ounce can pumpkin puree
2 8-ounce bars cream cheese, at room temperature
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
24 pieces candy corn
Preheat oven to 350. Line two 12-cup muffin tins with paper liners.

Prepare the cake mix as directed but with the following change: Add the pumpkin pie spice and substitute the can of pumpkin puree for the water called for in the package directions.

Pumpkin pie spice.

Divide the batter among the prepared muffin tins and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean, 18 to 22 minutes.

Meanwhile, using an electric mixer, I beat the cream cheese and sugar until creamy. It's important for the cream cheese to be at room temperature for this to work.

My lovelies! Be sure to let these cool completely before icing.

Top each with a candy corn, orange sprinkles, or some other Fall decoration.

So easy, and VERY moist and delicious. I hope everyone has a Happy and Safe Halloween!!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Quick and Easy Homemade Strawberry Jam

Jim and I are buying more fresh fruit these days, but with all the traveling I have been doing Jim hasn't been able to eat the amount of fruit in the house. We had almost an entire pint of fresh strawberries that needed to be eaten or thrown out. Instead of tossing the fruit, I made a quick and simple Homemade Strawberry Jam.

Start by rinsing the fruit and then cutting the tops off each.

Blend all the strawberries either by pulsing in the cuisinart or place them on a sheet pan and squash with a potato masher. Blend until you have your desired consistency.

I don't exactly care for chunky jelly, so I blended this pretty good.

Add to a saucepan and place over medium heat.

Add about a teaspoon or so of lemon juice.

Add 1/2 cup of sugar. More or less to taste.

Stir to combine. The mixture will begin to boil at this point, continue to stir constantly.

A secret I learned from PW is to put a half pat of butter to the mixture to reduce the "foam" that builds on top.

Stir for an additional 10 minutes as the jelly bubbles violently.

Until it has thickened.

I poured this into a clean mason jar.

And let this sit on the counter until it had cooled to room temperature.

Mmmm... this is sweet and tart, and lovely spread on top of toast in the morning.

I've got in the habit of labeling everything in the fridge because all tupperware containers look the same after a week and it also wards off the "what's this?" question that I hear so often from the kitchen.

There are a lot of jelly recipes online, most using gelatin or pectin so that you can store the jam for a long time. But if you plan on using this up within a week or so, make it the easy way. Be a hero.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Thinking about Thanksgiving

How early do you start planning for Thanksgiving? It may just be my most favorite it because I get presents near Turkey Day because of my birthday...? Maybe. But there is just something special about this holiday that warms my heart, and my belly. My most favorite family recipe is my Grandmothers Stuffing, it is to die for.

While you begin planning for your Thanksgiving feast, let me point you towards a really great resource online. This Bon Appetit Thanksgiving Menu Generator is interactive and stuffed full of wonderful menus whether you are cooking for four or twelve.

This menu generator takes into account how much time you have to cook and what your personal style might be: Traditional, Fresh & Light, Modern, Sophisticated, Vegetarian, Affordable, or Global.

Here are some recipes I have ear-marked for either a 30th Birthday Dinner Party or a Thanksgiving Feast:

Crabmeat Crostini with Chives and Crème Fraiche. Créme Fraîche, the name alone makes me smile - but it is like sour cream really. The beauty of this recipe is that you can make the crab mixture ahead of time by mixing crab meat minced celery, green onions, chives, mayo, créme fraîche or sour cream, lemon juice and a dash of hot pepper sauce. Why not also toast the baguette slices. Then when party time rolls around, you are simply spooning crab onto toast points, adding some cheese on top and broiling in the oven. Easy Peasy!

Foie Gras-Stuffed Dates. Are you kidding me? These sound so divine, and easy to prepare. According to epicurious, you can use bloc de foie gras (imported from France in tins) or a slice of fresh foie gras pâté or mousse, sold at many specialty foods shops and cheese shops. This can be prepared up to 3 hours ahead of time, cover and chill until party time. I bet these go fast, I'm making a note to double the recipe.

Butternut Squash Soup with Cider Cream. Oh, how I love the addition of carrot, celery, leeks and GRANNY SMITH APPLES in this recipe. Soup is my preferred first course, I'm a lover of all things soup. This recipe is from November 1998 and the recipe I used last year was from December 1996. I can't wait to try this updated version.

Cornish Game Hens with Sweet-Potato Risotto and Cranberry Sauce. This sounds fancy but after reading the ingredients and directions, this is totally do-able. I just love love love Risotto, and in fact, I'm posting a vegetable risotto recipe next!

Cauliflower with Mustard-Lemon butter. This doesn't SOUND great, but then look at the photo. Total Yum! Speaking of cauliflower, I've been wanting to try my hand at swapping steamed and pureed cauliflower for mashed potatoes, any advice before I jump out and wing it?
Spiced Brandy Semifreddo with Cranberries. This one is a definite on my list. I love everything about this recipe, and especially that it can be served in small cups and with a small spoon. What is it with me and small spoons? I just melt over them.

And how is THIS for a finale? Frozen Pumpkin Mousse with Walnut-Toffee Crunch. With no pastry crust to wrangle, these luscious parfaits of pumpkin mousse and cream are easier to make than pumpkin pie. Epicurious suggests start making this dessert at least one day before you plan to serve it. Gosh, I hope it lasts that long in my house!

As you start thinking about Thanksgiving this year, take a look at the online menu planning help and I hope you too fall in love with some of the suggestions from Bon Appetit and Epicurious. Let me know what you decide to put on your Thanksgiving Menu this year.

Photos and recipes from