Welcome to Day 2 of Tag Sale Tastes’ Pumpkinpalooza!

Today I’m taking a look at Philadelphia Limited Edition Pumpkin Spice Cream Cheese Spread:

The lid boasts that this spread is made with “real pumpkin & cinnamon.”  Sure enough, the ingredient list includes pumpkin concentrate and cinnamon.


The first thing you’ll notice when you open the container is the odd color of the cream cheese spread:


Hmmm . . . where have I seen that color before?  Why, it’s the color of Barbie and Ken:

barbie and kenIf they were going to make this spread Barbie flesh-colored, you would think they could have at least gone with Malibu Barbie.

The appearance of the spread dashed any hopes that this might be something tasty to schmear on a bagel.  Indeed, it had a noticeable tang, which you would expect from cream cheese, but it was not offset by enough pumpkin or sugar or spice to balance it out.  There was no discernible pumpkin or spice flavor.  It kind of made you want to scrunch up your face when you’re eating it.

Rating:  1-1/2 pumpkins (out of 5)

But . . . pumpkin spice cream cheese takes just a few minutes to make, and is infinitely better than the Philadelphia brand.  This flavorful cream cheese can be used as a spread or a dip, and no one will question whether it contains pumpkin or spice.  It is also not Barbie-colored.

Recipe type: Appetizers, Halloween
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ⅛ teaspoon ground cloves
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ cup canned pumpkin puree
  1. Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat until smooth and thoroughly combined. Keep refrigerated.


Philadelphia on the left, homemade on the right


In a side-by-side taste test, homemade easily beat out Philadelphia


While waiting for trick-or-treaters tonight, my husband and I will be enjoying some Halloween treats of our own.

About a week ago, I made black maraschino cherries to use as a Halloween cocktail garnish. They’re easy — just add black food coloring to a jar of maraschino cherries, and let them sit in the refrigerator for about a week.  Depending on the size of the jar, use about 1/2-1 teaspoon of black food coloring.  Rinse and drain the cherries before using.


McCormick black food coloring works great

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Steeping in the inky liquid

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Black cherries!

Because it’s almost always hot and muggy on Halloween here, a cold drink is welcome on Halloween. Aperol is an apertif made with bitter and sweet oranges and other “herbs and roots.”  An Aperol Spritz, with its neon orange color, garnished with black cherries, makes a very Halloween-y cocktail.

Recipe type: Beverage
  • 1-1/2 ounces Prosecco
  • 1 ounce Aperol
  • Splash of club soda or seltzer
  1. For each cocktail, fill cocktail glass with ice. Pour Prosecco into the glass, followed by Aperol and a splash of club soda. Garnish as desired.



 Aperol spritzes in their Halloween costumes

Now you can’t just drink on Halloween — or can you?  Halloween-y Crostini is a colorful twist on tapenade, made with kalamata olives, carrots, and pickled banana peppers.

  • ½ cup pitted kalamata olives
  • 1 tablespoon capers
  • 2 tablespoons chopped jarred banana pepper rings
  • 1 small clove garlic, minced
  • 1 small carrot, peeled and chopped
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • ¼ teaspoon dried oregano
  • Toast crackers or toasted baguette slices
  1. Place olives in a food processor or mini-chopper, and process until finely chopped, but not pureed. Transfer to a small bowl. Place capers, banana peppers, garlic, and carrot in food processor, and process until finely chopped. Add to bowl with olives. Stir in olive oil and oregano, and mix well. Transfer to a small ramekin or serving container, and serve with toast crackers or baguette slices. Provide spreaders to spread mixture on crostini.


 Halloween-y Crostini

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This is a print from a vintage slide that I found on ebay.  Remember when you used to make your own Halloween costumes?  Me either, unless being a “hobo” counts as making a costume.

There is no doubt in my mind that this man is a lawyer.  Can you spot the telltale signs? First, there is the attention to detail — look at how carefully those hand-drawn freckles have been applied.  The completely humorless expression is another clue:

Then, of course, there is the trophy wife:

But the thing that really gives this guy away is his legs.  The whiter than white legs (don’t look directly at them or you may go blind).  No self-respecting lawyer would ever sport tan legs — that might suggest that you have free time to pursue interests outside of the office and the law is not your life.  Or maybe lawyers, like vampires, can’t handle exposure to sunlight.  Yep, those ghostly white legs are a dead giveaway:

There is one other clue that this man is probably a lawyer.  He was on his way to a party where the costumes were going to be judged, which obviously brought out his fierce competitive streak, because he went for the win:

Holy cow — first prize!  Way to go, Bill!

This photo, and the fact that Halloween is just a few days away, inspired me to dust off a recipe for “candy corn” that appeared in Parade magazine 15 or 20 years ago.  It was created by Sheila Lukins, one of my culinary idols, of Silver Palate fame.

What is it about candy corn?  Looking around the interwebs, I found dozens of recipes using candy corn or incorporating candy corn colors — candy corn truffles, popsicles, cake balls, popcorn, bark, fudge, pretzel rods, cookies, and mousse, just to name a few.  There are a lot of recipes for homemade candy corn floating around, but at about $1.50 a bag, I think I’ll just buy my candy corn and save those hours in the kitchen for something else.  Like this savory “candy corn” recipe.

Recipe type: Vegetable, Halloween
  • 4 carrots, cut into ¼" dice
  • 1 large potato, cut into ¼" dice
  • 4 ounces slab bacon, cut into ¼" dice
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 3 cups frozen or canned corn
  1. Fill a medium stockpot half full with water, add two teaspoons salt, and bring to a boil over high heat. Add carrots and potatoes, reduce heat, and simmer uncovered until tender but not mushy, approximately 5 minutes. Drain and set aside.
  2. Place bacon in a large nonstick skillet over medium high heat and cook until crispy. Using a slotted spoon, remove bacon to a paper towel-lined plate. Add olive oil and onions to bacon drippings in pan and saute onions until translucent, approximately 10 minutes. Add maple syrup and cook for another 2-3 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in bacon, potatoes, carrots, and corn, season to taste with salt and pepper, and continue cooking until heated through.

 Trick or treat! 

 Left:  The real deal candy corn

Right:  The Mom has too much time on her hands faux version 


Aren’t these pumpkins gorgeous?  Central Market has a lot of interesting pumpkins this year, but these showy ones caught my eye.

And speaking of eyes, if you are looking for a QUICK and EASY Halloween treat, these Keep an Eye Out Cupcakes might just be for you.

Start with your favorite (store-bought) cupcake (sure, you can make your own cupcakes, but then they won’t be QUICK and EASY).  To create the eyes, insert a fresh blueberry into a canned Royal Anne cherry (you could probably also use a canned lychee).  That’s it!  Pretty creep, huh?  These eyeballs would also be a fun garnish for a Halloween cocktail.







Acorns are everywhere this year!  They’re covering the sidewalks, bouncing off my car, and hitting me on the head.  According to an article in the Houston Chronicle, the area’s oak trees are dropping acorns at a rate that is 5 to 10 times the normal rate.  This abundance of acorns happens every decade or so and is known as a “mast” year.  Although no one is exactly sure why it happens, scientists think that this year’s bumper crop is likely related to last year’s drought — the trees are trying to perpetuate their species by expending energy producing seed.

Oak tree branch heavy with acorns 

 Acorns everywhere 

My son’s birthday was yesterday, and although sending a birthday snack to school is getting kind of old for him now that he is a teenager, I am not quite ready to give it up.  Having acorns on the brain, I decorated sugar cookies to look like acorns and dropped them off at school.  The kids will probably think I’m nuts.  😉

 Acorn cookies 

And speaking of things in trees, I noticed that the neighborhood is looking very festive for Halloween this year.  There are great big hairy spiders hanging from trees:

And cute little ghost families:

And this traffic-stopping display of hanging pumpkin buckets (seriously — it even made the front page of the newspaper):

In the Halloween spirit, I made a favorite appetizer for a party last week.  I call it Severed Hand Raspberry Chipotle Cream Cheese Dip, and you kind of have to have a sense of humor to serve it and to eat it.  I am particularly fond of this recipe because I won $500 for it from Better Recipes.  I didn’t have a lot of time to sculpt the hand, and several people thought it looked more like an animal claw, but like I said, you have to have a sense of humor.

Preparing the severed hand

Don’t be afraid

Recipe type: Halloween
  • 8-ounce package cream cheese
  • 5 smoked almonds
  • 1 cup Fischer & Wieser Roasted Raspberry Chipotle Sauce*
  • Wheat Thins or favorite cracker
  • *If you prefer, you can make your own raspberry chipotle sauce by mixing together ½ cup raspberry preserves, 2-1/2 teaspoons raspberry vinegar, and 2-1/2 teaspoons adobo sauce (from can of chipotle chiles).
  1. Place cream cheese in center of serving platter. Using a sharp knife, cut 4 lengthwise slits in cream cheese, equally spaced, approximately halfway down the block of cream cheese, cutting all the way through the block of cream cheese.
  2. Using your hands, shape five "fingers" from the cut sections of the cream cheese. Round off opposite end of block of cream cheese to resemble palm. Place smoked almonds at the tip of each finger to resemble fingernails. Pour raspberry chipotle sauce over palm end of cream cheese. Serve with crackers.