Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Last Minute Halloween Ideas

Tomorrow is Halloween.  You knew that, right?  Are you ready?  Of course, I’ve been on Pinterest and there is no end to the cute, or spooky, or spooky and cute at the same time, Halloween food.  There are thousands of recipes and ideas for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, desserts and anything else you can think of.  While they are all amazing, all it really does it stress me out because I know there is no way I could make most of it.  And I do this for a living.  As crafty as I am, I just don’t think that I could make Frankenstein cake pops or a cake shaped like a coffin.

I have three last minute Halloween ideas for you today, and I promise, not a one of them is too hard or will add undue stress.  My ideas are cute, or spooky, and ridiculously easy.  You don’t need more than fifteen minutes, and you might already have all the ingredients on hand.  And you know what?  Everyone can be jealous of you for pulling off an effortless Halloween.

My first recipe I want to show you is more of an idea then a recipe.  Every year, I make my little “Cookie Monsters” for my kids and sometimes even for all of the kids in their classes.  I start with already baked chocolate chip cookies, like Chips Ahoy or something similar.  Of course, you can bake your own chocolate chip cookies, but I like that these cookies are all the same shape and size and relatively sturdy. 

I assemble these little monsters by laying down a cookie, bottom side up.  I pipe red and green frosting on to form a tongue and an oozy green monster mouth.  I like to add more frosting towards the back so that the cookie sits open a bit in front when I lay the top cookie on.  I also add candy eyeballs to the top cookie.  I adhere the eyes with either frosting or melted chocolate.  From there, I get creative.  Sometimes I add candy corn for fangs or horns, or licorice strings for hair.  I’ve used sliced almonds for teeth, or even Nerds (the candy) for warts and such.  Basically, whatever you can find, you can use.  Use your imagination.  Sometimes they are funnier, then scary, but that’s ok too.  The bottom line is that kids love them, and they are so easy to put together.


My next Halloween treat is actually something that I bust out at most holidays….it really just depends on what cookie cutters I can find.  I like to use my themed cookie cutters to make homemade “strudels”.  They might be more “pop tart” but my kids have always called them strudels.  I use frozen puff pastry as a base for this.  I punch out themed shapes with cookie cutters and I fill these little pockets of goodness with fresh strawberries and chocolate, blueberry jam, mini marshmallows and chocolate chips, pizza sauce and cheese, really whatever I have.

I start by punching out a shape from the defrosted puff pastry.  Two really, because I need a top and bottom.  I lay the bottom piece out on a greased tray (you can’t be too careful!) and I layer on my toppings.  For the pumpkins and ghosts I used fresh thinly sliced strawberries and mini chocolate chips.  Once the filling is on the bottom piece, I use a little bit of water to seal the top piece on.  The water acts as glue. 

Then, I cut slits (for eyes and mouths) that will not only make these super cute, they also keep the puff pastry from puffing up too much.  These bake for about fifteen minutes and when they come out of the oven, they are puffed and golden and really, really delicious.  


These are also great for an easy breakfast on Christmas Day or Valentine’s Day.  And it gives me an excuse to use one of millions of cookie cutters. Yep, I have a ton and I very rarely make cut-out cookies.

My last recipe is my “Trick or Treat Cider”.  We never go out on Halloween night without this fantastic, spicy cider.  I make it in my slow cooker so it is ready to go for anyone that might drop by or for refills during those long trick or treating runs.  For this cider, I use apple juice, cranberry juice, pear nectar, cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, ginger and a couple of clementines.  You could use regular oranges too, if that is what you have.

This is so easy….I literally just throw everything (ok, not literally…that would make a mess), in the slow cooker and let it go for about 3 hours.  The flavors will all meld together over those 3 hours.  The spices, clemetines and ginger will all release their flavors.  Then, I pull the big chunks out and it is ready to go.   I like to serve my cider with whip cream on the top, but you can skip that if you want.  The adults might want a bit of brandy in it too, especially when faced with a long night of trick or treating.  Either way, this stuff tastes like fall in a glass.

I hope you all have a safe and fun Halloween!  Trick or Treat!

Puffy Pumpkin (or Ghost!) “Strudels”

17.3 ounce box frozen puff pastry sheets, defrosted

8 strawberries, thinly sliced

¼ cup mini chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Lay defrosted puff pastry sheets on a floured board.  Using cookie cutters, cut out desired shapes.  Make sure you have a top and bottom of each shape.

Lay bottom shape down on a greased cookie sheet.  Top with thinly sliced strawberries and a few mini chocolate chips, leaving a rim.  Using your finger, dab water all the way around the rim.  Press top shape onto bottom, sealing with fingers.

Using a sharp knife, cut slits or shapes on the top shape.  Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes, or until golden brown.


Trick or Treat Cider


3 cups apple juice


3 cups pear cider


3 cups cranberry juice


4 cinnamon sticks


8 whole cloves


3 inch piece of peeled ginger


2 clementines, cut in half


Place all ingredients in slow cooker.  Cook for 3 hours.  Remove sticks, cloves, ginger and clementines.  Serve warm.

Makes 9 cups cider

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Crepes....Actually Easy!

What is your “go-to” meal?  Do you have one?  You know, that meal that you have in your back pocket.  The one you can cook at a moment’s notice because you know the recipe by heart, and you always have all the ingredients.  I have one, and you might think it’s a strange one because some people think they are too fancy, or something you can’t possible make a meal out of, or maybe you think they are only for breakfast.

Have you guessed yet?  My “go-to” is crepes!  Yep, the thin French pancakes.  Why, you ask?  Because they are ridiculously easy, made from pantry ingredients, can transform leftovers and everybody loves them!  I have yet to find anything that I can’t fill crepes with.  Wait, yes I have.  The Spaghetti crepes didn’t go over well, but they really can be stuffed with pretty much anything within reason.

When I need a good breakfast, or when I come home from work and can’t figure out what to make in a pinch….it’s always crepes.  I tend to stuff them with whatever I can find in the fridge or pantry.  I love rotisserie chicken and broccoli rolled in a delicious crepe and topped with a yummy cheese sauce.  Or melty mozzarella rolled in a savory crepe and then topped with pasta sauce.  I’ve done leftover steak and potatoes, meatloaf, taco meat and cheese, and even just plain old butter and garlic.  For breakfast, I like scrambled eggs and ham topped with cheese sauce (again!) or sweetened cream cheese rolled into a sweet crepe and then topped with strawberry jam and homemade chocolate sauce.

Looking for a great holiday breakfast?  How about pumpkin, cream cheese and powdered sugar blended together, rolled in a crepe and topped with maple syrup?  Or how about stuffing your Thanksgiving leftovers into a crepe and then topping with gravy?  See?  The possibilities are endless!

Let’s talk about the crepes.  First off, don’t be intimidated because they are not hard!  Crepes are flour, eggs, milk, melted butter and a smidge of water.  Don’t you have all of that in your pantry and fridge?  You can also make crepes from packaged baking mix.  Really, the batter is just super thin pancake batter, so it makes sense when you think about it.  I tend to grab the baking mix to make my crepes just so I don’t have to melt butter. If I am making sweet crepes, I add a couple of tablespoons of powdered sugar to the batter.  Savory crepes?  Try dried herbs.

Once you have your batter mixed, you need to grease your pan really well.  I think that is the most important factor when making crepes.  Not a fancy crepe pan….just gold old fashioned butter and oil.  I use a combination of both.  I like the way oil makes the pan super non-stick, but I prefer the taste of butter.

I ladle in about 1/3 a cup of batter into a large skillet.  Then, I swirl the pan until the entire bottom surface of the pan is coated in a thin layer of batter.  Be careful….these cook quickly!  Once the crepe starts to bubble along the edges and lift up, I know it’s time to flip.  I slide the crepe out onto foil, add more oil and butter to the pan, then flip the crepe back in to cook on the other side.  These cook in less than a minute.

Once I have all of my crepes cooked, I put some filling down the middle, roll ‘em up and top with a sauce of some sort.  Sometimes I will also pop them under the broiler to get a browned bubbly top.  Dinner, lunch or breakfast is served.

Above I mentioned cheese sauce and chocolate sauce….this brings me to my “go-to” pantry item.  I always have evaporated canned milk on hand.  You can make so many different sauces with evaporated milk.  I have talked about the cheese sauces I make with evaporated milk here before.  You can find those recipes at www.gourmetrooster.blogspot.com.  If you are after a chocolate sauce…again…..grab the evaporated milk.

For my deep dark chocolate sauce, I pour a can of evaporated milk into a sauce pan with about 12 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate chips.  I whisk the two together as the chocolate melts.  At first, you will think that I am nuts because the sauce won’t be a sauce.  It will be a runny mess.  But keep whisking and keep the faith….as the sauce comes to a boil, it will thicken into a luxurious, rich chocolate sauce.  I also add about a tablespoon of butter and some flavored extract in at the end to really gild the lily.  I usually use vanilla, but rum, mint or orange are also delicious.  You can also stir in peanut butter for a crazy good treat.

This chocolate sauce is great on crepes, but it is also fantastic on ice cream, cake, my finger, a spoon…whatever.


What do you stuff crepes with?  I bet you could come up with some great ideas!

Easy Crepes

Butter and Oil for cooking

1 cup baking mix

3 eggs

¾ cup milk

For sweet:

2 tablespoons powdered sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

For savory:

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon black pepper

½ teaspoon garlic powder

Mix ingredients in a large bowl until smooth.  Let batter sit for about 10 minutes.

Pre-heat a large flat skillet over medium heat.  Add about 1 teaspoon butter and 1 tablespoon vegetable oil to the pan.  Once butter is melted, ladle about 1/3 a cup batter into skillet.  Swirl skillet until batter completely coats the bottom of the pan.  Let crepe cook until edges have large bubbles and start to lift up, about 1 minute.  Loosen edges with a spatula and slide crepe onto a piece of foil.  Add additional butter and oil to the pan.  Flip crepe back into pan to cook second side.  Let second side cook about 30 seconds to 1 minute.  Slide cooked crepe back onto foil.

Repeat with remaining batter.

Makes about 10 crepes.


Easy Chocolate Sauce

12 ounces evaporated milk

12 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips

1 tablespoon butter

2 teaspoons flavored extract

Heat evaporated milk and chocolate chips in a small skillet over medium heat, whisking as the chocolate melts.  Let sauce come to a boil to thicken, about 4 minutes.  Whisk in butter and extract.

Makes about 2 cups.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Pumpkin Caramel Apple Poke Cake

Ummmmmm……Did I just combine all the best fall flavors into one heavenly slice of cake?  I surely did!  By now, you know…I love fall.  And you probably also know that I love cake.  So when I decided to make a cake to celebrate the first few chilly days of fall, it was a no-brainer.  I knew I had to make my Pumpkin Caramel Apple Poke Cake.

Last year, I was trolling around on Pinterest, like I do every morning, and I realized I was seeing an awful lot of recipes for “poke” cakes.  A “poke” cake is a cake that gets holes punched all over it after it comes out of the oven and cools a bit.  Then, a liquid of some sort is poured over the top and because of the holes, it really sinks in and flavors the cake.  Typically, I would see poke cakes made with Jell-O or pudding.  I knew I had to try it with one of my Gourmet Rooster fruit spreads.  I did, and my Pumpkin Caramel Apple Poke cake was born.  It is a pumpkin spice cake, topped with a mixture of my Gourmet Rooster Whiskey Apple Spread and caramel, then the whole thing gets topped with a rich cream cheese frosting and a drizzle of caramel.  It is ridiculously good and easy too!

I use a box mix for my cake….surprise, surprise.  I use a spice cake mix.  Of course, I doctor it up a bit.  I always use milk instead of water for a box mix, one extra egg and melted butter instead of oil.  This makes for a more tender and richer cake.  It always tastes “homemade”. 

I add about one cup of canned pumpkin to the batter for a good, strong pumpkin flavor.  Don’t use Pumpkin Pie Mix, make sure your can is just pureed pumpkin.  I also added in another tablespoon of pumpkin pie spice, because I feel you can never have too much.  Ok, I am sure you probably can….but I haven’t hit that threshold yet.

Once the cakes bakes in a 9x13 baking pan, I let it cool all the way.  Once it has cooled, I poked holes all over the top with the end of a wooden spoon.  Then, I heat up a jar of Whiskey Apple spread on the stovetop.  You can use any flavor apple butter you can get your hands on.  I will still love you.

I mix the apple spread with about half as much caramel, and let the two heat together.  Once the apple spread and caramel are heated through and thoroughly combined, I pour that over the top of the cake.  I set the cake aside and let it do its cake thing for about half an hour.

If you are wondering….no, I don’t make my own caramel.  I buy a jar of the stuff that is found by the ice cream.   

While the cake is absorbing all the yummy flavors of apple and caramel, I get busy with the frosting, which is really super easy.  I like to use boxed cake mix, but I never use canned frosting.  I don’t like the fake sugary taste.  I always make my own frosting.  Mainly because it is so easy, but it also tastes way better.

My cream cheese frosting is just softened butter blended with softened cream cheese, vanilla extract and powdered sugar.  It all gets blended together in a standing mixer or with a hand mixer.  Sometimes I add a splash of cream if I want to thin it out a bit.  This really is perfect cream cheese frosting.  It isn’t too sweet, or too tangy….It is just right.

I top my cake with all of the yummy frosting.  Then, I drizzle some of the leftover caramel sauce all over the top.  I bet some people would like chopped pecans strewn about too.  I am not one of those people….but have at it if you are.

This cake, oh man, this cake….This cake is warm, spicy, sweet, and rich all at the same time.  You will have visions of playing in a pumpkin patch, or drinking hot chocolate by a roaring bonfire, or jumping in a pile of leaves.  Ok, I exaggerate a bit with that, but I’m not exaggerating about how good this cake is! 


Pumpkin Caramel Apple Cake

1 box Spice Cake Mix

4 eggs

1 cup milk

1/3 cup butter, melted

1 cup canned pumpkin puree

1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice

8 ounces Apple Butter (I used Gourmet Rooster Whiskey Apple Spread)

4 ounces Caramel


½ cup butter (1 stick), softened

8 ounces cream cheese, softened

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

4 cups powdered sugar

Caramel for drizzling


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease a 9x13 baking pan with cooking spray.

In a mixing bowl, beat together cake mix, eggs, milk, melted butter, pumpkin and pumpkin pie spice with a hand mixer for two minutes, scraping sides occasionally.  Pour batter into greased 9x13 pan.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes or until a knife inserted into the middle comes out clean and cake is pulling away from the sides.

Set cake aside to cool for at least an hour.  Once cooled, poke holes all over the top of the cake with the end of a wooden spoon.

In a small sauce pan, heat together apple butter and ½ cup (4 ounces) caramel over medium heat.  Cook until thoroughly mixed and heated through.  Pour mixture over cake and spread evenly with a spatula.  Let cake cool again and absorb apple mixture for at least 30 minutes.

For frosting:

In a large bowl, blend together with a hand mixer, softened cream cheese and butter until smooth. Slowly blend in vanilla. Finally, blend in powdered sugar until desired consistency is reached.

Spread frosting over top of cake, evenly.  Drizzle with caramel as desired.

Serves 12


Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Schnitzel with Beer Braised Cabbage

Sprechen sie Deutsch?  Well, I actually don’t.  I was just wondering if you did or not.  One thing I do know, is that every early October, the good people of Germany, specifically Bavaria, celebrate Oktoberfest!  What is Oktoberfest, besides one heck of an excuse to drink beer and wear lederhosen, you might ask?  It started in Munich, Germany as a commemoration of the marriage of Crown Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen in 1810.  By 1818, it had morphed into an agricultural festival that celebrated Bavaria.  At some point, beer became a major component of the festival, and it now pulls in about 5 million people each year.  All right, history lesson over.

I look at Oktoberfest as the beginning of Fall.  When I see cities and communities around me celebrating, I know that we are officially in Fall.  I also look at it as a time to enjoy some really good German-esque food.  Win all around. 

Today I have a great recipe for you that makes a perfect Fall dinner.  I am going to show you how to make schnitzel!  Do you love schnitzel?  Especially with noodles, Maria Von Trapp?  I love it too, and I serve mine with cabbage braised in beer and mustard.  I also serve mine with pierogies, which I’m pretty sure aren’t German.  But they are Eastern European (Polish), so that’s cool, right?

My schnitzel starts with thin cut pork chops.  You could totally pound out your own chops, but my grocery store (Scolari’s) sells boneless “thin-cut” pork chops.  I love these because they are very quick cooking.

I dredge my chops in seasoned flour, then Gourmet Rooster Carolina Style BBQ sauce, and finally, panko bread crumbs.  Carolina Style BBQ sauce is the perfect substitute for eggs in this dish.  The purpose of the eggs is really just to help the bread crumbs stick, giving the pork a crunchy coating.  Plus, the BBQ sauce is a combination of mustard, beer, and many other spices.  It works beautifully with pork, and it is mild enough that my kids like it too.

The chops get fried, four minutes on the first side and three on the second, in a large skillet that has already fried up some bacon….leaving all of its precious fat in the pan.  I set aside the bacon, as that will get added to the cabbage later.

Once the chops come out of the pan, I add in one full head of shredded green cabbage.  You can really use any color here, I just prefer green.  I let the cabbage sauté in all of the remaining fat in the skillet.  Once the cabbage has sautéed, I add in more Carolina Style BBQ sauce, and then some beer!  I let the cabbage sizzle away until it is tender.  And don’t worry, the alcohol will cook out of the dish, leaving you with just the flavor of beer.

To serve, I top each schnitzel with the beer braised cabbage and a little sprinkle of bacon.  The pork stays tender and juicy under its crunchy exterior, and you really get a great flavor from the Carolina Style sauce.  If you can’t find Gourmet Rooster (go to www.gourmetrooster.com and hit “where to buy”), you can always sub in your favorite mustard.  Same goes for the cabbage recipe too.

Speaking of the cabbage…the cabbage is tender, yet still a bit crunchy, with tons of flavor from the BBQ sauce and beer.  The beer flavor is so good with cabbage, but you can always substitute chicken stock if you kids don’t like the beer flavor.

Served with pierogies, I think this is the perfect dinner!  Of course, I’ll have to follow it up with a Black Forest Cake or German Chocolate Cake….does anyone have one?

Don’t forget to like my page on Facebook.  Just search “Gourmet Rooster”.



Schnitzel with Cabbage

½ pound bacon

1 ½ half pounds boneless “thin cut” pork chops

1 ½ cups flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

1 ¼ cup Gourmet Rooster Carolina Style BBQ Sauce, divided

2 cups panko style bread crumbs

1 small head cabbage, shredded

8 ounces dark beer

Fry bacon over medium heat in a large skillet until brown and crispy on both sides, about 5-7 minutes.  Remove bacon from pan, leaving bacon fat in skillet.  Set bacon on paper towels to drain.

Place flour in a shallow dish and season with salt and pepper.  Pour 1 cup of Carolina Style BBQ sauce into another shallow dish.  Finally, place seasoned bread crumbs in a third shallow dish.  Dredge pork chops in flour seasoned with salt and pepper, then Carolina Style BBQ sauce, then bread crumbs.

Fry pork chops over medium heat, in batches so you don’t crowd them, in bacon fat.  Fry each chop for about 4 minutes on the first side and 3 minutes on the second, or until both sides are golden brown and pork is cooked through.  You may need to add additional vegetable oil for frying.

When all of the pork is cooked and out of the pan, place shredded cabbage into same skillet, adding additional oil if needed.  Sauté cabbage over medium high heat for about 2 minutes.  Add remaining Carolina Style BBQ sauce and beer.  Season with salt and pepper if desired.  Let cabbage simmer for an additional 5 minutes or until cabbage is crisp tender and liquid has reduced.  Crumble the cooked bacon over the cabbage.

Serve pork topped with cabbage and bacon with cooked pierogies on the side.

Serves 4.