Sunday, November 4, 2007

Halloween Treats

Last weekend, I hosted a Halloween party at my apartment, complete with decorations, costumes, and season treats.

Toasted Pumpkin Seeds

I gave Jesse the task of carving the pumpkin, and when I returned, I was pleasantly surprised by his unique and well-carved interpretation. "It's a girl?" I said. "Of course it's a girl, it has a girl shape!" he responded. Okay then, if you say so.

I took the innards out of the pumpkin. The stringy guts weren't worth saving, as it was a surprisingly small amount for such a large pumpkin. But I did use the seeds to make toasted pumpkin seeds, a la Simple Recipes - with a couple modifications. First of all, I added paprika because I love to add that spice to all most every dish I make. I am never sure just how much taste paprika really adds, but the color seems to give food a psychological kick for me at least.
Also, the recipe above only requires 20 minutes in the oven. Some of my seeds were done at that time, but I had to let others sit in the oven until 50 minutes or so, and they still weren't deliciously crunchy but overly tough and chewy. Who knows, maybe due to my shitty apartment oven?
Chocolate Covered Apple Chunks

Next up, I made chocolate covered apple chunks. I thought about making caramel apples, but last time I tried to make caramel (over popcorn) it didn't come out right at all, so I decided to stick with coating the apples in chocolate because it is so much easier to do - just melt chocolate! I saw something similar on Iron Chef, where they created a trio of mini caramel covered and chocolate covered apples on sticks using an ice cream scoop to scoop out round pieces of apple.
So that was my inspiration. But I don't have an ice cream scoop and I don't have toothpicks, so I just left them as jagged apple pieces to melt in your hand. They turned out fine, but weren't a very exciting snack. I think taste-wise, caramel goes better with apples than chocolate does.

Bring a couple inches of water in a saucepan to boil, then lower to simmer. Place a metal bowl over the saucepan as a double boiler. Empty a bag of chocolate chips (milk, dark, semi-sweet, whatever you prefer) into the bowl and stir continuously until melted.

Meanwhile, chop 3 apples into 2-inch pieces. Once the chocolate is melted, Slowly stir in the apples with a metal spoon making sure the apple pieces are coated evenly.

Cover a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Lay the apple pieces evenly on the foil, without letting them touch (if they touch, they will stick together). Place sheet in the refrigerator for at least one hour (can be made a day in advance and stored in the fridge) to allow chocolate to set. Remove from fridge shortly before serving.

Carrot CupcakesAs you may have figured out by now, I like to make cupcakes and muffins for parties rather than full-sized cake because 1. they take less time to bake and thus use less energy 2. they are already in personal-sized portions with no cake cutting involved 3. they are easy to eat with your hands.

I also made carrot cupcakes for theparty, modeled after Straight From the Farm's carrot cake. Here is my version of it, modified to include less oil and eggs, replacing that with more apple sauce, honey, and milk. She used pear sauce, but luckily I had made apple sauce from local apples a week or two ago and was saving it for a random baking adventure, so the apple sauce ended up in this and didn't go to waste. Just for the record, the carrots, apples, eggs, and honey in this were all local.

I liked this recipe. It is a nice change from most carrot cake recipes, which gain moistness from pineapple, which is definitely not local. I would consider them muffins without frosting and cupcakes with frosting. I also ventured away from typical carrot cake frosting to do a plain vanilla cream icing because I don't like cream cheese icing. I have never believed that cream cheese should have a place in baking, whether it be cheesecake or frosting. The photo shows both chocolate and vanilla frosted cupcakes. What happened was, I had lots of chocolate at the bottom of the bowl after making my chocolate covered apples, so I scraped up the extra chocolate and just spread it over the top of cupcakes. But there wasn't enough chocolate for all the cupcakes so I ended up having to make vanilla frosting too. Next time I would just stick to vanilla frosting for these as chocolate kind of masks the actual taste of the cupcake.

They would have tasted awesome if I hadn't overcooked them. They came out dark on the bottom, slightly tough, with a slight burned taste, but still relatively yummy. Next time the only change I would make would maybe be to add more flour and one more egg so as to have more batter and bigger cupcakes - as you can see in the photo above, they are somewhat small.

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 cup apple sauce
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
2 tbsp honey
2 tbsp soy milk
3 cups grated carrots (about 3 average sized carrots)
1/3 cup chopped walnuts

2 tbsp butter
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp milk
1 cup confectioners sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 F and prepare two muffin tins with a good coat of nonstick baking spray. Set out the ingredients for the icing so they come to room temperature.
Sift together the flour, spices and baking powder and soda and set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together oil, apple sauce, sugar, honey, and milk until everything is well combined. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Slowly stir in the flour mixture until just combined. Do not over mix! Add the carrots and walnuts.

Pour the batter into the prepared muffin tins and bake on the center oven rack for 15-20 minutes. Make sure to check on them so they don't overcook! Test with a skewer inserted into the center to see if it comes out clean. When the skewer is clean, remove cup cakes from oven and allow to cool completely on a wire rack.

While the cake is cooling, make the icing by combining the buter, vanilla, and milk. Add half the confectioners’ sugar and stir slowly to start and then beat well to get rid of lumps. Taste the icing to determine if it’s sweet enough for you. If not, add more sugar until you’ve reached your desired sweetness. When cake is completely cooled, spread icing over top. Makes 24 cupcakes.

The Roommate's Goods

My roommate Gina also contributed to the party goods. She made sugar cookies, and I topped them off with icing left over from my cupcakes:

Gina also made a pumpkin pie, following her boyfriend's mother's pie crust recipe - coming out much better this time than her first attempt at pie crust - and a Paula Deen pie filling complete with cream cheese. Paula Deen, butter lover, scares me as a rule, but this pie tasted pretty good.

Unrelated: Bread

Finally, I have embarked on the quest to bake my own bread instead of shelling out $4-$5 for great farmers market bread. This is my second loaf and hey it looks like the real thing! My first loaf was all whole wheat, but was flat on top and dense, probably because I didn't let it rise long enough. For my second loaf, below, I followed the recipe for Basic Hearth Bread in The Bread Bible. With all the rising involved, I started at 7:30pm after work and didn't get to taste a finished slice until 1:15 am. Yikes! This was good, but much whiter than I would like. Next time I think I'll go for 3/4 whole wheat and 1/4 white flour, and let the sponge ferment in the fridge overnight. The great thing is, I have so many chances to improve at this if I keep making a new loaf of bread every week. I won't be sharing a recipe on here till I come up with my perfect bread. This week's bread was good, but not perfect.

Which brings me to an issue about this blog. As you may tell, I haven't been posting everything I've been cooking. As a perfectionist, I feel insecure about posting not only my failures but also meals that are just okay. I aspire to greatness and that means you'll just have to put up with sporadic posts, waiting for the best.

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