I’ll be the first to admit that cooking is not my forte and I don’t do it often, but while brainstorming blog post ideas, I remembered I have a copy of The Nightmare Before Dinner: Recipes to Die For. It’s the official cookbook of Zach Neil’s Tim Burton and Halloween-inspired Beetle House! The book features dishes and cocktails straight from the restaurant’s menu so that anyone can introduce a bit of spooky spirit into their kitchen. I figured if I’m going to whip up something, it might as well be food that feeds my dark soul. It was also a great way for me to recreate the macabre atmosphere at home since the establishment is closed due to the Coronavirus pandemic. For the main entree, I tried my hand at the Alice in Wonderland themed Cheshire Mac and Cheese. And, because there’s nothing like a good apéritif to accompany a meal, I crafted The Beetle’s Juice cocktail.
Now, I must mention that since I’m not a food blogger, this post isn’t presented in the traditional format of a culinary blog post. I am going to include some details of the process, but this is more of a casual retelling of my macabre cooking experience. Enjoy!
Whip That Sauce Into Submission!
I’m not exactly in my comfort zone when I cook and prepping stresses me out. I have to read a recipe a few times before I start doing anything. Luckily, directions throughout the cookbook are clear and easy to follow, which is a major advantage for a novice like me. There are no confusing culinary terms scaring me off.
First, I had to make the Cheshire Sauce, which, in my opinion, is the heart of the dish because it coats the pasta. It’s a creamy blend of heavy whipping cream, seasonings, plus Monterey Jack, cheddar and American cheeses. The recipe called for white American cheese, but I used yellow.
At a point, I had to whisk consistently for about 10 minutes, so my upper arms got a good workout. I was relieved at how easy it was to get the consistency right. Normally I’d prefer to throw a pre-packaged sauce over macaroni shells, but after tasting the mixture, I want to pour it over everything. Neil does suggest that the sauce can be served as a queso dip as well.
The Star of the Show
Next was crafting the main dish. Since the Cheshire Sauce turned out better than expected, I was more confident going into the next stage.
Have you ever put tomatoes in your macaroni and cheese? Well, after trying them in this version, they’ll become a staple. Among the “deadly ingredients” (as they’re called in the book) are canned stewed tomatoes, honey, breadcrumbs and, of course, the pasta. The book lists medium-shell pasta, but I went with elbow macaroni because that’s all I could find at the store.
In a nutshell, I crushed the tomatoes and toasted the breadcrumbs separately. Once my pasta was cooked and drained, I mixed it with the velvety Cheshire Sauce. I transferred the mac and cheese to an oven-safe baking dish and topped it with breadcrumbs. Then, I placed it in the oven for no more than four minutes. The point of this step is just to brown the topping, so I kept a close eye on it. Once the entrée was out of the oven, I scooped the tomato blend over it. Words cannot describe the aromas wafting in the air. Although not the exact dish from Beetle House, it smelled pretty close.
Brewing My Poison of Choice
I have to admit that the entire time I was cooking, I was really looking forward to the cocktail. The mixologists at Beetle House are imaginative with the libations and many are named after Tim Burton characters or films. Among the options in the cookbook are This Is Halloween, Edward’s Lemonade and the Big Fish Bowl. As I previously mentioned, I chose The Beetle’s Juice.
This adult beverage features silver tequila, which I normally don’t drink. I opted for Jose Cuervo Silver. Blackberries, lime, angostura bitters, simple syrup, cranberry juice, ice and blackberry schnapps are needed. I couldn’t find blackberry schnapps, so I substituted it with Chambord since it has a similar flavor. As is done with many apéritifs, the ingredients got shaken together then poured into glasses. I decided to serve this in a martini glass as opposed to the highball glass the recipe calls for. Maybe it’s my penchant for dry martinis that I opted for that particular drinkware.
My bartending skills are practically non-existent, but the cocktail turned out delightful! It was refreshing, balanced and smooth. None of the ingredients overpowered each other. I enjoyed the taste so much that I had three servings. Don’t worry. I was still standing by the end. If you don’t imbibe in alcohol, there is a virgin version.
A Nightmare Come True
When it was time to dig in, I was excited and nervous. My goal was to at least produce an edible meal and thankfully I succeeded. Even my husband, who is an excellent cook, enthusiastically complimented my efforts. The Cheshire Mac and Cheese is a perfect comfort food dish when you’re in the mood for something warm and decadent. I’ve had this entrée at the Beetle House restaurant and loved it, so I was pleased to replicate it.
I feel my first attempt at tackling the creations in this book went well and I plan to experiment with other dishes and beverages. Health-conscious eaters will be happy to know that several of the recipes offer vegan alternatives for guilt-free indulgence. Plus, the final chapter of the cookbook gives fun, spooky-themed party ideas to take your dinner to the next level.
Whether you’re a foodie, Halloween lover or Tim Burton fan, you’ll find plenty to appreciate within the pages of the Beetle House cookbook. To snag a copy of Zach Neil’s The Nightmare Before Dinner, visit Beetle House LA.