Fall Celebration/Halloween Menu

This post is inspired by Christina, who says that candy is the only reason to celebrate Halloween. My dear, I love you to bits but I completely disagree :-P. There’s no more perfect time of year then fall, and right towards the end of it we get the convenient placement of a holiday. So, if you get sick of candy and girls in skimpy costumes, whip up the following meal and pack yourself and a loved one off to the woods or a park to revel in the sun filtering through beautiful fall foliage. You can even throw some candy in your picnic basket, if you insist 😀

Menu:

  • Fall Salad with Cranberry Vinaigrette
  • Savory Pumpkin Soup
  • Crusty French Bread
  • Pear Bread Pudding OR
  • Chocolate Cupcakes (if you’re ambitious, you can decorate them as pictured!)

Tip: Do the dessert first, then the soup (because it can easily be reheated later or left on very low heat for a while). Start your bread next: you’ll need to let it rise, and you can be making your salad while the magical yeasties make your bread yummy all on their own.

Fall Salad with Cranberry Vinaigrette


Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup cranberries
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons white sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 pinch freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 heads romaine lettuce – rinsed, dried, and torn into bite-size pieces
  • 2 medium heads Belgian endive – washed, dried and chopped
  • 2 red Anjou pears (or you could be un-picky like a normal person and get green pears)
  • 1/2 cup toasted walnuts, chopped
  • 1/2 cup crumbled Gorgonzola cheese

Directions

  1. In a saucepan, combine vinegar and cranberries. Cook over medium heat until cranberries soften. Remove from heat; add olive oil, sugar, salt and pepper. Place in blender and mix until smooth. Refrigerate until chilled.
  2. Core and julienne one pear, core and dice the other.
  3. In a large bowl, combine the Romaine lettuce, endive, diced pears, walnuts and Gorgonzola. Toss and drizzle with enough dressing to coat.
  4. Divide among salad plates and garnish with julienned pear. Top with any additional walnuts as well.

Savory Pumpkin Soup


Ingredients

  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 2 (14.5 ounce) cans vegetable broth
  • 1 (15 ounce) can pumpkin puree
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon ground chili pepper (use whichever you prefer – I have Penzey’s Ancho Chili and it’s fantastic)
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream

Directions

  1. Saute onion in butter in a medium saucepan until tender. Add 1 can vegetable broth; stir well. Bring to a boil; cover, reduce heat, and simmer 15 minutes.
  2. Transfer broth mixture into the container of a blender or processor. Process until smooth. (Or, BUY AN IMMERSION BLENDER. It is the best kitchen tool I’ve ever used, and worth EVERY PENNY)
  3. Return mixture to saucepan. Add remaining can of broth, pumpkin, salt, ground cinnamon, ground ginger, ground pepper, chili pepper, cayenne pepper, and brown sugar; stir well. Bring to a boil; cover, reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  4. Stir in whipping cream and heat through. Do not boil. Ladle into individual soup bowls.

Crusty French Bread


Ingredients

  • 1 (.25 ounce) package active dry yeast
  • 1 cup warm water (110 degrees to 115 degrees)
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 ½ teaspoons salt
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • Cornmeal
  • 1 egg white
  • 1 teaspoon cold water

Directions

  1. In a large mixing bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Add the sugar, oil, salt and 2 cups flour. Beat until blended. Stir in enough remaining flour to form a stiff dough.
  2. Turn onto a floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic, about 6-8 minutes. Place in a greased bowl, turning once to grease top. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour. Punch dough down; return to bowl. Cover and let rise for 30 minutes.
  3. Punch dough down. Turn onto a lightly floured surface. Shape into a loaf 16 in. long x 2-1/2 in. wide with tapered ends. Sprinkle a greased baking sheet with cornmeal; place loaf on baking sheet. Cover and let rise until doubled, about 25 minutes.
  4. Beat egg white and cold water; brush over dough. With a sharp knife, make diagonal slashes 2 in. apart across top of loaf. Bake at 375 degrees F for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from pan to a wire rack to cool.

Pear Bread Pudding


Ingredients

  • 2 ½ cups low-fat milk
  • 4 large eggs
  • ½ cup sugar, divided
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 4 cups cubed, day-old country-style bread, crusts trimmed (4-6 slices), preferably whole-wheat
  • 2 tablespoons raisins, or currants
  • 1 teaspoon butter, softened, plus 2 tablespoons, divided
  • 2 ripe pears, peeled, halved and cored
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice

Directions

  1. Heat milk in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring, until steaming, 4 to 6 minutes. Whisk eggs in a large bowl until blended; gradually whisk in 1/4 cup sugar. Slowly whisk in the hot milk until blended. Whisk in vanilla, lemon zest and nutmeg.
  2. Add bread and raisins (or currants) to the milk mixture; gently fold together. Press down lightly with the back of a large spoon. Cover and set aside at room temperature.
  3. Butter the bottom and sides of a round 2-quart baking dish with 1 teaspoon butter. Preheat oven to 350°F. Put a kettle of water on to boil.
  4. Cut each pear half lengthwise into 4 slices. Place in a medium bowl and toss with lemon juice.
  5. Heat a medium skillet over low heat until hot. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons butter and swirl until just melted and the foam subsides. Sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup sugar over the melted butter. Arrange the pear slices on their sides in the pan in an even layer. Increase the heat to medium-low and, without stirring, let the pears begin to brown and the sauce slowly caramelize, adjusting the heat as needed to prevent burning, about 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and carefully turn each pear slice with a fork. Return to the heat and cook until the sauce is uniformly golden, 2 to 4 minutes more.
  6. Carefully transfer the pears one at a time to the prepared baking dish, arranging them decoratively in a circle and slightly overlapping them if necessary. Use a heatproof silicone spatula to scrape any remaining syrup over the pears.
  7. Set the baking dish in a shallow baking pan. Spoon the bread and custard mixture into the baking dish. Press down on the bread until it is submerged in the custard. Place the pan in the oven and carefully add the hot water to the shallow baking pan until it is halfway up the sides of the baking dish.
  8. Bake until the pudding is browned on top and set in the center, 1 to 1 1/4 hours. Carefully remove the pan from the oven. Transfer the baking dish to a wire rack and let cool for at least 45 minutes. To serve, run a knife around the edge of the pudding. Place a serving platter over it and invert the pudding onto the platter.

Chocolate Cupcakes


Ingredients

  • 4 1/2 cups flour
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 1 cup cocoa
  • 1/2 Tbsp. salt
  • 1 Tbsp. baking soda
  • 1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
  • 1/8 cup vanilla extract
  • 3 cups strongly brewed coffee
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp. vinegar

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 300ºF. Line a cupcake pan with paper liners.
  2. Mix the flour, sugar, cocoa, salt, and baking soda until well combined.
  3. Add the vegetable oil and vanilla and mix until just combined. Slowly add the coffee, mixing for a few minutes. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl. Mix again until very smooth.
  4. Add the vinegar and mix for 1 minute.
  5. Fill each cupcake liner about two-thirds full.
  6. Bake for about 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool completely before frosting.

Frosting

Feel free to frost as you like, but I use this recipe as a base for any coloring and decorating fun!

Ingredients

  • ½ cup nonhydrogenated shortening
  • ½ cup nonhydrogenated margarine, we use Earth Balance
  • 3 ½ cups powdered sugar, sifted if clumpy
  • 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
  • ¼ cup plain soy milk or soy creamer

Directions

  1. Beat the shortening and margarine together until well combined and fluffy. Add the sugar and beat for about 3 more minutes.
  2. Add the vanilla and soy milk, and beat for another 5 to 7 minutes until fluffy.

For some frosting inspiration, I give you these images:

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