Saturday, October 31, 2015

Holiday Hits: Happy Halloween!

Halloween has arrived!  All month long I have been posting comments about haunted house tales and mystery movies about frightened groups of people trapped in isolated dwellings with a murderer in their midst. As a special holiday treat, why not watch "House on Haunted Hill" (1959), starring Vincent Price, which combines both topics!  This movie is one of the better offerings from William Castle, king of gimmicky fright fest movies, as well as one of Price's best scary films.  I like the fact that the movie leaves you guessing about whether or not the house is really haunted, but there is no doubt that murder is afoot in this mansion!

Interesting Fact: The movie was released in theaters accompanied by terrifying noises broadcast during the opening sequence, a gimmick which helped make the film a box office success.

Gore Guide (0=none to 5=extreme): 0 (but plenty of scare tactics!)

I just found out yesterday that Vincent Price co-authored a cookbook with his second wife which was first published in 1965 but has recently been reprinted!  Price was known as a dedicated gourmet and wine connoisseur, and his book is a good-sized volume full of recipes inspired by a lifetime of traveling and eating memorable food.  I have just ordered my copy, and I can't wait to read the fascinating stories as well as prepare some of the recipes.  Who knows, one of those recipes may show up on this blog for next Halloween's tablescape post!

On the Homefront: Bewitching Halloween Table

Glinda the good Dalmatian witch wishes everyone a
Happy Halloween!

"The Halloween festival looms
As witches fly in on their brooms.
Tonight we will feast
And toast the deceased
When they rise up and exit their tombs!"

Halloween is upon us, and this year we find ourselves hosting a bewitching repast.  Witchcraft is the theme, and black and white is the color scheme, all based on the Halloween Witchcraft Dessert Plates I purchased from Lenox recently.  So park your broomsticks at the door, and welcome to my parlor... I mean dining room!

Black fabric placemat; white dinner plate (Tivoli by Studio Nova); Lenox Halloween Witchcraft Dessert Plate (one of four designs); stainless steel flatware; Williams-Sonoma Halloween Moon Napkin; Crate and Barrel Halloween Bat Napkin Ring; black-stemmed wine glass; clear water glass;
clear glass skull tea light holder.

The other three dessert plate designs:

Closer look at the napkin.

Closer look at the napkin ring.

The large cauldron bowl from Crate and Barrel will be used to serve
the pasta course.  On either side small plates hold dessert options.

The two dessert plates are part of the Halloween Moon Plates collection
(set of four) from Williams-Sonoma, unfortunately no longer available.
I think you will be seeing the entire collection next year!

The centerpiece is a homemade crystal ball (white glass light globe
atop a small cauldron bowl from Crate and Barrel, into which a
battery-operated tap light has been placed).

This sinister crow flew in from HomeGoods this year.  His eyes light
up with an intense red glow, unfortunately too intense for my little
camera to photograph!

I have had this terrifying tree decoration for decades (it came with
little ornaments but I prefer it without them).

The haunted village sparkles spookily in front of the spider web runner.

A menu fit for a ghoulish gathering will be served this Halloween night.  Witches are the guests of honor, but from the menu selections it almost seems as if we are pulling a reverse Hansel and Gretel for our frightening feast.  Mind your tresses and digits, ladies, and hold on to your hats!

Bewitching Halloween Menu:

Witches' Brew*
Witches' Hair Pasta with Jack o' Lantern Sauce**
Devilish Chicken
Shriveled Witches' Fingers†
Witches' Hat Cookies††
Pumpkin Mini-Cheesecakes

From Jankenpon

*Witches' Brew

You can serve just about any concoction and call it a witches' brew.  A few suggestions would be red or white wine, cider (hard or not), a favorite cocktail, or even punch (leaded or unleaded, as we like to say).  I just might try a cocktail I found called Agent Orange, since it is a lovely Halloween orange color:

1 1/2 oz. vodka
1/2 oz. Grand Marnier
1/4 oz. Cointreau
1 oz. orange juice
orange twist or slice for garnish

Combine the liquids in a cocktail shaker with ice and shake vigorously. Strain into a cocktail glass, garnish, and serve. Serves 1.

**Witches' Hair Pasta with Jack o' Lantern Sauce

I just happened to have a type of pasta called Trecce Nere, or "black braids", a short twisted pasta shape colored with squid ink, which was perfect for a Halloween pasta dish.  If you don't have squid ink pasta, any short tubular pasta (such as penne) will work in this recipe.  The addition of ricotta cheese to the sauce gives it a rather grainy appearance, but it works for a scary Halloween meal!

To serve, stir about 2 T. shredded Parmesan into each serving of pasta, then top with the Deviled Chicken (I would slice it on the diagonal first, although I did not do so in the photo above).  Be sure to spoon some of the chicken pan juices over the pasta for more flavor.

1 large onion, chopped fine
1 red bell pepper, chopped fine
4 large garlic cloves, minced
1 C. canned pumpkin purée
2 C. chicken stock
2 chipotles in adobo sauce, minced
1 T; adobo sauce
2-4 T. heavy or sour cream
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste
1 C. ricotta cheese
16 oz. squid ink pasta, or any short tubular pasta
6 T. minced fresh parsley (optional)
freshly grated Parmesan

Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the onion, bell pepper, and garlic and cook, stirring, until the vegetables are softened.  Stir in the next seven ingredients.  Cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes.  Taste for seasoning and add more salt if needed.  While the sauce simmers, cook the pasta in boiling salted water until it is al dente.  Drain the pasta but do not rinse and return to the pot.

Stir the ricotta cheese into the sauce.  Add the pasta and cook over medium heat for 1-2 minutes, stirring, until the pasta is well coated with sauce.  Stir in the parsley, if desired.  Top each serving with grated Parmesan.  Serves 6.

Note: The sauce will be very watery at first, but the longer the pasta sits the more liquid it will absorb, so let the pasta sit for a while rather than serving immediately.

This is a rather bland pasta dish, meant to serve as a bed for the more flavorful main dish.  If you wish to serve it on its own, you may want to add more flavor by stirring in strong cheese (Parmesan or sharp cheddar would be good) and/or increasing the chipotles and garlic.

Shriveled Witches' Fingers

16 oz. slender green beans
2-3 T. olive oil
1/2 C. whole pecans
salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a roasting pan and toss to coat.  Roast at 400 degrees for about 12 minutes, tossing once about half way through cooking time.  Serve immediately.  Serves 4.

††Witches' Hat Cookies

These cookies are based on a recipe for Warty Witches' Hat Halloween Cookies, only with bittersweet chocolate and no nuts.  I also halved the recipe.

1/4 C. butter
1 C. bittersweet chocolate chips*
1/3 C. sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1/8 tsp. salt
1 C. flour
24 dark chocolate Hershey's kisses

Combine the butter and chocolate chips in a large microwave-safe bowl.  Microwave on HIGH at 30-second intervals until the butter and chips are almost melted.  Stir and microwave for an additional 10-15 seconds if the chips are not completely melted.  Set aside and allow to cool for 30 minutes.

Add the sugar, eggs, vanilla, and salt to the chocolate mixture and stir until well mixed.  Add the flour and stir until completely blended.  Cover and refrigerate for four hours or overnight until firm.

Shape rounded teaspoonfuls of dough into 1 1/4-inch balls.  Dust your hands with powdered sugar if necessary to prevent sticking, and trust me, this dough is very sticky!  Place two inches apart onto an ungreased cookie sheet.  Bake at 325 degrees for 11-13 minutes or until slightly firm to the touch.

Immediately top each cookie with a candy kiss.  Cool for one minute.  Remove to cooling racks.  Cool completely.  Makes 24 cookies.

Note:  I repeat, this cookie dough is extremely sticky!  I rolled 12 balls at a time and refrigerated the dough between batches to keep it cold for less stickiness, but your hands will be coated in chocolate even rolling small batches at a time.

*I used Hershey's Special Dark chocolate chips.

Of course there must be plenty of candy on the table, and a scattered pile of chocolates sits in front of a Haunted Village from Crate and Barrel:

Hershey's Milk Chocolate Nuggets on an eerily etched plate --
indulge if you dare!

A creepy credenza!

Witchiepoo the Dalmatian is sure that this Halloween's theme
was selected just for her!

My favorite "All Is Vanity" tin makes an appearance every Halloween.

It just isn't Halloween without some black cats!

One-Eyed Jack surveys the frightful festivities while surrounded by
a claustrophobic wall of cookbooks.

The crystal ball in the center of the table, all lit up in the darkened room
and ready to predict the future for any guest brave enough to look.

Happy Halloween to all, and to all a good fright!

Friday, October 30, 2015

Foodie Fridays: Pumpkin Mini-Cheesecakes

This recipe was inspired by one for Bacon Cheesecake Bites from Giada de Laurentiis as well as one I posted in the past for Mini-Cheesecakes.  I meant to stir some mini chocolate chips into the cheesecake batter, but discovered I had none in the house.  This addition is optional, but I like the taste of semisweet chocolate with pumpkin (as in my recipe for Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins) so I will be adding the chips the next time I make these.  I did top mine with Pumpkin Spice Hershey's Kisses that I had left over from last year, and as these cheesecakes are not overly sweet the candy added a nice little touch of extra sweetness when you bite into both together.  Pumpkin Mini-Cheesecakes are a great dessert choice for Halloween, especially if you are a bit too old to go trick-or-treating for some free sweets!

Pumpkin Mini-Cheesecakes

12 gingersnaps (the size of vanilla wafers)
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/4 C. canned pumpkin purée
1/4 C. maple syrup
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 C. mini chocolate chips (optional)

Line a 12-cup muffin pan with foil liners.  Place a gingersnap in the bottom of each liner.  Beat the cream cheese until smooth and softened.  Blend in the remaining ingredients until smooth.  Stir in the mini-chocolate chips if using.  Pour the filling over the gingersnaps, filling 3/4 full.  Bake at 350 degrees for 12-14 minutes.  Remove from the oven and cool for 20 minutes.  Refrigerate for at least one hour before serving.  Serves 12.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

This 'n That Thursdays: (Flavor) Graveyard Visit: A Fond Farewell to the Dearly "Depinted"

What better activity for Halloween week than a visit to a graveyard?  In this case, however, the cemetery site is the Ben & Jerry's Flavor Graveyard, where the company pays homage to those creamy creations forced into an unfortunate demise.  The cemetery really does exist on the grounds of the Ben & Jerry's factory in Waterbury, Vermont, complete with headstones and epitaphs for every discontinued flavor (check out ten fun facts about the graveyard here).  Below is a virtual tour:

Everyone seems to have at least one beloved flavor which is no longer among us, and mine happens to be Rainforest Crunch (French vanilla ice cream with cashew and Brazil nut buttercrunch chunks):

"With aching heart and heavy sigh
We bid Rainforest Crunch goodbye.
That nutty brittle from exotic places
Got sticky in between our braces."

Personally, I find the braces concern to be a poor excuse for expelling this delicious flavor from the ranks (the actual reason probably had more to do with questionable product sources).  I would love to see Rainforest Crunch resurrected, perhaps with new suppliers and a different name?

From People's Choice

One departed flavor favorite of mine missing from the graveyard is Festivus (brown sugar cinnamon ice cream with gingerbread cookies and a ginger-caramel swirl), probably because it was a limited edition holiday ice cream.  This flavor has actually been revived twice in the past, so perhaps this ice cream is considered one of the undead and not in need of a memorial!

Zombie ice cream anyone? That would be a big "no, thank you" from me!
(from Quirk Books)

For those of us who can't make it to Vermont, visit the Ben & Jerry's site here to check out the individual flavors interred and pay your respects to these departed denizens.  Is your former favorite flavor among the ranks?

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Wish List Wednesdays: Turkey Dinner Plates

Most of this month I have been discussing Halloween-inspired topics, but I think it is time to move on to the next holiday.  Thanksgiving will be here before you know it, and this food-focused holiday deserves a spectacular table setting.  The Turkey Dinner Plates from Birch Lane ($29 for a set of four) would be a great addition to the table.  The lovely color and whimsical design will set a more casual and fun mood, which I prefer for this family-oriented celebration.  Add the matching Turkey Platter, salt and pepper shakers, and serving bowl (perfect for cranberry sauce) and there will be no doubt in anyone's mind that the Thanksgiving holiday has arrived!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Terrifying Tuesdays: Bram Stoker's "The Judge's House"

From eBay

For this Halloween week I am featuring a truly creepy haunted house story by none other than Bram Stoker, author of the iconic vampire novel, Dracula.  "The Judge's House" begins with a university student named Malcolm Malcolmson in search of a quiet and secluded place to study for his upcoming exams.  He chooses a small town called Benchurch, and finds a desolate old house that suits his purposes admirably.  He learns from the landlady at the inn where he has been staying that the empty dwelling is known locally as the Judge's House, because it had been owned many years ago by a ruthless judge renowned for his harsh sentencing.  Although the house has a bad reputation, she could not say exactly why, and Malcolmson dismisses her misgivings as mere superstition.  Upon moving in, he soon discovers that the neglected house is infested with rats.  While he gradually manages to adjust to their presence, it is not long before he begins to realize that one of these rats is different from the rest, much larger and distinctly more sinister.  A confrontation between the two is inevitable, and unfortunately for the young student the secret of the evil rat is even more diabolical than he could have imagined.

You can read "The Judge's House" here, or listen to an audio version on YouTube:

This terrifying tale should effectively cure you of any inclination to enter empty old houses all alone!

Monday, October 26, 2015

Mystery Mondays: And Then There Were None (1945)

From The Motion Pictures

"And Then There Were None" (1945) is a movie based upon an Agatha Christie novel of the same name.  As mentioned in an earlier post, this novel is a classic example of the "country house mystery" genre, where a group of people gather together in an isolated dwelling and must discover who among this closed circle of suspects is the killer.  Christie is credited with originating this genre, and is known as one of the "Queens of Crime" during the "Golden Age of Detective Fiction".

The movie commences with a group of eight people, complete strangers to one another, aboard a ferry bound for remote Indian Island and the mansion of their host, a mysterious Mr. Owen, who is also a stranger to all of them.  They arrive and are welcomed by two servants, a husband and wife hired just for this weekend gathering and also unfamiliar with their employer.  Mr. and Mrs. Owen are expected to arrive at any time, and the guests go in to dinner without them.  While there, they learn from a previously recorded message that their absent host considers them all murderers, including the two servants.  They also discover that the ferry boat will not be back until Monday morning, so all are forced to stay on the island for the next two days.

One of the guests does not deny that he caused the death of innocent people, and almost immediately he dies after imbibing a poisoned drink.  The next morning one of the servants is dead.  The remaining guests realize that they must do whatever they can to discover the murderer in their midst before he/she strikes them all down, and the sleuthing begins.  The end of the movie differs from that of the novel, but the tale is still fascinating.  Several well-known actors, including Barry Fitzgerald, Walter Huston, and Judith Anderson (best known as the cruel housekeeper in the 1940 movie "Rebecca") are part of the excellent cast (although somehow this week the erstwhile ever-present George Zucco is absent!).  Enjoy this well-made adaptation of one of Agatha Christie's best murder mysteries.

Interesting Fact: And Then There Were None was recently voted "The World's Favourite Christie" novel in a worldwide poll for the 125th anniversary of Christie's birth on September 15, 2015!  (For Agatha Christie fans, Murder on the Orient Express and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd came in second and third, respectively.)  If you would like to read And Then There Were None online, you will find a PDF file here.

Gore Guide (0=none to 5=extreme): 0


Friday, October 23, 2015

Foodie Fridays: Roasted Deviled Chicken Breasts

I am always on the lookout for quick and easy chicken recipes, and with Halloween not far off this one for Roasted Deviled Chicken Breasts seemed aptly named!  The sharp mustard and spicy pepper give a bit of a kick to the taste, while the shallots, oddly enough, add a touch of sweetness.  I used a canned chipotle in adobo sauce as I am still trying to finish off a can, but the original recipe calls for cayenne pepper.  Any spicy pepper or pepper sauce would probably work just as well.  I can't handle really spicy food so I keep the heat level low, but if you like it hot just increase the amount.

The chicken breasts in the grocery stores all seem humongous to me (didn't they used to be much smaller years ago?).  I had to increase the original cooking time by 5-10 minutes to be sure they were cooked.  I would most likely cut the chicken breasts in half after roasting to serve eight rather than four, especially if they are to be accompanied by hearty side dishes.  This recipe is devilishly delicious, and would be a good dinner choice for Halloween or any other day!

Roasted Deviled Chicken Breasts

1/4 C. olive oil
1/3 C. coarse ground Dijon mustard
1/3 C. minced shallots
1 chipotle in adobo sauce, minced (or 1/4 tsp. cayenne)
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

Put the olive oil in a 9x13-inch baking pan.  Place in a cold oven and set the oven for 425 degrees.  Combine the mustard, shallots, and chipotle pepper in a shallow dish or pie plate.  Roll the chicken in the mustard mixture to coat (it does not stick well, but get as much on as possible).  Remove the pan with the warm oil from the preheated oven and add the chicken.  Return the pan to the oven and roast the chicken for 10 minutes.  Spoon the pan juices over the chicken, top with any remaining mustard mixture, and rotate the pan.  Roast for 10-15 more minutes until the chicken is no longer pink inside.  Remove the pan from the oven, cover loosely with foil, and let the chicken rest for 10-15 minutes before serving.  Serves 4-8 (depending upon the size of the chicken breasts).

Thursday, October 22, 2015

This 'n That Thursdays: Scary Sudoku!

From Improve Concentration Information

With Halloween so near, I was trying to come up with a scary topic for this week's post, when it suddenly occurred to me that few subjects are more frightening than numbers!  So this week's post is all about sudoku, that diabolical number puzzle consisting of a large square divided into nine smaller squares.  Each of these medium-sized squares is then divided into nine more squares.  The object of the game is to fill each of the medium-sized square's small squares with the numbers one through nine, such that each number is only used once in each medium-sized square as well in as each row and column of the large square.  Some of the small squares are already filled in, and the difficulty of the sudoku depends upon how many clue numbers are already given.

Got that?  If not, then let's start with an even easier type of sudoku, which consists of four medium-sized squares containing four small squares:

Remember that each of the small squares in each medium square, row, and column cannot repeat any of the numbers 1 through 4.  For example, look at the first column.  There is a 4 in the second small square down and a 3 in the third small square down, so that means the square at the top cannot be a 3 or a 4.  If you look at the first row, the numbers 1 and 4 occur in the second and fourth small squares, so the number 1 is also eliminated.  Therefore, the top left small square number has to be a 2!  That means the bottom left small square number can only be a 1, and the first column is complete.

Now look at the first and fourth rows.  They are only missing one number each, and are easily filled in, which then also completes the third column. Row two contains the numbers 4 and 1 in the first and third small squares, so a 2 and 3 are needed.  Column two already has a two in a small square, so the second small square gets a 3, leaving the 2 for the fourth one.  Now columns two and four are only missing one number and are quickly filled in, which also completes row three.  The numbers for the rows, from top to bottom, are:

2   1   3   4
4   3   1   2
3   4   2   1
1   2   4   3

And the puzzle is done!  How simple was that?

Ready to attempt the real thing?  If so, here is an easy example (it will be easier to fill in the puzzle if you print out a copy or make your own grid and fill in the numbers already given):

From Sudoku Instructions

Don't panic!  This sudoku even has a labelled grid system, so I will refer to the small squares by their grid numbers when I can.  Also, each medium-sized square is represented by a large capital letter (J through R) and I will refer to these squares by their capital letter if possible.  I usually start a sudoku by looking at rows and then columns.  If you look at the first three rows (1-3 on the grid), you will notice that there are three 9s, one in each medium-sized square (J through L).  This means you do not have to worry about the 9s!  Now check the 8s.  There is an 8 in the J and K squares, but none in L.  Since the 8s are in rows one and two, the third 8 must be in row three.  Scanning down each column in L (G, H, and I on the grid), notice that H-3 already has a number and there is already an 8 in column G at G-7.  Obviously the 8 for square L belongs in I-3!  Try this same method with the numbers 7, 3, and 2 and it is even easier, as there is only one square available for 7 (I-2), 3 (C-1), and 2 (G-3).

Move on down to the next three rows (4-6) and try the same technique with the numbers 9, 8, 7, and 1 (the number 4 is already done).  Then do the same thing for the last three rows (7-9) with the numbers 9, 6, and 4 (notice that there are also two 5s, but this method will not work because there are two available squares for the last 5).  Now go to the columns and start the method over with the first three (A-C) for 7.  Then on to the next three columns (D-F) for 8, 5, and 4.  Finally, do the last three columns (G-I) for 4 and 2.

There are a couple of ways to proceed from here.  You can start all over again with the rows and then columns, because so many squares are now filled that the options for the empty squares are fewer.  For example, you can now fill in a 4 at A-2.  Your other option is to now look at each of the medium-sized squares (J-R) to see if you can fill anything in.  For example, look at square L.  There is only one empty small square!  Every number has been used except 5, so now you know that 5 goes in I-1.  Pretty simple, right?  Do the same thing with each row and column.  If only one square is empty, then you know that the only number not yet entered goes into that small square (try row 1 as an example).

Using a combination of these two methods will eventually get all of the small squares filled, and you are done!  If you find that two small squares are empty, remember to check the medium-sized square, row, and column associated with each small square to see if either number has already been used in any one of those three places.  If one has, then it is the number not found that is the correct choice.  For example, as you get to the end of the sudoku, you may have two empty small squares in the third row, A-3 and B-3, and the numbers 5 and 6 are missing.  If you look down column A you will find a 5, so put the 6 in A-3, which means that 5 goes in B-3.  Here is the final result:

9   2   3   8   7   1   4   6   5
4   8   1   5   2   6   3   9   7
6   5   7   9   4   3   2   1   8
3   4   2   6   5   9   7   8   1
7   6   8   1   3   4   9   5   2
5   1   9   2   8   7   6   3   4
1   7   4   3   6   5   8   2   9
2   3   5   7   9   8   1   4   6
8   9   6   4   1   2   5   7   3

Phew!  That took a while to explain.  I am sure you are totally confused now, but really the best way to learn sudoku is to just do it.  I have never been fond of numbers and never thought I would like sudoku puzzles, but one day I decided that the only way to get over my number phobia was to simply plunge right in.  I bought a couple of sudoku puzzle books, started at the beginning, and tried to work my way through to the end.  I do get stuck occasionally, but on the whole I can finish most of the easy and moderate sudokus.  I am still working on the difficult ones, but the more I do the quicker I get at figuring out the solutions.  At first you may need to write out the possibilities before choosing the right number, but after a while I was able to do this in my head (at least for the less difficult ones), so I feel I really have conquered my number phobia to some extent.  One of these days I might even be ready to tackle KenKen, another type of math puzzle that adds simple arithmetic into the equation (ugh, pardon my pun!).

Puzzles and games like sudoku are supposed to be good for mental agility, especially as we age.  If you would like to try solving a sudoku puzzle, check out the puzzle site here.  You can choose the difficulty level, and the game will give you all sorts of encouragement along the way as well as keep track of which number you are working on and how many squares are filled in.  There are many sites on the internet attempting to explain how to work a sudoku puzzle, such as the ones here and here, so if you get stuck or confused just do a search for sudoku instructions for beginners and you may find more helpful tips.

If you don't give sudoku puzzles a try because you find them far too scary, then I suppose you can just consider them another Halloween fright!

From Increase Sales Blog


Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Wish List Wednesdays: Williams-Sonoma Halloween Moon Napkins

Last week I mentioned that I had found the perfect Halloween dessert plates.  These Halloween Moon Napkins from Williams-Sonoma featuring a witch design are the perfect compliment for the plates.  Originally $24.95 for a set of four, the price has been reduced to $19.99.  The Halloween collection from Williams-Sonoma has sold out quickly, so if you want these napkins it would be best to order them quickly!

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Terrifying Tuesdays: Algernon Blackwood's "The Empty House"

From L. W. Currey, Inc.

The haunted house story for this week is Algernon Blackwood's "The Empty House".  Blackwood was an English author and one of the most prolific ghost story writers ever.  He was fascinated by both the occult and the outdoors, and many of his tales combine the two.  In "The Empty House", it is the supernatural which is emphasized.  A man named Shorthouse and his elderly Aunt Julia are determined to examine a supposedly haunted house in the aunt's neighborhood after she manages to procure the key.  Julia tells her nephew the story of a murder which took place in the house in the past, leading to its haunted reputation.  When she asks her nephew to accompany her in investigating the empty dwelling, Shorthouse agrees in return for her promise that she will not allow herself to succumb to fear.  He also insists that they must explore the house thoroughly from top to bottom before leaving.  This they proceed to do, slowly and methodically, all the while becoming increasingly aware that there is indeed something supernaturally menacing about the place.  This tale is supposedly based upon some of the haunted house investigations in which Blackwood himself participated.

"The Empty House" is most notable for the slow but relentless buildup of terror as the two characters move through the deserted house.  You are even left to wonder if the fear experienced by the pair was due to actual circumstances or merely figments of their imaginations.  However, the duo deserves credit for bravely following through with their investigation, and I doubt that many others would be willing to check the old house out for themselves to ascertain the truth!  "The Empty House" can be read here.  You can also listen to an audio recording on YouTube:

Happy haunted house hunting!

Monday, October 19, 2015

Mystery Mondays: The Cat and the Canary (1939)

From HippoWallpapers

This week's mystery movie is "The Cat and the Canary" (1939), starring Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard.  Any movie starring Bob Hope will be laced with comedic moments, and this one is no exception.  Even so, the film very effectively evokes a sinister atmosphere with a setting in an isolated old mansion in the middle of a Louisiana bayou filled with alligators and an alleged escaped murderous lunatic from a nearby asylum.  The relatives of a recently deceased millionaire have gathered at the mansion to hear the reading of his will, and of course they are stranded there until morning.  Once again the ubiquitous George Zucco puts in an appearance as the family lawyer who plays host to the gathered group, and once again he meets his usual fate.  This movie kept me guessing until the very end about the identity of the murderer, and the combination of humor and mystery is quite well done.  I hope you enjoy this one as much as I did!

Interesting Facts: Academy Award winner Gale Sondergaard very effectively portrays the mysterious housekeeper in the movie.  Her promising movie career was irreparably damaged when she supported her husband after he was accused of being a communist during the McCarthy era.

Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard starred together in another movie called "The Ghost Breakers" (1940), which is an entertaining comedy/horror film about a haunted castle in Cuba.  Interestingly, in "The Cat and the Canary" Bob Hope takes a jab at Republicans (see part 3 starting at 8:38) while in "The Ghost Breakers" he makes a similar quip about Democrats, which you can see here (Hope was a lifelong Republican).

Gore Guide (0=none to 5=extreme): 0


Friday, October 16, 2015

Foodie Fridays: Autumn Chicken Stew

When I was searching the internet for cozy autumn images last week, I came across the picture and recipe for a luscious-looking Autumn Chicken Stew.  I posted the image (see bottom of page), and this week I decided to try the recipe.  The stew tastes every bit as delicious as it looks!  The only change I made was to eliminate the Bisquick, making dumplings from scratch and dredging the chicken in lightly seasoned flour.  I try to limit salt in recipes, so feel free to add more to suit your own taste.  The pumpkin pie spice is a genius idea, as it adds a distinctively fall flavor to the stew -- I may add even more next time.  This recipe is sure to become a regular in my cool-weather repertoire!

Autumn Chicken Stew

1/4 C. flour
salt and pepper to taste
3 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch cubes
1-2 T. oil
1 medium onion, diced (about 1/2 C.)
2-3 C. cubed winter squash (I used butternut)
1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
1/2 tsp. salt
2 medium potatoes, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 can (about 14 oz.) diced tomatoes (I used unsalted)
1 3/4 C. chicken stock or broth (I used unsalted)
Dumplings (see below)

Season the flour with salt and pepper.  Coat the chicken with the flour mixture.  In a 4-quart Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium heat.  Add the chicken and cook for 10-12 minutes, stirring occasionally, until it is no longer pink.

Stir in the onion and cook for about 5 minutes until the onion starts to become fragrant and soften.  Add the squash, pumpkin pie spice, salt, potatoes, tomatoes, and broth.  Heat to boiling, reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, stir together the dumpling ingredients until a soft dough forms (see below).

Drop the dumpling dough by spoonfuls onto the stew mixture.  Spoon a little of the stew liquid over the dumplings.  Cook uncovered for 10 minutes.  Use a spoon to separate the dumplings a little.  Cover and simmer the stew for 10 minutes longer or until the vegetables are tender and the dumplings are cooked. Sprinkle each serving with parsley or additional pumpkin pie spice, if desired.  Serves 6.

Dumplings: Combine 1 1/2 C. flour, 2 tsp. baking powder, and 1/4 tsp. salt.  Cut in 3 T. butter.  Stir in 3/4 C. milk just until dry ingredients are moistened (do not over mix).

Notes: Omit or adjust the 1/2 tsp. salt if you use salted tomatoes and/or broth.  For convenience, you could follow the original recipe and just use Bisquick and milk to make the dumpling batter (combine 1 1/2 C. Bisquick with 1/2 C. milk just until blended).

From Betty Crocker

Thursday, October 15, 2015

This 'n That Thursdays: Black and White Halloween Décor

From myfreewallpapershub

At the moment I am fascinated by classic old black and white scary movies, which naturally led to an obsession with black and white Halloween décor!  Below are some of the seriously scary ideas for a Halloween bedecked in bone-chilling black and white:

Spooky front porch
(from Porch)

Frightening foyer table
(from Minimalisti)

Sinister staircase
(from Stagetecture)

Ghostly living room
(from Lauren Conrad)

Freaky fireplace mantel
(from Steal Mag)

Creepy kitchen sink
(from Sew Woodsy)

Dastardly dining room sideboard
(from Houzz)

Terrifying table setting
(from Daily Architecture Design)

Direful dessert buffet
(from HGTV)

Nightmarish bedroom
(from Interior Design 4)

And most disturbing of all:

Pity the poor infant sleeping in this ghoulish crib!
(from Home Picture Idea)

When you decorate with the colors of ghosts, bats, the full moon, and a witch's favorite cats for Halloween, the result is devilishly delightful design!

From Haiku Deck