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All the tricks for Halloween treats

HALLOWE’EN is an old Irish tradition that has been globalised by America to such a degree that most (non-Irish) people think it is an American custom.

Regardless of who invented it, kids love it as much as, if not more than, Christmas. In our house, we try to keep some of the Irish food traditions at least with money in the colcannon and a barm brack always in the house.

For kids, however, it is all about the sweets. I have had some success, however, with that great American fruit the watermelon — it looks like it’s made from frozen blood and kids love to compete to spit the seeds the furthest.

Milk shakes are a relatively healthy drink — simply liquidise a banana, strawberries and milk with a squeeze of lemon. Colour the shake with a little red food dye to make it look like blood.

Kids love to be creative so make cup cakes and cookies which they can decorate themselves. Grown-ups can get into the spirit by cooking some of the ingredients that are at their best at this time of year. Pumpkins (and squashes) can be roasted in slices or made into pumpkin pie or a fantastic soup.

Colcannon will remind you of childhood, ducks are at their peak of flavour after the summer, and why not try an apple tarte tatin?

Pumpkin Soup

This soup is delicious and is a lovely colour. It looks most dramatic served straight from the pumpkin. After experimentation I have found Chartreuse liqueur is best to finish the soup but feel free to substitute calvados or even whiskey.

Ingredients:

1 large pumpkin, 60g butter, 1 onion, 500ml milk, 300ml creme fraiche, 250ml sweet white wine (or Australian chardonnay), 2tbsp of Chartreuse liqueur, salt, pepper, nutmeg.

For croutons: French stick, egg yolk, grated Gruyere

Cut the top from the pumpkin, discard the seeds and stringy bits. With a sharp knife and an ice-cream scoop, remove as much of the interior flesh as you can without breaking through the shell.

Melt the butter in a large saucepan with a dash of oil to prevent it from burning.

Finely chop the onion and saute until translucent.

Dice the pumpkin flesh and cook for 8-10 minutes until soft. Add the wine and bring to a boil until reduced by about half (approx 15 minutes).

Add the milk and creme fraiche and allow to simmer for 30 minutes.

Using a wand blender, liquidise the soup until it is as fine as you can make it. Push the soup through a sieve into a clean saucepan. (You can omit the sieving as it is laborious but it does give the soup a much improved texture.)

Add the Chartreuse, salt, pepper and grated nutmeg to taste and place the soup on a low heat to warm through.

Heat the pumpkin in a hot oven for 20 minutes before pouring the soup into the pumpkin.

For croutons, cut half a French stick into small rounds and toast under the grill. Mix an egg yolk with 60g of finely grated Gruyere (or any hard cheese) and place a small dollop on each round of bread. Finish under the grill for a further 3 minutes.

Roast Duck

Wild ducks such as mallard and widgeon are in season, but you will need to go to a good butcher such as Downey’s in Terenure to find them. Downey’s also sell very good Barbary ducks.

Ingredients:

2kg duck (or 2 wild ducks), salt, half a lemon, half an orange

Heat oven to 200°C, Gas 7. Remove the loose fat from the inside of the duck. This fat can be melted in a hot pan for roasting potatoes.

Wash the duck inside and out and pat dry with kitchen paper.

Cut deep slashes on the skin of the duck to allow the fat to run out during roasting. Rub salt into the skin and salt the inside of the duck. Place half a lemon and half an orange inside the duck and roast in the oven for about 65 minutes.

After 40 minutes, remove the duck and pour off the fat into a jar for keeping.

Once cooked, remove from the oven and rest for 15 minutes loosely covered with foil.

Colcannon

No Hallowe’en feast would be complete without Colcannon. Remember to add some euro wrapped in greaseproof paper.

Ingredients:

2kg potatoes, half a head of kale, 200ml milk, 1 scallion, salt and pepper, butter

Peel and quarter the potatoes, bring to a gentle boil and simmer until a knife will pierce them easily.

Meanwhile, strip the kale leaves from their stalks and wash in clean water. Add the washed, dripping kale to a saucepan with a knob of butter.

Replace the lid and steam the kale until cooked (3-4 min). Drain and finely chop.

Drain the potatoes and allow them to dry in the pot for 5 minutes. Mash very thoroughly (ideally with a potato ricer) and stir in about 200ml of hot milk until creamy, followed by a large knob of butter.

Mix in the chopped scallion, kale, salt and pepper and then beat with a wooden spoon.

Add a couple of euro coins wrapped in greaseproof paper for luck. Make a well in the centre and add a large knob of butter and warm in the oven until the butter has melted.

Roast Acorn Squash

Ingredients:

1 acorn squash, 2tbsp wholegrain mustard, 1 tbsp maple syrup

Quarter an acorn squash lengthways, remove the seeds and stringy bits and place in a roasting dish.

In a cup, mix the wholegrain mustard with the maple syrup and brush over the squash quarters.

Roast in the oven for 30 minutes.

Tarte Tatin

This is most people's favourite apple dessert. If possible use a frying pan with a metal handle that can be placed in the oven or use a standard pie dish.

Ingredients:

6-8 medium apples (I like Cox’s Pippins), 150g sugar, 50g butter, 225g frozen puff pastry

Turn oven to 190°C, Gas 6.

Remove the frozen pastry from the freezer.

Make a caramel by adding 75g sugar and 2tbsp water to a heavy pan and cooking on high heat for around 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until it begins to brown.

Reduce the heat and cook until the sugar is caramelised and uniformly golden.

Remove from the heat and stir in 25g of butter. If using a pie dish, scrape the caramel into the dish at this point.

Peel and quarter the apples, removing the cores. Arrange the apples in a circle in the pan/dish, piling them up if necessary. Dot the apples with 25g butter, sprinkle over the remaining sugar and bake in a hot oven at 190°C, Gas 6, for 30 minutes.

Roll out 200g of puff pastry and place on top of the apples, tucking in at the sides. Bake for a further 25 minutes until the pastry has browned and risen.

Remove from the oven and place a large plate on top of the pan; stand over the sink and with one movement flip the pan over.

Serve with creme fraiche.

Creepy cakes to make with the children

Cupcakes

(Makes 12-15 cupcakes)

This is my mother's recipe for what we called “buns”. Given the age of this recipe, I am giving priority to the old imperial measure because it is so easy to remember — 2 eggs, 4oz butter and sugar, and 6oz flour.

Ingredients:

4oz (110g) butter at room temperature, 4oz (110g) caster sugar, 2 eggs, 6oz (170g) self-raising flour, finely grated rind of 1 lemon, 1 level tsp baking powder.

Soften the butter by beating it with a wooden spoon. Once the butter is very soft, add the sugar and beat until the two are light and fluffy.

Beat the eggs in a separate bowl and mix into the butter/sugar.

Add the baking powder to the flour and sift onto the mix. Fold the flour in using the wooden spoon. Then add the lemon rind.

Add a spoonful to each paper casing and bake at 180°C, 350°F, Gas 4.

Note: You can replace the lemon rind with vanilla extract or lemon essence.

Butter Icing

Ingredients:

150g butter, 300g icing sugar, 1tbsp milk, food colouring

Beat the butter with a wooden spoon until soft. Add the milk and the icing sugar in 50g amounts and mix until creamy. Add the food colouring in drops until you have the colour you like.

Icing the cup cakes: Mix the icing well so that it is as smooth as possible. Use a flexible knife to place a large dollop in the centre of the bun and spread in a circular motion.

Alternatively (especially if doing this with children) buy some piping bags and nozzles.

Buy some fondant icing, which can be rolled out and easily cut or moulded into Hallowe’en shapes such as skulls or snakes — the Shamrock brand is quite good.

Buy lots of different small sweets such as Smarties and Jelly Tots that can be pushed into the icing for extra decoration.

Finely grated chocolate (white or dark) adds a good finishing touch.

Notes on colours: blue, red and yellow are the standard colours and in theory you can make any colour from these three. I also advise buying green.

To make orange icing, add a teaspoon of red colour to white icing and mix in a few drops of yellow.

To make black icing, mix equal parts of red, blue and green.

Butter Cookins

Ingredients:

225g butter, 200g sugar, 1 egg, 1 tsp baking powder, 2tbsp orange juice, 1tsp vanilla extract, 300g flour

Mix the first six ingredients. Gradually add in the flour until you have a solid dough. Place the dough in the fridge for 2 hours.

Heat oven to 190°C, Gas 6. Roll out the cookies and cut into shapes and decorate.

Make sure to leave space between the cookies or they will run into each other.

Decorate further while warm.


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