Sunday, October 31, 2010

Pie Month - Pumpkin (Whoopie) Pies

Happy Halloween! How are you enjoying this weekend? Are you out on the town or stuck at the house handing out candy to the trick or treaters? I'm making another batch of Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies which got me thinking to posting another recent pumpkin-y recipe to share.

So technically I already wrote about Pumpkin Whoopie Pies in my Harvest Party post, but I had to make sure I entered it for the record as entry #2 for my Pie Month goal. Plus they were just so good, why not write about them twice? 

I started searching for pumpkin pie recipes via and my eyes drifted towards the whoopie pie entries. Although they are more cookie than pie in my eyes, I still think they count towards the goal. And by taste standards I think I received a resounding "yes, you made the right choice!" from the guests that night.

The recipe itself is actually very easy - similar to that Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies recipe I shared last year, except with cream cheese goodness on the inside. I followed the comments from the recipe and chose to cut down on the butter and increase the cream cheese for the filling. "Reduce the butter" seems to be a common thread in all of the comments throughout Hmm, interesting. 

Pumpkin Whoopie Pies
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature, lightly beaten
1 cup pumpkin
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Cream Cheese Filling:
6 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
4 tablespoons butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar

For cookies: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease baking sheets. Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger and salt in medium bowl. Beat butter and sugar in large mixer bowl on medium speed. Add eggs, beating well after each. Add pumpkin and vanilla; beat until smooth. Mix in flour mixture. Drop by teaspoons onto prepared baking sheets. Bake for 10 to 13 minutes or until springy to the touch. Cool on baking sheets for 5 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely.

For cream cheese filling: Beat cream cheese, butter and vanilla extract in small mixer bowl on medium speed until fluffy. Gradually beat in powdered sugar until light and fluffy.

Spread filling onto flat side of one cookie; top with flat side of second cookie to make a sandwich. Repeat with remaining cookies and filling. Store in covered container in refrigerator.

I'm very happy I invested in a cookie scoop - makes oddly-shaped cookies a thing of the past. I own a tablespoon sized version so I only filled it about half way to make each of these guys. 
You just know I had to resist naming the post "Makin' Whoopie." That has to be the name of every single whoopie pie bakery there is, right? I started out with"Whoopie Goldberg," but just couldn't get it to work.

I better start thinking now of a pun-tastic title for the next Pie Month entry. . . 

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

October Days: Martha Challenge Part 2

After the easy-peasy Glittered Pumpkin project, I thought I'd take on another Martha Stewart Challenge. This time I saved a couple jars from the recycle bin and made glass jack-o-lanterns. Check out her version in her Halloween Crafts slideshow here. 
The instructions called for oil-based paint and I only had my acrylic paints, so I'm not sure if I could have made the painting process easier on myself, but it took about a hundred coats (slight exaggeration) to get the paint to stick to the inside of the jars and not be too streaky. Soon enough though, an opaque look started to form and the once transparent jars were now an autumnal orange.
Applying masking tape or even address labels to one side of the jar, I used a pencil to draw a face and an x-acto knife to slice out the shapes. Black paint covered the areas and once dried the sticky tape or label was peeled off revealing a little black pumpkin face.
I had the grand idea to use the bigger jar as a vase and it wasn't until I already had it filled with water that I realized I hadn't quite thought through it. Since the paint was on the inside, the water started to deteriorate its hold on the glass and warped the look. Lesson learned.

Monday, October 25, 2010

October Days - 2nd Annual Harvest Party

Fall weather means it is time for our 2nd Annual Harvest Dinner Party! Last year we gathered friends together at our house for an autumn-themed meal and game night. Read all about it and grab recipes here.

This past weekend, we had a dozen people at the house for an overstuffed menu of appetizers and dinner, seasonal ales and Apples to Apples. We love to entertain and it was 
fun to make a real meal as opposed to just a smattering of appetizers for the bigger open house style parties.

Even before finalizing the menu, we faced the challenge of where to put everybody. Balancing plates of food and bowls of soup on one's lap does not sound fun so we looked to additional seating beyond our four person table. We ended up pushing the couch back against the wall to open up the living room area and dragged in our outdoor table and chairs. Bringing in a few chairs from other parts of the house allowed us to find a seat for everybody at the tables.

Bonus: check out the reflection of my decorative mirror on the other side of the wall that makes bat and moon shadows - cool!
I actually liked how the wood table fit in with the "fall theme." Our centerpiece was made up of real and fake pumpkins and flowers in fall colors. I also added two buckets filled with corks. One of my Martha Stewart projects for the year included painting the insides of jars to give them an opaque look and then adding a jack-o-lantern face to the front. Of course, I wasn't thinking when I decided to make a vase out of one of them - adding water warped the paint job a bit, but it held together for the night! I filled the other jar with tissue paper halfway up and then halloween candies the rest of the way to an overflowing top.
We had to find a way to best last year's soup serving bowl carved out of a pumpkin. This time around we cut the top off of a very rounded pumpkin and hollowed it out to create a cooler. I lined it with a plastic bag before adding ice so that it did not get too water logged over the course of the evening. Bob used an X-acto knife to carve "ICE COLD DRINKS" and embellishments to the cooler.
Food-wise we'll start with the appetizers. I tried to keep these simple since we had a big meal ahead of us.

Baked Brie

I know you can make these yourself, but I wanted to go the store bought route to plan one less thing to make the day of the party. Although I first had planned on finding one with fruit on the inside as well, we ended up just going with the original. Even though we got the larger wheel, it still disappeared in record time. Perhaps we'll plan on two varieties next year!
Caramel with Pear and Apple Dippers
Exactly what it sounds like, I picked up store-bought caramel dip and threw it in a small fondue pot to keep it warm. Apple and Pear slices on the tray next to it. Delish.
Coffin Crunchers
We received a kids-themed halloween cookbook as a gift this year - leafing through the pagest these homemade crackers sounded easy enough to try! All you have to do is cut pita bread into the shapes you want, brush them with a little olive oil and sprinkle with italian seasoning and grated Parmesan. 
Bake for about 10 minutes or until crispy. We set out hummus and marinara sauce for dipping.
The invitation instructed to "Bring Your Own Seasonal Ale." We had a great supply of Oktoberfest and Fall brews on hand throughout the night. I also couldn't resist buying bottles of Mexican Pepsi at the store that morning - made with real sugar, the Mexican Cokes and Pepsis are amazing. I saved the bottles and am picturing some sort of whimsical flower vase display.
I also stole an idea from a party we were recently at and filled our crockpot with apple cider. I stuck whole cloves in a couple oranges to add some flavor to the cider as it warmed on a low setting throughout the afternoon and evening. Best web site tip I found for these - use a fork to pierce the orange first to have four ready made holes for the cloves. Trying to punch through the orange peel with just the clove tends to break the heads from the pressure. Add a little rum and you've got a tasty cocktail - albeit one that might make you want to curl up on the couch and take a nap.
On to the dinner menu. . .

I try to plan ahead so I don't make myself crazy the day of the party. This meant making the desserts earlier in the week and vowing not to eat them all up before Saturday, and making the soup a day ahead of time and just heating on the stove top as we are preparing to eat.

Butternut Squash and Pear soup

Trying to find a new spin on last year's Curried Squash soup, I landed on this recipe from Food Network that includes pears. After all of the dicing and chopping, it was actually very easy to make. 
Personally, I prefer creamy soups as opposed to grainy so I wasn't as won over as some of our guests, but it still had a good taste.

Serves 4-6 (I doubled the recipe and made two batches)
4 Tbs butter
2 medium onions, diced
1 butternut squash peeled, seeded and cut into 1 inch pieces.
4 pears, peeled and chopped into 1 inch pieces
1 quart chicken stock
1 sprig rosemary
Heavy cream
Salt and pepper

Cut squash in half length-wise and place facedown on greased baking sheet. Roast in oven at 350 for 30-40 minutes to make dicing easier. Melt butter over medium-high heat in large saucepan. Add the onions and stir for a couple minutes. Add squash and pears, mix. Pour in chicken stock, enough to cover. Add a sprig of rosemary and bring to a simmer about 18 to 20 minutes. Remove rosemary. Puree in blender. Add cream to liking and season to taste.
Arugula Salad
Less a recipe and more just a mixture of ingredients, we picked up a couple bins of ready to eat arugula and added goat cheese crumbles, walnuts and a mustard vinaigrette. Great flavors! The next night we made a salad with the same vinaigrette but used blue cheese crumbles and romaine lettuce.

Mustard Vinaigrette

1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1 Tbs honey
1 Tbs Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp pepper
2 tsp salt
2 tsp minced garlic
1 cup vegetable oil

Mix all ingredients and chill until serving. Shake before pouring.

Creamy Brussels Sprouts
A Thanksgiving staple at my parents' house, I wrote up the recipe for the Brussels Sprouts dish last year. I still need a try or two to perfect this - I couldn't seem to get the chicken broth or cream to absorb as much as the recipe stated. Maybe I didn't leave it on the stove top long enough? Either way, the grated parmesan in the mixture and on top add a lot to the greens!
Rosemary Lemon Chicken
Bob tackled the chicken on the grill which actually worked out very well - while I was using up the stove top for soup and the oven for Brussels Sprouts he was out on the balcony with the main course.

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup fresh rosemary
3 cloves garlic
1 lemon zested
1/4 cup lemon juice
6 chicken breast halves

Blend butter, rosemary and garlic with lemon zest and juice. Pour 1/3 into bowl. Lightly season chicken with salt and pepper, rub with marinade. Put in fridge for 3 hours. High heat on grill 4 minutes per side. Serve with leftover marinade.

Can't forget about Dessert!

Pumpkin Whoopie Pies
A cross over post with my Pie Month goal. I was all set to whip up a couple pumpkin pies and serve them with homemade whipped cream but as I was searching through to find a creative pumpkin pie recipe I spied this one. I had heard of whoopie pies but had not had them before. Oh. My. God. They turned out beautifully! I will be writing about these in more detail in my next Pie Month post, so for now will just leave you with a photo and link to recipe.

I have to say this is probably the most appetizing food shot I've ever taken - needless to say they were all gone within an hour of setting out.

Zucchini Bread
Growing up we always seemed to have zucchini bread on hand, and I have a soft spot for the dish. Perfect for breakfasts, snacks or dessert and so easy to make! I had some grated zucchini in the freezer from a few that I had gotten from my parents' garden last month. These are great to freeze - I made them almost a week ahead of time, left one out for Bob and I to enjoy and pulled the other out of the freezer the day before the party.

Makes 2.
3 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
2 cups white sugar
2 cups grated zucchini
2 tsp vanilla
3 cups flour
3 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt


1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup flour
1 Tbs butter
1 tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 325. Grease and flour loaf pans. In a large bowl, beat eggs until light and frothy. Mix in oil and sugar. Stir in zucchini and vanilla. Combine flour, cinnamon, soda, baking powder and salt. Stir into egg mixture. Divide batter into prepared pan. Mix crust ingredients together and crumble on top of batter. Bake for 60-70 minutes or until done.

Whew! We were all pretty stuffed by the end of the meal and a big game of Apples to Apples. I'd call it a success! Until next year. . .

Thursday, October 21, 2010

It Has Got to Go

Last weekend's balcony clean up included digging up the flowers, breaking down the dying tomato plants and stacking up the now empty planters in the corner. 

Our eyes fell upon our outdoor table that was never meant for the outdoors. It was Bob's wooden TV stand at his old place, I believe he found it on the side of the road so obviously there was a lot of sentimentality there. I didn't think it would make the move but it actually worked pretty well as a table to store some of our herbs and other gardening supplies on the bottom shelf. Sure, it had seen better days, but it fit our needs.
However, after a year and a half on our balcony and countless rain and snow storms to contend with, this little table has taken the distressed look a bit too far. 
Poor little guy. . .get thee to a dumpster!
What we will do next summer for a corner table on our balcony remains to be seen, but perhaps this time around we will actually buy a table that is meant to withstand the elements!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

October Days - Martha Challenge Part 1

When it comes to holiday inspiration, you've got to hand it to Ms. Martha. I've cribbed many an idea from her web site and magazine over the years. I decided to try a craft challenge by picking at least three of her Halloween projects and trying them out to see how well they work in the real world.

I kicked things off this weekend with her "Glittered Pumpkin" project.

Picking up a perfectly shaped small pumpkin, I got out the supplies: orange hued glitter I already owned and my Martha Stewart brand Glitter Glue with applicator brush.
Using a plastic plate to catch the excess glitter, I applied glue to half the pumpkin and poured glitter to coat, shaking off the excess..
After only a few minutes the project came to a close. So easy! The original instructions say to paint the stem a dark brown to keep it longer, but I didn't see the need. I want to do another one, but the only other glitter color I have is turquoise and am not sure how that would end up looking!

Here you can see that I propped the glitter-ized pumpkin up on one of our black candlesticks in my pumpkin patch scene.
And a close up view. . . (psst. wanna see how I made that mirror? Check out this post.)
Stay tuned for the next project - accomplished on a Monday off that I spent watching Gilmore Girls and making zucchini bread. Don't you love fall? 

Monday, October 18, 2010

Pie Month - Apple a Day

Pie Month: My goal of making at least 4 pies from scratch in the month of October. 

Pie Month kicked off with the inevitable apple pie - after all, I had picked up about 15 at the Long Grove Apple Fest the previous weekend and needed to use some of them up!
I like to browse through the highest rated recipes on and maybe add a google search in to find the perfect mixture. I think I found it after trying out a mix taken mostly from this recipe.
As far as crust, I had grand plans to make my own and was moving forward fine and dandy with two balls of dough - one for the bottom layer and one for over the top (brushed with egg whites and sprinkled with sugar for the perfect flaky top). However, I then realized the pie plate I had was larger than a 9" so I would not have enough crust to split between the bottom and the top. With a leftover frozen pie crust in the freezer from when we made Quiche Lorraine earlier in the week, I made a pie hybrid (piebrid) with store bought crust for the bottom layer and my own rolled out concoction laid over the top. 
As you can see, I have a little ways to go when it comes to perfecting the look of the top - looking a bit rough around the edges, Lydia. . .
Ahh well, it still tasted delish! Time to brainstorm the next pie - I'll be making pumpkin for our upcoming 2nd Annual Harvest Party but hoping to find something a little more creative than the recipe on the back of the Libby's Canned Pumpkin.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

October Days - Buggin' Out

When it comes to Halloween, I typically decorate in the "harvest" fashion as opposed to the "horror" fashion. Meaning: I'd rather have pumpkins and fall leaves around the house, not bloody body parts and skeleton bones.

However, page 2 of my silhouette pumpkin transfers I picked up from my BFF Martha contained a couple dozen BUGS! What was in the world was I going to do with these?

I decided to make a mini-specimen table using the paper bugs and plastic spiders I already had. The idea came by accidentally placing the plastic lid to an ornament container over one of the spiders - it instantly resembled a lab petri dish! I played around with the other transparent containers I had and think the 6 piece votive candle lid worked splendidly to show off a bunch of the little guys.
 A few escaped bugs and spiders creep around the table and up a white candle (displaced from its usual dining room centerpiece by a bunch of gourds). If you are looking at the photos throughout this post and saying, "hey these don't exactly fit together. . ." it's because I was taking pictures while I was still in process so some items ended up getting shifted around. Like, replacing the cat-face bucket full of wine corks with the decorated candle. 
I honestly can't remember where this mini-mummy came from - some sort of shrinky dink. His natural "put your hands up" pose and frightened eyes made him perfect to glue against a cylindrical cell. Trapped with over-sized insects, poor little guy!
The whole crew sits on a white tray from CB2 I stole from our bedroom organization table. I thought I might be able to use some dark fabric underneath at first, but the stark white of the table really helped to add to the "Lab Vibe." 

Martha uses the same bug motif for some of her Halloween-themed paper and I made sure to snag a 5x7 piece from my sister's collection. The page fits into an unused photo frame that went up with sticky Command strips to finish the scene.

Rounding out the table is a wine bottle we already owned that happened to have a spooky label - the scene does sit atop our wine cabinet after all - and a hurricane filled with "eyeball" chocolates. The candle and white rocks in the hurricane helps fill the inside space and make it look fuller. Of course, Bob keeps stealing a few here and there so it is slowly going down. Or maybe it's the work of a ghost. . .
In another part of the living room, I re-employed a trick from last year that I learned from Take the dust jackets off books with ominous titles and stack them up. So here we have my little costumed kitty sitting atop Sin in the Second City, Hannibal Rising and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. I also had a random piece of witchy fabric leftover from a quilt my aunt made that I stuck in a frame.
So there's how I spookified my house, if just a little bit, this year! What types of decor do you like best?

For a few more "specimen" table ideas, check out Martha's site (how many times am I going to cite this woman during my decorating campaigns? Quite a bit.)
- Potions Display
- Specimen Jars
- Specimen Candles

Monday, October 11, 2010

October Days - Apple Fest '10

Third year in a row for a trek to Long Grove, Illinois - an idyllic little Chicago suburb - for Apple Fest! I wrote about our experiences at Strawberry Fest a few months back. Apple Fest is basically the same event times 50. The place was packed, a mad scramble for the best apples, a fight to the finish for the Galena Stand's salsas and mustard and a line around the block (literally) for the Donuts and Pies from the Apple Haus.
We went in with a plan and split up to make the most of it. Of course, we couldn't beat the announcement that they had sold out of large pies. It probably didn't help that we went only a couple hours before closing on the last day.
Success! Our bags are filled up with apple cider jugs, mini-pies and apple cider donuts. Bob also had a specialty caramel apple impulse buy - white chocolate rolled in cinnamon over a tart green apple. Wow. 
Mmmm. . .Donuts.
 Onto the Galena Canning Company tent for some salad dressing and hot mustard. The samples all the way around the stand beckon you to try everything.
There also has to be a stop at the Mill Pond shops for some new Halloween Decorations. Each year my sister and I pick up one or two to add to our respective collections. The new witch works great with the little friends I already have displayed! If you are wondering why we have a headless ghost, let's just say my sister's dog dug through some layers of tissue paper to attack last year's purchase. You can buy heads as ornaments which worked out great for a replacement, but I failed to re-attach to the coil spring sticking out of his neck. Luckily, the spooky headless quality sort of works in our favor when it comes to Halloween decorating.
Then we have to head to what we're all here for. . .the apples! My "Pie Month" goal isn't going to happen all on its own - time to pick up some supplies. We split a peck (as many as you can fit in the bag) and my sister got another dozen or so for some homemade applesauce. So easy with a food processor!
I also picked up a half dozen gourds for $2 to create a fall centerpiece.
We really were in and out this year - the throngs of people in the crowd and the late hour we made it to the fest didn't allow us to stay long. Next year maybe we'll plan better, but if this event gets any bigger we might find ourselves in the Apple Pie line the entire day!

Friday, October 8, 2010

October Days - Mirror Images

As a continuation of my Halloween Decorating posts, I thought I would share how I turned a $5 Target mirror into a spooky backdrop for one of my display areas.

I got the idea after picking up some Pumpkin Transfers from Martha Stewart's Halloween line at Jo-Ann Fabrics. I bought the set of bats and bugs thinking that they were silhouette stickers, later realizing that they were meant to tattoo onto pumpkins. For some reason I don't believe they would work as cleanly as they seemed to on the label, so I tried to come up with a different way to use them. Another one of her products featured silhouetted vampires on vintage mirrors so I thought I would combine the two ideas.
I had the grand plan all set: I would find a bushel full of distressed, vintage mirrors at only a $1 a pop, paint them black and fill the mirrors up with bats. Alas, my trips to the thrift store came up empty - a whole lotta crappy picture frames and a couple unusable 2" mirrors. A trip to Target though, turned my frown upside down. For $5, I picked up a good size square mirror.

Gratuitous ceiling shot!
Next step was painting it - our regular orange was a bit too day-glo, a bit too cartoonish, so I went with red-orange. Covering the glass with newspaper to protect it only worked somewhat - luckily taking a knife to the mirror after the paint dries scrapes it right off.
Using glue dots, I attached the silhouetted bats and moon, added with a Haunted House die cut I picked up at a scrapbooking store. At first I didn't like that the bats had a white outline, but after getting them affixed I have to admit it really makes them pop out. Something else that pops out in this photo? The white inside edges of the mirror I neglected to paint! I swear it doesn't look that horrible in real life, but it does make me see I might need a touch up.
Instead of punching holes in the wall by nailing the mirror up, I used Command strips instead. So far so good, but you'll have to wait until the next decorating post to see how the whole pumpkin patch scene plays out. . .oh dear, I've said too much already. . .