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THE NIBBLE’s Gourmet News & Views

Trends, Products & Items Of Note In The World Of Specialty Foods

This is the blog section of THE NIBBLE. Read all of our content on,
the online magazine about gourmet and specialty food.

Archive for Halloween

TOP PICK OF THE WEEK: Better For You Candy & Treats

Every time we dip into a bag of Bare Fruit Apple Chips, we wonder: Why isn’t everyone eating these?

So before Halloween, we’re recommending them as the better-for-you treat, for the people you love. Everyone else can get those miniature junk candies from the supermarket. (Sorry if we have maligned your favorite candy bars; but honestly, you hardly taste the chocolate for the sugar/corn syrup.)

Consisting simply of baked apple chips—no added sugar—these sweet, crisp chips satisfy the desire for sweetness an crunch. They’re fat-free, gluten free, fiber-filled.

The apple chips are made from non-GMO project verified Washington State apples. And they’re certified kosher by Earth Kosher, an organic and kosher certifier.

There are four flavors of all-natural apple chips, 90-100 calories per ounce (half cup serving), depending on the flavor.:

  • Fuji Red Apple Chips
  • Granny Smith Apple Chips
  • Sea Salt Caramel Apple Chips
  • Simply Cinnamon Apple Chips
    There’s also an organic line, including each of the flavors above plus a combination of all of them in one bag, Medley Apple Chips.

    There’s also an organic line, including each of the flavors above plus a combination of all of them in one bag, Medley Apple Chip
    This time of year we particularly like Simply Cinnamon Apple Chips, but will gladly eat whatever is closest. Who needs apple pie when you can have Bare Fruit Apple Chips?

    But you may think that Caramel Apple is better for Halloween. Plan ahead for stocking stuffers, and keep a supply in your glove compartment, desk drawer, gym bag, etc.




    TOP PHOTO: It’s like apple pie in a crunchy chip. Phot6o courtesy Bare Fruit. BOTTOM PHOTO: Out of the bag. Photo courtesy Love With Food.

    You can get Bare Fruit products on or find them at retail via the company’s store locator. The “BUY” tab on the company website takes you to their Amazon store.

    They’re available in individual .53-ounce bags and in 1.69-ounce bags, three portions’ worth.

    After success with the apple chips, Bare Fruit came out with a divine line of coconut chips:

  • Chocolate Bliss Coconut Chips
  • Sea Salt Caramel Coconut Chips
  • Simply Toasted Coconut Chips
  • Sweet ‘n Heat Coconut Chips
    Loved ‘em all, but Chocolate Bliss truly is.

    Most recently, the company has introduced crunchy banana chips. We haven’t yet had the pleasure of trying them, but you can let us know how you like them:

  • Cinnamon Banana Chips
  • Cocoa Dusted Banana Chips
  • Simply Baked Banana Chips


    These crunchy popcorn nuggets are popped without oil. Photo courtesy Halfpops.



    If you grew up loving CornNuts, as we did, take note of the non-fried, gourmet version.

    Some people dig through the popcorn bowl to find those crunchy, half-popped kernels that taste even better than the fully popped corn. Smaller than a fully popped kernel, they’ve got the soft popped portion on the inside while the kernel remains crunchy on the outside.

    Halfpops is an entire bag of them. We like this fiber-filled half-popped popcorn even better than the conventional full-popped. It was love at first bite for us. These little nuggets are a go-to snack whenever we need something crunchy and salty.

    These are healthy, whole grain snacks. They’re all-natural, with zero sugar or preservatives. As a whole grain product, each bag contributes 3g fiber/serving. Halfpops are certified gluten-free and are also nut-free.


    Halfpops are currently available in four flavors:

  • Natural Butter & Sea Salt
  • Aged White Cheddar
  • Caramel & Sea Salt
  • Chipotle Barbeque
  • Each one-ounce serving contains 130 calories and 260 mg salt. And we love each flavor Don’t decide: Try them all!

    They’re certified kosher (dairy) by OU. Get yours at There’s also a retail store locator on the website.



    HALLOWEEN: Barmbrack, An Irish Tradition

    Fruitcake lovers and tea cake lovers: It’s time for barmbrack, also known as barm brack, barnbrack or simply brack.


    The original barmbrack was a sweet yeast bread with raisins and sultanas. Barm is the term for the yeast filtered out of beer in the final stage of production, a cheaper yeast source than commercial yeast.

    In Ireland it is sometimes called bairín breac, Gaelic for “speckled loaf.” The speckling refers to the raisins and sultanas in the loaf. It is usually made in flattened rounds. The dough is sweet but not as rich as cake, so it can be enjoyed any time of the day. It is similar to Irish soda bread, minus the baking soda.

    In Ireland, barmbrack is often served with afternoon tea, toasted with butter. But barmbrack evolved into an Irish Halloween tradition.


    For Halloween, the traditional loaf was baked with talisman-like items inside. They formed a kind of fortune-telling game. Whoever received a slice with a talisman could interpret it thusly:



    Barmbrack, an Irish tradition for Halloween, reinterpreted. Photo courtesy

  • The pea meant that the person would not marry that year.
  • The stick foretold an unhappy marriage or a continuously quarrelsome one.
  • The cloth indicated bad luck or penury.
  • The coin meant wealth or other good fortune.
  • The ring meant that the recipient would be wed within the year.
  • The thimble meant that the recipient would be permanently single.
    To us, the talismans imply that this cake was meant for single people. An optional talisman included a medallion of the Virgin Mary, foretelling that the recipient would go into a religious order (priest or nun).

    Hmm: Do we want a bread or cake to predict our fortune? We think not. And as British baker Vicky of notes, “It kind of seems like a choking hazard now when I think about it!” (Commercially produced barmbracks for Halloween still include a toy ring.)

    Vicky has created her own take on bambrack, a denser speckled loaf, a fruit cake with the dried fruits steeped in tea and whiskey.



    The original barmbrack loaf resembled Irish soda bread. This one is from


    “Even though I wasn’t a fan of this fruit cake as a kid, I loved when we had barmbrack at Halloween. The reason I liked the cake so much was because it contained hidden fortune-telling treasures. For kids this was all kinds of fun, but we never cared much for the actual cake. As an adult though, I’ve grown to love fruit cakes—but I don’t bother adding trinkets.”

    For this recipe, says Vicky, ”I went for a more adventurous selection of fruits than the traditional ones used in a barmbrack.

    “This cake contains a colorful mix of dried cherries, apricots, cranberries, blueberries, golden raisins and dates [you can also add dried figs]. It’s a really simple cake to make, and as it’s very moist, it keeps fresh for well over a week.

    “This barmbrack is best served with lots of salty butter and a nice, strong cup of tea on the side.”

    It’s her Halloween tradition. Make it one of yours. Here’s the recipe, trinkets optional. Well, maybe just the ring.

    As for the tea: How about a spiced tea like Constant Comment or chai?


    Halloween has its origins in the festival of Samhain (sah-WEEN), celebrated at the end of the harvest by the ancient Celts of what is today Great Britain. (Pronunciation: It’s KELTS, not SELTS.)

    Samhain marked the end of the “lighter half” of the year and beginning of the “darker half.” The Halloween colors of orange and black represent the lighter side (fall harvest) and the darker side.

    The Celts believed that on October 31, the boundaries between the worlds of the living and the dead overlapped and the deceased returned to cause havoc.

    To fool the spirits and ghosts that roamed the countryside, people began to wear masks and costumes to avoid being recognized as human. To keep away spirits and ghosts on Samhain, they placed candles in their windows, using hollowed-out turnips and other vegetables as the holders. (Pumpkins, a New World fruit, took over when Irish immigrants discovered them in the U.S. in the 19th century.)

    Around 600 C.E., Christian missionaries replaced the pagan festival of Samhain with All Saints Day, also called All Hallows Even (even means evening), abbreviated as Hallow’een. The name Halloween is first found in 16th-century Scotland, evolving from All Hallows Eve.

    Afraid of Halloween? That’s called samhainophobia.



    HALLOWEEN: Jack O’Lantern History & Macarons

    Jack O Lantern Macarons

    Yummy jack o’ lantern macarons from
    Williams Sonoma. Here’s the history of
    macaroons and macarons
    . Photo courtesy


    We love these jack o’lantern macarons, made exclusively for Williams-Sonoma by Dana’s Bakery.

    We asked ourself: We know the history of Halloween, but not how the jack o’lantern got its name. So we researched it, and the History Channel provided the answer.


    Pumpkins carved into jack o’ lanterns are an Irish-American tradition. But for centuries before any Irish immigration, jack o’ lanterns were carved from beets, potatoes and turnips and placed in windows of homes in what is now Great Britain, to ward off evil spirits on Halloween.

    The jack o’lantern is named after Stingy Jack, a fellow of Irish myth. He invited the Devil to have a drink with him, but was too cheap to pay even for his own drink.

    So he convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin, which Jack would use to buy their refreshments.


    Jack was not only stingy; he was a cheat. Once the Devil had turned himself into a coin, Jack simply pocketed it. No drinks were had that evening, but Jack was one coin richer. Clever Jack had placed the coin next to a silver cross, which prevented the Devil from changing back into his original form.


    Jack eventually freed the Devil, under conditions including that, after Jack died, the Devil would not claim his soul.

    When Jack died, however, God would not allow his disreputable soul into heaven. Jack then tried to get into hell. The Devil, who had previously committed not to claim Jack’s soul, would not let him in.

    But the Devil was kind enough to send Jack off into the dark with a burning coal to light his way. To carry it, Jack put the coal into a carved-out turnip. The spirit of “Jack of the Lantern,” subsequently shortened to “Jack O’Lantern” (and evolving to the lower case jack o’lantern) has been roaming the Earth ever since.

    In Ireland and Scotland, people began to make their own versions of Jack’s lantern by carving scary faces into potatoes and turnips, and placing them in windows or near doors to frighten away Stingy Jack and other wandering evil spirits. In England, large beets were used.


    Jack O Lantern

    The American jack o’lantern. Photo courtesy Burpee.


    Immigrants brought the jack o’lantern tradition to the U.S., where they discovered that the native pumpkin made the biggest, scariest and best jack-o’-lanterns.



    RECIPE: Pumpkin Lasagna & Pumpkin Ravioli Lasagna


    Pumpkin lasagna made in a Dutch oven.
    Photo courtesy Williams-Sonoma.


    How about a festive pumpkin lasagna for Halloween or Thanksgiving?

    One of the tips to enjoy a rich, hearty dish like lasagna is to serve it in smaller portions as a first course. Our friend Ruth’s Italian-American mother always served a pasta course before the Thanksgiving turkey.

    You can buy delicious pumpkin ravioli and serve it with any sauce—Alfredo, butter, olive oil, pumpkin or tomato. You can make pumpkin mac and cheese, and for more fun serve it in a hollowed-out baby pumpkin garnished with shelled pumpkin seeds (pepitas).

    You can add diced pumpkin (or its stand-ins, acorn or butternut squash) to cooked pasta, purée the pumpkin into a sauce (here’s a recipe) or both.

    The first recipe is from Williams-Sonoma. You don’t need a lasagna pan because it’s made in a Dutch oven. Find more delicious recipes on the website.

    Our second lasagna recipe is even easier, because it’s a ravioli lasagna: ravioli is used instead of lasagna noodles.


    Ingredients For 8 To 10 Servings

  • 1 pound whole milk ricotta cheese
  • 1 tablespoon julienned fresh sage
  • 1/4 cup (1/3 ounce) chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 2 yellow summer squash, cut into rounds 1/4 inch (6 mm) thick
  • 2 zucchini, cut into rounds 1/4 inch thick
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 jar (24 ounces) pumpkin pasta sauce or sauce of choice
  • 12 sheets dried ruffle-edged lasagna noodles, cooked to al dente
  • 1 pound Fontina cheese, shredded (substitute Emmental, Gruyère or Provolone

    1. PREHEAT the oven to 450°F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.

    2. STIR together the ricotta, sage, 3 tablespoons of the parsley and all the garlic in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.

    3. TOSS the yellow squash and zucchini with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large bowl, and season with salt and pepper. Arrange in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet. Transfer to the oven and roast until tender and lightly browned, about 15 minutes. Meanwhile…

    4. WARM the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil in an oval Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and lightly browned, about 15 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and add the yellow squash and zucchini. Reduce the oven temperature to 400°F.

    5. SPREAD 1/2 cup pasta sauce in an even layer on the bottom of the Dutch oven. Arrange a single layer of lasagna noodles on top, tearing them as needed to fit. Spread 1/2 cup of the ricotta mixture on the noodles and scatter 1 cup of the vegetable mixture on top. Spread 1/2 cup pasta sauce over the vegetables and sprinkle 1 cup of the Fontina on top. Layer the noodles, ricotta, vegetables, sauce and fontina 3 more times, omitting the sauce and fontina on the last layer. Top with the remaining noodles, sauce and Fontina.

    6. TRANSFER to the oven and bake until the sauce is bubbly and the cheese is melted and browned, 45 to 50 minutes. Sprinkle the remaining tablespoon of parsley on top. Let the lasagna rest for 15 minutes before serving.



    If you don’t make lasagna often, you may find yourself struggling with the lasagna noodles. Bless the person who first thought of this trick: use cooked ravioli instead of lasagna noodles. Alternatively, you can use penne or other tube pasta, but ravioli supplies added filling.

    This recipe from Taste Of Home takes 25 minutes to prep and 40 minutes to bake.
    Ingredients For 6-8 Servings

  • 1 pound ground beef, pork or turkey*
  • 1 jar (28 ounces) pumpkin pasta sauce or sauce of choice
  • 1 package (25 ounces) frozen cheese or sausage ravioli
  • 1-1/2 cups (6 ounces) shredded part skim mozzarella cheese
  • Herbs of choice: basil, chili flakes, garlic, oregano, thyme

    Pumpkin Ravioli Lasagna

    In this lasagna, ravioli substitutes for the lasagna noodles. Photo courtesy Taste Of Home.



    1. PREHEAT the oven to 400F. Cook the meat in a large skillet over medium heat until no longer pink; drain the fat.

    2. LAYER in a greased 2-1/2-quart baking dish: a third of the spaghetti sauce, half of the ravioli and beef and 1/2 cup cheese; sprinkle with herbs. Repeat the layers. Top with the remaining sauce, cheese and herbs.

    3. COVER and bake at 400°F for 40-45 minutes or until heated through. Yield: 6-8 servings. If you have leftover fresh herbs, sprinkle them over the cooked lasagna.

    *Vegetarians can substitute TVP, textured vegetable protein.



    FOOD FUN: Halloween Mummy Apples

    I want my mummy! Photo courtesy Marci Coombs.


    Here’s a fun Halloween treat that makes a nutritious apple even more attractive than a piece of candy.

    All you need are apples, gauze and candy eyes. Here’s how Marci Coombs did it.

    You can set the apples out in a glass bowl, use them as place settings, or wrap them in cellophane bags as gifts or party favors.




    RECIPE: Twice Baked Pumpkin Potatoes

    This recipe for Twice Baked Potatoes offers a new twist by mixing pumpkin in with the scooped-out potato flesh. The result is more complex flavor and more creamy texture—not to mention a bright orange color. There are also a trio of onion varieties: green onions, shallots and yellow onions.

    The recipe is from Taylor Mathis of for He recommends it as “a perfect side for any grilled or roasted pork dish.” Ditto for roast chicken.

    Taylor, a professional food and lifestyle photographer, works with his mother Sally James Mathis, a professional recipe developer. You can bet that everything they create is delicious.


    Ingredients For 8 Servings

  • 4 large russet potatoes, scrubbed and patted dry
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1/3 cup yellow onions, chopped
  • 1/3 cup shallots, chopped
  • 1/3 cup scallions (white and green parts), chopped
  • 1 cup canned pumpkin
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons coarse ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg
  • 1 cup Parmesan cheese, grated


    The center is scooped from baked potatoes, mixed with pumpkin, returned to the potato shell and baked again. Photo courtesy Taylor Mathis | Go Bold With Butter.

  • Garnish: pumpkin seeds and additional grated Parmesan Cheese


    1. PREHEAT the oven to 42°F and bake the potatoes: Pierce each raw potato three or four times with a fork. Brush with a bit of olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, place and directly on the oven rack. Roast until the skin is crisp and the body is very soft when squeezed, 50–60 minutes. Lower the heat to 350°F.

    2. SPLIT the baked potatoes in half lengthwise while still warm. Scoop out the insides of each half, taking care not to damage the skins, and place the flesh in a large bowl. The hollowed-out potato skins will be filled later.

    3. MELT the butter in a medium pan. Add the yellow onions, shallots and scallions. Cook, while stirring, until soft. Add the canned pumpkin and milk. Stir until all ingredients are well incorporated.

    4. REDUCE the heat and add the salt, pepper and nutmeg. Stir and remove from the heat. Add the Parmesan and stir. Fold the pumpkin mixture into the large bowl of potatoes.

    5. FILL the empty potato shells with the potato and pumpkin mixture. Garnish with additional Parmesan and pumpkin seeds as desired. Bake for 15-20 minutes until the cheese is melted and golden brown.



    A russet potato with extra slices. Photo courtesy Idaho Potato Commission.



    Russets are the most common type of potato grown in the U.S. They are the classic baking potato, floury/starchy potatoes that are lower in moisture (drier) and high in starch. The potato is oval and has a brown or russet-colored, net-like skin. The skin typically has just a few shallow eyes.

    The term “Idaho potatoes” is often used interchangeably, but Idaho© Potatoes is a trademark of the Idaho Potato Commission, for russets that are grown in the state of Idaho.

    Floury potatoes do not hold their shape well after cooking due to their low sugar content. They have a crumbly texture that tends to fall apart when boiled. That’s why russets are easier to mash. In addition to baked potatoes, they’re also used for deep-frying (for example, French fries and potato pancakes).

    Russets are bred to be harvested in the warmer months; Idahos are harvested in the cooler months. Idahoan Luther Burbank developed the Russet Burbank potato in 1872, a more disease-resistant version of the Irish russet potato.


    There have been additional russet developments since. In the U.S. alone, they include Alturas, BelRus, Centennial Russet, Century Russet, Frontier Russet, Goldrush, Hilite Russet, Krantz, Lemhi Russet, Nooksack, Norgold Russet, Norking Russet, Ranger Russet, Russet Burbank, Russet Norkotah and Russet Nugget. Each is bred for optimal growing in different soils, climates, rainfalls and seasons, and for resistance to pests.


    Wild potatoes are indigenous to the Andes Mountains in Peru, where the Incas cultivated many species of potato. They were first domesticated more than 6,000 years ago.

    The name is said to originate from the Spanish patata, a combination of batata (sweet potato) and papa, a word for potato from the Inca Quechua language.

    The Spanish conquered Peru around 1530 and brought potatoes back home to Spain along with tomatoes, also native to Peru. News traveled fast (or what passed as “fast” in the centuries prior to the telegraph), and potatoes quickly reached the rest of Western Europe.

    However, not everyone was enamored of the potato or the tomato. They were feared at first, accused of causing leprosy and being poisonous. They were classified as members of the Nightshade family, Solanaceae, because both contain toxic compounds known as glycoalkaloids. However, the levels in domestic potatoes and tomatoes fall far short of being harmful to people.

    Slowly, more countries realized the power of the potato. It could grow in any climate. It became a major food crop in Ireland, so much so that when the country was hit by a potato blight (Phytophthora infestans) three years in a row, more than a million people died of starvation and disease.

    Potatoes were introduced to America in the 18th century. They were first planted in Idaho in 1836; today the state grows 25% of the nation’s potatoes.

    See the other types of potatoes in our Potato Glossary.



    TIP OF THE DAY: Pumpkin Pasta Sauce

    Pumpkin Pasta Sauce

    Pumpkin pasta sauce for fall: Buy it or make it! Photo courtesy Cucina Antica.


    Here’s a two-fer for National Pasta Month and Halloween: Tuscany Pumpkin pasta sauce from Cucina Antica. You can buy it, or make your own.

    The sauce can also be used to top other foods including sautéed or roasted vegetables, and to blend into mashed potatoes, rice or risotto.

    In Cucina Antica’s sauce, pumpkin and carrot purées and San Marzano tomatoes, seasoned with garlic, rosemary and sage, are simmered with a touch of heavy cream, onions and parsley. There are also hints of basil, cinnamon and honey.

    You can use it with plain pasta, stuffed pasta (gnocchi, ravioli, tortellini) or baked dishes like lasagna. At Cucina Ant5ica, they also turn it into cream of pumpkin soup with the addition of more cream or half-and-half.

    It’s a nice foodie gift, too, available from in 25-ounce jars. They sell 3-, 6- and 12-packs; a 3-pack is $16.80.

    Or, make your own.

    In addition to the recipe below, you can adapt the sauce to be more like Cucina Antica’s, with cinnamon and honey instead of red pepper flakes; or with cream instead of the Parmesan cheese.

    Or, get inspiration from this recipe from Food and Wine, which includes mascarpone cheese and toasted hazelnuts.

    And this recipe from Rachael Ray adds sweet sausage and white wine.



  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary
  • 1 can (15 ounces) plain pumpkin purée
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/2 cup half-and-half
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tablespoon white-wine vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes or fresh-ground black pepper
  • Optional: 1/2 cup tomato purée, ideally San Marzano
  • Salt to taste

  • Cooked pasta of choice


    1. COOK the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente. Reserve 2 cups of the pasta water; then drain the pasta and set aside.

    2. HEAT the olive oil in the pasta pot over medium heat. Add the rosemary and fry, stirring, until the rosemary starts to brown (1 to 2 minutes). With a slotted spoon, drain the rosemary, the leaving the oil in pot, and drain it on paper towels. It will be used as garnish, and also imparts rosemary flavor to the oil. You can use this technique whenever you are making an oil-based recipe.

    3. ADD the pumpkin purée, garlic, half-and-half, Parmesan cheese, vinegar, optional red pepper flakes and 1 cup of the reserved pasta water to the pot. Take care because the oil is hot and can spatter. Stir the sauce until heated through (2 to 3 minutes).

    4. ADD the cooked pasta to the sauce and toss to coat. If the sauce is too thick, add some of the reserved pasta water. Season generously with salt. Serve pasta sprinkled with fried rosemary and, if desired, more red-pepper flakes.

    Pumpkin originated in Central America more than 7,500 years ago. The oldest domesticated pumpkin seeds found to date were in the Oaxaca Highlands in southwest Mexico.

    The original pumpkins bore little resemblance to today’s large, bright orange, sweet variety; they were small and bitter. Domestication and breeding produced the pumpkins we know today.

    Brought to North America, pumpkins were a welcome food for the winter. Their thick skin and solid flesh were ideal for storing for consumption during months of scarcity.


    Pumpkin Lasagna


    Lasagna made with pumpkin sauce. Here’s the recipe from Taste Of Home. Bottom photo of pumpkins by Rowann Gilman | THE NIBBLE.


    Europeans immigrating to New England were introduced to pumpkin by Native Americans. The first known pumpkin recipe they made was found in a book from the early 1670s. The recipe was for a side dish made from diced pumpkin, cooked down and blended with butter and spices—much like acorn squash, butternut squash and sweet potatoes are prepared today.

    During the 17th century, housewives developed an inventory of pumpkin recipes, the most popular of which remains [drum roll…] pumpkin pie.

    In the 1800s it became stylish to serve sweetened pumpkin dishes during holiday dinners. The first proclamation for “national days of prayer, humiliation, and thanksgiving” led to an observance on November 28, 1782. Since 1863, Thanksgiving has been an official annual holiday, by proclamation of President Abraham Lincoln.




    TIP OF THE DAY: Cheesecake Crust Variations


    We look forward to pumpkin cheesecake each fall. Photo courtesy Marisa Churchill.


    The most interesting news in cheesecake these days is not the flavor. You need only head to the Cheesecake Factory for a slice of Lemon Meringue Cheesecake.

    If that sounds too simple, there’s this Balsamic Strawberry, Basil & Black Pepper Cheesecake. Or you can combine two seemingly unrelated flavors, as in this Lime and Chocolate Cheesecake.

    But the real excitement in cheesecake these days is the crust. It’s typically a simple graham cracker or cookie crust—chocolate wafers or shortbread are most common. But expand your horizons and start crushing these alternatives:

  • Breakfast cereal: corn flakes, granola
  • Candy: add crushed butterscotch/toffee, brittle, candy cane or crystallized ginger to the crust
  • Cookie dough (it bakes into a solid cookie base)
  • Nuts and seeds: add chopped almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, pepitas (pumpkin seeds), walnuts
  • Pretzels
  • Other cookies: amaretti, biscotti/rusks*, brownies, coconut macaroons, digestive biscuits, gingersnaps, Oreos, peanut butter cookies, speculoos spice cookies, vanilla wafers or anything that appeals to you
  • Sugar or waffle ice cream cones
    The tip: Let your imagination be your guide. For pumpkin cheesecake season, it’s easy to do something different, making a crust of gingersnaps or spice cookies, plus nuts and seeds.

    *Our mom preferred a rusk crust using Nabisco’s Zweiback, teething biscuits that were barely sweetened. Nabisco no longer makes them but you can find other rusks.


    This pumpkin cheesecake recipe from Christina Ferrare uses a combination crust of graham crackers and gingersnaps, plus nuts. Christina notes, “I always make two because this is the first dessert to go. When it’s baking, you can smell the spices all over the house.”

    This recipe makes 10-12 servings in a 9-inch springform pan. Make it the day before, so it can rest in the fridge overnight.

    For The Crust

  • 9 whole graham crackers
  • 12 gingersnap cookies
  • ½ cup chopped pecans
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • ½ teaspoon ground ginger
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
    For The Filling

  • 3 packages (8 ounces each) cream cheese, at room temperature, cut into chunks
  • 1 ¼ cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 5 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 can (15- ounces) plain pumpkin
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • Optional garnishes: caramel sauce, pomegranate arils, whipped cream or bourbon whipped cream, candied pecans


    1. PREHEAT the oven to 325°F. Place an oven rack in the lower-middle part of the oven. Spray a 9-inch springform pan with nonstick cooking spray.

    2. MAKE the crust: In a food processor, combine the graham crackers, gingersnaps, pecans, sugar, ginger and cinnamon. Process until evenly ground. Add the melted butter and process for 5 to 8 seconds. Turn the crumbs into the prepared springform pan, and spread them into an even layer using your hands and pressing gently.

    3. BAKE for 15 minutes. Cool on a wire rack to room temperature, about 30 minutes. When the crust is cool, wrap the outside of the pan with two 18-inch square pieces of foil, and set the springform pan in a roasting pan (you’ll be using it to make a bain-marie in step 5).

    4. MAKE the filling: In a food processor, process the cream cheese, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves and salt until smooth. Add the eggs one at a time, processing after each addition. Add the cream and pumpkin and process until well blended. Add the vanilla and lemon juice. Pour the filling into the crust and spread evenly. Tap the pan on the counter 4 to 5 times to remove air bubbles.


    Pepita Cheesecake Crust

    For pumpkin cheesecake or pumpkin pie, make a crust with gingersnaps, fall spices and pepitas (pumpkin seeds). The recipe is below. Photo courtesy McCormick.

    5. PLACE the cheesecake (in the roasting pan) in the oven. Quickly fill the roasting pan with water halfway. Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until the top is set. To test, insert a toothpick; if it comes out clean, the cake is done. Remove the cheesecake from the water bath and place it on the counter to cool to room temperature. Refrigerate overnight.

    6. RELEASE the cake from the springform pan by running a knife under warm water, and run the knife all around the cheesecake to loosen the sides. Release the sides of the springform and gently lift it away from the cake. Garnish as desired.

    This crust was developed by McCormick for a pumpkin pie, but we like it for cheesecake, too.


  • 1 cup pepitas (shelled pumpkin seeds)
  • 1 cup slivered almonds
  • 3 tablespoons firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, melted

    1. PREHEAT the oven to 350°F. Place the pepitas, almonds, brown sugar, ginger and salt in food processor; cover and pulse until coarsely chopped.

    2. ADD the butter; mix until well blended. Press firmly onto bottom and up sides of pie plate. Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until lightly browned.

    3. FILL with your choice cheesecake batter and proceed with that recipe’s directions; or make this pumpkin pie recipe from McCormick.



    PRODUCTS: Pumpkin Flavored Foods

    The fall cool-down began here last week. But we knew fall was in the air more than a month ago, when the fall-flavor product samples started to arrive.

    Fall is perhaps the best season to get into the flavor spirit. As the choices of warm-weather fresh produce narrow, pumpkin, squash and foods flavored with “fall spices”—allspice, cinnamon, clove, ginger and nutmeg—give us something to look forward to.

    Consider all the seasonal specialties with pumpkin:

    BREAKFAST: You can start the morning with pumpkin spice oatmeal, pancakes and muffins; spread your toast with pumpkin butter; and pop pumpkin marshmallows into your cocoa. Or, just grab a pumpkin scone and a pumpkin spice latte.

    BREAK: With your morning or afternoon “coffee break,” switch to Zhena’s Vanilla Spice Harvest Herb Tea or Republic Of Tea’s Pumpkin Spice Seasonal Black Tea, with a a pumpkin chocolate chip cookie or pumpkin biscotto.

    LUNCH: How about Chobani’s Greek Yogurt Flip, with Pumpkin Harvest Crisp to toss into the plain yogurt? (Pumpkin Harvest Crisp comprises pie crust pieces, glazed pumpkin seeds and pecans.) We also liked Chobani’s seasonal blended Cinnamon Pear yogurt.)

    DINNER: There’s pumpkin soup, pumpkin pasta, roasted pumpkin alone or with other vegetables, rice, even in a green salad. And by all mean, have a pumpkin ice cream hot fudge sundae for dessert. We’ll save the pumpkin cocktails, crème brûlée, bundt cakes and pies for another time.

    Here’s the first batch of what we’ve enjoyed so far:

  • Gourmet pumpkin baking mixes. At Sur La Table alone, there’s Pumpkin Spice Donut Mix, Pumpkin Spice Cheesecake Brownie Mix, Pumpkin Spice Chocolate Chip Cake Mix, Pumpkin Spice Whoopie Pie Mix and Buttermilk Almond Pumpkin Spice Quickbread, all nicely boxed and giftworthy.
  • Pumpkin spice instant oatmeal from Quaker. Just add hot water, and 60 seconds later you’ve got a warm bowl of comfort. It’s OU kosher.
  • Pumpkin pancakes: There are mixes on store shelves, online, and of course, at IHOP.
  • Pumpkin spice peanut butter from Peanut Butter & Co. Blended with real pumpkin and pumpkin pie spices, at $6 a jar it’s great for Halloween and Thanksgiving party favors, too. It’s also available in a fall flavor three-pack, along with with Cinnamon Raisin and Maple PBs.
  • Pumpkin spice syrup from Monin, to make your own PSLs at home (even a sugar-free pumpkin spice latte).
    For snacking, we’ve enjoyed:




    Dandies Pumpkin Marshmallows

    TOP: Talenti’s Pumpkin Pie gelato contains real pumpkin and actual pieces of pie crust. MIDDLE: Flip some Pumpkin Harvest Crisp into your yogurt. BOTTOM: Dandies pumpkin mini-marshmallows, vegan and kosher.



    Pumpkin Spice macaroons from Danny Macaroons. Photo courtesy, which sells them and other tasty things.

  • Dandies all-natural pumpkin mini marshmallows, gelatin-free, vegan and certified kosher by the Chicago Rabbinical Council. Tasty and fun, most people would never suspect they’re vegan (and also nut-free, gluten-free and corn-free). Get them at
  • Danny Macaroon’s spiced pumpkin macaroons, “pumpkin pie in macaroon form.” They’re made with real pumpkin, pumpkin pie spices and toasted pumpkin seeds. Get yours here. (Macaroons, based on coconut, are gluten-free.)
  • Talenti’s Pumpkin Pie gelato. While there’s a choice of pumpkin ice cream brands, Talenti’s pumpkin pie variation not only uses real pumpkin—it adds real pie crust pieces.
    There’s more to come, so stay tuned! But first note: Most of these are seasonal specials. Eat up!




    TIP OF THE DAY: Pumpkin Beer Cocktails (Beertails)

    Pumpkin beer cocktails have sprouted at watering holes all over town. We’ve got two great recipes that use pumpkin beer or ale, plus tips on how to dress up a regular brew in seasonal flavors.

    Even people who aren’t beer lovers can enjoy a beertail. As long as you like pumpkin pie, you’ll like these.

    First up is a beertail from


    Ingredients Per Drink

  • 3 parts pumpkin beer or ale
  • 2 parts sparkling apple cider
  • 1 part hard apple cider
  • Garnish: cinnamon stick or pumpkin spice rim (recipe below)

    1. RIM the glass, if using the pumpkin spice rim (instructions below).

    2. ADD the ingredients to the glass, giving the beertail one gentle stir so as not to break the bubbles.

    3. GARNISH with a cinnamon stick (if not using the spice rim).



    Turn a bottle of pumpkin beer or ale into a fall “beertail.” Photo courtesy


    This second recipe, from Herradura Tequila, combines vodka with pumpkin ale, canned pumpkin and orange juice. If you don’t like vodka, you can substitute apple brandy, spiced rum, even a split between plain rum and hazelnut liqueur, like Frangelico.

    This is a sweet cocktail, so test the recipe first. You can omit the agave if it’s too sweet for you.

    Why is this recipe called “punch?”

    Punch is a general term for a broad assortment of mixed drinks, made with or without alcohol. While punch generally contains fruit or fruit juice, fruit isn’t essential. Nor is an elegant punch bowl required. A pitcher is fine, and in many cases, it’s more practical.

    Punch was discovered in India by the British sailors of the East India Company. The concept was brought to England in the early 17th century, some 150 years before sparkling beverages were available to replace the water. From there punch spread to other countries.

    Carbonated water wasn’t available commercially until 1783. Then, J.J. Schweppe developed a process to manufacture carbonated mineral water, based on the the process discovered by Joseph Priestley in 1767.

    The word “punch” derives from the Hindi word, “panch.” In India, panch was made from five different ingredients: sugar, lemon, water, tea or spices and an alcoholic spirit. The word for “five” in Sanskrit is panchan; hence the name.



    Can’t live without vodka? This recipe combines it with pumpkin beer. Photo courtesy Herradura Tequila.


    Ingredients Per Drink

  • 2 ounces Herradura Reposado or substitute*
  • 2 ounces pumpkin ale
  • 1 ounce orange juice
  • 1 ounce canned pumpkin
  • 1/2 ounce agave
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters (or other bitters)
  • Ice
  • Optional garnish: star anise pod, orange peel or wheel

    1. FILL a cocktail shaker with ice cubes and all ingredients except the garnish. Shake and strain into a glass filled with ice cubes.

    2. GARNISH and serve.

    NOTE: We made multiple portions in a pitcher with pre-chilled ingredients. Instead of shaking, we whisked the ingredients in the pitcher. We then dropped an ice “hockey puck,” frozen in an empty soup can, into the pitcher. The larger the piece of ice, the slower it melts.




  • 1-1/2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon pumpkin spice

    1. COMBINE the sugar and spices in a saucer or low bowl. Moisten the rim of the glass with water.

    2. DIP the moistened rim into the spice mix and twist to coat.

  • Top with a dash of pumpkin pie spice.
  • Garnish with an apple or pear slice.
  • Spice up with a cinnamon stick or star anise.
  • Skewer candy corn onto a cocktail pick.
    *Reposado tequila, aged up to a year, takes on a light yellow and more complex flavors than blanco, or silver, tequila. Given the number of flavorful ingredients in this drink, you can substitute blanco if that’s what you have on hand.



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