Happy Halloween/Foodie Penpals!

Happy Halloween, everyone! There is a nice chill in the air that is just right for trick-or-treating. As we are child-free, however, we will have our traditional Halloween night festivities - carving jack-o-lanterns, eating take out, answering the door over and over again, oohing and aahing at all the costumed kids, and roasting pumpkin seeds. Then, perhaps, after the treats have been given out, we'll stop at a neighbor's house (or two) for "trick or shot." Or maybe not. It is a school night, after all.

The Lean Green Bean

In addition to all the Halloween fun, This is our first month participating in Foodie Penpals. Are you wondering, "What is Foodie Penpals?" Because you ought to be. Foodie Penpals is a program started by blogger Lindsay of The Lean Green Bean. Over 1,300 participants from the US, Canada, and the UK receive a different penpal each month, and send them a box of foodie goodies. Even though we just joined, we are already hooked. Our sender pal was Jacqueline of Run With Chocolate.

She sent us an amazing box filled with her local (California) and all-around favorites. Take a look!

Flavored California almonds (butter toffee and "fruit-loop" flavored - sweet and addicting!).

Unreal/Unjunked Chocolate Caramel Peanut Nougat Bar (loved it...wish we could find them here) and a KIND Fruit and Nut Bar in Almond Coconut (almonds and coconuts...two of Amy's faves).

Creamy Sunbutter (a fabulous nut-free spread made from sunflower seeds) that combined so nicely with the Marmaletta Peach Pie Preserves for a unique twist on pb-n-j (and a fine school lunch).

And, Amy's particular favorites from the box, which she enjoyed the day after Hurricane Sandy during an unexpected day off of work: English Breakfast Tea, Tea Honey and a hand-made tea cozy (to keep Amy-the-Tea-Fanatic's fingers from burning), with Daelman's Jumbo Caramel Wafers (which Amy ate as Jacqueline suggested - warmed by the steam of that wonderful tea). Note how the papers that need grading are strategically hidden beneath that tempting Food Network Magazine!

What a nice welcome into the Foodie Penpal community! Thank you so much, Jacqueline!

If you want to read about what we sent to our Foodie Penpal, check out her blog right here. To learn more about the Foodie Penpal Program, go here.


Hurricane Potluck (with recipe for Coco-Bread Pudding)

Have we ever mentioned how much we love our neighbors/neighborhood? It was during an early-in-the-morning-mini-crisis (tree meets transformer) years ago that we first bonded over coffee in sweats, and we've never looked back. Our core group is about five families, but there are several on the fringe that who can always be counted on to join in. We have had progressive dinners, Halloween "trick or shots" after the kids have gotten their treats, barbecues, birthday parties, and much more. Oh, we should say as a matter of course, our annual Mardi Gras Madness could never happen without the help and support of the 'hood.

This weekend, when Hurricane Sandy was predicted to be heading our way, and the neighborhood could be facing another crisis, we picked up some extra groceries (including a six-pound pork shoulder) along with the other necessary supplies. By Monday, school was called off, "non-essential" state employees were told to stay home, and the highways were closed for travel. The state was bunkering down, and with it, our neighborhood. Amy's sister, her husband, and their daughter came over (since we have a generator), and we joined with two of the "core" neighborhood families in a potluck dinner. As the rain lashed the streets and the wind howled through the trees, we shared a communal meal by the light of the tv news, checking in on friends and family, and trying to keep our minds off the storm.

Admittedly, it was an amazing dinner and an all-around good time. We brought a pound of steamed shrimp for an appetizer, porchetta seasoned with garlic and rosemary surrounded by roasted root vegetables (see here for that blog post/recipe), chunky mashed red potatoes, and a bread pudding made with Brazilian coco-bread (recipe below). When we arrived at the W's, we were greeted with pigs in a blanket, deviled eggs, sliced ham, pureed butternut squash, dirty rice, and ooey-gooey brownies. Some fall-themed brews (including Samuel Adams Oktoberfest) and a couple of bottles of wine rounded out the meal. Our niece E had a great time hanging out with the F's daughter N, as they always do, and even the W's dogs got some playtime in.

We know full well how lucky we are. Other than a few fallen branches, we remained unscathed, with power, and without loss of provisions or property. Our thoughts and prayers go out to those who weren't as lucky. And we hope that there are plenty of other neighborhoods in the world just like ours.

Coco-Bread Pudding


3 cups milk
1/2 stick unsalted butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon apple pie spice
pinch of kosher salt

8 slices coco-bread, broken into bite-sized pieces
3 eggs, lightly beaten

Trader Joe's Sugar, Chocolate, Coffee Bean Spice Grinder
Boxed Goodes Bitter Sweets

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine the milk, butter, sugar, apple pie spice and salt. Heat until butter melts. Grease a baking dish with cooking spray, then pour in the milk mixture. Add the bread pieces and allow to soak for five minutes. Pour in the beaten eggs and stir gently to combine. Sprinkle top with the Trader Joe's or Boxed Goodes grinders we used or just with an additional tablespoon of sugar. Place baking dish into a larger baking dish and fill it with hot water about half way up. Bake at 350 for 45 minutes to an hour, or until the pudding has set. Serve with whipped cream or ice cream.


Butternut Squash Seed Oil

Last weekend, we had the opportunity to go to a local gourmet shop called O'live a Little, to meet the makers of one of our favorite new products, butternut squash seed oil, and to see a local chef demonstrate a couple of recipes using that product. It was a great hour of foodie fun and we learned quite a bit about the product and how to use it, all of which we'd like to share with you!

First, some background on butternut squash seed oil. Greg and Kelly Woodworth of Stony Brook Wholehearted Foods live in the Finger Lakes region of New York near Martin Farms, a farm that grows lots and lots of butternut squash. Working with food scientists from Cornell University, they developed a way to use the farm's squash seeds to make squash seed oil in a process by which nothing goes to waste. The seeds are batch-roasted, which makes the oil come to the surface, and then they are cold-pressed to expel the oil. 20% of the seed is oil, and one bottle of the oil comes from the seeds of about 8 to 10 butternut squashes. The "seed cake" that is leftover is sold to a local heirloom pig farm, while a few bits go to a soap company that uses it as an exfoliant in their soaps. The oil is a fantastic alternative to olive oil. It has a deep amber color and imparts flavors of cashews, peanuts and the nuttiness one finds in clarified butter, even though it contains no nuts, since it is 100% butternut squash seed oil. It is cholesterol free and 40% of an adult's recommended daily allowance of vitamin A can be had in one tablespoon. When it gets to O'live A Little, it is usually less than two weeks old, and has a shelf live of about 15 months.

Next, some of the tasty treats we tried that were demonstrated by Chef Michael Calvert of Bellini's Italian Eatery. Pictured above, a perfect fall snack of Roasted Vegetable Bruschetta drizzled with butternut squash seed oil. Below, a creamy, nutty Butternut Squash Risotto with Grilled Shrimp. Other snacks not pictured included Butternut Squash Mac n Cheese, Sweet Potato Casserole and Southern Winter Squash Hummus. Everything was so delicious!

Finally, here are links to some sweet and savory recipes that use butternut squash seed oil, graciously provided by the owners of the shop, Matt and Jennifer Ostrowski, as well as Chef Michael Calvert and Stacey Warrings of Bellini's Italian Eatery. You can purchase O'live A Little Butternut Squash Seed Oil here, or at a retailer near you (on this list here). It is a wonderful product that certainly inspires culinary creativity!


Apple Crisp (Secret Recipe Club)

It's that time of year. Time to enjoy the fruits of Johnny Appleseed's labors. We went apple-picking, a friend of our went apple-picking and gave us some of hers, and we have lots and lots of apples to enjoy. We already made one delicious dessert with some of our apples, and thanks to Cara at The Boys Made Me Do It, we have made another!

Yes, it's Secret Recipe Club Reveal Day, and our assigned blog for this month was The Boys Made Me Do It. This blog has lots and lots of easy, fun, family-friendly recipes all blogged by Cara, mother to three boys. God bless her!

Because we were so flush with apples, we chose Cara's Apple Crisp, which she adapted from someone else in Secret Recipe Club. It was an amazingly easy recipe, all made with ingredients from our pantry. It only took about 15 minutes to prepare, plus an hour to bake. The house smelled sooo good while it was baking - apples, cinnamon, and autumn-ness. Love that smell!

The finished product was heavenly - cinnamon-y baked apples topped with a buttery crisp topping. Soft and crunchy, sweet and tart, everything a person could want in a dessert. Chris said he could have eaten the whole pan in one sitting. This one is a keeper!

Apple Crisp

For the filling:
6 apples, peeled, cored and sliced
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon apple pie spice
dash kosher salt

For the topping:
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup oats
1/2 cup lightly packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon apple pie spice
1/2 stick unsalted butter, chilled

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Place all of the sliced apples into a large mixing bowl and toss with lemon juice. Stir in the flour, sugar, apple pie spice and salt until all fruit is coated. Place the filling in a 9×9 pan or baking dish. In another bowl, mix together the flour, oats, brown sugar, and apple pie spice. Cut in the butter and stir in until the mixture is full of small lumps. Sprinkle the topping over the apples. Bake at 350 degrees for an hour or until the apples are tender and the topping is browned.


Slow-Cooked Lasagna

The other night, Amy was talking to her mom and her mom mentioned that she had made lasagna in the slow cooker. Doesn't that just seem like a brilliant idea? We had to try it, expecially since it's slow cooker season. So we assembled our normal lasagna recipe (below) with no-boil noodles and let it cook in the slow cooker for four hours.

Now, when most people hear "slow cooker recipe," they think of convenience and ease. This is not necessarily true with this recipe. We thought we could explain what we mean via the following list of pros and cons:

Pros: You get to use your slow cooker, which means this can cook without anyone having to be home to make sure the oven (or the lasagna) catches on fire. And you don't have to boil the noodles first (which means you don't have to wrestle with wet cooked noodles).

Cons: You still need to brown the meat and onions separately. You still need to blend together your cheese mixture separately. You still need to assemble each layer of the lasagna; you are just doing this in the slow cooker. The cheesy top doesn't brown. You've made a lasagna, only this lasagna takes 4 hours to cook.

So although this particular recipe was cooked in the slow cooker, it misses the mark when it comes to both convenience and ease (except for using jarred marinara rather than making your own). Nonetheless, the result was what we wished for: a delicious and hearty cheesy layered baked slow-cooked pasta dish that was ready when we got home from work.

Slow-Cooked Lasagna


I tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
1 pound ground beef
1 jar marinara sauce
1 pound part-skim ricotta cheese
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
1 egg
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
1 package no-boil lasagna noodles
2 tablespoons water

Heat the olive oil in a large saute pan. Saute the onion, garlic, and Italian seasoning together until the onion begins to soften, then add the ground beef. Brown the beef, stirring often, then add the marinara sauce and cook until heated through; remove from heat. In a large bowl, stir together the ricotta cheese, 1 1/2 cups of the mozzarella, the egg, salt, pepper and nutmeg until well combined. Place the slow cooker on low heat. Pour in a thin layer of the meat sauce on the bottom of the slow cooker. Top the sauce with two noodles, then spread the cheese mixture over the noodles. Cover the cheese mixture with sauce, then noodles, then cheese mixture. Continue the layering process until you run out of cheese mixture and end with noodles on top. Pour the remaining sauce over the top noodles and cover with the remaining half-cup of mozzarella cheese. Sprinkle the water over the lasagna. Put the lid on the slow cooker and cook on the lowest setting for four hours, or until noodles are tender.