Eat, drink and be scary with fall cupcakes, dips and smoothies


October is one of my favorite months. Pumpkins and apples line farm stands. Football season is in full swing. And Halloween creeps in at the end. I am embracing all things fall with a simple and delectable apple cupcake recipe, an incredible white chili dip perfect for watching the game, a healthy pumpkin banana smoothie and a fun Halloween dessert. Enjoy!

Easy Apple Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

Makes 22 cupcakes.

Easy Apple Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

2 small Granny Smith apples
1 box yellow cake mix
2 teaspoons cinnamon
3 eggs
1/2 cup apple butter
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup, plus 2 tablespoons, water
Cooking spray

12 ounces whipped cream cheese spread
2 cups powdered sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Cinnamon sugar for dusting
Walnuts or pecans to garnish

Heat oven to 350.

Leaving peels on the apples, core and slice them, and place in a food processor. Pulse until apples are in small pieces — you want to retain some texture. Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat together cake mix, cinnamon, eggs, apple butter, canola oil and water until smooth (about 90 seconds). Add apples and beat another 20 seconds.

Line a muffin tin with muffin cups, and spray with cooking spray. Fill cups ¾ full. Bake 18-22 minutes. (These will not rise as much as traditional cupcakes because of the weight of the apples.) Allow cupcakes to cool completely before frosting.

For frosting, beat together cream cheese spread, powdered sugar and vanilla until smooth. Spread on cupcakes. Sprinkle cinnamon sugar over each cupcake, and top with a pecan or walnut.

Notes: You will have leftover frosting. I serve it as a fruit dip with strawberries, apples and grapes.

This cupcake recipe can double as muffins if you leave off the cream cheese frosting and serve warm out of the oven. They make a tasty breakfast treat!

White Chili Taco Dip

White Chili Taco Dip

Makes 6 servings.

8 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 teaspoons taco seasoning
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 4-ounce can green chilies
3/4 cup red or green salsa
2 1/2 cups cooked chicken, chopped
1 1/2 cups canned cannellini beans or Great Northern beans, drained
1 cup canned cream-style corn
8 ounces shredded Mexican blend cheese
2 green onions, sliced
Chopped cilantro (optional)
Tortilla chips

Heat oven to 375.

Leave cream cheese out for about two hours. In a large bowl, stir together cream cheese, taco seasoning, cumin and chilies. Stir in salsa, chicken, beans, corn and half of the cheese. Once mixture is well combined, spread it in a cast iron skillet or baking dish. Top with remaining cheese.

Bake for 22-26 minutes, until cheese has melted and mixture is bubbling.

Top with green onions and cilantro. Serve with tortilla chips.

Note: If you are tailgating, assemble dip in advance in a cast iron skillet, cover with foil, and put it on the grill when you start to tailgate.

Pumpkin Banana Smoothie

Pumpkin Banana Smoothie

Makes 1 serving.

1/2 cup canned pumpkin
1/2 very ripe banana
1 cup vanilla-flavored almond milk (60- or 80-calorie version)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 ice cubes

Place all ingredients in a blender, and blend for about 45 seconds. Serve.

Notes: Use the 60- or 80-calorie vanilla almond milk because the 30-calorie version is unsweetened, and pumpkin needs some sweetening!

You can use regular milk. Just add more sugar, and double the vanilla extract.

Peanut Butter Dessert Dip with Cookies & Apples

Makes 15 or more servings.

Peanut Butter Dessert Dip with Cookies & Apples

For dip:
2/3 cup smooth peanut butter
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
Red or black icing gel
1 fake plastic spider

For cookies:

1 pound white almond bark
1 package Nutter Butter cookies
Mini chocolate chips
1 package Oreo cookies
White cookie icing
Green apples, sliced
Pretzels (optional)

In a medium bowl, whisk together peanut butter and sweetened condensed milk. Refrigerate until time to serve.

Line a baking sheet with wax paper. Melt the almond bark according to package directions. Dip Nutter Butter cookies completely in the almond bark, working as quickly as possible. Allow cookies to dry on wax paper. When almond bark is beginning to harden, add mini chocolate chips to create eyes and mouths.

Make scary faces on Oreo cookies with white cookie icing.

Before serving dip, use red or black icing gel to create a spider web. (Draw a circle in the middle of the dip. Draw lines from center extending to the edge. Then connect those lines with horizontal lines.) Add a fake spider to the web, and serve dip with cookies, apple slices and pretzels.