It's generally accepted that Halloween is for kids and their parents. But can't older folks enjoy a spirited evening of treats or pranks?
Years ago, my husband and I celebrated Halloween with a party for our friends. Our friends would spend weeks thinking about and then making their costumes. It was the same routine for about 10 years: a prize for the most creative costume, a few games of tainted charades (sometimes we gave verbal assistance to a clue) and enough food to expand any elastic in our costumes.
Then we and our friends became grandparents. One year I had a Halloween party for our grandchildren and their friends and everyone was excited to come to grandma and pappy's house that day. They played games and showed off their costumes but the hit of the day was the homemade gross food. The kids loved the bloodshot eyeballs, crawler cake and other creepy stuff. I'll never forget that party and I hope they won't, either.
Last week, I was leafing through a copy of the new "Best of Halloween, Tricks & Treats" magazine. As I looked through it, I thought about the parties we used to have and what fun it was to laugh at each other's costumes, play games and just spend an evening with our friends. That's when I decided to have another adult Halloween party this past Saturday. I called my friends, assuring them that because of the short notice costumes were optional.
Then I planned my menu. Below you'll find everything I served at the party except for the main course. I got so involved in the fun foods such as the Spider Cake and the Cauliflower Brain Vegetable Plate that I was too exhausted to make the standing rib roast. So my husband substituted what he called Bloody Bones" -- by picking up barbecued spare ribs from a local restaurant.
For my costume I threw on a pair of my son's jeans, grabbed an old flannel shirt and wrapped a bandanna around my head. I had no idea what I was supposed to be, but at my age I certainly was not the winsome farmer's daughter.
My friends Janis and Janine stumped the early arrivals -- Janis was dressed in all white and Janine in all black. Both wore funny hats with dots on top. After Janis gave us a few hints (about 15 fake sneezes) we solved the mystery. They were salt and pepper shakers.
Joan was a pumpkin and her husband, George, trying to relive his Woodstock Days (yes, he was there), came as a hippy giving everyone a flower followed by a "peace" offering.
It was a great evening. We drank some wine, we talked, we laughed, we drank some spiked cider and we stuffed ourselves with food. I can't wait until next Halloween.
This lightened-up dish from a new book was a hit.
2 10-ounce cans condensed reduced-fat, reduced-sodium cream of chicken soup undiluted
6 ounces reduced-fat cheddar cheese, shredded (about 11⁄4 cups)
¾ cup reduced-fat sour cream
½ teaspoon salt
1 pound frozen Southern-style hash brown potatoes
5 cups fresh or frozen broccoli florets
1 cup chopped onion
1⁄2 cup panko bread crumbs
1⁄4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Combine chicken soup and next 3 ingredients (through salt) in a large bowl. Add hash browns, broccoli, and onion, stirring to coat.
Spoon hash brown mixture into a 13-by-9 -nch glass or ceramic baking dish lightly coated with cooking spray. Top with bread crumbs and parmesan cheese. Bake 50 minutes or until filling is bubbly and topping is browned. Serves 18 (¾ cup servings).
— “Cooking Light Lighten up, America! Favorite American Foods Made Guilt-Free” by Allison Fishman Task (Oxmoor House; Oct. 22, 2013; $29.95)
BUTTERNUT SQUASH SOUP
Sweet and satisfying.
2- to 3-pound butternut squash, peeled and seeded
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium onion, chopped
6 cups chicken stock
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Cut squash into 1 inch chunks. In a large pot melt butter. Add onion and cook until translucent, about 8 minutes. Add squash and stock. Bring to a simmer and cook until squash is tender, about 15 to 20 minutes.
Remove squash chunks with sloted spoon and place in a blender and puree. Return blended squash to pot. Stir and season with nutmeg, salt and pepper.
DESICCATED CRISPY KALE CHIPS
These chips, surprisingly good, are from the very funny new “The Snacking Dead: A Parody in a Cookbook” by D.B. Walker (for fans of the AMC series “The Walking Dead”).
1 large bunch of kale, torn into bite-size pieces, washed and thoroughly dried (keep a hand full to decorate the cauliflower brain vegetable dish)
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
Chili powder, for sprinkling
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Make sure the kale is very dry; it not, it won’t get crisp in the oven. In a large bowl, toss kale pieces with olive oil and kosher salt. You may need to do this in 2 batches to combine well. Massage the oil onto each kale piece until the oil is evenly distributed and the kale is shiny. Spread kale out on 2 jellyroll pans (you will need to do this in 2 batches, too). Bake for 12 to 16 minutes, checking after 12 minutes. If the leaves look crispy and crumble, the chips are ready, otherwise bake another 2 minutes and check again. Remove from the oven and allow to cool to room temperature.
Toss the kale with more salt and chili powder to taste.
Serves 6 to 8.
— “The Snacking Dead: A Parody in a Cookbook” by D.B. Walker (Clarkson Potter; Oct. 22, 2013; $19.99).
HARVEST PUMPKIN DIP
The partiers kept coming back for more of this dip. Instead of fruit I paired this dip with packaged cookies I found at Giant Eagle. They’re called Bud’s Best Cookie Bites. I chose the Orange Bites, Ginger Snaps and Pecan Supremes. These tasty little gems are only $1 per 3-ounce bag!
1 medium pumpkin
8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
15-ounce can solid-packed pumpkin
3 teaspoons pumpkin-pie spice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon ground ginger
Wipe away any dirt on the outside of the pumpkin. Slice off the stem end and remove the seeds and filling.
In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese and confectioners’ sugar. Gradually add canned pumpkin, spices and vanilla. Beat until smooth. Spoon the dip into the pumpkin. Serve with fruit or cookies.
Makes 31⁄3 cups.
I’ve made this dip a million times but can’t remember where I got the recipe. I added the grated cheddar cheese and chili powder to give it a little snap.
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoon flour
1 cup milk
7 slices American cheese
½ teaspoon salt
About 1⁄4 cup cheddar cheese, grated
Chili powder to taste
Melt butter in a medium size pot. Add the flour and whisk until the butter and flour are thick and free of lumps. Add milk and salt, whisk again. Add the cheese and stir until the cheese is melted and the dip is smooth.
Before serving sprinkle grated cheddar cheese and a sprinkling of chili powder over the dip.
Serve with tortilla chips.
Makes about 11⁄2 to 2 cups.
SCARY SPIDER CAKE
I found this recipe in the Better Homes and Gardens new “Best of Halloween Tricks and Treats.” It has pages of interesting ways to carve and decorate pumpkins plus clever Halloween party ideas for adults and children and a lot of creative recipes.
I chose this cake because it sounded easy to make and easy to decorate. I couldn’t find the 1-layer cake mix called for. So, here’s my version.
You will need a round glass 2-quart bowl.
1½ cups all-purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons canola oil
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup cool water
1 container chocolate frosting
4 black licorice sticks and 2 ball-shaped cherry lollipops
Preheat oven to 325 degrees
Lightly grease the entire bowl with shortening. Using parchment paper cut a circle to fit the bottom of the bowl, set aside. Sift the flour into a medium size bowl. In another bowl whisk the sugar, cocoa, baking soda and salt. Add to the flour and stir to combine. Add the oil, vinegar, vanilla and water and lightly mix until there are no lumps in the batter.
Pour the batter into the bowl and bake about 30 to 35 minutes or until a cake tasted inserted into the center of the cake come out clean and the cake feels springy when lightly touched.
Place the bowl on a cooling rack and cool about 5 minutes. Take a butter knife and run the knife around the edge of the bowl to loosen the cake. Let cool completely.
Place the cake on a large round platter. I used an 18- inch round aluminum platter.
Frost the cake. Gently press the back of a spoon into the frosting then quickly lift the spoon to make small spikes of frosting all over the cake.
Remove the lollipop sticks using a knife or very sharp scissors. To make the spiders eyes gently push the lollipops into the cake just below the top. With kitchen scissors or a knife cut the licorice sticks in half lengthwise making a total of 8 long thin strips.
Place 4 strips on each side of the spider.
— Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens “Best of Halloween Tricks and Treats” (July 2013, $16.99)
BREAD STICK SKELETON AND GNARLED FINGERS
The skeleton is made with a package of refrigerated breadstick dough. Form the dough into rolls with various shapes and sizes for each bone (legs, arms, ribs, etc.) Snip the ends of each piece of dough to make it look like a bone. Handle the dough lightly so it doesn’t stretch too much. I placed the baked “skeleton” on a 24-by-18-inch piece of cardboard that I covered with a piece of orange plastic tablecloth.
You can use the leftover dough to make the gnarled “fingers.” Instead of a skull place a bowl of marinara sauce at the top of the skeleton.
I got the idea for the skeleton and fingers from Better Homes and Gardens “Best of Halloween Tricks and Treats.” Now that’s what we call finger food.
1 package Pillsbury bread sticks (makes 12 breadsticks)
1 jar marinara sauce
Melted butter, about ¼ to ½ cup
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cover a jellyroll pan with parchment paper. Shape and place the “bones” on the pan and bake about 10 to 13 minutes or until they are lightly brown on the bottom. Remove the pan and place on cooling rack. When the bones are cool enough to handle place them on a large round or square platter, arranging them into a skeleton. Place the bowl of marinara sauce at the top of the skeleton.
To make the “fingers,” fold each remaining piece of dough in half. Roll each piece between your hands to make the dough look like fingers. Dab a little bit of corn syrup on 1 end of the finger then lightly press a sliced almond “nail” over the syrup. Brush each finger with melted butter and bake about 12 minutes. After the fingers cool place them near the marinara sauce.
— Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens new “Best of Halloween Tricks and Treats”
CAULIFLOWER BRAIN VEGETABLE PLATE
1 whole cauliflower, washed and dried
Vegetable dip (I used Hidden Valley Ranch mix)
About 2 kale leaves, with the stalks removed
Assorted raw cut-up vegetables such as celery, carrots and broccoli
Cut a thin slice off the top of the cauliflower to give it a flat surface. Turn it over and carefully carve out most of the core. Place the cauliflower (flattened side down) on a platter. Spoon the dip into a medium size bowl. Place the bowl into the cavity. Place kale leaves between the bowl and the cauliflower. Place the vegetables around the platters.
— Arlene Burnett
PLATTER OF EYEBALLS
This recipe took 5 minutes to throw together!
28-piece bag of Mini Babybel cheese rounds
1 can of black olives
Lettuce or kale or any kind of green, chopped
Place the lettuce or kale on a large platter. Place the cheese rounds over the greens. Cut olives in half and place a piece of olive in the middle of each cheese round.
— Arlene Burnett
Arlene Burnett: email@example.com