- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 26, 2004

The children have carefully chosen their Halloween costumes by now, but do you have any idea what you’ll serve for dinner on the haunted night?

Planning this meal is usually the last thing on my list, what with three children who still enjoy trick-or-treating. And yet Halloween is a wonderful time to entertain family and friends, after it’s dark and the little children are back home to unload their sacks of goodies. I am sharing a simple menu, finished up by a delicious cake that feeds a crowd.

Roast chickens or purchase them at the supermarket deli. Roast any cubed root vegetables: potatoes, turnips, rutabagas, carrots, parsnips to go alongside.

Add onion slices and cloves of peeled garlic, drizzle with olive oil, and cook until soft. Chicken and veggies can be kept warm for up to an hour, but the spinach sauteed in olive oil or butter with just a little salt is best prepared at the last minute.

The cake recipe that follows is much like a pie in that it has a cinnamon-enhanced pumpkin filling. Yet it’s also like a cake with a soft crust. Don’t be concerned that 1 cup of the cake mix is reserved for the topping. The filling bakes up firm and creamy without it.

Five time-shaving ways to add pumpkin to the menu:

• Cube fresh pumpkin, toss with drained canned tomatoes and sauteed garlic and onion, and bake in a 375-degree oven until the pumpkin is tender, 20 to 30 minutes.

• Add a cup of canned pumpkin to 2 cups of chicken stock, season with curry powder and add a touch of cream for a simple pumpkin soup that you simmer over low heat until hot.

• Add a cup of canned pumpkin to your favorite yellow cake recipe. Reduce oil or butter in the recipe by half.

• Add cubed fresh pumpkin to your favorite vegetable soup recipe.

• Add a cup of canned pumpkin to your favorite waffle or pancake recipe. Serve with maple syrup and chopped toasted pecans.

Easy Halloween night menu for friends:

Roasted chicken

Roasted root vegetables

Braised spinach

Pumpkin pie crumble cake

Pumpkin pie crumble cake

Preparation time: 15 minutes; baking time: 70 to 75 minutes; assembly time: 5 minutes

Solid vegetable shortening for greasing the pan

Flour for dusting the pan

1 18.25-ounce package plain yellow cake mix

8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter or margarine, at room temperature

4 large eggs, divided

2 15-ounce cans pumpkin puree

1 5-ounce can evaporated milk

11/4 cups sugar, divided

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

4 tablespoons (½ stick) butter or margarine, chilled

1 cup chopped pecans

4 cups lightly sweetened whipped cream

Lightly grease a 13-by-9-inch baking pan with solid vegetable shortening, then dust with flour. Shake out excess flour and set pan aside.

Measure out 1 cup of the cake mix and reserve for the topping. Place remaining cake mix, room-temperature butter or margarine and 1 egg in a large mixing bowl. Blend with an electric mixer on low speed until well combined, 1 minute. Using your fingertips, press batter over bottom of prepared pan so it reaches the sides of the pan. Set the pan aside.

For the filling, place pumpkin, evaporated milk, 1 cup sugar, remaining 3 eggs and cinnamon in the same large mixing bowl used to prepare the batter and with the same beaters (no need to clean either), blend on low speed until combined, 30 seconds. Increase mixer speed to medium and beat until mixture lightens in color and texture, 1 to 2 minutes more.

Pour filling over crust in pan, spreading to sides of the pan with a rubber spatula. Set pan aside.

For the topping, place remaining 1/4 cup sugar, the chilled butter or margarine and the reserved cake mix in a clean medium-size mixing bowl. Rinse and dry the beaters. Beat with an electric mixer on low speed until just combined and crumbly, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Stop the machine and stir in the pecans. Use your fingers to thoroughly knead the pecans into the topping mixture. Distribute the topping evenly over the filling mixture.

Place pan on center rack of preheated 350-degree oven. Bake cake until center no longer jiggles when you shake the pan and the pecans on top have browned, 70 to 75 minutes.

Remove pan from oven and let cool slightly on a wire rack, 20 minutes. Slice cake into squares and pass the whipped cream to spoon on top. (Store this cake without the whipped cream on it, covered in aluminum foil or plastic wrap, in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.)

Makes 18 to 20 servings.

To share a favorite cooking tips, ask questions and access Miss Byrn’s free online newsletter visit www.dinnerdoc.com.


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