Pumpkin Cake

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Halloween costume parties at our house are a tradition that we all enjoy.  The past few years my friend Jane and I have baked and decorated a centerpiece cake.  And we have such a good time doing it.  This year we used a recipe for a Pumpkin/Carrot/Spice cake from Women’s Day to make our pumpkin.  This pumpkin required two bundt cakes.  And a LOT of cream cheese icing…1 cup of butter and 4 8-oz packages of cream cheese.  Each of us used the recipe and baked a cake the day before we put them together.

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First step after baking is to cut each of the cakes in half horizontally.  And start stacking and icing.

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We used some long toothpicks to secure the layers.

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The top is on and you’re thinking it looks nothing at all like a pumpkin!  We put the cake in the refrigerator for 30 minutes or so to help set the icing up.  With the pedestal plate and 2 bundt cakes stacked it required a bit of refrigerator rearranging but I think the chilling helped.  We covered it with a light base coat and, once again, returned it to the refrigerator for another 30 minutes.

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A second coat of icing and it’s starting to look like a pumpkin.  We used the stem from a real pumpkin supported by a couple of small dixie cups stacked in the center and held in place by icing.

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And there you have it.  Ta Da!!  A perfect pumpkin.  Two years ago we did a caramel apple.

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Last year we made a brain.   That was great fun to do as well!

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But I think this year our guests will find the pumpkin much more appetizing.  Happy Halloween.

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Chicken Soup with Vegetables and Orzo

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I baked a roasting chicken one night and used the rest of the chicken for soup the next.   You could also shred half of a grocery store rotisserie chicken.  In less than an hour you will have a perfect comfort food that is hearty and full of vegetables and chicken.  And it can be easily modified based on your personal preferences and/or what you have in your refrigerator.  We all know that chicken soup cures what ails you no matter what’s in it.

Ingredients:

1 cup of onion rough chopped

1 cup of celery rough chopped

1 poblano pepper diced (seeded if you want to keep the heat down)

1 cup of carrots sliced

2 cloves of garlic minced

2 T olive oil

6 cups of chicken broth

1 can hominy drained and rinsed

2 cups baby spinach

1/2 cup each of fresh parsley and fresh cilantro

zest and juice of one lemon

1/2 cup uncooked orzo

salt and pepper to taste

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In a heavy kettle or dutch oven heat the olive oil over medium high heat and sweat the celery, onion, carrots and pepper for about 5 minutes.  Add the minced garlic.  Reduce the heat, partially cover the kettle and cook until the carrots are tender.

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While the vegetables are cooking bring a pot of salted water to a boil and cook the orzo according to package instructions.

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Drain and rinse the hominy.

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Add the broth to the vegetables and bring it to a boil.  Cover the pot, reduce the heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes.

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Drain the orzo reserving some of the pasta water.  Add the orzo, chicken and hominy to the soup.  Simmer until the chicken is heated through.

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Stir in the lemon zest and juice, parsley and cilantro and the spinach.

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Stir until the spinach is wilted.  Season with salt and pepper.  If the soup needs more liquid add in some of the pasta water.

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Ladle into bowls and serve with toasted tortilla strips.

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Enjoy!!

NOTE:  I love the lemon in this soup but it’s really a matter of personal taste.  You could substitute peas and mushroom for the pepper and hominy.  Serve with a good crusty bread or your favorite crackers.  Cooking the pasta (or rice) prior to adding it to the soup helps to avoid pasta that is overcooked and absorbs all of the broth.

 

Broccoli Cauliflower Soup

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A couple weeks ago I experimented with new concoctions for dinners several nights in a row.  The first night that my husband dished up seconds was when I made this soup.  That was a good sign for the soup.  Not so good for the other dishes which I will probably not make again.  Originally I made this soup with just broccoli.  The second time I added cauliflower and made the soup for our good friends.  It was a hit.  ‘Tis soup season now and I’m sure I will make this often using both broccoli and cauliflower.

Ingredients:

2 cups sliced leeks

2 cups of broccoli flowerettes

2 cups of cauliflower

broccoli and cauliflower stems diced

6 cups of chicken broth

6 T butter

6 T flour

3 cups of whole milk

3 cups shredded cheese (I used sharp cheddar and smoked gouda)

1 cup shredded carrots

grated nutmeg

salt and pepper to taste

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Slice the leeks and broccoli and cauliflower stems.  Rinse them well, especially the leeks which tend to store up a lot of sand.

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Put the leeks and the vegetable stems in a heavy kettle or Dutch oven with about a cup of the broth and cook over medium high heat until they are softened, 10-15 minutes.  Once the vegetables have softened use an immersion blender off heat and purée.  Add the remaining broth and bring to a simmer.

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Blanch the broccoli and cauliflower flowerettes.  Drop them into ice water to stop the cooking and set aside.  Grate the carrots.

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Next make a cheese sauce.  Melt 6 T of butter in a saucepan over medium heat.  Whisk in the flour and cook for a couple minutes whisking constantly.

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Slowly whisk in the milk and bring to a simmer.  Gradually add the cheese whisking until it melts.

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Add the cheese mixture to the broth and vegetables.  Stir in the flowerettes, grated carrot and nutmeg.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

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Simmer until the vegetables are thoroughly heated.  Ladle up and enjoy!  Great served with homemade croutons.

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NOTE:  I took all of my photos when I made the first batch of soup so you don’t see any cauliflower.  But the cauliflower was a great addition.  Also a little cayenne pepper or Frank’s hot sauce is a tasty add in.  Any good melting cheese can be substituted for the sharp cheddar and smoky gouda.

Sauerkraut For Canning

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For the first time ever I turned cabbage into sauerkraut!  I’ve wanted to do this for a long time but was apprehensive about safely fermenting anything.  I must admit I was actually afraid.  Like I was the first time I used my pressure cooker.  This fermenting isn’t for the faint of heart.  I have a bit of a weak stomach and every day, once the cabbage starts to ferment, you need to skim the scum from the top.  I bought myself a special scum skimmer from Amazon to do the skimming.

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Once during the fermentation process I was out of town for five days.  I kept thinking about the I Love Lucy episode where Lucy puts too much detergent into the washing machine and it is overflowing everywhere.  I had visions of scum and bubbles running over the sides of the crock and onto my kitchen floor.  That did not happen.   But fermenting cabbage was the first thing I smelled when I walked in the door.  No doubt about what the smell was.  I had to put Vicks under my nose and put on my heavy rubber gloves to do the skimming that day.  But the longer the cabbage worked the less it smelled until finally, after nearly five weeks, there was no scum and virtually no smell at all.  Today I took the towel off the top of the crock, removed the weight and the plate, and removed the cheesecloth.  My five heads of cabbage have turned into a crock full of beautiful, perfect sauerkraut!

Making your own sauerkraut does not require any special skills,  The only ingredients you need are cabbage and salt.  The only tools you need are a very sharp knife or mandolin, a large glass or ceramic crock of some sort, a scale to weigh the cabbage to get the salt to cabbage ratio correct, and a scum skimmer.  You have to be patient.  And it’s probably easier if you don’t have a really weak stomach.

Ingredients:

Cabbage – the large heads you get at the end of the growing season

Kosher or Pickling salt

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I used 5 large firm heads of cabbage.  Peel and discard the outer leaves.  Cut the cabbage in half and then into quarters and remove the core.

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Using a sharp knife and or a mandolin shred the cabbage to about the thickness of a dime.  Weigh out 5 pounds of shredded cabbage and, in a large bowl, add 3 T of salt to the cabbage.  Let it stand until it starts to wilt and then pack it into the crock.  While you’re waiting for the first 5 pounds to wilt continue shredding.

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Continue shredding and salting until all of the cabbage is in the pickling container.  Allow for 3-4 inches of headspace in your crock.  Use your hands to press down on the cabbage until the juices flow and start to come to the top.  If the juices don’t cover the cabbage make up a brine using 1 1/2 T of salt to a quart of water.  Bring the salt water mixture to a boil.  Allow it to cool completely before adding it to the cabbage.

Cover the cabbage in the crock with cheesecloth tucking the edges down alongside the cabbage.  Put a plate on top of the cheesecloth and weigh it down to ensure that the cabbage remains immersed in the liquid.  I used an 8 pound medicine ball (an exercise weight) but you can use a brick wrapped in foil or inside a zip lock bag.

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Now the fun begins.  Cover the crock with a towel,  It’s best kept at 70-75 degrees.  My house is never that warm but i kept it in the kitchen which is usually the warmest place and also most convenient for skimming.  Every day I lifted the towel to see what was happening.  It took several days but bubbles and scum began to form.  Each day after that I removed the weight, skimmed the scum, washed off and returned the weight, recovered the crock and waited for another day.  It took a couple days less than five weeks for the gas bubbles to stop forming.  Interestingly a salty crust formed on the outside of the crock.  It’s apparently very normal so don’t let it worry you.

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Once the fermentation process is completed remove the sauerkraut to a large stainless steel pot or dutch oven.  Heat the sauerkraut just to a simmer.  Do not boil.  Ladle the sauerkraut into hot jars leaving about 1/2 inch of headspace and process in a water bath of 15 minutes for pints, 20 minutes for quarts.

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My 5 heads of cabbage made 23 pints of sauerkraut.  I added caraway seeds to one batch.

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Looking forward to some Reuben  sandwiches, polish sausages or pork chops with homemade sauerkraut this winter.  Or just a dish of kraut to satisfy a salt craving.

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A friend told me that his grandad used to make sauerkraut and when they were kids they would sneak a sip or two from the kraut crock.  I wouldn’t recommend that.

 

Zucchini Fritters

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A fritter is a batter containing meat, fruits or vegetables that has been fried.  So it has to be good, right?  It’s fried!  A friend gave me a recipe for zucchini fritters a few days ago and I decided to give them a try.  When you don’t plan your menu ahead of time you frequently have to improvise ingredients.  And sometimes the improvision is a great success.  That was the case here.  These fritters were an excellent side.  Even someone who doesn’t like vegetables will like these.

Ingredients:

2 medium size zucchini shredded

2 garlic cloves minced

2 shallots minced (about 1/4 cup)

1/4 chopped fresh parsley

zest of one lemon

1/2 cup Parmesan cheese shredded

1/2 cup flour

1 egg whisked

1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

salt and pepper to taste

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Grate the zucchini and put it in a colander to drain for 10-15 minutes.

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Dice the scallions, garlic cloves, and parsley.  Zest the lemon.

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Grate the Parmesan cheese.

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In a medium bowl combine the zucchini, flour, cayenne and salt and pepper.  Stir to combine.  Stir in the garlic, shallots, parsley and lemon zest.

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Stir in the cheese and the whisked egg.  Season with salt and pepper.

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Heat a tablespoon or so of canola oil on a griddle or fry pan over medium high heat.  Drop heaping tablespoons of the batter onto the hot griddle and cook 3-4 minutes per side until the fritters are golden brown.

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Serve with a dollop of sour cream and some applesauce.  I served them as a side with a pork loin and asparagus.

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NOTE:  After draining the shredded zucchini you may still need to squeeze out any remaining liquid.  You can do this with your hands or wrap the zucchini in a clean cotton dish towel  and squeeze.

Zucchini is a very mild squash so feel free to experiment with different kinds of herbs like dill or cilantro or basil instead of parsley.

 

Chocolate and Salted Caramel Pudding Shots

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A few weeks ago we went to our favorite music festival and I made pudding shots.  I made three different pudding shots – a caramel apple with Apple Pucker and Butter Shots, a coconut cream with Malibu Coconut Rum, and a chocolate and salted caramel with Baileys.  The chocolate was the most popular and I just made another batch for a friend.

Ingredients:

1  4 oz. box instant chocolate pudding

1/4 cup milk

1/4 cup strong coffee

3/4 cup Baileys Irish Cream

1/2 cup caramel topping

8 oz cool whip

salt flakes

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In a medium size bowl whisk together the pudding, milk, coffee, and Baileys.  Whisk in the caramel topping.

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Fold in the cool whip.

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Spoon into little cups with lids, garnish with salt flakes and enjoy.

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Store the pudding shots in the refrigerator.