Tricks and Treats

By / Food / October 23rd, 2012 / 1

When did Halloween become such a big deal? The minute the kids go back to school, store shelves are stacked to the ceiling with macabre merchandise. There are black and orange lights to string around your entire home, grotesque figures that jump to life when you walk by, welcome mats that groan underfoot and costumes of all varieties for all ages and sizes, including for dogs.

When I was growing up in the 1950s and 60s Halloween was low-key — a night when we ran around in the dark with very little parental supervision, collecting candy that was forbidden to us the other 364 days of the year. Unlike today, when costumed children are followed by an entourage of adoring parents, beaming grandparents and the occasional paparazzo, our parents wouldn’t dream of trick-or-treating with us — in the 50s it was undignified (think Mad Men). Besides, the parents’ job was to keep the porch light on and pass out candy to everybody else’s kids. And wouldn’t the entire neighbourhood keep an eye on us anyway?

Most mothers, mine included, created our costumes from old pyjamas, leftover fabric, dusty hats and wedding veils. If snow was in the forecast, my mother made our costumes large enough to fit over our winter coats. Just before we walked out the door, she burned the end of a cork on the kitchen stove and gave us either kitten whiskers or a hobo’s beard, depending on our age and gender. Sometimes we had masks to wear. Sitting cockeyed on our faces with the eye-slits somewhere on our cheeks, store-bought masks were hot, itchy and probably flammable.


In fact, the threat of fire was a real Halloween hazard back then, since decorating the house meant carving a pumpkin the night before, setting it on the porch steps and lighting it with a candle. And there were other dangers lurking in the night. For instance, no one had ever heard of reflective clothing. Our mothers usually dyed our costumes flat black in a big laundry tub in the basement, effectively rendering us invisible to passing motorists.


But all the kids watched out for each other. When my little brother Dennis tripped and fell, spilling his haul into the street, we scrambled to get the candy back into his pillowcase before a car ran it over. Neighbours oohed and ahhed our costumes, tossed full-sized chocolate bars into our bags and told us to be careful. We never cut through their yards; that would have been rude. We ran the entire length of their driveways as they watched us move on to the next home. On the rare occasion a family couldn’t be at home, they left the porch light on and set out bowls of candy or cider and donuts, the 1950s version of an honour system.

In the 1960s, my parents created what became widely known as The Talking Spider, an oversized homemade polyester arachnid with a frowning face made of iron-on patches. Every Halloween, the spider hung in a web in their picture window. While my mother did the dishes, my dad sat in the darkened living room, talking in a deep spider voice to trick-or-treaters through a walkie-talkie stuffed in the spider’s belly. But the Talking Spider was never very scary. The moment my smiling dad arrived at the door to drop candy into their plastic pumpkins, the kids knew he was the Great Oz behind the spider’s voice. As the years progressed, parents brought their kids to see the Talking Spider, saying they had loved the spider when they were kids. As Halloween became bigger and more commercial, The Talking Spider never changed, his iron-on face forever frozen in a homemade scowl. Now that my dad is gone, the spider appears every Halloween in my sister’s window, but he is silent.

The fact is we didn’t need much to make Halloween special. Just parents who loved us, siblings who looked out for us and neighbours who made it their business to watch us cross the street. And when you think about it, that really is a big deal.


Halloween Sloppy Joes
Serves 4 to 6
In addition to creating our costumes, my mother’s job was to get dinner on the table before the 6 o’clock witching hour. It had to be easy, uncomplicated and food we liked so there would be no dinnertime drama that would bring Halloween to a screeching halt. This is an updated version of her Sloppy Joes.

1 lb ground beef
1 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 stalk celery, minced
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 cup ketchup or old-fashioned chili sauce
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
Hamburger or slider buns

  • In a large skillet, in hot oil over medium high heat, brown beef. Add onion, garlic and celery. Cook until onion is soft and translucent.
  • Add cumin and paprika. Cook 1 minute. Stir in ketchup or chili sauce, vinegar, brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce and 1/2 cup water.
  • Simmer, uncovered, 15 minutes or until thickened. Serve on buns with potato chips.

Serve Hobgoblin Ale to the adults.


Baked Potato Soup
Makes 6 servings
Who doesn’t love a hot baked potato? This soup is a comforting entree to serve on a cold Halloween night. The recipe calls for pureeing all the potatoes. If you like a chunkier soup, bake a few extra potatoes, peel and chop. Add at the last minute with the sour cream and Worcestershire sauce.

6 large baking potatoes, pierced with a fork several times
4 slices bacon
4 scallions, thinly sliced
1 tsp dried thyme
3 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup sour cream and more for garnish
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup shredded Cheddar cheese

  • Preheat oven to 400˚F.
  • Place potatoes directly on oven rack and bake until tender, about 1 hour. Cool slightly. Cut potatoes in half lengthwise. Scoop out potato from skins. Discard skins or save for another use. Place potatoes in a medium bowl. Mash lightly.
  • Meanwhile, in large pot over medium high heat, cook bacon until crisp. Drain, reserving 2 tbsp bacon fat in pot. Set bacon aside on plate covered with clean paper towel. When cool enough to handle, chop or crumble and set aside for garnish.
  • Add scallions and thyme to the bacon fat in the pot. Cook until scallions are softened about 6 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove one scallion, chop and set aside for garnish.
  • Add broth, salt and potatoes. Bring to a boil. Lower heat, cover and simmer 10 minutes. Add more broth if needed.
  • Puree soup in batches in food processor or with an immersion blender. Return soup to pot, add 1/2 cup sour cream and Worcestershire sauce. Gently heat through, about 1 minute. Place in shallow bowls. Top with reserved scallion, bacon, cheddar cheese, and sour cream.

Enjoy with a Rioja Blanca.


Pan-Grilled Salmon with Sour Cream Dill Sauce
Makes 4 servings
Even if you’re not taking the kids out, you need something fast and fabulous on Halloween night. After all, you should be fed and ready with the candy bowl when the little monsters arrive at your door. I use a hot cast iron ridged skillet to cook the salmon, sautéing at a high temperature. If you do the same, be sure to turn on the fan before the smoke alarms go off!

4 skinless salmon fillets, about 200 g each
Salt, pepper & sweet Hungarian paprika to taste
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup sour cream
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp capers, drained
1 tbsp chopped fresh dill and more for garnish

  • Season salmon with salt, pepper and paprika. Sauté in a hot ridged skillet in hot olive oil 5 to 6 minutes per side, over medium-high to high heat, depending on your preference.
  • In a small bowl, mix sour cream, lemon juice, capers, and dill. Serve over salmon. Garnish with additional dill.

A Chardonnay Musqué from Ontario would be lovely with the salmon.


Tortellini with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce
Makes 6 servings
For convenience, use jarred roasted red peppers. Or try roasting your own sweet red peppers under the broiler, turning often until the skin blackens on all sides. When cool enough to handle, peel and scrape away seeds. This dish can be served as a vegetarian entrée or as a side dish with breaded chicken or veal cutlet.

2 packages cheese-filled tortellini
2 jars roasted red sweet peppers, drained
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp dried thyme, crushed
1/2 tsp dried oregano
2 tsp sugar
Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated
Fresh parsley, minced

  • Cook tortellini according to package directions. Drain and return to pot.
  • Puree peppers in food processor until smooth. Set aside.
  • In a medium saucepan, cook onion and garlic in melted butter and oil until onion is softened. Add peppers, thyme, oregano and sugar.
  • Cook uncovered for 10 minutes or until heated through. Pour over hot tortellini. Garnish with Parmigiano-Reggiano and parsley.

For an interesting match, uncork a Côtes du Rhône Rosé or go with an Australian Riesling.


Quench Food Editor, Nancy Johnson, minced, sliced, chopped, sautéed and sipped her way through George Brown College’s culinary program with a focus on food writing and wine. Nancy cooks by the code her Italian grandmother taught her: For the best results, always use the freshest, best ingredients. She writes for Ohio-based Wine Buzz Magazine and recently published a short story in Woman’s World Magazine. She is always on a diet.

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