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Shrunken Heads in Spiced Cider

Shrunken Heads in Spiced Cider
I had every intention of sitting down and telling you a little Halloween story.  Something about how trick-or-treating was so much different when I was growing up than it is now.  But, as things stand, my game just ended...fantastically, I might add...and I have to get something off of my chest.  Here goes.

I love my husband, but sometimes he drives me crazy.  Case in point.  I am a huge football fan.  I am a ginormous college football fan, especially the Big Ten (I grew up in the Midwest, what can I say).  But more than anything, I'm a cut-me-and-I-bleed-green-and-white Michigan State Spartan fan.  And I'm a real fan.  I like them even when they're in a "transition" year.  Yes, I'm sticking with transition.  Like this year.
Shrunken Heads in Spiced Cider
We went into this game 4-4.  Wisconsin is a pretty big rivalry, plus it's a Big Ten rivalry.  And I had faith that we'd pull out a win.  But I'm getting ahead of myself, back to the husband-thing.  The husband is also a huge football fan.  And he likes Michigan State, but not the way I like love them.  Who knows if they'd even be on his radar if he hadn't married me.  So.  Often times when a State game is on at the same time as other college games (always), he takes the tv downstairs and I take the tv upstairs.  Because he likes to flip.  And I do NOT allow flipping during my game.  But he still catches most of the game - enough to yell up the stairs to me about an awesome play.  Or a ridiculously, unbelievably horrible one.

HOWEVER.  The tv downstairs is about 5 to 7 seconds faster than the one upstairs.  So basically, I'm on a delay.  Which usually doesn't matter.  Unless the game is an absolute nail-biter and comes down to overtime.  Unless Wisconsin gets the ball first and only scores a field goal.  Unless my boys are pounding their way studiously towards the goal line.  Unless we're one down away from having to kick a field goal and tie it up.  And especially unless that kick is not needed because we score a --- TOUCHDOWN!
Shrunken Heads in Spiced Cider
Sh*t.  Seriously?  As happy as I am that my boys just won the game...a win they sorely needed...the joy is sort of ripped out from under me.  The edge-of-my-seat anticipation.  I throw my hands to the skies.  But in exasperation instead of celebration.  And it's not like I haven't asked him not to ruin my game before.  As a matter of fact, just last week I urged him to cheer in downstairs-tv-time for any game...absolutely ANY game....EXCEPT a Michigan State game.

Oh well.  How can I be mad?  He's celebrating a win for my team.  And for that, I love him.  But durnitall if I didn't want that jump-out-of-my-seat-and-scream-til-I'm-horse moment.  Go State!  {Love you, honey.}  Thank you for letting me get that off my chest.  I feel much better.
Shrunken Heads in Spiced Cider
So.  How 'bout that Halloween!?

This spiced cider is pretty much an awesome  way to warm up during those chilly Autumn and Winter days and nights...but when you float some spooky little shrunken heads in it, it becomes an irresistible centerpiece to any Halloween-themed celebration!  Make it before you take the kids out trick-or-treating so that you have something to keep you warm while you walk.  Especially if you give yourself a little shot of the good stuff to go along with it.  Or serve it at your next costume bash.  Or make a big batch (sans "good stuff") and take it to the school for your kids Halloween party!
yield: 16 servingsprint recipe

Shrunken Heads in Spiced Cider

prep time: 30 MINScook time: 2 hourtotal time: 2 hours and 30 mins
These shrunken heads in spiced cider are little bit spooky and a whole lot of fun! Add them to your next Halloween party.

INGREDIENTS:

For the shrunken heads:
  • 1 cup lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 8 Granny Smith apples
For the spiced cider:
  • 1 gallon apple cider
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 8 whole allspice berries
  • 6 cardamom pods
  • 1 orange, quartered
  • freshly grated nutmeg
  • pinch of fine sea salt
To finish:
  • whole cloves (2 per shrunken head)
  • spiced rum, optional

INSTRUCTIONS:

Make the shrunken heads:
  1. Preheat oven to 250° F. Line a baking sheet with parchment. Combine lemon juice and salt in a bowl. Set out a fat wad of paper towels.
  2. Peel apples and cut each in half through the stem; use a melon baller to remove the seeds and the core. Using a sharp paring knife and different sized melon ballers, carve faces into the rounded sides of the apples. Dip each face in the lemon/salt mixture and set it on the paper towels while you carve the next face. Transfer the face on the paper towels to the lined baking tray and repeat with remaining apple faces until all of your apple faces are finished.
  3. Shrunken Heads in Cider
  4. Slide tray into oven for about 2 hours - what you're doing here is drying them out, or shrinking them. You will have a few browned edges.
Making the spiced cider:
  1. While the apples are in the oven, combine all of the cider ingredients in a pot over medium heat (use freshly grated nutmeg to taste). Bring to a boil, then immediately reduce to the lowest heat. Allow to simmer very gently for 30 minutes. Strain.
  2. Hold the cider over very low heat to keep warm until apples are finished.
Shrunken Heads in Cider
Putting it all together:
  1. When you're ready to serve, stick one whole clove in each eye socket of each apple. Transfer the spiced cider to a punch bowl (or use a large pot) and float the shrunken heads in the cider.
  2. Ladle the cider into serving cups, being sure to include a shrunken head in each serving.
Notes:
  1. Although I like to serve this spiced cider warm, you can also serve it chilled (chill after straining).
  2. I like my cider WITH the rum, but since I have kids around who also like the cider, I like to simply set out the bottle alongside the punch bowl and let the boozers add it to their glasses themselves. If you are having a party where only adults are drinking, and everybody wants the booze, simply add about 1 cup to the bowl with the cider.
  3. This recipes doubles easily.
-Inspired by and adapted from Martha Stewart