Black as night Halloween dinner

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This Halloween night, I put together a meal as dark as my ride home from work will be after daylight savings this weekend. First up was the cocktail above. I didn’t make it and I didn’t ask what was in it, but despite it’s gloomy appearance, it was super fruity!

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Next up, white button mushroom stuffed with kalamata tapenade. Topped with a sliver of pecorino and broiled for 2 minutes, these were a tasty grown up riff on edible eyeballs.

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Last up, spooktacular black beans and rice! Happy Halloween, you ghosts and goblins!

Black as night Halloween dinner

20131031-194120.jpg

This Halloween night, I put together a meal as dark as my ride home from work will be after daylight savings this weekend. First up was the cocktail above. I didn’t make it and I didn’t ask what was in it, but despite it’s gloomy appearance, it was super fruity!

20131031-194357.jpg

Next up, white button mushroom stuffed with kalamata tapenade. Topped with a sliver of pecorino and broiled for 2 minutes, these were a tasty grown up riff on edible eyeballs.

20131031-194621.jpg

Last up, spooktacular black beans and rice! Happy Halloween, you ghosts and goblins!

Stuffed baby eggplant and yellow globe zucchini

Stuffed baby eggplant and yellow globe zucchini

Summer is in full swing at my farmer’s market and I could not be happier. There’s a new farmer there this year who specializes in unique twists of stand-by summer veggies. He has mint and evergreen striped zucchini and deep purple cherokee tomatoes right next to the brightest neon yellow squash I have ever seen. This week he had some globe zucchini, too, in both yellow and a pale green. I snatched up several figuring they would be the perfect vessels for some kind of stuffing. Flash forward 10 minutes, I’m walking past an Asian reseller at the same farmer’s market who has the most gorgeous baby eggplant stacked high. I had a vision of how awesome they would look next to the yellow squash. Same size, complimentary colors, it just had to happen!

Stuffed baby eggplant and yellow globe zucchini

So, the eggplants went into my basket as well and later they both went into a hot oven to bake with a savory tomato stuffing. Both were tasty, but if pressed, I admit to enjoying the zucchini a little more. The skins of the baby eggplant were a little chewy, but I’m not going to complain because it was so good-looking on the plate. These made a delicious side dish to some grilled chicken, but they would be fun served as part of a vegetable plate, too. (If you’re not from the South, a vegetable plate is a meal made up solely of side dishes. And just FYI, macaroni & cheese is considered fair game for a vegetable plate).

Stuffed baby eggplant and yellow globe zucchini

Stuffed baby eggplant and yellow globe zucchini, makes 4 servings

4 small baby eggplant, about 3″ in diameter

4 small globe zucchini, about 3″ in diameter

1 can diced tomato, drained well

2 ounces feta cheese, crumbled

2 Tablespoons diced red onion

1 Tablespoon chopped fresh herbs (I used oregano and thyme)

1 Tablespoon olive oil

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Slice a thin sliver off the bottom of each eggplant and zucchini so they will sit flat. Cut the tops off the baby zucchini and eggplant. You may reserve the top to use as a ‘lid’ when baking if you’d like. Using a melon baller, carefully hollow out the eggplant and zucchini leaving about 1/2″ think walls. Place the hollowed vegetables in a shallow baking dish.

Combine the tomatoes, feta, onion, herbs, and olive oil in a bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Stuff each zucchini and eggplant full of the tomato mixture.

Pout 1 cup water into the baking dish around the stuffed zucchini and eggplant. If using, place the tops back on the vegetables as lids. Place in the oven and bake 1 hour.

Insta-Party: Carrot-tini and Feta Stuffed Sugar Snap Peas

Carrot-tini and stuffed snap peas

Well, it’s been a little quiet around Ready, Set, Party recently. But I swear I’ve been making good use of my time while away from here. The full-time gig has kept me busy heading up several major transitions. Let’s just say I’ve gotten an on-the-job MBA in change management. Besides that, two other major events have occurred while I have been absent.

Magnus

#1 – New dog in the HOUSE! His name is Magnus and he only wears his tie to formal events. He’s an 8 month old, 70 lb bull mastiff puppy. He is a handful, but very sweet. Almost sweet enough that I don’t mind all the dog hair and slobber he leaves everywhere.

Clear Eye logo

#2 – I started a business! With an extremely talented, driven, and funny partner named Kylee. She’s the written word ying to my visual art yang. Our shared passion is helping small businesses with their marketing. So we do websites, copy, SEO, logo design, brand development, print and digital ad design, web-videos, and so much more! We have a handful of clients but we turned a profit in our first quarter in business! If you know anyone who needs marketing assistance, I’d be happy to speak with them. You can find our contact info on the Clear Eye Marketing website.

Carrot-tini and stuffed snap peas

But I have missed blogging and brainstorming ideas and recipes, fussing with photo styling, and sharing Insta-parties and such. So here I am, back again. I can only stay away from delicious food, drink, and celebrations for so long. This Insta-party makes delicious use of one of my favorite late-spring vegetables – the sugar snap pea. These are straight from my garden, still warm from the sun and incredibly sweet. Filled with a smooth, salty feta cheese stuffing, they’re additive little sweet-salty-crisp snacks.

Feta Stuffed Sugar Snap Peas

16 plump, fresh sugar snap pea pods

2 Tbsp walnut pieces

1 ounce feta cheese

1 Tbsp skim milk

1 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley

salt and pepper to taste

Carefully split each pea pod along the flat top of the pea. Using your fingers, gently open the pod to create a pocket.

In a food processor, grind walnut pieces to a fine powder. Add feta, milk, and parsley and process to combine. Add salt and pepper to taste and stir to combine.

You can spoon in the filling or you can make a quick piping bag. Add feta mixture to a small plastic sandwich bag and push mixture down to a bottom corner, then  snip the corner and pipe filling into the pea pods.

Carrot-tini and stuffed snap peas

Carrot juice may not seem like an obvious choice for a cocktail. But neither did tomato juice until the bloody mary came along. Gin goes well with fruit juice, and it turns out, with root vegetable juice. I used a carrot juice blend from Trader Joe’s which was sweet with an earthy edge. And that color! This cocktail is pretty, unexpected, and most importantly, tasty.

Carrot-tini

Equal parts carrot juice blend and gin

ice

citrus pepper for garnish (optional)

Combine carrot juice and gin in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake 100 times. If using garnish, rub a lemon around the rim of your glass and dip rim in citrus pepper. Strain carrot-tini into glass and serve.

In Season: Pumpkin Ale Floats

Pumpkin Ale Float
It’s time for another In Season post with Jen over at Cook It, Click It, Eat It. Up today – pumpkins! It’s nearly Halloween and there are pumpkins everywhere. I started researching drinks for this post and I found a lot of pumpkin smoothie type recipes, but nothing that really intrigued  me. Plus, they all called for only 1 or 2 tablespoons of pumpkin puree, which would leave nearly an entire can of pumpkin left over and wasted unless I wanted to drink 3 or 4 pumpkin smoothies everyday for a whole week. I didn’t think that was a good plan!
Pumpkin Ale Float

Finally inspiration struck while I was enjoying another pumpkin beverage that is everywhere right now – pumpkin ale. I’ve had Guinness floats before, so I thought why not try the same idea but with pumpkin ale instead of Guinness? And of course, why not serve it out of a hollowed out pumpkin? I’m sure you can follow my logic on that one.
Pumpkin Ale Float
There were doubters about this particular experiment. Even I was a little worried. Luckily, I attended a pumpkin carving party the day before the photoshoot, hence the Jack O’Lantern in the pictures. His look of surprise perfectly reflects how we all felt about the deliciousness of the drink! Like so much about the Halloween season, something initially scary can wind up being wonderful if given the chance. Just like Teen Wolf.

Pumpkin Ale Float

I used butter pecan ice cream for the float, mostly because that’s what I already had in the freezer. But the nuttiness of the ice cream really worked, though I am quite sure vanilla ice cream would be a tasty substitution.

Pumpkin Ale Float (in a pumpkin), serves 1

1 smallish pumpkin

12 ounces pumpkin ale, I recommend Cottonwood’s Pumpkin Ale if you can find it

3 large scoops ice cream, butter pecan or vanilla

Cut the top off the pumpkin and scoop out seeds. Scrape out as much of the icky pumpkin innards as possible then give the pumpkin a good rinse and dry. Pour beer into the hollowed pumpkin and top with ice cream. Drink with a straw as drinking directly from a pumpkin is challenging.

Pumpkin Ale Float

Don’t forget to hop over to Cook It, Click It, Eat It and check out what Jen’s doing pumpkin-wise (and her spiffy new blog layout). Happy (almost) Halloween!

In Season: Oktoberfest

Oktoberfest Tasting

It’s time for another themed blog post with Jen at Cook It, Click It, Eat It. We chose Oktoberfest this time around since it is…October. Ironically, real Oktoberfest takes place mostly at the end of September, but I don’t like to get too caught up in specifics when there is beer to be sipped.

Oktoberfest Tasting

Since Oktoberfest is all about beer, I put together a fun quick tasting of several seasonal Oktoberfest beers. A beer tasting can get a little on the expensive side if you have to buy six packs of each beer. However, if you live near a Total Wine or store like it, stop by and make your own six pack and score single bottles of different beers to sample for significantly less money. For this tasting I picked up the following beers: Spaten Oktoberfest. Lake Front Oktoberfest, Harpoon Oktoberfest, Magic Hat Hex Ourtoberfest.

Oktoberfest Tasting

Aren’t they pretty? Even though they’re all the same type of beer, there are some noticeable color differences. We happen to have a set of 4 ounce tasting glasses because the husband home brews beer, but any small juice glass will work. A tasting serving should be about 4 ounces, so a 12 ounce bottle will yield 3 servings.

Oktoberfest Tasting

The husband and I worked our way through each one and wrote down our notes. Some crunchy pretzels helped clear our palates between sips. We started with the Spaten since it is the traditional German Oktoberfest. It was a good, very straightforward beer, not particularly complex but very drinkable. The American offerings were much more interesting, though, and we decided the Lake Front Oktoberfest was our favorite due to it’s sweet-bitter balanced finish and perfect fizziness.

 Oktoberfest Tasting

I whipped up a cute little beer tasting place mat to help us keep track of the beers and record our notes. You can download it here if you ever want to try your own beer tasting at home. I included a handy listing of beer terms at the bottom for inspiration during a tasting.
Beer Tasting Place Mat

Now, the picture below was staged, this is NOT how you want to end up after a tasting! We had a great time sampling the Oktoberfests, which was a type of beer I was not super familiar with. Make sure to jump over to Jen’s blog and check out the delicious food side of Oktoberfest, too!

Oktoberfest Tasting

Doable Detail: Block Letter Gift Wrap

Block Letter Gift Wrapping

I love hand wrapping gifts. Yes, I know gift bags are much more convenient and there are thousands of super cool printed wrapping papers, to say nothing of the adorable tags, bows, and other adornments. But I suspect I am some kind of gift wrapping masochist. Why, oh WHY, in the midst of all these beautiful wrapping choices must I insist on making my own? Nevertheless, I do, and if you happen to get the unreasonable urge to decorate a package by hand, too, here’s an easy tutorial for making a custom block letter gift wrap.

I made this for a very special young man’s first birthday. Can you guess his name? I started by wrapping the gift in plain brown craft paper. I keep this on hand at all times. You can buy enough to gift wrap a small imported sedan for about $10.

Block Letter Gift Wrapping

I then cut a strip of contrasting paper (white) long enough to wrap around the package. Weighing it down with needle nose pliers while blasting Wolfgang on your (very fingerprinty, ew) Ipad is optional.

Block Letter Gift Wrapping

Next, either free-hand sketch out the block letters like I did, or use a stencil. Either way, make sure to use a pencil. Carefully cut out each letter using a craft knife. Then go back and erase any pencil marks that might be showing.
Block Letter Gift Wrapping

Pick out some paper scraps in whatever colors and patterns you desire. Cut them down to size to fit behind each cut out letter.
Block Letter Gift Wrapping

Flip the paper with the cut out letters to the reverse side. Tape down the patterned paper over each letter. Repeat until each letter is covered.

Block Letter Gift Wrapping

And there you go, an adorable, custom, hand made gift wrapped package! Who needs cute wrapping paper anyway?