Monthly Archives: October 2012

‘Spider Cake’ and ‘Spider Eggs’ for Halloween

I had fun Saturday.  OK, most days I have fun when it comes to making food, especially when I get to make food to share.   But Saturday I made a Spider Cake and Spider Eggs and took them to a Halloween Party at a local bar.   And since they had a contest going, well, I just could not resist, I had to make something.   And what better thing to make for Halloween than a ‘Spider’ Cake.    AKA Bologna Cake.

Bologna Slices spread with Cream Cheese mixture.


 After it was frosted with the Cream Cheese mixture I piped some cheese onto it in the shape of a spider web.   I actually used the cheese in the can and put it into a piping bag with a small tip.  Otherwise you would get a ‘star’ shape on there.

After making a ‘web’ all over the cake I had fun.   I made some spiders out of Black Olives.  For the cake I used Jumbo Olives, cut each one in half, then made ‘legs’ out of the other half.  You can get about 6 legs out of each half.   And if you mess up some of the cuts, well, no one’s looking if you happen to pop them into your mouth.  Aw, heck with it, pop a whole one in there, live dangerously.

Place one Momma Spider on the top of the cake, using a quarter of a smaller black olive for the head and then have some spiders crawling up the cake.  Have fun.

See what I mean, fun.   Don’t they look nice and creepy?

The finished platter.    I used smaller olives for the eggs, cause the Jumbo ones were too large.

Use your imagination, have fun with it.  I did.
Oh and by the way, I won first prize with this.

You can customize this for any special occasion.

Here’s the recipe:

Bologna Cake

Oscar Mayer Bologna, 12 oz package
2 –  8 oz. packages of cream cheese (use the leftover cream cheese and put into Deviled Eggs)
1 package of dry Ranch dressing
1 8oz can Aerosol Cheese, Sharp Cheddar
Buttery Crackers for putting it on.

I used the whole package of ranch dressing to 2 packages of cream cheese (what you don’t use on the cake is great on crackers the next day.)
Just spread the cream cheese, about a tablespoon or so, on each layer of bologna and continue till you’ve used up the whole package. I think it is important here to have the bologna in as uniform slices as possible, it makes for a very nice presentation.    Then ‘frost’ the cake with more of the cream cheese and decorate with the aerosol cheese, (it comes with a handy star tip).


Crunchy Eyeballs, Mice and Eyeball Stew for Halloween

It’s almost Halloween again, and I can’t wait.   This year I’ve got invites to several places for Halloween and it’s going to be hard to figure out how many places I can get to in a single evening.

So I thought I would share a few ideas of fun things to make and bring if you’re going to a Halloween party this year.

One of my all time faves, Eyeballs, so simple to make and fun to eat.  All you really need is white chocolate for dipping, some red food coloring, some blue candies and oh yeah, the basis of the eyeball, a donut hole.
Dip the doughnut hole in some white chocolate, let it drip off for a second or three, then place a blue or green candy in the middle, and draw some red lines around it with a toothpick dipped in red food coloring.   Simple, fun and delicious.


Or how about some Mice?   Get yourself some Hershey kisses, sliced almonds, marashino cherries with the stems on and some good dipping chocolate.   Dip the cherry in the melted chocolate, stick the Hershey kiss on the end and a couple of slices of almonds for the ears, and if you want a drop or two of red frosting for the eyes.   Kids love this one.   (and they taste good too).

Last week a guest brought these Deviled Eggs decorated with black olive ‘Spiders’.

Decorate up a Bologna Cake with Halloween colors.   Use the canned cheese for orange, make some spiders out of black olives to crawl over the cake, you use your imagination.   Plus, it’s just plain fun to go to a party with a pretty looking ‘cake’ and have people cut into it and get surprised that it’s not a sweet at all.

And last but not least, a main dish you can bring. Click here for the  Eyeball Stew recipe.   You can use boiler onions for the ‘eyes’ and if you want you can even put some small smoked sausages in there for the ‘fingers’

Mushroom and Onion Tart with Goat Cheese

I had fun making stuff for Saturday’s Tapas get together, but I just couldn’t make up my mind just what I wanted to make so I ended up with a couple of different dishes.    All right, I made four separate appetizers, sigh.
This one though was a big hit, and I loved it.   Onion and Mushroom Tart with Goat Cheese.  And I will make it again, and again and again.

I was just lucky I actually got to taste it, it disappeared so fast.   And this is so easy to make.  I mean, easy,  5 ingredients easy.  Onions, mushrooms, thyme, puff pastry and goat cheese.

To start with, take your puff pastry sheets out of the freezer and place in the fridge.   I like them to thaw in the fridge for a couple of hours, before taking them out and letting them finish thawing on the counter.   Cause if your kitchen is too warm, the pastry gets warm and it just doesn’t rise.   Now if you’re crazy like me, and make your own puff pastry, you’ll have some already in the fridge or freezer waiting for you.  Although I didn’t have any made up, I just used Pepperidge Farms Puff Pastry Sheets.   And they do work well.
Next up, cut some onions up, and cook them slowly and gently in some EVOO until they are nice and brown and caramelized.   I love slowly cooked onions.  If you have some fresh thyme, strip off a couple of sprigs and sprinkle the leaves over the onions and let them cook a minute or so more.  Or just sprinkle in about a half teaspoon of thyme and stir that in.  Remove the onions to a separate bowl while you cook the mushrooms.   Let them cook until the liquid has evaporated then add the onions back in to the pan, sauté them a little more and set aside to cool.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Pull out the puff pastry sheet and fold over the edges to make a pretty border, and also to be able to contain the onion/mushroom mixture.    Place the mushroom onion mixture in the middle of the tart and spread out evenly.

Bake for 25 minutes, or until the edges of the tart are nice and brown.

Take out and let cool just a little before dotting the top with some goat cheese.   You can make this earlier and just warm it a little in the oven before serving by the way.

Cut into pieces, and stand back cause your guests are going to love this, and will be trying to get just a taste before you get it on a platter.    I put this plate down and before I could get back to it with the camera, there were pieces missing.  But it’s all good.  And very tasty, and best of all easy.

Mushroom and Onion Tart

2 onions, sliced thinly, I used sweet onions
8 oz. sliced mushrooms
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
2 oz. block goat cheese
1 sheet frozen puff pastry
1-2 tablespoons EVOO

Heat a good sauté pan with one tablespoon of EVOO and add the sliced onions, cooking them over a low heat for about 20-25 minutes.   Stirring from time to time.  Slow cooking means that the sugar really comes out in the onions.  You want them a nice golden color. Add the thyme in the last few minutes.   Remove to a separate bowl, and sauté the mushrooms in an extra tablespoon of EVOO until they have released their liquid and then add the onions back in.  Continue to cook until all the liquid has evaporated, then take the pan off of the heat and let them cool.
Turn oven on to 350 degrees to preheat.

Prepare the puff pastry sheet as per instructions, and then make a lip around the edges of the sheet by folding the puff pastry over just a little.  (I forgot to take pictures, again).   Place the mushroom/onion mixture in the middle and spread out.   Place in the preheated oven and cook for about 25 minutes or until the edges are a nice golden color.   Take out and let cool for just a couple of minutes before dotting the tart with some of the goat cheese.   Cut and serve immediately or you could also let it cool, and then warm it a little before serving.    This really is very tasty.

Stuffed Grape Leaves, Syrian Style

I’m so excited, I’m going to learn how to make Stuffed Grape Leaves, giggle.  Now these aren’t Dolmathes, the greek style Dolma, these are Syrian style.   And I’m just lucky enough to have a friend who asked me if I was interested in making some with her.   I couldn’t believe my ears, someone asked me if she could come over and make something with me in the kitchen.  I love it.  And especially since I get to make something I’ve never made before.  I’ve had Dolmathes, and they were good, but these are a little different, a different riff if you will.  (very suitable for me to say this, since it’s a musician who will be showing me some new notes in my kitchen).   Oh and another friend is coming over to make Baklava as well.   How lucky can I get?   Sorry, bursting out with big grins here from excitement.   I’ve had Robin’s Baklava before and I know how additive it can be.   And now I’ll learn how to make it as well.  But that will have to be a separate post.

I wrote the above last week when I was all excited.   Now that the big day has come and gone, well, all I can say is I had so much fun.    Debi Jordan is my musician friend ( Shameless plug for her music here) and I gotta say she rocks it in the kitchen and is welcome any time she wants to come on over and cook with me.   Especially when I can expand my repertoire a little.

Now, you will have to bear with me, cause nothing got measured out, so a lot of it was ‘eyeballed’ and a smidge and a dash and some of this and some of that.  But I can guesstimate pretty well so…   I also did a little shopping and picked up a jar of grape leaves as well as a couple of other things.   We didn’t use the couscous, but I can use that when I make some Tabbouli again.

Debi cutting up onions, she already has the grape leaves spread out

To make the stuffed grape leaves you need grape leaves, and they come in a jar.  Debi prefers Orlando Brand, California style.  I also picked up a jar just in case, but we had more than enough and we didn’t get a count on just many of those little suckers we rolled.   There are a few things you need to know about grape leaves, one is that you must remove them from the jar and gently flatten them onto a plate so they can relax a little and unfurl.   Another thing to know is that there is a right and a wrong side on grape leaves.  You always put the meat or rice on the inside of the leaf, where the main veins are.  The smooth side is always out.   Another tip, you nip off the end of the stems as you don’t want them inside.   All that being said, let’s get on with it.

I ground up some lamb and some beef.   There was about three pounds total.

I love my KitchenAid, it does so much for me.

Put that in a big bowl and Debi added some rice and seasoning.   There is the other thing, she used a spice mixture called Syrian Pepper.

All ready to mix together.

Which is basically a mixture of black peppercorns, allspice, cloves and nutmeg, all ground up together.   Some recipes call for cinnamon as well.   This was a new taste for me, and while I was a little hesitant, I found I liked it.  I’m not all that fond of Nutmeg, but it was complemented very nicely by the other spices.  Recipe for Syrian Pepper at the end of this post by the way.

Debi added about a cup or so of rice into the meat mixture, she did what many good cooks do, she eyeballed it.  Of course she has made this many times before so she knew the right proportions.    I’m guessing she also added almost a tablespoon of Syrian Pepper as well as about 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and 1/2 teaspoon of regular ground pepper.   She mixed that all together and we commenced to rolling.

Open the grape leaves up, with the vein side in, take about 2 tablespoons of the meat mixture and form it into a cigar shape.  I found out later, we actually put too much meat in each package, but it’s all good and a learning curve.

 Tuck the base of the leaf up and over the meat, and fold in the sides, just as if you were wrapping a package, you don’t want any loose leaf hanging out.
Roll it up into a cylinder, making sure that the leaf stays tucked in.   You want it tight but not too tight, the rice will expand as it cooks and you don’t want a bunch of burst leaves, it would totally defeat the whole concept of stuffed grape leaves.   Also, you place them in the pot seam side down.   If you don’t they will come undone.    And I need to add something else here.  Some of the grape leaves were stuffed with rice which we’d par cooked with some of the Syrian pepper and Za’atar for a vegetarian version of the Stuffed Grape Leaves, so if you have a vegetarian around, you can safely serve them some grape leaves as well.

Once we got all the meat and rice rolled into nice little rolls, it was time to cook them.   As they were rolled we placed them into a large pot (and I neglected to get a picture of that, but hey, I was busy rolling), and covered them with water with about a cup or so of lemon juice and some garlic cloves. This was left to simmer for about an hour or until the rice was cooked.  Debi said she could tell when they were done by the way they smelled, but I caught her taking a taste test.   We then turned off the pot and let it sit while the rest of the meal was prepared.

While I was busy grinding the meat, Debi was making a Syrian Salad, isn’t it gorgeous looking?   as well as the Lebhan, which is a yoghurt sauce.

In the salad was Spinach, Red Onions, Beets, Cucumbers and Feta Cheese.   She finished it off with some Za’ tar seasoning, roasted pine nuts and olive oil and lemon juice for the dressing.

Also along the way, I did take a few pictures of the Baklava as it was being built, which is another post entirely.

However, some phyllo dough was left over and there was still some feta cheese as well as pine nuts and so Debi made some Spinach Pies.  After Robin lined the muffin tin with some phyllo dough brushed with butter.   These were baked off and wow, now I know how to make a version of Spanakoppita or I’ll just call them Spinach Pies, giggle.  They may not have looked real purty, but they sure tasted good.

Stuffed Grape Leaves, Spinach Pie, Leban Salad and Yoghurt sauce.  A really great meal.

We finished off the meal with some Cherry Tarts that I’d thrown together earlier in the day, as the Baklava needed to age before we could eat that.

And Robin was right about that.  I snuck a piece the next day, but it is now covered and waiting out of temptations way, I hope.   I’ll eat some in a few days.

3 ounces whole allspice
1 ounce whole black peppercorn
5 whole cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
Grind the allspice, pepper, and cloves in a food processor, coffee grinder or blender.

Add the cinnamon and nutmeg and pulse briefly to combine

So there you have part of my cooking adventures, I so love it when someone asks if they can come over to my house and cook, especially when I get introduced to a cuisine I’m not familiar with.    We had some laughs, I learned how to roll a grape leaf and now I have a supply of Za’atar in my cupboard.

Lime Syrup

As I wrote in a previous post I was given some wonderful limes by a friend.  Picked by her, out of her garden, how cool is that?   At any rate I made some Lime Curd and piped that into some tartlets for Boat Club, but I didn’t stop with the Lime Curd, I decided to have some fun.  I’ve had candied lemon slices in the past and thought it might be fun to try making some candied lime slices.

In the spirit of being adventuresome, I didn’t even google how to do this.  I just dumped a cup of sugar and a half cup of water into a saucepan, let it come to a boil, then added two sliced limes.  Very thinly sliced.  Well, as thin as I could make them, I should have gotten them a little thinner but my knife needed sharpening and my sharpener wasn’t working very well.  Sigh.




So there I am, the lime slices were bubbling along nicely, and became translucent so I took them out, and drained them on a baking sheet.   Then I went into my office and googled what to do next.   Nothing like looking stuff up after the fact.   At any rate, I found out I had to place the slices on some granulated sugar and then let them dry.    Along the way I taste tested a couple and found out I didn’t like them at all.  They were too bitter for my taste, so I dumped them.   Yes, I know, wasteful, but not really, if it’s something you know you won’t use or consume or just plain don’t like, why keep it?  But the syrup that the slices cooked in, well let me just say this.   It tasted soooooo good mixed in with some Sauza Tequila.   So the syrup stayed.  It’s now residing in my fridge waiting to jump into a nice glass of Tequila.   There is still a little bitterness from the lime peel, but that actually complements the tequila.

So if you have a couple of limes hanging out in your house and you don’t know what to do with them, try making some lime syrup.

1 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
2 sliced limes, sliced very thinly.  (use more if you like)

Combine water and sugar and let it come to a boil and cook it for just a couple of minutes, then add the sliced limes and cook an additional 10 minutes or so, until the slices of lime become translucent.   Remove the lime slices, and let the sugar syrup cool for a couple of minutes, then strain it into a jar and keep in the refrigerator and use it in margarita’s, or maybe in some whipped cream for flavoring, or anywhere you want a punch of lime flavor. I know I’m going to experiment a little.

Lime Curd

When life hands you lemons, you make lemonade, right?  Well, what happens when a friend hands you a bag full of limes, and not just any limes, but Persian Limes?    Thoughts of Lime Curd Tartlets, Lime Cream Cake and other delights start dancing through your head.   And of course a lovely Gin and Tonic and maybe a Margarita or two.   And best of all,  these were grown and harvested by a friend out of her own garden.  I’ve also figured out I’m not in danger of developing either scurvy or malaria in the near future, since I’ve been drinking Tonic Water with Lime from these beauties.  Which reminds me, I’m out of Tonic Water and almost out of Gin.  Sorry, got side tracked there.

I ended up making Lime Curd Tartlets for Boat Club, as well as keeping some Lime Curd for me, some Lime Syrup (for Margarita’s) and some candied Lime Slices.   Plus of course I froze some lime zest, and have also juiced and frozen some of the lime juice.  I was thinking of marmalade, but the juice from these limes are industrial strength.  I don’t think I’ve ever had such powerful limes.   Really good, but WOW!!!!!!

Aren’t they pretty just sitting there?

I was told that they were kind of a pink when you cut into them, but had no idea how pretty they would look.

Lemon and Lime in the back, Persian Lime in front.

The Persian Lime is the one in front, but since I had some regular limes and lemons in the house, I thought I would show you the contrast between them.

Then I just had fun, arranging the different citrus fruits and taking pictures.   Life isn’t just about cooking after all.

After the photo session, I got down to some serious stuff though.   I wanted to make some Lime Curd Tartlets, and needed pastry shells to put the Lime Curd into.   I did use commercial Pie Crust for these, mainly because the dough is a lot sturdier than my own homemade crust, and since I was making these as a finger food, I wanted a good base.

I lay out my tart shells on a round of dough, I find I can get ten tart shells out of one round of crust.

Press the molds lightly into the dough, and then remove the shells and cut the shapes out.

I them press them into the molds, and prick with a fork, very lightly, and bake them off for about 15 minutes in a 375 degree oven, or until the shells are a light golden brown.

Then it was time to make the curd.   I zested the limes first, then cut them in half and juiced them.


I heated the juice, sugar and zest up to boiling before tempering the egg yolks with some of the hot juice.   I then added the egg yolks to the juice and continued to cook the mixture for another ten minutes.   It will thicken a little.  To a pudding consistency.
Remove from heat and whisk in 6 tablespoons of butter, one tablespoon at a time.  Make sure it’s all incorporated before adding the next cube of butter.

After it had cooked, I poured it into a container and placed some plastic wrap on top of the custard to keep it from forming a skin (and forgot to take a picture, grrrrr….) placed the bowl in the fridge to cool down.  And later on, piped the curd mixture into the shells, topped them with some whipped cream and served them.

In some of the tart shells I piped some raspberry jelly, and some curd, before topping them with the whipped cream.

And as I said before, I saved some of the curd for myself for my toast.   However, I did have to make some modifications to the original curd recipe.   As I said before, the juice I got from them was industrial strength and was very strong, so after making the curd, I had to cut the flavour down, so I added a can of Sweetened Condensed milk and it mellowed it out a lot.

Here’s the recipe

Lime Curd

1 1/2 cups sugar   (depending on how strong the juice is, you can cut it down if you wish)
1 cup Lime Juice
1 Tablespoon Lime Zest
4 egg yolks lightly beaten
6 Tablespoons Butter, cut into cubes.
1 14 oz. can Sweetened Condensed Milk

Heat the sugar and lime juice to boiling.   Lightly beat the egg yolks, and set aside.    When the juice mixture comes to a boil,take off the heat and remove a half cup of juice.  Pour the half cup or so of the hot juice into the egg yolks, just dribbling it in and whisking the egg yolks the entire time.   You want to temper the egg yolks so they don’t cook when you add them to the hot juice.  Then whisk the egg yolks into the juice and return to the heat.   Cook for an additional 10 to 12 minutes, whisking the entire time.   Then take off the heat and whisk in the butter, one tablespoon or cube at a time.  This adds some silky richness.   The juice will thicken and become a pudding like consistency.  Taste at this point.      Add the can of Sweetened Condensed Milk and whisk in.  It will thicken nicely at this point.   Cover with some plastic wrap pressed down on the curd, this prevents a skin from forming as it cools.    Place in fridge for at least two hours before using.   Use as a filling for tarts, or a cake or just on toast.

Of course if you’re me, you’ve got a piece of bread in the toaster at this point so you can taste test the curd on a piece of toast.   I’ve taste tested a few pieces so far.   You have to excuse me, it’s time to test some more.

Hawaiian Chile and Potluck Birthday Dinner

I had fun making a new recipe, well, new to me a couple of weeks ago, and I took it to a friends birthday party.   And it was well received, very well received, I only had a couple spoonfuls left to take home.  Which is a good thing.

There were lots of other good things at the potluck though.  The star of the show was the Turkey, but the side dishes, well, here’s the roundup.

Hawaiian Chile, Baklava, Shrimp, Potato Salad, Guacamole, Killer Hot Wings, Tomato and Squash Casserole and Angel Food cake for dessert.  Well, I made do with the Baklava, didn’t taste the cake, cause, gee it was Baklava and not only Baklava, but homemade Baklava.  Need I go on?

I wanted to share the recipe for the Hawaiian Chile, partly cause it was so good, but also because it’s one of those dishes that can be served warm or room temperature.   A different twist on a chile recipe, which is always a good thing.     If you’re a pineapple lover, this really is good.  And also Debbie was nice enough to send me the recipe.  Don’tcha love it when people share recipes?   I know I do.  You can find the recipe at the end here.

But first the pictures, I’m such a visual person, I like to look at pictures of food anyway, but you probably figured this out already.

The turkey.   I mean who says you can only eat it once or so a year.

Hot Wings, I called them Killer Hot Wings earlier, cause they were sooooo good.   They were prepared with a dry rub first, baked in the oven and then finished off with a wet mop.   The spices in here weren’t your Buffalo Style ones either, there were cloves, cinnamon, allspice and the layers of flavor were really incredible.    I am so going to get this recipe, and when I do, I’m making it.    Tender, spicy, layers and layers of spice and flavor.  sigh,  now I’m making myself hungry for them again. I’m going to ask Mark for this recipe.

This was a unique dish as well.   Tomatoes, squash and potatoes.   And can’t forget the cheese.   I love to try new stuff.  I’m going to be asking Ginny for this recipe as well.

Guacamole and Shrimp.   Always good to have at any kind of potluck

As you can see, there was a spread.

Baklava, and if you noticed a piece missing, that wasn’t me, really, it wasn’t.   I restrained myself and only took a piece after I took pictures.

Potato Salad, and there was a unique idea here.   Rather than cube the potatoes, they’d been sliced and then dressed.   Something I’m going to try next time I make my MIL’s Potato Salad.  And a recipe I will share here, cause I think it’s the potato salad recipe.   Maybe next week.

I also brought some Boozy Cranberry Sauce and it was well received.   With Thanksgiving coming up you may want to give this recipe a try.  It freezes very well by the way.   Which is why I brought some, I thought people might like some alongside the turkey.

And last but most definitely not least, the Hawaiian Chile.  Sorry for the blurry picture, sometimes I just get so excited at the sight of food I can’t restrain myself and I jiggle the camera.

Hawaiian Chili
1 lb. ground round
1 lg. onion (diced)
2 lg. cloves garlic (diced) More or less garlic to taste.
1 pkg. chile seasoning
brown all together
1 lg can Bush’s baked beans
1 med. can Dole’s crushed pineapple
serve hot or cold and enjoy

As with anything like this it is always better the “next day” but can be ready to go to a party in 20 minutes time.