Easy Owl Halloween Pumpkin

We’re taking a break from carving pumpkins this year. First up was our candy corn covered pumpkin, which came out great. Then we made this fantastic looking owl pumpkin. It’s quite easy to make, taking maybe 15 minutes from start to finish.

Owl PumpkinAin’t it cute?

Easy Owl Halloween Pumpkin
  • 1 pumpkin, pulp and seeds removed from the bottom (just cut a hole in the bottom big enough for your hand, but reserve the piece you cut out)
  • A pencil
  • Sunflower seeds (use the ones from the snack aisle, they're bigger, and not the ones for birds)
  • Hot glue gun with glue sticks
  • 2 craft sticks (or better, 4 pointed flat bamboo skewers)
  • A battery-powered pumpkin light
  • A stick (from your yard), to use as a perch
  1. Hand-draw two circles for the eyes and an upside-down triangle for the beak.
  2. Cut out the eyes and beak.
  3. Working a few seeds at a time, glue the sunflower seeds around the eye holes, beginning with the outer circle first. Then add the inner circle, overlapping slightly with the outer row.
  4. Cut each craft stick to be about 1 1/2" long and stick into the pumpkin for the ears and two feet. Leave about 3/4"of the stick protruding from the pumpkin for the ears and 1/2" for the feet.
  5. Hot glue sunflower seeds onto the craft stick pieces. For the ears, glue 4 seeds at 45 degree angles, then one last seed at the top, making a point. For the feet, glue 2 seeds at 45 degree angles, then one last seed at the tip.
  6. Place light on the base of the pumpkin and lower the pumpkin down onto it.
  7. Place the stick below the feet as a perch.
  8. Enjoy your work of art!


Fire-Eater Chicken Enchilada Soup

Yowsa. Or, rather, olé! This is some mighty good (and kickin’) soup. As unbelievable as it was, it was even better the second day. This started out as a copycat of Chili’s enchilada soup, but it quickly took several turns towards even greater… greatness. The flavor is fantastic, definitely southwestern. We absolutely loved the texture and flavor the ground tortilla chips (versus using masa harina) gave to the soup.

Fire-Eater Chicken Enchilada SoupFor the chicken, I used leftover fire-eater roasted chicken. It has tremendous flavor, and is moist to boot. It also added some more kick to this soup, and kick is good. You can use any cooked chicken you have on hand, but you might want to add some more cayenne (or hot sauce).

Fire-Eater Chicken Enchilada Soup
Recipe type: Main
Cuisine: American
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 8
For the soup
  • 1/2 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup diced white or sweet onion
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 1 cup lightly ground tortilla chips
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 28 ounce can quality enchilada sauce
  • 3/4 pound extra sharp cheddar cheese, cubed
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne (or more)
  • Hot sauce, to taste
  • 1 pound cooked chicken, cubed or shredded (I used fire-eater roasted chicken breast)
  • 1 14 ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained
For the garnish
  • Tortilla strips
  • Shredded extra sharp cheddar cheese
  • Pico de gallo or chunky tomato salsa
  1. Heat oil in a large pot or Dutch oven.
  2. Add onion and cook until starting to soften.
  3. Add garlic and cook for 1 more minute.
  4. Add the chicken broth.
  5. Mix ground tortilla chips with the water and add to the pot.
  6. Add enchilada sauce, cheese, chili powder, cumin, cayenne and hot sauce. Bring to a boil while stirring constantly (or the soup will scorch). Reduce the heat to a simmer.
  7. Add chicken and beans. Simmer 30-40 minutes until thickened.
  8. Serve with desired garnish.



Buffalo Chicken Sandwiches

I’ve had Buffalo wings on the brain lately. After making some boneless Buffalo ‘wings’ the other day, it occurred to me that the same technique would work great on chicken breasts, resulting in some fantastic Buffalo chicken sandwiches.

Buffalo Chicken SandwichesThese little delights came out moist and tender, with a lightly breaded exterior, just enough heat from the wing sauce, and a little cool-down thanks to some blue cheese salad dressing. They were perfect!

Buffalo Chicken Sandwiches
Recipe type: Main
Cuisine: American
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4-8
For the chicken
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon (or more) cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 2 skinless, boneless chicken breasts, butterflied and cut in half (resulting in 4 thin pieces of chicken, see note)
  • Oil, for frying
For the sandwiches
  • 1/4 cup hot pepper or wing sauce (I used Sweet Baby Ray's Buffalo sauce)
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • Blue cheese dressing
  • 4 hamburger buns
  • 4 pieces green leaf lettuce
  1. Note: We like our chicken breasts thin, so I butterfly them and then cut them in half. If you don't want your chicken thin, feel free to use entire breasts instead. You may have to pound them out so they have a consistent thickness. They may also take longer to cook than the time stated below.
For the chicken
  1. Combine the flour, salt, pepper, cayenne, garlic powder and paprika in a pie plate or shallow bowl.
  2. Whisk together the egg and milk in another pie plate or shallow bowl.
  3. Working in batches, dip the chicken into the egg mixture, coating well.
  4. Shake off excess egg mixture and then roll the chicken in the flour mixture, coating well.
  5. Shake off excess flour mixture and return the chicken to the egg mixture, coating well.
  6. Shake off excess egg mixture and return the chicken to the flour mixture, coating well.
  7. Shake off excess flour mixture and place chicken on a plate and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes.
  8. Heat oil in a deep-fryer or Dutch oven to 375 F.
  9. Working in batches, fry chicken until golden brown and the chicken is done, 5-6 minutes. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate.
For the sandwiches
  1. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a small saucepan. Whisk in the wing sauce.
  2. Dip chicken into wing sauce, coating both sides. Shake off excess.
  3. Place chicken on buns. Top with lettuce and blue cheese dressing.


Candy Corn Covered Halloween Pumpkin

Anita and I always come up with at least one pumpkin each Halloween. Sometimes we carve them. Sometimes we paint them (chalkboard paint works great and it gives kids something to write on). One year we had a self-serve pumpkin that was awesome. And this year, our first pumpkin is covered in candy corn. It’s awesome!

Candy Corn Covered PumpkinOh, yes, it does take a while to make this pumpkin. We used a pretty big pumpkin, and it took about 2 hours for the two of us to complete, however we only had one glue gun. With two we could’ve cut the time in half I’m sure. It was worth the time, though. And yes, we did the back too!

Candy Corn Covered PumpkinWe kept our pumpkin hidden inside until Halloween because I’m quite sure the squirrels or raccoons or something would come along and eat all the candy off of it!

Candy Corn Covered Halloween Pumpkin
  • 1 large pumpkin
  • Glue gun
  • 8-10 glue sticks
  • 5 large bags candy corn
  1. Clean your pumpkin and dry it completely.
  2. Fire up the gun and load it with glue.
  3. Start by outlining the eyes, nose, and mouth with candy corn.
  4. To apply the corn, squirt a 2"-3" line of glue and quickly apply the corn. You want the corn to go on in fairly random patterns. Or not. It's your pumpkin.
  5. Now, just fill in the rest of the pumpkin with candy corn!


Pulled Pork Tater Tot Nachos

I usually have a little pulled pork leftover after I smoked a pork butt on my Weber Smokey Mountain Smoker. It usually ends up on baked potatoes. Or in stromboli. Or in nachos, like these pulled pork tater tot nachos. Like any nachos, you can go pretty much nuts and put whatever you want on these. I really like the combination of red onion, green chiles, peppadews, black olives, and pinto beans. You get a mix of crunch, heat and salt. The smoked provolone sauce and spicy BBQ sauce really bring it all together.

Pulled Pork Tater Tot NachosI actually prefer tater tots (or crispy crowns) in nachos over tortillas if I’m serving them as a main dish. Tortilla chips work better in an appetizer since they turn the nachos into easy-to-eat finger foods.

Pulled Pork Tater Tot Nachos
Recipe type: Appetizer
Cuisine: American
Prep time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 6-8
  • 1/2 bag Ore-Ida tater tots, cooked per package instructions (don't be afraid to let them cook a little longer to get them extra crispy)
  • Leftover pulled pork (I used about a cup)
  • Red onion, chopped
  • Black olives, sliced
  • Peppadew peppers, chopped
  • 1 small can chopped green chiles
  • 1 can pinto beans, rinsed, drained, warmed
  • BBQ sauce
  • Smoked provolone cheese sauce
  1. Spread tater tots out on a platter.
  2. Top tots with pork.
  3. In a small bowl, mix together the onion, olives, peppers, and chiles. Sprinkle mixture over tots.
  4. Top with beans and add BBQ and provolone sauces.
  5. Devour immediately.



Maximus Minimus Food Truck Pulled Pork

Maximus Minimus is a food truck based out of Seattle, Washington. I’ve never been to the truck, but I caught it on an episode of Eat Street a while back, and just had to make their pulled pork. It is a different take on pulled pork than I am used to, which is cooked low and slow on a smoker. Instead, the pork is first seared on a grill and then roasted in the oven until done and fall-apart tender. The result is a fantastic crusted meat festival that is perfect on everything from BBQ sandwiches…

Maximus Minimus BBQ Pork Sandwichesto Cuban sandwiches.

Maximus Minimus Pork Cuban SandwichesIf you live somewhere where there are food trucks, I encourage you to venture out and give them a visit if you haven’t already. Here in Indy we have a number of great trucks, offering everything from Cajun to Caribbean to donuts and cupcakes.

Maximus Minimus Food Truck Pulled Pork
Recipe type: Main
Cuisine: American
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 8-10
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup dried oregano
  • 1/2 cup chili powder
  • 2 tablespoons garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
  • 4 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 3-1/2 pounds pork shoulder
  1. Combine the seasonings and rub into the pork shoulder. Place in a resealable container or wrap in foil and refrigerate overnight.
  2. Fire up your grill for high-heat cooking and preheat your oven to 325 F. (Alternatively, you can use a crockpot set to 'high').
  3. Place shoulder onto the grill and sear on each side until browned, 10-15 minutes per side.
  4. Transfer pork to a Dutch oven or the crockpot and cook 3-4 hours until falling apart tender. You will not have to add any liquid. (Note: If your Dutch oven lid doesn't seal completely, cover the top with a piece of foil and then add the lid.)
  5. Let the meat rest 15-30 minutes then shred.


Italian Meatballs on the Char-Broil Big Easy

I use my Char-Broil The Big Easy TRU-Infrared Oil-less Turkey Fryer a lot, for cooking everything from chicken wings to roasting peppers to these Italian meatballs. This Italian meatballs recipe is our favorite. We make a big batch of 24 or so 2 ounce meatballs and cook them all at once. We used to cook them in the oven, but now with the Big Easy (and the Wingin’ator 3000 modification) I can cook a huge batch all at once in less than 30 minutes, without any cleanup other than putting the cook basket into the dishwasher. You can’t get any easier than that!

Italian Meatballs on the Char-Broil Big EasyIf you don’t have a Wingin’ator 3000 you can get a bunk bed basket for the Big Easy. You won’t be able to cook quite as many Italian meatballs at once, but they’ll turn out fantastic nonetheless.

Italian Meatballs on the Char-Broil Big EasyThe meatballs are done when they hit 165 F. If you’ve loaded up your Big Easy with a lot of meatballs at once, check a few meatballs for doneness before deciding that they are all done.

These meatballs are great on rolls with your favorite sauce, or over pasta.

Italian Meatballs on the Char-Broil Big Easy
Recipe type: Main
Cuisine: Italian
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
  • 1-2 batches 2 ounce Italian meatballs, rested overnight in the fridge
  • Non-stick spray
  1. Fire up your Big Easy.
  2. Spray the basket(s) (and Wingin'ator 3000 if you're using one) with no-stick spray.
  3. Add the meatballs, but do not crowd them. I was able to fit 28 meatballs on the Wingin'ator 3000 without any problem, and could've easily fit a few more. Without the Wingin'ator 3000 you'll be able to fit at least 10 meatballs at once (with the bunk basket).
  4. Cook in the Big Easy for 25-30 minutes or until the internal temperature on several of the balls measures 165 F.

Italian Meatballs on the Char-Broil Big Easy

Fire-Eater Chicken Mac-and-Cheese

I made a big ole batch of fire-eater chicken the other day. It has a really nice kick to it. Besides sandwiches and other great uses for the chicken, I made this insanely good mac-and-cheese. It’s based on a buffalo chicken mac-and-cheese recipe, so you know that it’s great. And you don’t have to use fire-eater chicken, any roasted (or rotisserie) chicken will do, but I highly recommend the kicked-up flavor of the fire-eater version.

Fire-Eater Chicken Macaroni and CheeseThis fire-eater mac-and-cheese is creamy, like it should be. And crunchy, thanks to the celery and panko breadcrumbs. And it has a kick to it. Just like I like.

Fire-Eater Chicken Mac-and-Cheese
Recipe type: Side
Cuisine: American
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 8
  • 7 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 pound dried elbow macaroni
  • 1 small white onion, finely chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, finely chopped
  • 3 cups shredded or chopped fire-eater chicken (or substitute rotisserie chicken)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3/4 cup hot or wing sauce (I used Sweet Baby Ray's Wing sauce), divided
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons dry mustard
  • 2 1/2 cups half-and-half
  • 1 pound extra sharp cheddar cheese, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 8 ounces pepper jack cheese, shredded (about 2 cups)
  • 2/3 cup sour cream
  • 1 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese (or use gorgonzola)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
  1. Preheat your oven to 350 F.
  2. Salt a large pot of water and cook the macaroni until al denta, about 7 minutes. Drain well.
  3. Spray a 9" x 13" baking dish with non-stick spray.
  4. Melt 3 tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet over medium heat and add the celery and onion. Cook until soft, 5 minutes.
  5. Add the chicken and garlic and cook 2 more minutes.
  6. Add 1/2 cup of the hot or wing sauce and stir. Simmer until the mixture thickens slightly.
  7. In another small skillet or saucepan, melt 2 more tablespoons of the butter.
  8. Whisk in the flour and mustard until smooth.
  9. Slow pour in the half-and-half while whisking continuously.
  10. Whisk in the remaining hot or wing sauce and simmer until the sauce starts to thicken.
  11. Remove from heat and stir in the cheeses and sour cream until the cheese melts and the mixture is smooth.
  12. Pour half of the macaroni into the baking dish and spread out evenly.
  13. Top with the chicken mixture.
  14. Add the remaining macaroni.
  15. Pour the cheese mixture over the top and spread out evenly.
  16. In a small saucepan, melt the remaining butter. Add the panko, blue cheese and parsley. Stir and pour evenly over the top of the macaroni mixture.
  17. Bake 30-40 minutes or until bubbly hot.
  18. Let rest 10-15 minutes before slicing and serving.



Okra Giardiniera

I was toodling around the house the other day, with the TV on in the background, when I heard a young lady say “okra giardiniera” in a southern voice. I instantly stopped what I was doing, grabbed the Tivo remote, and backed the show up a bit to see what exactly “okra giardiniera” was. The show was Kimberly’s Simply Southern on the GAC network, and Miss Kimberly (from the country group Little Big Town) was making hot dogs topped with okra giardiniera. And so… I made it too. I had to. It has okra in it.

Okra GiardinieraIt takes 2 days to make the mix, so don’t get in too big of a big rush. But it is so worth the time. The end result is lightly pickled (not too strong on the vinegar), with a little oil (almost like an olive salad), and a lot crunchy. Don’t fear the okra slime… you can rinse almost all of it away after the first day. Personally, I’ll eat okra any time, any way, full slime or not (see my Southern fried okra).

Oh, and I went with bigger cuts on the veggies just to get more crunch. That’s just me, you can make them as big or as small as you want.

Okra GiardinieraNext up, I’m going to top a muffuletta sandwich with this giardiniera. I know it’ll be outstanding!

Okra Giardiniera
Recipe type: Salad
Cuisine: American
Prep time: 
Total time: 
  • 1/4 cup kosher salt
  • 1 cup sliced fresh okra (frozen okra, thawed works just fine)
  • 1 cup diced carrots
  • 3-6 jalapeños, seeded (if desired), diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 stalk celery, diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded, diced
  • 1 cup distilled white vinegar
  • 1 cup canola oil
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Day 1
  1. Place the salt, okra, carrots, jalapeños, garlic, celery and red bell peppers into a resealable container. Add enough cold water to just cover the vegetables. Seal and place in the fridge overnight.
Day 2
  1. Pour the mixture into a caldron and rinse well. You can mix the vegetables a bit to get them really rinsed well (read: remove any okra slime), but don't be too aggressive or all of the tasty okra seeds will fly out.
  2. Return vegetables to the resealable container.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, oil, oregano, and pepper. Pour over the vegetables and stir gently to combine. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
  4. The giardiniera is ready to use the next stay. It will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.


Italian “Sausage” Baby Back Ribs on the Char-Broil Big Easy

A little bit ago I made baby back ribs on my Char-Broil The Big Easy TRU-Infrared Oil-less Turkey Fryer for the first time. I was really impressed with how well they came out. Tender, juicy, and tasty. Just another reason that my Big Easy is one of my favorite “grills”.

Italian "Sausage" Baby Back Ribs on the Char-Broil Big EasyI was looking for a different take on ribs, something other than the “usual” BBQ-flavor, when I came across a recipe for ribs with the flavor of Italian sausage (oh my!), courtesy Chef John. I knew right then that I was going to make them on my Big Easy.

Italian "Sausage" Baby Back Ribs on the Char-Broil Big EasyThe result is fantastic. They taste just like Italian sausage, with a wonderful twist. Again, tender and juicy. And with the hint (not overpowering) of fennel and the other seasonings found in Italian sausage. The orange glaze is absolutely to die for. The brown sugar gives the ribs a bit of a crust, a crunchy exterior. The glaze is not overly sweet thanks to rice wine vinegar, orange juice and zest, and chile paste (yum! a nice kick!). These are some of the best ribs I’ve ever had or made, and I’ve made a lot of them, from on the grill, on the smoker, and now on the Big Easy.

Italian "Sausage" Baby Back Ribs
Recipe type: Main
Cuisine: American
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 2
For the brine
  • 2 racks baby back ribs, trimmed to fit the Big Easy (alternatively, if you have a particularly large rack, just halve it and the remaining ingredients). Remove the membrane from the backs of the ribs and trim any large chunks of fat.
  • 32 ounces apple cider or juice
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1/3 cup sea salt
  • 1/2 cup loose packed brown sugar
For the rub
  • 2 tablespoons fennel seeds, lightly ground
  • 2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons garlic salt
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
For the glaze
  • 2/3 cup brown sugar
  • 2/3 cup orange juice (2 big oranges)
  • 2/3 cup rice wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons orange zest
  • 1 tablespoon hot chile paste
  1. Place the ribs into a resealable container.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine the brine ingredients. Pour over the ribs and seal.
  3. Refrigerate 12 hours, turning the ribs occasionally.
  4. Fire up your big easy
  5. Attach ribs to the rib hooks. Attach ribs to the Big Easy and lower into the cooker. Cook 35 minutes.
  6. Meanwhile, make the rub by combining all ingredients.
  7. Rub ribs generously with the rub (being careful to not burn yourself on the rib hooks!). Wrap the ribs in foil, making sure that the rib hooks stick out enough to be used.
  8. Return ribs to the Big Easy and cook another 45 minutes.
  9. Meanwhile, make the glaze by combining all ingredients in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer and simmer until reduced by half.
  10. Remove ribs from the Big Easy and remove the foil. Brush ribs on all sides with the glaze and return to the cooker for 10 minutes. Add more glaze and cook another 5 minutes or until the desired color is achieved.
  11. Let ribs rest 10 minutes before slicing.