Halloween Treats for the Big Night

Halloween Treats for the Big Night

Tomorrow, I’ll share advice on a death by chocolate adult party plan — BUT THIS BLOG goes out to the parents who stay home on Halloween night to dole out the candy. Having been that parent many moons ago, I remember what made the night special and delicious. Buckle up, these recipes come with a story!

For twenty-five years, we lived in a small neighborhood across from the beach in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. It was filled with families and over-run with children. I dare say that the biggest community event held each year was the Halloween party. We gathered together in costumes, dispatching pizza and Gatorade into tiny mouths so that candy would be absorbed before bedtime.

We trudged through the neighborhood, hauling kids in wagons and greeting neighbors. It didn’t take me too long to figure out why I chose to be the designated stay-at-home parent on October 31. Well, someone has to hand out the candy! But no judgment, I refined my Halloween style in those years, and came up with these two tasty standbys – the ultimate in Halloween treats!

The process:

I filled a large tub with ice and submerged bottles of water to hand out to tired parents. Trick-or-treating is hard work! Then I started adding warm soup to the mix.

I kept the soup warm in my slow cooker, placed on a table by the front door. I ladled the soup into disposable coffee cups, and my fellow parents sipped and smiled. But it’s these sweet treats that really got the kiddos smiling!

Pumpkin brownies with cream cheese frosting are the bomb! The recipe is in my first book At Home in the Kitchen. You can still find a copy or two on-line or you can just email me for the recipe! This year I elevated those brownies to a whole new level by using Hocus Pocus sugar by Fancy Sprinkles. If you love to bake, check out these fancier than fancy sprinkles for your next holiday treat.

The combination of warm soup and sweet (and fancy) brownies lives on! Now I prepare them for my grandchildren and their parents (not yet for the whole neighborhood!). Here is my recipe for a tummy-warming, simple soup that will put a smile on your family faces – if you can see them from underneath their masks!

Butternut Squash Bisque

serves 6 to 8

40 minute cuisine

¼ cup olive oil

4 tablespoons butter, ½ stick

1 leek, tender part sliced

1 yellow onion, peeled and chopped

4 whole garlic cloves, peeled

1 (2 pound) butternut squash, peeled and chopped, about 5 to 6 cups

1 tablespoon Autumn Harvest spice blend (substitute with pumpkin pie spice)

1 tablespoon chili powder

1 teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon coarse black pepper

⅓ cup sherry

1 quart homemade chicken stock, or prepared low sodium broth

¾ cup heavy whipping cream

Heat the olive oil and butter in a large pot over medium high heat. Add the leek, onion and garlic to the pan and cook until the veggies are soft, about 10 minutes. Add the butternut squash. Season with spice blend, chili powder, some of the salt and pepper. Pour in the sherry and cook until most of the liquid is absorbed into the veggies. Pour in the stock. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until all of the veggies are very soft, about 20 minutes. Remove the pot form the heat. Use an immersion blender, food processor or blender to emulsify the soup. If you are using a blender or food processor, allow the soup to cool before pulsing… just to be safe! Return the pureed soup to the pot over low heat. Stir in the cream. Taste and season salt and pepper if needed.




Pumpkin Griddle Cakes with a Surprise Topping…

Pumpkin Griddle Cakes with a Surprise Topping…

This fall recipe really cheered me up. We had a rainy summer and a couple of she-devil hurricanes here in the mountains of North Carolina, and it all but killed the autumn leaves. Before they can turn golden, orange and red, they’re blown to the ground. This would be deeply upsetting, if it weren’t for the fact that apple trees LOVE rain!That’s the surprise on the side…warm, seasoned apples to eat with your pumpkin pancakes. Thanks to all the rain in the Blue Ridge Mountains, the apple crop this year is about as abundant as I’ve seen. The varieties are too numerous to taste, but I managed to grab several varieties of apple (and a hefty haul of pumpkins) at the farmer’s market this year.

And so begs the question: what to make?

I have made so many dishes that take advantage of pumpkin and apple. I’ve shared many of them with you. But, this one for pumpkin griddle cakes with sautéed apples – from my book Fresh Traditions: Classic Dishes for a Contemporary Lifestyle is a favorite.

Like all my best recipes, this breakfast comes from a childhood memory.

My grandmother, Mary Magner made flapjacks the size of a pie in a large cast-iron skillet every Sunday morning after church. She served them with rich maple syrup and spicy pork sausage. (please don’t ask me about the sausage…. I remember playing with da pigs….).

My other grammy, Marie Cohen, made delicious applesauce she served alongside her delicate potato pancakes, always dousing both with powdered sugar. The kicker was that potato pancakes were served for dinner! What a treat to happen upon the Sunday you ate flapjacks in the morning, and latkes at night. Those were the days.

Start the fall season with a brunch that features pumpkin pancakes.  Sugared apples make the dish even more festive.  If you are not counting calories, add a bowlful of whipped cream and a sprinkle of toasted nuts for an over-the-top garnish.

I bet your family will love it!!

Pumpkin Griddle Cakes with Sautéed Apples

Serves about 4 to 6 (about 12 4-inch pancakes)

30 minute cuisine

For apples:

4 tablespoons butter, ½ stick, divided

4 medium apples, peeled and thinly sliced, about 4 cups

3 tablespoons brown sugar

¾ teaspoon cinnamon

Juice of ½ medium lemon, about 1 tablespoon

For griddle cakes:

2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

½ cup granulated sugar

2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

1 cup canned pumpkin puree

3 large eggs

1 cup milk

2 tablespoons butter, melted

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a skillet over medium heat.  Cook the apples in the butter until soft, about 5 minutes.  Reduce heat to low.  Sprinkle the apples with brown sugar and cinnamon and cook for 2 minutes or until the apples are golden and syrupy.  Stir in the lemon juice.  Keep the apples warm.

Whisk together the flour, sugar, pumpkin pie spice, baking powder and salt together in a large bowl.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the pumpkin puree, eggs and milk.  Stir this mixture into the flour mixture to form a smooth batter.

Stir in 2 tablespoons melted butter.

Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons butter in a sauté pan or on a griddle over medium heat.  Ladle about ½ cup batter into the pan.  Continue layering to create as many cakes as you can without over-crowding the pan. You need room to flip! Cook until the top begins to bubble, about 2 to 3 minutes.  Flip and cook for 2 to 3 minutes more.  Serve the griddle cakes with a spoonful of syrupy sautéed apples.




Brownie Bars for Kiddos and Grandparents

Brownie Bars for Kiddos and Grandparents

Grandparents Day was just last weekend, and it got me thinking…what’s better than baking an ooey gooey cookie dough brownie bar? Answer: Cooking an ooey gooey cookie dough bar with your grandchildren! Not only is it fun to say, but the aroma, texture and taste speak for themselves. This is a good recipe for kids age 1 to 92! It’s a super easy dessert that you can make as a family, and because it’s got caramel, it helps you get into autumn mode.

Just look at the prep work in the photo above – it makes you want a candied apple, doesn’t it? Don’t worry…these brownie bars leave you want for nothing. It’ll make your house smell like a Kilwins ice cream and candy emporium, and we all know how much our grandkids love that!

Gather the kiddos for an afternoon of fun and make a batch of these bars to send home for their lunchboxes next week.



You can tell from this photo how easy it is to get this dessert rolling toward a mouthwatering finished product.

The delicious end result is the byproduct of the real fun – licking brownie bowls, chomping on cookie dough, and sticking sticky fingers into caramelly toffee.


Nana’s Caramel Toffee Cookie Dough Brownie Bars

makes about 24 bars

45 minutes of fun time

For caramel filling:

1 (11-ounce bag) caramels, unwrapped

1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk

4 tablespoons butter

For cookie dough:

2 ¼ cups unbleached all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup butter, 2 sticks

¾ cup brown sugar

½ cup granulated sugar

2 eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla

1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

1 cup caramel chips

For brownies:

1 (18.9 ounce) box brownie mix (let’s make this easy!)

Egg and oil for fudge-like brownies

Preheat the oven to 350°. Coat a 10 x 15-inch shallow baking dish with vegetable oil spray. Lay a sheet of parchment paper into the dish, allowing the edges to overlap. Spray the parchment paper. (For mile high bars, use a 9 x 13-inch glass baking dish.

Place the caramels, 4 tablespoons butter and sweetened condensed milk into a saucepan over medium-low heat. Stir until the caramels are melted and the mixture is smooth, about 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat.

Whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt. Use an electric mixer to combine 1 cup butter with the sugars until smooth and fluffy. Mix in the eggs and vanilla. Mix in the flour until just combined. Stir in the oats and chips.

Prepare the brownie batter according to the fudge-like directions on the package.

Spread the cookie dough batter over the bottom of the baking dish. Pour the melted caramel mixture over the dough. Pour the brownie batter over the caramel. Bake until the brownies begin to set, about 20 to 25 minutes. If you are using a glass baking dish, check the bars after 25 minutes. You may need 5 to 10 minutes additional baking time. Cool and cut into bars.


Jelly Donuts like Grandma Used to Make

Jelly Donuts like Grandma Used to Make

My Grammy made donuts once a year on Fat Tuesday. I remember them warm out of the fryer. They were dark brown; crunchy on the outside and cakey on the inside. I LOVED them! Over the years, I’ve experimented with all sorts of donuts. I’ve made maple donuts, pumpkin donuts, powdered sugar dusted donuts. Last fall, we enjoyed apple cider donut holes. Just last week, I saw a recipe for Paczki, which are Polish donuts, and it clicked!

These are the donuts my Polish Grammy made years and years ago.

As you can see, they are lightly fried, airy and puffy and filled with a bit of tangy jam on the inside. Once, I made them and bit into the donut, the sugary memories came rushing back. Grammy made these donuts first; then fried the scraps, which we grandkids ate as she kept frying. The jelly-filled ones were reserved for the grownups first, and then us hungry kids if there were leftovers.

It’s terrific when a memory from childhood is kindled from a bit of home cooking. I made these donuts and delivered them to all my friends in the neighborhood. I told them my Grammy’s donut story, and there were double smiles! Hope you enjoy them as much as we did!


Jelly Filled Donuts!

makes about 2 dozen

20 minute prep, 90 minutes to cut and rise, 10 minutes to fill

Serve these hot from the fryer and just cooled enough to fill with jam.

2 cups milk

4 ½ teaspoons active dry yeast

¾ cup natural cane sugar

5 to 6 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting work surface

4 eggs, plus one more egg yolk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 ½ teaspoons salt

4 tablespoons butter, melted, ½ stick

Vegetable oil for frying

Raspberry preserves for filling

Confectioners’ sugar for dusting

Warm the milk in a saucepan over medium heat until tiny bubbles form around the edges. Remove the pan from the heat, and pour the warm milk into the bowl of an electric mixer. Add the yeast and about ¼ teaspoon of the sugar. Stir once or twice. Let the yeast rest with the milk for about 5 to 10 minutes. After this, the mixture should look bubbly.

Stir in 2 cups of flour. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set in a warm place until the dough rises, about 30 minutes.

Whisk together the eggs and egg yolk in a bowl until they are pale and frothy. Whisk in the sugar, vanilla extract and salt.

Use a dough hook on your electric mixer to stir together the risen dough and the eggs. Stir in the melted butter. Stir in the 3 more cups of flour, one cup at a time. The dough will come together around the hook. You can add up to a cup more of flour, until the dough comes together. This dough is sticky, so it will be rather loose. Pour the dough into another bowl coated with vegetable oil spray. Spray one side of a piece of plastic wrap and place it, sprayed side down, onto the bowl. Keep the bowl (with the dough in it) in a warm place until it has doubled in size, about 1 hour.

Sprinkle your work surface and rolling pin with flour. Roll out the dough to about ½-inch thick. Use a 3-inch round cookie cutter to cut out the donuts. Place them onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Gather up the scraps and re-roll the dough until it’s all been used. Cover the donuts with sprayed plastic wrap and place into a warm spot until the doughnuts roughly double in size, about 30 minutes more.

Heat the oil to 350° in an electric fryer, or deep pot about ⅓ up the sides. The oil will expand as it heats and fries, so you don’t want too much oil in the pot. Lower 2 to 3 donuts into the oil, depending on the size of your pot. You want them to swim freely, not drown! The donuts will float on the top of the oil. When they are golden, use a slotted spoon to turn them over in the oil to brown on the other side. This only takes a few minutes. Transfer the donuts to a baking sheet lined with paper towels.

When they are cool enough to handle, use a squeeze bottle or long filling tip with a piping bag to gently squeeze a burst of jelly filling into the center of each donut. Sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar.

Cook’s Tip

Be inventive! You can fill these donuts with your favorite pastry cream, lemon curd, creamy peanut butter or chocolate hazelnut spread. It’s all yummy!


Summertime and the Cornbread Is Easy

Summertime and the Cornbread Is Easy

It’s summer travelin’ season. What I love about family road trips are the stops at the local restaurants. Sure, there are all the standard fast food fair to choose from, but what if you plot your trip so that you visit a couple of the back road diners? One of my dear friends did this last summer. She and her daughter traveled from South Florida to New Orleans, and visited restaurants that are off the beaten path as they drove. The idea is to make the drive your trip. It’s not about how you arrive… it’s about where you drive.

Those of you with young children, need not think about this version of a summer vacation until they are much older! However us retired folk, with the time to spend with a family member or two (even if it’s just a couple of close friends), may be interested in using vacation to see all the local shops and outdoor venues – and using these to inform our dining experiences!

This recipe is one that is inspired by a trip we took a couple of years ago. Four good pals and I drove from the mountains of North Carolina to the big city of Atlanta. We stopped at a local mom and pop diner for a late breakfast. Cornbread and soft-swirled cinnamon butter were on the menu. We ordered it to go, with hash and poached eggs. It was delish!

It’s a perfect make-ahead dish for your next overnight camping trip. If you like, you can spice it up with the addition of diced jalapeno pepper, a handful of cheddar cheese, and a dash of chili powder in the batter. Scallions, cooked bacon and molasses are equally FUN additions. However, you spike your cornbread, don’t you dare forget to slather it with this decadent cinnamon flavored butter!

Whatever your travel plans are for this summer… remember to be safe, create memories and stop to smell the bacon!

Corn Bread with Texas Roadhouse Cinnamon Butter
Servings: 6 to 8
30 minute cuisine

For cornbread:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal
¼ cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk
2 large eggs
4 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled to room temperature (1/2 stick)

For butter:
2 sticks butter, room temperature
¼ cup honey
¼ cup confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 400 °. Spray an 8 x 8 x 2-inch baking pan with vegetable oil spray.
Whisk together the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a bowl.
Whisk together the buttermilk and eggs in a separate bowl. Stir in the butter. Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until just combined. Pour the batter into the pan. Bake until the cornbread is golden on the top, and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 20 to 25 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.

Place the softened butter, honey, confectioners’ sugar and ground cinnamon into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse to combine. Transfer the butter to a small bowl.

While the cornbread is still warm, slather the top with cinnamon butter. Serve wedges of cornbread with additional butter on the side.

Best Salad…. Evah!

Best Salad…. Evah!

To prove it, I open with a photo of a nutritious rainbow on a cookie sheet. This dish is fun to work on with the grandkids, or as a solo project sometime when you want to make an extra healthy dinner. The recipe I’m about to share stands behind what I say on the Nana Network ALL THE TIME: “Eat a rainbow!” This is one of the best ways to do just that. The secret to perfectly roasted veggies, is to pre-cook them before you roast them. I use a microwave oven to do this, but placing the veggies into your steamer, or into boiling water and then an ice bath will work just as well. Cooking first guarantees that your roasted veggies will have a crunchy outside and a tender inside; the perfect bite!

Your veggies can grace any variety of lettuce or spinach you have on hand. There are so many robust winter varieties of lettuce, and Good Housekeeping has an excellent photo gallery of lettuces for the next prime pick at your local market.

But rainbows aside, I’ve always maintained that the real magic happens when it’s time to make the dressing. This recipe will leave you with extra dressing for salads throughout the week. I use Meyer lemons for an uber citrussy taste in this dish. These are becoming more readily available in your grocery store. They are slightly sweeter than regular lemons and add that little bit of tang needed to balance the heartiness of the veggies.

Use your favorite veggies to create a salad that your whole family will love – like I did here.

Roasted Veggie Winter Salad
With Meyer Lemon -Basil Vinaigrette
Serves a crowd
45 Minute Cuisine

For Roasted Vegetables:
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons Dijon style mustard
2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated, about ½ cup
3 whole beets, tops removed
1 bunch carrots, tops removed, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
12 new potatoes, cut into fourths
12 Brussels sprouts, cut in half
1 small butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes, about 3 cups
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon coarse black pepper

For salad:
1 large shallot, peeled and minced, about 2 tablespoons
1 tablespoon Dijon style mustard
Juice of 1 Meyer lemon, about ¼ cup
¼ cup white balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
½ cup olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped, fresh basil
Six cups lettuce or spinach
2 ounces Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled, about ½ cup

Preheat the oven to 400°. Wrap the beets in aluminum foil and place into the oven. Roast the beets until soft, about 45 minutes. Drizzle 2 tablespoons olive oil into a large baking sheet with rim. Smear the mustard into the bottom of the baking sheet. Add the Parmesan cheese to the baking dish. Place the carrots into a microwave safe bowl. Add two tablespoons water. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Microwave on high for 4 minutes. Drain the carrots and place into the baking sheet. Repeat with the potatoes, Brussels sprouts and butternut squash. Use your hands to coat the vegies with the seasonings in the bottom of the baking sheet. Season with some of the salt and pepper. Roast until the vegetables are just beginning to turn golden, about 20 minutes. You can use a spatula to flip the veggies about halfway through cooking, if you like, but it’s not necessary. Remove the beets from the oven and cool. Peel the beets and cut into 1-inch pieces.

Place the shallots into a small bowl. Add the Dijon mustard, lemon juice, balsamic vinegar and honey. Drizzle in the oil, whisking to combine. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Whisk in the basil.

Lay the lettuce into a shallow bowl. Pour just enough vinaigrette over the leaves to just moisten them (don’t drown your lettuce!) Place the roasted veggies on top of the lettuce. Sprinkle the Gorgonzola cheese over top. Drizzle a little more vinaigrette over the top.