Cooking From a Year of… Halloween 2019

This is the third installment of The Pioneer Woman Cookbook Challenge

From the Year of Holidays — Halloween 🎃

Halloween is a holiday in our house that just comes and goes. There is not much effort in putting forth except for buying a bag of candy and leaving the porch light on to single trick-or-treaters that we have candy to give. This year however, was different since I committed myself to a cookbook challenge I knew that Ree’s holiday book would be the one I would dread the most because of the extra expense and because we are not that crazy big on holidays except for the main ones such as Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. Needless to say this book has cracked open my shell on the holidays.

Broccoli-Cheese Soup Recipe No.3

The very first recipe I took a crack at was the Broccoli cheese soup.

For me it wasn’t something that I haven’t made before. Because I have. No lie, I have. So for me this was an easy dish make. How did it turn out? Good. I just needed more cheese. Somehow I never seem to have enough cheese in this household. The one thing you will notice is that I skipped out on the bread bowl. As nice as bread bowls are, I am not a big fan of them. I have had my experience with them at Panera Bread and as nice of a touch that they bring to the soup visually, I just find them a waste. Especially when you are serving two people.

Petrifying Pumpkin Pancakes Recipe No.4

Terrifying is actually how I would put it when making these for the very first time. Especially when it is your first time making faces or in my case attempting to make faces with pancake batter. I failed epically on my first attempts. It also didn’t help that my burners on my oven are tilted. So everything would slide to the lower tilt before I could get the orange batter on top of the black batter.

I got so frustrated that I took the black batter and squeezed it until I got a big enough black pancake. Then I watched the batter cook up to get a better understanding of how this made from scratch batter works. The reason behind watching it cook is to see how it chemically reacts to heat because I was raised on Bisquick pancakes, and I know how that batter reacts to heat. Needless to say this was a first for me to use cake flour in anything yet alone make a pancake batter from scratch.

After watching the black pancake react to the heat and seeing why I was failing miserably at this task, I realized that the other batter needed to be in a squeeze bottle as well. Once I had a start of something in black, I then started to fill around that object with the other squeeze bottle. When I finally mastered the technique I made one face and quit. I placed the rest of the batter in a freezer bag and froze the batter for another day.

What were my thoughts on the pancakes themselves? They were good but they were more like a crepe than a pancake to me. Also this is where I learned that TW hates pumpkin anything. So I was left being the only one in our household eating them.

Caramel Apples Recipe No.5

I’ve got a confession, this is my first time ever making caramel apples. Before I go any farther with this, the rest of these recipes in this post were a first for me to make. So how have I gone so long without making caramel apples? Well, when you have this amazing candy shop in a town north of where I grew up, there was no need to make my own caramel apples. The candy shop provided the most amazing caramel apples so what was the point of making them when I could buy one. Up until this challenge that is what I looked forward to every fall of buying that one caramel apple form that candy shop.

Making the caramel from scratch was mesmerizing. How fascinating it was to see sugar turn into this gooey confection. I know, you would think someone like myself who has been in the food service industry would have by now had a chance to make things like this. Nope. It’s follow what your employer wants and repeat.

That’s another reason why I am doing this challenge. It is to expand on the things I have never adventured into. There are things in these books that I can sail right past being blind folded (metaphorically) and make better but then there are things such as candy making that I never had the use of making so yeah, that’s a whole new avenue for me.

The things that I took away from making these caramel apples was to allow it to cool longer than Ree recommends. I found the cooler the caramel became the thicker the caramel stuck to the apple. Also it is best to serve these right away. Well, after they have adhered and cooled down completely. Otherwise after a day or two they start to crystallize.

Eyeball Cake Balls Recipe No.6

Cake balls are something that I would buy occasionally from Starbucks. I am used to the thick consistency, the flavoring, etc, etc. When I saw Ree’s recipe for cake balls I thought, Ah ha the secret to cake ball making is here! Well, in the book. I know you can find millions more cake ball recipes on the internet.

With this recipe I really don’t know how I could make them better. Maybe less icing or add more cake to get that consistency that I am used to. I mean they turned out okay as far as the cake balls go but I could not help to want to improve this recipe. Then when it came to dipping the balls into the chocolate, I started to feel like I was on an episode of Nailed It from YouTube.

Out of the 40 something cake balls that I dipped into the chocolate only four turned out looking like they should. Just so that I am clear on this, this is not a Ree recipe fault! At first I thought that water had steamed onto the chocolate and ruined it, which happens occasionally when you use a “homemade” double boiler. Nope. That wasn’t the case. What it was and according to the package of the chocolate wafers, shortening needs to be added to the chocolate at high temperatures to keep it in a liquified state. Lesson learned when using melted chocolate for dipping is to keep a can of shortening on hand for when the chocolate starts to dry up and become clumpy.

I did cheat on this recipe in a small way. Instead of melting the white chocolate wafers to make the whites of the eyeballs, I left them the way that they came in the package. The reason for not going the extra mile to melt them was because the size that they came from the manufacturer was spot on perfect to fit onto the cake ball them selves.

My overall take away from this recipe is that I probably would not ever make cake balls again. It’s not Ree’s fault. If you are making these cake balls you need a lot of space and space isn’t something that we really have in this apartment. The mess …ah yeah, we were still finding red velvet cake bits a week later in our kitchen. And lets not talk about how many tubes of red gel icing that it actually took to make these cake balls look like they partied way too hard from the night before. For 2 oz. of red gel icing your going to spend about $1.97 a tube times five to get affect you need. That’s just under ten dollars for five tubes. Something that could be justifiable if you do bake a lot but for someone like myself that’s stretching it a bit.

Mummy Dogs Recipe No. 7

You can never go wrong with a hotdog wrapped in dough and in this case nothing went wrong. I have made Pigs-in-a-Blanket many times before with the Pillsbury crescent rolls and they are good. However, making Ree’s Basic Dough (we are counting this as Recipe No. 8), which is used to make the Hot Crossed Buns for Easter was something new for me. This was another recipe that I had to let the dough sit longer than Ree’s recommend time for it to rise. I am finding that with a lot of her recipes where things need to cook or sit longer than what is recommend in the books.

Other than time issues, yes, I would make these Mummy Dogs again. TW loved them and the dough when cooked is more like a pretzel bun. In my opinion you can’t go wrong with a hotdog wrapped warm pretzel bun.

Popcorn Balls Recipe No. 9

Growing up as a child (my childhood took place in the 1980’s) popcorn balls were something that came around at Christmas time when they were stuffed in our stockings or given out by classmates for the class Christmas party. Not much thought went into them as far as we were concern, it was just something you got and they were good! As children we didn’t realize the work that went into making these popcorn balls. We also didn’t know that you can pop popcorn from a pan on the stove because if you had my parents, you just simply put the popcorn kernels in the popcorn popper and it cascaded out of the popper when the kernels were ready.

The closest thing we had back then to making popcorn in a pot and shaking it back and forth to make the popcorn pop was Jiffy Pop Popcorn. For those of you who don’t have any idea what Jiffy Pop was, well… it was popcorn kernels placed in a disposable foil pan that had a wire handle and the cover was a expandable foil that rosed when the steam evolved and the kernels popped. As far as I know, you can still buy Jiffy Pop in the grocery stores and online.

As for these popcorn balls once I had gotten past getting the popcorn popping and coated well with the caramelization everything else was a breeze. I was really sweating popping the popcorn part. I’ve never done that before. Matter of fact before I even popped this popcorn in a pot, TW and I were seriously thinking about buying a popcorn popper. Now I am glad that we don’t have to because we really don’t have the room for one to store.

Okay back to those popcorn balls. As I was saying before once getting past the popping of the popcorn the rest of the recipe was easy. If you ever made Rice Crispy Treats, then you can make these popcorn balls. They are that easy to make. The two things that I did differently with this recipe is that I changed out the candy corn for candy corn M&M’s. The other thing that I did differently and it is because it is a work habit to wear vinyl gloves. I personally at this point in my life can not handle food with my bare hands. I guess I am too well trained in food handling to ever go back to putting my bare hands on food. Anyway, with the vinyl gloves I didn’t have to spray my hand with any oils or cooking spray. With the gloves on I can easily pick up the popcorn marshmallow mix straight from the pot and formed it into a ball.

One thing I did learn is to serve these popcorn balls the day of because after a couple of days they become stale. Otherwise they were really good. So I was told but I saved mine and it became stale even in a baggy that was twist tiedoff.

Cheese Ball of Death Recipe No. 10

This was one recipe that was super easy to make as well as super expensive to make. I say expensive because the 12 oz. of goat cheese needed to make this cheese ball cost me over $16.00. Yeeeah. Please forgive for what I am about to say. Believe me when I say that I was cussing about it in my mind. I know goat cheese can be pricy due to the fact that it is not an everyday commodity for consumers to buy. However, for the average working class person such as myself trying to make something like this, I would have passed on it knowing what I know now.

Another thing that I would change is using dry herbs over fresh. I really didn’t notice the difference when I used fresh chives over the dried. And I know using fresh herbs over dried herbs has a more pronounced flavor. The other thing that I would cut back on is the pepper. I tasted the pepper more than anything else in this cheese ball. On the positive side, everyone else who dove right into this cheese ball loved it! I heard a lot of great raves over it and I am glad for it because I was cussing about it in my mind that if nobody likes this cheese ball, it would really piss me off all because of the expense. I know you’re not supposed to say “piss me off” on your blog.

I did have a few hard to find items when it came to this cheese ball. Eventually I did find them. The item that was the hardest to find for me was the black sesame seeds. It is one of those items you would think grocery stores would keep in the spice isle. Ah…No! No, they don’t. That’s when I turned to a couple of store apps on my phone and found the black sesame seeds in the International food isle with all the fixings to make sushi. The other item Ree listed as optional but to me it just tops off the cheese ball, and that was the gummy tarantula. Since I didn’t have much of a chance to linger in the stores to see if they had any Halloween gummys, I ended up finding the gummy tarantula on Amazon. If you ever wanted to find one for your cheese ball the Jelly Belly company makes them, and they are called the Pet Tarantula. I really wish Ree would have specified that in her book because it would have saved me on a lot of guessing on if I had purchased the correct size, etc. The last thing I had a hard time finding was some kind of dark cracker, especially this time of year. Dark crackers come out before Christmas and hangout for New Years. So I substituted a dark pumpernickel party loaf instead.

I guess the big question comes down to would I ever make this cheese ball again? Only if it was necessary, otherwise no, no I would not because of the cost.

Platter of Darkness Recipe No. 11

The Platter of Darkness is one of those fun recipes that’s not a recipe at all. All the same it is a fun make it your own type of dish and that is exactly what I did. Instead of buying any open free rolling around candies that can get other people’s coodies on them, I opted for a bag of Hershey chocolates with a black wrapper and Halloween Oreo cookies. Yes, I cheated on this one!

Overall Thoughts…

Although there are some items I will not ever make again, I did have fun making them. In the end of it all it was a fun way to surprise my coworkers with some Halloween treats to lift their spirits.

Otherwise it would have just been another hum-drum work day where another holiday passed us by.

Before I go I wanted to ask, How do you celebrate Halloween in your household? Do you go all out and throw a big party? Or do you go about it quietly with passing out candy to trick-or-treaters?

Go about life Victoriously,

Alex Victoria

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