Tag Archives: soup

Halloween Entertaining/Spice and Basic Cut-Out Cookies

Halloween is just around the corner! However you celebrate it, with adults, children or both, spookily or more “Fall Festival-ly”, have a good, safe time.

I make two types of cookie dough, refrigerated cut-outs, but I only use half of the recipe and freeze the other half to use for Thanksgiving, or, if there are too many goodies, I even wait and use them at Christmas.
I also used to make a cake, usually chocolate. I would decorate it with a twisted tree and fallen leaves, and mix or match any of the following: a jack-o-lantern, moon, cat, ghost, spider, spider web, depending on the size of the cake or my mood. However, I have not made one in years and made the half-recipe cookies because I found that with all the candy, it was real food that people would go looking for after a while. Even at church parties, and lots of kids, a large cake would not be completely gone at the end, but all of whatever meat they served would be wiped out.

Candy is the sweet of choice for Halloween.

When we moved into the house we have now, there was a ‘chicken house’ in the back yard, behind the garage and a storage barn. It was about 7X11 feet, with three or four doors on one side, (that looked like screened prison cells), and a loft. After a few years, my sons decided to make it into a ‘haunted house’ for any trick-or-treater who wanted to give it a try. It was clever, (if at times a bit cheesy), but a good time was had by all: the boys, whatever friends they had that came to help them and the brave-enough neighborhood kids who went through. And before, after and in between sets of doorbell ringers, the teenagers ate.

I would have a soup and chili, sausages, hot dogs or sliced meats, snack crackers, chips and pretzels. I’d have hot cocoa and tea and sodas, but mostly food they could eat quickly and still get warm, as most Halloweens here get cool if not cold, at least, by the time they stopped. Usually the soup would be Baby Meatball Stew or Fiesta Day Soup (September Archives).
And, of course, some cookies.

Here are two very reliable cut-out cookie recipes. The Spice Cookies are perfect for Autumn. The Basic Cookie is just that, so basic you can do anything with it. It is very popular with all ages and was the biggest seller in my bakery for any holiday and as a Sugar Cookie in-between. Both are very good with coffee, tea or cocoa.

Pumpkin-shaped cookies are perfect for Halloween with or without Jack-o-lantern features.
I often make bats and ghosts; there are many types of shapes .For Thanksgiving, I use the pumpkin –shapes without faces, turkeys and I always make Autumn leaf-shaped and colored cookies. You can make scarecrows out of gingerbread men shapes, (or as I have seen recently, mummies for Halloween.)

Basic Cookie

One cup (=2 sticks) of softened butter (preferable to margarine)
1 cup of sugar
2 large eggs
2 tsp. baking powder
4 tsp half and half or whole milk
3 cups of sifted flour

Chose the flavoring:
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 tsp. pure almond extract
or my favorite
1 Tbsp Brandy, plain or Apricot (Apricot is good for Easter and Spring)

In a mixer or with hand mixer, cream butter, add sugar and mix well. Add the baking powder and flavoring of choice. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl often. Add the eggs and beat until very fluffy. Add the mild or cream, blend thoroughly. Add the flour, one-half cup at a time and beat until smooth before adding the next half-cup. Beat an additional two minutes, Place in a smaller bowl and chill for at least 4 hours, (it can remain in the refrigerator for several days). Dough will be soft; do not be tempted to add more flour. If you are going to make a half-batch, divide at this point; wrap in plastic and put into a freezer bag .It will keep nicely for many months, ready to be thawed in the refrigerator and used as you need it.
When chilled, take a small amount out at a time and place on a well-floured board or clean table. Roll gently with a well-floured rolling pin, adding flour as needed, (but not too much, as it will make the cookies hard.) Roll to ¼ inch thick. Cut with floured cookie cutters and transfer to greased, cooking-spray covered or parchment paper covered baking sheets. Do not put them too close as they will rise, grow and run into each other. (If you are making sugar cookies, sprinkle with granulated sugar at this point.)
Bake in a pre-heated 325F oven for about 15 minutes or until slightly browned on the bottom and edges.
Remove, place on baking racks and cook completely. These may now be wrapped well, placed in a freezer bag with the air removed and frozen for several months, plain or iced with Royal Icing, (directions below)

Spice Cookies

1 ½ cups of butter or margarine (3 sticks), softened
1 1/4 cup of white sugar (or 1 cup white, ¼ cup brown)
½ cup mild-flavored molasses (NOT black-strap)
1 large egg
2 ½ tsp baking powder

Ground spices {1 tsp. cloves
1 ½ tsp. nutmeg
2 tsp. allspice
1 Tbs. cinnamon
2 Tbs. ginger
or 6 Tbs. allspice

Cream the butter and sugars plus molasses and baking powder. Add spices. Scrape bowl. Add flour ½ cup at a time, beating well between additions and scraping sides of the bowl often. Dough will be soft and firm after it is chilled (If dividing, do so now. Wrap half of the dough in plastic wrap, place in freezer bag with all the air removed. Freeze up to 4- 6 months. Thaw in refrigerator when ready to use.) Chill dough for at least 4 hours before rolling, cutting and baking as in directions above for Basic Cookies. Bake at 350F for approx 12 minutes or until firm, (finger will not leave a dent when touched). Cool and freeze or ice with Royal Icing.

Decorate with Royal Icing made with 6 Tbsp. meringue powder, or dehydrated egg whites, ¼ cup water and 3 cups sifted powdered sugar, flavorings and colorings. (Royal Icing mix is available in some areas where cake decorating supplies are sold. Original Royal Icing is made with raw egg whites and should not be used as it is unsafe with possible contaminants and also will spoil.) You may have to adjust the firmness, (more sugar or water). Too thin and the icing may run or the designs may blend; too thick and you may not be able to work with it. If your designs are not perfect, go ahead and blur them with two or more colors swirled together. This is especially effective with leaf shapes for Autumn, Christmas bells, Easter eggs…you get the picture. Use a pastry bag or a zipper-close sandwich bag with a corner snipped-off to simply outline the cookie with icing, (good for bats and pumpkins).
Or spread icing and top with nuts, sprinkles, colored sugars or jimmies.

The Chicken House was torn down a few years ago, ravaged by time and termites. Although my sons only did the Haunted House in it for three or four years over 10 years ago, the neighbors still talk about it.We’ve had fun.I hope you do, too.

Mini Meatball Soup and Stew/Broth

In continuing with the last post’s theme, here are two recipes using tiny ground beef meatballs that are homemade, easy, comforting. The Stew was a specialty of my favorite uncle-by-marriage, a brave Welshman who joined the crazy Italian side. It has always been a hit with family and friends. And it needn’t be a fiesta day to enjoy the Fiesta Day Soup; it was a staple for luncheon in my bakery/restaurant.

To make basic meatballs, take one pound of ground beef, sprinkle with salt and roll into balls approximately one to one and a half inch in diameter. (do not make them large but don’t worry too much about how big they are as long as they are of generally consistent size.) Pan-fry in 2 Tbsp. butter, margarine, regular olive oil or peanut oil, turning often to brown on all sides…or if you wish to make a larger number or have other irons in the fire, bake them on buttered, oiled or cooking spray covered foil-lined baking pan @350F until just cooked through. Drain of oil and fat, and place in a container or freezer bag. Cover with beef broth, (homemade broth recipes below), or bouillon reconstituted from cubes or granules. Freeze flat or in a square container if using bags, so that they might store more easily when solid.

Thaw slowly in a pot when ready to use and you can have homemade one-bowl meals in short time with the recipes below, just in time for cooler weather, when you are pressed for time or for unexpected company. These are great for after winter activities to warm you from the inside–out.

Baby Meatball Stew*

 

One pound prepared small meatballs with broth (or bouillon)

One cup of sliced carrots

One cup of green beans

One cup of diced potatoes

Salt and Pepper

Dash of thyme {optional

1 Tbsp. corn starch

Place all ingredients in a heavy pot; simmer until the vegetables are cooked. Mix corn starch with two Tbsp. water and add to simmering stew; stir to thicken. Serve with buttered bread, preferably whole-grain or crusty French or Italian breads.

EASIER  Baby Meatball stew:

 

Prepared meatballs with broth

1 can sliced potatoes {drained

1 can green beans {drained

1 can sliced carrots (undrained

1 Tbsp. corn starch

Mix or match fresh vegetables with canned, (if using any fresh, cook in broth with meatballs until tender before adding canned). Simmer all until thoroughly warmed and the flavors mix. Dissolve cornstarch in two tablespoons of water and blend into stew while it is simmering to thicken. Serve with breads, as above.

Fiesta Day Soup

1 Tablespoon of butter

One medium onion, diced

2/3 cup carrots, sliced

½ cup bell pepper, diced

1 cup tomatoes, diced, (can be canned)

1 cup tomato sauce

1 lb. prepared mini meatballs

Enough water to make 2 cups of liquid with the broth

2 cloves of garlic, crushed (or 2 tsp. dried garlic chips

1 ½   tsp. dried Basil

1 Bay leaf

½ tsp. paprika

Salt and pepper

1/3 cup tiny pasta (pastina, stars, achini di pepe, etc.

or ½ cup cooked rice

Melt butter and sauté  the fresh vegetables until soft. Add the meatballs, broth and water (if needed); add herbs, spices, tomatoes and  tomato sauce. Simmer for 30-45 minutes. Add the pasta, stir and cook until the pasta is done. Remove the Bay leaf and serve.

(If using cooked rice, add after the soup has cooked for 30-45 minutes; add rice and simmer for 10-15 minutes .Remove Bay leaf and serve.

[Note: The pasta or rice will continue to absorb the liquid in any left-over soup. It will become thick, but the flavor will not suffer. If it becomes too thick, add a little water when  re-heating]

 

Broths are simple and easy and you should make them.I will focus on beef broth in this post.

I save any bones and trimmings from beef that I buy  and freeze them until I have enough for broth…or I will buy  beef ribs ; they are THE best, robust  flavor for broth.Either way, take whatever beef you’d like to use and place it n a large pot..Cover with at least 4 quarts of water.Add on chopped medium onion, 2-3 ribs of celery, 1/8 cup dried parsley, 1 Tbsp. salt and either 1 tsp. ground black pepper,(preferably course ground), or 5  whole  peppercorns. Do not chop the vegetables; they will be easier to remove when the  broth is cooked.(They will have spent their flavors and be useless afterward.)  Although many people do,I do not add carrots.I believe that it imparts too strong of a flavor into the broth.

Simmer until the liquid is reduced to one-third of it’s original volume.Taste for  salt and add more if necessary, re-taste to check for strength and cook longer if it is weak . Strain the cooked broth into a large bowl.If there are any good, lean pieces of meat you can remove them and add them to the strained broth; discard vegetables, bones, fat, cartilage. Chill.This is an important step; it will bring all the fat to the top and it will solidify, making it easy to remove and leaving you with practically fat-free, protein-filled, calcium  and vitamin-enriched broth. If there is meat, you can add vegetables, and noodles, pasta, rice or barley to a hearty  make soup.If plain,  you can freeze it in small batches and use it for gravies or as a base for other soups. Enjoy!