Pastry chef and Halloween Baking Championship judge Zac Young created these whimsical, fully edible witch’s cauldrons for pandemic-weary Press Herald readers to make with their kids. Photo courtesy of Zac Young

Garrett Agrell of Milford plans to take his daughters trick-or-treating on Halloween night, but this year the holiday won’t be quite the same thanks to that 2020 monster, the coronavirus.

“We’re planning on just going around to relatives,” Agrell said. “We have family, luckily, within walking distance all around. The kids like to get dressed up. We’ll go see them, but we’re not going to venture too far.”

With the house-to-house candy hunt cut short, Agrell, who is the kitchen manager at Hero’s Sports Bar & Grill in Bangor, has been experimenting in his own kitchen, putting together a Halloween spread that will make his daughters’ day a little more special – and put something in their bellies that isn’t loaded with sugar.

Agrell shared his ideas with us to help other parents in the same pandemic predicament. We also picked the brain, so to speak, of New York pastry chef and native Mainer Zac Young (creator of the piecaken), who dresses up as everything from a giant cupcake to Mozart’s ghost in his role as a judge on the Food Network’s Halloween Baking Championship. Young shared his instructions for making a chocolate witch’s cauldron filled with a tasty green “brew,” as well as his take on something every kid and kid-at-heart loves – slime. Sarah Getchius, co-owner of Sugar Mama’s, a new bakery, café and smoothie bar in Saco, contributed a thinking person’s Halloween treat – bloody raspberry cream “brains” – and a Halloween-themed smoothie bowl.

Garrett Agrell of Milford carved yellow bell peppers to resemble jack-o’-lanterns, then stuffed them with black beans, quinoa and cheddar cheese. Photo courtesy of Garrett Agrell

Jack-0’-lantern peppers

Agrell has made stuffed bell peppers for dinner before, filling the peppers with hamburger and rice. A lightbulb went off recently, though, when he was grocery shopping: Orange bell peppers look like pumpkins.

So he decided to make a dinner for his 5- and 12-year-old girls that would fill them up with something nutritious before they head out trick-or-treating Saturday night. This time, he’d try stuffing peppers with a black bean and quinoa mixture. Agrell carved a pumpkin face into the side of each pepper, and topped their noggins with shredded cheese, which is supposed to represent light coming from glowing pumpkins.

He made a batch or two for his daughters earlier this month as a trial run. “I’m not going to pretend they liked the peppers more than candy, but they did like them, so that was good,” he said.

Agrell hopes to have a whole spread of fun foods this year on a special table of Halloween snacks. He’s toying with the idea of turning deviled eggs into eyeballs. Or those eggs may become spiders, with the yolks dyed different colors and sliced black olives serving as their creepy-crawly legs.

Kids will have fun decorating these slime monsters created by pastry chef Zac Young, a Maine native who is a judge on the Food Network’s Halloween Baking Championship. Photo courtesy of Zac Young

Double, double, toil and trouble

The Halloween Baking Championship is just the right gig for Zac Young, who says the spooky holiday “has always been my thing.” Not only does he get to sample the treats made by contestants on the show – ghoulish creations like 3D demon doll cakes, mummy scream puffs, and slug slime mousse bombs – he gets to wear lots of Halloween costumes.

“I was a theater kid growing up,” Young said. “I lived at Children’s Theatre of Maine. Halloween was always the holiday that I looked forward to, so much so that there were some years I’d have two costumes. I would make my father take me out for an early run around the neighborhood, and then I’d change and go out with friends and hit the good houses again. I’d already have the intel of who has the full-size” candy bars. (Twix bars were –and are – his favorite, although he’s partial to anything with chocolate and caramel.)

As an adult and professional pastry chef, his tastes have, of course, become more refined. A recent favorite on the baking show: candied sauerkraut that topped a giant devil-themed French macaron filled with chocolate ganache and Fresno chili pepper marmalade. But even judging more elevated fare involves consuming a lot of sugar, meaning Young spends a lot of time at the gym. “A light day is, like, 24 desserts,” he said, laughing.

Those desserts can all run together, like days spent cooped up at home during the pandemic, but the best ones are still memorable.

“This is my fourth season on Halloween Baking, so it takes a lot to stand out, right?” he said. “We’ve seen a lot of broomsticks. We’ve seen a lot of zombie fingers. And it’s like OK, another coffin. Woo-hoo. But when someone does something that is unique, or from a flavor perspective it’s just incredible, that is really memorable.”

Young loves that more people are baking during the pandemic. His advice for parents scaring up fun treats for their kids this year? Don’t be too hard on themselves if their creations come out looking like a nightmare.

“Whether or not it comes out perfectly, who cares?” he said. “Baking is about the experience, and not 100 percent about the results. You can’t mess it up that much. It’s hard to make something that’s totally inedible. It’s not just about what comes out of the oven, it’s about the time that you spend with your family doing the activity.”

Young’s chocolate witch’s cauldron is “slightly more ambitious” than zombie fingers or coffin cookies, he said, but still easy enough that it won’t add more stress to already stressed-out lives. Young recommends spooning a witch’s brew of green tapioca pudding into the cauldron, but says anything can go in the chocolate cup. “You can fill it with store-bought pudding and put green sprinkles on top and call it a cauldron,” he said.

 As for his slime monsters, Young says they can take any shape you desire. Pipe them “peeking out” of a jar or right onto a serving platter. Let the kids have fun decorating them.

Get a healthful start with this smoothie bowl on Halloween morning, before diving into the candy. Photo by Sarah Getchius

Brain food

For the past few years, Sarah Getchius ran her custom-order baking business, Sugar Mama’s, out of her home. Three months ago, she teamed up with her best friend, Haley Bresnahan, to open a storefront at 209 Main St. in Saco.

The new Sugar Mama’s is more than a bakery, though. It’s also a café with a juice and smoothie bar, and a toast bar. Most of the items on the menu are vegetarian or vegan, and many are gluten-free and dairy-free.

Getchius is keeping up her tradition of making special treats for Halloween. Her Halloween smoothie bowl is just the thing to start kids off on the right foot on the morning of Oct. 31. It’s filled with healthful ingredients like bananas, blueberries, plant-based milk and yogurt, and ground flaxseed. “It’s basically a really thick smoothie, almost more like ice cream consistency, but it’s plant-based,” Getchius said.

But it wouldn’t be Halloween without chocolate. The smoothie bowls are topped with chocolate ghosts, bats and tombstones. Hanging in the black night sky – that’s activated charcoal powder – is a yellow chocolate melt that looks like the moon.

Getchius uses a Jell-O mold to make her raspberry cream brain covered in raspberry coulis “blood” – a recipe that, she says, is cost-effective and simple to execute. “It’s actually very, very tasty, and it’s fun,” she said. “It looks gory, but it’s still yummy and it’s easy.”

Just what the mad doctor ordered. Happy Halloween!

Garrett Agrell with one of the stuffed bell peppers he’s planning to make for his daughters on Halloween night. Photo courtesy of Garrett Agrell

JACK-O’-LANTERN STUFFED BELL PEPPERS
Serves 6 

1  (15-ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed
1/3 cup diced red onion
1/4 cup chopped cilantro leaves
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
3 tablespoons chopped green chiles
1 egg (optional)
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
2 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon salt 
1/2 teaspoon pepper
3/4 cup panko bread crumbs 
3/4 cup quinoa, rinsed
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
tablespoons unsalted butter
6 orange bell peppers
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese 

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.  

Place the black beans, onion, cilantro, lime juice, green chiles, egg, chili powder, cumin, garlic, salt, pepper and panko into a food processor. Blend for 2 minutes, scrape the sides, and blend for a minute longer. The mixture should be thick and consistent. (If your mixture is not thick enough, let it set in the fridge for 1-2 hours before continuing.)  

Bring the quinoa and chicken broth to a boil in a large pan. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cover. Cook for about 15 minutes, or until the broth has been absorbed and the quinoa can be fluffed with a fork.  

While the quinoa is cooking, heat the butter on the stove over low heat in a mediumsized pan. Add the pureed black bean mixture and stir regularly for about 10 minutes. The exact temperature doesn’t matter as much as the consistency. You’re just warming it so that it mixes with the quinoa more easily.  

When the quinoa is done, put it in a large bowl, then add the black bean mix and stir together, adding salt and pepper to taste, as needed.  

Cut off the tops of the peppers and remove the seeds and flesh. Stand the peppers on a flat surface, find which side is most easily visible, and carve your favorite jack-o’-lantern face into that side. 

Carefully stuff the peppers halfway with the bean-quinoa filling and top with shredded cheese. Push the cheese down to make sure the bottom of the pepper is completely full. Then finish filling the peppers and top with cheese, again pushing down to ensure your peppers are completely stuffed.  

Once the peppers are stuffed, place the tops back on. Put water into a casserole dish to the depth of ¼ inch. Place the peppers into the casserole dish, and cover with foil.  

Bake in the preheated oven for 40 minutes, or 10 minutes more for softer peppers. 

Maine-born Zac Young judges a Halloween Baking Championship on the Food Network each year. Photo courtesy of Zac Young

CHOCOLATE CAULDRONS 

An edible Halloween arts and crafts project from Zac Young and the perfect vessel for serving a spooky dessert. Young lovetapioca pudding for its texture, but the cauldrons can be filled with any sort of pudding or mousse. Young suggests making a few extra chocolate shells to allow for breakage. 

Makes eight (3-inch round) cauldrons 

10 ounces best quality dark chocolate, such as Valrhona, chopped
10 to 12 (five-inch) balloons, inflated to make 3-inch-wide balloons
20 small Tootsie Roll candies, unwrapped
4 cups tapioca pudding (store-bought, or home-made)
Green food coloring
Assorted green sprinkles and small candies
Line a baking sheet or large plate with parchment or wax paper.

Place the chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave in 30-second intervals until the chocolate is two-thirds melted. Remove from the microwave and stir until the chocolate is completely melted. 

Transfer the chocolate to a large glass or small bowl that is wide enough to fit the inflated balloons but narrow enough to allow the chocolate to cover the balloon halfway when dipped. 

Holding the knotted end, dip the balloons in the chocolate to cover halfway. Let the excess chocolate run off and transfer to the prepared sheet. 

Let the chocolatecovered balloons sit at room temperature until hardened, about an hour, or place the tray in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. 

Once the shell has hardened, use a sharp pair of scissors to cut a small hole by the knotted end of the balloon and slowly release the air. Gently remove the balloon from the chocolate shell. 

Warm each Tootsie Roll with your hands and then roll into 6 to 8inch coils and wrap them on the base and lip of the cauldron. 

Color the tapioca pudding with green food coloring and fill the cauldrons to the top. 

Decorate with assorted green candies to make bubbles. 

Refrigerate until ready to serve. 

Zac Young, Maine native and a judge on the Food Network’s Halloween Baking Championship, created this scary take on a childhood favorite – slime. Photo courtesy of Zac Young

SLIME MONSTERS

Young says he prefers lime Jell-O when making these kid-friendly Halloween monsters.

Makes about 8 “monsters”

1 (3-ounce) box Jell-O
1/2 cup boiling water
1/2 cup coconut milk
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
Assorted candy eyeballs and decorations. 

 

Empty the powdered Jell-O into a mediumsized bowl. 

Add the boiling water and stir with a rubber spatula to dissolve the Jell-O. Stir in the coconut milk. 

Let the mixture cool to room temperature. For faster results, refrigerate and stir every 10 minutes until just cool, but not set, about 30 minutes. 

Using a stand mixer or hand mixer, beat the cream to soft peaks. 

Stir half the whipped cream into the Jell-O mixture, then fold in the remainder. 

Refrigerate until just set, about 1 hour. 

Using a piping bag or Ziploc bag with the corner cut, pipe the mousse onto a serving plate, platter or cup in irregular “monster” shapes. 

Decorate with monster eyes, candy bones, sprinkles etc. Refrigerate until ready to serve. 

Mmm. Who doesn’t crave raspberry cream brain with “bloody” raspberry puree? Photo by Sarah Getchius

RASPBERRY CREAM “BLOODY” BRAIN 

Surprise the kids with this gory delicious dessert from Sarah Getchius, owner of Sugar Mama’s in Saco. Brain molds are ubiquitous this time of year; Getchius purchased hers at the local dollar store. Serve the brain on a bed of lettuce with a knife and fork for all the scary Halloween feels. 

Serves 6 

FOR THE BRAIN:
1 3/4 cups boiling water
packages (6 ounces each) raspberry-flavored Jell-O 
1 (5-ounce) can evaporated milk
1 3/4 cups cold water
Brain Jell-O mold 

FOR THE BLOODY RASPBERRY PUREE:
3/4 cup raspberries, fresh or frozen
1 tablespoon sugar  

Add the boiling water to the raspberry gelatin mixes; stir 2 minutes until completely dissolved. Stir in the evaporated milk and the cold water.

Pour the mixture into a Halloween brain mold sprayed with cooking spray. Refrigerate 2 hours or until the gelatin is set but not firm. Un-mold gelatin from brain mold onto plate just before serving. 

To make the bloody raspberry puree, macerate the raspberries by mashing the fruit and adding the sugar. Allow the fruit to rest and become juicy. Spoon the puree over the brain. 

HALLOWEEN SMOOTHIE BOWL 

Sarah Getchius says if you don’t want to use activated charcoal to make the night sky black, the blueberries should make it look dark enough. She suggests setting up a table with multiple toppings so everyone can create their own design. 

Makes 1 bowl 

2 bananas, frozen
1 cup blueberries, frozen
1/8 cup almond milk
2 tablespoons plant-based yogurt, such as almond yogurt
1 tablespoon activated charcoal 

TOPPINGS:
Ground flaxseed
Chia seeds
Granola 
Chocolate ghosts, bats and tombstones 

Blend the bananas, blueberries, almond milk and plant-based yogurt, and activated charcoal on high power in a blender or food processor until smooth. Pour the smoothie into your bowl of choice and add toppings. Eat immediately. 


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