Darina Allen: Fiery Pumpkin Soup

HALLOWEEN in the US is almost as big a deal as Christmas, I’ve just recently come back from Chicago and although it was several weeks before Halloween, the celebrations had already begun.

A whole series of spooky events were planned throughout the month of October. Tickets for the Haunted Halloween Ball were in hot demand, the Guide to Chicago Haunted Houses was flying off the shelves.

There were drive-ins with spooky movies. The Club Zone was offering a Freaky Deaky Halloween Express shuttle – the mind boggles! Halloween costume stores were doing a roaring trade in scary gear for both adults and children alike.

Pumpkins were piled high and kitchen shops were finding it difficult to keep up with the demand for cookie cutters. Everyone is in to it. It’s a far cry from apple bobbing and barmbrack.

In honour of Halloween every year, Daley Plaza turns into Franken Plaza.

The Art Institute of Chicago, the most prestigious art museum in the country, hosts a Halloween Gathering with lots of ghoulish things to do including kids costume parade, mask making and a zombie dance.

There’s Boo! at the Zoo with a corn maze, a pumpkin patch, a haunted hayride and even a creepy carousel.

Well that’s all very exciting but this is a food column so what were they eating. It’s not just the restaurants and câfes that are in on the food. There is no end of ideas for fun and frightful Halloween recipes, scary spider web muffins, witches brew, devil’s food twinkies, dracula’s brains, dragon’s blood, jelly, pumpkin pies, pancakes, and soups.

Here are some ideas to amuse and tempt you. Happy Halloween.

Dracula’s Brains

Flavour popping corn with grated cheddar, mustard and cayenne pepper then shape into ‘brains’ and serve at Halloween as part of a spooky spread!

Makes 12

1½ tbsp vegetable oil, plus extra for shaping

125g (4½oz) popping corn

400g (14oz) grated Cheddar cheese

1 tsp Dijon mustard

Few pinches cayenne pepper

1 egg white

Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Tip in the popcorn, cover and shake the pan to coat the kernels. Cook over a medium heat until the corn stops popping, about 5 minutes, shaking the pan every so often. Take off heat and sprinkle with a little salt.

Put the Cheddar cheese, mustard and pepper in a small pan and heat gently until melted and bubbling. Whisk the egg white lightly and add to the cheese mixture. Drizzle over the popcorn and mix well until completely coated.

Rub hands with a little oil and quickly grab handfuls of popcorn and squeeze into brain shapes. Place on a tray lined with parchment, then leave to cool. Cover with cling film until ready to eat or store in a jar – you can make a few hours before serving.

Halloween Cookies

Makes 40 depending on the cookie cutter size

150g (5oz) butter

65g (2½oz) caster sugar

65g (2½oz) light brown sugar

110g (4oz) golden syrup

½ tsp vanilla extract

370g (13oz) plain flour

1 tsp bread soda (bicarbonate of soda)

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.

In a large saucepan, melt the butter, caster and brown sugar, golden syrup and vanilla extract and gently together.

Sift the flour and bread soda into a large bowl. Add the melted butter and sugar mixture to the flour. Mix together and knead for a few minutes until it comes together.

Flatten the dough slightly into a thick round. Wrap in cling film and chill in a fridge for at least 30 minutes.

Remove the dough from the fridge, dust the work surface with flour and roll out the dough to about 5mm (1/4 inch) thick.

Using Halloween cookie cutters (or cut into tombstones), cut out shapes and transfer to a baking trays and cook in the preheated oven for 8-10 minutes depending on the cookie size. Allow the shapes to firm up for a few minutes on the tray before removing to a wire rack to cool.

Halloween Spider Web Cupcakes

Makes 12

200g (7oz) white flour

25g (1oz) cocoa powder

1 level tbsp baking powder

150g (5oz) caster sugar

75g (3oz) butter

1 egg

½ tsp vanilla extract

175ml (6floz) milk

50g (2oz) chocolate chips


1 cupcake tray lined with paper cases

Pre-heat the oven at 190C/375F/Gas Mark 5.

Sieve the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder in a bowl. Stir in the sugar. Rub in the butter, until it looks like breadcrumbs. Combine the beaten egg, vanilla extract and milk, and add to the dry mixture. Combine with a fork to give a wet consistency. Fold in the chocolate chips gently. Spoon into the cases. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until well-risen and golden. Cool on a wire rack.

Chocolate or Orange Buttercream Icing

110g (4oz) soft butter

225g (8oz) icing sugar

25g (1oz) Cocoa Powder (or 2 teaspoons finely grated orange rind)

1 – 2 tablespoons milk

Variation: White Icing

350g (12oz) icing sugar, sifted


Cream the butter until smooth, sift the icing sugar and cocoa powder, and add to the butter. Beat well. Add the milk and beat until smooth. Ice the cupcakes, decorate them and have fun — enjoy!

To make the white icing: add enough water to the sugar to make a spreadable icing.

Black or Orange Icing

6 tbsp icing sugar, sifted

A few drops of water

A few drops of black or orange food colouring

Mix the icing sugar with enough water and a few drops of chosen food colouring to make a spreadable consistency.

To decorate the cupcakes:

Ice the top of the cupcakes with the white icing.

Place the black or orange icing in a paper piping bag and draw circles on the white icing. Using a cocktail stick, drag from the centre outwards and inwards to create a spider web effect.

Black or Orange Icing

6 tbsp icing sugar, sifted

A few drops of water

A few drops of black or orange food colouring

Mix the icing sugar with enough water and a few drops of chosen food colouring to make a spreadable consistency.

To decorate the cupcakes:

Ice the top of the cupcakes with the white icing.

Place the black or orange icing in a paper piping bag and draw circles on the white icing. Using a cocktail stick, drag from the centre outwards and inwards to create a spider web effect.

Fiery Pumpkin Soup

Serves 6

2 tbsp sunflower oil

1 onion, finely chopped

1 tbsp Thai green curry paste

900g (2lb) prepared pumpkin (peeled, seeded and cut into 2cm (¾ inch) chunks) - a medium pumpkin weighing about 1.6kg (3½lb) will yield approx. 900g (2lb) prepared pumpkin

600ml (1 pint) homemade chicken stock

1 x 400ml (14fl oz) can coconut milk (we like Chaokah brand)

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Palm sugar, lime juice and fish sauce to taste

50-75ml (2-3fl oz) cream

2 tbsp Thai basil, shredded or fresh coriander leaves


Crème fraîche

Thai basil or fresh coriander leaves

Sweat the onion slowly in the oil until soft but not coloured, about 10 minutes. Add the Thai curry paste and continue to cook over a low heat for 2 minutes. Add the chunks of pumpkin, chicken stock and coconut milk, bring to a simmer, season with salt and pepper and simmer until the pumpkin is tender, about 20 minutes.

Remove from the heat. Taste and correct seasoning. Balance the sweet, sour and salty flavours by the judicious additions of palm sugar, lime juice and fish sauce.

Reheat the soup and add the cream, Thai basil or fresh coriander just before serving. Ladle into warm soup bowls and serve with a spoonful of crème fraîche and some Thai basil or fresh coriander leaves.

Apple Brack (Irish Traditional Cooking, revised edition)

This brack recipe is from Phyl O’Kelly who was a much-loved cookery writer in the Irish Examiner newspaper for many years.

Makes 2 loaves

450g (1lb) cooking apples

225g (8oz) sugar

225g (8oz) butter

1 level tsp bread soda (bicarbonate of soda)

2 large eggs, beaten

350g (12oz) plain flour or half and half plain and wholemeal flour (which is even nicer)

2 tsp mixed spice

225g (8oz) raisins

225g (8oz) sultanas

110g (4oz) cherries

110g (4oz) chopped walnuts


2 loaf tins, 900g (2lb)

First soak fruit in hot tea for 1½-2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 150C/300F/gas mark 3. Grease and line the loaf tins. Peel, core and slice the apples and stew them carefully with the sugar and a tiny drop of water, stirring frequently to make sure they are not sticking to the bottom of the saucepan. 

When cooked, add the butter and stir until melted. Set aside to get cold, then stir in the bread soda (bicarbonate of soda), eggs and sieved flour and mixed spice. Stir in the remaining ingredients. Divide the mixture evenly between the 2 prepared tins and bake on the centre shelf of the oven for 1¾–2 hours.

Hot tips

Mahon Point Farmers Market was buzzing when we visited recently. A brilliant selection of fresh naturally produced local food in season and beautiful fresh fish from West Cork and Ballycotton.

My new find was Wild Atlantic Way products. I loved the dried mint and bladderrack ‘tea’, seagrass, garlic butter and seaweed oils. Zita also does a range of seaweed salts in cute little pots and tells me the nori and seasame is particularly delicious over steamed rice.

The dried nori seaweed is also being snapped up by vegetarians to top up their Vitamin B 12 and calcium. Zita has a passion for the sea so this is her inspired project to enable her to live close to the shore and harvest the sea vegetables sustainably.

Have you come across the Little Milk Company’s, organic cheddar cheese – it’s very good. The milk from 10 organic family farms in Munster and Leinster is used to make a range of cheeses,. wwwthelittlemilkcompany.ie; Barranstook House, Cappagh, Co Waterford. Tel: 058-68555.


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