My Haunted Library

All things spooky. Your source for paranormal and supernatural book and movie reviews, strangeography, Halloween crafts and a little cozy fall baking.


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Big Dark Chocolate Caramel Cookie

Oh yes.

Forget jewelry and roses and expensive dinners. Bake this massive, chewy, delectable cookie for your Valentine and they’ll be yours forever. Or, heck, just make it for yourself. Either way will bring happiness.

Back in the day (we’re talking early ’90s, here) we’d go to the original Old Chicago on Pearl Street in Boulder for free glassware night, a good pizza, and their big warm cookie, straight out of the oven. Those were the glory days before Old Chicago became a chain and their food quality tanked. I still remember that cookie with foodie nostalgia.

But this cookie is better. Bigger. More refined for today’s gourmet cookie palates.  Plus, the recipe is ridiculously simple.

We love a slice warmed up just a little bit alongside some good ice cream, or topped with a drizzle of chocolate sauce. Be creative. Enjoy!

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Ingredients:

1 ½ cups flour

¾ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

10 Tablespoons butter, softened to room temperature

1 cup packed light brown sugar

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup bittersweet (60% cacao) chocolate chips or dark chocolate chips

½ cup toasted walnuts (or pecans)

12 caramel candies

Flaky sea salt (optional)

 

Special Equipment:

A 10-inch cast iron skillet

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How to Make it:

Heat your oven to 375 F.

In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda, and salt.

In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter and the brown sugar together on a medium-high speed until very light-colored and fluffy, about 4 minutes.

Add in the egg and vanilla and beat until combined.

Drop your mixer speed and add in the flour mixture until just combined.

Stir in the nuts and chocolate chips.

Butter your cast iron skillet so your cookie doesn’t stick. That would be very sad.

Spoon the dough into the skillet and pat it down evenly.

Push the 12 caramel candies into the dough.

Sprinkle the top with sea salt, if you want.

Bake at 375 F for 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

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Let it cool. If you can wait that long…

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Pure Heaven: The Best Angel Food Cake

Ever since I was little, angel food cake has been my favorite cake of all. Light, fluffy, just sweet enough, it lends itself to all kinds of toppings. Strawberries macerated in Grand Marnier. Butterscotch sauce. Frosting. Lemon glaze. Yum. In fact, my wedding cakes were angel food with a selection of choose-your-own toppings.

It is cold outside. I’m in need of a little happy-memories comfort food. That, and we now have six chickens and an over-abundance of eggs. Clearly, time for angel food cake.

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Apologies for this photo: We ended up eating the whole cake except for this last little raggedy piece before I remembered to take a picture. (It’s that good.)

Ingredients:

1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour

1 ½ cups sugar, divided

1 ½ cups egg whites at room temperature (12-15 eggs, depending on egg size)

1 ½ teaspoons cream of tartar

¼ teaspoon salt

1 ½ teaspoons vanilla

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Thanks for the eggs, Babs (blue eggs), Agatha (dark speckled eggs), Jinx, Bubbles, and Fran! And thanks to Roo also, for over-zealous flock protection.

Special Equipment:

10-inch tube pan

Wire whip for your mixer

Cute little chicken egg separator, if you don’t want to get your hands messy. You can find an inexpensive, similar one on Amazon here.

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I usually separate the eggs individually into the small dish before transferring to the measuring cup—just in case I have a yolk break on me. I don’t want to ruin the rest of the whites. And, separate your eggs when they’re cold, then let them stand and come to room temperature for about an hour. They’ll whip better. Those extra egg yolks? Make a pound cake…or hollandaise…or pudding!

How to Make It:

Mix the flour and ½ cup of the sugar in a bowl and set it aside.

Place the egg whites in your mixer bowl. You’re going to use your wire whip attachment to mix, not your regular flat beater.

Gradually turn the mixer to a medium high speed (on my KitchenAid, I go to speed 6) and whip until the egg whites are frothy: not too long, just 30 seconds to a minute.

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Add the cream of tartar, salt, and vanilla. Turn your mixer to high (speed 8 on my mixer) and whip until the egg whites are almost stiff, but not dry. 2-2 ½ minutes, tops.

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Drop to a low speed (speed 2 on my mixer) and gradually add the remaining 1 cup of sugar and mix for 1 minute. Stop and scrape the bowl with a spatula.

Remove the bowl from the mixer. Spoon your flour-sugar mixture ¼ at a time over the egg whites. Fold it in very gently with a spatula, just until blended. Don’t go crazy stirring, here: fold gently. You don’t want to lose your volume.

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Pour the batter into an ungreased 10-inch tube pan. Take a knife and gently cut through the batter to break up any air pockets.

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Bake at 375 F until the crust is golden brown and cracks are very dry. This takes about 35 minutes. As soon as it is done, remove from oven and invert it onto a bottle. You want to cool it upside down so it doesn’t collapse. Don’t worry! It won’t fall out! (Well, not as long as you didn’t grease the pan.) Cool completely and remove from the pan.

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Eat it plain or go crazy with your toppings! And yes, there’s no photo of me with the whole cake because we ate it before I remembered to photograph it. Next time I make one, which will probably be in a week or so given our crazy egg production, I’ll update with a finished product photo!

 


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Tempting Toffee

Need a last-minute stocking stuffer or a quick treat for Santa? Make this delicious toffee! Use the traditional semi-sweet chocolate and pecan topping, or use your imagination and your own favorite toppings.

However you make it, this toffee is supreme: buttery, chocolaty and ridiculously easy. It only takes 20 minutes of your time to stir up. You can have it ready in no time for Santa, or party favors, or a plate all for yourself to enjoy while you’re festively watching A Christmas Horror Story. Or Scrooged. Or Die Hard. Whatever your favorite holiday flick is, this toffee is a treat!

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Ingredients:

1 cup sugar

1 cup butter

¼ cup water

½ cup semisweet chocolate chips (or customize: use dark chocolate; drizzle with white chocolate…)

½ cup finely chopped toasted pecans (pecans are traditional, but again, make it your own! Try chopped candy canes! Flaky sea salt! Pistachios! Heck, even sprinkles!)

Special equipment: A candy thermometer would be VERY helpful

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How to Make It:

Toast and chop your pecans, first. Then, in a heavy 2-quart saucepan, heat the sugar, butter, and water to boiling, stirring constantly; reduce the heat to medium. Cook for about 13 minutes, stirring constantly until you reach 300F on a candy thermometer or until a small bit of mixture dropped into some very cold water separates into hard, brittle threads (the hard crack stage). Watch REALLY carefully – if it the mixture gets too hot it will darken and go bad, and definitely not be a delectable holiday treat.

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Yes. So this is right at the start of the process before anything happens. It is the only picture I have of the cooking procedure because I was busy trying to stir, and hold onto, and watch my candy thermometer, which decided not to hook onto the saucepan, today. Of course.

As soon as the temperature hits 300F, pour the toffee CAREFULLY (so you don’t burn yourself) onto a large, ungreased cookie sheet. Spread to ¼ inch thick. Sprinkle with chocolate chips; let stand about 1 minute or until the chips are completely softened. Spread the softened chocolate evenly over the toffee, then sprinkle with chopped pecans.

Let the toffee stand at room temperature about 1 hour, or refrigerate if you’d like to speed things up, until firm. Break into bite-size pieces. Store in an airtight container. Makes about 3 dozen candies.

Enjoy!


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Treat with a Trick: Jalapeno Peanut Brittle

This delicious and easy candy will spice up your Halloween. The jalapeños aren’t hot (unless you want them to be!) but instead give more of a warm, mellow flavor to this sweet brittle. If you do want to spike the heat—and go for more of a trick—add extra jalapeños right at the end.

Ingredients:

¼ cup jalapeño pepper, finely chopped. No seeds, no white part. Chop extra jalapeño to add at the end for more heat

1 cup peanuts. I use lightly-salted, dry roasted peanuts, because that’s what I usually have on hand, but raw nuts are classic

2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, divided. Plus more for buttering the pan.

¼ cup light corn syrup

1 ¼ cups granulated sugar

¼ teaspoon vanilla

¼ teaspoon almond extract

Green food coloring (optional) if you want things to look a little creepier for Halloween

½ teaspoon baking soda

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How to Make It:

Butter a 15 x 10-inch jellyroll pan. I have a silpat, so I use that instead for zero stick/cleanup problems. They’re a bit expensive, but truly worth it. Here it is on Amazon if you’re interested: Silpat Premium Non-Stick Silicone Baking Mat, Half Sheet Size, 11-5/8″ x 16-1/2″. Put the silpat on a cookie sheet.

In a skillet, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter. Add the jalapeños and the nuts and cook over low heat until the peppers are soft.

In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar and corn syrup. Bring it to a boil over medium heat. This looks bizarre. It will liquefy, don’t worry. Meanwhile, have all your other ingredients at hand and ready to go.

When the sugar mixture is boiling, add the jalapeños and the nuts. Stir well and cook until the mixture reaches 290 F on a candy thermometer. This is the soft crack stage. Trust me, it is good to have a candy thermometer.

Remove from heat.

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Stir in the butter, almond, and vanilla extract, a few drops of green food coloring if you’re using it, and any extra jalapeño, if you’re adding any. Stir until everything is mixed in.

Sprinkle the baking soda over the top of your cooked mixture and stir until the mixture is foamy. Immediately pour it onto your buttered pan or onto your silpat. Use the back of a spoon to spread it out into a thin layer. Work fast, but be careful! The stuff is like napalm at this point!

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Let it cool on the pan until it is brittle and cool enough to handle, then break it into pieces. Store in an airtight container.

Happy Halloween!

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The Basil Before the Storm: Walnut Parmesan Pesto

We’re well into October and my insanely wonderful garden is still producing. Tomatoes. Peppers. Greens. Zucchini. But, as House Stark knows, winter is coming…even though we’ve just had three gorgeous days in the mid-80s…and our cold snap is on its way.

For the first time, I’m going to try row covers to extend the season for our greens, but the writing is on the wall for the rest of the veggies, including our mighty basil plant, which has reached the intimidating size of a small hedge. So today I’m harvesting the rest of the basil and making pesto.

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Pesto rocks. You can use it in pasta sauce, as a topping for grilled salmon, on crunchy bruschetta, in a gourmet grilled cheese sandwich, for a delicious pizza topping, on decadent French fries, stuffed with goat cheese inside your prosciutto-wrapped chicken thighs and grilled, baked on a wheel of brie, spread on your turkey wrap, heck; pesto all by itself on crackers is a treat. Pesto also freezes beautifully and keeps for months! What’s not to love?

For this recipe, I’m using walnuts instead of the traditional pine nuts because pine nuts are 1) hard to find out here, and 2) expensive. I think you’ll find the walnut pesto tastes equally delicious, especially when you take the extra step and toast the nuts first.

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In the words (sort of) of the 17th-century poet, Robert Herrick: “Gather ye basil while ye may, / Old Time is still a-flying; / And this same basil that smiles today, / Tomorrow will be dying.” So go make pesto.

Ingredients:

2 cups (packed!) basil leaves

½ cup walnuts, toasted

¼ cup olive oil

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1 Tablespoon fresh-squeezed lemon juice

¼ cup grated Parmesan –  Romano or Asiago would also work nicely

Salt

Pepper

How to Make It:

Toast your walnuts first. Trust me on this: it doesn’t take long, isn’t hard, and it gives the nuts a deeper flavor and crisps them up. Heat your oven to 350F and put the nuts in a single layer on an ungreased cookie sheet. Let them bake for 5-10 minutes and keep an eye on them, stirring them around so they toast evenly. In our oven they take about 7 minutes. Don’t let them burn: you want them to turn just a little browner. You should just be able to smell a toasty aroma. Let them cool before using them in the pesto.

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See? Easy! The rest of the recipe is a breeze as well. Add the basil, cooled nuts, olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, Parmesan, a pinch of salt, and a grind or two of pepper to a food processor. Blend until the pesto is a thick paste. If you want a thinner pesto, add a touch more oil or another squeeze of lemon until it is the consistency you’re looking for.

Delicious!

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Want to freeze it? No problem. You can freeze small amounts—1-2 Tablespoons—in ice cube trays, then put the frozen cubes into a freezer bag and pop out a cube whenever you need a little pesto. Or, freeze larger amounts of pesto in small containers—little Tupperware, small jelly jars, etc. If you put a thin layer of olive oil over the top surface of the pesto before freezing, it will help keep the pesto green. Keep your pesto in the freezer for six months. I will say I’ve kept it for longer without it losing quality.  Enjoy!


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An Embarrassment of Tomatoes: Mango Salsa

I like tomatoes. I am currently overwhelmed with tomatoes.

So, today I thought I’d share my Mango Salsa recipe. It is delicious: sweet but not cloying, with a nice heat. It makes a lot. It is easily customizable to your spice level, which is great because I like things on the spicy side. You can freeze this salsa very successfully. And most importantly, it uses a lot of tomatoes!

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Living in an arid part of Colorado, I was lucky to get a bowl of two of Sweet 100 cherry tomatoes from our plants over the course of the summer. Plants would die. Plants would get too hot. Or too cold. Or shredded during hailstorms.

Last fall, we moved to a rural property in the Appalachian foothills of Ohio. This was my chance, I thought gleefully. At last, we can have a great, productive garden! I lovingly started my seeds. By mid-May, I had 25 robust tomato seedlings of multiple varieties. (Diversify! I thought. When you get that predictable die off, surely something will make it through!)

I planted the seedlings in the new garden. Everything grew. Every. Single. Seedling. Even one that had broken off at the base (thanks to a large night intruder) that I ended up sticking hopefully back in the ground, returned phoenix-like to robust health. I was awed. And slightly terrified.

It is now September, and the plants are six feet tall and still putting out flowers. I have an embarrassment of tomatoes. Juliettes. Paisanos. Big Beefys. Brandywines. Sun Golds. Sweet 100s. I am hauling pounds of tomatoes into the kitchen every other day. I have been making tomato sauce and salsas for weeks. I am dreaming about tomatoes. I am exhausted by tomatoes. On the off chance any of you are experiencing similar tomato angst, I thought I would share our Mango Salsa recipe.

 

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Ingredients:*

10 good-sized Roma tomatoes. Peeled, seeded, and cored. (Don’t worry: I’ve got some tips for you.)

1 bag (16 oz) frozen mango chunks cut into bite-sized pieces – or use fresh mango. I was just sick of chopping things up. Fresh mango frankly seemed overwhelming.

2 bell peppers – red or green, chopped

½ cup red onion, chopped

2 jalapenos, seeded and chopped

4 cloves garlic, chopped. Or more.

¼ cup fresh lime juice

Big handful of cilantro, chopped

1 cup brown sugar

2 cans tomato paste

2 cups water

2 teaspoons salt

* Kick up the base recipe any way you like. I add roasted Anaheim chiles (yes, from our garden!) for a little more heat and depth. I also like adding extra garlic or roasting a head of garlic and using that instead.  Remember, with those roasted peppers, peel their blistered skins off before adding them to your salsa! Want it less sweet? Reduce the brown sugar.

How to Make It:

Deal with your tomatoes first. Believe it or not, my Paisanos are so firm I can use a vegetable peeler to get just the skin off. I prefer them peeled in my salsa, but it isn’t a requirement, if you don’t mind chewing tomato skins. You have some other options for peeling. If you want to fire roast on the grill or oven roast them, that also works like a charm. I have used both fresh and roasted tomatoes successfully with this recipe.

Peeling tomatoes

For oven roasting: Heat the oven to 450F. Cut the tomatoes in half and core and seed them. Place the tomatoes cut side down in a rimmed baking pan, like a jelly-roll pan. Bake for 30 minutes. The tomato skins will turn a little brown and crinkle up off the flesh. Remove from the oven and cover the pan – ideally with another jelly roll pan. Let them steam for 10 minutes. This will help loosen the skins. Lift off the top cover and just pull the skins off the tomatoes. Voila! Roasting gives the tomatoes a great flavor, as well.

Or you can do it by blanching: cut a small X in the bottoms of the tomatoes. Drop them in a pot of boiling water for about 30 seconds to a minute. Lift them out with a slotted spoon and put them immediately into a bowl of ice water. You’ll be able to peel off the skins with your fingers.

Don’t waste those skins – add them to your compost pile! We’ve got a kitchen compost bin that works great. No smell. No fruit flies. We add our veggie scraps and then take it out to the compost pile every day or so.  Found it on Amazon: Top Rated Epica Stainless Steel Compost Bin 1.3 Gallon-Includes Charcoal Filter.

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Once you’ve got the tomatoes peeled, cored and seeded, add them to a large pot along with all the other ingredients above. Yes, just add everything to one pot.

Stir to mix your ingredients and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 45 minutes to an hour until everything is tender. About half-way through cooking, taste and adjust your seasonings. Add more peppers if it still isn’t spicy enough for you.

Let it cool completely before putting it in freezer bags. One method that works nicely is to set the freezer bag into a drinking glass, fold back the top, and then fill. That way you don’t get any salsa spilled on the zip-lock part and everything stays mess-free. I put about 2 cups in each quart-size freezer bag, and then lay flat to freeze. I then put the quart bags into a gallon bag for extra freezer protection and to keep the batch together. Label and date your bags.

I’ve kept this salsa in the freezer for three months successfully. It could probably go a lot longer, but we eat a lot of salsa! Enjoy!


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Simple & Savory: Mom’s Salmon Bake

Mom’s Salmon Bake

It is a rainy spring afternoon (breaking news: spring finally arrived!) and a perfect day to make a big, comforting casserole. What better than my mom’s Salmon Bake?

Now, before you say eeew, hold on. This is loaded with rice and veggies and, yes, salmon. It works. It’s good. It is immanently customizable. Add other veggies. Use different cheeses. Spice it up. (I do!)  Try adding some herbs. Change your veggie ratios – I like more mushrooms, for example.

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Give it a try: I think you’ll be surprised and pleased at the result.

Ingredients:

1 cup chopped onion

½ cup chopped mushrooms

1-2 cloves garlic, chopped

½ green pepper, chopped (optional)

1 Tablespoon butter

1 ½ cups wild rice, cooked

1 14-ounce can skinless, boneless salmon, flaked and drained (I use three 5-ounce pouches)

¾ cup mayonnaise

1 egg, beaten

½ cup Parmesan cheese

1 10-ounce package of frozen chopped broccoli, thawed and drained.

1 ½ cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese

Salt and Pepper

Tabasco (optional)

How to Make It:

Heat the oven to 350F.

Make your rice according to the package directions – that’ll take a little time.

Sauté the onion, pepper, garlic, and mushrooms in butter until softened, seasoning with salt and pepper. Remove from the heat.

In a big bowl, combine the mayonnaise and the egg.  Add in the rice (make sure it is cooled a little, first), the sautéed veggies, and the salmon.  I also add a few dashes of Tabasco at this point. Mix lightly.

In a 1-quart casserole dish, layer half of the salmon mixture, then half of the Parmesan cheese.  Cheese fiend?  Sure, toss a little of the cheddar in with the Parm for this layer.  Next, layer on half of the broccoli.  Cover this with 1 cup of the cheddar cheese.  Repeat the layers: salmon mixture, Parmesan, broccoli.  Stop there.  End with the broccoli.

Bake at 350F for 30 minutes.  Sprinkle with the remaining cheddar cheese and continue to bake just until the cheese melts.  The casserole should look bubbly and melty.

 

Serve with some crusty bread or a side salad.  This reheats marvelously.  Enjoy!

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