Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Twilight Zone Party


In ten years of marriage, my husband and I have established a tradition of hosting a few annually recurring events. For many years, one of these was our yearly Hitchcock Movie Night. Every October we'd gather with a handful of friends to eat spooky treats and watch some of Hitch's classics--Rope, Rear Window, Vertigo, Frenzy, and others. Having gone through quite a bit of the Hitchcock catalog by now, this year we thought it would be fun to switch things up a little. Recently we realized that several seasons of The Twilight Zone are on Netflix. Anthony grew up watching The Twilight Zone, but I'm a relative newbie (though I did see the Talking Tina episode as a child and was SCARRED). So we figured a Twilight Zone episode viewing night would be an interesting diversion from the lengthier Hitchcock movies--and it was! Unfortunately, due to the cold and flu season that seems to have started way earlier than usual (which almost sounds like the premise of a TZ episode), there were only a total of five of us that night, but hey, our couch isn't that big anyway. I made some campy decorations, a few creepy desserts and some mildly alcoholic cider punch, and we were good to go. My best friend Joy and I even spent the couple of weeks before the party writing and filming our own 4-minute Twilight Zone episode, which I wish I could show you here, but Blogger tells me it's too large to post. Waaaahhhh. 

Anyway, here's a rundown of the details of the evening in case you ever get the hankering to host your own homage to the uncanny in glorious black and white.

Decorations:

When it comes to party decorations, my motto is "When in doubt, go to Michael's and go crazy with patterned paper." If you noticed the picture above, you'll see I am dead serious. To set the dichromatic tone, I made a couple of signs featuring the tagline from the Twilight Zone intro: You have now crossed over into...The Twilight Zone. I printed this sentence off an image on the internet, cut it out, and pasted it onto some snazzy black-and-white paper and boom, instant Twilight Zone party decor. 


Next, rolling along with the patterned paper, I embraced my inner pennant fetish by making a black and white banner to hang over the food.


Speaking of the food...


Mother-of-mercy-what-is-that-terrifying-creation, you ask? Oh, just a pair of baby arms reaching from the grave, nothing to be alarmed about. Actually, it's supposed to be baby arms reaching up from a garden bed....which was the premise of the episode my friend Joy and I wrote and filmed. (Now you really want to see it, right?) So these peanut butter frosted, graham cracker topped brownies were a delicious little tie-in with our project. 


Loooooook into my coooookie. Our second sweet something was another visual to match the Twilight Zone theme. Even though I haven't seen all that many TZ episodes, one image I associate with the show is a spinning black and white spiral. To me, these chocolate-orange pinwheel cookies looked just like an edible version of it. I used this recipe for chocolate orange cookies, and then, instead of mixing the chocolate and orange doughs, I kept them separate and rolled them out to two rectangles of the same dimensions...


laid one on top of the other...


chilled for awhile, then rolled the whole thing up...



sliced, and baked as directed.


 Definitely a winner of a cookie I will repeat next Halloween!

In addition to our sweet treats (and some popcorn to round out the movie night menu) I made a pitcher of this chilled spiced rum and cider punch


If I had my way with October in Phoenix, we'd be able to drink our cider hot, but the sad truth is that it was 95 degrees the day of this party and I didn't want our guests sweating to the point of sliding off our leather couch. So chilled cider it was! I added a cinnamon stick or two and about a teaspoon of whole cloves to give it a little extra spice.

Last but not least, I would be remiss if I didn't share the diverse mix of Twilight Zone episodes that made the party memorable:

1. The Fever: Franklin Gibbs believes gambling is an inexcusable vice...until he tries it.
2. What You Need: A man has the mysterious ability to give people exactly what they will need in the near future.
3. Living Doll: Little Christy's doll Talking Tina has a mind of her own...and she's prepared to use it.
4. Terror at 20,000 Feet: William Shatner stars as a man flying home after 6 months in rehab for a mental breakdown. Is he really cured? 
5. Walking Distance: A very unusual, meditative episode about the transience of life and holding on to the good.

Though our party was almost two weeks ago, I've continued to ruminate on these episodes. The Twilight Zone continues to be a thought-provoking show, even 50 years after its air time. Thought-provoking enough, in fact, to consider having another party next year!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Parsley-Parmesan Whole Roasted Cauliflower


Stop. Everything. There is an awesome way to roast cauliflower that I need to make you aware of. Did you have any idea you could roast the WHOLE THING? Like the entire head of cauliflower? Well, I didn't--or at least, I did, but then I forgot. Like many a shiftless Pinterest user, I pinned something about this concept awhile back and then proceeded to not look at it for several months. Then for some reason tonight as I was contemplating how to make cauliflower to accompany a pork roast, that lovely image of a whole cauliflower roasted in all its cerebral-looking glory sprang back into my mind. Was it secretly difficult, I wondered? Was there some secret to why Western civilization has not evolved to cook cauliflower this way? Nope and nope (or I don't actually know about the second one. The Illuminati could have its reasons for keeping the general public away from whole roasted heads of cruciferous vegetables. They're weird like that.)

Roasting the entire head takes somewhat longer than roasting florets, and of course you don't get browning on as much surface area, but I'd say the interesting presentation makes up for those drawbacks. (Never thought you'd need a pie server to serve cauliflower, right?) Plus, even as a veggie caramelization devotee, I felt the flavor combination of parsley, parmesan, and mustard was a nice change from the near-blackened version I usually make.  With Halloween right around the corner, the only way I can think to improve it is to find some way to make it look even more like a brain. How's that for a healthy Halloween treat?


Parsley-Parmesan Whole Roasted Cauliflower
(Adapted from Food Network)

Ingredients:

1 head of cauliflower
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 1/2 Tbsp. dijon mustard
salt and pepper, to taste
1 Tbsp. + 1 tsp. dried parsley flakes
2 Tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese

Directions:

1. Position an oven rack in the bottom of the oven and preheat to 450 degrees.

2. Remove the leaves from the cauliflower, then trim the stem so the cauliflower can sit flat. Place the head in a 9" round cake pan (or a roasting pan/cookie sheet--I just liked the way it fit so snugly in a round cake pan).

3. In a small bowl, mix olive oil and dijon mustard. Brush all around the outside of the cauliflower. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

4. Roast in the preheated oven until tender and browned, about 50 minutes.

5. Let the cauliflower sit for a few minutes. Mix dried parsley and Parmesan, then sprinkle to cover. Cut into wedges and serve.

Serves 5-6 as a side dish.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Spinach Feta Quiche



Sometimes in this stage of life I feel like so many of my friends and family members are having babies that Target should just hand me a pack of diapers and onesies every time I pass through their automatic doors. (And take the 30 bucks right out of my wallet.) In the last month and a half, our extended family has welcomed one new niece and one new nephew. Then there's also my cousin who's pregnant, my good friend, my other good friend, and basically 80% of my Facebook friends, it seems. For me, it's fun to visit friends and loved ones with itty bitty newborns....and then hand them back to mom or dad to deal with because that stage of life is DONE for me!!! *Insane cackle* 

I jest. God only knows whether my husband and I will ever have any more children.* (*Official Catholic cover-your-butt statement.) But it is such a blessing to watch so many friends with growing families, and--maybe my favorite part--to bring them meals. This past week I was slated to take dinner to my brother-in-law and sister-in-law, whose little girl had arrived a few days before. When taking a meal to new parents, I always try to stick to the following rules:

--Reasonably healthy (nursing moms need good nutrition)
--Travels well (as much as I love soup, it does not pass this test)
--No dishes need to be returned (because this is a hassle for everyone)
--Nothing too crazy (I'll save my Jellied Boar Snout recipe for another time)

There are many dinners that meet these criteria, but one of my favorites is this spinach feta quiche. You may have noticed, if you are a human being who eats solid food, that spinach and feta are a Mediterranean Dream Team. 

 


So it will probably come as no surprise to you that this spinach feta quiche is delicious. But I will tell you, having tried MANY such combinations in my many years as a quiche eater, that this one is far and away the best I've ever had. The addition of cheddar kicks it up a notch to cheesy, spinachy, herby bliss. And while it meets all the above standards for a great meal to take to new parents (baked in a disposable aluminum pan so no dishes need be washed or returned), it could also just as easily make a pretty brunch item or dinner for vegetarian guests. Any way you slice it--literally--this is one you don't want to miss.


Spinach Feta Quiche
(Adapted from Allrecipes.com)

Ingredients:

3 Tbsp. butter
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 small onion, chopped
1 10-oz. package frozen spinach
1 6-oz. package herb and garlic crumbled feta cheese
1 c. shredded Cheddar cheese, divided 
1 unbaked 9-inch pie crust
4 eggs, beaten
3/4 c. milk
salt and pepper, to taste

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

2. In a large skillet, melt butter over medium heat. Saute garlic and onion in the butter until lightly browned, 7-10 minutes. Stir in spinach, feta, and 1/2 c. cheddar and heat through. Season with salt and pepper. Pour into pie crust.

3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, salt, and pepper. Pour over spinach mixture.

4. Bake in preheated oven for 15 minutes. Sprinkle the top with the remaining 1/2 c. cheddar and bake an additional 35-40 minutes until set in the center. Let stand 10 minutes before slicing.

Serves about 5 as a main dish. 

Monday, October 13, 2014

Cream Cheese Apple Tart


So it's been two weeks since my last post, which is the longest I've ever gone without blogging since first starting this endeavor last June. I'm sure all three of my readers are seething with rage and anxiety. But it's been a super busy few weeks, which tends to leave blogging in the dust. First my husband went out of town, meaning I was fending for myself with three little kids for a few days. Then I decided to give him a taste of his own medicine by going out of town myself for three days to my 10-year college reunion in Illinois. The fellowship was sweet, the fall colors were gorgeous, and my poor little tuckus was just about frozen right off of my body. I had signed up to do the Homecoming 5k, but when the morning dawned at about 35 degrees with snow flurries, I decided I'll save my running in extreme weather conditions for the Zombie Apocalypse, thank you very much. All in all, it was a great trip, though.

The colors! And the friends! And the memories!
The day I returned from the Chicago area, my brother came to town for a few days, inspiring the following goofy faces like any good brother/uncle: 


Since my kids were on fall break, we were able to have some quality time with Uncle Joel, visiting the pumpkin patch, going to parks, and arguing over whether it's okay for him to teach my children how to belch on command. 

Now that things are beginning to settle back down to normal and we're almost halfway through October, I'm ready to share this lovely dessert to ring in the autumn spirit, if you haven't already rung it in yourself with tall boots over jeans and pumpkin spice lattes to the point of credit card debt. It has two of my favorite flavors of fall--apples and cinnamon--with a unique twist, something different from the usual apple pie. (Not that there's anything wrong with the usual apple pie.) 


I've made this twice now and received several compliments on its taste and appearance. The fancy-looking apple pinwheel effect on top definitely gives it visual appeal, and the taste is just as good as the look. Plus, I love the unexpected cheesecakey layer hiding underneath the apples.


And doncha just want to grab that one gooey-looking cinnamon apple on top?


I'd be willing to bet you'll make a lot of friends if you bring this in place of apple pie to your family's Thanksgiving this year...but why wait until then? It's October--let the autumn eating commence!

Cream Cheese Apple Tart
(Adapted from The Cooking Channel)

Ingredients:

For the crust:
1 homemade or purchased pie crust

For the cream filling:
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 egg
1/4 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

For the apple top:
2 large Granny Smith apples, peeled and sliced
1/4 c. sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon

Directions:

1. Bake the pie crust according to package directions in a 10-inch tart pan (or 9-inch pie plate).

2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

3. In a medium bowl, beat together cream cheese, egg, sugar, and vanilla until smooth. Pour into the baked pie crust.

4. In a large bowl, mix sugar and cinnamon. Add apple slices and toss to coat. Arrange individual apple slices in a pinwheel pattern on top of the cream cheese filling, starting at the outer edge of the tart and working inward.

5. Bake about 40 minutes, until apples are tender and golden.

Serves 8.