Friday, October 30, 2009

F2: Friday's Feast, Soup or Treat

Some occasions just taste a certain way to me. Food is such a central element of celebration and, as I am sure is quite common, I often get flavors stuck in my head as representing certain holidays. Some of those flavors traditionally make sense. Others are a little less obvious. For years, Halloween has tasted to me like taco soup.

I can't recall when I first made Taco Soup as the pre-trick-or-treat meal, but I did it for years. It's warm, it's hearty, and it's a little spicy--all a nice prelude to a cold, sugar-laden evening. Then we moved up to a small mountain community where Halloween was celebrated in the middle of town, complete with parade, carnival, haunted house, and businesses passing out candy. Those years dinner was hot dogs and hamburgers prepared by the Lion's Club.

Now we're back in a regular neighborhood, more or less, and so we will be able to reinstate our soup tradition. If you'd like to join us, I'll make a double batch. Alternately, you can make your own pot of soup. Make it ahead, even. I see no reason why this couldn't sit in a crock pot all day on low. Serve it with some corn muffins and apple slices. At our house, we also have a bowl of toasted pumpkin seeds, courtesy of our jack-o-lanterns, sitting out to munch on. (Dessert graciously supplied by the neighbors.)

Taco Soup

  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • 1 chopped onion
  • 1 pkg. taco seasoning
  • 1-20 oz. can stewed tomatoes, undrained
  • 2 c. water
  • 1-8 oz. can tomato sauce
  • 1 can corn, undrained
  • 1 can kidney beans, undrained

Cook beef and onion together in soup pot. Drain fat. Mix in taco seasoning. Add remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes.

Top each serving with:
  • coarsely crushed tortilla chips
  • sour cream
  • grated cheddar cheese
  • chopped avocado, if desired

Visit Ca-Joh for more Friday Feast Halloween Fare.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

F2: Friday's Feast, Recipe Swap

I love autumn. I love the weather, I love the colors. I love Halloween and Thanksgiving. I love cinnamon and nutmeg and all of those warm spicy scents and flavors. And I love pumpkin! Pumpkin bread, pumpkin seeds, pumpkin ice cream (I recently had a pumpkin malt to die for at a local ice cream shop), pumpkin pie, pumpkin bars, pumpkin pasta (sounds weird, I know, but I once had an amazing pasta dish with a pumpkin cream sauce at a place called Café Aroma we used to frequent back in Cali), pumpkin roll, pumpkin Peeps (which, I grant, taste just like every other Peep), pumpkin bisque, and pumpkin cheesecake.

CaJoh is doing a recipe swap for his Friday Feast feature today, so head on over here for more great culinary contributions. Being the time of year it is, I decided to submit my new favorite Thanksgiving dessert, Spiced Pumpkin Cheesecake. I nabbed this recipe off of two years back. It was originally printed by Bon Appétit in October 2002. It is the best served with freshly whipped cream. I've thought about replacing the graham crackers in the crust with ginger snaps. I'd make the swap ounce for ounce. It makes one tall, rich, 10" cake.

Spiced Pumpkin Cheesecake
Makes 12-16 servings

9 whole graham crackers (about 4 oz.), broken
1/4 c. sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 c. butter, melted

4 8-oz. pkgs cream cheese, room temperature
1 1/2 c. sugar
3 large eggs
1 15-oz. can pure pumpkin
1 c. whipping cream
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp. ground allspice
1/4 tsp. ground cloves

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350. Wrap a double layer of heavy duty foil around outside of 10" springform pan. Combine crackers, sugar and cinnamon in food processor. Blend until crackers are finely ground, drizzle in butter, and pulse until crumbs begin to stick together. (Alternately, crush the crumbs in a plastic bag with a rolling pin, and mix together with remaining ingredients with fork.) Press mixture into bottom (not sides) of springform pan. Bake until crust is slightly golden, about 10 minutes. Remove to cooling rack but maintain oven temp while preparing filling.

Cream cream cheese and sugar in large bowl until smooth and fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time. Add pumpkin and remaining 7 ingredients. Beat until just blended. Pour into prepared crust. Place pan in large roasting pan. add enough water to some halfway up sides of springform pan. Bake until slightly puffy and softly set and top is golden, about 1 1/2 hours. Transfer springform pan to cooling rack and cool. Cover and refrigerate cake overnight.

I guess I need to admit here to being at times a poor reader of directions, and I do not believe I have ever put the cake pan in a pan of water. And my cakes have always turned out great. Maybe I'll try the water bath this year, and see if I can tell a difference.

Well, I wish I had a great photo of this to share, but I haven't taken pics before, and there's no way I will make one of these just for that purpose. Because then I'd eat it.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Gift

Occasionally one receives a gift from an unlikely source or in an unexpected form.  Yesterday mine came as a fast-moving front, bringing with it earlier-than-predicted rainfall, and ill children.

This autumn has been crazy.  #2 and #4 are both in soccer.  We've had more in the sport at a time in the past, but this year their practices do not overlap.  Someone has soccer every night.  And of course Larry is coaching #2 again, so he is also committed to three 90-minute practices and one 70-minute game per week.  The evenings they are home, I am sitting at practice with #4, who I consider still too young to be dropped off.  Two Tuesdays per month #3 has Activity Day with the 9 year-old girls in our congregation.  Every Wednesday she has guitar lessons.  Wednesday nights #s 1 & 2 have Mutual, our church youth group activities.  One night a week I am supposed to be going on visits as a Ward Missionary.

I'm not listing all of this to earn awe or respect or pity.  Many families I know have crazier schedules than that.  I am listing it to simply complain.  For me, at this point in my life and marriage, I do not like it.  We have fewer family dinners.  Our Family Home Evening gets bumped around and sometimes missed entirely.  Family scripture study is suffering.  Errands requiring more than just myself all get crammed in around Saturday games.  With other stresses we are currently experiencing, I feel only further unsettled and disconnected at a time when I see that consistency and intimacy are just what we all need so desperately.

Yesterday morning my husband informed me that it was supposed to rain  that night.  (He is my sole weather source.)  But the precipitation began around 2:00.  About that time, I came home to a phone message from #3's Activity Day leader.  Sick kids, no activity.  I knew my girl would be disappointed, but I suddenly had an extra hour.  Email from #4s coach:  no practice.  Suddenly we had an entire afternoon and evening!

I've been meaning to get to a local pumpkin stand with Larry's truck for weeks.  They sell pumpkins, hay bales, and cornstalks on the cheap.  Since I had arranged to pick up #s 3 and 4 from school, I decided to take them to get our hay and cornstalks.  With my Suburban.  In the rain.  I think they thought I was nuts.  I loaded two bales into the back, and a cornstalk along three rows of passenger seats, put my cash in the drop box, and made good use of my side mirrors on the way home.  I was soaked and dirty and stinky and downright giddy.  The kids were excitedly chattering about the holidays and the weather.  I wondered aloud if the car would fit down our front walk, shortening the distance I had to carry this wet hay.  I decided not.  I informed the kids that we'd get some cocoa on arrival home, or at least after I'd gotten the hay out of the car because heaven knows I wasn't going to let it sit in there longer than necessary.  #4 replied, "Kevin knows we've got hay in our car?"

We drank our cocoa, arranged our hay, made spaghetti sauce, and had dinner all together.  I vacuumed out the Suburban and coated the back floor with Febreeze.  (The car smells fine now, but the garage still smells like horse manure.  The bales were out of the car before I ever parked it in the garage.  Go figure.)  We listened to the Family Home Evening lesson that #4 had had ready for a week and a half.  We drove to the Boy Scout pumpkin stand and bought pumpkins for carving and some to last through Thanksgiving.  #1 and I even had time to help Larry with some work he's been behind on.  It was a great night.

Today my back is sore, and two of my kids are sick.  So back to the grind.  I guess if every day was such a gift, we wouldn't appreciate them.  And I am still smiling.  

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Too Cool for School

This week we had rain.  So, being the good mom that I am, I made sure that everyone had an umbrella in their backpack.  (I will pause here for nods of approval.  Thank you.)  #3 informed me that she needed a new one.  "Is yours broken?" I asked.  "No.  ...  But Mo-om!  It's Hello Kitty."

#3 is in the fourth grade this year.  She'll be 10 in January.  And I guess this is the age when little girls start to want to grow up, disassociate themselves from their baby-ish interests of the past.  It's interesting to watch.  Because it's not as if the girls suddenly find little-kid things unappealing.  It's just that they believe they will not be cool if such a penchant is made public.  So every girl in 4th and 5th grade puts on the too-cool show for all the rest.  My theory is that if they all knew that every one else still liked Barbies and baby dolls and Polly Pockets and My Little Pony, they'd all be a lot happier.  But no one wants to be the first to admit it.

... until about eighth grade or so.  Then all things "little-kid" are suddenly not only cool, but verging on retro-chic.  The girls have established their maturity by this point, and now are willing to indulge in reliving the good old days of their youth, way back four or five years ago.  To this level of self-confidence #2 has finally arrived.  Of course, she and #1 had an advantage over #3 even during their too-cool phase.  They had a younger sister they could "have" to play with.  Even #2s friends would be so kind as to humor #3 with little-kid play when at our house.  Poor #3 only has a little brother, and as her interest in Star Wars and Legos is severely limited, she's just forced to play it cool for a while.  

Now a very generic, very mature striped umbrella sits in #3s backpack.  And on #2s cut shin is slapped a Hello Kitty Band-Aid.

Me, I'm digging Star Wars chat with #4.

PHOTOS--   top left:  #3 at age 3 with Strawberry Shortcake
bottom right: #3 at age 9 with the big girls