Monday, October 29, 2012

In every store we visit, our 4-year-old son asks if we can look at the Halloween display. Just like every other child, Kellan is fascinated with the colorful costumes and spooky decorations. He also loves shelves of candy. He is excited to fill his Avengers bucket with candy on Beggars’ Night.

A little over a week ago I decided to ask my friends on Facebook what was their least favorite Halloween candy as a child. I recall scampering all over the northwest side of town with my friends carrying an old pillowcase filled with candy.

My poll clearly showed two “non-favorites” among my friends. Peanut butter Mary Janes wrapped in orange and black waxed paper and Bit-O-Honey candy. My least favorite candy was and still is black licorice. Others said they disliked Almond Joy and Mounds candy bars, Good & Plenty, circus peanuts, raisins, pennies, apples and popcorn balls given out as treats.

Not only is October a time to gorge on Halloween candy, it’s also a time to enjoy our favorite fall treats. I posted another informal Facebook poll, and my friends and I all agreed fall would not be complete without a taste of our favorite treats.

Since many of my Facebook friends are Carroll natives or living in Carroll Pokey’s caramel apples and caramel squares are extremely popular choices. Anything pumpkin-related such as muffins, bread, bars, pie and my favorite, pumpkin spice latte are also well-liked. Also apple cider doughnuts, apple butter, salted peanuts mixed with candy corn and chili are fall must-haves. Interestingly popcorn balls made the list as both a least favorite treat and favorite treat.

Even Apple Dessert featured in the old Halbur Cookbook was mentioned as a favorite fall treat.

Hot Spiced Tea

My colleague Pam Szakacs and I share a space that serves as both our office and teaching space. We affectionately refer to it as “the dungeon” as it is a room without any windows. Pam and I are both ELL (English Language Learners) teachers, and we are great friends. I couldn’t ask for a better teammate.

Pam is originally from Iowa Falls, but she and her family lived in Kansas and Wisconsin before moving to the Des Moines area. In one of Pam’s former schools, a staff member had a tradition of bringing this spiced tea to share with teachers.

1 qt (4 cups) strong tea (add 6 tea bags and simmer for 45 minutes)
3 cups sugar (or less if you prefer it to be less sweet)
2 cinnamon sticks
2 cups water
2 teaspoons whole cloves
18 oz can of frozen orange juice, with water
1 large can of frozen lemonade, with water
1 large can of pineapple juice
 Prepare tea. Simmer tea, sugar, cinnamon sticks, cloves, and additional water for 45 minutes. Strain tea and spices. Add other ingredients. Stir, simmer and serve hot. Can be frozen for later use.
Makes 2½ to 3 gallons of tea.

Easiest Ever Popcorn Balls

Popcorn balls are a real treat, but they can be a bit complicated to make. Many recipes require heating corn syrup to a certain degree and checking with a candy thermometer. This recipe is so simple it can be made in the microwave. Be sure and save this recipe for Christmastime so you and the little ones in your life can make adorable popcorn ball snowmen.

popcorn (½ cup kernels or one (3½ oz) package plain microwave popcorn)
1 (10 oz bag) marshmallows
¼ cup butter

Pop popcorn. Pour into big bowl to pick out kernels or burned pieces. Melt butter in a large bowl in the microwave (about 50 seconds). Add marshmallows and microwave for two minutes, stirring after one minute. Fold popcorn into mixture and form into balls. Colorful, chocolate candies can be added to popcorn. Wrap popcorn balls in plastic wrap.

Tip: Grease hands (even between fingers) before forming popcorn balls.
Makes about 22 (2-inch) popcorn balls.

Apple Dip

Even though this season’s apple harvest is sweet, try pairing apples with a creamy dip for an irresistible snack. My friend Pam brought apples and dip to school for our annual ABC Lunch after selecting the letter C.

Using an electric mixer, thoroughly combine:
8 oz cream cheese, softened
¾ cup brown sugar
¼ cup white sugar
1 teaspoon of vanilla
 Keep refrigerated and serve with apple slices.

White Chicken Chili

Have a steaming bowl of chili ready for your little goblins after a night of trick or treating. Creamy white chicken chili is a welcome change from traditional chili that will warm you from the inside out.

1 lb boneless skinless chicken breast, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 medium onion, diced
1½ teaspoons garlic powder
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 (15½ oz) cans great northern beans, rinsed and drained
1 (14½ oz) can chicken broth
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon oregano
½ teaspoon pepper
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 cup sour cream
½ cup whipping cream
2 (4 oz) cans diced green chilies (if you prefer it spicier, substitute 1 can for 1 diced jalapeno)

In large saucepan, saute chicken, onion and garlic powder in oil until chicken is no longer pink. Add beans, chilies and seasonings and chicken broth. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer (uncovered) for 30 minutes. Remove from heat, stir in sour cream and whipping cream. Serve immediately.