Halloween isn’t just about gorging yourself on store-bought candy — it’s about stuffing yourself with home-cooked treats as well, so we asked two of Chicago’s most pumpkin-savvy chefs to share their preparations. When it comes to dealing with the inside gunk left over from carving our jack-o-lanterns, we’re turning to Carnivale chef Mark Mendez’s spicy roasted pumpkin seeds, which are versatile enough to throw on top of salads or soups or just snack on by themselves. And Crofton on Wells’s Suzy Crofton took the inspiration for her smoky caramel corn from the garnish on one of her restaurant’s desserts, and expanded it into an addictive Halloween treat.
Suzy Crofton’s Smoky Caramel Corn
1 cup popcorn kernels, popped (8 quarts)
1/2 lb butter
2 cups brown sugar
1/4 cup corn syrup
1/4 cup water
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp liquid smoke
4 cups roasted peanuts
Preheat oven to 250. Spread the popcorn on 2 sheet trays with parchment and toast for about 15 minutes to crisp. Transfer to a bowl and add nuts and mix well.
Melt the butter over low heat. Mix in the sugar, syrup, water and salt and bring to a boil. Boil about 5 to 8 minutes until caramel reaches hard-ball stage (260 degrees on a candy thermometer)
Remove from heat and stir in the baking soda and liquid smoke.
Immediately pour the caramel over popcorn and stir gently to coat all the kernels. Place in a deep hotel pan and put in 250 oven and stir occasionally until fully coated.
Mark Mendez’s Spicy Pumpkin Seeds
3 cups pumpkin seeds
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ancho chile powder
½ tsp cayenne (or less)
½ tsp ground cinnamon
1 tbls granulated sugar
1 tbls canola oil
Salt to taste
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Toss seeds with oil and make sure they are coated then ad spices and mix well. Lay on a sheet tray lined with aluminum foil or parchment paper.
Bake for 15-20 minutes keeping an eye on the seeds to make sure they don’t burn.
When the seeds become crunchy to the touch take them out and allow to cool to room temperature before eating.