Thursday, October 27, 2011

Halloween Festivities

This weekend, we celebrated Halloween with the kids. They're all getting to the age where trick or treating is a memory of their past, or they'd rather be hanging out with friends. So we decided to squeeze in our holiday traditions a week early.

First, we visited a local pumpkin patch to pick out the perfect gourd. This is a very important step in the carving process because the shape, size and color of the pumpkin has to speak to the carver and give specific inspiration.

We took our orange heathens home and got started. My husband's favorite part of pumpkin carving is pumpkin seeds. Luckily with this many pumpkins, we get quite a few and usually have enough to share. He's received several compliments on his "secret recipe" - one person even said they were the BEST seeds they had ever had!

While everyone worked on bringing their pumpkins to life, I started working on the popcorn balls. This caramel recipe was given to me by my mom and I've never even tried another version. It's that good! I like the caramel to stay a bit gooey and sticky instead of hardening on the popcorn, so if you're a crunchy caramel kind of person, this might not be the recipe for you.

I added in a few festive bits of candy to add to the pizzaz, then inserted the wooden sticks before they were completely cool making them easier to eat later. Other ideas I considered:
  • Drizzle chocolate over the tops
  • Add food coloring to match a theme
  • Throw in some nuts
  • Add chocolate chips
  • Try sunflower seeds for a fiber kick
  • Tie a ribbon/bow around the stick for presentation points
  • Wrap with cellophane and give as gifts or bring to a potluck
  • Make a popcorn ball bar and have various bowls of yumminess for guests to choose from (first dip in chocolate, then add desired toppings)
Now that the balls were cooling down, it was time to get started on one of my favorite parts of fall: Caramel apples! When it comes to the apples, I tend to keep it simple. I like the caramel bits rather than the caramel candies because there is absolutely no unwrapping involved and usually the bags include popsicle sticks so you don't have to buy them separately. The instructions are also found on the back of the bag, so you can vary it if you'd like or just follow their simple steps.

Everyone has their favorite toppings for apples at our house, so once the dipping was done, everyone got a chance to add their fav's. I'm pretty boring and prefer the classic plain caramel. By the way, a trick I learned to help keep the apples from sticking to anything while they're cooling: Spray wax paper or a foil-lined cookie sheet with cooking spray. Stick them in the fridge or freezer for faster set up. If you're finding it hard to eat on the stick (or serving to younger children who will find it difficult to bite through to the apple), use a knife to cut the apple into bite size pieces and serve on a plate. We cut them before dipping them so they could be served in wedges and dipped individually.

Now that we were waiting on the caramel to set, it was finally dinner time. This is another recipe handed down to me by my mom. It has been a classic in our family for as long as I can remember, and the only thing I change is adding more clams - I love clams! I like to throw all the ingredients into a slow cooker/Crock Pot and let it simmer for a few hours. The fall season is what we call "soup season" at our house. The warm summer months have been replaced with cooler days and the breath of winter is just around the corner.

Nothing marries up with a good chowder quite like bread bowls. I admit, I took yet another short cut on this one and purchased the bowls ready-made at the store, but they do just fine and are beyond convenient for our large family.

Now that our bellies were full and the pumpkins were lit, it was time to settle down for our traditional Halloween movie: The Nightmare Before Christmas. My sister-in-law brought some warm cider to go with the popcorn balls and apples which was the perfect ending to a very festive fall day.

Homemade Caramels Recipe
2 c. Sugar
2 c. Heavy whipping cream
1/2 lb (2 cubes) butter
1 Tbsp. Vanilla
3/4 c. White Karo syrup

Bring all ingredients but 1/2 cream to a boil, then add remaining cream. Boil (simmer) to a soft ball stage. Pour into a wax paper-lined pan and let cool, then cut into squares and wrap individually. Can be stored in the refrigerator, but not required.
Yields approximately 60 caramels.

Clam Chowder Recipe
2 -3 Potatoes
1 c. diced onion
1 c. diced celery
2 cans clams, undrained
1 tsp. salt

3/4 c. butter
3/4 c. flour
1 qt. half-n-half (or milk)
1 1/2 tsp salt

Combine all vegetables and clams in large pot and cover with water. Cook until tender.
Sauce: Melt better and add flour. Add milk slowly until well combined. Add salt. Cook until thick. When mixture is thickened, add to vegetables and stir to mix well. Heat through and serve.