October is here. The leaves are falling, and a lot of you are visiting local pumpkin patches, corn mazes and haunted houses. It's also the time of year when my son starts planning what he's going to be for Halloween.
This year, he announced he wants to be "everything," but I'm sure we'll end up with some form of superhero costume. (I think superhero kind of covers "everything" for little boys.)
Halloween's celebrated with costumes, trick-or-treating and parties, and some Halloween foods can be really fun and tasty to make. They can sometimes be a little too scary for my son to eat and a little too unappetizing for my stomach. This year, I'll prepare a menu that's friendly for kids and adults of all ages: Spiderweb Soup, Jack-O'-Lantern Stuffed Peppers and Pumpkin and Black Velvet Swirled Bundt Cake.
Spiderweb Soup is something we make year-round in my house. It's an easy way to keep the kids entertained at the dinner table, and it helps get them interested in eating. It's really simple and can be made to suit any palate. A pureed soup and a white cream is all it requires. Most of the time, we use butternut squash or tomato soup and serve it with grilled cheese sandwiches. But any smooth, velvety soup will work.
To make the white cream, or web, use slightly thinned sour cream or plain yogurt inside of a squirt bottle, pastry or a ziplock bag with a small hole cut into the corner. Starting in the center and working your way around to the rim, use the cream to make a spiral pattern in the bowl. Then, drag a toothpick from the center out to the edge through the spirals.
Repeat that process every inch around the bowl until it looks like spokes on a bicycle. You will have a perfectly creamy addition to your soup and a fun project for the kids (or adults). To keep in the Halloween spirit, I like to put a tiny, plastic spider on the edge of the bowl.
I admit stuffed peppers are not something my son would normally consider eating. If it doesn't look like steak or chicken nuggets, he usually wants nothing to do with it. That is, of course, unless it looks like a Jack-O'-Lantern.
To make the peppers, remove the tops -- like you would a pumpkin -- and remove the seeds. Then, carve happy or scary faces into the side of each. I saved time and extra dishes with the filling because I used the pre-cooked, 90-seconds-style plain brown rice packets.
Of course, you can always cook your own rice, but the precooked kind has a nice, firm texture, and who doesn't like to save an extra 20 minutes? This is also a recipe that can be made year-round, and the carved pattern can change from season to season, even though we've been known to have Jack-O'-Lantern Peppers as early in the year as July!
Finally, a Halloween meal wouldn't be complete without something sweet, and this Pumpkin Black Velvet Swirl Bundt Cake is the perfect choice. It's rich, moist and it isn't so sweet that it would stop you from sneaking a Butterfinger out of the kid's candy pails. (Not that I would do that, of course!)
This recipe calls for a spice cake mix and a devil's food cake mix. The spice cake mix is blended with pumpkin puree and additional pumpkin pie spice, and the black velvet part is made from devil's food mix and an entire bottle of black food coloring, which can be tricky to find. A few stores carry it, so I usually stock up when I see it or purchase it online.
This recipe only uses 2/3 of the prepared "black velvet" batter, so I like to turn the extra chocolaty goodness into cupcakes for lunch the next day. Be sure to check EverydayGourmet.AreaVoices.com to see how to make them look like mummies. Happy Halloween.
Store-bought, pureed soup (butternut squash or tomato works well)
Plain, nonfat yogurt
Heat soup according to package instructions. Place soup in serving bowls. Place yogurt in piping bag and make spiral pattern working your way from the center to the edge of the bowl. Next, drag a toothpick through the spiral from the center out to the edge. Continue dragging every inch around the bowl until you have a spider-web design. Place plastic spider on rim of soup bowl.
Sausage, Bean and Rice Jack-O'-Lantern
Peppers with Smoky Tomato Sauce
1 pound sausage, Italian or spicy, browned
2 cups cooked brown rice
1 15-ounce jar of black bean salsa
1 15-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
2 tablespoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper
6 orange bell peppers (or any color you like)
FOR SMOKY TOMATO SAUCE:
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves minced garlic
1 29-ounce can of tomato sauce
1 tablespoon smoked paprika (I used sweet, but hot would work well, too)
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper
Remove tops from peppers and discard seeds and any extra core. Set aside. Remove seeds from insides and use a small, paring knife to carve Jack-O'-Lantern faces out of smoothest side of pepper. If peppers don't stand up, trim a small amount off of bottom. Set aside. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a small sauce pan over medium heat, sauté garlic in olive oil for 1 minute. Be sure not to brown. Add tomato sauce, smoked paprika, cumin, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Whisk until smooth. Bring to a boil. Turn heat to low and let simmer, stirring occasionally for 10 minutes.In a medium bowl, combine sausage, rice, salsa, black beans, cumin, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Stuff peppers until filling is 1 inch from top. Place top on each pepper. Pour tomato sauce in bottom of a 9-by-13 baking pan. Carefully stand peppers in baking dish. Cover pan tightly with foil. Bake for 45 minutes. Ladle sauce over peppers if desired.
Pumpkin Black Velvet Swirl Bundt Cake
FOR PUMPKIN BATTER:
1 15-ounce box spice or carrot cake mix (I used Betty Crocker)
1 15-ounce can of pumpkin puree
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1/4 cup water
8 drops red food coloring, 12 drops yellow food coloring (if desired)
FOR BLACK VELVET BATTER:
1 15-ounce box devil's food cake mix
1/2 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup water
1-ounce bottle of black food coloring
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In medium bowl, combine pumpkin batter ingredients and mix for 2 minutes on medium speed. Set aside. In another medium bowl, combine black velvet batter ingredients and mix on medium speed for 2 minutes. Set aside. In prepared bundt cake pan, pour half of pumpkin batter into bottom of pan and smooth out. By the spoonful, drop 1/3 of black velvet batter over top. Pour pumpkin batter over top and top with 1/3 of black velvet batter. Swirl a knife through batter so it will have a marbled look. (Reserve remaining 1/3 black velvet batter for cupcakes.) Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour or until cake tester comes out clean.
Karley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her food blog at EverydayGourmet.AreaVoices.com.