Bewitched!: ‘Fangtastic,’ healthy Halloween meals


Photo by Emily Ryan Carve spooky faces into bell peppers before stuffing and baking them.

By Emily Ryan, The Mercury

What’s scarier than a zombie, ghost or vampire? A hungry kid who wants to devour every piece of Halloween candy. So before the little goblins hit the streets, fill their bellies with a hauntingly healthy dinner they’ll love.

“This might be the one night when you have true bargaining power,” joked chef Libby Mills of West Chester, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Any vegetables you wanted to try out, this may be the night.”

Get into the spirit with her jack-o’-peppers — stuffed bell peppers carved to look like faces. Or serve raw veggies alongside pumpkin hummus in a cabbage “cauldron.”

“The pumpkin hummus, I think, is fun,” she said. “And it transitions out of Halloween into the next month.”

Chef Vicky Hanko suggests spooky spaghetti squash with marinara sauce. The finishing touch: “eyes” made from mozzarella cheese and black olives.


Photo by Emily Ryan Here’s looking at you, kid! Mozzarella and black olive “eyes” top this monstrously good spaghetti squash with marinara sauce

“That’s really cute,” described the owner of Cooking Spotlight in Phoenixville, who also concocts midnight black bean soup with spiderweb crema. “It looks fabulous.”

Hungry for more frightfully delightful ideas? Scare up a skillet and follow her recipe for chicken and vegetables with ghostly mashed potatoes.

“You put them in a pastry bag and put a ghost mashed potato coming out of the chicken dish,” Hanko explained.

No bones about it — that’s the kind of hair-raising touch kids love. For adults, she casts a spell with shrimp fra diavola and blood orange salad.

“Witch-ever” meal you choose this Halloween, remember…

“It’s gotta be quick. It’s gotta be easy and something that can hold its own if trick-or-treaters come early,” Mills said.

Happy haunting!

Skillet Chicken & Vegetables with Ghostly Potatoes

Servings: 4


2 pounds Yukon Gold or Russet potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks

4 tablespoons butter

¾ cup whole milk, warmed

4 boneless chicken breasts

2 tablespoons olive oil

4 celery stalks, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

2 cups baby carrots

1½ cups onions, chopped

1½ cups low-sodium chicken broth

1 cup frozen baby peas

1 tablespoon fresh thyme, (leaves removed from stalks) or 2 teaspoons dried thyme, crumbled

Salt and pepper, to taste


Make the mashed potatoes: Place the potatoes in a pot and cover them with cold water, season well with some salt. Bring the potatoes to a boil, then simmer until tender about 15 minutes. While the potatoes are cooking, heat the milk and butter in a small pan until the butter is melted. Keep warm.

Drain the cooked potatoes thoroughly. Force the potatoes through a ricer or mash with potato masher, adding the warm milk and butter mixture as necessary to make the potatoes smooth, but not runny. You may not need to use all of the milk mixture. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside and keep warm.

Make the chicken: Season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and sauté until browned on both sides. Add the carrots, celery, and onion, stir and sauté for 5 minutes. Stir in the thyme. Add the chicken broth and bring it to a simmer. Cover and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook for an additional 10 to 15 minutes until the chicken is cooked through and the vegetables are tender.

Using a slotted spoon, transfer the chicken and vegetables to a bowl. Increase the heat to high and bring the remaining broth to a boil. Reduce the broth until you have about 1 cup liquid remaining. Add the frozen peas and cook an additional minute. Return the chicken and vegetables to the pan and stir to coat with the sauce. Cover and keep warm.

Place the mashed potatoes in a pastry bag or in a resealable plastic bag and cut a 1½-inch hole off the corner. Divide the chicken and vegetables among four bowls. Pipe the ghost potatoes in the center of the dish and use some of the peas from the chicken dish to make the eyes. (Alternatively, you may use black sesame seeds or sliced pitted black olives for the eyes.)


Midnight Black Bean Soup with Spiderweb Crema


2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium green or red pepper, chopped

1 carrot, chopped

1 small onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 teaspoons ground cumin

2 cans (15 ounces each) black beans, rinsed and drained

3 cups vegetable (or low-salt chicken broth)

1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes with juice

Salt and pepper, to taste

Chopped scallions or chives for garnish (optional)


½ cup sour cream

2 teaspoons lime juice


Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the chopped peppers, carrot and onion and sauté for about 5 minutes. Add the minced garlic and the cumin and sauté an additional minute, then add the beans, tomatoes and broth and bring the soup to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, about 15 minutes. Ladle 3 cups of the soup into a blender and blend until smooth. Return the pureed soup to the pot and continue to simmer the soup another 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Make the crema: Combine the sour cream and lime juice, mixing well. Place the crema into a pastry bag with a small tip (or alternatively into a Ziploc plastic bag, cutting off a small corner of the bag).

Ladle the soup into individual bowls. Using the crema draw concentric circles onto the top of the soup (bulls-eye pattern). Using a toothpick, knife, or a skewer, start at the center of the circle and run the skewer to the outer circle, to resemble a spider’s web. Garnish the center with chopped scallions or chives, if desired.


Spaghetti Squash with Marinara Sauce

Servings: 4 to 6


1 medium spaghetti squash (3 to 4 pounds)

½ cup water

1 (28-ounce) can whole Italian plum tomatoes with juice (San Marzano is best)

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 small onion, finely chopped (1/4-inch dice)

2 medium cloves garlic, minced

¼ cup fresh basil, shredded or 1 teaspoon dried basil

Salt and pepper

Grated Parmesan cheese


Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Cut the squash in half lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds and discard. Place the squash, cut-side-down into a large baking dish and add ½ cup of water. Bake for about 30 to 40 minutes, until just tender.

While the squash is baking, make the marinara sauce. Place the tomatoes into a large bowl and break them up into small pieces using your hands. Set aside. Add the olive oil to a medium saucepan and heat over medium-high heat. Add the onion and sauté until translucent, about 6 to 8 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook and additional minute. Stir in the tomatoes and juices and bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Lower the heat and simmer the sauce for about 20 to 30 minutes, until thickened. Season with salt and pepper and stir in the fresh basil. Keep warm.

Once the squash is tender, remove from the oven and let cool at room temperature until cool enough to handle. Using a fork, scrape the spaghetti-like squash strands from the shells into a large bowl. Season the squash with a bit of salt and pepper and lightly toss. Divide the squash evenly into individual bowls and top each with some of the hot marinara sauce. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese, if desired.


Stuffed Jack-O’-Peppers

The charm to this make-ahead recipe is the cleverly carved Jack-O’-Pepper faces. Deliciously vegan, but easily caters to all tastes.


4 to 6 bell peppers

2 cups shredded zucchini

2 cups bread crumbs

3 cups oats

2 cups raw cashew nuts, coarsely chopped

2 cups diced tomatoes

2 cups onions, diced fine

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 teaspoons salt

Optional: 8-ounces of ground turkey, pork or beef. If using sausage, reduce the salt by 1 teaspoon.


In a large mixing bowl, combine all ingredients, except the peppers.

Using a paring knife, cut a 2- to 2½-inch circle around the stem of each pepper. Being careful not to damage the pepper, remove the stem and seeds. Cut the cluster of seeds off the stem. Save the stemmed top for the hat. Into the sides of the pepper, carefully cut Jack-O’-Pepper eyes, nose and mouth.

Gently fill each pepper with the stuffing mixture. Do not overpack. Place each peppers upright in a sprayed baking dish. Top with a hat. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 to 50 minutes.


Asian-Style Pumpkin Hummus


2 to 2½ pounds raw pumpkin, skinned and seeds removed or 3 cups of precooked canned pumpkin

3 tablespoons sesame oil divided (enough to toss squash for roasting, reserving some for drizzle on top)

1 (15-ounce) can garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained (reserve a few for decoration)

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons honey

1 lemon, juiced

¼ cup tahini (sesame paste)

½ teaspoon coriander, ground

¼ teaspoon cinnamon, ground

1 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper


Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Peel pumpkin. Cut pumpkin in half, remove seeds and cut into 2-inch chunks. Place chunks on a lipped baking sheet and drizzle with 2 tablespoons sesame oil. Toss to coat each piece. Bake for about an hour the pumpkin has browned and is very tender, stirring every 20 minutes. Let cool. If using precooked canned pumpkin, add 2 tablespoons sesame oil to the other ingredients when processing.

While pumpkin is roasting, heat the coriander, salt, cinnamon and cayenne in a small, dry pan over medium heat until fragrant, about a minute. Allow the spices to cool. In a food processor, add the garbanzo beans, roasted pumpkin, garlic, honey, lemon juice, tahini, coriander, cinnamon, salt and cayenne pepper and process until smooth.

Serve hummus mounded into a carved-out cabbage head “cauldron.” Use retained garbanzo beans to create a bubbling effect. Drizzle with remaining sesame seed oil and toasted black and white sesame seeds. Dip with your favorite veggies and whole-wheat pita triangles.


Goblin’ it up!


Dem bones… are made of veggies. (Photo by Emily Ryan)

Chef Libby Mills conjured up even more ideas to help kids sit for a spell and fuel up before heading out this Halloween.

 Peeled grape “eyeballs”

 Bloodshot deviled egg “eyeballs” with olive pupils and sriracha

 Mummy-wrapped meatloaf

 Vermicelli rice noodle “worms” or “snakes”

 Breadstick “witches’ fingers” with almond nails

 Skeleton with raw vegetable “bones”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s