Budget Epicurean

Budget Epicurean: October 2013

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Easy Halloween Themed Treats (no tricks!)

Halloween is easily one of my favorite holidays. I love to dress up, I love cooking and eating, I love candy (who doesn't?!?) and I love throwing parties. And I have a confession: I'm in my mid-twenties, and I went trick-or-treating last year. Don't judge just because you're jealous. Never say no to free candy (unless given to you by a creepy stranger. Wait a minute...)

This year I decided to throw a Halloween party for some friends, and began planning far in advance. I love cute themed dishes, and picked some of the simplest sounding ones. I made a big list of what I thought was the best ideas, and didn't really keep any recipes, I just made it like I thought it should be made. But if you're the type who wants a list and steps to follow, then continue reading below and enjoy! If you have a favorite Halloween or fall-themed dish, please share in the comments! (Or email me with "Halloween treat" in the subject heading). The one I think sounds tastiest may appear on a future post!

 Mystery Shots
These were test tubes filled with all sorts of delicious and terrifying ingredients! I had coffee, soy sauce, sriracha, dish soap, eggnog, orange juice, apple juice, grape juice, cranberry juice, water, rum, vodka, juiced carrot, cabbage or bell pepper. Obviously if the party involves kids don't use alcohol and maybe not as many gross ones. But get creative, you can put in whatever you want! And use food coloring to hide the natural color of things, it keep them guessing.

 Blood & Guts Potato Skins
Wash as many potatoes as you'll have guests and cut potatoes in half. Spray a baking pan and bake cut-side down at 350 for about an hour. Scoop out the cooked insides and place in a bowl. Add a can of tomato sauce and salsa until stuffing is reddish and goopy. The salsa is supposed to make it look like chunks of gore. Re-fill the skins and bake another 10-15 minutes, serve. I added some refried beans to some, thinking it looked kind of like mud.

 String Cheese Severed Fingers
Cut string cheese in half, use a knife to carve knuckles about halfway down. Make a slice half an inch from the edge, and insert a slivered almond as the 'nail'.

 Mummy Dogs
By far the most adorable thing, and likely the only way I'll ever make pigs in a blanket from now on. Cut hot dogs in half. Unroll a tube of crescent dough and make half inch slices. Wrap a small piece around the top, and a larger piece around the bottom 2/3. Bake at 350 for 10-15 minutes, until golden brown. Use mustard or ketchup to draw eyes.

 Monster Wedges
Cut unpeeled, washed apples into quarters such that they can still stand alone. Remove the seeds and stem. Cut another small wedge halfway down, insert slivered almonds randomly for teeth. Use whatever candy and either syrup or cream cheese or peanut butter to stick on eyes.

 Severed Hand ice cubes
For these, you need some gloves and some time. Fill gloves with water and tie well, put in freezer for several hours. When it's floating in your beverage, they look like severed hands. I used cranberry juice to make a red, 'bloody' one, you can use food coloring in the water for any color.

 On the topic of beverages, dry ice is definitely worth investing in! It was only $1.29 per pound at my local grocery store, and 5 pounds was plenty to last the whole night, throwing in small pieces as they evaporated. It bubbles and smokes, and causes real 'cauldron' noises! People of all ages are guaranteed to be fascinated by this.

Orange and Black Fruit Kebabs with Toffee Dip
Alternate chopped cantaloupe with blackberries and blueberries to create colorful skewers. The dip is 1 package cream cheese, softened at room temperature, 1 tsp cinnamon and nutmeg, 1/4 cup coffee creamer in some holiday flavor (caramel, apple, toffee, pumpkin, etc) and 3/4 cup brown sugar. Mix well, and sprinkle toffee bits over top. You could also drizzle on caramel, mix in a tub of whipped cream, or mix toffee or chocolate into the dip. Party-goers said this should be eaten with a spoon!

Dirt Cake
Make a package or 2 of chocolate pudding and refrigerate. Crush up a handful of Oreos in a plastic bag with a rolling pin or your fist and sprinkle on top as the 'dirt'. Add gummy worms and viola! A dessert no kid (or grown-up) can resist. You can get creative and add mini tombstones, trees, ghosts etc to look like a real graveyard too.

Doritos Pumpkin Cheese Ball
Unfortunately I didn't get a picture of this, but trust me when I say it is adorable! Mix 2 packs cream cheese, softened, with onion soup mix or dried onion, 1/4 cup sour cream and 2 tbsp ranch dressing. Make it into a ball, roll it in mashed-up doritos chips, wrap in plastic and refrigerate at least an hour before serving. Use the stem of a green bell pepper as the pumpkin top.

 Have a spook-tacular Halloween!

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Thursday, October 24, 2013

Souppa like Zuppa Toscana

I still had some sausage left over from my sausage gravy & biscuits, plus half a bunch of kale that hadn't been made into kale chips. (If you've never tried kale chips, I definitely recommend it! Kale is super good for you but can be bitter, and this is a super simple way to get your leafy greens). A quick internet search for "sausage and kale" quickly showed a trend towards this "Zuppa Toscana" that Olive Garden makes (don't sue me please!) that lots of people claim to mimic.
Well as any loyal reader knows, I'm not a 'by-the-book' recipe follower, so I just took the general idea and ran with it. What happened was a simple, delicious soup that quite frankly surprised me with how tasty it was. With really only 4 ingredients and 30 minutes, a warm, filling and complex soup for dinner can be yours!

1/2 pound sausage
1/2 bunch kale, shredded
2-3 large potatoes, diced
6 cups water
4 chicken bouillon cubes
3 tbsp cornstarch
Italian seasonings

Step 1: Brown the sausage in a frying pan. Drain most of the fat and set aside.
Step 2: Dice the potatoes into thin wedges. There's no right or wrong way really. Most copy-cat recipes use redskins but I only have russet so those will do. Drop them into a pot with enough water to cover and bring to a boil. Cook for about 8-10 minutes, until soft when poked with a fork.
 Step 3: While the potatoes boil, rip the kale into bite sized pieces, discarding the stems. When the potatoes are soft, drain and put back into the pot.
 Step 4: Add water, bouillon, seasoning, kale and sausage. If you're on a super budget the spices and bouillon aren't required, just kicks up the flavor a notch. If you're flush with cash, try adding half heavy cream and half chicken stock to make a creamier base soup. Of course, if you're rolling in Benjamins you could also just go out to Olive Garden for dinner tonight...and we should be friends. Email me k?
 Step 5: Bring to a boil and then simmer for about 20 minutes. In a cup, combine some hot soup water and the cornstarch and mix. Once it's all dissolved add it to the pot. This will help it to thicken. Also not completely required, but I like a little body. You could use flour for the same purpose.
The flavors combine beautifully into a rich soup that I thoroughly enjoyed. I would definitely make this again. If only I had some salad and bread sticks to go with it.

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Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Butternut Squash Soup

I recently had a dinner party, and in the spirit of the season (fall) I decided to make butternut squash soup as one of my main dishes. Earlier I posted about butternut squash macaroni & cheese, if you have one and soup just isn't your thing. No reason not to enjoy the bounties of fall, regardless of texture preferences. So as per usual, I googled around and pulled from several recipes and what I had in the house to come up with this. It received universally positive reviews! I made a large amount since I was feeding 6, you can cut everything in half for a smaller number of people.

2 squash, halved and seeded
2 carrots
2 celery sticks
1 small chunk peeled raw ginger (about 1 inch)
1 white onion
4 chicken bouillon cubes
5 cups water
1 package cream cheese
Cinnamon, nutmeg and coriander seasoning

 Step 1: Place halved squash on a baking pan with a little water. Bake at 350 for 35-45 minutes, until soft when poked with a fork.
 Step 2: While the squash are baking, boil the carrots, celery, onion and ginger in chicken water until tender.
 Step 3: Scoop the squash out of the skin and blend in a blender. There's a surprisingly large amount of flesh in there, I had to do it in three batches. Add hot water from the pot to thin it out. Blend in the cream cheese, the vegetables and chicken stock as well, put it all back into a large stock pot.
Step 4: Add a healthy dose of cinnamon, nutmeg and/or coriander, adjusting to your tastes. Bring to just a simmer, and enjoy.

This is a great taste of fall, good on its own or I'm sure you could pair it with any number of dishes. You could probably mix and match too, if you wanted to try pumpkin or acorn squash instead. You could add milk or half and half to make it creamier, or omit the cream cheese & chicken bouillon to make it vegan.

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Monday, October 21, 2013

Sausage gravy & biscuits

If you asked my family if ever they thought they'd see the day where I not only willingly ate sausage gravy and biscuits, yet alone cooked it myself, they would call you crazy. For the longest time I was very against sausage in any form; ground, patties, links. Well, I'm living proof that tastes change over time. I had a can of biscuits in the fridge and sausage was on sale $3/pound at my farmer's market. I couldn't resist buying a nice, fresh ground pound and trying my hand at this artery-clogging breakfast favorite.

1/2 pound sausage
1 can biscuits
2 cups milk
2 tbsp flour
Salt & pepper

 Step 1: Brown the sausage in a frying pan. Once fully cooked, remove the sausage, drain the fat and set aside.
 Step 2: Bake the biscuits in a 350 oven for 10-12 minutes.
 Step 3: Add the flour to the pan, slowly whisk in the milk. Add all the milk, and bring to a simmer. Add salt and pepper to taste.
 Step 4: Add the cooked sausage back in and mix well. Pour over warm biscuits and enjoy!
I can feel my taste buds cheering, and my arteries crying...

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Mixed seafood linguini in lemon-butter sauce

I'm very thankful that I have the ability, when I'm at the grocery store and see a bag of mixed seafood on sale, I can just throw it in my cart and think nothing of it. That's exactly what happened last week. I saw the mixed seafood on sale, and decided seafood linguini was for dinner that night.

1/2 lb pasta
1 lb bag mixed seafood
1/2 bag frozen mixed vegetables
1 tbsp garlic
1/3 cup butter/margerine
1/3 cup lemon juice
Sprinkles of garlic, italian seasoning and sea salt
(I added a few squirts of fish sauce because I have that. Because I'm weird. But it's salty and goes great with seafood.)

Step 1: Boil the pasta. While it's boiling, throw all the other ingredients into a pot. The lemon, butter and spices will coat the seafood and veggies. Simmer with a lid for about 5 minutes, then without a lid for another 10 or so. 
 Step 2: Once the pasta is done (~7/8 minutes) throw that in the pan to coat with sauce. You can adjust by adding butter, oil, lemon juice, or white wine as needed. Cornstarch or flour can thicken the sauce too.
 Once the seafood is soft, and the vegetables give when poked with a fork, or you're hungry, it's done!

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Pumpkin seed makeovers

One of my favorite parts of fall is carving pumpkins and roasting the seeds. Salty, crunchy, the perfect snack. A friend of mine decided to try branching out and putting weird things on the seeds we roasted. Here are our concoctions and my humble opinions thereof.

 This is the batch I made the day before, soaked overnight in salt water. They were simply roasted with olive oil and sea salt. My favorite, the old classic.

Indian spices: turmeric, curry powder & coriander
Brown sugar and cinnamon sweetness

Chili powder and chipotle pepper
Garlic and salt, a classic combo

All four batches of seeds, mixed with oil and a bit of salt each

Step 1: Mix seasonings, 2 tbsp oil and some salt into each batch.
Step 2: Spread the seeds in a single layer over a cookie sheet.
Step 3: Bake at 350 for 10 minutes, mix around so nothing burns, bake another 10 minutes.

 Each batch was put into its own labeled baggie.

The garlic salt was good, like original with garlic. The curry had a strange aftertaste. The spicy ones were nearly too much for me but tolerable. And the sugar ones caramelized and burnt into clumps... so as much fun as it was, I'll stick with the classics. But now you know.

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Sunday, October 13, 2013

Everything bagel with lox & cream cheese

Since I was first introduced to lox during my undergraduate studies I've been in love. Lately I've been noticing that it's more and more popular in restaurants, which makes me happy. Unfortunately it is rather more expensive for smoked salmon than an egg. Therefore, any chance I get to make it myself I jump at. Last week salmon went on sale at the grocery store, and that was my cue. I was a happy camper for almost a week of breakfasts.
The fanciest of places also have capers, lemon, and tomato and onion slices. I'm not terribly fancy though.

1 everything bagel (or whatever kind you like. Onion, wheat, regular.)
2 tbsp cream cheese
1 oz or so smoked salmon (also known as lox)

Step 1: Spread the cream cheese over the bagel.
Step 2: Rip pieces of salmon and place it around the bagel. See if you can hold yourself to only an ounce... I did but only because I wanted it to last.
Step 3: I also sprinkled lemon juice and sea salt over each half.

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Slow cooker chicken soup: "Just like grandma used to make"

When I was younger, Sunday was always early dinner, and almost always chicken noodle soup. Grandma or mom would put a pot of soup on to simmer, we would go off to church or on a Sunday drive around town, and come home to a house that smelled delicious and a pot full of warm delight. I like continuing that on my own, though I use the modern miracle of the crock pot so I don't have to worry about it burning on the stove (that's a hilarious story for another time...).

Since I had recently roasted a chicken, naturally I made soup from what wasn't eaten the first day. We had eaten the legs and drums, so I cut off and saved the whole breasts for sandwiches for lunch the next day. The rest of the bird plus a few extras was made into a huge crock pot full of chilly weather goodness. There is nothing like coming home to the smell of homemade chicken soup!

1 chicken carcass
3 large carrots, sliced
2 potatoes, diced
1 whole onion, sliced
3 stalks celery, chopped
1/2 pint fresh mushrooms
1 cup barley
1 tbsp butter

Step 1: That gorgeous roasted chicken had a tray full of juices and spices that I added into the crock pot first. Waste not want not, and that's some powerful flavor I don't want to waste.

 Step 2: I diced up all the assorted veggies and added them and the chicken (skin, bones, extra meat and all) into the crock pot. I added water all the way to the top and put it on low all day (about 8 hours).
When I came home, the house just smelled amazing. The chicken had been brined in all that lovely salt and sugar and pepper and spices, so I didn't even really need to add anything to the broth.
Step 4: I boiled 1 cup of barley in 1 1/2 cups of water with 1 tbsp butter for 45 minutes. 
Barley is a bit chewy, and I added some of the broth after 40 minutes to let the flavor soak in for the last 5 minutes. Maybe a 1/2 cup.


Just look at all those gorgeous veggies! And the sheen on the surface, that's from the natural chicken fat that dissolved into the broth. Sure it isn't the healthiest thing in the world for you, but boy howdy does it taste great! And you can let it cool in the fridge then skim the extra fat off the top.

The barley was surprisingly perfect for this soup. Normally I use egg noodles but didn't have any on hand. The flavors blend so well and are perfect for nippy fall nights. It is so easy to make, and you will have leftovers for days (unless you share). I guarantee* you won't get sick, or if you already are you will immediately feel better.

*Guarantee based only on personal experience, not actually backed by anything or redeemable for anything. But other experiences and comments are welcome to be shared. =)

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Thursday, October 10, 2013

Broccoli cheddar rice

Everyone has days when they just don't know what to make with dinner. Maybe you have a perfect roast in the crock pot, or stopped on the way home for burger meat but don't know what to go with it. This is a recipe for one of my go-to side dishes, broccoli cheddar rice. A while back I posted on how to make it in a slow cooker, now I'll tell you it can also be done in the oven! This was perfect because I had a whole chicken roasting in the oven, so I just whipped this up and popped it in there with it. Super simple, filling and tasty.

1 cup rice
1 cup milk
1 cup water
1/2 cup shredded cheese
1 cup broccoli florets
About 3 tbsp butter/margerine
Garlic salt

I don't know why it won't let me flip the photo. I tried uploading it four times...
Step 1: Into an oven-safe dish (small-ish, or double/triple the recipe and use larger) pour 1 cup water, 1 cup milk and 1 cup rice. Mix it up well. Add a few tbsp margarine, broccoli and cheese on top.

 Step 2: Pop it in the oven at 350-375 for about 20-30 minutes (depends on the temp. I had it at 375 for the chicken so it only needed about 21 minutes to cook fully).

Full meal with the chicken, broccoli cheddar rice and candied carrots.

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Candied Carrots

Everyone knows how hard it is sometimes to get kids to eat their vegetables. Heck, it's hard to get adults to eat their vegetables! But my mom knew all the tricks and I remember several vegetable side dishes that we all actually enjoyed as kids. Candied carrots was always one of my favorites. Not only to carrots already have a naturally sweet-ish taste, but then you add butter and brown sugar, and it's almost like dessert with dinner! Not exactly the healthiest thing in the world, but at least it will get some vitamin A and beta-carotene into your diet.

3 large whole carrots, cut into 1/4 inch slices
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup butter (1 stick?)

 Step 1: Slice all the carrots (peel if you want, sometimes I do and sometimes I don't. Always wash them first though) and place in a saucepot.
Step 2: Add the butter and brown sugar. Bring to a simmer, and cook, covered, for about 20 minutes, until the carrots are soft when poked with a fork.

That's really all there is to it! They are soft and sweet and a perfect side dish for just about anything. If you have a favorite side dish from your childhood, or a way to cook vegetables such that kids and family members don't complain, feel free to comment and share!

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