One Halloween when my husband was a kid, he was picked by his school to be in one of those murder mysteries that were the absolute Newest Craze – the kind that you can still buy now in a box with a picture of roses and a dagger on the front. The local Rotary Club was having an all-proceeds-to-charity party, and he was to be part of the entertainment.
“It was themed around classic Halloween characters – Dracula, Frankenstein, a Ghost. We had to wear costumes, and we were given the outline of a story, we acted out someone being murdered and the Rotarians had to guess who dun it.”
“So it was an undead murder mystery?” I checked.
“Yes,” said Jon, as though this did not strike him as odd.
“Did you rehearse for long?”
“Actually, it was a more turn up on the night and do it sort of thing,” he admitted.
Imagine for one moment, the horror of being stuck at a table in a mid-range suburban Scottish hotel in the mid 1990s, chowing down on your choice of starter: soup and bread roll or a very tiny glass of orange juice perhaps. You’re wearing some kind of token Halloween costume – a plastic witches hat, some dingly bopper bats – all forced merriment and organized fun. And then a bunch of history geek teenagers rock up to act out an improvisational murder, which they expect you to Pay Attention to, and Answer Questions on later.
It’s pretty much all my least favorite things wrapped up in one meal.
“We were given dinner too,” said Jon, “and we were 14, 15 so obviously someone stole one of the bottles of wine, and I think we were all probably a little bit drunk. I don’t remember a lot about it, though I do know it started at 6.30 and went on past midnight because there were a lot of plot twists.”
Rotarians are good people who raise money for charity and get involved in local community causes. They do not now, and did not then, deserve anything like this. They began to lean heavily into the booze, as frankly, who wouldn’t.
“By the end of the night, I don’t think they were really making serious guesses,” said Jon, still a little peeved. “They were just yelling out “Was it the Bishop in the closet with the butler and the whip?” stuff like that.”
For the Roasted Pumpkin
I recently made these roasted pumpkins as a vessel for beef bourguignon. They’re lovely with risotto, but you could serve all kinds of things inside them – soup, chicken stew, Thai green curry – they look ridiculously festive.2 small sugar pumpkins 1 tbsp olive oil Salt and pepper
- Preheat the oven to 350f
- Cut the top off the pumpkins, keeping the stalk intact
- Scoop out the seeds – a grapefruit spoon is great for this but any spoon will do.
- Wipe the inside of the pumpkins and the inside of the lid with olive oil and season well
- Put the pumpkins and tops on the baking sheets and roast for 25 mins
- Remove the tops, which should now be tender, and let the pumpkins bake for another 25 mins or so, until soft.
- Keep warm in the oven until you’re ready to spoon in the risotto and put on the lids
Butternut Squash and Goat Cheese Risotto (serves 2)1 cup of arborio rice 3 cups of hot stock (approximately – I usually find it takes more) 1 cup of white wine or Vermouth 1 medium onion ½ cup of parmesan cheese (grated) ½ butternut squash 3 tbsp soft goat cheese 2 ½ tbsp butter 1 tbsp olive oil Salt and pepper
- Peel the squash and cut into a small dice
- Season with salt and pepper, toss with a little oil, then put on a baking tray into an oven heated to about 400 for 20 minutes, until it is roasted on the outside and cooked within (this conveniently coincides with the cooking of the risotto – you can do this in advance, and warm the squash through before stirring into the risotto when needed)
- Dice the onion finely and fry in 1tbsp of olive oil and ½ tbsp of butter on a low heat until it has softened. Season it with salt and pepper – the salt will make it release water too, so it will be less likely to burn
- Pour / re-hydrate the stock into a pan and keep warm
- Once the onion is cooked, pour in the cup of rice and toss in the oil to coat.
- Add the glass of wine/Vermouth and let bubble for a moment so that the alcohol burns off.
- Add the stock one ladle-ful at a time, stirring constantly. Keep the heat fairly gentle, you want the stock to seep into the rice, rather than boil away into thin air
- Keep stirring, for about 20 minutes. You may not need all the stock, or, conversely, you may need to keep going with water until the rice is cooked – the texture should be fairly liquid – somewhere between a fork and a spoon.
- Add the butternut squash and stir in the parmesan cheese and the butter
- Take off the heat, crumble over the goat cheese, cover and let rest for 2 minutes
- Serve with a grinding of black pepper and more parmesan cheese.