Healthy Can Be Scary (On Halloween) - A La Carte Food Column, October 2010

Written by NOREEN LIVOTI | Sep 22, 2010 2:35 PM

’Tis the season for caramel apples, candy corn and all the assorted junk food you can think of, but if you’re throwing a Halloween gathering this year, those bags of sweet treats don’t have to be the star of the table. In fact, with a bit of creativity and some seasonal, healthy ingredients, chances are the only ones asking for candy will be the trick-or-treaters.

"Candy and sweets are a must-have and are expected," says caterer Lucien M. St. Onge. "We once did a party where one of the activities was a cupcake-decorating bar, and the kids had the best time." Still, with a host of other options, the party doesn't have to be cavity-inducing. "Having something healthy available and being creative whe preparing and serving makes a smart and healthy party for all."

For Autumn Patti, a chef instructor at Harrisburg Area Community College, it’s all about having fun with your food. “For a Halloween party, there are a few must-have items, like a punch that has some name twist, such as ‘the witches’ brew,’” she says.  This can be as simple as a cranberry- or pomegranate-based drink — the dark red color will add a scary ambience, especially for vampire fans — with champagne or vodka added for an adults-only kick. Caterer Lucien M. St. Onge, head chef for Culinary Creations of York, agrees, saying the star of the punch, ironically, can be plain old ice. “Ice hands are a must,” he says. “Freeze food-colored water in rubber gloves, then cut the glove off and place in punch. Brain molds are also great if you have them.”

Both St. Onge and Patti, who is also the co-owner of catering business Creative Quisine in Harrisburg, suggest combining your food with themed decorations. “I often bring a hot dip in a bread bowl on a platter that has a large snake wrapped around the bowl and fake cobwebs woven through the crostini,” Patti says. Toy doll arms, says St. Onge, can be used as stirrers, while plastic eyeballs are also a hit at parties where he’s catered.

Trick the kids into some healthy treats: Patti suggests snacks including fresh fall fruits. “I think the key to the healthier items would be to present it in a fun and exciting way, so that the kids don’t even realize how healthy it is,” she says. Patti carves “windows” in oranges, making them look like lanterns, and fills them with diced mixed fruit.

Since it’s Halloween, amp up the “gross” factor: Add green olive slices to a platter of meatballs, and call it “eyeballs,” says Patti. String cheese sticks with red pepper pieces stuck on one end can look like severed fingers. St. Onge uses a recipe including spaghetti squash with added food coloring to create “brains.” “Simple dishes, such as deviled eggs, can be made to look like eyeballs,” says Patti. “Spaghetti and meatballs can be labeled as ‘worms feeding on eyeballs,’ and so on.”

Of course, some guests would be less than thrilled to find a spider, snake or worm — even of the plastic variety — in their food. “I’ve seen both extremes of how far a person wants to go into detail — themes and gore all the way to nice and frilly,” says St. Onge. Seasonal, fall-themed ingredients, made with a twist, are the way to go to please almost any diner.

“For a dinner party, I typically serve an apples Foster for dessert, taking a spin on the popular bananas Foster,” Patti says. Instead of using bananas, Patti sautés apples in butter, cinnamon and brown sugar, adding rum and apple brandy (try apple juice for a non-alcoholic version), flambéing and serving with ice cream.

“For a more themed Halloween party, I like to make a hot spiced apple cider and a butternut squash soup served out of a pumpkin — you can even do individual servings out of smaller pumpkins,” says Patti. Her soup, made from roasted carrots, parsnips and onions, gets an extra kick from such ingredients as ginger, cayenne pepper and sherry. Continue the gourd theme by serving a snack of pumpkin seeds, seasoned with your choice of flavors — from chili powder to garlic salt — and olive oil and roasted for about 10 minutes. In addition to using the more traditional pumpkin, “you can also take advantage of fall fruits and vegetables: pears, apples, grapes, squashes, kale, lettuces, broccoli and cranberries,” says St. Onge. Set up a display of grilled or roasted veggies, or serve a raw fruit and vegetable tray.

Or, a salad of those ingredients can round out the menu: Patti uses pears poached in white wine, cinnamon and sugar, candied pecans, raspberries and Gorgonzola to top lettuce. For dessert, she makes a “candy corn parfait,” layering lemon and orange sorbets with vanilla ice cream to look like the traditional holiday treat. The result is sweet and seasonal, but won’t make you feel quite as guilty as eating a bag full of trick-or-treat booty.

“Candy and sweets are a must-have and are expected,” says St. Onge. “We once did a party where one of the activities was a cupcake-decorating bar, and the kids had the best time.” Still, with a host of other options, the party doesn’t have to be cavity-inducing. “Having something healthy available and being creative when preparing and serving makes a smart and healthy party for all.”

recipes to go!


3 Tablespoons butter

2 Tablespoons brown sugar

Pinch of cinnamon

2 Honeycrisp apples, cored and sliced into 12 pieces

1 oz. dark rum

2 oz. Calvados (apple brandy)

Vanilla ice cream

In a saucepan, melt butter and combine with sugar and cinnamon. Add the apples and sauté for 1 minute. Add the rum and calvados and flambé. Serve warm with ice cream. For a non-alcoholic version, apple juice can be substituted for the rum and brandy. Yields 4 servings.


1 lb. sweet potatoes

1 Tablespoons olive oil

Salt and pepper

Syrup or 10x sugar for garnish

Peel and cut sweet potatoes into strips or desired shape. Toss with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Bake in a 400°F oven for 20 minutes until tender. Serve with syrup or dusted with powdered sugar.Yields 4 servings.


2 cups vanilla ice cream

2 cups orange sorbet

2 cups lemon sorbet

Pull out the ice cream and sorbets and let soften for 30 minutes. Stir to smooth out. In a tall glass, layer the vanilla ice cream, topped with the orange sorbet, and finally the lemon sorbet on the top. You can top with chopped candy-corn pieces. Yields 4 servings.


3 lb. butternut squash, peeled and cut into quarters     

1 large onion, sliced

2 oz. fresh ginger, peeled and chopped

1/2 cup olive oil

Salt and pepper, to taste

1/2 gallon chicken stock

4 oz. dark brown sugar (packed)

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/4 cup cream

4 oz. unsalted butter

1/2 cup sherry

Toasted coconut for garnish

Preheat oven to 350°F. Combine squash, onion and ginger in a bowl. Toss with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Transfer to roasting pan. Pour 1 cup of chicken stock into the pan, roast until vegetables are very tender (approximately 1 hour). Transfer the vegetables and broth to a large pot. Deglaze the pan with a cup of stock and add to the pot. Add the remaining stock, brown sugar, more salt to taste, and cayenne pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Purée the soup with an immersion blender, adding more broth if necessary. Add the cream, butter and sherry. Adjust seasonings and heat through. Garnish with toasted coconut flakes. Yields 8 servings.


2 poached pears, sliced

8 oz. baby lettuces

1 cup candied pecans

1 cup raspberry pear vinaigrette

1 cup Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled

1 pint fresh raspberries

Toss all ingredients together immediately before service. (Recipes follow.)

Poached Pears

2 Bosc pears

1 cup sugar

1 cup white wine

1 cinnamon stick

1 cup Chambord

1 cup water

Peel the pears. Combine all ingredients in a saucepot and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Reduce to a low simmer and cover. Simmer for 45 minutes. Remove and cool both the liquid and the pears. Store pears in the liquid, in refrigerator, for up to 1 week. To prepare for service, core and slice each pear and store separately from liquid.

Raspberry Pear Vinaigrette

1 cup poaching liquid (from pears)

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

2 Tablespoons honey

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Reduce the poaching liquid by half on a low simmer. Cool. In a mixing bowl, whisk the vinegar and honey into the reduced liquid. Add the olive oil, whisking constantly.

Candied Pecans

8 oz. whole pecans

1 oz. egg whites

1/4 cup sugar

Preheat oven to 400° F. Roast pecans on tray for 5 minutes. Remove and cool. Turn oven down to 325°F. Toss pecans with enough egg whites to just coat. Add the sugar and toss. Roast in oven for 5 additional minutes. Yields 4 servings.

Above recipes courtesy Chef Autumn Patti


Sterile rubber gloves

Fill gloves with cold water. Tie like a water balloon and freeze overnight. Pull from freezer just before use and remove the glove by cutting it. Hint: Add food coloring or candy worms for more of an effect.


Large pitted olives with pimentos

Make small cuts with a paring knife in the olive for eyes, nose and mouth, just as you would if decorating a pumpkin Jack-o-lantern. Cut deep enough to be able to expose the pimento.


1 large spaghetti squash

Salt, pepper and butter to taste

Preheat oven to 375°F. Wash and poke holes with a fork in all sides of the squash. Place on shallow baking pan. Bake for 1 hour. Pull from oven and let cool. Cut lengthwise with serrated knife. Scrape seeds from the center with spoon. Take a fork and pull squash flesh from the sides. It will be in strands and resemble spaghetti. Add a little salt, pepper and butter. You can add food coloring for effect. Serve with marinara or your favorite sauce. Be creative: This dish makes great “brains,” “worms” or “guts.” Serves 5-6.

Above recipes courtesy Chef Lucien St. Onge

Published in A La Carte

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