Give Your Oven a Holiday Tune-Up

The last thing you need during the holidays is an oven failure, so we’re getting you ready for holiday kitchen overdrive with a simple oven tune-up to keep you running smoothly from Thanksgiving appetizers to New Years desserts.

1. Clean the oven. No need to dread this task. Most modern ovens have a self-cleaning function, but if not, there is no need to buy dangerous chemical cleansers. A spray bottle of water and a box of baking soda will do wonders.

2. Check the thermostat. The thermostat is the mechanism that helps measure and regulate the temperature in the oven. They can go bad or become unreliable, but are replaced easily. The most common indicator of a bad thermostat is an oven that overheats. You should be able to identify the thermostat in your oven by looking inside for a long tube near one of the side walls. To replace it, be sure to disconnect the electricity to the oven before starting and consult the owner’s manual for any specific instructions. It is most often a process of disconnecting the wires on the old thermostat, removing it, and installing the new one in the reverse order.

3. Check the heating elements. If you’ve noticed things baking unevenly in the oven, or taking much longer to cook, the heating element could be going bad. Replacement is quite simple. Be sure to disconnect electricity before beginning, then follow the instructions in this simple video.

4. Inspect the flames. For gas ovens, ports for the flames can easily be blocked by debris. Turn the oven on and check to see if flame levels are even in both size and disbursement. Clean away any debris or blockage. If the flame seems too low, consult your owner’s manual to find where adjustments can be made. The manual should also indicate the recommended size of the flame for your particular unit.

5. Clean or replace the bulb. The oven light is one of the most underutilized tools, since it allows you to check on foods without opening the door and letting hot air escape. If the bulb is dirty or failing, replace it before the busy season.

Simple as that, your oven is ready for whatever your holiday schedule brings!

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Recipe: Homemade Bread Bowls

Mrs. Fields Secrets Homemade Bread Bowls
Soup season is finally here and nothing pairs better with a steamy bowl of broth or stew or chili than a crusty, chewy bread bowl. This fun serving idea is a classic, and easier than you think to pull off! We’ve taken our favorite artisan bread recipe and transformed it into these personal-size loafs that serve as both serving dish and side dish. Try it yourself with your next favorite pot of comfort food. (Note: this recipe requires a dutch oven. If you don’t have one already, it’s time to invest. You’ll love it!)

Homemade Bread Bowls

3 cups bread flour
1 teaspoon yeast
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/2 cups very warm water

Directions
In a large mixing bowl, stir flour, yeast, and salt together. Add the warm water and using a large spoon, stir until dough is wet and shaggy in texture. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and allow to sit for 12-18 hours. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Put a dutch oven in the preheated oven and allow to heat for 30 minutes. While dutch oven is heating, scoop dough onto a floured surface and divide into three or four equal pieces, depending on the size you prefer your bread bowl. (Think four for cup-size servings and three for bowl-size.) With floured hands, shape each piece of dough into a ball, tucking any rough edges underneath.  Place plastic wrap on top and allow to sit until dutch oven is ready. Remove preheated dutch oven and, with floured hands, arrange the dough balls inside, barely touching. (Careful not to burn yourself!) Place the lid on top and put it back in the oven to bake for 30 minutes, then remove the lid and bake for an additional 15 minutes. Remove and allow to cool on a wire rack. Before serving, use a serrated knife to cut a cone shape into the bread. Remove the top and fill the bowl with your favorite soup and serve.

Cheese Ques-o-lanterns

Mrs. Fields Secrets Jack-o-Quesadilla

Here’s a fun way to put your pumpkin-shaped cookie cutter to good use and to create a fun Halloween snack or meal for the kids. (Oh, who are we kidding? These are delicious for everyone!) Pair them with your favorite tomato soup and be sure to make a few extras!

Ques-o-Lanterns

12 fajita-size flour tortillas
6 slices cheddar cheese
butter or non-stick spray
pumpkin-shaped cookie cutter
paring knife

Directions
Cut out pumpkin shapes from flour tortillas. Use a knife to cut out eyes and a mouth on one half of the tortillas. Heat a pan or griddle to medium-high heat and put a small pat of butter on the heat, then cook just the “face” tortillas until golden brown. Next, place a slice of cheese on the solid tortillas with the browned face tortillas on top. Cook the quesadilla, solid-side down until browned and cheese is bubbling. Serve warm.

Spider Web Snacks

 

Whether you’re hosting a Halloween party or helping in your child’s classroom, we’ve found a fun treat via Mom Endeavors to make with the kids. These spider web snacks couldn’t be simpler or more adorable. Plus, we love the combination of salty and sweet with a hidden raisin treat!

Spider Web Snacks
from Mom Endeavors

pretzel sticks
white chocolate bark or white candy coating (both work well)
chocolate chips or milk chocolate candy coating (both work well)
raisins
pastry bag with fine tip or baggie
wax paper

Directions
Spread wax paper on a baking sheet and arrange pretzel sticks in starburst patterns using 6 or 8 sticks per pattern. Melt white chocolate and place in a pastry bag or baggie with the corner tip clipped. Pipe a generous amount of white chocolate in the center, enough to bind all of the sticks together, then continue to pipe rings around the sticks to create a web pattern. Press two raisins into the center to create the body of the spider. Melt the milk chocolate and pipe eight small spider legs out from the raisins before covering the raisins  with a layer of milk chocolate. Transfer baking sheet to the fridge and allow chocolate to harden for about 10 minutes before removing from the fridge. Peel webs off the wax paper and serve.

Recipe: Banana Bread Bread Pudding

Mrs. Fields Secrets Banana Bread Pudding
That’s not a redundant typo. This is banana bread bread pudding. Bread pudding made made from banana bread, and it couldn’t be more delicious. It’s everything you love about bread pudding combined with everything you love about banana bread. The result is a rich (but not too rich) dessert or decadent brunch food that will please any crowd.

Banana Bread Bread Pudding

1 loaf banana bread (9 x 5)
2 cups milk
1 cup half-and-half
4 large eggs
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

Directions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare an 8 x 8 baking dish with non-stick cooking spray. In a mixing bowl, beat the milk, half-and-half, eggs, sugar and vanilla together until frothy. Slice the bread into one-inch squares and place in the baking dish. Pour the milk mixture over the top and allow the dish to rest for five minutes before baking for 50-60 minutes, or until a knife comes out clean. Remove from heat and allow to cool for 5-10 minutes before serving with ice cream or warm cream.

 

HINT: This recipe works particularly well if the bread is slightly stale because it soaks up the custard and is able to retain some shape. Fresh bread will work, but may not hold the cube shapes as well.

Family Costume Ideas

Dressing up for Halloween this year? Why not make it a family affair? We’ve gathered up the best of the best for family costume fun, so grab your loved ones and dress up for some unforgettable ensembles.

SHARK ATTACK: For the family who lives every week like it’s Shark Week.

STICK FIGURE FAMILY: Your favorite group from the rear window of the minivan brought to life!

SUNDAY DINNER: This super simple costume is a lot of bang for the buck.

BLT: Another food theme, this adorable family is cute enough to eat!

GILLIGAN’S ISLAND: You can’t go wrong with a classic like Gilligan’s Island, especially if you’ve been invited to a three-hour Halloween party.

101 DALMATIONS: You’ll have everyone seeing spots with this adorable crew in costumes that are surprisingly simple to pull off!

COPS & ROBBERS: The money is in the bag and it’s anybody’s guess who wins in this cops and robbers battle. (Our bet is on the cops!)

Do you have a favorite family costume idea? Share it with us on our Facebook Page!

Guide to Gourds

It’s pumpkins, pumpkins, pumpkins everywhere you go right now, but don’t let those beautiful orange orbs overshadow some of the other great gourds and squashes in season right now. Squash is healthy, delicious, and can be prepared in so many different interesting and crave-worthy ways. Here are 5 delicious gourds you should get to know, along with recipe ideas to get you inspired!

1. Acorn Squash
This smallish squash has a mild, buttery flavor and a smooth texture. Try this recipe for Roasted Parmesan Acorn Squash and fall in love.

2. Spaghetti Squash
This incredible squash, when cooked, flakes into spaghetti-like shreds that are savory and delicious and can literally take the place of spaghetti on your plate with a little marinara sauce on top. And the best news? You can cook it easily in the microwave.

3. Banana Squash
This winter squash has an earthy sweetness and when paired with chipotle peppers, makes an incredible Soft Taco Recipe.

4. Patty Pan Squash
You should still be able to find some of these UFO-like summer squashes, and when you do, try this delicious Overstuffed Patty Pan Squash recipe.

5. Muscat Squash
Sometimes called the “Cinderella Squash” or a “Cinderella Pumpin,” this gorgeous, squatty squash is great for cooking (not as great for carving). Try it in this mouthwatering Thai Pumpkin Curry recipe.

Do you have a favorite squash recipe? Share it with us in the comments!

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Recipe: Chewy Oatmeal Maple Cookies

Mrs. Fields Secrets Oatmeal Maple Cookies
What is it about cool, brisk autumn weather that makes us crave flavors like maple, cinnamon, and nutmeg? While somebody else works on the science behind that question, we’ve already worked on the perfect cookie recipe to answer that craving. This chewy oatmeal cookie is loaded with flavor and spice, ideal with a cup of coffee, your favorite chai tea, or even an old-fashioned glass of milk.

Chewy Oatmeal Maple Cookies

1 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup real maple syrup
2 eggs
2 tablespoons milk or cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/4 cup flour (for extra chewy cookies, use bread flour)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 cups rolled oats

Directions
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a small saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. In a mixing bowl, combine brown sugar, maple syrup, and melted butter, stirring until mixture is fully combined and caramel in color. In a small bowl, whisk the eggs with the milk and vanilla before adding into the sugar/butter mixture. In a separate bowl, sift the dry ingredients together (flour, salt, baking soda, cinnamon, cardamom, and nutmeg). Slowly add the dry ingredients into the wet mixture, followed by the oats. Once combined, allow dough to rest for 5-10 minutes before spooning 1/4 cup mounds onto a prepared baking sheet, six cookies per sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until golden brown.

Halloween Home Tour

via Nifty Thrifty & Thriving

With nearly 6.9 billion dollars spent on costumes, decorations, and candy, Halloween is the silly holiday we love to take seriously. Not only do we dress up the kids, ourselves, and the inside of our homes, but many of us are decorating the exterior of our homes as well. And the results are scary awesome! We’ll take you on a tour of some incredibly creative (and spooky) homes.

We love the cob webs and boarded up look of this otherwise adorable home from Between Naps on the Porch.

Talk about an infestation! We love this house crawling with oversized spiders found on The Daily Party Dish.

What looks like an impressive choir of jack-o-lanterns, is a fabulous display from Ash Tree Cottage that has a wow factor in day or night!

The Kenova Pumpkin House in West Virginia features over 3,000 carved pumpkins each year, thanks to volunteer carvers. What a scene!

Green lights and strong silhouettes make an eery display and a haunting glow.

A Los Angeles house-turned-haunted-house called The Forest of Mirrors has a fiery skull pile that is as creepy as it is cool.

Vancouver Science World Halloween Theme

The Vancouver Science World transforms into a fabulous jack-o-lantern, lighting up the BC skyline.

An over-the-top look doesn’t require an over-the-top budget! Big, bold monster shapes cut out from paper with some backlighting will make a huge impact.

This homemade UFO crash is a show-stopper and so creative. (We have to wonder where it gets stored in the off-season!)

Now we want to see your homes! Post your favorite Halloween decorations to the comments section, or on our Facebook page!

Amazing Halloween Makeup You Can Do Yourself

The countdown to Halloween is on, and just in case you need a little inspiration, we’ve gathered some incredible makeup tutorials for you. Everything from vampires to sugar skulls to gory zombies, and you don’t even need to be a Hollywood makeup artist to pull them off. (Although we threw in a couple of crazy cool advanced-level tutorials for the truly adventurous.) Check them out for inspiration and give them a try!

Vampire makeup for kids. Skill level: Easy
Zombie Ghost for kids. Skill level: Easy
Cheek Scar tutorial. Skill level: Easy
Spiderman tutorial. Skill level: Easy
Simple Skull tutorial. Skill level: Easy
Comic Book Face tutorial. Skill level: Moderate
Easy Sugar Skull tutorial. Skill level: Moderate
3D Stretch Lips tutorial. Skill level: Advanced
Missing Eye tutorial. Skill level: Advanced

 

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