Monday, October 31, 2011


Chili Potato Hot Dish

Chili Potato Hot Dish ensures the family gets a nutritious Halloween dinner. It's made completely in the microwave, and if there's any leftover it's excellent warmed up the next day.


Fall was a joy-filled event for our family. It began in September when we started harvesting our own, homegrown fruits and vegetables and ended with Halloween on October 31. We celebrated by bobbing for apples, breaking pinatas in the barn, and often gathering up our neighbors to enjoy hayrides under a breath-taking harvest moon. To my recollection, it was much like a Norman Rockwell scene fresh off the front cover of Saturday Evening Post.

I’ve come to realize that my kids were sheltered from Halloween pranks and shenanigans. Until their teens, they only knew trick or treating as being driven to each neighboring farm. I’d wait in the car while they tiptoed up to the front door, seasonably frightened out of their wits. As they approached the doorstep they’d hear unfamiliar noises in the dark and giggle in weak-kneed terror when an over-grown shrub suddenly grabbed their costume. With their teeth chattering in fear, they’d knock at the door. When it swung open, the kids shouted, “Trick or Treat!”

“Look, Mom, Mrs. Magisos gave me Jack-O-Lantern popcorn balls!” My son, Brian, shouted excitedly when he returned to the car. Like it was an entirely new adventure, at the next house he’d cry, “Mrs. LeVar, made black cat cookies!” The goodies were always different but I took comfort in knowing each neighbor who gave the children treats.

There is one Halloween that remains especially vivid in my memory and that was the time my 6-year-old daughter, Holly, stepped from the school bus and said, “Mom, tonight I want to be a Christmas package for Halloween!”

I was surprised but impressed with her originality. “That’s an unusual costume!” I said. “We’ll climb up in the attic and get some Christmas wrap and ribbon, and put blusher on your cheeks to make...”

“I’m wearing my red tights and I want a giant red bow for the top of my head,” she interrupted. Clearly she was beyond needing my suggestions.

Holly was so inspired at the last minute with her Christmas Package idea that I decided not to dampen her enthusiasm by mentioning her original idea of wearing a wicked witch costume.

We finished tying the giant red bow on top of Holly’s head and she slipped her feet into shiny tap shoes. She looked adorable.

“You could land a part in the Nutcracker Ballet!” I said totally swept away by the simple, but clever costume. Holly beamed and Brian anxiously wiggled about in his green monster costume knowing it was time to join the other creepy creatures of the night.

I was especially glad that I’d planned ahead and prepared my Halloween Chili Potato Hot Dish, which is my own rendition of baked potatoes with chili and cheese. Since the casserole was the kids’ favorite, I was pleased knowing they’d eat a healthy dinner before filling up on sugar-laden treats. We gobbled down the potato chili casserole and rushed out the door.

I started the engine to my nine-passenger Matador while Brian helped Holly climb into the rear of the station wagon. I could hear the rustle of wrapping paper. There was a commotion followed by an exchange of muffled words.

“Mom! Mom!” The shrillness in Brian’s voice rang out from the darkness.

“The package is too big! She doesn’t fit in the car!” Brian yelled.

What were we going to do?

Between Holly’s tears and disappointment, she was swiftly “unwrapped” and the wicked witch costume was revived. For the last time that evening, we slipped out the door and into the car – off to revel in the spooky black night. Happy Halloween!

Halloween Chili Potato Hot Dish

5 medium baking potatoes, scrub skins, cut into halves or quarters

30 ounces canned chicken or beef chili with beans

½ cup green chiles, chopped (optional)

8 ounces cheddar cheese, grated

1 small can sliced olives, drained

1 bunch green onions, sliced

8 ounces sour cream

Guacamole and cilantro (optional)

Spray a 2 ½ - 3 quart, deep-dish style, casserole dish with non-stick cooking spray. Place potatoes, cut side up, in casserole dish, cover and microwave on high for about 6 minutes or until potatoes are done. Leave potatoes in casserole dish, break potatoes open using a potato masher. Pour canned chili and green chilies over potatoes. Sprinkle with cheese and olives. Cover and microwave on high for 10-15 minutes, or until cheese melts and casserole is thoroughly heated. Sprinkle with green onions and chopped cilantro (optional) and serve with sour cream and guacamole (optional) on the side. Yield: 6-8 servings


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Sunday, October 2, 2011


Pumpkin Flan with Zest

Enjoy it warm, room temperature or chilled.

Any way you like it, it tastes like fall.

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 16-ounce can pumpkin (plain, not pumpkin pie mix)

1 cup low-fat evaporated milk or fat-free half & half

1/4 cup orange juice

Pinch of orange zest

3 eggs

Non-dairy whipped topping or whipped cream

Pecans as garnish as pictured are a nice touch.


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine sugar, cinnamon, cloves, cayenne pepper and salt in a large bowl. Stir in pumpkin, milk, orange juice, orange zest and eggs; combine well using either a whisk or a hand mixer.

Pour pumpkin mixture into six 6-ounce custard cups that have been sprayed with non-stick cooking spray. Set custard cups in a high-rimmed roasting pan; pour boiling water around the outside of the cups to about 1-inch deep. Bake until firm around the edges and slightly puffed in center, 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Remove cups from the water, cool completely, cover and refrigerate (can also be served warm, if desired). Before serving top each cup with whipped topping and/or a dash of cinnamon, if desired. Pecans (as pictured) also make a nice autumn touch. Yield: 6 servings


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