Extremism in defense of tastiness is no vice.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Halloween Recipes That Don't Suck

Halloween, which I gratuitously consider to last the entire month of October, is one of my favorite times of year. The weather is crisp and temperate, there's cider and chocolate on the table, and murder and mayhem in the air. It's the perfect time to picnic in the graveyard, ignore your nascent food blog for two weeks, or go hitchhiking, only to off the unsuspecting fools who picked you up.

Alternately, you could invite friends over for a Halloween dinner party, complete with horrifying amuses-gueules, nightmarishly macabre microgreens, and diabolical vampire squab.

But let's face it. The vast majority of Halloween recipes and dinner party ideas suck. We're talking Sandra Lee's Gummy Worm Cupcakes suck. Don't believe me? Click here, here, or (if you dare) here.

While autumn offers some great seasonal cuisine, it tends to be associated with Thanksgiving, which is only horrifying if you're on the smallpox end of Manifest Destiny. As such, the sad truth is that most Halloween ideas stray into idiotically themed items evocative of a child's party or a drunken housewife's "tablescape." And while I enjoy an awful pun as much as anyone, goulash (unless comprised of actual ghouls) and deviled eggs (unless obtained via an actual contract with Satan) are a little too Rachaelian in their inane cutesiness.

Still, I won't pass out on an opportunity for food and the macabre to meet. Preferably at my place. As such, I've put together a Halloween menu that should be elegant enough to please my guests, cheap enough to make for a crowd, and diabolical enough not to be mistaken for anything remotely thankful. (The candy course is not optional.)

A Halloween Menu
That Mercifully Avoids Descriptors Like Ghoulish or Frighteningly Delicious
Pumpkin Chestnut Bisque (Zach Beaver, Peter Schears Restaurant, San Diego)
(Serves 50)

1 (6-pound) can pure pumpkin
5 cups water
1/4 cup cinnamon
3 tablespoons nutmeg
1 1/2 pounds brown sugar
1/2 cup honey
1/2 pound chestnuts, peeled and roasted in oven at 350 degrees until golden brown
1 quart heavy cream

Mix pumpkin, water, spices, sugar and honey in large stockpot. In saucepan, bring heavy cream to light boil. Add roasted chestnuts. After simmering for 5 minutes, put mixture into food processor and puree until it becomes a paste. Combine chestnut paste with pumpkin mixture and simmer for 20 to 25 minutes.

Gamberoni alla Diavola (adopted from Mussels alla Diavola, Gourmet)

12 garlic cloves, minced (about 1/3 cup)
1 1/2 teaspoons dried hot red pepper flakes
1/2 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes in puree
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 teaspoons dried oregano, crumbled
1 1/2 tablespoon fresh basil, chiffonade
1/4 cup drained bottled capers (about 1 1/4 ounces)

1/2 cup kalamata or other brine-cured black olives (about 3 ounces), pitted and chopped
1/3 cup dry red wine
1/2 pound dried sun-dried tomato linguine
1/2 pound squid ink linguine
3 large shrimp, cleaned
Chives, for garnish

Season shrimp and cook in butter and two tablespoons oil. Remove shrimp and add remaining oil, garlic and red pepper flakes in oil in a deep 12-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat, stirring, until fragrant but not browned, about 2 more minutes. Add tomatoes with puree, tomato paste, herbs, capers, olives, and wine and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally and breaking up tomatoes, until sauce is thick, about 15 minutes.

Cook linguine in a 6 to 8-quart pot of boiling salted water until al dente, then drain in a colander.

Serve linguine with shrimp and sauce, and garnish with chives.

Pumpkin Creme Brulee (CIA, via Gourmet)
1 quart heavy cream
2 vanilla beans (split)
5 ounces sugar
20 egg yolks (beaten)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon powdered ginger

1 pint pumpkin purée

1 pint (or as needed) sugar (for tops)

Combine the heavy cream, vanilla, and half the sugar, bring to a boil.

Combine the egg yolks and remaining sugar.

Add 1/3 of the hot liquid to the egg mixture, stir constantly.

Add the egg yolk mixture to the remaining hot cream, stir constantly. Stir in the cinnamon, allspice, and ginger.

Fold in the pumpkin purée.

Fill buttered oval ramekins 7/8 full, place in a waterbath.

Bake in a 325°F (160°C) oven until just barely set, cool 30 minutes, chill overnight.

Cover the surface of each custard with 1/8-inch of sugar, set ramekins in a hotel pan, surround with ice.

Carmelize sugar under the broiler or with a torch

Old-Fashioned Peanut Brittle (Bon Appetit)
3 cups sugar
2 cups water
3/4 cup light corn syrup
3/4 cup dark corn syrup
4 cups coarsely chopped salted roasted peanuts
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) unsalted butter
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Butter 2 heavy large baking sheets. Stir first 4 ingredients in heavy large saucepan over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat to high and boil without stirring until candy thermometer registers 260°F., about 40 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low. Mix in peanuts and butter and cook until thermometer registers 295°F., stirring constantly, about 15 minutes. Add baking soda and vanilla and stir briskly (mixture will foam up). Immediately pour out onto prepared baking sheets, dividing evenly. Spread out brittle as thinly as possible. Let stand until cold and hard. Break brittle into pieces.

Those in dire need of extremely overt theme can find it in the beverage department. Appropriate beers include Dogfish Head's Punkin' Ale, and Rogue's Dead Guy Ale, a decent German-style Maibock. Skip the sub-$10 wines that tend to pop up around this time of year and investigate the year-long evil Zinfandel market--Bonny Doon's Cardinal Zin is pleasant at around $20, and 7 Deadly Zins is big, fruity, and drinkable at around $14.

Please. Be Dario Argento, not Uwe Boll. Choose passion and artistry over the mediocrity of the lowest common denominator. The next time you watch a bobblehead on television form a mummy out of cheese or cut a bat from a slice of Wonder Bread, flip over to Soylent Green or get in the kitchen. You can do better.


ryan said...

I absolutely never imagined I would see such a great Manifest Destiny joke in my life. I'm still trying to get a hold of myself. And the food sounds good too.

Brian said...

Glad to see you're reading!

I do aim to please through a combination of hilarity and deliciousness... Now if only the Times were in need of my skills instead of those "professionals" they seem to prefer.