Two-Headed Creature

All sorts of wonders skulk this time of year, and if you’re not careful one of them will claim you. Well, this Halloween’s soul must be particularly needy, as it’s grasped at not one recipe, but at two. Both courtesy of The Nightmare Before Dinner, chef Zach Neil’s collection of deliciously spooky dishes from his Beetle House restaurants, where the menu draws inspiration from Tim Burton’s movies and from other things darting through late October’s shadows.

As it happens, two dishes outran the cut, Sriracha-Roasted Butternut Squash Death Soup, and Evil Dead Shrimp. Both make the imagination tingle, thus both go into your treat bag.

Before those details, thanks to Jennifer, a long-time reader whose creativity and whose delightfully moody aesthetic opened the cookbook and recommended its recipes. Speaking of wonders, they materialize in every shifting corner of her blog. Prepare to be mesmerized. Oh, and here’s a link to the entry that started it all, Jenn’s own stab at the Beetle House vision.

Now that Jenn’s whetted your appetite, have some soup. Neil’s squash soup really hits the spot as the chill closes in. The butternut glows even warmer as spirited spices give it a faintly sweet kick. Among the magic powders is freshly-ground nutmeg:

The soup is hearty, silky, naturally creamy and it has the merest whisper of spirited spiciness. Just a little sriracha boosts not only the color but also the warmth. A thoughtful addition for autumn. Finally, chopped nuts give the soup textural complexity. Walnuts were selected in honor of California, Jenn’s home state, as well as location of one of the Beetle House restaurants. Et voila:

After you’ve made the soup disappear, will the same incantation work for the main dish? Odds are, it will, as the concoction honeys plump shrimp, gives it a nice citrus tang and sends it off with a hot combination of garlic and cayenne. All served over Cajun-spiked rice and set among a bed of corn and fire-toasted bell pepper. A menagerie of tastes to delight the tongue.

While the cold may force many to hibernate, the palate will awaken and stir. A two-headed creature may stalk (stock?) the tables, but 10,000 eager taste buds are about to give chase. Jenn summoned them.


Sriracha-Roasted Butternut Squash Death Soup

  • 3 cups diced butternut squash (*1)
  • 1 cup diced red onion (*2)
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 cup plain almond milk (*3)
  • 1/2 cup vanilla soy milk (*3)
  • 1/2 teaspoon sriracha, plus more for serving
  • 1/4 cup chopped nuts, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 400°.  Place the squash and onion in a roasting pan.  Add the olive oil and stir to coat the vegetables, then sprinkle the salt and spices over the top.  Cover with foil and roast for 45 minutes.

Transfer the roasted squash mixture to a food processor, being sure to include all the drippings, oil and burnt ends from the pan. Add the almond milk, soy milk and the sriracha and process until smooth and creamy, about 3 minutes. (*4)

Transfer the mixture to a large saucepan and heat on medium until it reaches a slow, rolling boil. Lower the heat for 3 to 5 minutes, until it’s at your desired temperature.

Divide among bowls. Drizzle with a few drops of sriracha and sprinkle with chopped nuts.


1 – Though a butternut is great, a kabocha squash or an acorn squash would work well too.

2 – Believe it or not, no shallot substitution this time, as the red onion makes up in color what it lacks in refinement. Next time, shallots, next time.

3 – The inclusion of almond and soy milks makes this soup completely vegetarian. Definitely healthier this way, and going veg is a priority for more than one of you, but truth be told, I probably will use a cup-and-a-half of 2% the next time.

4 – I forewent the sriracha in the soup the first time around because I thought the vortex-y swirl atop was cool-looking, particularly for a Halloween soup. Definitely more than just a “few drops” of sriracha in the vortex.

Of course, if you’re more mature than is a five-year-old, you’ll want to add a little sriracha to the soup while it’s still in the processor, before that final swirl, and then save the few extra drops for the top later on, as directed.


Evil Dead Shrimp

For the shrimp:

  • 1/2 stick salted butter
  • 1 heaping teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1/4 cup chopped red onion (*5)
  • 1/4 cup whole-kernel corn
  • 1/4 cup diced roasted red peppers (*6)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup freshly-squeezed lime juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 lobster or chicken stock (*7)
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 6 to 8 large shrimp, peeled and deveined

For the rice:

  • 1-and-1/2 cups water
  • 1/2 cup white rice
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon Cajun seasoning
  • salt, to taste

lime slices, to garnish (*8)

Start with the shrimp. Place a medium frying pan over a medium flame and melt the butter. Add the garlic, onion, corn red peppers and salt and sauté until the vegetables are cooked halfway, about 5 to 7 minutes.

Add the lime juice, cayenne pepper, stock, honey and shrimp to the pan. Reduce flame to medium-low and cook until the shrimp is cooked through and the sauce has thickened to a medium consistency, about 5 minutes. Turn off flame and let frying pan rest.

Meanwhile, add the water and the rice to a medium-size pot and bring the contents to a boil, then reduce flame to low and cover. Allow to continue thus for 20 minutes, until most of the water has been absorbed. Turn off the flame and allow to sit, covered, for 5 more minutes. Stir in the olive oil and the Cajun seasoning until combined.

Plate the rice and pour the shrimp and sauce over the rice. Garnish with lines and serve.


5 – As with the soup, this is a rare case in which shallots don’t get the nod. What we’re after here is color, and red onions have an abundance.

6 – To roast the pepper, I held it over a medium flame, rotating it occasionally to keep the char from becoming too pronounced, and using the stem as a handle. When it was lightly and intermittently blackened, I removed the pepper from the flame and ran it under cold running water for a couple seconds to remove most (but not all!) of the blackened bits.

7 – As thawing a quart of chicken stock for just a quarter-cup of liquid is wasteful, and I’m plum-out of lobster stock, 1/4 cup of clam juice worked beautifully. We only are talking about a quarter-cup, after all.

8 – Which I completely forgot. Thus, this week’s lead picture is of ungarnished shrimp.


24 thoughts on “Two-Headed Creature

  1. I don’t believe it. No shallots? None at all? It truly is almost Halloween…

    I like shrimp, but that soup sounds absolutely fantastic. Squash and sriracha? Oh, I could definitely brave a little bit of spice for that combination…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Rachel!

      You noticed the missing shallots? What’s the deal, Felix? Maybe I was abducted by the mysterious, dreaded onion cult.

      One thing that remains unchanged, though, is my own aversion to anything overly spicy. As it was, though, the recipe probably could’ve used a bit more sriracha. What spice there was, contributed flavor, not heat. Plus, a generous inventory of sweet, warming spices (such as cinnamon and nutmeg) balancing the heat.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. No! The only tears come from realizing onions were denied their glory. Now, with the zeal of a convert, I set off on a crusade against shallots…

        Wait…no I don’t! Those onion vapors must’ve overcome me.

        I’ll teach you to monkey with my allegiances, Allium People!

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Definitely reminiscent of the Halloween season. I love the name of the cookbook, The Nightmare Before Dinner. So clever I wish would have thought of it myself! A unique choice to pay homage to Tim Burton via food.

    Lovely photos, too. All is well, aside from those shrimpies. Can’t do those!! Not even on Halloween!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Glad it stirred your imagination, JoAnn!

      It was a fun meal to dream, and then to realize. Just the right amount of chill to evoke the mysterious, yet warm enough to be comforting. A mixture that defines Halloween for many.

      Too bad you’re taking a pass on the shrimp, though I appreciate you sticking with the entry nonetheless.

      Well, for a far happier culinary experience, stay tuned through next year or so at least, when a coconut cake looks particularly promising!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Good point, Kate.

        Being the optimist I am, I misjudged the virus, and though it’d go on its way sooner. Oh, I still believe we’ll get over the pandemic eventually, but it has much careening to do before then.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. This came out marvelous! And I applaud you on creating this recipe from the book. This one is too advanced for me, but looks too yummy to not try my hand at.
    Thank you for the mention. Are you on Instagram by chance? I’d love to share your post there and tag you. If you’re not, no worries, I can still share it. Happy Halloween my friend!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Much appreciated, Jenn! The recipes materialized only after you cast the initial spell. That is, after you summoned the concept on your own blog.

      Before your introduction I never had heard of the cookbook before. Now that it’s taken on form, though, we haven’t heard the last of Mr. Neil. Seems to me, I had a devil of a time (as it were) selecting just two recipes, and other Beetle House visions may haunt future Halloweens.

      No, unfortunately, I’m not on Instagram. Not due to any active aversion, but because it really hasn’t been necessary until recently. However, as readers have multiplied far beyond their initial scope, some form of enhanced communication may be due. Something to ponder…

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Much gratitude, Tamara!

      The squash soup is, as advertised in the cookbook, perfect for fall. The next time, though, I’m going to use regular milk, as opposed to almond milk and soy milk. Much less trouble and, more important, better.

      What do you think, Tamara?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ah, I see. Well, in that case, Tamara, the “alternate” milks would permit you to enjoy the soup.

        If ever I cook for you, I’ll stick with the original recipe, then. Until that time, though, I just might try the regular milk version myself.

        Liked by 1 person

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