Five for Friday: My 5 Favorite Halloween Candies

My dear readers, this week’s Five for Friday brings us to yet another confession.  I feel like I’m really getting comfortable with letting you in on my deepest, darkest secrets.  I mean, it really doesn’t get any deeper than My Love for Yoga Pants or My Secret Power and it doesn’t get any darker than 5 Guys I have an Odd Crush On.  But this week I’m really dropping a bomb of a secret on you in honor of Halloween.

Halloween has always been one of my favorite times of year.  Festivals, costumes, pumpkins, hay rides, haunted houses….the list of awesome is endless.  But let’s be honest, the best reason for Halloween is the candy, right?  “Hell yeah!, ” you’re thinking.  “The houses with the Snickers/Reese’s Cups/Butterfingers are the best!” you chant.  Well, that’s exactly where I’m going to stop you.  Yeah, I like all of those things.  But my favorite candies, those ones I look forward to all year, are probably the ones you groan about.  They’re probably the ones that make you consider egging a house or two.  They’re the ones that come from the “uncool” house on the block.  So get ready, here come my:

5 Favorite Halloween Candies 

Number 5:  Bit O’ Honey

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis delectable treat is a gift from our tiny buzzing friends, the bees.  Originating in 1924, it’s a chewy honey flavored taffy with tiny bits of almond.

I could eat enough of these to employ a small colony of bees, thereby helping to save the declining population by putting their fuzzy butts to work.

Trade:  One Twix bar for two of your Bits O’ Honey.

Number 4:  Necco Wafter and Smarties

neccoI’m including Smarties because these yummy wafers are true rarities on the trick-or-treat scene.  First produced in 1847, each pack contains 8 different flavors:  lemon, lime, orange, clove, cinnamon, wintergreen, chocolate, and licorice.

Trade:  One for one trade of anything in my bag (excluding numbers 1-3).*

*Two for one if you’ll agree to remove the licorice flavor prior to the trade.  Yuck!

Number 3:  Sixlets

sixlets_20ballBecause what is better than chocolate?  Chocolate-flavored!  These tiny, round sleeves of yum came to us from our neighbors to the north in the 1960s.  The chocolatey flavored center is a combination of cocoa and carob.

Trade:  One pack of my fun-size M&Ms for two sleeves.

Number 2:  Candy Corn

candycorn These waxy kernels have been as much a symbol of Halloween as the pumpkin since their creation in the 1880s.  As much as they are loved for their seasonal appearance in candy dishes nationwide, they are still on the bottom of most kids trick-or-treat wish list.  I, on the other hand, believe that just like their kindred spirit the pumpkin, these gems of delish should flavor damn near everything imaginable in the fall.

Trade:  A pack of candy corn entitles you to the pick of any chocolate confection.*

*A pumpkin shaped version gets you two picks!

Number 1:  Mary Janes (preferably the generic ones)

maryjanepeanutbutterI can feel you rolling your eyes.  That’s cool; I’m not ashamed of my love for these bastards of the trick-or-treat game.  Made in 1914, these peanut butter and molasses flavored chewy wax creations take the Bit O’ Honey treat and make it a bit mo’ better.  They possess a chewiness so powerful, it is able to remove loose dental work in a single chomp.

Trade:  All of your black and orange bombs for the contents of my entire stash once I remove numbers 2-5.

Honorable Mentions:

Milk Duds

Tootsie Roll Assortment (minus the abomination known as Dots)

Well there you have it.  I’m a sucker for the old school cheap stuff.  I suppose that makes me the ideal trick-or-treat buddy in a way huh?  What’s your favorite Halloween candy?

Stay positive & love your life!

-Melissa

Today:

Listening to:  Youngblood Hawke – Rootless – Commentary

Eating:  Salad

Drinking:  Water

Random fact:  I haven’t eaten one single candy corn this season.  That needs to be rectified soon!

Perfectly Light Tomato Sauce

The garden has had its share of challenges this year.  We’ve gotten too much rain and thus my squash plants are struggling.  I had some green worm issues with the brussel sprouts and collards.  But my tomatoes are kicking ass!  We’ve had a constant flow of tomatoes over the last month.  It’s so nice not to have to get these from the store and they taste so much better!  The only challenge it to keep using them so they aren’t going to waste.  I’ve made a zillion salad variations.  I’ve eaten them with salt and pepper.  I’ve chopped and diced them and added them to so many recipes.   We been eating salsa out the wazoo (Matt is magical when it comes to making salsa).  I was even able to get a nice batch of Tomato Jelly a few weeks ago.  But when we went home for 4th of July and returned with a huge bag of tomatoes from his folk’s garden, I knew I had to come up with something else.

So Monday night I cooked a fresh tomato sauce to freeze.  It turned out super yummy!  I’m currently enjoying some over black rice and field peas for lunch.

My sauce is very light, because I don’t like to use tomato paste.  That creates something too similar to a marinara like you’d get in the grocery store which just isn’t my personal favorite.  This turns out much thinner with a color and flavor most similar to a vodka sauce (without the dairy).

As tends to happen when I cook, I made it up as I went along.  I played it by taste preference and therefore don’t have the exact measurements (no measuring cups or spoons were used).  Below is an estimate of what I did that can be used as a guide to make your own creation.

You’ll need:

Tomatoes- I used approx. 12 pounds of several varieties- heirloom, small roma, and Cherokee purple.

Minced garlic-  4 tbsp (less if you’re not a garlic freak like me!)

Fresh oregano- 3-4 tbsp leaves

Fresh basil- 3-4 tbsp leaves

Bell Peppers- 3

Onions- 2 (I used Vidalia.)

Olive Oil (optional)- 4 tbsp (I like the consistency and flavor this brings.  But if you’re cutting calories, this can be skipped.)

Red pepper flakes- 1 dash

Salt & Pepper to taste

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Step 1: Get rid of those pesky skins!

Score the bottoms of the tomatoes.  Scald for 1 minute in boiling water.  Remove and place in ice water.  Peel away tomato skins.

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Step 2:  Prep everything

Roughly chop skinned tomatoes and add to a large pot.

Dice onions and peppers.

Mince garlic

Separate your herb leaves and muddle (I used a mortar and pestle)

Step 3:  Cook!

Combine your tomatoes, herbs, 3 tbsp olive oil and 2/3 of the garlic in a large pot. Bring to a low boil and then simmer uncovered for about 30 minutes.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Add a dash of red pepper flakes.

Saute the peppers, onion, and remaining garlic in a large non-stick pan with a splash of olive oil over medium high heat until lightly caramelized.

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Step 4:  Blend!

Empty your tomato mixture into a blender or food processor and mix just until it is smooth (no tomato chunks).  Add your pepper and onion mixture and pulse quickly 2-3 times.  Some chunks of onion and pepper should remain.

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I had to do mine in two batches due to blender size limitations.

Step 5: Store!

Let your sauce cool and then bag in zip lock bags sized to accommodate your cooking needs.

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Hope you enjoy this sauce!  Let me know what you think!

Stay positive & love your life!

-Melissa

Today:

Listening to:  Krooked Treez – Ocean View (LA Version)

Eating:  This sauce over rice and field peas with a boca burger.

Drinking:  H2O

Random fact:  Matt makes a most excellent cooking buddy!  He was very involved in the cooking project above.

Tomato Jelly!

So my old lady canning efforts continued  this past weekend.  I made tomato jelly for the second year.  I was so excited for my garden to finally put out enough tomatoes at once to make this possible.   This stuff is SO GOOD!   Since Saturday, the tomatoes continue to ripen at a crazy pace.  So it looks like my next canning adventure may not be long off!

 

This year I made a small modification to the recipe, because I forgot to buy a lemon to zest. Ha!  So orange zest it was!  And it turned out to be a wonderful change.

 

Yields:  About 6 half pint jars

3 cups prepared tomatoes (about 2 1/2 lbs of tomatoes)

1 1/2 tsp grated orange rind

1/2 tsp ground allspice

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp ground cloves

1/4 C lemon juice

1 box powdered pectin

To prepare tomatoes:  Wash ripe tomatoes.  Scald, peel, and chop tomatoes.  Place chopped tomatoes in a saucepan and heat slowly to simmering, stirring constantly to prevent sticking and burning.  Cover and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occassionaly.  Take cooked tomatoes and place in a blender.  Pulse until no chunks remain.  Measure 3 cups of the cooked tomatoes into a large saucepan.  Add orange rind, allspice, cinnamon, and cloves.

 

To make jelly:  Sterilize canning jars.  Add lemon juice to the prepared tomatoes in the saucepan.  Measure sugar and set aside.  Stir powdered pectin into tomatoes.  Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring constantly.  At once, stir in sugar.  Stir and bring to a full rolling boil that can’t be stirred down.  Then boil hard for 1 minute, stirring constantly.

 

Remove from heat.  Skim off foam.  Pour hot jelly into hot jars, leaving 1/4 inch head space.  Place the lids on tightly.  Process in a Boiling Water Canner (ie. big pot that allows water to be filled above the jars).  5 minutes.

 

My jars sealed in about 30 minutes.  And the jelly tasted delicious.  Let me know how yours comes out!

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Stay positive and love your life!

-Melissa

 

Today:

Listening to:  Them Crooked Vultures – No One Loves Me & Neither Do I

Eating:  Caprese salad and mushroom soup.

Drinking:  Sugar free Monster

Random fact:  I love the show Dexter.  I can’t believe it’s the last season!

Pickles!

Matt and I have been laughing at the fact that my hobbies and interests range from young, fun, hip and sometimes tom-boyish (ie. my love of beer, rock concerts, sports, the outdoors, fitness) to old lady (gardening, baking,canning….I know how to crochet, etc.)  And this weekend I added another notch in my old lady belt;  I made pickles!  To make it even more home-ecish, I made them from cucumbers that came from our garden.  And I can’t even describe how damned excited I am about all of this!  I’m really not sure how I’m going to wait the suggested 3 weeks to sample our wares.  I’m probably going to look at those pickle jars every single day just to see if I can visually surmise how truly amazing they will be!

I suppose I  should wait until we try them to provide you with the recipe, but hey, I have pickles on the brain today.  So that’s what I’m going to write about!

Matt & Melissa’s Super Garlicy Pickles (and Bee helped)

What you’ll need:

4 lbs. of pickles

6 pint jars and accompanying lids

fresh dill (6-8 medium sprigs)

fresh garlic 6 cloves + 6 rounded teaspoons minced

dill seeds 6 teaspoons

6 bay leaves

sugar 2 tablespoons

kosher salt 2 tablespoons

black peppercorns (roughly 36 of them)

mustard seeds 3 teaspoons

apple cider vinegar 1.5 cups

white vinegar 1.5 cups

water 3 cups +2.5 quarts

a large pot

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Prep:

Slice ends off cucumbers then slice in 1/4 inch rounds.  Put the slices in a large pot and cover with 2.5 quarts of water.  Add 3 tablespoons of salt and stir until the salt is dissolved.  Cover and let stand for about 12 hours.

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Drain cucumbers.

Prepare the jars by filling the jars and a large pot with water.  Bring to a boil.  Cover and reduce heat to low to keep the jars hot.

In a pot combine the 1.5 cups of apple cider vinegar, the 1.5 cups of white vinegar, 2 tablespoons of sugar and 2 tablespoons of salt.  Bring to a boil.

Into each of the 6 pint jars, add 1 teaspoon of dill seeds, 1 teaspoon minced garlic, 1/2 teaspoon of mustard seeds, 1 bay leaf, 1-1.5 sprigs of fresh dill, 1 garlic clove, and  3-6 peppercorns.  We also added a dried chili to two jars for a spicier version!

Pack with cucumbers.

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Notice Jovi in the background.  She supervised the entire process and was unhappy to report that no cucumbers hit the ground.

 

Add hot vinegar mix to each jar leaving 1/2 inches of space at the top.

Seal and place back in a large pot of water.  Water should just cover the tops of the jars.  Bring to a boil and boil gently for 10 minutes.

 

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Someone please buy me a canning pot for Christmas.

 

Carefully remove jars and set aside to cool.

Check seals after 24 hours.

Wait 3 weeks and TASTE your garlicy pickle goodness!

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They appear to be delicious…time will tell.

 

I will let you guys know how they taste in a few weeks!  Do you have a great pickle recipe?  Share below!

Stay positive & love your life!

-Melissa

 

Today:

Listening to: Fiction 20 Down – Money Come, Money Go

Eating:  Left over pasta

Drinking:  H2O

Random fact:  I love garlic.  A lot.  If I were in culinary school I would be chastised for overwhelming my food with garlic.

 

A Suburban Garden: Tomatoes and Squash and Cukes….Oh My!

Last spring I started the project of turning my weed infested side yard into a small vegetable garden.  Most of my yard is shady owing to the fact that I have a million trees.  This is the only area of my yard that receives full sun and is not spoken for by a tree, a bush, or some other landscape effort.  I wanted to take what was my least favorite portion of my yard and turn it into a place I actually want to visit.  Enter lots of hard work:

We started by ripping up the insane amount of weeds and growth that had taken over the area.  What a mess!

Then the ground needed to be leveled and cultivated.  For this, I ended up renting a tiller or as Bee called it a “ground chopping tool”.

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Here is the most macho picture Bee has taken in his entire life.  Look at him just chopping that ground!

We then bought three kits to build raised beds and ten big bags of soil.  After a lot of work, sweat, and Bee squealing about bugs getting on him, we had this:

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Such farmers.

A short while later I had my first harvest:

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It looks pretty meager, but I was very excited!

By the end of the season, that little garden had produced an insane amount of veggies.  I ate so much squash I was sick of it.  I canned some delicious Tomato Jelly (sounds odd if you’ve never tried it, but it’s amazingly yummy) and some tomatoes, peppers, and onions for sauce use later.  I gave away more peppers than I could count.  The experience was so rewarding that I couldn’t wait to plant this year’s garden.

Lessons I learned to carry over to suburban garden 2.0:

  1. Don’t plant so many peppers.  I think I had 5+ plants last year.  That’s a lot of peppers for one person!
  2. Space out the plants a bit more/don’t plant so much.  The garden got unruly last year!  Stuff was everywhere.
  3. Beans are a waste of time in a garden this small.  I wasted so much space on beans and got enough for roughly one and a half meals.
  4. Tomato plants get crazy and take up far more room and need far more bracing that you anticipate.

This year planting took all of an hour.  Matt joined me for the task this year and was relived to not have to till anything.  We weeded, added some additional soil, and put down a bit of fertilizer.

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We’ve had a ton of rain over the last two months and the garden is loving life.  I swear that the squash and cucumbers grow 6 inches+ post shower.  They’re like mutants!  Here’s our first harvest (aside from the lettuce we’ve been enjoying for months):

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These squash were two inches long two days before this picture.

When the tomatoes start to ripen, we’re going to have to be ready to act quickly!  There must be no less than 100 green tomatoes out there just bidding their time.  Salsa, marinara, and jelly are planned.  We’re also going to be pickling some cucumbers…our first attempt at this.  If anyone has a great pickle recipe, send it my way!

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Matty better be glad I think he’s the best thing since sliced bread, because I’m totally eligible to sign-up for for farmersonly.com now!

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Squash peeking through.

Planted in this year’s garden:  squash, cucumbers, jalepenos, yellow bell peppers, sweet peppers, butter lettuce, brussel sprouts, collard greens, 4 varieties of tomatoes, onions, and radishes.

I will post recipes as we continue to harvest, cook, and can!  All you gardeners out there, please feel free to share your secrets!

Stay positive & love your life!

-Melissa

Today:

Listening to:  The Smashing Pumpkins – Here Is No Why

Eating:  Brussel Sprouts, green beans, and black rice.

Drinking:  H2O

Random fact:  I always wanted braces as a kid even though I had no need for them.

How to Breeze Your Way Through Cooking for a Summer Party

It’s almost officially summer and that means lot of get-togethers and cooking. I love this time of year. There is nothing better than being outside and firing up the grill. Even a veg loves a good barbeque!

So today I thought I’d share the menu from the last shindig we hosted a few weeks ago. This is a very simple menu that allows you to focus more on enjoying the party and less on living in the kitchen (there’s a time and place for that too!).

Step 1: Buy some booze.

I’m pretty partial to craft beer and my heart truly belongs to the IPA. On this occasion I went with Lazy Magnolia’s Timber Beast. It’s so hoppy that I’m surprised rye isn’t sprouting out of the bottle. Love! It’s currently my favorite IPA. It’s a bit pricey and only comes in a four pack, but it’s totally worth it. Lazy Magnolia is based in MS. Check out all of their yummy creations here: http://lazymagnolia.com/

We also snagged some Ruby Red Vodka from Deep Eddy Vodka (based in Austin TX). This stuff is magical. Add it to some lemonade and you have a perfect summer drink. Check out Deep Eddy at: http://deepeddyvodka.com/desktop/

Finally, we grabbed some Abita Strawberry. This is a wonderfully light lager that has the perfect hint of strawberry. I tend to not go for lighter beers much anymore, but I can’t get enough of this one. It’s great for a day at the pool. http://abita.com/brews

I also recommend asking your friends to bring their favorite beverages to share. This is a great way to add variety without breaking the bank and to discover new beers and cocktails.

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This stuff is dangerous.

Step 2: An easy appetizer

Go to the store and purchase some Sabra Hummus. I picked garlic because I can never have too much of the stuff. Seriously, in my house garlic goes in and on just about every dish! Scoop up a few bags of pita chips. I love Amy’s.

Take your purchase home. Transfer the hummus to a cute bowl. Add a little olive oil and paprika. Arrange the pita chips on a nice tray. Bam, looks homemade and impressive. Now all of your friends think you are the hummus master. You’re welcome.

Step 3: Convince your boyfriend to man the grill.

I love to cook, but I’m not much for prepping and cooking meat anymore given my veg status. So that means Matt was on grill duty. He fired that bad boy up and produced some yummy chicken breast (so I was told), turkey burgers and delish Boca burgers. I’m not quite sure what he used for seasoning but he went with Garland’s Six Sweet Brown Sugar BBQ sauce. Yum, yum! He also hooked my boca burgers up with some grilled garlic and mushrooms.

Step 4: A banging summer salad.

Out of all of the food served this is what got devoured the quickest. I mean there wasn’t a leaf left in the bowl.

Salad:

baby kale, green chard, red chard, arugula

cucumbers, seeded

red bell pepper, diced

strawberries, sliced

tomatoes, yellow cherry, halved

goat cheese

almonds, slivered, salt and pepper

*You can buy these in the store or make your own. To make your own, lightly toss plain slivered almonds with a bit of olive oil and salt & pepper. Lay out on a cookie tray. Bake at 350 until they are lightly golden and crunchy.

Dressing:

olive Oil

balsamic vinegar

Dijon mustard

garlic, minced

honey

oregano, finely chopped and pressed

salt & pepper

*I’ve recently been trying out a free sample of Filippo Berio EVOO. Pretty great stuff for the price point.

Step 5: Sides

First, I went with baked beans. Vegetarian Bush’s straight from the can. I get more compliments on these beans than when I’ve tried to get fancy and create my own. They’re great without any additions.

I also served-

Rosemary New potatoes:

Red potatoes, quartered

Olive oil

Garlic, minced

Rosemary

Salt & Pepper

Cook in a pyrex dish covered in foil at 350 for roughly 45 minutes (until a fork easily pierces potatoes).

I have a wonderful herb garden on my back patio that allows me to enjoy fresh herbs. It’s great because they are available instantly! Perfect for making up sauces, dressings, etc.

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Oregano, lemon balm, chive, basil, mint, stevia.

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Rosemary

Step 6: Dessert

This time I really cheated and had my friends bring dessert. Bee showed up with a delicious mango pie from Publix. It was just insanely good. We also had an “apple” pie courtesy of Roger and Joe that turned out to be peach. Nice surprise!

So all and all, a very easy summer menu. I apologize for not posting ingredient amounts or knowing what Matt put on the chicken. I wasn’t planning on blogging this. I pinky promise I will be prepared with full details next cooking post!

What do you like to serve at your summer parties? Leave me a comment.

Stay positive & love your life!

-Melissa

Today:

Listening to: Queens Of The Stone Age – Keep Your Eyes Peeled

Eating: Leftover pasta….again

Drinking: H2O

Random fact: I hate wearing socks in bed. It makes my feet feel claustrophobic