Monday, September 22, 2008

It's time

Make a Halloween fortune-telling tree

Let each party guest pluck a fortune card from this spooky soothsayer's tree.

What you'll need:
Floral foam for dried arrangements
Large opaque vase or flowerpot
Gnarly tree branch
Silver paper shreds
Candy corn
Bat stencils or cookie cutters
Black art paper
Metallic silver marker
Small translucent vellum, glassine or waxed paper envelopes
Standard hole punch
Thin (1/4 to 1/8 inch) ribbon
Rubber skeletons and spiders (optional)

1. Cut a piece of floral foam to fit the vase and push it into the vase, leaving about 1/2-inch space at the top. Push the trunk of the tree branch deep into the floral foam, making sure that it is anchored securely. Spread silver paper shreds or candy corn over the surface of the vase to cover the floral foam.

2. Using bat stencils or cookie cutters as guides, cut out folded bat shaped cards, joined at the wings, from the black art paper in a size that will fit into the envelopes. Use the silver marker to write a fortune or mystic message inside each bat card.

3. Place each bat card, along with a single piece of candy corn, into a glassine envelope and seal the envelope. Punch a hole into the top of each envelope, thread a piece of ribbon through the hole, and hang the envelope on the tree. Hang enough envelopes so that each party guest can pluck one as they prepare to leave the party. Decorate the tree with rubber skeletons and spiders, if desired.

Credit: Design by Elizabeth Woodson

Pumpkin Toffee Crunch Cheesecake

Prep: 25 min.

Bake: 1 hr. 30 min.

Chill: 2 hr.

Serves: 12

Cost per serving: $1.34

The crust:

Nonstick vegetable oil spray

1 2/3 cups crushed gingersnaps

6 Tbsp. butter, melted

2 Tbsp. packed light brown sugar

The filling:

4 (8 oz.) packages cream cheese, at room temperature

1 cup packed light brown sugar

2 Tbsp. butter, melted

6 eggs

1/2 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

Pinch of salt

1 (15 oz.) can pure pumpkin puree

The topping:

1 1/2 cups sugar

1/4 cup water

1/2 tsp. fresh lemon juice

1 cup heavy cream

3 (1.4 oz.) milk chocolate English toffee bars, chopped into rough shards

1/4 cup white chocolate chips

1. Make crust: Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray bottom of a 10-inch springform pan with nonstick spray. Mix gingersnap crumbs, butter and brown sugar with hands until mixture holds together when pressed. Press into bottom of pan. Bake crust until firm and slightly darkened, about 12 minutes. Cool crust. Maintain oven temperature.

2. Make filling: Beat cream cheese and brown sugar in a large bowl until smooth. Beat in butter, then eggs, one at a time, to thoroughly incorporate. Mix in heavy cream. Add flour, cinnamon, vanilla extract and salt, and then mix until smooth. Add pumpkin puree and mix until smooth. Place springform pan with cooled crust on a large baking pan (crust will ooze some melted butter as cake bakes) and pour mixture into springform pan over crust.

3. Return to 350°F oven and bake for 1 hour and 10 minutes or until filling is puffed around edges and moves slightly in center when pan is gently shaken. Remove from oven and immediately place hot cheesecake, uncovered, in refrigerator; let cool overnight.

4. Make caramel topping: Combine sugar, water and lemon juice in a large saucepan over medium heat. After sugar dissolves, do not stir. Cook until mixture turns deep amber in color, occasionally swirling pan and brushing down sides with a wet pastry brush, about 15 minutes.

5. Reduce heat to low and add cream, stirring with a wooden spoon until bubbling subsides. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until reduced to 11/2 cups, about 8 minutes. Chill until firm but still pourable, about 15 minutes.

6. Remove cheesecake from refrigerator and spoon caramel over top, just to edges, being careful not to let it drip down sides. Make a ring from candy bar shards on edge of top of cake. Use white chocolate chips to make a jack-o'-lantern face in center. Chill for at least two hours and up to one day before serving. Gently run a knife around sides of pan to loosen the cake and release pan sides.

PER SERVING: Cal. 873, Fat 55g (Sat. 32g), Chol. 252mg, Fiber 2g, Pro. 13g, Carb. 84g, Sod. 527mg

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Skewered Eyeballs

Prep: 40 min.

Cook: 8 min.

Yield: 16

Cost per serving: 99 cents

2/3 cup olive oil

3 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice

2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar

2 Tbsp. fresh sage leaves, chopped

1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt

1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper, plus extra for seasoning

1 1/4 lb. skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut into 16 bite-size pieces (about 2 small breasts)

16 cremini mushrooms, wiped clean and stems removed

8 round carrot slices, blanched

4 small, pitted black olives, halved

4 large, pimento-stuffed green olives, halved

1. Soak 16 round, wooden toothpicks in water for 30 minutes. Whisk together olive oil, lemon juice, vinegar, sage and 1/2 tsp. each salt and pepper. Pour half into a separate bowl. Add chicken to one bowl and mushrooms to other. Toss; let sit for 30 minutes.

2. Remove chicken from marinade and season with 1 tsp. salt and pepper to taste. To make an "eyeball," place a cube of chicken on cutting board and push toothpick through. Push mushroom onto toothpick, cap side down; center carrot round on toothpick and push into indentation in mushroom to make "iris." Finally, center black olive half on toothpick and push onto carrot to make "pupil." Make 8 "eyeballs" this way. For other 8, omit carrot and black olive and push green olive half into indentation in mushroom. Discard chicken marinade; reserve mushroom marinade. ("Eyeballs" can be made up to this point and kept, covered, in refrigerator for up to 8 hours.)

3. Preheat broiler. Place "eyeballs" on a broiler pan. Position in oven so that chicken is 6 inches from heat source. Broil until chicken is cooked through, basting occasionally with mushroom marinade, 6 to 8 minutes. Arrange on a platter, in pairs, to look like a plate full of shifty eyes.

PER SERVING (1 "eyeball"): Cal. 95, Fat 6g (Sat. 0g), Chol. 21mg, Fiber 0g, Pro. 9g, Carb. 2g, Sod. 145mg

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