October 31, 2014

Severed Fingers Cookies & Happy Halloween!

Severed fingers cookies for Halloween

Happy Halloween!

Halloween is one of the best holidays for getting creative with your food. I think there's a tricky line between food that's creepy and food that's just too gross to eat (I don't think I could ever bring myself to eat a kitty litter cake, for example, though I'm sure it would be fun to watch people's reactions to it!) but I think these severed fingers have just the right amount of scare factor without pushing the limits too much, at least for an adult party!  I brought these to a Halloween potluck with my lab on Wednesday and received a few comments on how realistic and creepy they looked, which was my goal, but people were still eating them which was also important!

You've probably seen some version of severed fingers or witches fingers cookies on the web before but I had to share mine too because I think they're so great for a Halloween party if you still need any ideas for this weekend!

Severed fingers cookies for Halloween

These cookies are easy to make - the recipe is sort of a cross between a sugar cookie and shortbread cookie.  It's a bit time consuming to shape and decorate each cookie but I had a lot of fun with it.  I wouldn't say the taste is anything extraordinary as the recipe is pretty basic, but in this case I wasn't as concerned about the taste compared to the look!

I'll post a link to the recipe I used below along with some tips I've learned from making these a couple of times.  If you're looking for a Halloween party treat that will get your guests talking, these cookies are perfect!

I actually don't have very exciting plans for Halloween other than staying home to watch a scary movie and try to fight off a cold, but I hope you all have a safe and happy Halloween!

Severed fingers cookies for Halloween

Severed Finger Cookies

The recipe I used for these cookies can be found at Cook and Be Merry.

It's similar to a Taste of Home recipe which I've seen several people make, but uses a little more sugar and a little less salt, which I think improves the taste.

Some tips I have and small changes I made to the Cook and Be Merry recipe are:
  • I did not use green food colouring.  If you want these to look more like witches fingers, then feel free to colour them green!
  • I used sliced almonds for the fingernails rather than whole blanched almonds, which was only because I couldn't find the whole blanched almonds.  Either work, but I think the nails look a little more realistic with whole almonds rather than slices.  You can blanch your own almonds as the recipe gives instructions for.
  • To shape the cookies, I divided the dough in four.  Keep the sections you're not working with in the fridge.  I shaped each of the four sections of dough into 10 fingers.  Just break it into ten even pieces, roll each piece into a cylinder, then shape the knuckles, press the almond in for the nail, and use a knife to add wrinkles at the knuckle and below the fingernail.  The wrinkles are important to make these more realistic!
  • It's really important to keep the dough chilled to prevent it from spreading.  If you don't do this your fingers will spread too much and won't look realistic.  I kept the dough refrigerated, and after I shaped each section into fingers, I stuck the fingers into the freezer for a few minutes to chill them back up before going in the oven.  As your first set of fingers bakes, you can shape the next set then stick them back in the fridge/freezer so they're ready to go in the oven as soon as the other ones are done.
  • Watch the baking time!  My first batch I cooked for 22 minutes because other recipes had said to bake for 20-25 mins, and they ended up overbaked (dry).  After that I reduced to 20 then 17 minutes for subsequent batches, but they still ended up a bit dry.  Next time I would start with Cook and Be Merry's recommendation of only 15 minutes.
  • After baking the fingers, take each almond off one at a time, squeeze some red gel underneath, then place the almond back on so the red gel oozes out from behind the fingernail (and helps the almond stick).  Add some red gel to the bottom of each finger too to make it look severed.

October 28, 2014

Southwestern Quinoa Stuffed Pepper Jack O' Lanterns

Southwestern Quinoa Stuffed Pepper Jack O' Lanterns - easy and fun dinner idea for Halloween!

I love making cute Halloween themed treats, and dinner ideas are even better since there are already so many sweets around this time of year.  I've seen the idea of carving stuffed peppers like jack o' lanterns on several blogs before and wanted to try it for myself this year.  Even though I'm certainly not the first to try these, they turned out so cute and tasty that I had to share them with you guys!

Southwestern Quinoa Stuffed Pepper Jack O' Lanterns - easy and fun dinner idea for Halloween!

These are also really easy to make and completely customizable!  Just find some orange peppers, cut the tops off and scrape out any seeds or ribs inside, then carve your jack o lantern face with a small knife.  You don't want to cut out too big of holes so that the filling could escape, but even though these are a lot smaller to work with than pumpkins, I found them much easier to "carve"!

After prepping your little pumpkin lookalikes, you make your filling, stuff the insides of the peppers, and bake them to soften the peppers.  I also like to parboil the peppers first to reduce the amount of time needed to soften the peppers in the oven later, which will also help save time if you're trying to make these on Halloween evening before trick or treating starts!

southwestern quinoa

I filled mine with one of my favourite southwestern-flavoured quinoa mixtures, which is vegetarian and pretty healthy too.  I cook the quinoa in vegetable broth which is important for giving it more flavour, then mix in some sauteed onion and garlic, tomatoes, black beans, corn, spices, and cheese.  You could add in more vegetables like spinach or mushrooms if you like, or leave out the spices if your kids won't like them.

I'm going to a Halloween potluck tomorrow and plan on making some scary cookies so if those turn out well I'll have another treat to share later this week!  Happy week of Halloween!

Southwestern Quinoa Stuffed Pepper Jack O' Lanterns - easy and fun dinner idea for Halloween!

Southwestern Quinoa Stuffed Pepper Jack O’ Lanterns

Serves 4-6

Ingredients:

2 cups vegetable broth
1 cup dry quinoa
4-6 orange bell peppers
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 yellow onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 small tomatoes, diced
1 (540mL) can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup corn kernels (thawed if frozen)
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
Salt and pepper
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese (or Mexican or taco blend)

Directions:

Bring 2 cups of vegetable broth to a boil in a medium saucepan.  Add quinoa, cover, reduce heat to simmer and let simmer for 15 minutes.  Remove from heat and let sit, covered, for 5 minutes.  Remove lid and fluff with a fork.

Meanwhile, cut the tops off the bell peppers and use a knife to scrape out the remaining seeds and ribs of the pepper, leaving the pepper in tact (as seen in pictures).  Leave the tops aside if you wish to include them for presentation later.  Bring a large pot of water to a boil, with enough water to cover the peppers.  Add peppers and let simmer for about 4 minutes, until slightly softened.  Carefully remove and set aside.

Preheat oven to 350°F.

In a medium pan, heat oil over medium-high heat.  Add onion and saute for about 5 minutes, stirring often, until softened.  Add garlic and saute for 30 seconds, stirring. Add tomatoes, black beans, corn, cumin, and chili powder, and season with salt and pepper.  Stir and saute for a few minutes.  Remove from heat, stir in quinoa and cheddar cheese and mix until incorporated.

Spoon quinoa mixture into the peppers.  There should be enough to fill 6 peppers or you can really fill 4 peppers quite full, and might still have some quinoa leftover.  You could also just stop now and eat the quinoa on its own!  Leave tops off the peppers, spray a 9x13 glass baking dish with non-stick cooking spray, and place filled peppers standing up in the dish.  Cover with aluminum foil and bake in preheated oven for 25-35 minutes, until peppers are softened to your liking (I did 25 minutes as I was impatient but would have preferred 30).  Remove and serve with tops on the peppers if desired.  Eat by slicing everything up with a knife and fork and eating the quinoa and pepper together.



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For more Halloween dinner ideas, try these:

Halloween mummy potatoes with turkey meatballs

Halloween Mummy Potatoes with Meatballs

Pumpkin, chicken, & goat cheese quesadillas

Pumpkin, Chicken, & Goat Cheese Quesadillas(for Halloween!)

October 02, 2014

Smashed Chickpea, Blue Cheese, & Apple Sandwich

Smashed Chickpea, Blue Cheese, Apple, and Walnut Sandwich - a healthy and hearty vegetarian lunch idea!

With fall well underway, I’ve been craving heartier meals that incorporate seasonal ingredients like pumpkin and apples. I’ve seen a lot of smashed chickpea or “chickpea salad” sandwiches around the web before and have wanted to try my own version for a while now. I knew I wanted the crunch of apples in there, and because I can’t get enough of the apples-blue cheese combination, I mixed my apples and chickpeas with blue cheese, throwing in some walnuts for more texture, and a quick mustard and apple cider vinaigrette for added flavour. Combined with thick slices of fresh 7 grain whole wheat bread, lettuce, sprouts, and a little extra mustard, this made for a really satisfying sandwich (when my dad saw my lunch one day he asked if I was Dagwood) that I loved!

Smashed Chickpea, Blue Cheese, Apple, and Walnut Sandwich - a healthy and hearty vegetarian lunch idea!

If I’d wanted it to be more of a chickpea salad sandwich, I could have added mayo, but I don’t ever have mayo around and I liked the flavour of the mixture on its own so I left it out. Without something like mayo to get everything to stick together, the filling is a bit messy in a sandwich, but that’s all part of the fun! You could try adding some if you prefer though, or even use a mixture of mayo and plain Greek yogurt to keep this on the lighter side.

And if blue cheese isn’t your thing, here are a few other chickpea sandwiches you could try!

Smashed chickpea salad from Smitten Kitchen
Smashed chickpea and avocado salad sandwich from Two Peas & Their Pod
Curried chickpea salad sandwich from The Simple Veganista
Cranberry walnut chickpea salad sandwich from The Simple Veganista
Herbed chickpea sandwich (with feta and dill) from Martha Stewart
Smashed chickpea & pesto sandwich from Bake Your Day
Pink chickpea smash salad from Happy Healthy Life

Smashed Chickpea, Blue Cheese, Apple, and Walnut Sandwich - a healthy and hearty vegetarian lunch idea!

Smashed Chickpea, Blue Cheese, & Apple Sandwich

Recipe my own but inspired by many other versions of smashed chickpeas that others have created!

Makes 4 sandwiches

Ingredients:

For the Chickpea Mixture:
1 (540mL) can of no-salt added chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 large apple, cored and diced – any crunchy and sweet variety that you like will work
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
2 oz crumbled blue cheese
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 shallot, minced
Salt and pepper

For the Sandwiches:
8 slices whole grain bread
Lettuce, and sprouts if desired
Extra mustard if desired (such as Dijon, honey mustard, or deli style mustard)

Directions:

In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, Dijon, and shallot.  Let sit for at least 5 minutes (I find this takes some of the bite out of the shallots).

Smash chickpeas with a potato masher or large fork; they don’t have to be completely smashed, just partially.  I found it difficult to do with a fork so I pulsed mine several times in a food processor; this is quicker if you don’t mind washing an extra dish!  Mix the apples, walnuts, blue cheese, and parsley into the chickpea mixture.  Mix in the olive oil dressing and season mixture generously with salt and pepper.

Divide chickpea mixture evenly among 4 sandwiches, along with lettuce, sprouts, and extra mustard if desired (I liked these best with added mustard!).  Try to flatten or “smush” the chickpea mixture onto each sandwich so it sticks together.  Even still, these might be messy and I learned that it’s best to hold on to both ends of your sandwich as you’re eating to prevent the filling from falling out!

September 25, 2014

Vegan Pumpkin Pie

Healthy vegan pumpkin pie

Pumpkin pie is my (and a lot of people's, I'm sure) favourite type of pie, and the type I have the least self-control around because it's so easy to just take a little slice from the fridge, and then one more little slice, and suddenly you've eaten a whole pie just like that.  Ryan has been wanting to buy a pumpkin pie for weeks now but I told him that since it would just be the two of us eating it (and I intend on eating much more pumpkin pie in the coming months!) I wanted to try making a healthy pie that we wouldn't feel guilty about eating!

Healthy vegan pumpkin pie

This pumpkin pie is pretty healthy and also happens to be vegan.  The crust is made from low-fat graham crackers mixed with a bit of coconut oil, so the crust alone has a lot less "bad" fats than a typical butter or shortening-packed pie crust.  (Not that I have anything wrong with eating the occasional piece of traditional pie, but like I said, I wanted to make a healthier version!)  I could have made a healthier crust with nuts and dates but I wanted to keep this as easy and inexpensive as possible since we wanted it to be more of an every day dessert pie.

The filling is made up of pumpkin puree, unsweetened almond milk, no eggs, a reduced amount of brown sugar and some pure maple syrup for sweetening, cornstarch to help everything set, and of course the usual pumpkin spices.

Healthy vegan pumpkin pie

For a topping, I made a batch of coconut whipped cream, which is a great vegan alternative to traditional whipped cream!  To make it, you basically put a can of coconut milk in the fridge for a while so that the cream separates from the liquid, then you scoop out the coconut cream and whip it in a chilled bowl until it's fluffy.  It doesn't need much sweetener but I added a tiny bit of powdered sugar and vanilla extract to mine.  It tastes amazing and the slight coconut flavour really complements pumpkin pie!  Oh She Glows has a great tutorial for making whipped cream if you've never tried it before!

Coconut whipped cream

I was worried that either the taste or texture of this pie wouldn't turn out right but it turned out so much better than I'd even hoped!  It had a really nice bold pumpkin flavour from all the spices and addition of molasses (you can cut back if you don't like a lot of spice though!), the filling set perfectly and was smooth and creamy, and the crust sort of softened but stayed firm.  I won't say that it tastes exactly the same as a traditional pumpkin pie, but we both loved this and will likely be making it again soon!

With (Canadian) Thanksgiving quickly approaching, this would be a great dessert if you'll have any vegans at the table, or just want a lighter option after a big meal!

Healthy vegan pumpkin pie

Vegan Pumpkin Pie

Recipe inspired by and adapted from several sources, including Vegetarian Times, Minimalist Baker, and Oh She Glows

Makes one 9-inch pie

Ingredients:

For the Crust:
10 sheets of low-fat graham crackers (about 1.5 cups of crumbs)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup melted organic coconut oil

For the Filling:
2 cups canned pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling)
1 cup unsweetened almond milk
3-1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
1 tablespoon molasses
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1-1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Lightly spray a 9” pie pan with non-stick cooking spray.

Pulse graham crackers in a food processor until they form fine crumbs. Transfer to a bowl and mix in the cinnamon with a whisk or a fork.  Add the melted coconut oil and mix together (I use a fork) until well combined.  Pour crumb mixture into the prepared pie pan and press evenly across the bottom and up the sides to form a pie crust.  Bake in preheated oven for about 7 minutes, then remove.  Leave oven on.

For the filling, mix all ingredients together in a large bowl, whisking together until just combined.  You could do the wet and dry ingredients separately if you like but I saved bowls and just mixed everything together in one.  Pour filling over the baked pie crust, return to oven, and bake for 55-60 minutes, until set. 

Remove from oven and let cool at room temperature for at least an hour, then transfer to refrigerator and let cool for 3-4 hours or overnight before slicing and serving.

Serve with coconut whipped cream, if desired.  Follow the link for instructions on making coconut whipped cream; note that your coconut milk will need to be in the fridge the day before so plan ahead!



Ingredient Index

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