Saturday, October 28, 2006

A Crazy Halloween.....part one

This year I ran out of time (and energy) and I let Lulu decorate the house for Halloween. I have to say that she did a really good job!! I have a big Rubbermaid box (orange and black of course) that is full of all my Halloween stuff. Pumpkins, witches, ghosts and all the Halloween fabrics I have collected over the years. Some years I get very inspired and think that I am going to sew placemats or make trick or treat bags. Usually it just gets used as a makeshift tablecloth for the kids table. I also keep my Halloween craft stuff in that box. Anything black and orange or purple is in there. Every year when we break out the box, Lauren has a whole new set of art supplies. We have been making ghosts out of lollypops, tulle candy bar necklaces and spiders out of paper plates. If I find myself in need of orange and black during the year, I know right where to go. It might be a round about organization system, but it works for me.

A few years ago I bought a package of artificial pears, apples and pumpkins. They are very small, just a few inches. Their original purpose was to go in an apothocary jar or scattered on the table for fun dinners. What I didn't realize at first is that they have little strings on a Christmas tree decorations. For the last few years, Lauren has hung these pumpkins and apples them on the Japanese Maple that is outside the front door. Our tree is all decked out w/ fruit. This is the same tree we decorate at Christmas, too. This is one of those funny traditions that just sort of happened but Halloween wouldn't be the same with out our tree!!!

We had our annual "Cookie Decorating/Halloween Dinner" a few weeks ago when my brother was here. This was another one of the things I like to do because my mom always did it with us. Lauren's great grandma Thora used to have us come over at the beginning of October and decorate cupcakes every year. This tradition reminds me of the "great and grand" ladies in our life. For dinner I made the standby family favorite--Parmesan Chicken with Polenta with Lemon Greens. This is from the Barefoot Contessa's Family Style cookbook. It is one of those recipe's that you try once and you know you will make for the rest of your life. It isn't very hard but it is SO worth the extra work. If you don't like (or don't have time for) polenta, just do mashed potatoes. You serve this with the polenta or potatoes on the bottom. The chicken placed on top of that and the salad on the chicken. It wilts the greens just a little bit and the sharp lemon of the dressing is balanced by the creaminess of the polenta. In a word. YUM!

Parmesan Chicken
(You will notice, if you ever read my recipe's, that I print them as written and then add my own revisions and comments. What can I say? I like short cuts....)

6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 cup flour
1 t kosher salt
1/2 t freshly ground pepper
2 extra large eggs
1 1/4 cups seasons dry bread crumbs
1/2 cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Unsalted butter
Good olive oil
Salad greens for 6, washed and spun dry
Lemon vinaigrette

Pound the chicken breasts until they are 1/4 inch thick (I just used the tenders or buy the "thin cut" breasts at the store. I dislike handling meat. When I cater I buy the bags of boneless, skinless breasts and semi-thaw them and then thin slice them, but I charge extra for that! ).
Combine the flour, salt, and pepper on a dinner plate. On a second plate, beat the eggs with 1 tablespoon of water. On a third plate, combine the bread crumbs and 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese (I use more. Sometimes I use the cheap canned stuff, other times I buy the expensive, shredded stuff. They both taste great, but I like the shredded b/c it gives you bigger pieces of crunchy cheese on the end product). Coat the chicken on both sides w/ the flour, then dip both sides in the egg mixture and then dredge in the crumb/cheese mixture, pressing down so that the crumbs and cheese stick. (you can do this part up to a day before and just layer them on a plate with waxed paper in between. This makes this a great recipe for dinner parties b/c you can do it all ahead of time).

Heat 1 tablespoon of butter and 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large saute pan (you really do need both because the olive oil alone will smoke too much and the butter will brown and burn if you use it alone...the combo of the two is perfect). Cook 2 or 3 chicken breasts on medium low heat for 2 or 3 minutes on each side, until cooked through. Add more butter and oil and cook the rest of the chicken breasts (this part can make it tricky to make for TONS of people b/c you need to cook it right before you serve it, but in a pinch you can keep the cooked ones in a 200 degree oven).

Toss the greens with the lemon vinaigrette (1/4 cup lemon juice, 1/2 c olive oil, 1/2 t kosher salt, 1/4 fresh ground pepper). Place a mound of salad on each hot chicken breast. Top with extra grated cheese.


1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/4 cup olive oil
1 T minced garlic (3 cloves) (I buy the jars of minced garlic at the grocery store. Who am I kidding, I buy the 32 oz jar at Costco, but it keeps forever!).
1 t red pepper flakes
1 t minced fresh rosemary leaves
1/2 t kosher salt
1/2 t black pepper
3 cups chicken stock
2 cups half and half
2 cups milk
2 cups cornmeal
1/2 c good grated Parmesan cheese

(Basically the only important parts of this recipe is the butter and oil, cornmeal and liquid. I usually end up NOT using rosemary, and I just use 4 cups of whole milk--I have it in the house anyway for the kids--and I use bullion instead of stock. It is a really easy basic recipe).

Heat the butter and oil in a large pan. Add garlic, red pepper, rosemary, salt and pepper and saute for 1 minute. Add the chicken stock, half and half and mild and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and slowly sprinkle the cornmeal onto the hot milk while stirring constantly with a whisk (this step is important...don't dump it all in at once). Cook over low heat, stirring contstantly, for a few minutes until thick and bubbly. Take off the heat and add the cheese. (I usually serve it at this point. Put leftovers in a 9x13 pan and refrigerate. Cut into squares and reheat or grill or fry in a pan w/ a little bit of butter. It will retain its shape. This is another easy, make ahead recipe. You can also just add a little bit of liquid and reheat to make creamy again).


I have never had luck with sugar cookies. They always are too hard to roll out or bake too long in the oven and come out too crunchy. They are not my thing. Design Mom posted a few weeks ago about decorating cookies and posted a recipe for cookies and buttercream frosting. I decided to try them one more time before giving up forever and just doing the break and bake Pillsbury ones.

Holy Halloween. The dough wasn't too sticky to roll out. The cookies cut like a dream and kept their shape when I transferred them to the pan. I under baked them just slightly and they came out pale golden and stayed soft. Not so soft that they broke when you put 1 pound of candy on them, like Lu did, but soft enough that they melt in your mouth. Have I sold you yet? Here is the recipe. Thanks to Design Mom's friend that posted the recipe on her site....

Best Sugar Cookies

2 c. sugar
1 c. butter
1 c. milk
2 eggs
7 c. flour
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. b.s.
4 tsp. b.p.
2 tsp. vanilla
Preheat oven to 375-400 degrees
(it just depends on the oven experiment)
Roll out to about 1/4 inch thick on floured surface.
Bake for 5-6 minutes (on greased cookie sheet) until very pale
(do not overcook, this also takes some experimenting).

Buttercream Frosting:
3 c. powdered sugar
1 c. butter
1 tsp. vanilla
Beat with electric mixer for approx. 5 minutes, until light and fluffy.

Start with sugar cookies....

Add several colors of buttercream.....

Don't forget the candy..........

Mix with two happy kids......... crazy uncle.....

...and a liberal dose of whining and crying
(Norah had a GREAT time....)

This boy is not dumb. He just wanted to eat the candy.
And that is exactly what he did.


wendysue said...

So fun! I love to let the kids decorate (although it's easier to do it myself!) They always come up with something better!

Jacob's like me. . .I just watch the decorating, and eat all the candy while I'm "helping".

Amber said...

Toooooo cute (love the silly pics) and YUMMMMY. Those pics look absolutely delicious and I'm trying out your sugar cookie recipe TODAY (you'd better not be lying. :-)

Julie said...

What a fun party!

tracy m said...

We are SOOOOOO doing this for family night tonight!! The chicken looks positively yummers!

Suzie Petunia said...

What a great idea! I think I'll try the cookies for family night, too! Thanks for the inspiration. You sure know how to celebrate a holiday! Looks like you're having fun. What are the kids dressing as for Halloween?

AzĂșcar said...

I adore polenta! I wish I could get anyone else in the house to eat it! Maybe I'll just make a pot-full for me, and those heathens can eat pizza.

I have another great sugar cookie recipe, if I'd known you were looking for one, I would have passed it on! I will also try this one--it never hurts to have more than one good recipe hanging around.

Britmum said...

Can't wait to try the recipe. Absolutely lovely post and your kids are beautiful.

Take care

lisa v. clark said...

I LOVE that chicken/polenta/greens recipe!!! Remember how you made it for me last year when I visited and we ate it again for breakfast because it's SO GOOD?! I made the fried polenta with your Italian Chicken recipe for a family 4th of July Gala and it's so great grilled, too!

Bek said...

Azucar...send the recipie anyway..I would love it.

I wasn't looking for a recipie so much as I felt challenged byt the title of "no fail sugar cookies no matter how bad you are at making them" or something like that!! :-)

You are the first person I go to for recipies. Trust me!!

Bek said...

Oh, and I could eat polenta ALL THE LIVELONG DAY.

Make pot for yourself and eat it for yourself... next I will post my recipie for polenta bites w/ basil mayo and cherry tomatoes. Perfect dinner party food. I usually eat the whole try...

I could write a cook book on polenta......

Design Mom said...

Great post! I love reading how other families celebrate Halloween. Beautiful children! Beautiful decorations!

Queso said...

Oh my got, this all looks amazing!