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Sunday, October 31, 2010

Tips: Roasting Pumpkin Seeds + Recipe

Happy Halloween from Goober and Baby Pumpkin

Top 5 Halloween Candy Picks
1. Black & Orange Peanut butter chews
2. Toostie Rolls
3. Mary Janes
4. Baby Ruth
5. Peppermint Patty

Not much to say tonight; it's Halloween! We at SPUDS hope you have a spectacular evening full of responsible revelry and outrageous costumes. Last night, while cruising the old haunting ground at the university, (more on that trip later) I spied some really dubious sites: a banana rave in the front yard, a papier maiche alligator on his cell phone, even a headless pig-boy with his tail tucked in his pants... And while I'll never know what possessed him, a presumably single college aged male, to dress up as a felted pink piglet I can, at least, respect his noble taste.

If you're carving up your jack-o-lanterns try these tips for a deliciously simple, and waist line friendly, snack: De-gunk the seeds with your fingers and then rinse them briefly in a bowl of cool water. Let them dry out on a baking sheet until you're ready to roast them. Mix up whatever blend of seasonings you like, roast and enjoy.

Don't forget! If you've got a great photo of your costume, or a top notch pumpkin seed spice blend, post it to the SPUDS fan page on Facebook @ FB!

Notes on seasoning: according to some sources, boiling your seeds in salted water is the surest way evenly season your seeds. I skipped this step in both trays of my seeds. But, if you're interested the directions are as follows:
  • Heat 4 cups of water with 2 tablespoons salt and 1 cup of pumpkin seeds. Boil for 10 minutes then drain and allow to dry slightly before seasoning.

1 cup fresh, washed pumpkin seeds
1/2 tablespoon olive oil or butter
1 teaspoon salt

1 cups of fresh, washed pumpkin seeds
1/2 tablespoon olive oil or butter
1-1 1/2 tablespoon spice blend (try: salt, cumin and cayenne)


1. Preheat your oven to 275.

2. Spread the seeds out on a non-stick cookie sheet. Toss with the oil or butter and dust with spices.

3. Roast 10-20 minutes. Stir the seeds with a fork every five minutes until crisp and lightly brown. Depending on your oven temperature the roasting time may change.

4. Let the seeds cool completely before you store them so they don't get soft.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Chocolate Brownie Cake

Now with a fresh chocolate rat:

Have I every told you that I work in a chocolate shop? Well, I do and I can say that after twelve months the aroma of chocolate lacks none of its original splendor. Of course, it is more of a lingering eau de chocolat to me now than a knock your socks off bouquet. Regardless, I consider myself somewhat impervious to the charms of chocolate, having worked so intimately with it for so long. That all changed the minute I encountered this "Chocolate Brownie Cake" batter; I vigorously inhaled glutenous, needy breathes of the stuff with my nose mere inches from the bowl. Of course, I've always been a proponent of the brownie. Freshman year my suite gave me a cookbook all about cookies and brownies; a month later their generous, if premeditated, efforts were rewarded with a big platter of double chocolate brownies. A few months after that I found one of my all-time favorite cookbooks on the discount table at the campus bookstore, "How to be a Domestic Goddess" by Nigella Lawson. Three years and six months later I discovered the hands down best brownie recipe known to mankind inside that very book. Seriously, you don't want me to post it. For starters, you won't eat just one and just one will satisfy an entire day's worth of calories. Secondly, it requires about fifteen dollars worth of chocolate-more if you intend on buying the good stuff. And trust me, you want the good stuff.

With that in mind I spent the better part of yesterday afternoon ravaging websites for affordable brownie recipes, preferably something that I could convert into mini-muffin brownie bites. After dinner, with failure looming, it hit me: Rich Chocolate Brownie Cake from "Williams-Sonoma Holiday Entertaining"(2007). It was exactly the recipe I was looking for: it is a great dessert for almost any occasion. The batter is very simple to make and it bakes up in only 30 minutes. The "cake" comes out of the pan very easily, thanks to the buttered tin foil (genius), with a shiny flaky top. My only complaint is that my cake fell slightly after baking. At first, I thought it was my fault; I am human, after all. But, upon inverting the cake I realized that although the recipe says to place the cake "right side up" on the serving dish those sneaky foodies decorated the cake when it was inverted to portray a robust and perfectly level cake! Tricksters, thieves and sell-outs! Then again, maybe they just used magic... Although I do feel a sense of betrayal now when I look at that beautiful cookbook cover, I am proud to display my homely, crest-fallen brownie cake and its resplendent, if possibly plague ridden, chocolate rat. He tastes better than any photograph possibly could.

Notes on decorating:
I imagined decorating this cake with a fudge icing and about a hundred candy corn pieces but, in the end, I decided to stick with the stenciling effect prompted in the book. Stores like Crate and Barrell have a variety of cake and cupcake stencils but you don't need anything fancy to stencil like a pro. Use cookie cutters to trace shapes, or free-hand whatever design you'd like, on card stock or waxed paper. Add a dusting of powdered sugar and then remove your stencil. Viola! For an even more impressive presentation try decorating this cake with fresh raspberries for a romantic twist, a smooth veil of ganache for a rich finish or cheeky rosettes of cream cheese frosting. For more creepy Halloween ideas try:
  • Spider Webs: Fill a ziplock bag with 2 oz melted white chocolate, cutting off one corner (don't make the cut too large). Pipe three concentric circles onto the cake, starting in the center. Then, starting at one side of the cake, drag a knife through each of the circles without lifting it. Repeat to create a web design.
  • Chocolate Rat: Create a rat stencil using card stock or waxed paper. Using the rat cut out, place it in the center of your cake. Dust powdered sugar over the entire cake and then remove the cut out. Outline your rat in melted chocolate or chocolate icing, fill it in and then smooth any bubbles. Add a red hot, a red sprinkle or even a red M & M for an eye.


Rich Chocolate Brownie Cake from "Williams-Sonoma Holiday Entertaining"(2007)

1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup flour, sifted
4 oz good quality semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate
1 teaspoon cinnamon, optional

1. Preheat your oven to 350. Press a single sheet of tin foil into an 8" round cake pan, pressing to make it fit snugly. Let the extra foil hang out over the sides. Butter the tin foil with shortening, butter or cooking spray.
2. Cream the butter and sugar together with a hand mixer. Add the vanilla and your eggs, lightly beaten. Beat the mixture together.
3. Melt your chocolate in a double boiler, or according to the package directions in the microwave. Set aside to cool slightly.
4. Sift your dry ingredients and add them to the butter mixture in thirds, mixing well after each addition.
5. Add the chocolate to the batter, mixing well.
6. Pour the batter into your prepared cake pan, patting gently on the bottom to remove any air bubbles. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a tooth pick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool completely in the pan on a wire rack.
7. To remove the cake from the pan: run a knife around the edge of the cake, then place your serving dish on top of the cake. Invert the pan and the cake should wiggle free of its own accord onto the cake dish (it will be upside down). If this doesn't happen right away you can gently coax the cake out by patting on the bottom of the pan to help loosen it. Remove the tin foil. Placing another plate on the top of the cake (or you hand) flip the cake over and slide it onto your serving dish right side up.

Quibble: I can't move my photos around within the post. How do I, a less than HTML savy bandita, sandwich photos between big blocks of text?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Hocus Pocus Punch

A very Macbeth Halloween:

"Double, double toil and trouble;
fire burn and cauldron bubble."

-Shakespeare, Macbeth

Yesterday was dreadful, so dreadful that I don't think I can put you, my generous and supportive audience, through the laborious task of reading exactly what happened. I'll just say this: you will have to wait until November for "Cinnamon Apple Chips". There. Of course, I was kindly reminded later that, all things considered, the day wasn't as dreadful as I was making it out to be. Feeling as melancholy as I was at the time, despite that very sage advice, I couldn't help but be reminded of Shakespeare's "Macbeth". Who else could relate to so much extensive planning going so wrong so quickly? So I burned the apple chips, to a robust black crisp, after spending the better part of two days prepping them for dehydration... Better burned chips than guilt driven insanity, regicide and an untimely beheading. Don't we all feel better now? Never fear, this recipe is only insanely easy-and pretty fool proof. Adding a few drops of food coloring turns these drinks from a classic punch to a frosty, creamy brew perfect for Halloween.

Notes: I like ginger-ale, especially the really zippy stuff, but feel free to try any other lemon-lime soda or maybe even a bubbly fruit drink. Feel free to play around with the colors (black, red, purple etc) and your ratios of ice cream to sherbet, too!

Serves 6

1/2 gallon vanilla ice cream
1/2 gallon lime or orange sherbet
1 liter ginger ale
green, black food coloring

1. Fill a tall glass 3/4 of the way full with vanilla ice cream. Add a couple of drops of food coloring (black, orange or green are good places to start).
2. Fill the glass halfway with ginger-ale. You might need to stir the food coloring around a little. 3. Finish the punch with one or two scoops of sherbet. Top the glass off with the remainder of your ginger-ale.
4. Serve immediately.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Gingerbread Cookies


Whenever I think of gingerbread I think of something really dark and spicy, the sort of thing you find in a fairytale cooling on a window sill in the most wicked little village. Here in the States gingerbread is all but extinct outside of Christmas parties or holiday bake sales and, after a pivotal experience last weekend, I have decided this is a travesty. Considering just how short the holiday season feels after the rat race of commercialism, limiting gingerbread to one month out of the year just doesn't make sense. Europeans have been enjoying the luxurious delights of gingerbread at festivals for centuries. At medieval tournaments these delightful cookies were given as tokens of good luck and courtly love. With that in mind I decided that instead of baking some insipid little sugar cookies (no offense) I would find a recipe that evoked the sort of spicy, haunting aroma that would tempt even the most well-behaved spirits the season has to offer. Cut out in macabre shapes you'll never miss those run-of-the-mill butter cookies drizzled with drippy icing.

Coincidentally, last weekend I bought a square of gingerbread dusted with powdered sugar to snack on while driving home from the orchard with a slew of other seasonal delicacies: cider, apple butter, pumpkins etc. Nonetheless, the dense, barely sweet loaf was a true testament to the aromatic-and according to medieval scholars aphrodisiac-powers of the stuff. I was smitten, immediately. That same powdered sugar dusting was so appropriate and so inspiring I decided my ghosts needed a similar treatment after cooling (see photo). The heavily molasses scented loaf is more of a recent occurrence nonetheless- traditional gingerbread came more commonly in the form of cookies cut into a myriad of shapes. Regardless, chased with a perfectly untraditional apple cider slushy the gingerbread was a definitive treat after trudging through snarled vines, pumpkin guts and squash hungry 5 year olds.

These cookies turn out beautifully and need very little flour to roll out. They will darken very slightly around the edges during baking but do an excellent job of retaining their shape. The first pan turned out a hair crispier than I had hoped but were just as delicious as the second pan which still had a little pudgy softness in the center. Do not roll your dough out too thinly to help protect your cookies from burning. The 2 teaspoons of finely diced crystallized ginger are optional, of course. I just really enjoy the surprisingly little crunch and spice the extra ginger provides. I can say honestly that this recipe is very close to perfection. My only complaint, if it can even be called a complaint, is that I personally would prefer a little less salt. The original recipe calls for 1 1/2 teaspoons but I reduced it to 1 1/4. The difference is very subtle but for someone who is sensitive to salt it will make a difference. Listen to your own palate and bake accordingly.

Notes on spices: Ginger is a handy spice-I like to keep a little crystallized ginger in the pantry as well as a treat-especially during the colder months. Ginger has been toted for centuries for its digestive qualities. Try some Ginger Tea with lemon and honey to help relieve nausea or indigestion. You should already have cinnamon in your pantry but cloves will probably be a new addition to your spice cabinet. They are not the cheapest spice but because of their robust flavor you should use cloves very sparingly in your cooking and baking. Not being made of money, I like to keep ground cloves on hand but you can also buy them whole when they would be especially good for mulling wine or cider. Trust me, they are worth the investment.

Shopping List:

"Patti Paige's Gingerbread" from "The Best of Martha Stewart Living Holidays"(1993)

1 stick plus 2 1/2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 egg
3/4 cup molasses
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1. Cream butter and sugar together. Add the spices, egg and molasses and beat well.
2. Sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture and mix until combined.
3. Chill dough in plastic wrap or an air-tight container for a minimum of 2 hours.
4. Heat the oven to 350 and grease a cookie sheet.
5. Roll out the cookies on a well-floured work surface, or between two sheets of waxed paper dusted with a little flour. Roll to a 1/4 inch thickness. Cut out shapes using floured cookie cutters.
6. Bake the cookies for 8-10 minutes. Cool completely and then dust with some powdered sugar, if desired.

Historical information provided by "A Brief History of Gingerbread"

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Witches Fingers

and wizard wands:

Sir Bevedere:
"There are ways of telling whether she is a witch."
Peasants: "Are there? What are they? Tell us, tell us."
Sir Bevedere: "Tell me, what do you do with witches?"
Peasants: "Buuurn, burn them up..."
Sir Bevedere: "What do you burn apart from witches?"
Peasant 1: "More witches!"

Is there anything more gruesome than a vase full of knotted, slime green witches fingers? What could be more magical than a trip to Ollivanders? There are tons of molds on the market for creepy, crawly chocolate digits-but who wants to pay for a chocolate mold you can only use once a year? These chocolate covered pretzels are incredibly easy and inexpensive to make. The catch: they don't photograph easily. But, I promise they are the perfect mix of salty, sweet and crunchy. Maybe it is just me but I don't think I can bring myself to really eat something that looks like a squishy, still warm finger, even if it is just puff pastry.

I've always had a soft spot in my heart for witchery, and these chocolate-pretzel treats are no exception. I will never forget stirring a big silver wash basin full of soapy water and wild garlic and telling my very superstitious neighbor that I was brewing a potion-I was only 11 or 12-I think she actually believed me. Of course, a few months later a friend and I espied the same neighbor chasing the "ghost" of her husband's first wife around the upstairs with an upended broom. This year October brought a pot of lavender to her stoop to ward off spirits. I guess my teasing made an impact all those years ago... That, or she really is as crazy as we neighborhood children always suspected.

Notes: The best part of Halloween, for me at least, is its down right shamelessly gaudy nature. With that in mind the more sprinkles and chocolate squiggles the better for these treats! Think slime green, an eye popping purple and pumpkin orange for starters. You could also roll the Wizard Wands in toasted, chopped nuts or even crumbled candy bars or just double dip them in chocolate and butterscotch morsels. The sky is the limit!

Tempering chocolate:
  • Don't freeze or refrigerate chocolate. Very often this will cause the chocolate to turn, giving it a dull or powdery appearance.
  • Try and keep your chocolate at a constant temperature once it has been heated. Using a double boiler makes this easier. If you heat and reheat chocolate in the microwave too often the aforementioned dull, cracked appearance is more likely to occur.
  • Work in batches. Don't feel like you need to do everything all at once.
  • Turn on the AC. Try and keep the air around your drying chocolate cool so that it sets up faster and has a more even appearance. Do not refrigerate!
Witches Fingers
1 (4 ounce) white chocolate baking bar
1 1/2 teaspoons vegetable oil
almonds (for the finger nails)
10 pretzel rods
food coloring: green, yellow

1. Fill a pot with a little water and set a heat proof bowl on top. Heat the water over low until it simmers gently.
2. Break up the chocolate and place it in heat proof bowl.
3. Stir the chocolate as it heats up until it is smooth and totally melted. Add 1 1/2 teaspoonfuls of oil and 4 drops each of green and yellow dye, stirring until combined.
4. When the chocolate is runny and slimy green line a baking sheet with waxed paper.
5. Spoon the chocolate over the pretzel rod, smoothing it with the back of a spoon, covering all but 1/4 of the pretzel.
6. Press a "nail" onto the wet chocolate and set aside to dry. If you want you can drizzle the fingers with other chocolates or sprinkles. Store your fingers at room temperature, covered.

Wizard Wands
1/4 cup semi-sweet, bittersweet or milk chocolate chips
Assorted sprinkles
food coloring: black (optional)

1. Fill a pot with a little water and set a heat proof bowl on top. Heat the water over low until it simmers gently.
2. Break up the chocolate and place it in heat proof bowl.
3. Stir in a drop or two of vegetable oil and any food coloring you might be using.
4. Line a baking pan with waxed paper.
5. Spoon the chocolate over your pretzels until all but a 1/4 of it is covered. Roll the pretzel in your sprinkles or drizzle with extra chocolate and then set aside to dry.
6. Store you wands covered at room temperature.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Spiced Pumpkin Spread

Bagels, snaps and "macaroons":

Backwards up the mossy glen
Turned and trooped the goblin men,
With their shrill repeated cry,
"Come buy, come buy."
When they reached where Laura was
They stood stock still upon the moss,
Leering at each other
One set his basket down,
One reared his plate;
One began to weave a crown
Of tendrils, leaves, and rough nuts brown
(Men sell not such in any town);
One heaved the golden weight
Of dish and fruit to offer her:
"Come buy, come buy," was still their cry.

-"Goblin Market", Christina Rossetti

I made this spread a few days ago but through the course of the weekend I just couldn't find the time to post it! Last night I came home from a tournament with just enough energy to take a relaxing yoga class instead of photographing my imposter "pumpkin macaroons". Sorry guys. As soon as I sat down this morning to blab about this sumptuous, embarrassingly simple, spread I got completely side-tracked by the aforementioned poem. It really is one of my favorites. And while there is something wonderful about those pinch-faced little goblins tramping around with platters of summer fruit: "Crab-apples, dewberries, Pine-apples, blackberries, Apricots, strawberries--", I like to imagine them with big acorn bowls of this pumpkin spread, juggling blood-red poison apples and goblets of honey-wine instead.

"Spiced Pumpkin Spread" is the perfect treat to keep on hand before the droves of candy corn and caramel take over. Sadly, I am very short-handed on kitschy plates and dishes for Halloween; it was one of the things I intended on remedying this afternoon. But, after standing in line for twenty minutes at the fabric store, in addition to thirty minutes fighting droves of children at the craft store, I came home more or less empty handed. I take that back: I am now the proud owner of a cylinder of black and orange jimmy sprinkles. I suppose the spooky, autumnal morning light will have to make up for my lack of ceramic pumpkin plates and goblin candle holders. Which reminds me... I am without even the tiniest gourd, much less a homely orange pumpkin, these days. I had better go and remedy that before the festivity police catches me empty-handed.

Notes: Although they look similar canned pumpkin is different than "Pumpkin Pie filling". This recipe calls for plain canned pumpkin. Cream cheese is great to keep on hand because it can be used in so many different recipes. Here, it allows the spread to be extremely versatile: a topping for toasty bagels, a dip for spice cookies or even the filling for "macaroon" style treats. Try sandwiching a teaspoonful of spread between two gingersnap cookies for a nice change; you can even freeze them for 30 minutes for a cool treat.

2 (8 ounce) bars of cream cheese
1 cup (8 ounces) canned pumpkin
1 box (16 ounces) powdered sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

gingersnaps (optional), to serve

1. Bring the cream cheese to room temperature. Using a hand mixer beat the cream cheese and pumpkin along with the cinnamon and nutmeg.
2. Slowly sift the powdered sugar, in thirds, into the pumpkin mixture. Blend after each addition.
3. Chill before serving. The dip will keep covered in the fridge for 3-4 days.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Sweet Potato and Orange Cupcakes

Because you deserve them:

Owls, oatmeal cakes
Cinnamon, candy corn, caramel apples
Tootsie rolls, tooth aches, tombstones
Orange pumpkins
Brown bags, bats, black cats
Eye balls, early evenings
Raking leaves, rainy days, ramshackle houses

I don't think I even need to tell you how excited I am it is October. It is my very favorite month(Firefly... anyone?) The last two days have been deliciously dismal thanks to tropical storms pushing up the Atlantic. With all the drizzly, spooky weather I decided to dedicate the month of October exclusively to sweet treats and spooky party snacks! It is something I've been wanting to do for a long time. I shiver to think of pages full of spider "bites" and cream cheese "eye balls" and sugar cookies oozing with runny green and black icing. (insert raptures here)

Of course, I can't jump the gun and post something fit for the grave right off the bat. Suspense is important. Luckily, I had a little inspiration from a cooking challenge where the ingredients were sweet potato, orange and garlic. Don't worry, the garlic didn't make the cut in this recipe. These "Sweet Potato and Orange Cupcakes" are the perfect autumn treat, if I may say so myself. They are also one of the easiest cupcake recipes I know: everything is mixed up together in the same bowl without much fuss. The cup of sweet potato means they are a little unexpected, made even more so by the charming orange glaze used in place of a traditional icing. The key to a nice round pumpkin orange color? Buy a premixed orange dye. I know we don't support extravagance around these parts but buying a nice variety box of food dye (beyond the traditional red, yellow, blue, green) goes a long way when it comes to making brilliant colors. I happen to have a "Harvest" collection with orange, hunter green, burgundy and black that I absolutely love. To further the impressive quality of these cupcakes attempts were made to make crunchy pyramids of praline to top them but, I think a graphic piece of candy corn does a better job of heralding all the spooks and thrills the end of the month has in store.

Notes: I like to microwave my sweet potato wrapped in a little waxed paper. The potatoes end up moist and perfectly cooked. Plus, it saves you a lot of time. You can bake the cupcakes up to 5 days in advance stored at room temperature in an airtight container but wait to make the icing until you are ready to ice and serve the cakes. At the earliest I would suggest decorating your cupcakes the morning of the day you are serving them. After a day or two the cupcakes remain moist but the icing, and especially the candy corn, starts to crystallize and break down. This recipes make 12 cupcakes.

Grocery List:
sweet potatoes
1 orange
candy corn

Adapted from a Virginia Hospitality recipe for "Pumpkin Bread"
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil + 1 teaspoon oil
2 eggs
zest of one orange
2 tablespoon orange juice
1 cup cooked sweet potato

1. Preheat the oven to 350. Insert liners into your muffin tin(s).
2. Sift the dry ingredients: flour, sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, salt.
3. Add the dry ingredients to a large bowl. Add the wet ingredients: vegetable oil, orange zest and juice, eggs, sweet potato and mix well.
4. Fill the muffin tins 3/4 full-I like to use an ice cream scoop.
5. Bake the cupcakes for 15-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cupcake comes out clean. Cool completely before icing.

Orange glaze
3/4 cup powdered sugar
scant 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
juice of 1/2 an orange

1. Whisk the ingredients together in a small bowl. Add additional juice or powdered sugar until the desired consistency is reached. You want the dressing to be runny but not too soupy that it drips right off the cupcakes. You will need to smooth it around the top of the cupcake with the back of a spoon.
2. Add the dye and whisk until combined.