All Hallows’ Eve & Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Squares

Halloween_02What’s not to love about Halloween? Yes, it falls in that dreary time of year when summer is long over and the ski season is still more than a month off. It is apt to be cold and rainy, even snowy, on Halloween night. In spite of generally miserable weather, it has always been one of my favorite holidays. The proliferation of chocolate is definitely a plus. The decorations are fabulous. In the past year or two, our little town’s population has swelled in the weeks leading up to Halloween. That’s when a troop of magnificent pumpkin people come to work and play up and down Main Street.

Sure, the decorations are terrific and the chocolate fabulous but the best part of Halloween is dressing up. Dress-up was probably my favorite game as a little girl. I spent countless hours wearing my Mother’s old nightgowns, the lacier the better, pretending to be a magical fairy princess. Each fall I invested considerable time and care choosing my Halloween costume. Over the years, I was a pumpkin, a princess, a witch, a football player, a hobo, a devil and a fine young cannibal.

Even if I’m too old for trick or treat, I am still a big fan of costumes, particularly those with boas; or better yet, capes. You can vamp with a boa but a cape is transforming. A mild mannered food writer can morph into a vampire, Bat Girl, Wonder Woman, a devil and a whole lot more. Halloween is a wonderful excuse to play dress-up. Get your gang together, whip up some delicious treats, including an exotic cocktail with a name like Zombie or Black Widow, and dance the night away.

But where did all this frivolity come from? What is the origin of Halloween? The holiday is steeped in myths and legends, some of them scary, many confusing and all of them intriguing. It all began a couple of thousand years ago in Ireland, Scotland and Wales not as Halloween but as Samhain. This Celtic festival marked the end of the harvest and the onset of winter.

The ancient Celts saw this change of seasons as a chaotic time. Unlike today, the rush from soccer games to piano lessons and Scouts was not the cause of the chaos. With winter approaching, the days grew shorter and colder and ghosts roamed the earth. As soon as winter came, these spirits would settle down for a long winter sleep. In the meantime, the living got ready for winter and anxiously coped with restless ancestors.

To ward off evil spirits, the Celts lit up the night sky with huge bonfires. Fearful of their wrath, they donned disguises to hide from Grampa Bob’s mischief or Great-Aunt Helen and her spells. They turned to the fairies and elves for help, leaving food and gifts to entice their aid and good favor. Or maybe these presents were meant to placate angry spirits.

Although it took a while to stick, Samhain received a new name sometime in the 9th century. It started when the Pope proclaimed All Saints Day on November 1st. Samhain, long celebrated on October 31st, eventually became All Hallows’ Eve, the eve of All Saints Day. Say it three times fast and out pops Halloween.

Fast forward several centuries and not a lot has changed. In ancient times, restless spirits wandered the earth on All Hallows’ Eve. Now high-spirited children wander the streets in search of Reese cups and Snicker’s bars. The young-at-heart are no less high-spirited. Instead of fun-size treats, they’ll be looking for a drink or a dance or both.

Stay safe, have fun and Happy Halloween! Bon appétit!

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Squares
Offer these spicy, chocolaty Halloween treats to your trick-or-treaters or serve them towards the end of your Monster Mash. With two super foods, chocolate and pumpkin, these treats are loaded with anti-oxidants and almost good for you. Enjoy!
Makes 24 squaresPumpkin_Chocolate_Chip_Squares_02

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 large egg
2 teaspoons dark rum
1 cup pumpkin purée
12 ounces chocolate chips*

Pumpkin_Chocolate_Chip_Squares_09Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9×13-inch baking pan.

Put the flour, spices, baking soda and salt in a bowl and whisk to combine. Set aside.

With an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugars on medium-high speed until smooth. Add the egg and rum and beat until combined. Beat in pumpkin purée. Reduce the mixer speed to low, slowly add the dry ingredients and beat until just combined. Fold in the chocolate chips.

Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out with just a few moist crumbs attached.

Cool completely in the pan and cut into 24 squares.

* You can your favorite chocolate chips for the squares but I recommend dark chocolate for an extra chocolaty taste and maximum antioxidants.

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One Year Ago – Mini Pumpkin Whoopie Pies
Two Years Ago Ago – Pumpkin Spice Cookies
Three Years Ago – Chicken in Every Pot
Four Years Ago – Roasted Carrots & Pearl Onions
Five Years Ago – Roasted Butternut Squash Risotto
Six Years Ago – Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Pearl Onions
Seven Years Ago – Mexican Chicken Soup

Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

What about you? Do you have your costume ready? What will you be for Halloween? Feel free to share!

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2015

A Christmas Cookie Swap & Ginger Shortbread

Baking_CookiesWhat’s not to love about a Cookie Swap? It’s not just a delightful excuse for friends to get together; a Cookie Swap has a sweet bonus. You arrive with one big batch of your favorite Christmas cookie and leave with a cornucopia of treats. That’s right; instead of spending days baking eight or ten different kinds of cookies, you bake up a big batch of one special treat and swap them for a wonderful assortment. Along with the cookies, you’ll enjoy a few hours of holiday cheer with friends. Sounds like a pretty good two-fer to me.

How to begin?

The more the merrier! Invite anyone who loves cookies; which more or less means any and every one you know. Friends, neighbors, family and co-workers. Don’t forget that nice woman you met in the library last week, the one who’s new to town.

How many cookies are too many? Silly question; you can never have too many cookies. However, it’s a good bet to ask everyone to bring six dozen cookies for swapping and maybe a few more to munch during the party.

Encourage your guests to bring copies of their recipes. That way, everyone goes home with plenty of cookies and a whole lot of know how. To avoid any added confusion during the swap, ask your guests to bring containers to carry their goodies home. Since someone always forgets, be prepared and have some extra containers or bags handy.

What’s next?

Think casual. There will be plenty of sweets, so whip up a few of your favorite savory snacks. Stick to figure food, set out small plates and let everyone help themselves. If you want to add something a bit more substantial, mugs of soup will be most welcome on a cold night. No need to worry about dessert, there will be cookies galore. Chill some wine, mull some cider and the menu is complete.

cookie_swap_card_02Clear a table, add a few candles and baubles and wait for the cookies to arrive. Both set-up and clean-up will be a whole lot easier if you ask everyone to bring their favorite holiday platter to display their cookies. Have little cards ready to label each platter. That way your guests can connect the baker and recipe with each cookie.

More than likely, the halls are already decked and there’s a Christmas mix cued in your iPod or CD player. Now all you need to do is light a fire, fluff a few pillows and take a deep breath or two before the doorbell rings.

Happy holidays and bon appétit!

Ginger Shortbread
I’ve combined two of my favorites – shortbread and ginger – in this tasty holiday treat. Enjoy!ginger_shortbread_03
Makes about 6 dozen cookies

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
Grated zest of 1 orange
1/2 cup finely chopped candied ginger
2 sticks (1 cup) butter at room temperature
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoon Grand Marnier
8 ounces dark or milk chocolate, chopped

Put the flour and spices in a bowl and whisk to combine. Add the orange zest and ginger and whisk again.

Beat the butter and sugar in a large bowl at medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon Grand Marnier and beat until combined.

Gradually add the flour mixture and beat on low speed until combined.

Divide the dough into 3 or 4 pieces. Shape each piece into a log about 1 1/2 inches in diameter, wrap in parchment paper or plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, about 2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper or silicon mats.

Using a sharp knife, cut the logs into 1/3-inch thick slices. Arrange the cookies on the prepared baking sheets, about 1 inch apart. Bake until the edges are golden, about 12 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Put the chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl and zap in the microwave for 15 seconds. Remove from the microwave and stir. Continue to zap in 10 second intervals and stir until the chocolate has almost melted. Let the chocolate sit for a minute or two and stir until smooth.

Dip the cookies in the chocolate or spread chocolate on each cookie. Let the cookies sit for about 30 minutes to set.

The cookies can be stored for up to 1 week in an airtight container.

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Print-friendly Cookie Swap Card Template to label all the cookies.

One Year Ago – Baked French Toast
Two Years Ago – Braised Lamb with Artichokes and Mushrooms and Creamy Polenta
Three Years Ago – Mixed Greens with Roasted Grapes
Four Years Ago – Savory Bread Pudding
Five Years Ago – Triple Chocolate Parfait
Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

What’s your favorite Christmas cookie? Feel free to share. Let’s get a conversation going.

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook as well as a day in the life photoblog! In addition, I hope that you will take a minute to learn about my philanthropic project Eat Well-Do Good. © Susan W. Nye, 2013