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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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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A Really Lovely Apple Pie. So What if it’s April?

A cold April rain is pelting the windows in my office-slash-craft room right now. It is dark and peaceful, and I could give in and take a Saturday afternoon nap, but I want something even more comforting: pie.

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Here is an apple pie recipe you’ll turn to again and again, and probably, knowing all you bakers out there, modify it some more yourselves with your own tricks. As it stands, however, this is a beauty of a pie. Your house will smell amazing as it bakes.

Ingredients:

Pie crust for a two-crust pie – use your go-to crust recipe or refrigerated crusts. You really can’t go wrong with this pie.

6 medium apples, peeled and thinly sliced*

¾ cup sugar plus extra for sprinkling

2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour

¾ teaspoon cinnamon

¼ teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 Tablespoon lemon juice

1 Tablespoon unsalted cold butter, cut into small pieces

1 egg white

* For heaven’s sake, use your favorite apple: Granny Smith are the traditional go-to baking apples because they add a nice tartness. Lots of folks enjoy McIntosh, Honeycrisp, Golden Delicious, or a blend. Go with what you enjoy or what you have on hand. Like the crust, you won’t go wrong. I’ve got Fuji today, which are panned for their juices not thickening enough, but I’m not feeling picky. If you’re entering the county fair, then be picky.

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How to Make It:

Heat your oven to 425 F.

Place your bottom crust into a 9-inch pie plate.

In a large bowl, mix the apples, ¾ cup sugar, flour, cinnamon, salt, nutmeg and lemon juice. Do this gently, so you don’t break up your apple slices. Spoon the filling into the bottom crust.

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Cover with your top crust. Trim off any excess and tuck the top crust under the edge of the bottom crust. Pinch it together and flute it. (No woodwinds involved.) Use both hands and pinch and seal the dough with your pointer fingers and thumbs, giving a tiny twist as you go all around the edge of the pie. Check out my Bloody Good Cherry Pie recipe for marginally more details on fluting.

With a sharp knife, cut some slits in the top crust to vent the steam. Or you could use a pie bird, or little cookie cutters and cut shapes out of the crust (before you put it on top of the filling, making sure everything stays cool) to do the same thing.

In a little bowl, whisk the egg white until it is nice and frothy. Brush the egg white over the top of the pie. This will give you a nice shiny finish.

Now, sprinkle sugar gently over the top of the egg white. You’ll end with a sparkly, delicious top.

Step carefully around your mini-Schnauzer who is positioned so she can instantly grab any accidental food-from-the-sky.  She doesn’t look alert.  That’s a deception.  Just wait until you drop something…

Bake your pie for 40 to 45 minutes or until the apples are tender, you can see bubbling through the vents, and the crust is golden brown.

Before this happens, though, you need to check after 15 to 20 minutes of baking and cover the edges of the crust. You can do this with foil, or a pie crust shield. I got these little Norpro 3275 Silicone Pie Crust Shields, 5-Piece for Christmas, and I have to say, they’re the bomb. They’re adjustable to other sizes of pie, go on so easily (WAY easier than foil) and clean up fast. I do recommend them.

Whatever method you use, be sure you cover those edges on the crust, or they will be over-browned by the end of the baking time. And you’ll be sad.

Cool your pie on the cooling rack for at least two hours before serving. If you can wait even longer, believe it or not, that’s better: the filling will set even more and not seep when you cut it. Still, I know: it smells like heaven and you can’t touch it for two hours. Now is a good time for that nap.

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Crabby Melts

Winter seems here to stay, so I’m still cheerfully making comfort food.  Here’s an easy, substantial sandwich that will make a cozy lunch or dinner.  These originally started out as an appetizer recipe from, oh, fifteen years ago, but I’ve updated it over time to make it meal-strength.  Enjoy!

 

Ingredients:

12 ounces decent white crab meat, picked over for shells – use what you can afford.  This is a cheesy sandwich melt, so the crab will be friends with some other strong flavors.  Maybe don’t drop a ton of money on the finest lump, is what I’m saying.

1 5-ounce jar of Kraft Old English cheese spread

2 Tablespoons mayonnaise

1 teaspoon garlic powder

½ cup butter, softened

½ teaspoon horseradish

Dash of Tabasco

8 English muffin halves, toasted.  (So, four English muffins, split.)

8 slices mozzarella cheese

8 slices tomato*

8 slices avocado*

8 strips of bacon, cooked, cut in half

2 scallions, chopped

* Optional: I usually use one or the other.

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How to Make Them:

Preheat the oven to 375F.

In a medium bowl, gently combine the crab, cheese spread, mayonnaise, garlic powder, butter, horseradish, and Tabasco.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, or grease it well, and set your toasted English muffin rounds onto it.  To each round, add a slice of cheese, two pieces of bacon (the two halves of one strip), and slice of avocado or tomato.

Next, spoon the crab mixture over the top of each round.  Carefully avoid your mini-Schnauzer who has parked herself predatorily in the center of the kitchen, waiting for food to fall from the sky.

Bake at 375 for 10-15 minutes until the top is golden brown and everything is heated through.  Make sure your bottom slice of cheese is melty!  Garnish with chopped scallion.

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In the winter, crabby melts go great with fries and sautéed greens like spinach or chard, or steamed veggies. In the summer, they’re lovely with a crisp salad.


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White Pizza with Salami and Blue Cheese

A few weekends ago, I visited Pittsburgh for the first time and had a blast. My husband and I stopped at the National Aviary – a wonderful, non-profit indoor bird zoo – and walked around downtown for hours. We ended up in the Strip district, gaped our way through the amazing Robert Wholey & Co.’s fish-and-everything-else market and had lunch at Enrico Biscotti Café. Next door is the Biscotti Company, a veritable paradise of baked goods. The Café’s lunch menu features rustic pizzas and pastas, salads, and various sangaweechs. Sangaweeches? (Yeah, I’m not sure what the plural of “sangaweech” is so bear with me, here). Whatever the plural form, a sangaweech is a hearty sandwich made on their house pizza dough.

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I had a delicious artichoke, mozzarella and roasted red pepper sangaweech. My husband got the special pizza of the day and it blew our minds. In a good way. And I am not a fan of salami! This however, was delicious: Garlic. Salami. Mozzarella. Blue cheese. Incredible. We left determined to replicate this pizza at home at all costs. Fortunately, the Pennsylvania Macaroni Company was just couple blocks away and there we purchased a pound of Daniele Genoa salami: fresh, melt-in-your-mouth salami. Yum.

This recipe is our recreation of that magnificent pizza. Which we basically made the next night. And, o.k., again two nights later. It is that good a pizza! Enjoy!

Ingredients:

Pizza dough for one pizza – make your own, or store-bought is fine. The better the dough, the better your pizza.

2-3 tablespoons olive oil

½ teaspoon dried Italian herb blend

¼ cup Parmesan*

12 large, thin slices of good salami. Good salami.

1 cup shredded mozzarella

2 tablespoons minced garlic – fresh or jarred

¼- ½ cup blue cheese crumbles

* You know your tastes: More or less garlic? Go for it. More or less cheese? Of course. This is a base recipe for you to modify at will. The Café’s version was minimalist and delicious.

white pizza ingredients

Try to ignore your Miniature Schnauzer, who waits, ever hopeful, for food to fall from the sky.

How to Make It:

If you have a pizza stone, put it in your oven and preheat the oven to 425F. Give the stone a half-hour to heat up.

Spread the pizza dough out on a sheet of parchment paper.

Drizzle olive oil over the dough and spread to cover with the back of a spoon or a pastry brush.

Sprinkle the Italian herbs over the olive oil.

Sprinkle the Parmesan cheese on next.

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Layer the slices of salami to cover the whole thing.

 

Add a sprinkle of minced garlic.

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Next, crumble on the blue cheese so that a little bit lands on every slice of salami.

Last, top it all with the shredded mozzarella.

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Slide your pizza into the oven and bake at 425 F for 12-14 minutes or until the edges of the crust is golden brown and the cheese is melted.

Enjoy!

 

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