This isn't all that cooking-related, but it's fun and festive. My daughters had a small Halloween party, and this is my culinary contribution. It's a Tuscan cantaloupe that I peeled and carved to look like a Jack-O-Lantern. I think it's pretty cool, so I thought I'd share. Click the image for a closer look.

Fairly Simple Beef Stew

Fall is upon us, and that means comfort food season is here. It's time to bust out the chili, sauerkraut and pork, lasagna, bean and ham soup, chicken and dumplings and, of course, beef stew. There are certainly many, many other fall and winter comfort foods, but those jump immediately to mind.

I call this "fairly simple" because it falls in between brain-dead, dump-it-in-the-crockpot easy and ugh-that-is-too-much-work difficult. You'll see that I use some canned goods to minimize the fuss without compromising flavor. You have to do some prep, but the result is more than worth it.

I served mine with some simple garlic cheddar biscuits for soppin'. I'll have to post that recipe soon.

3 lbs Beef chuck shoulder roast
3 stalks Celery, sliced to 1/4"
2 lg Russet potatoes, peeled and cubed to 3/4"
3 cups Water
1 can (10.5 oz) Condensed French onion soup
1 can (10.5 oz) Condensed beef consomme
1 can (10.5 oz) Condensed tomato soup
8 oz Baby carrots, cut in half
2 Bay leaves
4 Tbs All-purpose flour
2 Tbs Canola oil
2 Tbs Worcestershire sauce
2 tsp Garlic salt
1 tsp Black pepper, ground fresh
1/4 tsp Granulated garlic

Note: I use Campbell's soups.

Trim all the excess fat from the beef and cut into 1" cubes.

Season the beef with the garlic salt and coat with 2 tablespoons flour.

Heat the canola oil in a large heavy saute pan over medium-high heat.

Add the beef to the pan and quickly brown on all sides.

Note: If necessary, brown the beef in batches to avoid over-crowding the pan.

While the beef is browning, preheat your slow cooker to high heat.

Add all three soups, garlic, pepper, bay leaves, and the Worcestershire to the slow cooker.

Add the browned beef to the slow cooker and deglaze the pan with 2 1/2 cups water.

Add the deglazing water to the slow cooker, cover, and cook two hours on high.

Add the celery, carrots and potatoes to the slow cooker and stir to combine.

Cook another two hours on high.

Combine 2 tablespoons flour and 1/4 cup water in a small bowl and whisk with a fork until it forms a smooth slurry.

Add the flour and water slurry to the slow cooker, stir well, and cook another 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Serve and enjoy!

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Classic BBQ Chicken Drumsticks

I'm sure I am not alone in hearkening back to fond childhood memories of sweet and sticky barbecued chicken legs cooked in the backyard. To me this is one of the most quintessential of all-American summer finger foods -- second perhaps to corn-on-the-cob. Hey, it's yardbird-on-the-cob!

I see a lot of myself on the faces of my children when I see a drumstick in their hand and that familiar ring of BBQ sauce around their mouths (and usually on their shirt). It's just good times, ya know?

Here is a very basic recipe that will please just about any crowd. The sauce was inspired by a guy whom I've never met, but I've seen a lot of him on a popular BBQ internet forum. His name is Rick Salmon, and I thank him for his inspiration.

12 Chicken drumsticks

1/8 cup Your favorite BBQ seasoning (of course I recommend mine)
1/8 cup Old Bay seasoning (available in most grocery stores)

1 bottle (18 oz) KC Masterpiece Original BBQ sauce
1 cup Grape jelly
2 Tbsp Your favorite hot sauce (I typically use Trappey's or Louisiana)

Mix the seasonings in a small bowl.

Lay the drumsticks on a large sheet pan.

Season all sides of each drumstick with a moderate sprinkling of the seasoning mixture.

Put all of the chicken in a large zip-top bag and seal, removing the excess air.

Refrigerate the chicken at least six hours, but preferably overnight.

Start your fire and prepare for indirect cooking at 325º.

Add two small chunks of fruit wood (apple or cherry) and one small chunk of hickory to the fire about 10 minutes before you're ready to cook. Wood chips soaked for 30-60 minutes will work well, too. If you're using a gas grill, make a smoker pouch.

Cook the chicken indirect until it reaches 170º internal (about an hour).

Classic BBQ Chicken Drumsticks

While the chicken is cooking...

Melt the jelly in a medium sauce pan over medium heat.

Add the remaining sauce ingredients, whisk to combine, remove from the heat and set aside.

Dunk each drumstick in the sauce, return to the cooker, and continue cooking indirect another 20 minutes (turning at 10 minutes).

Remove the chicken from the grill to a large serving platter, and let rest 10 minutes.

Serve with the remaining sauce and enjoy!

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BBQ Crackers

Here is a quick and easy snack that has that familiar sweet, salty, smoky, and subtly spicy flavor of BBQ potato chips. The seasoning could easily be used on all manner of things other than the lowly oyster cracker. Oven-baked french fries or tater tots spring immediately to mind, but be creative and add it to anything you think might benefit from a little BBQ punch.

15 oz Oyster crackers
1/2 cup Canola oil

1 1/2 Tbsp Golden brown sugar, clumps removed
1 Tbsp Knorr Tomato Bouillon (Hispanic section of many grocery stores)
2 tsp Powdered sugar
1 1/2 tsp Chili powder
1 tsp Original Bacon Salt
1/2 tsp Garlic salt
1/4 tsp Ground cayenne pepper

Preheat your oven to 250º.

Add the oil and all of the seasoning ingredients to a large mixing bowl and whisk to combine.

Add the crackers to the bowl and gently toss to coat all the crackers completly.

Spread the crackers evenly on a large sheet pan.

Bake on the center rack for 25 minutes.

Remove from the oven, let cool and store in a large zip-top bag.

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Roasted Vegetable & Smoked Sausage Penne

This is a fairly quick, easy and oh so flavorful meal. It requires minimal ingredients, prep and just two pans. The vegetables and sausage are oven-roasted and then they are quickly combined with the cooked penne to form a simple sauce. Oh, and it's pretty darn healthy, too.

1 lb Smoked beef sausage (I used Hickory Farms), cut into 1" slices
1 lb Penne
3 small Zucchini, cut lengthwise and sliced to 1/2"
1 pkg (10 oz) Grape tomatoes, sliced in half lengthwise
1 Red bell pepper, seeded and chopped to 3/4"
1 Orange bell pepper, seeded and chopped to 3/4"
6 cloves Garlic, lightly crushed with the side of a knife
1/2 med Red onion, chopped to 3/4"
1/2 cup Olive oil
1/3 cup Dry white wine
3 Tbsp Butter, unsalted
1 Tbsp Kosher salt
2 tsp Black pepper, ground fresh

Preheat your oven to 375º.

Mix all of the vegetables, garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper well in a large mixing bowl.

Spread the vegetable mixture evenly on a large sheet pan.

Roast the vegetables on the middle oven rack for 15 minutes.

Add the sausage to the top of the vegetables and roast another 20 minutes.

Cook the pasta according to the package directions, reserving 1 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid.

Turn the oven to broil, crack the oven door, and continue roasting the sausage and vegetables another five minutes.

Roasted Vegetable & Smoked Sausage Penne

Remove the vegetables and sausage and set the pan aside.

Remove the roasted garlic cloves from the roasting pan, smash to a paste with the side of a knife and add to the reserved pasta cooking liquid.

Return the pasta to the pot it was cooked in over medium heat.

Add the butter, wine, reserved cooking water, sausage and vegetables to the pasta.

Stir the pasta gently and cook until the liquid is about 3/4 absorbed.

Serve immediately.

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