At first sight, Halloween may not seem like a night in which there is much time to sit down and enjoy a meal. For me, however, this misperception was broken years ago when my own children were little. Every year, a couple who lived nearby would set a small dinner table in the foyer of their house, next to the door. They would decorate it with their best china, miniature Jack-o-lanterns, and flickering candles. They wore costumes and seemed absolutely unabashed by the cold air that whiffed into their home every time a child opened their door to ask for their treat. Children were invited to step into the foyer, choose one carefully packaged medley of candies, and encouraged to deposit coins into tiny orange, fundraiser boxes.
Their yearly dinner celebration was fodder for conversation each year. It was an idyllic and calm scene among the effervescent energy of overly-excited children searching for a new sugar high. Their menu was always the same: an enormous tureen of goulash that sent streams of aromatic steam from within. As children paraded in and out of the foyer, the couple partook with them and continued to enjoy their meal. Come Halloween every year, I remember with fondness that lovely scene that never failed to take my breath away.
When you first think of Latin food you don’t think “Hungarian” and yet, you’ll find many descendants of this Eastern European country dispersed throughout the South American continent. Few recognize the influence that Hungarians had in some South American cuisines. Today you’ll find different versions of goulash in countries such as Ecuador, Brazil, Peru, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Chile, where Hungarians made contributions to the religion, architecture, and yes, to the culinary scene of each place they settled in.
Goulash, a soupy-stew made with beef and a generous amount of paprika, is perfect for the fall weather. Stews lend themselves for cooking inexpensive and otherwise tough cuts of meats. The idea is to let the meat simmer for a long time until its connective tissue breaks down, rendering the meat fork tender.
Traditionally, on the 29th day of every month, Argentineans gather to enjoy a meal comprised of the Italian dumplings known as gnocchi. Restaurants feature gnocchi on their menus and homemakers make them from scratch. The tradition began as a way for home cooks to stretch their income just a bit longer to carry them through the end of the month. The idea is to enjoy a satisfying meal that doesn’t break the bank. Traditionally, paychecks are usually due on the last day of the month and by then most families’ budgets are stretched to the limit. Gnocchi always save the day by providing a cooking trifecta: they are filling, comforting, and inexpensive to make.
Gnocchi are traditionally made with potatoes but I love to make mine with yuca, which renders them sweet and a bit lighter.
These little dumplings are very easy to make and they can be made entirely ahead of time, frozen until solid, and cooked at the last minute. I make a double batch, eat half on the 29th of October and leave the rest to enjoy on Halloween every year.
I find that goulash and gnocchi make a delightful combination of inexpensive but comforting dishes. The supple and reddish gravy of simmering goulash, rich in spices and aromatics, is the perfect sauce for the tender gnocchi. I simply place a bed of gnocchi in a bowl, top them with the steaming goulash and with a dollop of sour cream.
I particularly love that both recipes can be made ahead of time. The goulash, like all stews, tastes even better when reheated the next day and freezes beautifully too. You can make it a couple of weeks in advance, freeze it, and then reheat it so you can enjoy on a busy night such as Halloween, when you have to feed the family and run out the door.
This Halloween, whether you are getting ready to go out trick-or-treating, or whether you’ll stay home to answer the door like that couple used to do, celebrate with a delectable, economical, and elegant meal.
This satisfying stew is among the simplest to make. The paprika imparts color and deep flavor. Be careful to purchase sweet paprika and not its spicy version or the dish will be too fiery. Browning the meat is an important step; make sure to brown the cubed meat by batches so that each piece can get an even color and develop a nice crust. If you crowd too many pieces together, they will steam instead. Make this goulash up to two days ahead or freeze it for up to 3 months.
2½ pounds London broil or rump roast, cut into bite-sized cubes
1½ T vegetable oil
2 ½ c chopped onion
1½ T paprika
1 large garlic clove, chopped
2 large red bell peppers, cored, seeded and cut into bite sized pieces
2½ teaspoons salt, or to taste
½ teaspoon black pepper, or to taste
1 bay leaf
- Heat half of the oil in a large Dutch oven set over medium-high heat. Brown the beef in three batches, adding more oil, as needed.
- Cook for 4-5 minutes or until beef is browned on all sides and transfer all of the browned beef to a separate bowl. In the same pot, add the onion, and cook until softened, about 2-3 minutes (it will turn a brown color as it picks up all of the brown bits at the bottom of the pan).
- Add the paprika, garlic, salt, and pepper, and cook for 30 seconds or until fragrant. Return the beef to the pot (and all of the collected juices in the bottom of the bowl), and stir well.
- Add enough water to cover (about 3 cups). Add the bay leaf and bring the liquid to a boil; cover, lower the heat and simmer for 1½ -2 hours or until the beef is fork tender. Serve hot, with dollops of sour cream.
Yucca and Cheese Gnocchi
These small dumplings are simple to make. The only equipment you’ll need is a potato masher, a knife, and a fork. I make gnocchi directly on my kitchen counter. You can simply cut them into little pieces but I prefer to give them small ridges with the tines of a fork—these help the sauce cling to the gnocchi. Make double or triple batches of this recipe, freeze them on cookie sheets by placing them all in one layer. Once solid, transfer the frozen gnocchi into bags and keep them in your freezer for up to six months. When ready to eat, simply toss them into boiling water; once the rise to the surface, cook them for five minutes and serve them with your favorite sauce.
1 ½ lbs cooked yucca, peeled and deveined
1½ c grated parmesan cheese, divided
½ t salt
1 ½ c all-purpose flour
½ c butter
- Lightly flour 2 baking sheets.
- Place cooked yucca in a large bowl, and mash it well using a potato masher or a food mill, until smooth. In a medium bowl, combine yucca, ½ cup of parmesan cheese (reserve the rest), eggs, and salt; mix to combine well.
- On a clean surface, dump the flour; make a large well in the middle of the flour. Dump the yucca mixture in the well. Slowly begin incorporating the flour to the yucca mixture, kneading as you add more, until soft dough is formed. Knead dough for 2-3 minutes, dusting it with flour as you continue to knead; knead until dough is smooth. The dough is ready when it springs back when pressed down with your finger. Cover dough with a damp towel and let it rest for 20 minutes.
- Slice gnocchi dough into 6-8 large pieces (keep them covered as you work). Roll each piece into a rope (1-inch thick). Cut off ½ -inch pieces. Roll each piece on the tines of a fork to form ridges (or use a gnocchi board).
- Place finished gnocchi on the prepared baking sheets; set aside.
- Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil; place gnocchi in the boiling water and cook until they float to the top; continue cooking for 2-3 minutes longer. Remove gnocchi with a slotted spoon and toss with the butter. Sprinkle with cheese and serve immediately.
Note: Gnocchi may be formed and frozen in one layer; once frozen, they can be transferred to containers and will keep in the freezer for up to 3 months. To cook, simply boil 4 minutes longer than what the recipe states above. To cook yuca, peel it and cut it into chunks; boil it in plenty of salted water until it is fork tender. Slice chunks in half and remove the tough, inner vein.
Pumpkin and Chocolate Chip Muffins
Pumpkin or calabaza is used often to make cakes but I find these muffins to be the ideal dessert on Halloween because they’re portable and they are small. Best of all, these muffins take a very short time to prepare and taste like they took a lot of effort.
Makes 10 muffins
1 ½ c all-purpose flour
1 t baking powder
1 t baking soda
½ t sea salt
½ t cinnamon
½ t freshly ground nutmeg
¼ t allspice
1 large egg
1 c cooked pumpkin puree
¼ c milk
¼ c granulated white sugar
2 T packed brown sugar
⅓ c canola oil
½ c chocolate chips
2 T raw pumpkin seeds
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
- Line 10 muffin cups with paper liners.
- In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice.
- In another bowl, whisk together egg, pumpkin puree, milk, white sugar, brown sugar, and oil, until smooth. Pour wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and, using a spatula, stir until smooth. Stir in chocolate chips.
- Divide batter into prepared muffin cups; top with pumpkin seeds, and bake for 20-25 minutes or until toothpick inserted in the center of muffins comes out clean.
- Remove from the oven and cool for 5 minutes before removing muffins from tins.