Autumn Sangria

autumn-sangriaAutumn is a time of change, so I suggest we switch up our Sangria, dress it with the proper spices and make it ready for the fall.

This simple recipe produces delicious and attractive results.

Ingredients:
2 peeled and chopped pears
4 peeled and chopped apples
Jim Beam’s Fire Whisky (about 2 ½ cups)
Burnett’s Pumpkin Spice Vodka (about ½ cup)
½ quart apple cider
bottle Pinot Grigio
cinnamon sticks

To make a sangria suitable for an autumnal gathering, begin by cleaning, peeling, and dicing fruit of the season. I used Bosc pears and a mix of Gala and Granny Smith apples. Place the fruit in a bowl and cover them with Cinnamon whisky and Pumpkin spice vodka. I went heavier on the cinnamon because I like Jim Beam’s spicy bite. However, adjust the proportions to suit your taste. Float a few cinnamon sticks atop. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
When preparing the drink for consumption, pour the drunken fruit into an appropriate container. (I used my crystal punch bowl.) Add ½ a quart of apple cider and 1 bottle of cheap Pinot Grigio. Turning Leaf caught my attention with its pretty label, appropriate name, and inexpensive pricetag. Give the mix a gentle stir. When serving, be sure to add a scoop of the fruit to float atop the wine glass. (The fruit was my sister Heather’s favorite part of the drink!)
Cheers, and happy haunting!

Super Simple Pumpkin Soup

Super-Simple Pumpkin Soup

Written by Kerry E.B. Black

 

halloweenpumpkinSurmount the challenge of feeding your monsters before Tricks-and-Treats this Halloween by preparing this super-simple pumpkin soup.

 

To create, you need:

 

6 cups chicken stock

1 can pumpkin puree

1 medium onion, fine chopped or minced

1 ½ Tablespoon butter

1 clove minced garlic (approximately 1 teaspoon)

Salt, white pepper, and nutmeg to taste

1 cup heavy whipping cream

For garnish, if desired, add a dollop of sour cream, roasted pumpkin seeds, and a sprinkle of fresh parsley and thyme.

 

Mince onion and sauté in butter in the bottom of a stock or crock pot. Add other ingredients except whipping cream and garnish items. If added to a crock pot, cook on high for 4 hours. If using a stock pot, cook on low heat until warmed through (about 45 minutes.) Stir in cream. Cook an additional 5 minutes. Ladle soup into bowls. Garnish with a dollop of sour cream, baked pumpkin seeds, and/or a sprinkling of herbs.

Paired with a loaf of crusty bread, this creamy soup warms your band before they march into the night.

You can spice the soup up a bit by adding a dash or two of powdered red pepper.

Bone appetite!

GingerDEAD Cookies!

Gingerbread men. Their spice scents the air and lingers on gd cookiesthe tongue. Many reserve gingerbread cookies for Christmas, but why not give them a Gothic twist?
Fred sells cookie stamps called “Ginger Dead Man” which leave an imprint of a skeleton into which white icing can be piped for a skeletal effect. Williams Sonoma sells skull cookie cutters crying for sugar skull status. Foodiggity offers a macabre little cutter called “conjoined.” Two heads for the horror of all.
Andrea from Cupookie in Los Angeles, California posted amazing Dia de los Muertos cookies with beautiful, devious designs. (www.cupookie.blogspot.com) She takes the ordinary form and transforms it into the extraordinary.

Zombies and monsters may lurk within the traditional framework. With swipes of white chocolate, a gingerbread man can become an avenging Mummy. Drip red from broken bits to denote victims. With a little poke and a pin or two, the cookies become weapons in the hands of a voodoo practitioner. Simple circles can become Tim Burton’s Jack Skellington.

To begin, bake traditional gingerbread men and ladies, or buy unadorned cookies to decorate.
A simple gingerbread cookie recipe:
3 cups flour
3 teaspoons ground ginger, 2 1/2 teaspoons Cinnamon, 1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup molasses
1 egg
1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract

Directions: Mix flour, ginger, cinnamon, baking soda, nutmeg and salt in large bowl. Set aside. Cream butter and brown sugar in large bowl on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add molasses, egg, and vanilla. Mix well. Gradually add flour mixture on low speed until well mixed.
Wrap dough in plastic wrap. Refrigerate 4 hours or overnight.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Roll out dough to 1/4-inch thickness on lightly floured work surface. Cut into shapes. Place 1 inch apart on ungreased baking sheets.
Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until edges of cookies are set and just begin to brown. Cool on baking sheets 1 to 2 minutes. Remove to wire racks and cool completely.

Then comes the fun. Let your imagination run wild.

Scents of the Season

pumpkinPumpkin mania grips the nation. Baristas prepare pumpkin spice lattes and teashops pour out clever pumpkin combinations. Pies, cakes, muffins, cheesecake and mousse – just about every baked good sports a pumpkin flare as the weather turns cooler and the trees don astounding, colorful arrays.

Candles and sprays come in autumnal offerings, often linking perky pumpkin combinations. Not to be outdone, Halloween Forevermore’s Graveyard Gang scented wax melt shapes include “Rising Spirits”, with its light pumpkin-cinnamon scent, in its assortment. (The other scents in the package are “Boneyard Blend” black bats and “Bloody Shot of Berry” scented red cats.)

While some in America dread the shortened days scented with all things pumpkin spice, many others embrace the madness.

But why pumpkin and its accompanying spices? Native to North America, pumpkins are a part of the squash family. With their vibrant colors, refreshing smells, and distinctive flavor, they represent the autumn. Pumpkins are carved into Jack-O-Lanterns and its seeds roasted into delicious snacks. Pumpkins are celebrated in festivals all across the United States. Circleville, OH boasts the largest pumpkin festival to date. The aromatic blend featured in pumpkin pie spice compliments the clean, earthy flavors of the loved gourd. With its versatility, pumpkin remains the uncontested King of Gourds.

Looking for a way to bring the scents of the season into your personal spa? Try this:

Pumpkin Spice Sugar Scrubpumpkin mix

1 cup of granulated sugar

1/4 cup of almond oil (Can use olive or flax seed oil instead)

1/4 cup pumpkin puree

1 and 1/4 teaspoon of ground pumpkin pie spice (If you don’t have premixed, make your own by combining 1/4 teaspoon each: nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, and ground ginger)

*Combine the above ingredients in a small bowl, mixing well until forming a thickened paste.

To Use a Body Scrub: Moisten the area you wish to scrub. Rub into skin in a circular direction for about 1 minute. Sugar scrub should be stored in an air-tight container and can be refrigerated for up to a week.

HALLOWEEN DRINKS: Haunter’s Hangover

Halloween Liquor oneI quiver with anticipation. Soon, my house will be filled with zombies and ghouls hungry as empty graves, their thirst overwhelming, and I must not disappoint.

For the young, I prepare punches. To chill their brew, I freeze apple juice in rubber gloves. When it is time to serve, I discard the glove and float the frozen hands in the punchbowl. My little monsters like a mixture of pineapple, orange concentrate, sparkling white grape juice, and lemon-lime soda.

The littlest prefer their potion served from a cauldron, with sherbet frothing like sweet spells. I mix about 4 cups of ginger ale, 4 cups of pineapple juice, and 4 cups white grape juice with 1 tub of sherbet and diced fruit. The kids take turns stirring the brew.

When the little ones retire for the night, the adults may want to stretch their claws around libations of their own. Three days before, it is fun to soak gummy worms in a glass bowl of vodka. The candies swell up as they absorb the alcohol, taking on a slimy feel perfect for Halloween.

Creepy cocktails circulate. Some drinks, like the Zombie and the Bloody Mary, are custom designed for Halloween parties, but any glass can be jazzed up to haunt the imagination. Stemware can be decorated with colored sugars or salts. Painted goblets or external picks add sinister touches to delight the drinker. For example, to lend the proper festive flare, I garnish martinis with “bleeding hearts” (speared pickled beets that bleed color into the vermouth and gin). I peel lychees and stuff them with blueberries; radish hollowed out and stuffed with pimento-enhanced olives are artistically peeled to leave red optic veins. These eyes glare baleful reproaches while bobbing within drinks.

Vampire drink
Vampire drink

 

For the tea-totters, I warm apple cider and float carved apple “heads” with cinnamon sticks, nutmeg, and whole cloves. Dry ice must be monitored, but the resulting smoke lends to the fantastic feel of many beverages.

These are but a few ideas; I am limited only by my own imagination and budget. As I await the arrival of my guests, I raise my glass in toast to you who haunt the night and wish you no hangovers but lots of fun this Halloween!

Who Could Say No to a Skeleton-in-a-Casket Cake?

Halloween Skeleton in Casket Cake
Halloween Skeleton in Casket Cake surrounded by creepy cake balls.
I opted to surround the cake with creepy cake balls.

Each Halloween I make yummy treats for family and friends. Cakes, cookies, cake pops… whatever tickles my fancy. When I ran across a casket pan by Wilton last year, I was in spooky heaven. Turns out it was the easiest cake I’d ever made. I use Hershey’s “Perfectly Chocolate” cake recipe. This has been my go-to recipe for years, and the result is a moist, not-too-sweet, treat. But you could use any recipe or box mix, so long as it’s designed for baking in a standard pan. If you plan to buy this pan, I recommend spraying the pan with a cooking spray like Pam original, and dusting it with sifted, all-purpose flour. They also make cooking sprays with the flour included, but I’ve not tried those. You’ll want to bake the cake until it’s just slightly underdone. They heavy pan will hold enough heat to complete the process after it’s removed from the oven. This will also prevent sticking in case you missed some preparation spots in the pan. So far I’ve made three of these cakes. One was completely frosted, one (shown here) I piped accents with royal icing (see recipe below), and the third I over-floured the bottom and left naked. The result was faint accents of the skeleton – perfect for sprinkling chocolate crumbs on for “dirt”.

Zombie cake decorated - from the casket cake
Wilton-decorated example of a zombie cake from the same pan.

Wilton provides a “zombified” decorating example. It’s cool, but requires working with fondant, as well as more artistic skills than I possess. To display the cake, I left it on a cooling rack and placed cake balls all around. (See how I made the eyeball cake balls.) Of course, those with more patience and know-how could build a cemetery scene using edible grass and tombstones made from painted Styrofoam. For dirt, I’ve found that crushed graham crackers or chocolate graham crackers work well. Oreos are too black for daylight, but if you plan to display your cake in a dimmer setting, they’ll work, too! A few more tips:

  • Don’t use glaze icing, or icing that dries to a shimmering look.
  • If you’ve prepared the pan properly and it won’t release easily, use a rubber spatula to gently draw around the inside of the pan.
  • Want to make it ahead of time? Freeze the naked cake. It will keep well for a month or more and will not lose its shape. Allow it to defrost at room temperature or in the fridge. Don’t microwave it!
  • If you make a decorating mistake, cover it up with “dirt”. That’s the beauty of an unearthed cake – it doesn’t have to look perfect.
  • Do not scrub the pan. Use a faucet sprayer to gently blast out any crumbs from the crevices.
Wilton's Skeleton Cake Pan
Wilton’s Halloween Dimension 3D cake pan is made of heavy duty cast aluminum.

 Making Royal Icing One of the easiest icings to make, royal icing requires all utensils and bowl be free of any grease or oils. Here’s my tried-and-true method. You’ll need:

  • 3 tablespoons meringue powder
  • 4 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • 4-6 tablespoons warm water

Directions:

  • In a large metal bowl, mix the meringue powder and confectioner’s sugar on low speed for 30 seconds.
  • Add 4 tablespoons of water and mix on low speed for several minutes until peaks start to form. If the mixture appears too dry, slowly add more water, a teaspoon at a time.
  • Continue mixing until peaks are stiff. When you can turn a spoon upside down and the icing does not fall, it’s done.

Store icing in a clean plastic container with a tight lid.

You can freeze any unused icing for a few months. Just let it thaw at room temperature, and if necessary add a teaspoon of water.

  Plan on making this creepy cake? I want to see pictures of the finished product. Post them below!

Halloween Article & Recipe: Candy Corn Harvest

Nothing says Halloween quite like Candy Corn
Nothing says Halloween quite like Candy Corn
Nothing says Halloween quite like Candy Corn

Halloween Season is the time of year to harvest candy corn. In fact, October 30th is National Candy Corn Day. Trick-or-Treaters and party-goers the United States over enjoy a nice handful of an iconic sweet.

In the 1880’s, George Renninger developed the confection while working for the Philadelphia, PA-based Wunderle Candy Company. It imitated dried kernels of corn, featuring a wide band of yellow at the bottom, orange center, and white tips of the slightly triangular candies. Sugar, corn syrup, carnauba wax, and water are cooked to form a slurry, then fondant, marshmallows, and coloring are added.

Before mechanization, the candy was crafted by hand, but most is now made by machines.With its iconic coloring, candy corn is used as garnish and in Halloween displays. It has become such an intrinsic part of the holiday that it features in costumes, including sweet candy corn witches. Manicures and Pedicures for fashionable hands and feet sometimes feature the candy corn color combos.

Oreo Cookies now offers a seasonal Candy Corn flavor
Oreo Cookies now offers a seasonal Candy Corn flavor

Because of the popularity of the candy, special variations of candy corn are manufactured for the celebration of  holidays other than Halloween. Brown-bottomed harvest corn and plump marshmallow pumpkins lend variety to the autumn offerings. Also advertised are “Reindeer corn” featuring Christmas colors, pastel “bunny corn” for Easter, and “Cupid Corn” for Valentine’s in pink, white, and red. The National Confectioner’s Association estimates over 25 million pounds of the candy is sold annually, though traditional candy corn remains the most popular.

Recipes featuring the flavors of candy corn abound. Fudges and mousse are layered to imitate the bountiful harvest, drinks featuring the marshmallow-like flavors, and cakes come to mind. One party favorite is the Candy Corn Jello Shot, which can be made in kid-friendly or adults-only form:

 

Family friendly version of the Candy Corn Jello Shot:

Ingredients:

Box lemon Jello

Box orange Jello

2 packets unflavored gelatin

2 Cups boiling water

Whipped topping

Clear shot glasses

Preparation:

In a small bowl, combine packet of unflavored gelatin, box of lemon Jello, and 1 Cup of boiling water. Stir until dissolved. Add to clear shot glass until 1/3 full. Chill in refrigerator for 20 minutes.

Then, in a small bowl, combine packet of unflavored gelatin, box of orange Jello, and 1 Cup of boiling water. Stir until dissolved. Spoon orange mixture into shot glasses over set, yellow gelatin. Refrigerate 30 minutes. Top with whipped topping for serving.

For the ADULTS ONLY version:

Add 1 Cup boiling water to 1 box of lemon Jello. Stir to dissolve. Add 3⁄4 Cup vodka and 1⁄4 Cup cold water, stir to combine.

Fill shot glass 1/3 of the way. Chill for 20 – 45 minutes. Repeat with orange Jello, spooning orange atop yellow to another 1/3. Refrigerate for an hour. To make cream, combine 1⁄2 cup water and 1⁄2 coconut cream in a sauce pan. Sprinkle with package of unflavored gelatin. Allow to rest for 2 minutes. Stir over low heat for 5 minutes. Remove from flame. Stir in 1⁄2 cup whipped cream vodka until combined. Spoon atop the shot glasses. Chill for 3 hours or over night. Serve.

Eyeball Cake Balls

Eyeball Cake Balls
Eyeball Cake Balls
Make the eyes bloodshot by drawing with a toothpick dipped in red food coloring gel.

Looking for a unique treat for that Halloween bash? Look no further than gourmet style cake pop balls. Of course, these won’t cost you upward of $3 a piece (more like 25-cents), and they require less “perfection” than any cake or cupcake.

I’ve been making cake pops and cake balls (seriously, it’s the same thing without the stick!) for some time now, and find it difficult to keep up with requests from friends and family. But these are so easy to make.

Here’s my tried-and-true method for making these yummy treats.

  1. Bake any flavor cake as usual. For chocolate, I use the Hershey’s “Perfectly Chocolate” recipe. It’s been around for decades and it produces a tremendously moist and flavorful cake.
  2. Once cooled, spoon the cake out of the pan into a large mixer bowl. (I use a stand mixer.)
  3. Mix the cake alone on low speed until the cake is all crumbly. If the cake is moist it will start to stick together a little bit.
  4. Continue mixing, adding 1 to 2 tablespoons of buttercream frosting at a time (here’s a quick recipe) until a huge mass forms. Test the dough by squeezing and shaping it into a ball.
  5. Put the mixture into the refrigerator for an hour or more (overnight is fine).
  6. Roll the dough into 1-1/2 inch balls and lay on wax paper.
  7. Freeze the formed balls for 20-30 minutes.
  8. Melt dipping chocolate or almond bark as instructed.
  9. Dip balls into chocolate or candy coating, and use a soup spoon to spin the pop and remove excess chocolate. For creepy eyeballs I just spoon them out without spinning.
  10. Decorate as you’d like!

For the eyeballs shown here, I applied candy eyes while the vanilla coating was still wet. Once the coating hardened, I dipped a toothpick in red gel food coloring and drew the bloodshot lines.

Of course, you could get a lot fancier, er, bloodier, but under dim light, these work just fine.

Plan on making these? Be sure to post your finished pics!