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Carrie's Kitchen: Simple, crowd-pleasing Halloween treats

Sometimes I get teased by readers for giving recipes for foods that are too expensive or too complicated (or even too weird), but I try to balance those more decadent or more challenging dishes with more affordable and easier recipes too.

I know it is certainly not my intention to make cooking seem more daunting than it already is for some people, since I really believe everyone is capable of learning how to cook, and cook well! Even if you can't follow a recipe, there are still lots of things you can make (though maybe not bake).

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This week, seeing how tomorrow is Halloween, I decided to look for simple, quick crowd-pleasers - made with pumpkin, of course. Not that you'll be handing baked goods to those little ones knocking on your door, but maybe the adults taking the kids out will get together for a little post-trick-or-treating time, or the coordinators of a trunk-or-treat will want something to snack on, or maybe you have some other post-Halloween festivities planned for this weekend.

Why am I trying to think of excuses for making a pumpkin dessert?

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Anyway, the first is for a "pumpkin cheesecake monkey bread." Did you just do a double-take? I know I did when I was flipping through a slideshow on Pillsbury's website. You make this the same way you make a traditional monkey bread with cutting up the biscuit dough and dipping it in sugar (this time flavored with pumpkin pie spice instead of just cinnamon), but the sauce gets amped up with 1/3 cup of canned pumpkin and 3 ounces of cream cheese.

I haven't tried this one yet, but I am actively looking forward to an opportunity to do so. Monkey bread is best when it's fresh from the oven, so don't plan to make it ahead.

The second recipe is for a sheet cake flavored with canned pumpkin, then swirled with cinnamon sugar and finally drizzled with a thin icing, just like a cinnamon roll. I'm a sucker for cinnamon rolls, so I thought this would be another great dessert.

Have a great Halloween and enjoy!

Pumpkin cheesecake monkey bread
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons pumpkin pie spice
4 cans (7.5 ounces each) refrigerated buttermilk biscuits (sold in a 4-pack)
1 cup packed brown sugar
½ cup butter
1/3 cup canned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie mix)
1 package (3 ounces) cream cheese

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 6-cup fluted tube cake pan with cooking spray.
In large food-storage plastic bag, mix granulated sugar and pumpkin pie spice.
Separate each can of dough into 10 biscuits. Cut each biscuit into quarters, adding biscuit pieces to bag and shaking as you go. When pieces are coated, arrange in pan. (If you run out of mixture, remove dough pieces from bag and add 1 to 2 more tablespoons granulated sugar to bag.)
In 1-quart saucepan, heat brown sugar, butter, pumpkin and cream cheese over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until butter is melted. Beat mixture with whisk until mostly smooth (there may be some tiny pieces of cream cheese, but that's okay). Pour mixture over biscuit pieces in pan. Place pan on cookie sheet to catch any spills.
Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until golden brown. Cool in pan 2 minutes. Place heatproof plate upside down over pan; turn plate and pan over. Remove pan.
Cool 10 to 15 minutes before serving. Store in refrigerator.
Source: http://www.pillsbury.com

Cinnamon roll pumpkin vanilla sheet cake
1 box yellow cake mix
4 eggs
1/2 cup canola or vegetable oil
1/2 cup milk or buttermilk
3.4-ounce box vanilla instant pudding mix
1/2 cup sour cream
15-ounce can pumpkin
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 cups powdered sugar
1/4-1/2 cup heavy cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and spray a 13- by 18- by 1-inch pan with nonstick cooking spray.
Place cake mix, eggs, oil, milk, pudding, sour cream and pumpkin into a stand mixer or electric mixer, beating until well combined, about 1 1/2 minutes. Pour into prepared pan, spreading evenly.
Place butter into a microwave safe bowl and melt, about 30-40 seconds. Add brown sugar and cinnamon to bowl, mixing until combined. Drizzle mixture evenly over cake then take a knife and run it through to swirl.
Bake cake for 30 to 35 minutes, until cooked through and remove.
Place powdered sugar and cream into a large bowl and mix until creamy and smooth. Drizzle over warm cake then let cool for 20 minutes before cutting into squares. Refrigerate if not serving same day.

Makes 16 to 20 squares

Source: http://picky-palate.com

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