Happy Halloween!

The event I had been dreading from the beginning of my campaign was last night and I cannot properly express how relieved I am that it is done.  The Marshall Chamber hosted a candidate forum/debate last night and it was the only aspect of running for public office that caused me to lose sleep at night.  I prepared as much as I could but you can only prepare so much when you don't know what the questions will be!  My kids are looking forward to watching it when it's on t.v. later in the week, but I can't think of anything more horrible.  It was stressful enough having to live through it once, I don't need to see it again!
Now that my political future is completely in the hands of the voters, I have time to make some fun stuff with my kids like these adorable cookies.  When I saw them on a blogI quickly added Nutter Butters to my shopping list because they were just too cute not to try!  I was in charge of the snack/activity at play group this week and we made these with our kids.  Lots of fun and messy hands!

Nutter Butter Ghosts

1 pkg Nutter Butter cookies
white almond bark
mini chocolate chips

1.  Melt the almond bark in your microwave according to package directions with around a tablespoon of shortening added.  This will help thin the bark so it will properly coat the cookies.
2.  Dip each cookie into the melted bark, shake off the excess and place on wax paper to dry.  While the coating is still wet, add chocolate chips for eyes and melted chocolate chips in a squeeze bottle or bag for the mouths.

Chicken Pot Pie

As you all know, I bake and cook a lot but there are two main items that I am known for and people request.  Most popular is my french bread, which is why I make a ton of it for the holidays and deliver it hot to the door of local friends and neighbors.  Running a close second are my pies.  I have many amazing fillings, both savory and sweet, but it is the crust that just floors me each time I bake one.  I wish I could take credit for my outstanding crust, but I give credit to the recipe.  I started using this recipe about five years ago and my pies went from good to outstanding.   
Don't be intimidated by pie crusts because they are so simple and once you have done it, you'll never, ever buy one from the store again.  A few tips from me to get you started:
  • Touch and process the dough as little as possible!  What creates the flaky layers is the butter melting in the oven, releasing steam and creating those spaces in the crust.
  • Be sure everything is very cold:  your butter, shortening and ice water.
  • You want to see nice clumps of butter and shortening in the dough when you roll it out.  If you don't, you've processed the dough too much.
  • When rolling out your disks, use your pie pan as a measurement and make your disk about 2" wider than your pan.

Chicken Pot Pie
(makes two pies) I freeze one for later!
3 T butter
1 T olive oil
1/2 onion, diced
1 celery stalk, diced
2 carrots, diced
1 large potato, diced
1 1/2 C mushroom, diced
salt and pepper
1 C frozen peas
3 C cooked chicken breasts, diced

1/2 C butter
1/2 C flour
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper
1 tsp garlic powder
3 C chicken broth

Two recipes for a double crust pie dough (recipe below)

1.  In a very large skillet over high heat, melt butter and olive oil together.  Add onions, carrots and celery to the pan and cook until beginning to soften.  Add potato, mushroom, salt and pepper.  Continue to cook until potato begins to soften.  Add peas and chicken breast.  Pour all ingredients into a separate bowl and return pan to the heat.
2.  To make gravy, add 1/2 C butter and allow to melt.  Add seasonings and whisk in the flour slowly as you sprinkle it over the top of the butter.  Allow the flour to cook for a few minutes, then slowly pour in your chicken broth while whisking.  Continue to whisk and cook your gravy to remove any lumps and allow it to thicken.  Pour over your veggies and chicken.  Mix to combine.
3.  Pour half of mixture into prepared pie plate with bottom crust.  Place and crimp top crust, brush with a beaten egg.  Repeat for second pie and bake both for 30 minutes at 400 degrees.  You can also freeze the second pie before baking.  When baking a frozen pie, bake at 375 degrees for 90 minutes.

Double Crust Pie Dough

2 1/2 C flour
1 tsp salt
2 Tb sugar
1/2 C shortening, chilled
12 Tb unsalted butter, cold and cut into pieces
7 Tb ice water

1.  Process flour, salt and sugar in food processor.  Add shortening and process until the mixture has the texture of coarse sand, about 10 seconds.  Scatter the butter pieces over the top and cut into the mixture until butter pieces are no bigger than small peas, about ten 1-second pulses.
2.  Sprinkle ice water over the mixture and pulse until a dough ball just begins to form.  Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and using your fingertips, knead lightly two or three times to bring into a ball.  Wrap ball in plastic wrap and flatten into a disk shape.  Refrigerate at least 1 hour or up to 2 days before rolling.
**To freeze, prepare the uncooked pie in a glass pie pan.  Freeze until solid, then remove from the pan, wrap very well in plastic wrap.  To prepare, unwrap pie, place in glass pie pan and bake at 375 for 90 minutes.

Play Dough

Four year old girls.  Do I need to say anything more?  Most of the time they are so amazingly funny and creative, but then there are other times.  You know, the ones when you have to constantly remind yourself to take slow, deep breaths and to not speak until you are thinking clearly.  My sweet four year old girl has recently taken on the habit of acting just like her 13 year old sister and it isn't pretty.  One 13 year old is enough for our household and the four year old version only makes me more upset with the 13 year old since she is the source of inspiration.

Last week, this little girl begged me all morning to make a new batch of play dough.  I had exactly zero time to do it but figured if I did, she would quietly play with the finish product while I completed a million other tasks.  You know, for a mother of five children, I can be really naive sometimes.  Forty five minutes later, when I presented her with the big, beautifully soft ball of dough, she plugged her nose and sassed with perfect 13 year old attitude, "What is that smell?!?!?"  Apparently, the new addition of coconut extract I used did not please her sensitive nasal passages.  (I thought it smelled heavenly!)  She tried for about two minutes to play with it while one hand pinched her nose then turned to me and said, "This is disgusting.  Will you bounce with me on the trampoline?"
Please don't let her reaction keep you from whipping this up for your kids.  It is so much better than store bought stuff and lasts forever.  It does take awhile for it to cook on the stove, but it is so worth it.  My only suggestion is to check with your child before adding any extracts....

Play Dough
3 C flour
1 1/2 C salt
3 C water
3 tsp cream of tartar
1/4 C vegetable oil
Food color (I used gel coloring for a richer color)
Flavoring extracts for scent (coconut, peppermint, almond, anise)

1.  Whisk all the ingredients but the coloring together in a medium sauce pan until smooth.  Add coloring until desired color and intensity is reached.  
2.  Cook over medium-low heat until dough becomes a soft dough consistency.  You will need to stir this frequently until it begins to thicken and then constantly once it does begin to thicken.
3.  Dump dough onto heavily floured counter and knead in as much additional flour to reach a desired consistency that is not too sticky, about 1 cup.
4.  Store finished dough in an airtight bag or container.

Chewy Granola Bars

"You know, you are never going to win the election...." I can't tell you how often that phrase has been spoken to my face since I began my campaign for Marshall School Board. Granted, I may not be the most well-known candidate in town, but you'll be hard pressed to find anyone more passionate about public education. I also heard this week through the rumor mill that people think I home-school my children and they don't know why I would be running for school board. I'm just hoping the residents of Marshall take a few minutes to become properly informed about all five candidates and then make their choice.

I was feeling a bit down after being set straight once again over the weekend by a well-intentioned voter. So what did I do? Bake....with chocolate. Though I was tempted to make a proven recipe so I would be able to properly envelope my grouchiness in deliciousness, instead I went for something new.

This recipe holds the record for the fastest disappearing baked good in our household. Yep, they were that good. The fact that they are super easy and quick makes me love them even more! No more buying lousy store bought granola bars that are full of artificial junk. These are a 100 times better and I'm looking forward to playing around with different additions like raisins, mini M&M's, marshmallows, peanut butter, and sunflower seeds.

Chewy Granola Bars
makes 16 bars
2 1/2 C quick oats (I used whole oats and pulsed them in the food processor)
1/2 C rice krispies
1/4 C coconut
1/2 C mini chocolate chips
1/2 C brown sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 C unsalted butter, softened
1/4 C honey
1/2 tsp vanilla

1. Mix all ingredients in a large bowl, or use your electric mixer with a paddle attachment. Press into a 9 x 13 pan with clean damp hands. Bake at 350 degrees for 18 minutes. Score the bars when they first come out of the oven then let them cool completely and then cut into bars.
**I make a double recipe and bake them in a large rimmed cookie sheet.

Avocado Pear Salad

It's a good thing I don't have much free time these days.  You see, I've recognized the beginnings of an addiction forming in my life.  I know your imaginations are running wild with a list of possible culprits but before you get carried away, just remember I'm a Mormon and your list will shrink considerably.

My name is Carole and I'm a Mario Kart Wii addict.  I don't know what it is about this game, but when I start playing, I can tune out the items screaming at me from my to-do list and become completely engulfed.  I'm truly obsessed with earning star ratings on all the levels and courses.  Why?  I HAVE NO IDEA!!!  Don't even get me started about playing on-line with random people across the globe.  There's nothing quite like taking out a great racer with your bomb right as they are about to cross the finish line and you zoom by to win.  I think there is more satisfaction beating some 11 year old kid from Germany than the normal computer characters.
One of the rare times I was able to unclench my hand from the Wii wheel, I whipped up this amazing salad.  The recipe didn't call for the grilled chicken, but my hubby appreciates a bit of protein in his salads when they are served as a main dish.  If you aren't a blue cheese fan, you can leave it out, but do me a favor and try just a tiny smidge in a bite that has all the ingredients on your fork.  I don't like blue cheese in large amounts when I can call out the blue cheese flavor.  I do love it though in dishes when there is just enough to add that salty tang as an underlying flavor.  It is still weird to me to buy blue cheese because I had hated for so long!   The same for olives, but that will have to wait for another recipe....

Avocado Pear Salad

1 head romaine lettuce
2 firm but ripe pears, sliced
1 avocado, sliced
1/2 C chopped green onion
1/2 C pecan pieces
1/4 C sugar
5 oz blue cheese
grilled chicken, beef, or pork

3 Tb red wine vinegar
1 1/2 tsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp dijon mustard
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp salt
fresh ground pepper

1.  Prepare dressing by combining in a small bowl vinegar, sugar, mustard, and garlic.  Whisk in the olive oil slowly until emulsified.  Add salt and pepper to taste.
2.  Heat small non-stick skillet over medium heat and toast pecans lightly.  Sprinkle on the sugar and allow it to melt.  Stir the pecans to cover them with the melted sugar then pour onto a plate to cool.
3.  Prepare salad with ingredients, dress and top with candied pecans.

Caramel Popcorn

Mmmmm....butter!  Is there another ingredient that can add so much depth, richness and flavor to a dish?  As my curves can testify, I love butter.  Probably not to the Paula Deen extent, but please don't offer me anything but butter to spread on my bread, to bake in my cookies or to whip in my frostings.  There is just no substitute....well, except for this one recipe exception.

I'm sure Alton Brown could explain the science behind why, but if you make this recipe with butter, the caramel turns grainy when you bake it.  I know it goes against your better judgement, but use margarine for this recipe and it turns out perfect!  I also pop my popcorn on the stove in hot oil because I like this recipe better with oil popped corn versus air popped.  This make a lot of corn so I use my big 8 qt metal bowl to mix it in and I just put the whole bowl in the oven to bake it.  Feel free to add in peanuts if you like or to drizzle some chocolate over the finished product....YUM!

Caramel Popcorn
makes 6 quarts
from A Family Raised on Sunshine by Beverly Nye

6 quarts of popped popcorn, unpopped seeds removed
2 sticks of margarine
2 C brown sugar
1/2 C corn syrup
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp vanilla

1.  In a medium saucepan, melt together the margarine, sugar, syrup and salt.  Bring it to a full boil and then remove from heat.  Mix in the soda and the vanilla.
2.  Pour caramel over the top of the popcorn and mix thoroughly until popcorn is evenly coated with caramel mixture.
3.  Bake at 250 degrees for one hour, stirring every 15 minutes.  Allow corn to cool completely before packaging.

Cream Cheese Filled Pumpkin Muffins

As I've mentioned before, I come from a family of seven kids and I was #3 in the line-up.  Most of my youth I spent much energy trying to be like #1 and #2 so they would like me and want to play with me.  I failed horribly in that goal, especially with my sister (#2) who found me completely annoying and we fought, a lot!  It wasn't until we were older and she served an 18 month mission for our church in Chile that we were both mature enough to become friends and stop completely annoying each other.  

Well, this weekend my favorite #2 ran her first marathon in St George, Utah and I couldn't be more proud of her!  I so wish I could have been there to cheer her on and be amazed at her accomplishment as she crossed the finish line.  You see, us Walter girls were not blessed in the athletic ability/body category so those 26.2 miles in the pouring rain were a HUGE accomplishment for the Walter name.
While the amazing #2 pushed her body to the limit running through the mountains of Utah, I was at home in my cozy kitchen baking these deliciously decadent muffins.  How's that for irony???
Cream Cheese Filled Pumpkin Muffins
makes 24 muffins

For the muffins:
3 C flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp ground cloves
1 Tb & 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
4 eggs
1 1/4 C canola oil
2 C sugar
2 C pumpkin puree

For the filling:
8 oz cream cheese, softened
1 C powdered sugar

For the streusel topping:
1/2 C sugar
1/4 C + 1 tsp flour
4 Tb butter
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon

1.  Combine filling ingredients and whip until smooth.  Form into a log on plastic wrap and wrap tightly.  Freeze until slightly firm, about 2 hours.
2.  Combine the streusel topping ingredients in a small bowl using a pastry cutter to cut in the butter.  Set aside.
3.  Combine the flour, spices, salt and baking soda in a medium bowl.  In a separate bowl, combine remaining muffin ingredients until well mixed.  Add wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix just until incorporated.  Don't over-mix!
4.  Line 24 muffin tins with papers and fill halfway with muffin batter.  Divide cream cheese filling into 24 equal pieces and place on top of muffins.  Divide remaining muffin batter over the top of the cream cheese pieces, being sure the filling is completely covered.  Sprinkle each muffin generously with the streusel topping.
5.  Bake at 350 degrees for 23-25 minutes.  Remove from muffin pans and allow to cool completely before serving.