Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Candy Witch Candy Corn Cookies

The Candy Witch was written by Steven Kroll and illustrated by Marylin Hafner.  It's one of the books that I remember reading again and again as a kid, even though it's obviously a Halloween story.

Our story focuses on Maggie Witch, the youngest of the Witch family.  Everyone in the family liked to cast good, helpful spells for the people of the town.  To quote Mr. Kroll, "Mama Witch flew around turning garbage into fruit trees.  Brother John changed pillows into purring cats.  Papa Warlock liked giving bald men hair."  But Maggie's good deeds - making flowers bloom, filling empty fridges with food, putting candy in people's pockets - largely went unnoticed. 

Poor Maggie!  She just wanted somebody to pay attention to her.  So, having tried so hard to be good with no results, she now tried a new tactic - mischief!  Eric found mice in his lunchbox.  Bill's milk got turned into a flower.  Patty tripped over a cow on her way to the school bus.  (I love how random this is.)  And then, to top it all off, Maggie waited until late at night, when all the trick-or-treaters had gone home... and she made all their candy disappear!

Maggie lurked near the school the next day, waiting to hear everyone commenting on what she had done.  But what she heard was crying, and with that, she realized that she had done an awful thing!  Oh no!! How could she make it up to everybody?  Our little Candy Witch had an idea.  She set up a huge candy festival in the center of town, with more candy than anyone had ever seen in one place.  Not just what she had stolen, either, but also piles of Hershey kisses and caramel apples and jelly beans, and she made it so the fountains spouted lemonade!  What fun!!  And finally, everyone was happy - including Maggie.

What a sweet story! (No pun intended.)  And there was so much candy in it that I just had to pick something to make for it.  Now, candy corn isn't specifically mentioned in this story, but when I think Halloween Candy, I think Candy Corn.  Of course, rather than trying to make actual candy, I decided it would be more fun to make candy corn cookies. 

The idea for these isn't mine; it's Betty Crocker's.  Her recipe and instructions are here, and mine are here below.  I used my favorite sugar cookie recipe (also below, and, as usual, from the AllRecipes website here), but if you have a favorite, or you want to use pre-made or from a mix, go for it - just skip to step 3.  Just as a note: this recipe is rather confusing in just words, so today you get a special photo shoot of the food in progress!  Hooray!!!

Candy Witch Candy Corn Cookies
3-3/4 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup butter or margarine, softened
1-1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract
Yellow and red or orange food coloring

1. In a small bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt.  Set aside.
2. In a larger bowl, cream the butter and sugar until soft and fluffy, and then add in the eggs, one at a time, and the vanilla.  Finally, stir in the dry ingredients, a little bit at a time (so it doesn't get flour all over you and the counter), until fully mixed.
3. Divide the dough into three equal portions.  Take one of the portions and push it into the bottom of a rectangular pan, forming an equal layer.  I used a plastic reusable throw-away lunch container (like Glad-Ware, but I'm pretty sure it was store brand). 
4. Use a few drops of food coloring to turn one of the remaining portions orange, and layer it evenly over the white layer.  Color the remaining dough yellow, and layer it evenly on top.  In the end, it will look like this:
Beautiful!  Now, chill this for two hours.
5. After the dough is nice and chilled, preheat the oven to 400.  Remove the dough from the container, and cut slices as close to 1/4 of an inch as you can get.  It will look like this:
 6. Now, take your slice and cut it into triangles, as shown here (sorry about the glare):  

Each of these triangles is a piece of candy corn.  Some will have yellow tops, and some will have yellow bottoms, but really, nobody's going to notice.  As you transfer each of these pieces to the cookie sheet (or wax paper, or tin foil), try to soften the corners a little bit, so they're not quite so sharp.
Your finished cookie sheet will look something like this:
Squee!  How cute are those?  I may have put them slightly too close together on the sheet there, but they don't spread too much, so I was alright.
7.  Now, bake these beauties for 6 to 8 minutes, or until the edges are just starting to turn golden brown.  My finished cookies looked like this:
And I am rather proud of them.  Don't they look much more impressive than the actual work involved?  I love it - hope you do, too.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Skippyjon Jones Nachos

Skippyjon Jones is a Siamese kitten who lives with his mother, Mama Junebug Jones, and three sisters.  There he was, jumping on his bed one day, minding his own business, singing a little song, when he suddenly noticed himself in the mirror, and was very surprised at what he saw.  "Holy Guacamole!" he said.  And then, in his best Spanish accent: "My ears are too beeg for my head.  My head ees too beeg for my body.  I am not a Siamese cat... I am a chihuahua!

So, of course he had to put on a Zorro-inspired costume and go off on an adventure, into the closet-turned-Mexican-village.  Of course, his mastery of the language is limited to a few simple words, and the fact that putting "-ito" at the end of words makes them Spanish, but that doesn't stop our hero (now called El Skippito) from volunteering to save the day.  You see, a mysterioso band of chihuahuas named Los Chimichangos were being tortured by a giant Bumblebeeto Bandito!  He kept stealing all of their beans (from black beans to jelly beans), and wouldn't give them back.  Oh no!!!  Can El Skippito save the day?!

Skippyjon Jones is the first (award-winning!) book in a series of five, starring Skippyjon, the kitty-brainchild of author and illustrator Judith Byron Schachner. The other books have Skippyjon in ancient Egypt (via the litter box), digging dinosaur bones, and on Mars - of course, all with the Los Chimichangos gang for company. 

These books are awesome read-alouds, especially since there are lots of songs and rhymes thrown in.  And if you don't feel like reading a book 15 times to your little one - GOOD NEWS!!  They each come with a CD audio book!

I also love the illustrations in these books, particularly the two pages that say: "First they had a fiesta.  Then they took a siesta."  I love that each individual member of Los Chimichangos has his own distinct size, personality, and fur-coloring (since they're all actually bean bag toys, there are several pink, orange, and polka-dotted dogs.  My favorite is the green chihuaha with a pink flower pattern), and that Mama Junebug Jones generally wears an apron and is a patient, loving, and generally awesome cat.  All in all - awesome characters, great stories, and generally a lot of fun.  Highly recommended.

And so!  For Skippyjon Jones, who is not exactly Mexican but likes to think he is, I have made nachos, which are not exactly Mexican, but pretend they are.  (Yes, I know the origin of nachos.  They were created in Mexico by Ignacio "Nacho" Anaya.  But my nachos aren't exactly traditional, as I tend to be pretty white-bread.)

Skippyjon Jones Nachos
1 bag of corn tortilla chips
Shredded cheese or queso sauce
Optional additional toppings, such as:
Seasoned taco-style beef, steak, or chicken
Sour cream
Refried beans
Pico de gallo

1. Spread tortilla chips into a single layer on a microwave-safe plate or a cookie sheet.  Sprinkle (or pour) an even layer of cheese onto each chip.  If using jalapenos, this would be the time to add them, one slice per chip.
2. Heat the chips in the microwave (if on a plate) or the oven (if on a cookie sheet) until cheese is melted.
3. If on a cookie sheet, evacuate melty chips to a plate.  Now is the time to add your additional toppings, starting with the heaviest (such as meat or beans) and ending with sauces.
4. Dig in and enjoy!

On a totally different but still blog-related note, I wanted to let you know that we have FIVE Halloween recipes ready to go!  Keep checking back - I'm trying to work on a Monday-Thursday update schedule.

PS - if you look closely in the first photo, you can see my own kitty-face hanging out on the floor.  Bonus!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Captains of the City Streets: Chicken A La King!

Happy Monday, my friends! Do I ever have a special treat for you guys tonight. For tonight, we have a meal made by Guest Chef Theone - she who made both potato latkes AND chestnuts for us last December. She has been telling me that I have to write about Captains of the City Streets by Esther Averill since I started this blog, and for some reason I just never have, so she just finally gave up and made it for me. Thank you!!
Theone is right about a lot of things, including that everybody who even somewhat likes cats should read this book.  It's awesome. 

Captains of the City Streets, a chapter book by Esther Averill, is a part of the Jenny's Cat Club book series. Originally written in the 1972, it follows a series of books that were published as early as the 1940's; the entire series was reprinted in 2005 by the New York Review Children's Collection.

The two main characters of the book, named Sinbad and The Duke, are both tramp cats by choice, not wanting an owner or any responsibilities, or any neighborhood obligations to fulfill. They ventured into a place called “Little Old New York,” a place with no food source for stray kitties, in order to find a steady home to give them room to practice their boxing skills (their skips and shuffles need work). There, they find an abandoned shed, but almost give up on their new home for lack of food before stumbling into both a kindly human who feeds them, and then the Cat Club, which is held nightly in his back yard, and which comprises some pretty awesome characters (a cat who can play the nose flute? Where else can you get that?!).

Sinbad and The Duke first met fellow tramp cat Patchy Pete at The Tramps' Last Stop - the southernmost point in New York where they're guaranteed a hot meal.  Cookie is the (human) chef at the restaurant, and he is so kind that he takes the time to count the number of strays that come to his back door, so that each gets his own plate of dinner leftovers.  For Sinbad and The Duke's meal, they are treated to Cookie's fabulous Chicken A La King, which Theone has made for us tonight.

And so, without further ado, I give you.... Guest Chef Theone!!!

Hi Kat!
Here's the recipe & photos for chicken a la king from "Captains of the City Streets" (possibly my very favorite children's book of all time). I'm not sure where I got the recipe; it might have been one of those good experiments.  Hope everyone enjoys! 

Captains of the City Streets' Chicken A La King
You will need:
1 15 oz.can of mixed vegetables
1 large cooked chicken breast, chopped finely OR 1 12.5 oz can of chicken (your choice)
3 Tbsp. butter
3 Tbsp. flour
2 1/2 cups of milk, cream or a combination of both (cream being the preferred dairy product of Sinbad & the Duke)
salt & pepper, to taste
biscuits, rolls or bread 

1. Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat
2. Add the flour & whisk madly for 2 or 3 minutes, making sure the flour does not burn
3. Add the dairy a bit at a time, making sure to whisk it into creamy wonderfullness.
4. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the white sauce starts to thicken.
5. Turn the heat way down.
6. Add the meat, veggies & seasonings & turn up the heat until everything is heated through.
7. Serve over a bread of your choice. I prefer biscuits a la Pillsbury because they're so easy, but any old bread will do. Toast is also a nice choice, and faster.
(Rolls a la Pillsbury)

Bon apetit!

Thanks, Theone.  Your beautiful food, coupled with the fact that you took the time to make this for us, in addition to the fact that you actually put the book with the finished product (why do I never do that?  I totally should do that!) is seriously amazing. You're the best guest chef ever.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Stone Soup

 Stone Soup is a traditional folk story, and in various cultures, you can find it as "axe soup," "button soup," or "nail soup."  I've chosen to write about the version written by Marcia Brown, which was a Caldecott Honor book in 1947. (In the interest of honesty, I think I should note that, while the story itself is good, the images are not to my personal taste.)

In Ms. Brown's version, the story goes like this (I'm paraphrasing, of course):
Three tired soldiers were walking home from the wars, and were very tired and very hungry - they hadn't eaten in days.  They came upon a village, and begged for some food and shelter, but the peasants were wary of strangers, and had hidden all their food away.  When the soldiers asked around, they were told that there just wasn't anything left.  "Sorry!" they said.  "We gave everything extra we had to the soldiers who came before you, and all our beds are full of people already, and there's nothing left anywhere, so you have to leave now.  Too bad!"  Then they stood around and looked as hungry as they could.

The soldiers talked to eachother a bit, and told the townspeople, "we had no idea that nobody had any food.  What a sorry state of affairs!  We'll have to make stone soup and feed you all.  Um... do you have a really big pot we can borrow?"   The townspeople were amazed.  Make soup out of stones?!  That would be a wonderful skill to learn!  Of course the soldiers could borrow a pot!  The town's largest cooking pot was set over a fire, and in went the stones and plenty of water. 

So the soldiers stirred the stone soup, and one turned to the others.  "It's a shame nobody has any salt and pepper," he said.  "Stone soup is always better with salt and pepper."  "Well...." said a townsperson.  "I suppose I might have a bit I can spare.  And in it went.

"This is good," one soldier said.  "But it's a shame there aren't any carrots around.  Stone soup is awesome with carrots."  "I might have a carrot or two," said a peasant.  He dug up a few and dumped them in.  Another peasant was able to scare up a cabbage or two, while another had a few extra potatoes.  And so on, and so on, until the pot was full and the soup was ready.

A great table was set, and everyone sat down and enjoyed the soup and was amazed that the soup had been made from water and just a few stones.

I always liked this story because it's about what great things can happen when people pitch in just a little bit.  This particular version also has a trio of very tired, and also sneaky, soldiers (who, by the way, each got a comfortable place to sleep).

In case you feel like making your own Stone Soup one day, here's my favorite recipe.  Feel free to throw in whatever veggies you might have laying around, too.

Stone Soup
1 pound ground beef
4 cups chicken stock
4 cups water
1 onion, chopped
1 2oz. packet onion soup mix
1 16oz. bag of frozen mixed vegetables
1 15oz. can tomato sauce
3/4 cup dry elbow macaroni

1. Brown the ground beef in the bottom of your biggest soup pot.  Drain the fat.
2. Add the rest of the ingredients, through the tomato sauce, and cook over medium heat for 15 minutes.
3. Add the macaroni and cook until it's done (about 10 minutes).  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

My version of stone soup is taken from an recipe (Hamburger Vegetable Soup).  This is pretty tasty with saltines or with crusty bread, and it also freezes well.  Of course, it's just a baseline recipe, and you can add whatever else you like in there as well.  This time, I added half a can of diced tomatoes, and it was pretty tasty.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Curious George Monkey Treats

Curious George, the curious little monkey!  For any of you who might be unfamiliar with this awesome monkey, he is he creation of husband-and-wife team Hans Augusto and Margaret Rey, and comes all the way from the jungles of Africa, where The Man With The Yellow Hat caught him and took him home.  (As a side note, the Reys have a very interesting history - read about it on Houghton Mifflin's website, here.)

George is a nice little monkey, but a very curious one and he - like many children - doesn't ever mean to cause trouble.  It just sort-of follows him.  Like the time he saw the Man With The Yellow Hat using the telephone?  He had to push the buttons, too!  Wouldn't you?  He didn't know that he'd be calling the fire department and setting off an alarm. 

He starred in seven original adventures (though the original Curious George is still my favorite).  George has always appealed to my sense of what I wanted to do but I couldn't because I'd get in trouble - and I love that it's not always a happy conclusion.  Sometimes George is good at what he tries to do, but sometimes it's harder than it looks and something bad happens.  It's somehow more realistic that way.

So, in honor of Curious George and the Reys, and for the curious little monkeys in your life, I give you:
Curious George Monkey Treats
peanut butter (I like chunky, but creamy is lovely, too)
chocolate chips

1. Peel a banana, and cut or break it in half (not longways, as that would be slimy).
2. Spread peanut butter over the top of the banana.
3. Press chocolate chips into the peanut butter.
4. Eat.

This treat is alternately called Bugs On A Bed, and is a variation of Ants On A Log, which has celery instead of banana and raisins instead of chocolate chips.  I remember when I learned to make this 20+ years ago.  Good times.  Just look how tasty these are!

You have no idea how long it took me to choose a good Curious George food.  I've been debating on it off and on for months, and looking at recipes for two solid weeks now.  "And this is what you came up with?" you say.

Well...I knew I wanted to do something banana, because Curious George is a most-excellent monkey.  I thought about: banana bread, banana pudding, bananas foster, banana cookies, chocolate-dipped bananas, banana ice cream (a la Ben & Jerry's Chunky Monkey), banana cream pie, and banana smoothies.  Some ideas were okay, others were boring and predictable, and the one I really wanted to do - bananas foster over ice cream - was probably not to the taste of my target demographic - the little ones who relate more to the monkey than to the Man With The Yellow Hat.  This is a recipe that they can enjoy making as well as eating.  So, I guess this was my wake-up that I can't just make things that I want to eat.

As always, comments and suggestions are welcome, and please feel free to email me at