Monthly Archives: October 2015

Last Minute Halloween Ideas

The past three weeks have been insane! I’ve been working like crazy. I finally handed my first cookbook off the publisher and it should be printing soon. Aside from that, I’ve taken on a ton of food writing this month. The holidays are good for food writers, but I’ve neglected my column. So here are some last minute Halloween ideas for your party tonight.

For me, creativity is key when celebrating. I don’t want to spend a ton of money, so I immediately hit a dollar-type store before I do any other buying. Then I supplement with merchandise from bigger retailers. It’s amazing what you can find for $1 to use for a party.

One of my favorite finds was a bag of plastic assorted spooky rings (a mix of spider, skulls and bats).  I use the rings around the stem of a wine glass to decorate it; use them to top cupcakes; glue them to a sturdy toothpick (the plastic variety) to skewer meatballs or fruit;  use them to decorate food plates (just be sure it’s obvious this isn’t edible).

ring wine charms

rings

You can also dangle plastic spiders from the ceiling on dental floss; place them in cobwebs; or cut a sliver into a pumpkin or winter squash and have the spiders climbing all over the pumpkin, which is how I serve one of my recipes this week.

An idea I saw online was to freeze ice in plastic gloves and then use those to chill punch. You can also fill plastic gloves with candy or popcorn to serve.

I like to add a splash of food color to drinks. I’ve found that a few drops of food dye to Moscato doesn’t seem to affect the flavor. I’ve tried other dry wines and it does change the taste; I think this works in Moscato because the wine is sweet. Just empty a bottle of Moscato into a pitcher and add 3 drops of red dye and 6 drops of yellow and stir. You can adjust the color as needed with more dye.

orange moscato

I’ve also added food dye to margaritas and it doesn’t change the taste either. If you serve orange margaritas, rim the glass in green salt and place a spider ring on the stem of the glass.

Take your favorite hummus recipe and spread it on a plate (store-bought is fine). Then buy a jar of roasted red bell peppers and puree 1 of the pepper without liquid. Place in a piping bag and make a pumpkin face on the hummus or a scary face. You can add a celery stick to the top of its head to look like a stem.

The flavor of the roasted pepper is great with hummus. It can be a little runny, so if you want to make a bloody looking creature this will serve you well.

Hummus with roased red pepper

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Halloween Fun: Assorted Dipped Spooky Pretzels

My Assorted Dipped Spooky Pretzels are a combination of pretzel rods dipped in chocolate with an almond sliver that makes it look like a finger, and pretzel ghosts dipped in almond bark with miniature chocolate chip eyes.  The great thing about Halloween is it’s the one time of year that if you mess up what you’re making it doesn’t matter because it can just look scary. For example, misplaced eyes on my pretzel sticks don’t look bad but that would be a completely different story if this was Christmas and those were snowmen. They’d look deranged.

rods laying down

Christmas and Thanksgiving are about perfection but anything goes with Halloween, which is why I think I love it so much.

These rods are fun, easy to make and yummy (I am partial to the chocolate). If you have children, they will love helping with these

rods

. I got the idea for the pretzel finger at a Halloween festival I was at last week. A vendor was selling those chocolate fingers and I thought it was a great idea to share. I have long made the bloody finger cookie for Halloween, so thought this was a nice change.

If you want a little “blood” you could always melt raspberry jam and use it as a dip. I hope you have fun with these. My daughter loves them

Spooky pretzel rods

Assorted Dipped Spooky Pretzels

1 (12-ounce) bag of pretzel rods

2 cups of miniature chocolate chips

12 ounces of almond bark (half a package)

Almond slivers to make fingernails

Black icing or chocolate chips to decorate

Parchment paper

Clean a work space and lay parchment paper out over a cookie sheet.

For the almond bark: Melt it according to package directions (there are microwave and stovetop options but I used the microwave because it was the fastest).

To keep the almond bark from getting hard, divide it in two batches and melt it in two batches and make one batch of dipped pretzels and then the other.

When it has melted, dip 2/3 of a pretzel rod in the almond bark and swirl it around to coat it.

Place it on parchment paper. Allow to cool 5 minutes and then add mini chocolate chips for the eyes, if using chocolate chips. If you are using icing instead, allow the almond bark to cool completely before drawing the eyes and mouth on with icing.

For the chocolate dipped pretzels, place chocolate in a coffee mug and microwave 30 seconds at a time, stirring between intervals, until the chocolate is melted and smooth. When it is smooth, dip the pretzel rod in the chocolate and swirl it around to coat 2/3 of it (a spoon helps with this process).

Place it on parchment paper and carefully add an almond sliver at the top to look like a finger nail.

Cool completely before serving (1-2 hours).

Spooky Squash Stuffed with Roasted Garlic Hummus

My Halloween fun continues! I’ve mentioned before that I love hummus. I eat it all the time. And I didn’t even know that it has a low glycemic index. I just found that out this week.

One thing I don’t love in hummus though is an overwhelming amount of garlic. This hummus is mild but has a rich flavor because I roast the garlic first.

Roasted garlic adds so much depth of flavor and you can use the remaining garlic cloves to create a second easy dip for your party (see the instructions under my recipe).

You can make this a day in advance, just be sure to cover the hummus with plastic wrap. Happy Halloween

I served it to company last night and they loved it.

You can make a little sign on a toothpick so guests know what they are eating. I love doing that at parties.

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Spooky Squash Stuffed with Roasted Garlic Hummus

1 small Kabocha Squash

1 head of garlic (you will roast it all, but only use three cloves)

Extra virgin olive oil for drizzling

1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas

1 1/2 tablespoons of the chickpea liquid reserved from the can

3 tablespoons tahini

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

3 cloves of roasted garlic (see recipe below)

3/4 teaspoon ground cumin

¼ teaspoon salt or to taste

To roast the garlic, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Take an entire head of garlic and cut off the white tops of the garlic and drizzle it with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. You are not peeling the garlic, you just want to cut off the tops to expose all the cloves.

Wrap garlic in aluminum foil and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until the head of garlic has caramelized (your house will smell incredible). Allow to cool and then squeeze out the garlic cloves.

Before making hummus, reserve some of the liquid from the chickpeas and drain the rest of the can.

In a food processor, combine the chickpeas, chickpea liquid, tahini, olive oil, lemon juice, roasted garlic, cumin and salt and pulse until smooth. Adjust salt, if desired.

Cut off the top of the Kabocha squash and remove the seeds and any stringy flesh. Use a knife to cut thin slits around the outside of the squash top and even the base, if desired. Stuff plastic spider rings in these crevices or any other creepy ring. Fill the center of the squash with hummus. Serve with pita chips and vegetables.

Tip: Serve the rest of the roasted garlic as a dip. Chop the cloves and add it to ½ cup of extra virgin olive oil. Warm it slightly (just slightly) on the stove top and add ½ teaspoon Italian seasoning, ¼ teaspoon rosemary and 2 tablespoons shredded Parmesan cheese, a dash of salt, and serve it with French bread.

I couldn’t decide which way I wanted to style my photos this week. Black background or orange? Spider web or no spider web? Which do you prefer?

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Halloween Party Ideas: Sundried Tomato Spider Web Pesto Dip

As far as I’m concerned, pre-Halloween planning kicks off the holiday season in our house. Truth be told, this is my Christmas season, too.

I simply relish every day between now and Dec. 26, when I slip into immediate post-holiday depression. But until then, it’s fun, fun, fun

Halloween falls on Saturday this year so celebrations are bound to be big! Spending is expected to top $6.9 billion, according to the National Retail Federation. Adult spending on costumes now outpaces spending on children’s costumes proving I’m not alone in loving this spooky day.

And I am never short of ideas when it comes to Halloween. I plan to post a new recipe or party idea every day this week for Halloween. I am stoked.

This dip isn’t just fun, it is absolutely delicious! Try it. You won’t be sorry.

Sundried Tomato Spider Web Pesto Dip

1 (8-ounce) block of cream cheese, softened

2 ounces feta cheese crumbles

½ cup jarred pesto sauce

Half an (8.5 ounce) jar julienned sundried tomatoes

1 fake spider for the center

French bread to serve

Allow cream cheese to come to room temperature on the counter for an hour or so. Then stir it with feta cheese until well combined.

Spread the mixture on a medium-sized round plate. Smooth pesto over the top.

Use a toothpick to draw a spider web into the cream cheese. Slice sundried tomato pieces as uniform as possible to make a web. Then use those slices to craft the web on the pesto.

When done, place a fake spider in the middle of the dip. Serve with French bread to spread this dip.

Five-Minute Pumpkin Mousse

If you only try one new pumpkin recipe this fall, let it be my Five-Minute Pumpkin Mousse.

Don’t let the word “mousse” intimidate you because this is as easy as it gets: it takes five minutes and has five ingredients. You simply whisk together sweetened condensed milk, canned pumpkin, pumpkin pie spice, and whipped topping. Then serve it with gingersnap cookies for dipping (although the velvety mousse is delicious on its own).

I’ve created a variety of pumpkin mousse recipes over the years, but this is my best.

I gave my 3-year-old – who is hesitant to try new things – a bite and asked if she wanted another bite. She said: “I want the whole thing,” and promptly took it from my hands. She licked the bowl clean.

My husband said he could bathe in this; my mom said it was better than pumpkin pie. The rave reviews have ensued every time I make it (and I am sure you’ll get the same response).

This recipe will be a winner this holiday season. It’s even better after a few hours of refrigeration, but can be served immediately, too.

This mousse would be great at your Halloween party. Simply carve out a small pie pumpkin and fill it with mousse and serve it with Gingersnap cookies.

Five-Minute Pumpkin Mousse

Makes 20 (2-ounce) servings

1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk

1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin puree

1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

1 (8-ounce) tub of whipped topping, defrosted

Mini Gingersnap cookies to garnish

Beat or stir together sweetened condensed milk, pumpkin, pumpkin pie spice and whipped topping, until combined.

Pour mixture into 2-ounce glasses and top with a gingersnap cookie. Serve immediately.

Other serving options: If you have a smaller crowd and want to serve larger portions, you can serve pumpkin mousse in wine glasses with or without a cookie. You can also crumble cookies and put them on top.

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Lower Carb Amazing Red Sauce over Spaghetti Squash

The sauce is so delectable and rich, you will not miss the pasta. You will shed about 30 carbs per cup from this dish though.

If you’ve never tried it, spaghetti squash is a big yellow squash that you bake and when it’s done, you use a fork to shred the flesh and it turns into strings that resemble noodles. It’s a healthier, lower-carb option than past; a cup of spaghetti squash has less than 10 carbs compared to about 40 carbs in pasta.

My amazing red sauce was adapted from a recipe my dear friend Heather Landwer gave me a few years ago. I had my own red sauce recipe at the time, but it took about 5 hours to make and this one is just as good but takes about 1 hour and 10 minutes (most of that time is just simmering). It is an intense, thick red sauce and it pairs perfectly with spaghetti squash. I liked the combination so much, I will not use traditional pasta again with this dish.

Amazing Red Sauce over Spaghetti Squash

Serves 4

1 (16-ounce) package Jimmy Dean Sage or Hot sausage

1 large white onion

1 tablespoon sugar

1 tablespoon dried oregano

1 tablespoon dried basil

1 (12-ounce) can tomato paste (note, this is the big size)

1 tomato paste can filled with water

1 (15-ounce) can diced or stewed tomatoes

1 large garlic clove, chopped

2 bay leaves

1 large spaghetti squash

Olive oil and salt

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Cut spaghetti squash in half and remove the seeds and strings in the cavity. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle salt on the flesh. Pierce the flesh with a knife in several places. Place on a baking sheet and bake for 1 hour.

While the squash cooks, chop a large white onion. In a pot or pan with a tight lid, fry the sausage and onion together. When sausage is nearly cooked, add oregano, basil and sugar.

When it’s cooked through, drain the fat off the sausage and return the mixture to the pan. Add tomato paste, water, tomatoes, garlic, bay leaves and bring to a boil for 1 minute. Then reduce to a simmer, cover and simmer for 1 hour.

When the squash is done, remove it from the oven and use a fork to shred the inside. Continue to shred until you have removed all the flesh away from the shell. Serve topped with red sauce.

Easy Acorn Squash Stuffed with Circle B Ranch Italian Sausage and Trio of Peppers

What a week. I had planned this for dinner Monday but didn’t get a chance to make it until lunch on Friday. This easy dish comes together in 20 minutes or less (that tells you how busy my week was when I couldn’t even fit this in).

I used sweet Italian sausage from Circle B Ranch, a small hog farm in Seymour, Mo., that is certified Humanely Raised and has great products. I’ve been to the farm and the hogs are healthy and roam freely.

For this dish, I simply microwaved the squash, sautéed all my other ingredients and then stuffed them into the cooked squash. I drizzled it all with 18-year-old balsamic vinegar. An excellent quality balsamic vinegar is a must in this dish which has a lot of sweet accents from the sausage and squash and the vinegar just pulls them all together.

Serves 2

1 acorn squash

1 Italian sausage links

1 small red onion

Half a red bell pepper

Half a green bell pepper

Half a yellow bell pepper

1 small garlic clove

Excellent quality aged balsamic vinegar for drizzling

Directions:

Cut acorn squash in half and scrape out the seeds. Stab the flesh several times with a sharp knife. Season with salt and pepper and place 1 teaspoon of butter or olive oil in the cavity of each half. Place in a microwave safe dish with 1/2 cup of water on the bottom. Cover with plastic wrap and microwave on high for 12-15 minutes, or until tender.

As that cooks, chop red onion, red, yellow and green bell peppers; and garlic.

In a nonstick pan, sauté the onion and sausage (remove the casing first) together until almost done. When the sausage is about a minute away from being cooked through, add the bell peppers and onions and cook 2 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.

By now, the squash will be done. Carefully remove the plastic wrap and don’t put your hand in front of the steam.

Stuff filling into the cavity of each. Drizzle generously with balsamic vinegar and serve.