Sunday, October 28, 2012

Quick Sips: Party Punch with Creepy Frozen Hand

Looking through my already cluttered cupboards, I’m forced to confront an ugly reality: There is just no room for a punch bowl.

More’s the pity, since this Party Punch (courtesy of a leaflet produced by Albertson’s grocery stores) is one tasty libation.  However, I have to admit, it tasted just fine poured from a pitcher.

Punch has not advanced much since the days when everyone did have a punch bowl in their cupboard, and that’s okay. This simple but sublime concoction has timeless appeal.  And with the addition of my Creepy Frozen Hand, you’re all set for Halloween.
Already starting to disintegrate ...

Party Punch

1 c. orange juice
¼ c. lemon juice
1 pt. cranberry juice cocktail
1 c. pineapple juice
1 pt. apple cider
2 qts. chilled ginger ale

Combine all ingredients except ginger ale; mix well. Just before serving, pour over ice in punch bowl; add ginger ale. Yield: 30 punch-cup servings

Creepy Frozen Hand

1 non-latex rubber glove
2-3 packages fruit “gusher” fruit snacks

Distribute fruit snacks into empty glove (making sure to put some in each finger and thumb) and fill with water to about 2” from wrist.  Tie off and freeze until hard, 4-5 hours. When frozen, carefully cut glove away from hand, and float in punchbowl.

Once it starts melting, the fruit snacks sink to the bottom.
·      I used fresh-squeezed orange and lemon juice.
·      I also used unsweetened cranberry juice, but this is definitely NOT SWEET, so test-drive a small amount before you commit to serving it to 30 people.

Why Don’t You …
·      Use real fruit instead of fruit snacks? Grapes, strawberries, kiwi … all would “bleed” nicely into the ice.

Friday, October 19, 2012

"Meat-in-the-Moon" (Baked Stuffed Pumpkin)

Look at this jaunty little fellow!
After a month full of sweet pumpkin treats, it was nice to find this gem tucked away in the mouthful of a mini cookbook, “The Pumpkin Kid Treats You To: 13 Great Ways to Celebrate Halloween.” Love the Pumpkin Kid: a dancing pumpkin/Robin Hood hybrid. I also love the fact that this mini cookbook was produced by (wait for it): The Halloween Celebration Committee. Wow. If I knew this was a valid professional aspiration back when I was 9, you can bet I would have had a comeback for every endless “And what do you want to be when you grow up, sweetie?” query thrown my way. (Beats my standard answer, a telephone operator, any day.)

Yes, back in 1983, the HCC and the Toy Manufacturers of America teamed up to produce this quite exhaustively thorough guide to all-things Halloween. Inside, there is an extensive history of Halloween; ideas for Halloween activities that quickly move beyond your standard Trick-or-Treating; tips on painting on a clown face; magic tricks; and finally, recipes!

Stuffed and glistening with melted butter.
Meat-in-the-Moon hails from Jamaica, according to the recipe notes, and is a fun dish for a child in any country.  Since my son and I had spent the day at a pumpkin patch, I thought it was quite appropriate to cook up a sweet sugar pie pumpkin and continue the celebration.

Slicing open a sugar pie pumpkin is harder than it looks (and no tips from the Pumpkin Kid). I would have had a real Halloween horror story on my hands if the knife had slipped. But, fortunately, I persevered, digits intact, and got it sawed apart. After scooping out the innards, a quick parboil prepares the “moon” for the “meat.”

Beautiful ... but still raw!
And really, the filling is a meatloaf – much loved in my house. Fairly straightforward and easy. I balked, however, when instructed to coat the outside of the pumpkin with ¼ lb. of butter. Pumpkin Kid, didn’t they know about cholesterol in 1983? I had to downsize the butter by half.

Here, the recipe loses some credence. The instructions say to cook for 45 minutes. But my pumpkin was still hard, so back it went for another 10. Then, the pumpkin was soft enough, but my meat was rare. At that point, fall festivities or no, my hungry family had had enough, and I finished it off with an additional 20 minutes in the microwave.

Though I love squash, I hadn’t eaten a pumpkin cooked as a savory side dish in quite awhile. I was pleasantly surprised by its mild flavor and texture. The meatloaf filling was mild, too, so we enjoyed dipping it in A1 and ketchup. It’s nice to have a dish that makes both the main and side dishes for you in one (fairly easy) swoop. As far as pumpkin dishes go, this was a nice change from the ubiquitous breads and muffins so popular this time of year.

And, Halloween Celebration Committee: My resume is available upon request.

“Meat-in-the-Moon” (Baked Stuffed Pumpkin)

1 medium pumpkin (the size of a child’s rubber ball, about 2 to 3 lbs.), unpeeled
1 lb. ground beef
1 medium onion, chopped
A complete meal contained in one humble squash.
¼ cup bread crumbs
½ tsp. oregano
1 Tbs. pine nuts
Salt and pepper to taste
¼ lb. melted butter
1 cup water
Parsley for garnish

Cut off the top of the pumpkin one-quarter of the way down from the top and put aside. Scoop out stringy membranes and seeds with a spoon. Put both pieces of pumpkin into a large pot of boiling, salted water and parboil for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, mix beef, onion, bread crumbs, oregano and pine nuts; salt and pepper to taste.  Drain pumpkin by placing upside down on paper towels and then fill the cavity with the meat mixture. Add the top as a cover. Place in a buttered baking dish, brush the outside of the pumpkin with melted butter and add 1 cup water to bottom of the dish. Bake for 45 minutes at 350-degrees in a preheated oven. To determine if pumpkin is done, remove top of pumpkin and pierce the inside flesh with a knife to see if it is tender. Remove carefully with two wide spatulas and place on a serving dish. Ring with sprigs of curly parsley.
Pumpkin Kid, are those go-go boots?

·       Don’t salt and pepper the RAW MEAT to taste. C’mon, Pumpkin Kid, we’ll soon be calling you the Salmonella Kid with this kind of behavior.
·      The recipe doesn't specify, but you'll want to use a sugar pumpkin. They're smaller, sweeter and much less stringy than the big "jack-o-lanterns."
·      As noted above, I used 2 T. melted butter.
·      My pumpkin and meat took about 65-70 minutes to cook. Start checking with your meat thermometer at 50 minutes. The size of your squash is going to make an impact here, obviously.

Why Don’t You …
·      Fill the pumpkin with your favorite meatloaf recipe. I think the pumpkin could really stand up to some more assertive spices or flavors.
·      What about making this more of a stuffed-pepper recipe? Scramble-fry the beef, onion and spices and then stuff? You may want to parboil the squash a bit longer in this case.
·      Add a quick drape of cheese over the meat, and then blast it in the broiler (pumpkin “lid” off) to brown it?
·      Consider dressing as the Pumpkin Kid on Halloween?

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Pumpkin Muffins

My dear friend Carolyn coined the phrase “President of the Lazy Club” in college to describe individuals who take the easier route – especially when one isn’t necessarily needed. Since I never found making muffins that taxing, I think the Presidents may have found their signature snack.

Courtesy of a timeless pumpkin feature in the October 22, 1986 issue of The (Everett) Herald, these Pumpkin Muffins are so easy my three-year-old nearly made them by himself. The not-so-secret “lazy” ingredient? This month’s highlighted product: Bisquick. And no one is more surprised than I to see Bisquick and pumpkin marry (once again!) in another fall recipe. What will they think of next?

It’s a basic muffin recipe – combine dry ingredients, then wet, then put them together. I found the batter quite stiff, which may account for the real surprise when they came out of the oven: They taste like a pumpkin-spice cake doughnut! In fact except for the fact that they were encased in my cute little Mary Engelbreit muffin-cup liners, I would be hard-pressed to call them “muffins” at all.

Now, granted, they’re not as sweet, nor as greasy, as a real doughnut. But how can you complain? When was the last time you made a cake doughnut in seven minutes?

I was especially thrilled by this turn of events because doughnuts always conjure images of fall and especially Halloween for me. When I was 10 years old (the year before this article ran), my brother and I hosted a Halloween party instead of trick-or-treating (a tradition my mother always loathed). Instead, we bobbed for apples and ate popcorn balls with neighborhood kids whose parents also disliked sending their children out to beg candy from strangers. The highlight of the night, though (aside from my Cleopatra costume) was when my mom strung up a clothesline the length of our kitchen and hung doughnuts from various points along the rope. Then, we vied to see who could eat their doughnut first, without using their hands. Try it. It’s hilarious and delicious – and if that’s not a winning combination, I don’t know what is.

Many years later, my husband and I honeymooned in Vermont (12 years ago this month!) and one of my fondest memories of that perfect fall trip was eating cider doughnuts at an apple orchard outside of Woodstock. (Probably too many cider doughnuts, but what did I care? I’d already squeezed into my wedding dress.)

There’s just something about the spice and chew of a cake doughnut that fits perfectly with the crisp bite of fall. I love that these are remarkably easy and also tasty.  I take my oath of office as President of the Lazy Club. Join me.

Pumpkin Muffins
2 cups biscuit mix
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup mashed pumpkin
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 egg, slightly beaten
1/2 cup raisins, if desired

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease bottom of 12 medium muffin cups. Stir dry ingredients together in mixing bowl. Combine milk, pumpkin, oil and egg in a quarter measuring pitcher or bowl. Pour over dry ingredients and mix with fork until barely moistened. Batter should be lumpy. Gently stir in raisins.

Fill muffin cups two-thirds full. Sprinkle 1/4 teaspoon sugar over batter in each cup. Bake 15 to 18 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out dry. Remove muffins from pan immediately.

Makes 12. 

·      I left out the raisins, and I’m glad I did. They would have ruined the doughnut vibe. But add ‘em (or Craisins, which didn’t come along ‘til after this recipe was published) if you love ‘em.
·      I added a scant ¼ teaspoon of cloves in addition to the other spices. I am almost maniacally driven to include all four spices (cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and clove) in any kind of all recipe (apple pie, pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, apple butter … ).
·      I don’t know if turbadino or sanding sugar was widely used in the mid-‘80s, but that would be another consideration for the topping, instead of the granulated that is called for (although it was delicious).

Why Don’t You …
·      Try this batter in a mini doughnut pan so the taste will match the visual? Have you seen these? They’re a great way to bake doughnuts instead of frying them. Mine’s from King Arthur Flour, but I bet they’re widely available at kitchen stores.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

"Pumkin" Pie

Brace yourselves, dear readers, because the Time Capsule is about to enter THE BISQUICK PHASE. A section in which all recipes are “impossibly” created in the blender, using everyone’s favorite pancake mix!

(We’ve also entered the PUMPKIN PHASE, but that just doesn’t send chills down my spine in the same way.)

I have a soft spot in my heart for Betty Crocker’s ubiquitous baking mix. Bisquick was in heavy rotation in my house growing up – mostly for pancakes and strawberry shortcake. And don’t get me started on the joys of “Impossible Pie” – which weirdly yet magically forms its own crust while baking. (If you’ve never had the pleasure, don’t worry: Next up in THE BISQUICK PHASE is the recipe adjacent to “Pumkin” Pie: Cheeseburger Pie.)

In my teens, Bisquick played another important role. I would skip school and head to a friend’s house … to make Bisquick coffee cake. Yes, you read that correctly. I wasn’t sneaking off to see my college-age boyfriend, or smoking cigarettes behind the dumpster. I was skipping Pre-Calc to make brunch.  

But, enough reminiscing. Here we are, the first week of October, and I’m itching to start my fall baking. My husband and I often lament that, although we love it, we only eat pumpkin pie in the short window between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Enter this sweet little recipe – 9-year-old's misspelling and all. While I’m not sure this “pumkin” will qualify as real pie, it’s worth a shot for a Tuesday night.

What’s not to love about a pie you whip up in the blender? It took all of three minutes to dump the ingredients into the pitcher and hit “puree.” The only thing I’ve made that’s been easier was the Chocolate Peanut-Butter Milkshake, and that, you know, seemed appropriate – since it was a milkshake. But I’m not complaining about any dessert with such a short prep. The real test, as always, is the taste.

After baking for 55 minutes, my “Pumkin” Pie ie was ready. Taste and smell are powerful memories, and with one bite it really did feel like the last Thursday in November instead of the first Tuesday in October.

This is more pumpkin custard than pie, but it hits all the right notes: Creamy, spicy, pumpkin-y. Like traditional pumpkin pie, it is best served chilled. The Bisquick really does its magic to firm up the bottom. And, while not a “crust” by any stretch of the imagination, it does definitely have a bottom layer.

It’s tasty, but it’s no pie. Then again, it’s not Thanksgiving. I say, give it try when you just have to have the comfort of the holidays, but you only have five minutes to spare. Or, you know, you’ve skipped Senior math and need something to do …

"Pumkin" Pie
¾ cup sugar
½ cup Bisquick baking mix
2 T. margarine
1 can (13 oz) evaporated milk
2 eggs
1 can (16 oz) pumpkin
2-1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
2 teaspoons vanilla

Heat oven to 350-degrees. Grease 9” pie plate. Beat all ingredients until smooth; 1 minute in blender on high or 2 minutes with hand beater. Pour into plate. Bake until knife inserted in center comes out clean, 50-55 minutes.

·      I don’t use prepared pumpkin pie spice. Here, I used 1 tsp. each of cinnamon and ginger, and ¼ tsp. each of cloves and nutmeg. Add or subtract spices as you see fit.
·      Definitely better the longer it chills. And few things don’t improve with a dollop of whipping cream, am I right?
Why Don’t You …
·      Consider this a “lighter” alternative to regular pie?