Boo-coup ways to dress up Halloween fare

By Robin Watson

When John Vermiglio was a kid, Halloween wasn’t his favorite holiday. Dressing up in costumes just wasn’t for him.

But now, all grown up and executive chef/owner of Grey Ghost in Detroit, Vermiglio delights in dressing up food and staging annual Halloween events. And with a little planning, so can you.

Executive chef John Vermiglio’s Pumpkin Tiramisu topped with a whipped-cream mummy and chocolate-covered puffed-rice morsels instead of cocoa, which is used as part of a graveyard scene.

Tricks for making tasty treats

Cast a spell 

Clever recipe names stick in the mind, whet the appetite and set the mood. Examples: the Vampire Slayer and Rosemary’s Baby pizzas at Major Tomato in Allen Park — homages to dark, demonic elements.

Gear up

Create Halloween baked goods with seasonal pans, molds and cookie cutters. To produce witch hair, tangled intestines and spider webs, Detroit-based food stylist Madalyn Knebel recommends using spiralizers and julienne peelers.

With it's disembodied brain-like appearance, Vermont Creamery's Coupole is an ideal addition to a Halloween cheese tray.

Say cheese

“Use fresh cheeses as a blank canvas,” says Zach Berg, co-owner/head cheesemonger at Mongers’ Provisions in Detroit and Ferndale. Roll half a goat-cheese log in poppy or black sesame seeds, then roll the other half in orange-hued seasoning, e.g., paprika, orange zest or saffron. Serve brain-shaped Vermont Creamery’s Coupole. Pair orange-rind (e.g., Tiger Lily) and black-rind (e.g., Black Betty) cheeses.

Keep it simple

Don’t overdo it and become a zombie. “Sometimes people get carried away because of Pinterest and Facebook,” Vermiglio says. “Find balance in fun ways to present food.”

  • Assemble dishes using store-bought items — ladyfingers, meatloaf, burger patties, pans of mac ’n’ cheese, guacamole, candy mummies, gummy worms, chocolate bats, etc.
  • Carve meatloaf slices and grilled cheese into tombstone slabs with “RIP” written in ketchup. Serve with a side of blood (tomato) soup.
  • For an interactive treat, Knebel suggests setting up a trail-mix station with spooky labels — “witch warts” (raisins), “bat poop” (chocolate chips), “spider legs” and “skeleton bones” (chocolate- and white-chocolate-dipped pretzel sticks) and “vampire fangs” (spiced almonds).
  • Mummify hot dogs in strips of crescent-roll dough.

Go for the gore

Scare up ghoulish presentations.

  • Place guacamole in a small hollowed-out, carved pumpkin, Vermiglio suggests, with “vomit” (guac) oozing from the mouth.
  • Serve burgers pierced with a steak knife, slasher-style. Drizzle with “blood” (ketchup).
  • Transmogrify dough. Vermiglio says his green pistachio “witch-finger cookies” with an etched-in knuckle and Marcona-almond fingernail “are super awesome and kinda creepy.”
With its Halloween-inspired name, blood-like drizzles of balsamic glaze, and “enough garlic to keep any vampire away,” Major Tomato’s   
Vampire Slayer Pizza is scary good.

Create a singular sensation

Make one gorgeous dish a focal point. Examples: Vermiglio’s Pumpkin Tiramisu (see recipe). Or a vividly orange butternut-squash soup topped with a piped-on white spider-web pattern dotted with “flies” (raisins), served with a plastic spider ring affixed to the bowls.

Give food its props 

Spooked by the prospect of decorating food? Stage it, Knebel advises, on interesting dishes, serving pieces and cool glassware. Using test tubes and beakers for beverages and pourable snacks, for example, screams “mad scientist.”

The bottom line? Monster-mashup memories last longer than any loot the kiddos lug home.

"Be creative,” Vermiglio says, “but don’t forget about taste.”

Do that and the walking fed will thank you.

Not just for kids, Scream Soda can also morph into a adult beverage. Create a foggy graveyard effect by resting glasses in a tub of dry ice to which a small amount of warm water has been added. (Be sure to follow all standard dry-ice safety precautions.)

Scream Soda


  • Faygo Creme Soda
  • Cream or milk, to taste
  • Ice cubes
  • Kahlua
  • Vodka


Using a black crayon or grease pencil, draw eyes and a mouth (a la Edvard Munch’s “The Scream”) on the outside of clear drinking glasses. Add ice, soda, a splash of cream or milk and/or Kahlua and vodka. Blend well.

Pumpkin Tiramisu



  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon salt


  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  • Sift the flour and cornstarch together twice.
  • Place the eggs, sugar and salt in a metal bowl. Whisk together continuously over a pot of boiling water until sugar and salt dissolve. Pour into a stand-mixer bowl and whisk on medium-high until doubled in volume and the color changes to a light lemon.
  • Fold in the dry ingredients in three stages.
  • Pour onto a parchment-lined sheet pan and level batter with an offset spatula.
  • Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, or until firm and golden-brown.
  • Cut out desired shapes and allow to dry completely at room temperature for 3 to 4 days, or process in a dehydrator overnight.

Tiramisu Soaking Liquid


  • 2 cups strong coffee
  • 2 cups Marsala
  • 1½ tablesoons sugar
  • 1½ tablesoons vanilla extract


  • Heat all ingredients until sugar dissolves. Cool to room temperature.

Pumpkin Filling


  • 1 15-ounce can pumpkin puree
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon cloves
  • 2½ teaspoons bourbon


  • Mix everything together and store in an airtight container.

Pumpkin-Mascarpone Mousse:


  • 2½ cups Mascarpone
  • 1½ cups Pumpkin Filling
  • 2 sheets ((7 grams) gelatin
  • 1¼ cups heavy cream
  • ¾ cup egg whites
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • ½ cup egg yolks
  • ½ cup sugar


  • Cream together the Mascarpone and pumpkin filling until completely smooth. Set aside.
  • Place gelatin in a bowl of ice water to bloom.
  • In a stand mixer bowl, whisk the heavy cream until it forms medium peaks. Pour into a another bowl and refrigerate.
  • Place the egg whites and ¾ cup sugar in a metal bowl and whisk continuously over a pot of boiling water until the sugar dissolves. Pour into a stand-mixer bowl and whisk until stiff peaks form. Pour this meringue a bowl and set aside.
  • Squish out the bloomed gelatin sheets and melt in a metal bowl over a pot of boiling water. Set aside.
  • Place the egg yolks and ½ cup sugar in a metal bowl. Whisk continuously over a pot of boiling water until sugar dissolves. Pour into a stand-mixer bowl and whisk until mixture has doubled in volume and has a pale lemon color. While this is mixing, place the bowl of bloomed gelatin back on the hot water pot to make sure it’s melted before pouring it into the fully whipped yolk mixture, then mix together.
  • Working quickly, fold the yolk/gelatin mixture into the pumpkin- mascarpone mixture. Next, fold in the meringue, then the whipped heavy cream. Place in piping bags.


  • Cocoa Powder, to taste

To Assemble:

  1. Dunk the ladyfingers in Tiramisu Soak for 1 to 2 seconds, then place in desired serving vessel.
  2. Pipe a half-inch layer of Pumpkin-Mascarpone Mousse on top.
  3. Repeat steps 1 and 2.