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Archive for Halloween

RECIPE: Pumpkin Cheesecake, Gingersnap Crust

In the name of full disclosure: We love all cheesecake. We especially love chocolate cheesecake, Oreo cheesecake and pumpkin cheesecake.

So how happy are we today: It’s National Pumpkin Cheesecake Day. Here’s what we’re baking:


Ingredients For 10-Inch Cheesecake

  • 1-1/2 cups finely ground gingersnap cookies
  • 1/4 cup finely ground walnuts
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 5 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 3 packages (8 ounces each) cream cheese,
  • 1-3/4 cups sugar
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 can (15 ounces) pumpkin

    A gingersnap crust makes a pumpkin cheesecake even more special. Photo courtesy Spice Islands.

  • Optional garnish(es): candied pecans (recipe), candy corn or candy pumpkins, crystallized ginger, kumquats/candied kumquats (whole or halved), red/purple grapes (whole or sliced), shaved chocolate


    1. PREHEAT oven to 500°F. Create a bain-marie: Place a pan of water on the bottom rack (or the bottom) of the oven. This creates a moist environment and will help prevent the top of the cheesecake from cracking. (You can wait and add the bain-marie when you insert the cheesecake pan into the oven.)

    2. COMBINE gingersnaps, walnuts, sugar and butter in a medium bowl. Press into the bottom and 1-inch up the side of a 10-inch non-stick springform pan. Set aside.

    3. BEAT cream cheese, sugar and flour with an electric mixer until smooth. Add 5 eggs, one at a time, then vanilla, beating on low speed. Transfer 2-1/2 cups to a separate bowl; set aside.

    4. BEAT 1 egg, pumpkin pie spice and pumpkin into the remaining filling until smooth. Pour half of pumpkin filling into crust, then half of the plain; repeat. Swirl gently with a spoon.

    5. BAKE for 10 minutes; reduce temperature to 200°F and bake 30 minutes. Tent with aluminum foil and continue baking for 1 hour or until center appears nearly set.

    6. RUN a knife around top of the cheesecake to loosen it from the pan. Turn off oven and open door to allow cake to cool gradually for 20 to 30 minutes in the oven.

    7. REMOVE from oven and finish cooling on a rack for 15 minutes, then chill in refrigerator for at least 6 hours. Garnish and serve.



    HALLOWEEN: Toffee Apple Martini (Caramel Apple Martini)

    For those too sophisticated for a toffee
    apple: a toffee apple Martini. Photo courtesy


    Forget about all those ersatz “witch’s brew,” “black cat” and other Halloween cocktails. Here’s a “real” Halloween cocktail: the Toffee Apple Martini. The recipe was developed by Belvedere Vodka.

    By the way, today is National Caramel Apple Day, a perfect day to make this cocktail. If you want to make actual caramel apples, here’s the recipe.


    Ingredients For 1 Drink

  • 2 ounces Belvedere Citrus or other citrus vodka
  • 3 ounces pressed apple juice
  • ½ ounce lemon juice
  • ½ ounce home made toffee syrup (recipe below)
  • Garnish: apple slice or caramel apple slice


    1. SHAKE all ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled Martini glass.

    2. GARNISH with an apple slice.




  • 1/2 cup toffee, broken into chips
  • 1/2 cup warm water

    1. PLACE a handful of toffee in the bottom of a saucepan and add half a cup of warm water.

    2. COOK over a gentle heat, stirring until the toffee is dissolved. Allow to cool.



    Candy apples have a hard, bright red coating, made from sugar or corn syrup, water, cinnamon and red food coloring.

    Caramel apples
    are coated with melted caramel candies, which create a soft, slightly sticky coating.

    Caramel apples are the same as toffee apples; the former term is more popular in the U.S., the latter in the U.K. However, caramel candy is different from toffee candy, and the term “toffee apple,” while prevalent, is not accurate.

    Both caramel and toffee are made by combining sugar, butter and water. Caramels add milk or cream (and sometimes, flavors) and are cooked at a lower heat, to the firm-ball stage (248°F). Both of these factors make them softer and chewier than toffee.


    Caramel, above, is soft; toffee is hard. Photo courtesy Fannie May.


    Toffee is cooked to a hard-crack (295°F to 310°F). Toffee is harder than caramel, and even harder than butterscotch.

    So if it’s soft, it’s caramel.

    There are numerous sweets on the market called “toffee” that are actually caramel, including “toffee apples.” If the apple were coated in actual toffee, it would be even harder to bite into than the hard red candy apple coating.
    Here’s more on the differences among butterscotch, caramel, taffy and toffy.



    TIP OF THE DAY: Pumpkin In Every Recipe

    Pumpkin is a wonderful fruit*, loaded with the powerful antioxidant beta-carotene, which research indicates may reduce the risk of developing heart disease and certain types of cancer, among the degenerative aspects of aging and other conditions. One cup of cooked pumpkin has just 49 calories.

    One of the nice things about fall is that food producers launch limited-edition pumpkin flavors, from yogurt to tortilla chips.

    Every morning, we’ve been enjoying this pumpkin yogurt from Siggi’s. If you can’t find pumpkin yogurt in the store, just make your own:

  • BLEND two tablespoons of canned pumpkin into vanilla yogurt, or into plain yogurt sweetened with a bit of maple syrup.
  • ADD several shakes of cinnamon and nutmeg; blend, taste and adjust seasonings.
    After you’ve mixed the pumpkin yogurt, there are quite a few things to do with the rest of the canned pumpkin.


    Seasonal treat: pumpkin yogurt. Photo by
    Elvira Kalviste | THE NIBBLE.


    *Botanically, squash group members are fruits—the seeds are carried inside. There’s the difference between fruits and vegetables.


    Pumpkin cheesecake. Photo courtesy House



    If you only think of canned pumpkin as filling for a pie, you’ve got much to discover. If you like it enough for pie, you’ll like pumpkin in other recipes as well.

    Transfer leftover canned pumpkin to an airtight container and keep it in the fridge to use in everyday dishes—or buy a can just for this purpose. Add two tablespoons to 1/2 cup to everyday recipes.

    Be sure to use pure pumpkin, not pumpkin pie filling, which has added sugar and spices.

    You can make the recipes sweet with some brown sugar or maple syrup, or savory with thyme and/or sage. Add pumpkin pie spices—allspice, clove, cinnamon and/or nutmeg—as you wish to sweet or savory recipes.


  • Beverages: Add 1/2 cup pumpkin to a smoothie with some cinnamon and nutmeg, or to a milkshake with vanilla or cinnamon ice cream; make your own pumpkin simple syrup to add to cocoa, coffee, tea or cocktails. For a creamy pumpkin cocktail, combine 2 ounces rum, 3/4 ounce pumpkin, 1 ounce half and half and 1 ounce simple syrup.
  • Breakfast: Add 1/2 cup to muffin, pancake and waffle batter; stir into oatmeal; make pumpkin cream cheese for bagels*.
  • Desserts: Add to a cake mix (chocolate, spice or yellow cake), make pumpkin brownies or chocolate chip cookies, bake a pumpkin cheesecake with a gingersnap crust, make pumpkin crème brûlée, panna cotta or pudding.
  • Pasta & Risotto: Make pumpkin cream sauce (†see recipe below) or a lighter sauce with stock, sage, thyme; add to risotto, orzo or mac and cheese.
  • Sauces & Sides: Add 1/2 cup to mashed potatoes, serve pumpkin as a side dish with fresh herbs and/or pumpkin pie spices, add 1/2 cup to a cream sauce or hummus.
  • Soup: Mix pumpkin into chicken or vegetable stock and season. Add milk or cream for a cream soup.
    Let us know your favorite pumpkin recipe.
    *Mix 1/2 cup of pumpkin into softened cream cheese, with 2 tablespoons brown sugar or maple syrup, 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract and a pinch of salt. You can substantially reduce or omit the sugar or use a noncaloric sugar substitute.
    †Combine in a sauce pan: 1/2 cup pumpkin with 1 cup heavy cream, 1/4 cup quality Parmesan and a chiffonade of fresh sage (about 16 leaves, cut into thin strips). Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon fresh-ground pepper. Simmer until thickened, stir in 1 tablespoon unsalted butter and serve.



    TIP OF THE DAY: Make Pumpkin Liqueur

    Sip your pumpkin liqueur straight, mix into a
    pumpkin Martini or other cocktail. Photo
    courtesy SXC.


    If you like to create something new, how about pumpkin liqueur? You can make enough for your own household and as gifts for Halloween and Thanksgiving.

    Then, pumpkin up your holiday cocktails and desserts.

    This recipe comes from The Martini Diva.

    You’ll need these tools:

  • Baking sheets
  • Large metal strainer
  • Coffee filters or cheesecloth
  • Measuring cups and spoons
  • Citrus zester
  • Large glass jar (infusion jar) for distillation process
  • Second large glass jar for filtering process
  • Decorative bottles and labels for finished liquor


  • 1 fresh pumpkin, 10-12 pounds or 32 ounces canned pumpkin (see note below)
  • 1 fifth 100 proof vodka
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons pumpkin pie spice
  • Juice and zest of 1 lemon
  • Optional: orange food color (combine red and yellow—see note below)


    1. REMOVE seeds and fibers and cut pumpkin into chunks (about 8″). Place flesh side down on a baking sheet and bake at 400°F for about half an hour or until the flesh is tender. The baking time will depend on the size of your pieces.

    2. SCRAPE the cooked flesh from the shell and place into the infusion jar with the vodka. Reserve the vodka bottle to bottle your liqueur.

    3. ADD the lemon zest, pumpkin pie spice and sugar. Seal jar and place in the fridge. Let this distill for a minimum of one week and up to two weeks. Shake the jar up whenever you open the fridge, or at least once a day. After the first week you can test the depth of flavor until you get the intensity of pumpkin flavor you want.

    4. STRAIN the ingredients through a large sieve or metal strainer to remove the chunkier pieces.

    5. LINE the metal strainer with coffee filters or cheesecloth and place over the over the filtering jar. Filter the infused pumpkin liqueur through the strainer in stages (do not overfill the strainer). After each portion of the liqueur filters through, toss out the sediment that has accumulated in the strainer. When all the solids are removed, you’re ready to bottle.

    Use the retained vodka bottle for your own use. For gifting, purchase decorative bottles and add a label.


    You can also buy pumpkin liqueur. But where’s the fun in that? Photo courtesy Hiram Walker.

    Substitute pumpkin liqueur for vermouth to make a Pumpkin Martini, and create your own pumpkin cocktails.


    Canned Pumpkin: You can substitute 32 ounces of canned pumpkin purée can for the fresh pumpkin, but you’ll lose some of the great flavor. Think of fresh-baked acorn or butternut squash versus frozen squash.

    Color: If you want a really bright orange colored liqueur, Add a few drops of food coloring to the infusion jar. Use the proportion of 4 drops yellow to 1 drop red. Add it bit by bit, but don’t worry if you find yourself adding 12 drops of yellow and 4 drops of red food color.

    Rum Option: You can use white rum instead of vodka, but the pumpkin flavor will be less pronounced. Vodka is a neutral spirit, but rum has flavor. Try both and see how you like them.



    RECIPE: Pumpkin Crème Brûlée

    An individual Pumpkin Crème Brûlée. Photo
    courtesy Spice Islands.


    While pumpkin can (and should) be enjoyed year-round, Pumpkin Crème Brûlée is a delicious Halloween dessert or Thanksgiving dessert.

    The recipe, for individual dishes of crème brûlée, is courtesy Spice Islands, which has been searching the world for the highest-quality, most flavorful herbs and spices since 1941.

    Prep time is 35 minutes, bake time 40 to 45 minutes, chill time 2 hours.


    Ingredients For 8 Servings

  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 1-3/4 cups heavy cream
  • 1 cup canned pumpkin
  • 1/2 cup pure maple syrup
  • 10 egg yolks*
  • 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spices (recipe below)
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped pecans, toasted
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped crystallized ginger
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped crystallized ginger
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped pecans

    *Uses for the leftover egg whites: Make an egg white omelet or egg drop soup (just drop the egg whites into chicken soup), or bake angel food cake, lemon meringue pie, macarons, meringues/pavlovas, nougat or seven-minute frosting.



    1. PREHEAT oven to 325°F.

    2. SPLIT vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape vanilla bean. Place in heavy saucepan. Add cream, pumpkin and syrup and whisk together; bring to a simmer over medium heat. Whisk egg yolks and pumpkin pie spice in a separate bowl.

    3. ADD the hot pumpkin mixture slowly to the egg mixture, whisking constantly. Add 1/4 cup pecans and 1 tablespoon crystallized ginger. Pour mixture into eight 6-ounce ramekins. Place ramekins in a hot water bath.

    4. BAKE 40 to 45 minutes, or until a knife inserted in center of custard comes out clean. Transfer ramekins to a rack to cool completely. Chill, covered, until cold (at least 2 hours).

    5. COMBINE sugar, 1 teaspoon crystallized ginger and 1 tablespoon pecans. Sprinkle 2 teaspoons evenly over each ramekin. Broil until topping is caramelized. Serve.


    Pumpkin pie spice is a blend of cinnamon, cloves, ginger and nutmeg.



    Unless you use a lot of it and like the convenience, there’s no reason to buy pre-blended pumpkin pie spice. It’s easy to mix it from other spices you already have.

    Ingredients For 2 Teaspoons

  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
    Blend together.



    TOP PICK OF THE WEEK: Bare Fruit Apple Chips

    An apple never tasted better. Photo by Elvira
    Kalviste | THE NIBBLE.


    Our favorite packaged sweet snack, Bare Fruit apple chips has expanded the line to two new “flavored” chips. The lineup now includes

  • Chili Lime Apple Chips
  • Cinnamon Apple Chips
  • Fuji Red Apple Chips
  • Granny Smith Apple Chips
  • Sea Salt Caramel Apple Chips

    They’re as satisfying as candy—in fact, much more so, since they’re a guilt-free, all fruit and just 50 calories per bag. Each bag is the equivalent of eating an apple, so you also contribute to your recommended daily fruit and fiber servings.

    Caramel Apple is perfect for Halloween; all varieties of these naturally sweet chips (no sugar added but a special baking process caramelizes the apple’s natural sugar) are great for:

  • Dieter Gifts
  • Glove compartment, desk drawer, gym bag, etc.
  • Stocking Stuffers

    Here’s our favorite packaged salty snack, which also should be on your stocking stuffer radar: HalfPops, fiber-filled half-poppped popcorn that we like even better than conventional full-popped.



    FOOD FUN: Smoking Blood Orange Mimosa Recipe

    We love Mimosas. We love blood oranges.

    So when this recipe arrived for a Bloody Mimosa, we thought: This is it for Halloween. Not only does the “bloody” orange juice make a much better-looking Mimosa; a few chips of dry ice give the drink a spooky smoking effect.

    The original recipe, from Mionetto “IL” Prosecco:



  • Blood orange juice
  • Prosecco or other sparkling wine
  • Dry Ice

    1. FILL a flute or other glass halfway with the sparkling (tip: to conserve the bubbles, tilt the glass as you add the wine). Slowly add the juice.

    2. SHAVE off several small chips of dry ice, using an ice pick or sharp knife. Add just enough to start the smoke effect. Serve immediately.


    Bloody Orange Mimosa cocktail, with a color perfect for harvest season. Photo courtesy The Chubby Spoon.



    Make it smoke with dry ice chips. Photo
    courtesy Mionetto.


    Charmed by the concept, we did some investigation and found another smoking Mimosa recipe on The recipe advises: “When you consider half of the drink is made from juice, you’ll want fresh squeezed. Don’t use juice from a carton. Fresh squeezed juice is lighter, prettier, and more delicate.”

    Of course, if you can’t find blood oranges, default to the carton.

    Here’s the full recipe, along with more tips to make the perfect Blood Orange Mimosa recipe.

    More about blood oranges.




    PRODUCT: Cabo Diablo, Coffee Liqueur With Cabo Wabo Tequila

    New liqueur in town: Cabo Diablo, a not-so-
    devilish combination of coffee and tequila.
    Photo courtesy Campari America.


    October 16th is National Liqueur Day. Don’t reach for what you already like; try something new.

    If you like coffee and tequila, Cabo Diablo, which is just rolling out now, combines a coffee punch with a tequila kick. If you haven’t yet connected the dots, it’s from the folks who make Cabo Wabo tequila.

    In addition to celebrating today, bring Cabo Diablo with you to a Halloween party—perhaps wearing devil horns and ears.

    Enjoy it in chilled shots or in hot coffee—a devilish cup of Joe for All Hallow’s Eve.

    We’ve also poured it over coffee and vanilla ice cream. Pretty nifty!

    Smooth and silky, with notes of rich roasted coffee, vanilla and chocolate, it complements other desserts, and is dessert enough on its own. There are sweet notes of honey and blue agave, with some hints of spicy black pepper.

    The coffee liqueur base is made with the highest quality Arabica beans, blended with Cabo Wabo Blanco Tequila (100% blue weber agave).


    The bottle sports a unique, color-changing label. When you chill the bottle, a devilish surprise appears (no spoiler here!).

    Cabo Wabo Tequila was founded by the devilish rebel rocker, Sammy Hagar (who replaced David Lee Roth as the lead singer of Van Halen in 1985). You can bet that the Red Rocker has downed at least a few.

    The 35% ABV Cabo Diablo is currently available in limited release in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Wisconsin. A 750 ml bottle is $22.99.

    Learn more at or @cabodiablo.



    HALLOWEEN FAVOR: Pumpkin Blondie

    Shine on harvest blondie. Photo courtesy


    We love getting gifts from Sugardaddy’s Sumptuous Sweeties. The brownies and blondies are tops, the flavor choices wonderful, and they’re packaged beautifully for gifting.

    Here’s our original review.

    For harvest season, there’s the Harvest Blondie: a kind of pumpkin brownie with a pumpkin purée swirl, pumpkin pie spices, roasted walnuts and white chocolate chips in a classic blondie batter. (While it may look like a torte, the photo shows the blondie on a miniature pedestal.)

    They’re one of our seasonal picks as treats for the family, as party favors or as Thanksgiving place settings.

    Six Harvest Blondies individually encased in round acrylic boxes are $29.75. Lovely gift packaging options—including monogrammed silk bags—are available. Head to



    The blondie was not named for Dagwood Bumstead’s wife. It started life known as a butterscotch blondie.

    The batter—flour, brown sugar, butter, eggs, baking powder and vanilla—is yellow (blonde), as opposed to chocolate brownie batter. Early recipes contained butterscotch chips.

    Today’s blondies typically combine butterscotch chips and chocolate chips, and often, nuts.

    According to Food Timeline, blonde brownies predate chocolate brownies by about 10 years. Around 1896, a molasses-flavored bar cookie (no chocolate, cocoa or chocolate chips) called a brownie appeared. The name honored the elfin characters featured in popular books, stories, cartoons and verses, very popular at the time, by Palmer Cox. The Eastman Kodak Brownie camera was also named after these elves.

    After the later introduction and popularity of chocolate brownies, became known as a butterscotch brownie (history of the brownie). The name “Blondie” surfaces in the 1980s.

    Want to bake your own? Here’s a recipe from Dorie Greenspan.



    HALLOWEEN: Witch Popcorn Balls

    How cool is this witch popcorn ball? The recipe comes from the National Popcorn Board, which has a cornucopia of popcorn recipes.

    So, don’t be afraid of the wicked witch: polish her off for dessert.


    Ingredients For 8 Four-Inch Popcorn Balls

  • 16 chocolate wafer cookies
  • 3 quarts popped popcorn
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter
  • 3 cups miniature marshmallows
  • 3 tablespoons (1/2 of a 3-ounce box) lime gelatin dessert mix
  • Green food color, optional
  • 8 chocolate ice cream cones
  • 3/4 cup chocolate chips
  • Orange sugar sprinkles, placed in a small dish
  • Decorations: jelly beans, candy corn, licorice string

    Witch part do you eat first? Photo courtesy



    1. SPREAD a sheet of wax (or parchment) paper over a work surface and place the wafer cookies on it.

    2. SPRAY a large mixing bowl with cooking spray and place popcorn inside.

    3. MELT butter over low heat in a medium saucepan. Stir in marshmallows and gelatin dessert powder until marshmallows are melted and mixture is smooth. If desired, adjust color with a drop or 2 of food color. Pour over popcorn and mix well until coated.

    4. SPRAY hands with cooking spray and press firmly to form into 8 balls. Place balls on 8 of the wafer cookies. Press candy decorations into popcorn balls to form eyes, nose and mouth.

    5. PLACE chocolate chips in a small microwave-safe bowl. Cover and heat for 10 seconds. Stir chocolate to aid melting. Repeat as needed until chocolate is melted and smooth. Spoon about 1/2 teaspoon melted chocolate onto the top of each popcorn ball. Press a few licorice strings into chocolate to form “hair.”

    6. DIP cone edges into melted chocolate and then into orange sugar sprinkles. Place on remaining wafer cookies to form witches hat. Place hats onto popcorn balls. Allow chocolate to set for about 45 minutes before serving. Serve or seal individually in plastic wrap for storage.



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