Halloween Food

One of the things I try to do every year is to send some treats to school with my kids for Halloween. Some years those treats aren’t food, and instead come in the form of seasonal trinkets such as erasers and pencils (especially the stacking point kind because it brings back so many happy memories from my childhood). If I choose to send along food, I prefer for it not to be straight-up candy, since I know that the kids will be getting enough of that when it comes time for trick-or-treating. This year, Thing 2 requested that I whip up another batch of her favourite Graveyard Five-Layer Dip, which was an easy enough wish to grant. But since Thing 1’s favourite thing is, in her words, “chocolate with chocolate in it and chocolate on top,” I had to make something else for her.

I was inspired by Delish’s Pumpkin Patch Brownies for Thing 2’s dish, enough so that I even baked a second batch for her to take to her Girl Guides Halloween party as well. However, I wanted to make the brownies themselves from scratch instead of from a boxed mix. (I generally find that if a boxed mix requires additional eggs, water, and oil, you’re really just paying a lot extra per pound to have someone pre-mix your dried ingredients for you.) I used the Book Club Brownies recipe on page 762 of the Joy of Cooking (75th Anniversary Edition, Rombauer & Becker, 2006). It’s a solid recipe that is based on the Brownies Cockaigne that has appeared in Joy since the original 1931 edition. Since I knew that these brownies would be eaten in a classroom, I opted for making them slightly less messy by not adding the frosting and Oreo “dirt”. Instead, I just traced the “vines” on with green icing and made sure that every square got a pumpkin — since every kid argues about which piece is “better” based on number of toppings.

As can be surmised from my Happy Halloween! post, we also carved our pumpkins this year. In an attempt to waste as little food as possible, I had the girls separate the guts from the seeds while I cleaned out the pumpkins. Then I roasted the seeds with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt, on a sheet pan in the oven for about 30 minutes at 300°F (150°C), checking every ten minutes or so. They turned out lovely and will make a wonderfully crunchy, salty snack while they last. It always surprises me how few seeds you get from a single pumpkin! This is the result of five quite large gourds, and it probably won’t last us a week.

Pumpkin Spice Muffins & Cheerios

It’s no secret that I love pumpkin spice. A lot of people joke that it’s a flavouring made specifically for white women, and there may be some substance to that. After all, it does smell distinctly like the pumpkin pie that was a treat in my family around Thanksgiving and Christmas, so I’m guessing that other people of a similar background have similar nostalgia. They say that smell has a great deal of power when it comes to memory, at any rate.

When I was growing up, though, pumpkin spice wasn’t in everything come fall. Pumpkin pie and pumpkin bread, if you were lucky, and that was about it. The popularity of Starbucks’ pumpkin spice latte is what really got the ball rolling, at least around here. I’m not a coffee drinker, so I was later than many about hopping on the bandwagon. I really rather liked the Oreos and the Kahlua. That being said, I firmly believe that some things really don’t need to be pumpkin spice flavoured, or have been poorly done, so I like to try out a few new dishes every autumn as a kind of experiment.

The first dish that I tried this week was pumpkin spice muffins baked from Krusteaz Pumpkin Spice Quick Bread Mix, which I bought from Costco on a recent trip. The box says that you can make loaves, pancakes, cookies, and muffins, but I was feeling lazy so I just made the muffins. They rose nicely and looked great in the pan, but they fell and became rather overly moist once they left the oven, despite being cooked through. Even so, they were fairly tasty; the kids especially liked them.

For my part, I think I will stick to the Joy of Cooking‘s Pumpkin Bread recipe for this kind of muffin. I’ve had better luck with this recipe in the past. However, I do wonder, in the case of the mix, if it’s trying to do too many things — or if a different preparation might suit the mix better? At any rate, I have three more packages of mix to cook, so I should be able to try them all out.

I also tried some Pumpkin Spice Cheerios. These are definitely a sweet cereal, which to me isn’t suited to breakfast at all. Actually, I found them quite cloying in (unsweetened almond) milk. However, they’re not half bad dry, and make quite a nice snack. However, if I’m going for a sweet Cheerio, I much prefer Apple Cinnamon Cheerios. They came out in 1988, so they have a place in my heart as being a special treat from my childhood (we weren’t allowed sugary cereal except on special occasions). Also, I just find that they taste less sweet and cloying, which is funny because according to the nutrition info, pumpkin spice has 8g of sugar per serving, and apple cinnamon has 9g. Maybe it’s how it’s cooked, or just the spice mixture? It’s even stranger when you realize that one of the major components in pumpkin spice is actually cinnamon. At any rate, I still like Apple Cinnamon Cheerios better.

Glazed Lemon Loaf

I don’t know why, but I’ve been craving glazed lemon loaf lately. I think it may be because one of my favourite coffee shops has it in the pastry case every once and a while, and I do sometimes succumb to temptation. When I was grocery shopping with the family the other day, I thought that I might pick one up, but they were nowhere to be found! So I Googled a recipe, bought a lemon, and baked a loaf myself — despite the fact that I usually try not to turn on the oven in this heat.

I’m happy to report that it turned out exactly as I had hoped! Moist (but not doughy) in the center, with just a little tang of lemon in the glaze… Perfect. I found the Glazed Lemon Pound Cake Loaf recipe on Seasons & Suppers: The Summer Edition. The writeup for the recipe stresses that it must be made just so, with butter and eggs at room temperature, sour cream removed from the fridge fifteen minutes before adding, and a very specific order of operations. Given that I’ve never made lemon loaf before (lemon poppyseed yes, straight up lemon no), I figured that I should follow the directions as written — at least the first time. Okay, well, I did have to make one small modification to adjust for my dairy issues, and used lactose-free sour cream instead of regular. But it still turned out great!

I think that the only beef I have with this absolutely delicious recipe is that it’s called a pound cake. What I’ve always been taught is that a pound cake calls for a pound each of flour, butter, and sugar. A quick Googling tells me that this translates to approximately 3 1/3 cups all-purpose flour, 2 cups butter, and 2 cups granulated sugar… Which isn’t even close to the proportions in this recipe. I mean, it gets a little bit closer if you halve it so that it’s simply equal weights, but even so, to me, that’s not really a pound cake. Not that this has anything to do with the quality of the recipe itself, mind you. The methodology was correct, and the end results were delicious! And I will definitely make this recipe again. I guess I’m being just a bit pedantic.

Birthday Dinner Woes

Yesterday was my husband’s birthday, so at his request I cooked him a special birthday dinner. I’d say that overall it was a learning experience.

The dinner itself was one of his favourites: chicken thighs marinaded in Pataks Tandoori Curry Paste and coconut milk, cooked on the smoker grill (which is finally fixed). Despite appearances, it wasn’t actually burned, although it was definitely overcooked. Now that it’s running properly, the grill heats up better and faster than before, and I failed to take that into account. As sides I toasted some garlic naan bread on the barbecue, and we also had steamed butternut squash with butter and salt. I know I’ve prepared this meal better in the past, but it was still tasty.

The difficult part — and the greatest learning experience — of my husband’s birthday dinner was actually the dessert: a frozen lemon torte. We’d had this dish at a barbecue hosted by my husband’s boss a couple of months ago, and we both really liked it. Sadly, I could only have a mouthful, as it was filled with whipping cream. As we were leaving the party I requested the recipe from my husband’s boss’ wife, and she made sure to send along a copy a few days later. Sadly, I have no idea what recipe book it comes from, since she just sent me a photocopy of the one page.

The challenge for me was making this dish without the use of cow’s milk. I was sure that I should be able to make it with coconut milk instead; internet research indicated that it is possible to make an imitation whipped cream from coconut milk. Strike 1 against me was that the milk hadn’t separated after I’d placed the can in the fridge overnight; most instructions for whipping the cream call for using only the solids from the can. I’m not sure if it’s a canning/processing technique or an added ingredient, but my coconut milk didn’t separate. Further Googling told me that I could probably make whipped cream even with non-separated coconut milk, but I would have to whip it longer (15+ minutes), use a thickening additive, and it would still only form soft peaks. Well, mine didn’t even get that thick. I whipped it with a hand mixer for almost half an hour and just got slightly fluffier milk. By this time it was almost two in the morning and I was exhausted, so I combined all of my ingredients, threw the pan in the freezer, and hoped for the best.

I was really worried about removing the springform pan after dinner, which is why I took photos in advance just in case it all fell apart without support. It wasn’t quite that bad, but it did get mushy really quickly. I’d say that the lemon layer, which was supposed to have a mousse-like texture, was a lot more like ice cream. I mean, that wasn’t bad overall, but it wasn’t what I was hoping for. Also, the lady finger bottom crust, which should have been held down by the mousse, actually floated to the top of the too-liquid lemon mix, and then froze that way. After adding the meringue on top, the cookies ended up being more of a central layer than a crust.

In the end, the torte ended up being more of an ice cream cake with a meringue topping — but at least I could eat it! I really want to have a go at this recipe again, with less of a time limit and more than one brand of coconut milk to try whipping. Actually, I noticed on a grocery store trip today that there is a brand that sells full-fat coconut cream, so that may be the next thing I try. If I ever get the non-dairy version working to my satisfaction, I will post the recipe, I promise!

Double Chocolate Triforce Cake

Thing 1’s birthday was over the weekend, which of course meant that we had to bake a cake. Since, in my experience, kids love baking cakes, Thing 1 and Thing 2 helped. I also believe that even if it doesn’t turn out perfectly, kids really do benefit from cooking with their parents.

Thing 1 requested a “chocolate Zelda cake with chocolate icing”. Since I am not known for my beautiful cakes (my 16th birthday cake being a great example of my skills), I decided to keep it as simple as possible. We used the tried-and-true Amelia Bedelia’s Sheet Cake recipe, which is found at the back of the story book Amelia Bedelia Bakes Off (Herman Parish, 2010). (You can also find the recipe via Desktop Cookbook.) This makes a very rich, moist, dark chocolate cake — which, as a bonus, is tree-nut and peanut free, and can be made vegan (which is great when you have to make cupcakes for school, FYI).


It’s dangerous to go alone! Take this.

The kids had gone to bed by the time the cake was cool enough to ice, so it was my turn. I used the Chocolate Satin Frosting recipe from page 796 of the Joy of Cooking (Rombauer & Becker, 2006 edition). This recipe is ridiculously easy — since it’s mostly made in a blender or food processor, it’s only slightly more difficult than cracking open a can of pre-made frosting from the grocery store. It’s also a very dark chocolate icing, almost bitter, which is perfect for my little chocolate lover.

I made the Triforce design using a stencil. I went low-tech and drew the pattern with a pencil and ruler on a piece of card stock, then cut it out with scissors. Then I simply held the stencil very closely over the icing and sprinkled on the sugar. The result wasn’t completely perfect, but Thing 1 knew what it was supposed to be. As an added bonus, the coloured sugar added a lovely crunchy topping.

So happy birthday to my fabulous firstborn! I love you so much.

Taro Jelly

I think I’m still compensating for the lack of food in the house the other day, because I’ve felt the need to whip up more sweets. I don’t generally make desserts unless it’s a special occasion. I think it was that strong craving for Two Bite Brownies that undid me. At any rate, I found some Taro Flavour Jelly Powder in the back of my pantry that I’d forgotten about, so I figured it was time to give it a try.

I’d picked this mix up at T&T some time ago with the intention of making it up for my girls. (Generally, I’m not a big fan of moulded jellies.) I do love taro root, though, especially in Japanese sweets, so I thought I should give it a try too.

I used my vintage Tupperware Jel-Ette Moulds, which make single servings. I wasn’t sure how much the package would yield, since the instructions in English weren’t very detailed. It turns out that you can get five 1/2 cup servings out of one package.

I was a little afraid that it wouldn’t set up right, but I followed the instructions to the letter, and it turned out perfectly! I love the colour and the smell. The flavour was okay, but I think that the texture might have been throwing me off since I’m just not a huge jelly fan. Thing 2 didn’t finish her dinner and hence didn’t get to try, but Thing 1 was excited that she got to taste. She said that it was so different from anything she’s used to that she’s not sure if she likes it or not, but she’s willing to try it again at a later date to figure it out. That’s a very well-considered opinion, if you ask me.

Grilled Duck Breasts & Strawberry Shortcake

Yesterday I decided to cook something I’d never cooked before: duck. I’d eaten it before, generally in Asian fusion food, but I’d never cooked it. It’s different than most of the poultry I’m used to working with (i.e. chicken and turkey) in that it’s a red meat. It’s honestly more like ostrich. Somehow I’d managed to cook up ostrich long before I’d ever worked with duck, which is a little odd seeing as duck is domestic and ostrich is most definitely not. But I digress.

I found the duck breasts in the frozen section of T&T Supermarket a while back, and I bought them because they looked interesting and they were on special (my favourite combination). I’m not sure if this is usually the case, as I have no baseline, but that day they were significantly cheaper than beef. The breasts weren’t whole; they were already cut up into what I think of as tiny little steaks.

I used the marinade from a Grilled Wild Duck Breast Recipe that I’d Googled, knowing full well that since I liked all of the ingredients separately I’d probably like them together. I only did a quick marinade of about half an hour, since I wanted to taste the meat and not just the sauce. Then I threw the steaks on a preheated gas grill. The real challenge here was not to overcook them. I didn’t want them to be rare in the center, but they were so small that I really worried that I’d accidentally turn them into shoe leather. I settled on about five minutes per side, and that ended up being perfect. There was just a bit of char on the outside, but the middle was tender and soft.

I served the duck breasts on a bed of basmati rice, alongside some green zucchini that I’d sliced and grilled at the same time as the duck breast. Timing is always an issue with this kind of meal, so I cooked the rice first, then put the duck on, and then the zucchini, since it was sliced fairly thinly. It all came to the table piping hot and delicious.

For dessert we piled into the car and drove over to my parents’ house for strawberry shortcake. This time my mother made it, but she basically followed my Nan’s recipe. It was an assemble-it-yourself kind of affair (which the kids love), so if mine ended up being sloppy and leaning, that’s nobody’s fault but my own. Part of the problem with structural integrity is that I had to use a non-dairy whipped topping, which never beats as stiff as true whipping cream. Also, we upped the sweets game by drizzling dark maple syrup over the top, further compromising the tower’s support but definitely enhancing the taste.

Dessert finished and hands (and tables, and place mats) cleaned of sticky syrup residue, we headed back home to put the children to bed and to spend some quiet time digesting.