Introduction: Eerily Delicious Halloween Dinner

About: Ex video game programmer, ex Google software engineer, ex character animator, currently working as a designer
Are you a brooding introvert who's awkward at parties? Don't have the energy to fight drunken traffic across town on Halloween night? Paranoid and agoraphobic, but still want to celebrate the holiday in your own way? Perhaps staying in and cooking up a festive and yet spooky Halloween dinner is the solution for you.

My mission was to create a menu that was Halloween themed and yet that didn't compromise on flavor pairings or overall quality. I didn't want to end up eating something I wouldn't otherwise care for just to suit the theme, and I wanted the presentation to err more on the side of artful and sculptural than gross.


Cocktail Hour
  • Zombie Elixir Garnished With Children's Eyes (lychee martini)
  • Giant Millipede (plumbs, figs, and cheese plate)

  • Impaled Carcass (pork tenderloin garnished with parsnips)
  • Tentacles (fresh bread rolls)
  • Pile of Worms (caramelized onions)
  • Serpent Skeleton (roast sweet potatoes, baked apple with raisins)
  • Witch's Fingers (baby carrots)
  • Bile (sage cream sauce)
  • Sleeping Potion (pinot noir)

  • Sludge (pumpkin Brandy Alexander)
  • Fresh Slaughter with Puss (chocolate pots de creme with whipped cream and caramel)

Step 1: Appetizer: Giant Millipede

You can't really go wrong with fruit and cheese as an appetizer, so for this dish I chose an arrangement of figs, plums, almonds, and Spanish Manchego.


  • 3 black plums
  • 2 figs
  • 4 almonds
  • 3 raisins
  • 1 small block of Manchego

The most recognizable and prominent part of a millipede is the glossy rounded exoskeleton so that was the most important part to get right, and it turns out that black plums are a surprisingly good visual match. To create the body first cut the plums in half and remove the pits. Cut each plum into .25" slices, discard the awkward end pieces, and arrange on a presentation dish in a sinuous shape. Place on plum piece on its side at one end of the body to create a platform for the head.

The eyes are created from skinned figs with raisins for pupils. I gave the millipede three eyes because with only two it looked more cute and doe-eyed than creepy. Take your figs and use a paring knife to cut off the purple outer skin to expose the pinkish flesh within. Arrange figs on the head platform and place raisins on top to create pupils. Use two almonds to create mandibles and complete the face.

Though it's not anatomically correct, I wanted to make millipede a little more hardcore by giving his tail end spikes. Cut wedges of cheese in spikey shape and wedge under the tail end plums to create the base. Top with slivered almonds to emphasize the feature.

I wanted a firm white cheese for the legs so I chose a brandy aged Manchego, a semi-firm Spanish sheep's milk cheese. To create the legs cut a thin slice off the block and cut into small rectangular slices. Arrange cheese along the sides of the body and adjust the look of the final product to a pleasing composition.

Step 2: Cocktail: Zombie Elixer With Children's Eyes

I'm a firm believer that every great meal starts with cocktails, and a holiday meal all the more so. A lychee martini will get the evening off to a good start.


  • .25 oz grenadine
  • .5 oz lime juice (juice from 1 half a fresh lime)
  • .5 oz of lychee syrup (the fluid the fruit are preserved in)
  • 2 oz Gin
  • 2 dashes orange bitters
  • 1 or 2 lychee for garnish

Using fresh juices in cocktails really enhances the result, so I recommend always squeezing your own. Warm up your limes by floating them in a hot water bath for 5 minutes before squeezing; this will dramatically increase the amount of juice they yield. When they're ready squeeze into a liquid measuring cup so that it's easy to pour out.

You can buy canned lychee fruit in syrup at most grocery stores (at least most grocery stores in the Bay Area). Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker, add 3 ice cubes, shake, and strain into a martini glass. Garnish with lychee fruit.

Step 3: Side Dish: Tentacles

Fresh bread dough is a great blank canvass as it can be easily sculpted into whatever shape suits the theme at hand. Tentacles are a particularly easy and recognizable shape, plus, who doesn't love tentacles?


  • 2 cups white flour
  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1.5 cups warm water (not too hot or you'll kill the yeast)
  • 1.5 tsp salt
  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • 2.5 tsp fast acting yeast

I use a bread machine to mix and knead the dough, but you could also make your dough by hand using whatever method you're accustomed to. If using a bread machine take the basin and make sure kneading paddle is attached. Add water, salt, and oil first, then dump the flour on top and do not mix. Make a well in the center of the flour and pour in the yeast. Place basin in the bread machine and start it up.

1-2 hours later when the dough has risen dump it out onto a clean floured counter and cut into 8 pieces using a serrated knife. With your hands roll each piece into a smooth ball, then roll back and forth on the counter to enlongate. Place on a cookie sheet and form into an attractive tentacle curve. Process 7 of the pieces this way but reserve the 8th as material for the suckers.

To form the suckers pull a small ball of dough off the 8th unused section of the dough, and roll into a long noodley shape about .25" in diameter. Form into a circle and join the ends, then stick the circle to the tentacle body. If the dough is wet it will join to the tentacle body with no additional work. If the flour has made the surface too dry then use a little water to moisten both sides before joining.

Once all tentacles are formed let them sit to rise again for half an hour. Once they've puffed back up brush all over with melted butter and place in a 420 degree oven for 20 minutes. Check on them at 10 minutes and rotate the baking sheets 180 degrees and if you're using two oven racks reverse which sheet is on which rack of the oven. My oven is particularly uneven about heating so this has a very noticeable effect.

When done remove from the oven and wrap with a clean cloth to keep warm.

Step 4: Main Vegetable: Serpent Skeleton

This is by far the most difficult piece of the whole presentation, but it's also one of the tastiest parts of the meal. The spinal column is composed of carved sweet potatoes and the head is a baked apple decorated with raisins.


  • 2 large garnet yams
  • 2 fuji apples
  • 2 tbs raisins
  • Olive oill
  • Fresh Chives, thyme, and sage

The yam vs. sweet potato conundrum is something that causes a lot of confusion. The problem is that for historical reasons the things labeled "yams" at grocery stores are actually sweet potatoes (most Americans have never eaten a proper yam). I'm always caught between trying to be correct and trying to be clear, but for the remainder of this page I'll refer to them as garnet yams.

It would probably be more aesthetic to use yams with white flesh but I love the sweetness of the bright orange garnet variety, especially as an accompaniment to pork.

Peel the yams and trim into the largest possible rectangular solid you can make. Divide the top of the yam block into thirds and remove a chunk from the "shoulder" for each of the outer thirds. Flip the block over and cut a grove down the center of the bottom. At this point you'll have an awkwardly squareish shape, so use a peeler and a paring knife to whittle the edges until smooth and organic looking. I found the peeler to be an unexpectedly great sculpting tool. Keep sculpting, scraping, and smoothing until you have a nice vertebrae-shaped silhouette that tapers towards one end.

Use either the pieces cut off during the sculpting or the parts cut off while squaring up the body to create smaller rectangular blocks that fit nicely in the groove on the bottom of your main block. Cut the main block into .25" slices and arrange the yam vertebrae along the column segments to make sure that your shapes fit together. If you're pieces are satisfactory place all cut yams into a large bowl and toss with olive oi, salt, pepper,l and the fresh herbs. Arrange seasoned pieces into final shape on a baking dish and set aside.

For the skull peel the apples and cut them in half. Use a paring knife or other kitchen utensil (I find my rounded metal teaspoon measure is perfect for coring fruit) to remove the core and cut off any remaining peel around the ends. Flip the peeled apple halves over and use a round utensil to scoop out eye sockets. Arrange apples in a baking dish and stuff the eyesockets with raisins. Brush the top with olive oil or butter to prevent oxidation.

Place yams and apples in an oven preheated to 350 degrees for 40 minutes.

Step 5: Secondary Vegetable: Witch's Fingers

Baby carrots are delicious in any meal. They have thinner skin than adult carrots so they don't need to be peeled before eating, though they do need a vigorous scrubbing.


  • 1 bunch baby carrots
  • 1 clove garlic
  • .5 tbs minced shallot
  • Olive oil

Trim and wash carrots then toss with olive oil, salt, pepper, and a tiny bit of garlic and minced shallot. Set aside to be arranged on baking dish with the pork later. This will give the carrots additional flavor from the pork drippings.

Step 6: Garnish: Worm Pile

It doesn't really take any extra effort to make the limp translucent strands of caramelized onions look like worms, which make them a perfect accompaniment for this meal.


  • 1 white onion
  • 2 tbs butter

Remove the papery outermost skin from the onion and cut in half. Slice the onion crosswise creating long thin half-rings. Set a large pan over medium heat and melt the butter. When the butter is melted add the onions and let them cook slowly, stirring infrequently, until they become sweet and turn a nice golden brown color (30 minutes or so).

Step 7: Sauce: Bile

A sage cream sauce is an excellent finishing touch on an already lovely meal. Make sure you don't wash the pan after browning the pork as the drippings are a valuable base for the sauce.


  • 2 tbs dry vermouth or dry white wine
  • 2 shallots
  • 1 clove garlic
  • fresh sage, thyme, and chives
  • .5 cups chicken stock
  • 1 cup cream
  • 1 tbs butter

If the pan in which you cooked the pork in has cooled, warm it up again over medium-high heat. Deglaze pan by pouring the vermouth into it and scraping and stirring with a metal spatula until the fat stuck to the pan loosens and mixes with the fluid. Deglazing is a classic technique in the formation of a pan sauce, the goal of which is to get the browned meat residue stuck to the pan into a form where it will permeate your sauce. Let the vermouth mostly bubble off then add the butter and melt.

Once the butter is melted add shallots and garlic and stir until aromatic. Add the chicken stock and cream and reduce heat to medium. Simmer the sauce until reduced to a nice consistency. Check for seasoning and adjust salt and pepper to taste. Once thickened reduce heat to its lowest setting and cover to keep warm. 10 minutes before using raise the heat again to prepare for serving and add the fresh herbs. Fresh herbs are much more delicate than dried ones and should always be added at the end of cooking to preserve their flavor.

Just before serving add yellow food coloring to drive home the "bile" effect and transfer sauce to a gravy dish. I didn't have a gravy boat so I used the cream holder; any nice dish that will allow you to pour the sauce neatly will do.

Step 8: Main Dish: Impaled Carcass

The centerpiece of the meal is a pork tenderloin punctured with vicious looking irregular shards of parsnip. I had initially intended that the result look like a "gaping maw" with the parsnips as teeth, but nothing ever turns out quite like I planned and I find it difficult to make food look precise. Though not entirely what I'd intended, the result still came out decidedly Halloween-ish and sculptural, so I was pleased with it.


  • 1.3 lbs pork tenderloin (too much for two people, but that's what I bought)
  • 1 large parsnip
  • Olive oil

Unless you've specifically bought a prepared tenderloin, the meat will almost always come partially covered with a patch of thin shiny membrane called the silver skin. You can eat silver skin if you want to, but it's tough and not terribly pleasant so I would recommend trimming it off. To do so carefully insert a knife under the white membrane on the surface of the meat and slide it down to the edge. Gently peel back the tough silver skin and discard.

Cut the trimmed tenderloin into serving-sized sections and set aside. I cut my tenderloin into three pieces which made really big portions, but I needed the area to work with for the presentation so I figured we could just be overserved and save half the dinner for later.

Heat 2 tbs of olive oil in a large pan over high heat. Test whether the pan is hot enough to add the meat by flicking a drop of water at it. When a drop of water sizzles when it hits the pan it's ready to add the meat. Place all pork pieces in the pan and brown on all sides. You are not attempting to cook the meat through, just to sear the outside and seal in the juices, so it should only take a minute or so on each side. Once the meat is browned remove from the pan and let cool to where you can handle it. Set the pan aside leaving the pork residue as a base for the sauce.

While the meat is browning you can start preparing the parsnip shards. Peel a large parsnip and cut into slices of even width. Cut each slice into sharp spikes, whittling the ends into a point. The final product benefits from irregular spikes, so don't worry too much as you're doing it. Toss finished spikes with olive oil to prevent surface oxidation and to protect the vegetables during cooking.

Take one of the browned pork pieces and stab it with a paring knife. Don't puncture it all the way through, just create a gouge large enough to seat a parsnip spike in it. Each spike should be rooted about 1-2 cm in the meat, and can be wiggled around and adjusted for composition once added. Continue stabbing and filling wounds with parsnips until you've created a nice look. Place finished stabby parsnip meat sculpture onto a baking dish with the baby carrots (witch's fingers, step 5) and place in a 350 degree oven for 40 minutes or until the internal temperature reads 160.

Step 9: Digestif: Sludge

A digestif is an alcoholic drink served after the meal. Typically it's less of a cocktail and more of a straight liquor (e.g. cognac, brandy, scotch, port...), but I bent the definition a bit in favor of the Halloween theme. "Sludge" is my fanciful name for a brandy alexander flavored with a bit of pumpkin puree.


  • 1 1/2 ounce brandy
  • 1 ounce cream
  • 1 ounce creme de cacao (brown)
  • 1 tsp canned pumpkin
  • Nutmeg, either ground or whole pods

Spoon the pumpkin into the cream and mix to form a thick liquid. Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with 3 ice cubes. Shake and strain into appropriate glasses. Grate nutmeg over the result to taste.

Step 10: Desert: Fresh Slaughter With Puss

Of all the dishes of the night, this one came out looking most like my plans. This is a startlingly-simple creme anglaise based chocolate pots de creme preparation finished with fresh whipped cream and caramel sauce.


  • .75 cups bittersweet chocolate chips
  • .75 cups heavy whipping cream
  • .25 cups half and half
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1 tbs sugar
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 pint heavy whipping cream
  • 1 jar premade caramel sauce

Separate the eggs and discard the whites or save them for later cocktails (Ramos Gin Fizz, anyone?). Use a food processor to finely chop the chocolate, then place in medium heatproof bowl; set fine-mesh strainer over bowl and set aside.

Whisk yolks, sugar, and salt in medium bowl until combined; whisk in heavy cream and half-and-half. Transfer mixture to medium saucepan. Cook mixture over medium-low heat, stirring constantly and scraping bottom of pot with wooden spoon, until thickened and silky and custard registers 175 to 180 degrees on instant-read thermometer, 8 to 12 minutes.

Do not let custard overcook or simmer or you will end up with scrambled eggs. Even after making this custard many times I still frequently ruin it by overcooking, so work cautiously. This preparation of eggs, cream, and sugar is called a creme anglaise, and is a versatile French desert sauce worth learning to make by heart.

Once hot enough, immediately pour custard through strainer over chocolate. Let mixture stand to melt chocolate, about 5 minutes. Whisk gently until smooth. Divide mixture evenly among 3 or 4 ramekins, preferably white ones. Cool pots de creme to room temperature, then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled. 20 minutes before you are ready to serve desert remove ramekins from refrigerator to let them warm up a bit.

10 minutes before serving make the whipped cream. Pour unsweetened whipping cream into a large metal mixing bowl. I prefer to add absolutely no sugar to my whipped cream because it's almost always being served with something else quite sweet, but most people like to add a couple of tablespoons of sugar to the cream before whipping, so sweeten to taste. Whisk by hand or with an electric mixer until nearly doubled in volume and whipped cream forms soft peaks (about 3 minutes). Garnish each ramekin with a dollop of the finished cream.

Heat caramel sauce briefly (around 30 seconds) in a microwave until it becomes more liquid and less gooey. Add a generous amount of red food coloring and mix until it's a nice bloody color. Place ramekin on a larger presentation plate and have fun splattering caramel sauce all over the result, the messier the better. Serve immediately while the caramel is still warm, a nice contrast to the whipped cream and cold custard.

Step 11: Suggested Order of Operations

So once you have the recipes and the inspiration, how do you actually get it all done in a night? I came home from work Halloween night and did things in things in this order:

1) Start the tentacle dough kneading in the bread machine

2) Make pots de creme base, chill

3) Make millipede appetizer, serve and drink lychee martini cocktails while continuing to cook

4) Clean and cut all vegetables, fruits, and herbs for the main dishes, set each aside in its own little bowl. This is a cooking technique called Mise en Place ("everything in its place") which I find very relaxing. Once you get started cooking you want to have everything ready to go at hand, without having to wrestle with preparation. If you try to scramble from one step to another it can be really unpleasant with complicated cooking projects.

5) Toss vegetables with olive oil and herbs

6) By the time everything is cut up and coated in oil, the dough should be done, so shape into tentacles and let rise the second 30 minutes.

7) Brown the meat, assemble with parsnips.

8) Tentacles should be done with second rise, bake to completion, cover and keep warm

9) Start the onions caramelizing

10) Assemble baking dishes for the apples, yams, meat, baby carrots, start baking them all at once

11) Start the sage cream sauce, tend the sauce and the onions while everything bakes

12) Remove everything from the oven, plate the food.

13) Eat dinner, take a short break

14) Make sludge cocktail and drink while assembling desert

15) Make whipped cream and caramel, assemble pots de creme

16) Eat dessert

17) Clean up!

The schedule above is what I actually did, but if making for a dinner party much of this could be done in advance for an easier evening with more time to spend with guests. The three major time sinks are the bread baking (could be done a day in advance), the pots de creme custard (could be done a day in advance), and the vegetable preparation and sculpting, which could be done the morning the day of. Caramelizing the onions could also be done the morning the day of and reheated during the baking of the main dishes.

Step 12: Enjoy! Eat Like You Mean It!

Serve dinner with your favorite pork-appropriate red wine and enjoy! Happy Halloween!
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