Chocolate Covered Strawberries

Berries V Day With Valentine’s Day quickly approaching this is the perfect time to share the fact that not only do I love everything Pumpkins & Spice, but I also have a flair for making beautiful chocolate confections.

Ten years ago as my brother & sister-in-law’s wedding was approaching I decided the day of their rehearsal party I was going to make chocolate covered strawberries as brides & grooms. I had seen the bride & groom berries in a magazine ad, but had never actually thought about making them on my own. A couple years prior I had taken cake decorating classes and figured it had to be similar to that process. Since I already had all the tools I needed I figured I’d give it a shot. I winged it and they came out amazingly well! Everyone loved them along with the mix of other festive berries I brought to the party and I’ve been dipping for special occasions ever since. Making chocolate dipped strawberries is super easy and if you add toppings you’ll laugh when people complement how talented you are. Seriously, we’re talking super easy here!

What you will need:
Strawberries
Chocolate – I buy Make-N-Mold or Merckens Chocolate/Candy Making Wafers (White, Milk or Dark)
Toppings – whatever you like (mini chocolate chips, chopped nuts, sprinkles, coconut, etc.)
Wax paper
Glass bowl and/or double boiler depending on how you want to melt the chocolate
Mini muffin cup liners (equal to number of strawberries you plan to dip)

Directions:
1. Wash the berries, dry & refrigerate. For best results you want the berries to be dry & cold when you dip them as this will help the chocolate set faster and avoid running. If you wash the berries just before dipping them and don’t dry them well the chocolate will not set properly.

2. Create your dipping station by lining a large pan or counter top with wax paper, and have all your toppings open and ready to go. Once you dip the berries in the chocolate you will need to work fast so it’s important to have everything ready to go before you start to dip.

3. Melt the chocolate. You can do this by placing the chocolate over a double boiler (water on bottom, chocolate on top) on the stove top, or microwaving in a microwave-safe bowl and stirring often throughout the process. I like the stove top because I feel like I have more control and it’s easier to keep the chocolate warmer longer, but the microwave works well too as long as you keep a constant eye on the chocolate and stir often. The chocolate can burn easily, especially white chocolate, if you do not stir often (I suggest every 20-30 seconds). It’s hard to say how much chocolate you will need depending on the size of the berries you’re using. A good rule of thumb, but not an exact science, is one cup of chocolate wafers for every 10-12 berries.

4. Dip the berries, swirl a bit at the bottom over the bowl with the chocolate to let any excess chocolate drip off and place flat on wax paper. Top with your topping of choice immediately. I recommend dipping no more than a few berries at a time before starting to apply the toppings since the chocolate sets fast and if you wait too long you’ll be unable to apply the toppings. If you want to add a chocolate swirl instead of toppings, just let the chocolate set, melt the swirling chocolate and drizzle over the berries.

5. Let stand at room temp for about 10-15 min, or refrigerate for about 5-10 minutes before removing from wax paper.

6. Arrange as you like and serve on a platter w/liners. Generally I find the berries are only good for a day before the juices start to soak through. They are still sweet & tasty after a few days, but the bottoms will become a little soggy after an overnight in the refrigerator. If anyone finds or has a solution to this, please share with me (erin@pumpkinsandspice.com).

Chicken Taco Dip

SuperBowl Taco Dip With the BIG football game just one week away I decided it was time to share one of my favorite dips. While my home team, the Buffalo Bills, aren’t in the big game I will still be watching and my contribution to the party will be this chicken taco dip.

Locally there is a small taco chain who serves up a platter of nachos with ground beef, salsa, creamy cheese dip & sour cream. It’s good, but not exactly friendly to the waistline and I’m constantly looking for ways to cut back the fat & calories and add more grains without sacrificing flavor. I accomplished that goal with this dip.

You will need:
1 lb. ground chicken
1 15.5 oz. jar of tomato, corn & black bean salsa
1 1/2 cups cooked brown or Spanish rice
1/3 cup (+2 tbsp for topping) shredded cheese (cheddar or Mexican cheese blend)
1/4 cup reduced fat sour cream (if desired)
1 bag of tortilla chips (regular or baked)
2 tsp. olive oil

Directions:
Prepare the rice, remove from hot/warm burner and let stand when done while preparing the chicken.

In a large saute pan, heat the 2 tsp. olive oil then add the ground chicken. Using a spatula break the ground chicken up as it heats through on high heat for about 5-6 min, then reduce to medium heat for about another 2-3 min. until completely cooked through.

Add the cooked rice and the jar of salsa to the chicken and mix all three ingredients well.

Put the chicken, salsa, rice and 1/3 cup of cheese into a serving bowl and top with the sour cream and the 2 remaining tbsp. of shredded cheese. You can also mix the sour cream into the mixture instead of topping it if you prefer. Serve warm with chips & enjoy.

Happy New Year from Pumpkins & Spice!

All Seasons

Happy New Year from Pumpkins & Spice!

Surprise!!  Don’t worry, it’s not really Labor Day weekend 2016 already.  It’s January 26th and yes, you are in fact seeing a Pumpkins & Spice post outside of the fall season.  When I signed off in November my last post let you know my head was swirling with new ideas and inspiration for Pumpkins & Spice after a weekend trip to NYC in late November.  Well, the swirling of ideas didn’t stop after that trip.

I have so much in the works right now and am so excited for what’s to come as I take Pumpkins & Spice to the next level in 2016.  I can’t wait to see and share the transformation of the site with all of you this year!  For starters, you can expect to see some posts from me here and there throughout the year moving forward.  While we all enjoy the fall season together and that is where my passion and vision for Pumpkins & Spice lies, the more and more I thought about it I decided it’s just silly not to stay in touch at least just a bit during winter, spring & summer too.  After all I do still cook, bake and enjoy life December-August as well.

I hope you all had a great holiday season and the start of 2016 has been good to you.  Looking forward to a great year ahead for all of us!

Erin

Christmas in the…..Fall?

Statue of Liberty I had planned on signing off for the season last week, but after this weekend I couldn’t resist the temptation of just one more post.  Living in Western New York I have had the opportunity to visit New York City several times throughout the years, but I’ve never made it there late in the year and have always wanted to see the city during the holidays.  A friend of mine invited me along for her annual Thanksgiving weekend trip and this year I decided to take her up on the offer.  We arrived in NYC around 2:30 Friday afternoon and while I was looking forward to the start of the holiday season, with temps in the high 60’s and the sun shining my late November walk along the Brooklyn Bridge felt more like a walk on an early spring or fall day.  To be able to just stand on the bridge without a jacket and watch the sun set behind The Statue of Liberty was priceless though.

I really did feel like I had the best of both worlds with great warmer temps and fall colors on Friday & Saturday, and much cooler temps on Sunday.  In the span of just one hour on Saturday afternoon I enjoyed a walk through Central Park where many of the leaves are still on the trees and full of beautiful color, only to head over to Rockefeller Center where the giant tree is ready to be lit this week, the holiday decorations are out in full swing and people are already out skating on the ice rink.  A Sunday stroll through Bryant Park gave me so much inspiration for Pumpkins & Spice next year.  Whether it was the little booth called “Seasonal Illuminations” where I picked up the most beautiful apple & cinnamon candle, the hot apple cider stand or the hand crafted fall décor I saw it seemed like everywhere I turned I was in my own little version of fall heaven.

Check back Labor Day weekend 2016, big changes coming to this site.  It’s going to be great!  With those thoughts, now I am really signing off for 2015.  Happy Holidays to all!

So Much To Be Thankful For

give love How is it really already the end of November?  Once again today I’m reminded just how fast this life is moving and how every day really does count.  While admittedly I have had a pretty lousy week personally, as I reflect today on Thanksgiving I’m so aware of just how much I have to be grateful for.  While my family & friends are always at the top of my list (I’d be lost in this world without them), this past year I took a long hard look in the mirror and focused on areas where I wasn’t happy or grateful.

Today I am grateful for the simple fact that I finally realized I needed to make some changes and started to reclaim my health, well being and happiness last year.  I finally managed to make nutrition, exercise and wellness a priority in my life.  These were all changes I had wanted to make for many years, but struggled to do so.  Throughout this process my eyes were opened to the fact that while I thought I was fairly well educated in these areas, in reality I really knew very little.  I’ve learned so much this year and it has made all the difference.

Today I’m still working toward my ultimate goal, but already the gains in my perspective far outweigh any weight loss on the scale.  I find myself more fearful of regret and not only willing, but needing to take more chances in life.  I find myself making a very conscious effort to surround myself with positive people.  I have started to focus more on my own personal & professional development again.  I have learned that there is an incredible gift in living a life that revolves around keeping things as simple as possible.  I have been reminded repeatedly that there is little in this world that makes me happier than being surrounded by people I love.  I have been reminded how much I desire to help people.  I am more aware than ever before of the fact that the things that really matter in life don’t come with a price tag.  I want to be inspired, and I want to inspire.

I have people in my life who love me and I love right back.  I have a solid roof over my head 365 days a year.  I have heat and a warm bed on cold winter nights.  I have a closet full of clothes and shoes for all seasons.  I have healthy food on my plate every single day.  I have clean water to drink and bathe with every single day.  I have been able to see parts of the world I longed to see.  I have a career that I enjoy.  I finally paid off my student loan debts and I can now say I really did put myself through college and grad school.  Those diplomas hanging on my wall were earned over seventeen years of hard work and dedication, not just six-and-a-half years of sitting in the classroom.  It is a great feeling!

I find joy & appreciation in hearing my nieces and nephews play and laugh.  The look on my 6 year-old nephew’s face when we were playing with silly string in the backyard this past summer was easily one of my happiest moments of the year.  I enjoy feeding my soul by sitting near the water, listening to music that inspires me in any given moment, watching the sunrise on my morning walks, watching the sunset after a long day, seeing a winter wonderland outside my window late at night, cooking a fabulous meal, sitting around a table with friends and family, reading a great book, snuggling up on the couch for a movie, indulging in my creative outlets, and the list goes on.

And most importantly, by recognizing all of the above I am simply grateful to be living a happier and more fulfilled life that is once again filled with hope that certain dreams & aspirations I once had long ago are still possible as long as I put in the effort and work to make them happen.

As I sign off for the 2015 edition of Pumpkins & Spice, I wish you and your loved ones a very Happy Thanksgiving and as always, thank you for your support.

Chili Season!

Chili Few dishes scream “Fall!” more than chili.  I’m not quite sure how it’s taken me this long to post a chili recipe, but it’s finally here.  I actually have a few different chili recipes I love, but this is the one I grew up with and it’s just a classic simple chili that is sure to please.  This recipe is pretty flexible and you can modify the degree of “spicy kick” to your desired taste.

You will need:
1 lb. ground beef or turkey
1 large can tomato puree
1 small can tomato paste
1 can tomato soup
1 12 oz. can/bottle beer
2 cans red kidney beans
1 can black beans
1 tbsp finely chopped garlic
1 stalk celery chopped
1 large onion chopped
1 green pepper chopped
1 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp chili powder
2 tsp oregano
2 tsp red pepper flakes (add another tsp if you like it a bit more on the spicy side)
1-3 tsp hot sauce

Directions:

Coat a large skillet with a little olive oil over high heat and cook the beef or turkey until cooked through.  Remove from skillet and drain any fat.  Set off to the side.

In a large stock pot, mix the tomato puree, tomato paste & tomato soup.  Add seasonings (cumin, chili powder, pepper flakes & oregano) to tomato mixture, stir and let simmer on medium heat.

While tomato mixture simmers, finely chop celery, pepper, onion & garlic.  Add to tomato mixture along with the cooked meat & stir well.  Add beer & stir.  Add 1-3 tsp hot sauce depending on desired taste.  Add beans & stir.  Simmer on medium heat for about 45-60 min stirring often so it doesn’t stick to bottom of pot.

I find this recipe is best after sitting for a day or two, but it can be served immediately.  I like to top it with a little dollop of sour cream and cheddar cheese for garnish and a little extra flavor, but there is plenty of flavor standing on its own.

……and Everything Nice

Fall Soap  I will be the first to admit that I can be a bit conservative when it comes to money matters, but one of the few things I am a complete sucker for is luxury soaps.  With the exception of a very nice lotion I purchased while traveling through Italy a couple years ago this tends not to be an area where I spend a lot of money, but put a big bar of great smelling soap in front of me wrapped in a pretty package and my wallet almost always opens without fail.  I found these bars at Marshall’s and Home Goods in the range of $2.99-$3.99/bar and they are worth every cent (no pun intended).  With so many options available in the store, the bars I bought for fall this year include Golden Pear, Spiced Apple Cinnamon & Pomegranate.  These not only make great gifts with 2 or 3 stacked bars wrapped with a little ribbon, but they can make any area smell great just by having them out.

Pear Chicken Salad

Pear Chicken Salad I’m going to start this post with “you’re welcome” in advance. ;-)  When I moved into my home six years ago there was a restaurant about a mile away that had a salad on the menu I ordered every single time I stepped foot through their doors.  Due to restructuring of the plaza they were in they had to close that location a few years ago.  While they re-opened it’s no longer as quick or convenient for me so I now make a similar version at home.

You will need:

2-3 cups field greens
1 cooked chicken breast
1/2 sliced pear
2 tbsp. crumbled gorgonzola cheese
2 tbsp. chopped walnuts
2 tbsp. dried cranberries

Slice the chicken and place on top of the greens.  Position the pear slices on top of the greens/around the chicken.  Sprinkle evenly with the cheese, walnuts & cranberries.  Top with your dressing of choice, I like a honey mustard vinaigrette or balsamic vinaigrette, and serve.

……..and Everything Nice

Fall Candles This past week the team I work with spent a couple days working on our plans for the upcoming new year.  Wednesday’s session was followed by what was supposed to be a nice formal dinner at a local restaurant.  I was the first to arrive and the table candle displays instantly caught my eye for this week’s “….and everything nice”.  These different sized glass pillars filled with water, a white floating votive and fall leaves at the base made for a simple & elegant arrangement.  And the real “everything nice” came during the evening.  We ended up ditching the formal business dinner concept, turned on the Toronto/Texas baseball game, hung out together in the bar area, regrouped at the table for dinner (while keeping the game on of course) and enjoyed our steaks, sea bass and pumpkin & sweet potato tarts in a nice casual setting with great people.

Happy Fall!

Pumpkins 2015Hi Everyone!  I know, I know, I’ve been a bit “off the grid” this season.  I’ve had so many people ask me the last couple weeks if I’m still writing the blog this year.  I love hearing people say they enjoy what I post and look forward to seeing new content.  It has just been so unseasonably warm here in Western New York this year and I haven’t had all that much inspiration to dive into the fall season without it actually feeling like, well, fall.  That changed this past week though.  The beautiful colors are starting to come through on the trees, the air is now cool & crisp, the pumpkins and mums are out and this girl is finally ready to embrace and enjoy my favorite time of year.  I promise you’ll see both a new recipe and an “Everything Nice” this coming week.  In the meantime, try to get outside and enjoy everything this time of year has to offer!

P.S.  My new picture here is thanks to Katie Ladota Photography.  If you’re local, check her out!  She’s wonderful to work with and fairly priced.