Sunday, November 11, 2012

Halloween Dinner

Chocolate Wasted Cake

Halloween is, hands down, my favorite holiday.  I had a few larger parties for a couple of years, but Michael and I (mostly Michael) are too uptight about cleanliness and there was just too much glitter left everywhere.  So I switched to a small dinner party.  We like this much better - I can create a more focused menu and we can really catch up with our friends.

I like to try to create “dark” menus, but not too kitchy - just a little kitchy.  This year the menu was:
- blue cheese spread with rosemary crackers
- guacamole with black beans (and chips)
- grapes with cheddar cheese and garlic and olive oil crackers (all bought)
- french onion soup with rye bread and humbolt fog blue cheese
Main dishes:
- caramelized brussels sprouts with croutons and bacon
- balsamic roasted chicken
- chocolate wasted cake
- autumn sangria

I was pretty happy with most of it.  The appetizers especially - the rosemary and parm crackers were super yummy.  And I used my halloween cookie cutters to cut them into pumpkins and bats.  The blue cheese spread was good, but strong and would’ve been better for a larger party.

Rosemary and Parmesan Crackers in Halloween shapes
Blue Cheese Spread
The guacamole was incredibly good!  I think I may use this as my go to guacamole recipe.  It’s a bit soupy because it was supposed to be “swamp like”, but the extra lime and black beans added such a depth of flavor.  Plus, it never turned brown!

Guacamole with Black Beans
I liked the soup, but I didn’t find it all that special.  It was a basic french onion soup.  I did like it with the rye bread.  The cheese I got was a goat blue and I felt the flavors went really well together.

French Onion soup with rye bread and goat cheese
For the main dishes I made caramelized brussels sprouts (see my previous post regarding my love of fall veggies) and Balsamic Roasted Chicken.  The brussels sprouts dish had promise, but it just didn’t quite deliver what I wanted.  I think I should’ve roasted the sprouts longer as they just weren’t caramelized enough for me.  Or maybe added some maple syrup.  And I would definitely use less bread next time.  I was in love with the bread idea and added WAY more than the recipe called for.  Next time - just stick to the recipe.

Caramelized Brussels Sprouts
The chicken was pretty tasty.  I used drumsticks and wings so that people could choose white or dark meat.  It was just slightly too dry I think - I still don’t have the cooking chicken thing down yet.  I always overcook it.  But the sauce was yummy and served on the side, made for a great sauce - all dark, thick and oozy.  The best part was the next day I shredded all the chicken off the bones and we ate it on sandwiches with the sauce.  That was super yummy!

For a drink I made an autumn sangria and I have to say, this was one of my favorites of the night.  I wasn’t sure if I would like it cause I’ve never been a huge sangria fan, but this was tasty.  We used all the fruits listed in the recipe and Marc Cellars Pinot Noir and Central Market’s sparkling pear and apple juice.  It was sweet and refreshing and tasted very fall.

Autumn Sangria
And finally.. the cake.  This was the first recipe I decided on.  It was going to be my halloween party cake since I first pinned it in way back in like February.  And let me just say, it did not disappoint!  I wasn’t sure about the actual cake part since when I read the recipe there were no eggs - which I thought odd, but it was really, really good!  Almost like a brownie, but not overly sweet, which was good considering the rest of the stuff on the cake.  I forgot to drizzle it with liquor, which I can only imagine would have made it even better.  But like I said, it was fantastic and moist on it’s own.  And I added a layer of caramel to the middle since I knew I would be using Twix and I wanted to connect everything.  For the top I added Butterfingers, KitKat, Twix, Hershey’s miniatures, Reese’s Pieces, and Ghirardelli 60% dark chocolate chips.  And thanks to Patti at PattiCakes for the most delicious chocolate frosting ever.  Her frosting is so good, I thought ‘why try to make it myself, just get some of Patti’s!’  The cake is hard to cut, but it doesn’t really matter.  Everything tastes better all piled together anyway.  But it is a sugar rush!  I had SO much energy after my piece I made everyone play Just Dance for a few minutes.  :)  The energy was helpful though when I needed to clean up after everyone left.  If you’re a candy fan, I would highly recommend trying this cake, just once.  It’s just so decadent and fun!

Chocolate Wasted Cake

Roasted fall vegetable stew

I think fall is my favorite time of year for veggies.  I love love love cauliflower and potatoes and cabbage and kale and brussels sprouts and beets and turnips, etc etc etc.  And every time I make groceries I want to buy everything.  So, of course, I decided to make a soup.  I’ve been seeing various recipes using roasted vegetables and I thought a roasted veggie soup would be delicious.  But everything I looked at (as with most vegetable soup recipes) just did not live up to my needs.  I wanted LOTS of hardy, fall vegetables - a soup with ALL of my favorites.  So, I kind of made this one up.  And man oh man I love this soup!!!  I will say now that I don’t think it’s for everyone - it’s very vinegary, which I love, but I don’t think everyone would like that.  And the beets turn everything pink, as you can see, which may also turn people off, but it doesn’t bother me.  It is one of the most perfect soups for me.  So many chunky veggies in one bowl - I get giddy when I think about sitting down to enjoy it. It really is just a vehicle for me to enjoy all the fall veggies I like in one bowl, enhanced by a few autumn herbs and spices and with a slightly pickled flavor.

Roasted Fall Vegetable Soup

Yield: 8
3 small Beets, diced into small cubes
2 medium Turnips, diced into small cubes
3 Carrots, diced into small cubes
1 Onion, halved, ½ sliced into sliver, ½ diced
1 large Russet Potato, diced into small cubes
1 large Sweet Potato, diced into small cubes
½ head Cauliflower, broken into small florets
1 medium Sweet Apple, diced into small cubes
5 cloves Garlic, smashed 
2 Tbsp Olive Oil
2 Tbsp Sage, chopped
2 Tbsp Rosemary, chopped
1 Tbsp Thyme, chopped
1 Tbsp Salt
Any Other Seasonings, such as flavored salts and pepper
1 Tbsp Bacon Fat
1 bunch Swiss Chard, chopped and washed well
1 bunch Beet Greens, optional
6 cups Chicken Stock
1 Tbsp Chicken Bouillon
3 Bay Leaf
2 Lemons, juice only


Roast veggies:
Pre-heat oven to 425.

Combine beets, turnips, carrots, sliced ½ of onion, potato, sweet potato, cauliflower, apple, garlic, olive oil, sage, rosemary, thyme, salts, and other seasonings and mix well in a bowl until veggies are coated.

Put veggies into roasting pan and roast for 45 mins to an hour.  Stirring every 15 mins, until veggies and tender.

While veggies are cooking, start soup:
It large stock pot, on med. heat, melt bacon fat and add diced ½ onion.  Cook for about 1 min and then add a little chicken stock.  Saute until onions are translucent, about 5 mins.  Add greens and a little more stock (just the cover greens) and cook for about 8 mins until greens have started to soften.  Add rest of stock, bouillon, and bay leaves.  Stir well to dissolve bouillon.  Turn down heat and simmer until veggies are done.

When veggies are done, remove garlic cloves and add veggies to stew.  Stir well mixing all of the ingredients together.  Put garlic through garlic press and add to stew.  Stir again.

Continue to simmer for about 20 mins (or longer) until all the flavors have melded together.

When you are ready to serve (or store), add juice of 2 lemons and stir well.

Butternut squash soup

I don’t always love butternut squash.  But this year, for some reason, I’m constantly craving it.  That and sweet potatoes.  Not sure why.  So I set out to find a butternut squash soup recipe that sounded good.  There are a lot.  But I didn’t want a lot of cream and I wanted to add either apples or pears, so that helped me narrow it a bit.  I finally settled on this recipe.  I ended up manipulating it a bit, so I’ve posted the recipe below.  I used a couple of cans of butternut squash (rather than the Williams Sonoma jar) and I used pears instead of apples.  I also left out all the spices by accident because I was so focused on the other parts of the soup.  Oops. :) I really loved it though - it’s very flavorful and creamy.  I love the addition of the pears but I think my pears needed to be a bit riper, I would’ve liked it to be slightly sweeter.  And I think I would play with spices next time.  In the photo below, I actually did a drizzle of maple syrup and that was fabulous!!  I would also like to try it using fresh, roasted squash rather than the can.

Butternut Squash and Pear Soup
Yield 6-8
2 Tbs. unsalted butter
1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 cans butternut squash puree
2 pears, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup water
2 tbsp chicken bouillon
3 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 cup heavy cream
Freshly ground pepper, to taste

In a Dutch oven or stockpot over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the onion and cook until soft but not browned, 12 to 15 minutes. Add the butternut squash puree, apple, broth, water, bouillon and salt and stir to combine. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low. Partially cover the pot and simmer for 30 minutes.

Add the heavy cream. Using an immersion blender or food processor and puree the soup.

Based on 6 servings