Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Halloween Pasta Night with Pumpkin Sage Sauce

Well, it's that time of year again...Pasta Party Time!  Every year, I host a quick and easy dinner before trick-or-treating by hosting a pasta bar.  What's great about the pasta bar on Halloween is:
  1. You can make all the sauces ahead of time and just re-heat and boil your noodles in a flash on Halloween night.
  2. You aren't a slave to your kitchen while being distracted by door-ringing trick-or-treaters.
  3. Everyone loves pasta.
  4. Your guests can use a selection of noodles, sauces, meatballs and toppings to create their own personalized dish.
This year I'm opting for the following pasta bar options:

Wheat-enriched thin spaghetti
Harvest-colored pumpkin shaped noodles
Mushroom-stuffed tortillis

Fresh basil
Black olives

Elk meatballs
Turkey meatballs

Traditional marinara sauce 
Sage Pumpkin Sauce

Now, for those of you who are just reading this blog, let me tell you...THE SAGE PUMPKIN SAUCE IS TO DIE FOR!  It's so easy to make (20-30 mins) and is a great Autumn twist on the classic.'s the recipe.  Promise to try it!

Pumpkin Sage Sauce
 Pumpkin Sage Sausage Sauce


1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus 1 tablespoon
1 pound sage-flavored sausage (Johnsonville)
4 TBSP fresh garlic
1 medium red onion, finely chopped
1 bay leaf
4 to 6 sprigs sage leaves, diced
1 cup white wine
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup canned pumpkin
1/2 cup cream or milk
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Coarse salt and black pepper
1 pound pasta
Fresh Romano/Parmigiano blend

Heat a large, deep nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the pan and brown the sausage in it. Remove sausage from pan (drain if desired). Add to pan the remaining tablespoon oil, and then the garlic and onion. Saute 3 to 5 minutes until the onions are tender.

Add bay leaf, sage, and wine to the pan. Reduce wine by half, about 2 minutes. Add stock and pumpkin and stir to combine, stirring sauce until it comes to a bubble. Return sausage to pan, reduce heat, and stir in cream. Season the sauce with the cinnamon and nutmeg, and salt and pepper, to taste. Simmer mixture 5 to 10 minutes to thicken sauce.

Return drained pasta to the pot you cooked it in. Remove the bay leaf from sauce and pour the sausage pumpkin sauce over pasta. Combine sauce and pasta and toss over low heat for 1 minute. Garnish the pasta with lots of shaved cheese and sage leaves.

PS - The side of meatballs were a real hit!  I highly recommend making your meatballs from turkey, as they absorb the taste of the sauce better than red meat.  Plus, they are so much healthier and the leftovers freeze well.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Creepy, Classy Halloween Decor for $15

Some candlesticks, rats, ravens and spiderwebs spook up the mantle
I have a pet peeve. Ok, I have LOTS of pet peeves.  But one of them is tacky holiday decor.  You probably know this since I did a whole article last year on How to Un-Tacky Your Christmas Decor. is Part II: How to Un-Tacky your Halloween Decor.

Let me start by saying I'm not perfect.  I've had my share of flickering strobe lights, sagging spider webs, and stuffed witches. But practice helps, and every year I seem to get a little less tacky.  Here is what I've learned about holiday decorating over the years:

Five Lessons Learned About Decorating for the Holidays:
  1.  Start with the pros. Pottery Barn has designers and I do not.  So...browse, find, copy, repeat.  I love their holiday issues because they have such subtle and beautiful ways they decorate.  The sled propped outside the entry door, the stack of Christmas music on the piano, and the black candlesticks above the mantle.  Which brings me to point No. 2...
  2. Less is more.  The more decorations you have, the more confusing the message.  Your home goes from holiday decor to fun house with just one too many decorations.  So, to avoid this, pick one or two "themes" (for example, ghosts, witches, or skeletons for Halloween and either snow, woodsy pines, or Santa for Christmas) and stick with that. Once your theme is decided, chuck the stuff that doesn't fit with your theme.  This gives you a clean, unified look.
  3. Put up, and put away.  Since you are putting more decor into your home, that means some decor must go away.  I seasonally trade out the contents of my bookshelves and replace it with holiday decor so that I don't get that messy, overdecorated feeling.  Otherwise, I begin to feel claustrophobic in my own home.
  4. What doesn't match, can. I have this ceramic pumpkin that I absolutely love.  But every year I put it up and I can never find anywhere for it to go because the orange clashes so bad with my home.  Then it dawned on me: why don't I just paint it to match!  Problem solved!
  5. Pick your own color palette.  One thing I've realized by looking at home decor magazine is: they throw tradition out the window.  They work with the style and colors of the home, and fit the holiday decor to that.  No more orange and black for Halloween, and red and green for Christmas.  Now anything goes.  So my Halloween colors are black and white, and my Christmas colors are ivory, brown, and crimson.
Well, I am really proud of this year's decorations.  Not only do I think they are cohesive with the house and win in the "spooky" department, but I made almost all of them myself.  What I didn't make, I picked up at the Dollar Tree for $1 each.  So my total decor budget came in around $15.

A pumpkin and some snakes from the Dollar Tree painted black and white to match.

I saw the vampire pumpkin on Pinterest and I couldn't resist. Pumpkin and teeth both Dollar Tree finds.

The Dollar Tree skeleton on the bike makes me laugh daily. The ghost gourds are from our garden.

The black horn candelabra is a staple in my decor.  Looking at the skull I tried to think what to do with it. My son placed it there and I thought, "Yah, that works!"

The pumpkin I couldn't part with...formally orange, I painted it white to match.

Every fall, I fill my antique pilgrim bowl with harvest decor.  The only thing I did for Halloween is add the black crow to the stem of the pumpkin.  I think the difference is always in the details.

Add $1 worth of spiderwebs and BAM! Instant spooky hurricanes!

One more $1 to add a little spook to the wine rack.  Too bad I couldn't fill the rack with Halloween-inspired wines.  Maybe someday...

The creepy black and white piano...and the inspiration for my black and white theme.

I uploaded these head-less black and white photos from the Pottery barn website and put them into some old frames painted black.  Some of them broke while in storage but then I thought, "That's kinda creepy...I'm keeping them!"

A creepy entrance inspired by Pinterest.  I found the snakes in the kid's aisle at the Dollar Tree and painted them black.

A goodwill find--the lantern--with a touch of Edger Allen Poe.  Hence, the Raven.

The Entrance

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Pop Culture Halloween Costumes Through the Years

My brother as Reno 9-1-1; maybe the funniest ever!
Is it just me, or is Halloween the perfect holiday? I think some of my first memories are of Halloween.  Maybe I was a little bit dark child, or maybe it was just that I've always loved to play dress up, but as both a kid and an adult.  I absolutely love Halloween--and I don't even like candy (and never really have)!

I can still remember every costume I've ever worn. Usually, I wanted to be something pretty: a princess, angel, genie, cat.  There was the year I wanted to be a punk rocker in the 1985, but my mom made me go as a half-boy/half-girl instead.  Then there was the year of the way too young and inappropriate french maid, the Egyptian princess, and Elvira.

In the 90's, I enjoyed getting into character, so I dressed up as Britney Spears (before she was popular) and during a dinner at a late-night restaurant, convinced the staff I was actually "Britney Bitch." They were so enamored with "Britney", each chef came out one-by-one for autographs of posters they had of her in the kitchen.

In my college years, a group of my gal pals and I all dressed up as the Spice Girls, and following that, I began to make couples costumes with my soon to-be-husband.  We've been the Scooby Doo gang, a Genie and an Astronaut, and the Incredibles.

Costumes are just so much fun, I wanted to share some of them with you.  I have found that the best costumes 1) are homemade, 2) allow you to get into character, and 3) have some element of pop-culture.  That's why we seem to move towards movie/tv celebrities in past years.

This year, my husband and I are going as two pop-culture icons.  Can you guess???  I'll be sure to share photos!

The Early Years
My totally age-inappropriate French Maid costume, circa 1992 I think

The College Years
2X Brittney - This time in her "Oops! I did it Again" Video
The Scooby Doo Gang - Doesn't my hubby look exactly like Fred?

My 20's (the childless years)

Apparently before the age of digital film - I was "I Dream of Jeanie" and my hubby was an Astronaut

The characters of "Chicago"
My brother as Justin Timberlake as Beyonce in the video "All the Single Ladies"
My hubby as G.W. Bush, my brother as Brett Michaels, my sis as Kat Von Dee and my sis in law as Nancy Kerrigan
The Family Years

The Incredibles - Still one of my favorite costumes
The Incredibles Plus Child
My son's first Halloween
My son's second Halloween

Last Halloween.  My son kept saying "I want to suck your thumb!"