The frantic pace of Halloween night can take the fun out of spooky festivities. Rushing home after work, making last-minute costume adjustments and getting excited trick-or-treaters to eat something substantial before eating their weight in candy is a monstrous challenge.
This year, with Halloween on a weekend, can be a game-changer. It's a chance to slow down and have a little (or a lot of) fun, whether you're celebrating with a houseful of kids or adults.
How much effort you put into the haunted holiday is up to you. If gore is your game, there are plenty of recipes for brains, blood, edible slime and assorted edible body parts.
But sometimes less is more. A quick trip to the grocery store can yield a cart full of orange ingredients for a make-your-own pumpkin party. Go a more nutritious route with oranges, dried apricots, carrots, cheese, bell peppers and crackers, or cater to the sweet tooth with candy corn, candied orange slices, peach rings or autumnal-wrapped candy. Set everything in individual bowls and let everyone fashion their favorites into pumpkins. Even the tiniest of hands can create a festive treat with little effort.
If you fall somewhere in between sweet and scary, or don't know where to start, we have just what the wizards ordered: recipes that work for mealtime, party time or snack time. Many of them can even be made in advance, leaving plenty of time for painting faces and last-minute costume changes.
Note: A stick-to-your ribs supper that resembles Shepherd's Pie, but where's the fun in that name? From "The Unofficial Hocus Pocus Cookbook," by Bridget Thoreson (Ulysses, 2021).
• 1 1/2 lb. russet potatoes, peeled and diced
• 3/4 c. chopped green bell pepper
Place the potatoes in a pot and fill with water until covered. Bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce heat to a simmer, cooking potatoes until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain the water when the potatoes are done.
Add the heavy cream, butter, 1 teaspoon of kosher salt and 1 clove of minced garlic. Mash the potatoes until they are smooth and the ingredients are well blended.
Place a cast-iron or heavy-bottomed skillet on the stove and heat it on high. Just before the skillet starts to smoke, add the olive oil, onion, celery and bell pepper, and sauté until vegetables are soft.
Add the ground beef and sauté until it is no longer pink. Remove from heat and add the remaining salt, crushed tomatoes, breadcrumbs, Worcestershire sauce and tomato paste. Mix well.
Spread the meat filling into a casserole dish or keep in the cast-iron skillet. Spread the mashed potatoes evenly over the meat filling. Place the casserole in the center of the oven and bake for 25 minutes. Garnish with parsley before serving.
Note: These spooky little crostini are topped with homemade black sesame spread, which is a fun alternative to a dark and spooky olive spread. From "Spooky Food: 80 Fun Halloween Recipes for Ghosts, Ghouls, Vampires, Jack-o-Lanterns, Witches, Zombies, and More," by Cayla Gallagher (Skyhorse, 2021).
• 7 tbsp. toasted black sesame seeds
• 2 oz. (1⁄4 ball) fresh mozzarella cheese
To prepare the sesame seed paste, place the sesame seeds in a food processor and pulse until they are finely ground and are secreting their oil. Then add the sesame oil, honey and salt, and mix. This will make enough for about 15 crostini.
Slice the baguette into long, oval slices, and toast. Then slice the mozzarella into oval slices.
Spread the sesame seed paste onto the toast, then place the mozzarella slices on top. Slice eye, face or mask markings out of the nori, and stick them directly onto the cheese. Serve.
Note: It's time to bob for apples ... apple heads! Start this recipe early in the day; it needs time in the slow cooker. From "Spooky Food" by Cayla Gallagher (Skyhorse, 2021).
• 9 apples, cut into quarters (peel, seeds and stems intact)
• 1 orange, cut into quarters (peel, seeds and stems intact)
To prepare the apple cider: Place the apples and orange into a slow cooker. Add the cinnamon sticks, nutmeg, cloves and allspice. Mix well and add the water, pouring until the slow cooker is almost full. Cook on high heat for 3 to 4 hours or low heat for 6 to 8 hours.
An hour before the cider is finished, mash the softened apples and orange slices with a potato masher. Continue cooking for one more hour.
Strain the cider into a clean pot. Add the brown sugar and mix well.
To prepare the shrunken heads: Preheat oven to 250 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Peel the apples and cut them in half through the stem. Remove the seeds and the core. Use a sharp paring knife to cut facial features into the rounded sides of the apples.
In a large bowl, combine the lemon juice and salt. Add the apples after they have been carved (this will prevent browning). Once all apples have been carved, place them on the prepared baking sheet and bake for 90 minutes, until the apples are dry and are beginning to brown around the edges.
Once the cider is ready, add the apples and serve.
Note: Bubble, bubble this one's trouble. There's no downplaying the power of this little potion. From "The Unofficial Hocus Pocus Cookbook," by Bridget Thoreson (Ulysses, 2021).
Fill a cocktail shaker with ice and pour in the triple sec, lemon juice, egg white and cherry liqueur. Shake vigorously so that it is well blended and foamy.
Strain into a cocktail class and top off with sparkling wine. Garnish with a cherry and serve.
Note: There are a few things every good spellbook needs — a medieval-looking font, iambic pentameter and at least one spell for turning a human into an animal. These spellbooks have none of that, but they will truly delight instead of positively terrify. And the brown butter aroma is sure to help this treat make itself known anywhere in your home. From "The Unofficial Hocus Pocus Cookbook," by Bridget Thoreson (Ulysses, 2021).
• 1 1/2 c. packed dark brown sugar
• 1 1/2 to 2 c. mix-ins such as chocolate chips or crushed pretzels, chopped, optional
Place the butter in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat. When the butter begins to foam, use a teaspoon and skim the foam off the top of the butter into a small bowl. (This will prevent the butter from burning.)
Continue to heat the butter without the foam until it becomes fragrant and golden brown, about 10 minutes. There will be brown bits at the bottom of the pan. Remove from the heat and cool to room temperature.
While the butter cools, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
In a large mixing bowl, beat together the cooled butter, brown sugar and granulated sugars on low speed until just incorporated.
Add the eggs and vanilla, and beat until light and fluffy (about 3 minutes). Add flour, baking powder and salt, and beat on medium speed until mixed. Mix in the chocolate chips with a spatula. Fold in mix-ins, if using.
Spoon the batter into a greased or lined 9- by 13-inch pan and spread evenly. Bake in the center of the oven until golden brown and shiny, about 22 to 25 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool, but leave the oven on.
Once the blondies are cool, cut them into approximately 16 pieces. Unwrap candy kisses and place 1 kiss, point down, into the top of each blondie.
Place a chocolate chip on top of the kiss in the middle. Put the blondies back in the oven for 2 to 4 minutes until the chocolate is slightly melted. Plate and serve or store in an airtight container for up to 4 days.
Note: Pumpkin and white chocolate are a fabulous duo and are taken even further with cream cheese and crushed graham crackers. The filling also works great as cream puff filling. This recipe must be prepared in advance. From "Spooky Food" by Cayla Gallagher (Skyhorse, 2021).
• 1 c. (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
• 1/3 c. roughly crushed graham crackers
• 1/2 c. white chocolate chips, melted
• 1 to 2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
• 2 tbsp. (1 oz.) cream cheese, room temperature
• 1⁄4 c. unsalted butter, room temperature
• 1 c. buttercream (see recipe below)
To prepare the dough: Mix the flour, pumpkin pie spice, salt and sugar in a food processor. Add butter and pulse until it turns into a crumbly texture. Drizzle 1/4 cup cold water over the mixture, and pulse until the dough sticks together when pinched, adding a bit more water as needed. Shape the dough into a ball and wrap in plastic wrap. Place in the refrigerator for 1 hour until firm.
To prepare the filling: Place all ingredients in a blender and pulse until smooth. Transfer to a piping bag and chill in the freezer for 15 minutes, or until stiffened slightly.
To assemble: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Roll out the pie dough onto a floured surface, to an 18- by 14-inch rectangle. Trim the edges with a sharp knife. Slice into 9 rectangles.
Pipe the filling onto half of each rectangle. Fold the rectangles in half, then seal all four sides with a fork. Trim the edges on one end to create gravestone shapes. Brush the surface with the beaten egg.
Bake for 20 minutes, until golden. Then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
To prepare the glaze: Combine the whipping cream, vanilla, powdered sugar and cinnamon in a bowl. Spoon on top of the pastries and allow it to set, about 1 hour.
To prepare buttercream: In a small bowl, beat butter with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy. Add vanilla and mix well. Add the powdered sugar, a little at a time, beating well after each addition.
Dye the buttercream gray with just a bit of black food coloring. Place it into a piping bag fitted with a small, round piping tip. Pipe gravestone details and names onto the pastries with the buttercream. Serve.
Nicole Ploumen Hvidsten is the Star Tribune's Taste editor and senior editor of Star Tribune Magazine. In past journalistic lives she was a reporter, copy editor and designer — sometimes all at once — and has yet to find a cookbook she doesn't like.
© 2022 StarTribune. All rights reserved.