Monday, October 29, 2007

Now that the Haunted Barn is over for the season...Part Deux

OK. So here is the walk-through broken down.

I sat at the cash table and manned the door, thankfully with the help of Genie (the garage door opener attached to the entrance door).

First Room - The Wolfman
Second Room - The Mummy
Third Room - Dracula
Fourth Room - The Invisible Man (unmanned; Dracula pushed a button to inflate the body in the bed)
Fifth Room - Freddy Kreuger
Sixth Room - Psycho
Seventh Room- unmanned; long hallway with creepy footsteps

That ends the first floor. There was an emergency exit (used fairly frequently) in the Psycho room that allowed freaked out children to get out before it was too late. Once they went up the stairs, they were stuck until the end.

Eighth Room - Michael Myers (long hallway with werewolf pictures and an air cannon strategically placed that everyone stepped on the trigger pad and got a shot of air about knee-high)
Ninth Room - Creature from the Black Lagoon
Tenth Room - unmanned; I dressed the room in layers of bubble wrap, with black lights and strobes. Very difficult to find the door heading to...
Eleventh Room - Jason
Twelvth Room - Frankenstein
Thirteenth Room - Christine

The final effect is actually called Claustrophobia. It's two 8-foot-long bags inflated with high-intensity fans that press against you as you walk through. It was the longest 8 feet of the entire Haunted Barn according to most of our victims. Another 10-foot walk (where Mikey sticks his head out again right at the door) got you back outside.

So there you have it.

We already have decided on next year's theme and I spent some time searching the web last night to get ideas.

We're tired. Very, very tired. We still have to pack all the decor up and tear down the walls before we're really done for the season. We plan to try to get that done this coming weekend, but we've said that before LOL

The Man and I need to get our yard set up for trick-or-treating yet, too. Thank goodness he's on vacation this whole week and I myself have taken Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Look for new recipes, provided that I have the energy to cook.

Now that the Haunted Barn is over for the season...

Our theme this year was "Classic Horror."

I made this video the first weekend we were open. It's kind of crappy because at first I had forgotten I had the camera zoomed all the way in and I had to talk to our actor a bit because I can't seem to keep my mouth shut.

I had intended to redo it yesterday, but I naturally forgot the camera in my haste to get out the door to pick up snacks and soda for the actors as a thank-you for all their great work.

Saturday, October 27, 2007


Today is the first anniversary of It's Just Not Dinner Without Cat Hair.

So far, I have celebrated by cleaning my fridge and coming down with a cold.

Thanks to everyone who has listened to me bitch and whine for the last year :-)

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Chilly temps mean soup around here

At 5:00 this morning, I was shivering in the cold while quietly urging The Gidge to complete her morning business.

At 11:00 this morning, I was shivering in the cold while loudly urging The Gidge to complete her lunchtime business.

At 12:00 this afternoon, I was shivering in the cold while vehemently cursing the construction crews working outside the post office because I had to run an obstacle course in order to buy stamps.

At 5:30 this evening, I was shivering in the cold while hauling ass from the grocery store to the car.

If you haven't figured it out yet, fall temperatures have finally hit this area. The high today was a whopping 50 degrees.

I don't do well in cooler weather. Once my hands and feet get cold, there's no warming me up without a bubbly tubby and some warm apple cider (2 perks of the season, in my opinion, along with the bonfires I get to look forward to after this weekend and walking through the leaves that have changed color), regardless of the number of layers I pile on my poor, abused self.

I just came in from taking The Gidge outside again. My glasses steamed up when I came back inside.

Gidget is clad in a pink thermal hoodie (I know, I know. Wait till you see the white coat with blue fuzzy trim). I am huddled on the couch typing this post, while swaddled in a pink fuzzy blanket. I have warmed up somewhat after my comforting dinner, but I still need to run that bubble bath, heat up some cider, light some candles, and warm myself all over. If I could get my butt off the couch. We are playing fetch with a stuffed squirrel (you didn't expect something normal like a tennis ball, did you? Shame....), I am watching some mindless crap on TV and surfing the web while waiting for words and ideas to come.

Just makes me want to get off the couch. Or not. I need comfort after chilly days like today.

I have started getting weekly organic deliveries (for those of you in the know, it's the More Fruit & Veggie Box) and in last week's box, there was a head of purple cauliflower. I love the look of this veggie, with its deep purple florets standing out against the green outer leaves. This week's box contained a head of white cauliflower. I had to do something with them before the purple one went bad, so I came up with this soup.

A belly full of this is the real reason I can't seem to get off the couch.

Cauliflower Soup with Carrot-Tarragon Puree and Parmesan Straws
From my head

For the soup:

2 heads of cauliflower (I imagine this soup would be much prettier if I had used all white cauliflower)
2 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped (I wanted to use a leek, but the ones at the store were NAS-TEE)
3 cloves of garlic, minced
4 cups vegetable stock or broth
1/2 tsp kosher salt
6 grinds of fresh black pepper

For the carrot puree:

2 large carrots, peeled and chopped into uniform pieces about 1" long
1 tbsp butter
A pinch of kosher salt
1/4 tsp dried tarragon

For the parmesan straws:

1/2 cup finely grated parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil, spray with cooking spray, and set aside. Make the straw molds by rolling aluminum foil into 1/2" thick solid tubes.

Cut the florets off of the cauliflower heads and coarsely chop them; set aside. In a 6-quart stock pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat; add the onion and garlic. Cook until softening (5 minutes or so). Add the broth/stock and cauliflower and then bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and cover, allowing to simmer until the cauliflower is falling apart (about 20 to 25 minutes).

While the soup is simmering, get the carrots into a small saucepan with 1 cup of water. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to medium. Cook until the carrots are fork-tender (10 minutes or so). Drain and then add the butter to the pan; toss to coat the carrots with melted butter.

Now is a good time to grate the cheese.

When the cauliflower and carrots are ready, bring out the blender. Puree the carrots first and then pour them into a small bowl. Sprinkle the puree with a pinch of salt and the tarragon; stir to combine. Rinse out the blender container.

Using a slotted spoon, remove the cauliflower and onions from the broth/stock and place into the blender container. Pulse, adding broth/stock to the container as needed until the cauliflower is as smooth as possible. Pour the soup back into the remaining broth/stock and stir well. Heat over the lowest flame you've got to keep it warm while you make the parmesan straws.

Divide the grated parmesan into 4 equal mounds on the prepared pan. Place into the oven and bake for 8 to 10 minutes until the cheese is melted and just starting to brown. YOU NEED TO MOVE FAST NOW! Remove the pan from the oven; take 1 of the cheese puddles onto an offset spatula and gingerly (but FAST) wrap it around a straw mold. Do the same with the other three. If you don't move dang quick, you will have parmesan crackers, so if you're not sure you can do this quickly, only bake 1 or 2 at a time. Allow the parmesan straws to cool; when cool, gently remove the mold from the center.

To serve, ladle the desired amount of cauliflower soup into a bowl. Spoon 3 tbsp of the carrot puree on top of the soup, then stick a parmesan straw into the carrot puree.

Or if you forget to put the parmesan straw into your soup before you take a picture, go back and grab one and use it to scoop up soup.

Monday, October 22, 2007

This moment brought to you by the miracle of technology

Or by the people who make XD-picture cards that fail after 6 months so you have to buy a new one.

Whichever. I am currently leaning toward the second one.

Anyway, I stopped by Staples to pick up a new one since my camera stopped reading the old one, which naturally had the pictures of the fresh-out-of-the-oven pizza from last night. So these pictures are of day-old pizza, which tastes just as great but isn't so hot in the visual department anymore.

I'd like to mention that I believe that places like PetCo and PetSmart must pipe some drug through their ventilation systems. I went in for a rawhide bone and a can of Kong Stuffn. I came out with $100 worth of dog clothes, dog toys, and cat stuff too.

It's gotta be in the air.

Chicago-style pizza - oh, my goodness...

It's been...well, a dang long time since I have eaten my absolute favorite style of pizza - Chicago-style. I have no idea what brought it to the front of my mind the other day, but once it was there, the thought of this thick pizza would not go away.

You know how it is - once you start craving something, nothing else could possibly take it's place and it's all you think about until you get it.

So this was the case here. I looked at blogs, picked through cookbooks, flipped through the recipes in The Vault...and found no crust recipe that appealed. In the process, though, I found that my copy of The Joy of Cooking has a small gluten-free breads section! I should look at my current cookbooks a little more closely, hm?

Finally, I went back the crust recipe that I used to make all the time and made an attempt at converting it. While the results aren't bad, it certainly isn't the worst gluten-free pizza crust I have ever eaten, and there have been a few.

I used a springform pan for this recipe. Instead of cutting my finger while trying to cut through the side crust, I figured it would be easier to be able to pop off the sides, cut my slices, and then put the sides back on for storage. And I was right.

My camera's on the blink, so I will hopefully post pictures soon.

Chicago-Style Pizza
Adapted from The Vault

For the crust:

1 cup sorghum flour
1 cup brown rice flour
3/4 cup potato starch
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 tbsp xanthan gum
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp yeast
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 tbsp cornmeal
1 cup warm water (112 degrees or so)
2 tsp olive oil + extra for the bowl and pan
2 tbsp cider vinegar
A sprinkle of dried basil
A sprinkle of garlic powder

For the sauce:

1-28 oz can crushed tomatoes
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp onion powder
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp kosher salt

For the filling:

1 medium-sized ball mozzarella, sliced into 1/2" slices
Favorite pizza toppings of choice (I used Italian sausage, mushrooms, green pepper, and red onion)

Additional stuff:

1 tbsp grated parmesan

Dissolve the yeast in the warm water and allow to sit for 5 minutes so the yeast can bloom. Add thesalt olive oil, sorghum flour, brown rice flour, potato starch, cornstarch, xanthan gum and cider vinegar. Mix with a mixer until well blended. Place into a clean, oiled bowl, cover, and allow to rise for an hour in a warm place.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Lighly oil the bottom and sides of a springform pan or any round pan with at least 2" sides. Sprinkle the bottom and sides with the cornmeal. Break off pieces of the dough and pat them into the pan until they are mushed together and the crust is about 1/4" to 1/2" thick. Make sure you pat the dough up the sides of the pan - when doing thing, think about the volume of topping you are planning on using (the more toppings, the taller the sides need to be).

Once the inside of the pan has been covered by pizza dough, place into the oven and bake for 1o to 15 minutes (the thicker the crust, the longer you will need to bake it) without toppings to ensure the crust gets cooked most of the way through.

To make the sauce, pour the olive oil into a saucepan and saute the garlic for 2 minutes over medium heat. Add the crushed tomatoes, garlic, basil, oregano, onion powder, and salt. Stir well and simmer until cooked through.

To prepare the pizza, layer in the following manner (from the bottom):

  1. Mozzarella cheese
  2. Italian sausage (or other meat you may be using)
  3. Any veggies you're using
  4. Lotsa sauce (cover the veggies completely)
  5. Parmesan

Place into the oven on a jelly roll pan to catch any juices. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, depending on the overall thickness of the pizza. At the end of the baking time, allow to sit for at least 5 minutes.

To serve, remove the sides of the springform pan and cut into wedges.

Friday, October 12, 2007

My favorite cornbread, now gluten free

When I made chili last fall and winter, I made Bob's Red Mill cornbread mix to go with it. I hadn't learned enough about the various flours to even attempt to make my favorite cornbread recipe, one I tore out of a Martha Stewart Living magazine years ago.

But that was then - this is now.

I started eating chili in my dreams a few days ago. Here in Illinois, temperatures this week have been below normal - averaging about 50 degrees for a high. Brrr.... Besides, it's fall. And Haunted Barn season. I always made a lot of chili and cornbread during this season.

And now I can get right back to that familiar ritual. Because I have converted my cornbread to gluten free.

Try it. It's a slightly sweet, crunchy cornbread that goes great with the smokiness of chili. If you don't like your cornbread with a bite of crunch, you can use fine-ground cornmeal.

Brown Sugar Cornbread

Adapted from a Martha Stewart recipe

1/2 cup unsalted butter, plus more for the pan
1 1/3 cup medium-grind cornmeal
1/3 cup brown rice flour
1/3 cup sorghum flour
1/3 cup cornstarch
1 tsp xanthan gum
1 1/4 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 cup milk
2 eggs, beaten

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9x4 1/2" loaf pan and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the cornmeal, brown rice flour, sorghum flour, cornstarch, xanthan gum, baking powder and salt.

In a saucepan, melt the butter. Add the brown sugar and whisk briskly until combined. Remove from the heat and then add the milk; stir. Add the beaten eggs, whisk quickly, and then pour over the dry ingredients. Stir until just combined. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 35 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool for 1o to 15 minutes, remove from the pan, and slice.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

A day in the life

It was a long one. Got up at 5 AM, courtesy of The Man's cell phone alarm clock (I chose to sleep on the couch because I was glutened last night - the smell of beer on The Man's breath will send me rushing to the bathroom when I am in this condition. Because I didn't sleep in our bed, neither did he - he slept on the love seat across the living room from me).

Ran around like crazy making myself breakfast, feeding the zoo, doing laundry, packing up the rest of the boss' food that I had made yesterday.

Went to the bank and then hot-footed it to work, where pile upon pile of paperwork needed my attention.

Came home. Sighed in relief.

Sighed again when I remembered the bushel and a half of apples sitting in the garage. I had been putting this off for two weeks.

Started peeling, coring, and chopping apples. Threw the pieces in the big-ass stock pot used only for the making of applesauce. Filled it three-quarters full - and still have the other half of the apples to do tomorrow. Any guesses on how many pint jars of applesauce that big-ass stock pot actually filled?

While the apples cooked down, made dinner.

The big-ass stock pot is at the front left on the stove. Dinner is in the two pans (one behind the other) on the right side.

Shoveled food in my face while doing dishes, stirring applesauce, checking emails, and tripping repeatedly over the dog.

Took the dog outside every 5 minutes because she kept ringing that damn bell on the door because you weren't paying attention to her. You had to take her out because you didn't want to undo the training.

Repeat on Thursday.

On the wall behind my stove are three handmade little plaques I picked up - from left to right they say "dream," "celebrate," and "inspire." The two outside ones, no matter how much I fussed with them, refuse to hang straight. So I am leaving them as they are, slightly tipped, one to the right, one to the left. Besides, I am not perfect, my kitchen is not perfect, my cooking is not who cares.

I am going to try to find something fitting to match the curve created by those two plaques.

Those 3 words mean something to me. "Dream" - that's what I can finally do now that I don't feel horrible all the time. I do most of my dreaming about food. Imagine that. "Celebrate" - every day that I have my health back, thanks to the food I eat. "Inspire" - I hope that's what I do with the recipes I post here.

Now that the last of the jars are out of the canner, I am going to make the bed with clean sheets, do some more laundry, soak in the tub, curl into a ball in my sweet-smelling bed, and crash.

Anyone local that might be willing to assist in the denuding of apples in exchange for a few pints of the finished product? I am so pitiful.

Nighty-night, all.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Bananas for breakfast & a great way to pass the evening

I de-glutened another recipe from the vault a couple of days ago, but because of the barn, I was unable to get it posted before now. Such is life, I guess, at least for another 3 weeks.

But first, because it's fun, I am going to rip on a couple of people:

--The adult female that came out of the barn crying shortly after a 7-year-old that was visibly upset yet not crying.

--The high-end (read: at least 17) teenager that got the dry heaves after going through the barn.

Ripping done.

This evening, I received a box from Amazon, which contained a much-anticipated book written by Shauna James Ahern of Gluten-Free Girl fame. As soon as my boss left with 4 days worth of food tonight, I put on my most comfortable jammies and curled up on the couch under a snuggly blanket, sipping a blackberry Izze (I love this stuff!), and read contentedly while the zoo competed for lap space.

Shauna unknowingly paid a huge part in my decision to get tested through Enterolab. Back in 2006, I was reading Bakerina's website while she was taking part in Blogathon. I had just been diagnosed with a multitude of environmental allergies, two of which were wheat and rye. I was researching if environmental allergies could affect digestion and reading Bakerina's hourly posts at the same time. I sent her an email asking if she had ever tried converting her bread recipes to wheat-free and she replied promptly with a link to Shauna's site. I clicked on the link and went out to our back porch to have a cigarette.

Food Network was playing on the TV. I lit my cigarette and had a drag. I don't remember which show was playing - all I remember about that moment was what happened next... The show cut to commercial. Normal time-wasters played and then when I started paying closer attention, a woman was in a green kitchen was talking about eating gluten free. My mouth fell open, the cigarette falling to the floor to burn a hole in the carpet, when she said she had a website called Gluten-Free Girl.

Holy shit.

I take omens and the like seriously. I took this as a sign that I had to do some more research immediately. I went back in the house (after picking up my cigarette and making sure the carpet wasn't going to start on fire) and read every post that night. Every symptom she described, I had.

Holy shit.

I made the decision to go gluten free that night. It took some stops and starts, but now that I have been gluten free for a year, I can honestly say that I feel better now that I ever have in my life. For someone who had a cold or bronchitis every couple of months, pneumonia every year, and a host of other issues that were "all in my head" according to the rest of the world, I can report that I have not had even so much as a sniffle - unless I have been glutened. Enough said, there.

So, thank you, Shauna, for helping bring Celiac and gluten intolerance to the forefront. Oh, and for writing this great book.

I better get this recipe posted so I can get back to reading it!

Banana-Chocolate Chip-Walnut Coffee Cake
Adapted from a recipe from The Vault

1 cup chocolate chips
2/3 cup light brown sugar
1/3 cup chopped walnuts
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
3/4 cup white rice flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup tapioca starch
1/4 cup coconut flour
1 1/2 tsp xanthan gum
3/4 tsp baking powder
3/4 cup baking soda
1/4 tsp kosher salt
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter (room temp)
1 egg
1 1/2 cups mashed ripe bananas
3 tbsp milk

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8x8 baking dish and set aside.

In a small bowl, combine the chocolate chips, brown sugar, walnuts, and cinnamon. Set the streusel aside.

Sift together into another bowl the rice flour, tapioca starch, cornstarch, coconut flour, xanthan gum, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a mixer bowl, combine the egg, butter and sugar, mixing until light and fluffy. Add the milk and bananas. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet mixture and mix well.

Spread half of the batter in the bottom of the prepared pan (I have found that the very edge of a rubber scraper works well for this - just move the batter a little at a time). Sprinkle half of the streusel over the batter, then spread the remaining batter on top of that. Sprinkle the remaining half of the streusel on top.

Bake for 50 to 55 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan; serve warm.

Monday, October 01, 2007

A favorite cookie

My favorite cookie is the gingersnap. It's also my dad's favorite cookie. My parents hope to come down for a visit around Christmas, so I wanted to be able to have our favorite cookie hanging around.

I actually did this last week, but haven't had time to take a picture or blog about it until tonight. It's another family recipe.

But before I get to the nummies, I gotta share a few highlights from our opening weekend.

We made an adult woman poop her pants.

Two adult women went through the haunted barn together; the one in back kept pulling on the front person's pants all the way through. When they got out, the front person had to go to the port-a-potty to pull her underwear out of her ass.

We had a Down's Syndrome girl go through the barn with her mother. Our helper took them through with a flashlight, just in case. He came out in tears because each of the high school students working inside the barn gave her an itty-bitty scare, removed their masks, and gave the girl a hug. Without being prompted.

Every time a parent comes to me to see if I think their child can handle our haunted barn, I am honest. It depends on the kid. If that kid is staring at me in terror just looking at the front door and hearing the sounds from within, I tell the parent to leave him/her with me and to go through themselves if they want. This occurs about half the time. The other half, I reserve the right to laugh hysterically at the shrieking child and the parent who will be up all night that night. And I get to laugh, and laugh, and laugh....a lot. Idiots.

The Farm has a great gift shop and I managed to start my Christmas shopping!

Now, back to our regularly scheduled program.

A GF'd version of the family recipe

3/4 cup shortening
1 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup molasses
1 1/4 cups brown rice flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup tapioca starch
1/4 cup sweet rice flour
2 1/4 tsp xanthan gum
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/4 to 1/2 cup granulated sugar

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Cream shortening, brown sugar, egg and molasses. Sift together the remaining dry ingredients except the granulated sugar; slowly add to the creamed mixture and mix well. Cover and chill for one hour. Roll into 1 inch balls, then roll in the granulated sugar. Place on a cookie sheet 2 inches apart and bake for 10 to 12 minutes.