Wednesday, October 31, 2012

DIY Halloween Party

Happy Halloween! I know there are a ton of differing opinions on this "holiday", many of which are religiously charged, but lets put all the away for a little while and have some fun! I love Halloween, not because I like to be scared... in fact I literally detest being scared.... I love it because it's an opportunity to spend time with friends, family, and people you need to catch up with, all while being silly and dressing up in the process. Not to mention, Halloween calls for some really great cooking and crafting! :)

Today I'm featuring all the things involved in the Halloween Party the official taste tester and I hosted last night. Get ready, this post is going to be packed full of fun things! The graduate program I am involved in is a cohort model which means we all go through the same classes together at the same time. Every year a new cohort comes in so, this campus organization we have works to unite all of us in this crazy journey. Trust me, it's always good to have a support system! Last night, everyone came over in the first and second year cohorts to enjoy some food and fun together.

As yall know, I love to cook AND I love Pinterest so this party was my opportunity to marry my two loves. As someone at the party said, Pinterest was all up in that party last night!! Don't worry about time either, most of these snacks take barely any time to make and can be made tonight before your Halloween party. :)

The first snack I had was the Monster Cake Pops from yesterday's post. You can find the recipe for that here. I decided to go with some variety and make some Ghost Pops too. These are made the same way, except they use white chocolate instead of green. To make these extra special, wrap a Styrofoam block in some black scrapbook paper, preferably one that looks "Halloweeny".

Next, I wanted to make some broomsticks I saw on pinterest here. These are SO cute and SO easy to make. I turned on the TV and had these done before the first commercial break. All you need for these is a bag of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups and a Bag of stick pretzels. To make them, you just unwrap the Reese's and stick the pretzel in the top. Here is a picture of them:


As you can see from the picture above, my broomsticks shared a tray with the creepy eyeballs I made. You can find those here.Out of everything at the party, these eyeballs were the biggest hit. By the end of the night that side of the tray had been demolished! To make them, you need white chocolate baking disks (same ones you use for Cake Pops), square or round pretzels, and chocolate chips. An optional ingredient is the brown or red sprinkle sticks (I used brown because I couldn't find any red). To make these, simply lay out your pretzels on a baking sheet and place one chocolate disk on top. Heat your oven to 350, and then cook your eyeballs for about 3-4 minutes (they are done when the chocolate is shiny). Once you take your eyeballs out of the oven, immediately put a chocolate chip in the white chocolate, pointed side down. Then, if you are using the sprinkles, add those on to look like eye veins. Here is what your finished product looks like:

The next thing I made were some witch hat cookies that you can find here. Out of everything at the party, these were my personal favorite. These are really easy to make too (theme here? I think so!). For these you need some Keebler Fudge Stripe Cookies, Orange Frosting, and some Hershey's Kisses. You can make your own frosting, but I was in a hurry and couldn't find orange food coloring so I just bought some. The time it saved was totally worth the extra $2 to me. Take your cookies and put them chocolate side up. Then unwrap your Hershey's kiss, add some icing to the bottom and stick  them together. These were quick to make too and were fabulous. Here are some pictures:

The final thing I made were some Bones. To make these, all you need are some mini marshmallows, pretzel sticks (I bought 1 bag for both the broomsticks and the bones and still had over half the bag left), and some white chocolate (I used the same white chocolate disks from the cake pops and the eyeballs). To make these, stick one mini marshmallow on each end of the pretzel stick and then dip in white chocolate. Then, place them on some white chocolate to dry for about an hour. Here is a picture of the finished product:

To finish everything off, and so we would have something to drink, I bought some orange Hawaiian punch and put it in a beverage dispenser. I highly recommend a beverage dispenser if you do a lot of entertaining. They are easy to use and make the presentation of your party look so much nicer. We got ours at Walmart for $20. I also, bought some blue Hawaiian punch and put it in a punch bowl with a frozen skull in it. I bought the ice mold at Target for $4 and it really made the punch look cool. I added a few gummy worms into the water before I froze it and it turned out very colorful! Also, you can use the mold year after year if you are careful removing the ice! Here is a picture:

For our main dish, I picked up a 6 ft sub from Walmart and some chips. These are fairly affordable at $28 for 30-40 people. That's less than $1 per person! Not to mention, it's a great conversation starter when people first get there and notice it. The table we had would only fit 4 feet of sub at a time, so we just kept the other part in our fridge. All the veggies you see in the picture come with the sub when you order it, and then I picked up some chip bags to go with it.
So, to put it all together I have included pictures of the whole thing at the bottom along with pictures of our guests. Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves and the snacks!
The spread
Poor Jeremy, he was the only guy there from the whole program!
We had a costume contest and my friend Nancy won in her Frog costume. I picked up her trophy at Target for $2.50. I would highly recommend doing the costume contest, it really gets people into the party for not a lot of money!
Maggie, although not thrilled about her costume, was a cat getting eaten by a shark.

I was a peacock and the official taste tester was Brutus. Here is a picture of the back of my costume, which I am proud of because I made it!
Happy Party Planning
& Happy Halloween!!


Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Monster Cake Pops

Hey Everyone! Sorry I was MIA on Friday, I got busy and just never got around to posting something! Don't worry, I have something extra special for you today! :)

Since today is the day before Halloween, I'm going to show you how to make some monster cake pops! They are so cute and fun, I promise they will be a hit wherever you go.

There are a couple ways to make cake pops/balls. You can bake a cake, crumble up the cake, mix it with icing, and then form it into a ball... or you can use cake pop pans. I have tried the first method and absolutely HATED it. The balls were to moist, to sweet, and I could never get them into a perfectly round shape. The second method is a lot easier, and works so much better. Only downside, the cake pop pans aren't cheap. I got mine in the Halloween section at target for $15 a piece, but they also have them in the regular baking supplies section for about $16.50. Slightly steep, but if you are going to be using them a lot like I am, it's worth it. Besides, they are so cute!!

Ingredients & Supplies for Cake Pops:
2 Cake Pop pans (makes 24 cake pops)
1 box Cake Mix in your favorite flavor
2 Eggs
1 1/4 cup water
1/4 cup vegetable oil

Ingredients & Supplies for Decoration:
White Melting Chocolate + Green Food Coloring OR Green Melting Chocolate
2 Tbsp. Butter, melted
1 cup Powdered Sugar
2 Tbsp. Milk
Black food coloring
Cake Pop Holder or Styrofoam Block
Storage Size Ziplock Bag
-Candy Eye Balls (Available at Target & Walmart in the cake decorating section)

If you want to make cake pops in a different style, use the cake pop recipe by itself and then decorate in your own way!

To start off, grease your cake pop pan with Crisco. You do this by rubbing a paper towel in the crisco and then just rubbing the inside of the cake pop circles (both sides of the pan!). Next, take your flour and coat your crisco in flour. This greases your pans and makes your cake pops come out of the pan easily. If not, they will be a mangled mess! It's hard to see, but it's there!

Next, mix your cake mix with your water, eggs, and vegetable oil. Notice this is less than what the package calls for BUT this is good, it will make your pops hold up better. Beat your batter with an electric mixer for about a minute. At this point your batter will be THICK. This is a good thing and will make good round & strong cake pops! Next spoon your cake batter into the side of the cake pop pan that doesn't have a hole on top. You want to completely fill the bottom circle or your cake pop won't be a full circle. It's not going to look pretty because your batter is so thick but I promise it will turn out just fine. Here is what mine looked like:

Next place the other half of your cake pop pan on top and secure it. Repeat this with your other cake pop pan. You will probably have some batter left over, I used this to make some extra cupcakes. :)

Cook your cake pops on 350 for 19 minutes. Some of your circles might overflow through the hole in the top but that's ok, the extra cake peels right off. Once your cake balls are done cooking, leave them in the pans and allow them to cool completely. I usually just leave them to cool over night and decorate them in the morning.

Once your pops are completely cool, open up the pan. Each cake pop will have a small lip around it, so grab a knife and cut this part off.

See how cute they are? Once you have your pops prepared, it's time to get your candy ready for dipping. To do this, melt your candy in a microwave safe bowl for 30 seconds at a time until melted. Once I have my chocolate melted, I always keep my bowl inside a double boiler to keep the chocolate warm while you are dipping. To do this, keep some water that's just about boiling on the side and pour it into a bigger bowl, then set your smaller bowl inside. Make sure the water doesn't spill over into your small bowl! I also always keep some water hot on the stove so I can change out my water periodically during the dipping process. If your candy doesn't stay hot enough, your pops will fall off the sticks!

Once your candy is melted, add in a spoon or two of Crisco. This sounds weird I know BUT this will make your candy thinner. You want your candy to be about the consistency of water or your pops will fall off the sticks. Once you have your candy at the right consistency, add in your food coloring.

Now it's time to put the sticks on your pops. To do this, dip the top of the stick into the candy and then stick it into the cake pop. You don't want to stick it to far in there because once you coat the pop, the weight of it will push it down some. Just stick it far enough in to hold it up. Let your pops dry on their sticks for about 5 minutes or until set.

Now it's time for the moment of truth... dipping your sticks. Remember to make sure your candy is thin enough! Dip your cake pop straight into the candy and then lightly tap of the edge of your candy bowl to remove the excess chocolate. Sometimes, your cake pop might tilt to the side if the candy is to heavy. If this happens, it's no big deal, just adjust the cake pop with your finger and then dab some chocolate in where your finger print is. Don't get discouraged after the first one, it takes some practice to get this down! The first time I made these I lost a few in the process! If some of your sticks go strait through, don't worry about it. Just let them finish drying and then cover the hole up with your decorations. These won't be able to stand straight up but they can still be used!

Repeat this step with all your cake pops and set them in your cake pop holder or Styrofoam block to dry for about 30 minutes.

Once your cake pops are dry, mix together your butter, powdered sugar, black food coloring, and milk in a small bowl. Add in more powdered sugar as need to make your icing pretty thick. Basically you are making a butter cream icing to decorate with and you don't want it to drip off. If you don't want to make this from home, you can use a can of icing and it will work just the same.

Once your icing is ready, pour it into your ziplock bag, cut the corner off, and get to decorating! this is the fun part so enjoy yourself! I made some hair and a mouth, and then used some icing to attach some candy eyes. They turned out pretty cute if I do say so myself!

When I was making the icing to decorate with, I made a little extra and decorated the cupcakes from the extra batter to match. :)

Transporting cake pops is a hard thing to do. I had to take these to my hubby's office, so I ended up putting them in small treat bags and tying a ribbon around them. You can get 50 treat bags at Walmart in the cake decorating section for about $2 and it make the presentation really cute!

Happy Cooking
& Enjoy!!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Cream Cheese vs. Neufchatel Cheese

Lately, with the healthy substitutions I have been making, some of you may have been wondering what some of the ingredients are. Today I'm here to solve your confusion on Neufchatel cheese! Before you ask... I have no idea how to say this word, I just know it's French. French speakers, help a girl out.

So Neufchatel cheese is right next to the cream cheese in the grocery store. We all see it, but we usually just buy cream cheese out of habit.... and out of not wanting to possibly ruin whatever we are cooking.

As someone who uses cream cheese almost daily, it was important for me to figure out the difference between my beloved cream cheese and the stranger neufchatel cheese.

As far as look and taste go, there is almost no difference in the two. Seriously, if you do a side-by-side taste test, you won't be able to tell. Technically, neufchatel cheese is not as rich as cream cheese, but I think only the most experienced food critics would even notice.

As far as nutritional content, neufchatel cheese is the way to go for a healthier lifestyle. Really, if you want to be super healthy, you should just eliminate both neufchatel and cream cheese from your diet, but we just aren't there yet in our household. :)

One package of cream cheese has about 800 calories, 72 grams of fat (48 are saturated), & 240 mg of cholesterol. YIKES!!!!

Neufchatel cheese has 560 calories, 48 grams of fat (32 are saturated), & 160 mg of cholesterol.

Now, like I said earlier, it would honestly be better just to remove these products from your diet completely BUT if your like me and can't live without your beloved cream cheese, this is a good substitution to make. Just by switching you save 240 calories, 34 grams of fat (16 saturated), and 80 mg of cholesterol. Saving 240 extra calories a day would cause you to lose 1 pound every two weeks... this translates to 26 pounds a year. That's pretty awesome for not sacrificing any taste!!

Thanks for joining me in my journey to a better me. :) If you have any suggestions for healthy substitutions, leave a comment below or send an email to

Happy Cooking!!
Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Shepherd's Pie

For the middle of the week I thought I'd do a post that my hubby loves. Seriously, he requests this meal fairly often. I don't mind because it's easy to make and we have leftovers for days. :) A happy wife = a happy life!

The best time to make this recipe is the night after you have a meal with mashed potatoes in it. The night you are making the mashed potatoes, make an extra large batch and save the leftovers for your shepherd's pie. if you already have the mashed potatoes made, this recipe takes no time to put together.

-Mashed Potatoes (For a even healthier dish, you could use Cauliflower instead of potatoes, I haven't tried this personally though)
-1 lb. Ground turkey breast (or ground beef)
-1 small package Frozen vegetables (I usually get vegetable medley: corn, peas, carrots, & green beans)
-1 small Onion, diced
-1/2-1 cup Beef broth
-1 tsp. Worcestershire Sauce
-4 Tbsp. Butter

To start off, preheat your oven to 400. Brown your turkey meat and set aside. In a large sauce pan, melt your butter over medium heat. Add in your onions and saute them until almost tender (about 5 minutes). Next, add in your frozen veggies and saute for about 3 more minutes. Then add in your turkey, 1/2 cup beef broth, and Worcestershire sauce and mix everything together. Your mixture should look something like this:

Turn the heat down on your stove to low and let simmer for 10 minutes. You need to keep your mixture moist, so add in more beef broth if necessary. I usually end up using about 3/4 cup total.
Spray a 13x9 pan with non-stick cooking spray and then add in your vegetable mixture.

Next, top your vegetable mixture with your mashed potatoes. I usually do this by dropping dollops of mashed potatoes all over the top and then smoothing it out. Once your mashed potatoes cover the top, take a fork and create some peaks all over (see picture). This will help some of the top parts of your dish get a little brown & crispy in the oven.

Cook your shepherd's pie for 30 minutes or until brown and is bubbling around the edges. If your pie is bubbling at the end of the 30 minutes but isn't brown, turn your broiler on and let the shepherd's pie sit under the broiler for about a minute. Be careful here though, the broiler will work fast! Here is a picture of your finished product:

The official taste tester always adds a little crushed red pepper to his bowl to make his spicy. I usually add a little cheese to mine because I LOVE cheese so much, but it's good by itself. It's also even better the next day reheated!
Happy Cooking
& Enjoy!!!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Dog Treats

Isn't this picture precious? I love my little babies so much that I decided to make them their own homemade dog treats. Besides, they are getting spayed today, so I thought this was the perfect day to post this since I'm missing them. I'm ridiculous I know.

The website I got this recipe off of (see the original here) claims that pumpkin is good for an upset dog tummy and to relieve their anal glands. I don't know if that's true, but since my children dogs are labs and they get into and eat EVERYTHING, I thought it probably couldn't hurt.

These are easy to make and my children dogs LOVED them. They pretty much love all food, so I don't know if that's a good indicator but still. It made me feel good to make something special for them. I guess this is the reason my family says I need a child...

Ingredients (see picture):
-Cookie Cutters
-1/2 can of Pumpkin (1/2 cup)
- 2 Eggs
- 2 Tbsp. Dried Milk
-1/4 tsp. Sea Salt
-1 tsp. Dried Parsley (optional)
-2 1/2 cups Brown Rice Flour OR Organic Soy Flour**

**TIP: A lot of dogs are allergic to wheat and it's hard on their tummies so definitely don't substitute regular flour for this ingredient. Brown rice flour is the type of flour that the least amount of dogs are allergic to, so it is the best option. Soy Flour is the next best option, as long as it's organic. Soy flour that's not organic is treated with pesticides which is also terrible for dog's tummies. When I bought the ingredients, the store was out of brown rice flour, so I used organic soy flour.

To start off, preheat your oven to 350. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together your eggs and pumpkin until smooth. Next, stir in your dried milk, sea salt, and dried parsley.

Once you have that all mixed together, gradually stir in your flour until you form a dry dough. I used a spoon at first, but eventually just set the spoon aside and mixed it together with my hands. Here is what your dough should look like at this point.

Now it's time to roll out your dough. To do this, place some extra flour on top of your cutting board and on top of your dough as you roll it out (to about 1/4-1/2 inch thick). This will prevent the dough from sticking. I wanted my treats to look real, so I bought some dog shaped cookie cutters. You can get them at Walmart for about $3. If you have small dogs, these might be too big. My children dogs are about 60 lbs each so they were the perfect size.

Once you roll out your dough, use your cookie cutters to cut out your shapes and place them on a cookie sheet.

Keep putting the dough scraps back together and re-rolling them out until you run out of dough. Here is what my dog treats looked like before I put them in the oven.


As you can see, I added little collars to the dog shaped ones :)

Bake your dog treats for 20 minutes, flip them all over, and bake for an additional 20 minutes. After the first 20 minutes you will swear they look done but make sure you cook them the whole time. The goal is for them to be HARD like normal dog treats are.

Once your treats are done, take them out of the oven and let them cool completely before giving them to your dogs. This waiting period was tough for my girls, but they made it. Here are some pictures of the finished product (sorry they are so dark!).

The cat even liked them:

Happy cooking
& Give your animals an extra hug from me :)


Friday, October 19, 2012

Blog Love

Hey Everyone!

As you know Friday is a time for some Blog Love. As you also know, many of my recipes ARE NOT Vegan/Vegetarian friendly, so I thought I'd feature this special vegan blog for my veggie friends.

Michelle is one of my friends from waaaaaaaay back in High School (we actually met in elementary school) and she has started this new blog The Vegan Buddhist Homemaker. She just posted a great recipe about Black Bean Soup. Check it out!!!
Thursday, October 18, 2012

Ground Turkey vs. Ground Beef

So.... when you are trying to make your lifestyle healthier, should you make the switch from ground beef to ground turkey? The short answer is... It depends.

This has been an argument between a lot of different people, but I'm here to give you the straight answer!

There are two types of ground turkey; regular ground turkey and ground turkey breast. If you are switching from ground beef to regular ground turkey, you are basically wasting your time. Regular ground turkey has the turkey skin ground in, as well as the turkey meat (kinda gross huh?) and has the same calories and fat content as beef (maybe even more sometimes!). There is one positive to this switch. Turkey is higher in calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, & selenium while beef is higher in iron, zinc, & potassium. Depending upon your dietary needs, one may be better for you than the other. Either way, a pound of ground beef or a pound of regular ground turkey has about 1000 calories & 68 grams of fat. YIKES!

Don't be discouraged though, a switch to ground turkey breast is worth it! Ground turkey breast has only meat ground into it which is good considering the skin is what holds all the fat. Ground turkey breast has about half the calories, WAY LESS fat and a lot more protein. That's awesome right?! A pound of ground turkey breast has about 480 calories and 4 grams of fat. Whew, that's a lot better!

So how do you tell which turkey is which? It will say it right on the package! If the package says "Ground Turkey" walk the other way... It will specifically say "Ground Turkey Breast" on the front. The turkey breast is more expensive, but hey, when it comes to your health, it's worth it. Here is a picture to help you in the grocery store:

Ground Turkey Breast:
Ground Turkey:

So now, the last question remains... what about taste? This is honestly a personal preference. I think turkey tastes better because it makes the dish taste lighter and it doesn't give me heart burn as often as ground beef does. When I first started using turkey, the official taste tester was NOT keen on the idea. I eventually just switched it without him knowing and he could never tell the difference. Now he likes it better!

I hope this helped you understand the differences in turkey and beef! Let me know if you have any questions!

Happy Cooking
& Enjoy!!
DISCLAIMER: These are my own personal dietary opinions, if you need professional medical or dietary advice, contact you family physician.