10 Festive (But Not Gross!) Halloween Recipes

Part of the joy of cooking, especially with kids, is having some fun with your food. There’s perhaps no holiday that better lends itself to fun, thematic food than Halloween. While lots of recipes call for some less-than-appetizing visuals, we’ve come up with a list of recipes that are easy on the eyes while still screaming Halloween.

If you’re cooking up dinner for your little ones before they head out to trick or treat, or just feel like getting in a festive mood, here are 10 of our favorite Halloween-themed recipes from around the web.

Photos Courtesy of Cooking Light, The Food Network, Better Homes & Gardens, Martha Stewart, Woman's Day

Photos Courtesy of Cooking Light, The Food Network, Better Homes & Gardens, Martha Stewart, Woman’s Day

Kitchen Techniques: How to Mince Garlic

Adding fresh garlic to a recipe is a great way to amp up flavor–but a lot of novice cooks are stumped as to how you get from a papery clove of garlic to tiny bits of flavor in the pan. In today’s Kitchen Techniques tutorial, we’ll be talking about mincing garlic. Let’s get to it!

Separate the Cloves from the Bulb

The big white hunk of garlic you buy at the grocery store is a head, or bulb. If you gently break up the bulb with your fingers, the cloves will separate. Pull as many as your recipe calls for. Discard the outer skin, which has a papery consistency.

Peel the Cloves

Each clove is wrapped in a tight skin that needs to be removed prior to mincing. There are a couple of ways to do this:

  • Peel it: Slice the hard, flat side of the clove off and gently apply pressure until the clove squeezes out of the opening.
  • Smash it: Give the clove a gentle smash by taking the flat side of your knife and smacking it with the heel of your hand.

Do the Initial Cut

Thinly slice the garlic lengthwise, and then crosswise to make small slices. Sprinkle the garlic with salt so it doesn’t stick to the knife, and then repeatedly run your knife through the garlic until it’s the size and consistency you want it.

Need a visual? Check out this one-minute tutorial!

1-Minute Tip: How to Mince Garlic from The Kitchn on Vimeo.

11 Food Day Follows

With #FoodDay2014 coming up in just two days, now’s a great time to start adding some food system-focused Twitter accounts to your feed. We get lots of our info–from events to great articles or stories about the food ecosystem–from following the accounts of reporters, nonprofit organizations and food experts, and we wanted to pass along some of our knowledge to you. Without further ado, here are our recommended Twitter follows in honor of this year’s Food Day. Enjoy!

Our Favorite Boston-Area Local Food Companies

One of the tenets of Food Day 2014 is eating locally whenever possible. We love this and share the sentiment, sourcing all of our food locally. In celebration of Food Day on Saturday, October 24th, we’ve put together a list of some of our favorite food companies here in the Boston area. We hope you’ll join us in checking out these great Boston-area independent food companies!

Captain Marden’s: Practically a seafood institution in Boston, Captain Marden’s not only supplies the fish for any of our seafood dishes, you can also grab fresh or prepared fish at their Captain’s Table or grab a cup of chowder or a crab cake sandwich on the go at one of their food trucks.

NOLA’s Fresh Foods: We’ve had the pleasure of working with NOLA’s several times, even including their salsa in some of our recipes, and their fresh, all-natural taste is about as good–if not better–than what you can make at home. Follow them on Twitter @NOLAssalsa.

Taza Chocolate: Stone-ground chocolate out of Somerville? These organic chocolate bars are the perfect locally-made dessert treat. Follow them on Twitter for all things chocolate or even visit their factory for a tour.

 Nashoba Brook Bakery: This Concord-based bakery raises a simple loaf of bread to an art form using a slow-rise approach. (A bonus: if you visit their cafe, you can snag a fresh sandwich, soup or salad as well.)

Lilly’s Gourmet Pasta: Lilly’s fresh pasta often winds up in our boxes, and we love them for their scratch-made take-home food as well. Make your own pasta by choosing your fresh pasta, gourmet sauce and toppings. It’s all the advantages of homemade food, made from scratch.

Mapleline Farm: Here’s a throwback for you–home delivery of milk. Mapleline cream is among the best–we use it in our recipes–but you can’t beat the convenience and old-timey feel of having dairy delivered to your door. Aside from milk, you can add on breads, eggs, coffee, yogurt–even hot cocoa.

Ward’s Berry Farm: A traditional farm with all the fixings (pick-your-own, CSAs and the like), you can also grab a hayride or a smoothie at this Sharon, MA farm. The name might seem familiar to our customers because their produce often winds up in our boxes, but it’s worth a trip to Sharon to spend an afternoon at the farm yourself.

Clear Flour Bakery: A great loaf of bread is the perfect way to start a meal, and Allston-based Clear Flour focuses on a European style of baking. You may have had their baguettes in a Just Add Cooking box, but a visit to their bakery will give you a chance to try decadent cakes, scones, rustic tarts and seasonal specials like German soft pretzels or pumpkin currant donuts.

Now it’s your turn: what’s your favorite local, Boston-area food company? Let us know in the comments!

 

 

Making Your Own Salad Dressing

You might notice that in your Just Add Cooking box, you’ll never get a jar of pre-mixed salad dressing. This is because dressing a salad is one of the simplest things you can do in the kitchen–and making your own dressing amps up the flavor and freshness big-time! Plus, those jarred dressings on the shelves are often filled with additives that you just don’t want on your veggies.

Photo courtesy of Boston Magazine

Photo courtesy of Boston Magazine

If you’re new to the kitchen, making your own salad dressing is a simple way to start cooking from scratch. When all else fails, drizzle a bit of olive oil, good vinegar of your choice, salt and pepper on your lettuce to get a basic side salad going. You can make a dressing with almost anything you have in your kitchen. Here are a few tips to get you started:

  • When making a vinaigrette (that’s any combination of oil and vinegar), the idea ratio is 3:1–3 parts of oil to 1 part of vinegar. (You can also substitute lemon juice or another citrus for part or all of the vinegar for a variation on this theme.)
  • Consider the flavors of vinegars and oils on the market. Plain olive oil and red wine vinegar are classic, but specialty markets and even the grocery store carry lots of different variations. Give them a try to jazz up an otherwise traditional side salad.
  • Mix well. Oil and vinegar, of course, will separate if just poured together. Make sure you give the dressing a vigorous whisking to get all the flavors combined.
  • Don’t be afraid to add spices. Salt and pepper are musts, but we also see lots of dressings with minced garlic or shallot, Italian seasonings like oregano or whatever fresh herbs you have available in the garden. You can even check out those bottled dressings at the grocery store for inspiration.
  • Want to add creaminess without a ton of fat? Mix in a bit of Greek Yogurt to get a creamy and tart flavor. (Check out this recipe for Cucumber Yogurt dressing for rations and inspiration.) For a more traditional creamy dressing, you’ll want to go with mayonnaise. Epicurious has a great tutorial on traditional creamy dressings. You can also add mustard for tang without the fat.
Just Add Cooking Caribbean Chicken Salad

Just Add Cooking Caribbean Chicken Salad

Get inspired in the kitchen and start experimenting with your own dressings. This is a great way to get kids to pitch in as well since there’s no heating elements involved and little kids love to whisk. If you need some inspiration, here are a few recipe round-ups for homemade dressings:

 

Our Favorite Food Apps

Cooking is a pretty low-tech task. It’s one of the few times we step away from our smartphones and computers and do something with our hands. But that being said, there is tons of great technology that makes food and cooking easier, more convenient and lots more fun–and most of it is free or very cheap in the form of apps for your phone or tablet!

If you’re looking to explore food, make shopping more convenient or access recipes on the go, here are a few of our favorite food apps:

Photo courtesy of iTunes

Photo courtesy of iTunes

  • How to Cook Everything: The renowned food writer Mark Bittman has put the 2,000 recipes from his book into one affordable ($9.99) app. Explore basic techniques, watch instructional videos and even access timers for the individual steps in the process. This is the type of guidance we love, and it’s great for veteran and new cooks alike.
  • Grocery IQ: This app is free and it’s simple–which is great, because in the long run, a grocery list is just a pen and paper endeavor. Added benefits over jotting down your list include auto-fill for suggested food items on your list.
  • Farmstand: Get in on the local farmer’s market scene with this app, which gives you the low-down on the best way to find locally produced food near you.
  • Locavore: Not sure what’s in season right now? Check this app to decide when to buy those tomatoes, and you’ll also get served recipes to use what’s freshest. The best part is, it’s all free.
  • Seafood Watch: We often hear about seafood sustainability, but it’s hard to keep up with what’s best to eat. This app helps guide you towards the most sustainable catch.

    Photo courtesy of Monterey Bay Aquarium

    Photo courtesy of Monterey Bay Aquarium

  • Pepperplate: This one’s for the Android users, and allows you to compile recipes from a variety of sources and manage them. What we like best is the grocery list feature, which allows you to compile a list from what you plan to cook.
  • Fooducate: Scan products right in the grocery store to grade food based on its health benefits and quickly catch any issues like high fructose corn syrup or harmful additives.

 

Cooking with Kids

What better way to teach your children how to eat well, than to teach them how to select and prepare healthy foods? Engaging your children in grocery shopping, meal planning, cooking, and serving teaches them that we have choices about what the quality and quantity of we put in our bodies.

Here are some ways to involve your children from a young age through independence.

Toddler & Preschooler

Growing Vegetable Soup, by Lois Ehlert

Read kid-friendly food and nutrition books.

OK, so we wouldn’t let a toddler play with knives or use the stove, but to a toddler the whole world, including the kitchen, is a stage for exploration. Having a positive attitude about vegetables (even brussels sprouts) models that behavior for your child. Even picky eaters should be served vegetables and fruits at every meal. Though they won’t always eat them, kids will become used to having veggies and fruit as a part of mealtime. Kids ages 3 to 5 can help set the table, plan a meal or give meal suggestions, as well as wash and dry fruits and veggies, and measure ingredients.

  • Add books about food to story time, such as Growing Vegetable Soup, by Lois Ehlert.
  • Give your child a grocery list with pictures to have them “help” you shop.
  • This is a perfect age to start giving kids choices, such as “Do you want apple or pear?”
  • Consider a “No thank you bite” rule, where everyone must take one bite of a new or less favored food before they can say “No thank you.”

School Age

kids recipes | Smiley Face Pizza (Individual Pizzas) | Rhodes Bake-N-Serv

Make-your-own meals are great for school age kids. Photo credit: Rhodes Bake-N-Serv

Packing a school lunch is a good way to enforce healthy habits in kids ages five to ten. This is an age where many kids have narrow palettes (aka are the pickiest of picky eaters). Encourage your kids to broaden their list of foods they will tolerate being served. If you have a kid with a voracious, varied appetite, you are in luck! If not, it typically is a phase they will outgrow, and is part of exerting independence.

  • Read Good Enough to Eat by Lizzy Rockwell, for a kid-focused intro to nutrition.
  • Give kids chores and tasks: setting the table, washing fruits and vegetables, and measuring ingredients.
  • Throw in an occasional make-your-own meal: baked potato bar, individual pizzas, or fill-your-own tacos.
  • Older school-age children should be ready to start using knives and the stove with supervision.

Preteens/Teens

MyFitnessPal food app

Food apps can help teens track nutrients, calories, and exercise. Photo credit: MyFitnessPal

Time & maturity level permitting, kids this age can start to be independent chefs, and assist with meal planning, making grocery lists, and food shopping. Unfortunately, preteens and teens often are overwhelmed with school and activities. Teaching them to plan ahead by having healthy snacks on hand and learning portion control are key to their future health, especially as they prepare to leave your house (and kitchen!) for college, or to live on their own.

  • Most teens have access to a phone or mobile device (and by have access, we mean permanently glued to their hand/ear). Encourage them to use apps such as My Fitness Pal to ensure they are getting the right nutrients.
  • Make the cafeteria a part of your college tours – in addition to college favorites such as pizza, most colleges offer salad bars, vegetarian and allergy-friendly choices, and other healthy options.
  • Everyone needs some down time. HGTV, Food Network, and other channels offer food and cooking shows that are educational, yet entertaining. Bonding over Kitchen Nightmares, Top Chef, or other competition/reality shows can be time well spent together.

At Just Add Cooking, we feel that the most important part of eating should be a family meal, daily or as often as your schedule permits. We can help with that!

5 Ways to Use Butternut Squash

Honestly, it’s hard to choose only five ways to enjoy butternut squash. This classic fall veggie is rich in potassium, and a great source of vitamins A and C, as well as healthy carbs. Known for its beautiful orange color and sweet pumpkin taste, butternut squash is an autum harvest staple.

Simply roasting the squash is one way to enjoy it, and often is a key step in any butternut squash recipe. When preparing, you’ll want to scoop out the stringy bits, as well as the seeds. The seeds are edible, and can be roasted with spices for snacking, or to top a root vegetable salad. Here are some of the many ways to prepare butternut squash:

Roasted butternut squash

Roasted butternut squash. Photo credit: Whole Foods Market

 

  • Soup: The squash is cooked until tender, then pureed until smooth. Substitute chicken for veggie broth for an easy vegetarian swap. Topping ideas: feta, sour cream, cinnamon, or roasted seeds.
  • Pot pie: Vegetables and chicken baked in a flaky crust, this pot pie variation can be a meal by itself, or served with a light salad.
  • Gnocchi: Substituting white potatoes with butternut squash makes a fantastic gnocchi. Nutmeg, butter, sage, and parmesan give it a sweet, savory flavor.
  • Salsa: (Yes, salsa.) Vary the seasonings, or add roasted chili peppers to make it as spicy as you like. Use it to top a salad or pasta, or as a dip with whole wheat tortilla chips or crackers.
  • Roasted: One of the Just Add Cooking meals this week is roasted butternut squash with cous cous, pine nuts, and spinach (recipe below). Short on time? Let the oven do the work for you on this recipe. If you’re in a hurry, make the squash cubes smaller to cook faster.
Butternut Squash, Spinach and Pine Nuts

Just Add Cooking: Butternut Squash, Spinach and Pine Nuts

Butternut Squash, Spinach, and Pine Nuts

Ingredients: 

  • 1 butternut squash
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 1/2 cup couscous
  • 4 fl oz pine nuts
  • 4 tbsp cider vinegar
  • 1 red onion
  • 3 oz baby spinach
  • salt and pepper

Prepare: 

  • Set oven to 400°F.
  • In a medium saucepan bring 1½ cup water and ½ tsp salt to a boil. Add the couscous and give it a quick stir. Remove from heat and cover.
  • Toast the pine nuts in a dry skillet over medium heat until they start to sweat and smell toasty. Transfer to a plate to prevent overcooking.
  • Peel and chop the red onion finely.
  • Fluff the couscous with a fork.

Squash:

  • Peel the butternut squash using a potato peeler. Cut it into ½ inch cubes, discarding the seeds and stringy bits in the center.
  • Put the squash in a roasting pan and mix with olive oil and 1 tsp salt. Roast in oven until tender when pierced with a knife, about 20 minutes.
  • Put the cooked squash in a bowl and mix with red onion, cider vinegar and spinach. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle with pine nuts and serve with couscous.

There is no end to ways to cook and serve butternut squash. What is your favorite?

Kitchen Essentials: Gadgets to Make Your Life Easier

If you do an Internet search for “cool kitchen gadgets,” you’ll find many tools to drool over. Once you’ve gotten the essential kitchen tools, you can go beyond the basics and acquire a few of our favorite things, here at Just Add Cooking, to help improve the texture or flavor of your food, cut down on prep time, and cook with precision.

immersion blender

Immersion blenders allow you to control the consistency of soups. Photo credit: KitchenAid

Mix it Up

Many recipes call for some degree of pureeing, such as sauces, soups, doughs, and fillings.

  • A high-quality food processor can last years. With multiple blades and processing speeds, you can control the texture of your mixture. Many options exist for food processors. Prices range from under $50, to around $100, and up into the thousands for commercial-quality food processors. Commercial-quality is overkill for most of us, but the middle price range models will do nicely. Make sure to read customer reviews before purchasing, and consider it an investment utensil!
  • One of our favorite, easy-to-use, inexpensive mixing items is the hand-held immersion blender (also known as a stick or a wand). Models are either battery operated or plug-in. Consider your outlet placement when making a selection, as many times you will want to use an immersion blender in a pot while cooking. Soups, especially, can benefit from use of an immersion blender, as you can monitor changes to the consistency by using only until the desired portion of cooked vegetables, beans, etc., are pureed.
mortar and pestle for grinding herbs

Use a mortar and pestle to grind herbs into paste or powder. Photo credit: Williams-Sonoma

Flavor Faves

Fresh herbs, spices, and other flavor-enhancers can make any dish sublime.

  • Herb scissors allow you to mince freshly-cut basil, cilantro, or whatever herb you have growing in a window herb garden. You easily can stem or cut out any brown leaves using the multi-blade herb scissors, which create finely-chopped leaves that maximize the flavor of your dish.
  • A mortar & pestle is used to pulverize whole herbs or seeds, whether fresh or dried. Whole peppercorns, sea salt, fresh basil leaves, and more can be crushed into powder or paste using this simple and easy-to-clean tool set. You can add the results to spice rubs, salad dressings, or sauces such as pesto.
  • Zesters — the name says it all. A simple, hand-held, fine-toothed grater, most often used for adding the outer layer of citrus peels to baked goods, sauces, dressings, and even martinis. You also can use a zester to make chocolate shavings, mince garlic or fresh ginger, or grate hard cheeses.
Digital Food Scale

A digital scale can help measure food in small increments. Photo credit: Jennings

Measure Twice, Cook Once

Whether your recipe calls for exactness when measuring ingredients, you are watching calories, or you want to ensure your food is well-done, many tools can help you with precision.

  • Get into the habit of using a kitchen timer. You can purchase an inexpensive timer, use the timer on your stove, or activate a timing app on your smartphone. Many recipes call for exact timing to ensure wellness (especially important in meats and fish), or to avoid burning (important in, well, everything!).
  • Proper use of a meat thermometer helps you avoid under- or over-cooking your meats. For roasts, chops, and steaks, insert the themometer into the thickest, meatiest part of the cut. For whole poultry, use the inner thigh area. In all cases, avoid contact with bone to ensure an accurate reading.
  • Kitchen scales are essential tools for dieters, as well as those with dietary restrictions. Lower-end models provide fairly accurate readings. Digital scales can enable more precise measurements, and often are inexpensive. Consider the frequency of use, whether you need a scale that measures half gram (or smaller) increments, the size of your typical food you measure, as well as the amount of counter or storage space your scale will require.

So, go have a ball preparing your next meal with all of your cool tools – you’ll be the envy of all of your foodie friends!