Monster Bash: How to Throw a Great Halloween Party
Mummies in a Blanket, Anyone?
Throwing a Halloween party doesn’t have to mean experimenting in the kitchen, says caterer Susan Gage. Just give your standby party recipes some spooky new names. At the many Halloween parties her team caters, you’ll see redubbed favorites such as “mummies in a blanket” and “haunted-ham boo-gers” made with cheddar and brioche. Try serving grilled “creepy cheese sandwiches,” jack-cheese sandwiches cut into Halloween shapes with cookie cutters. Or brew up some pumpkin-apple soup and serve it mad-scientist style—in shot glasses or test tubes—topped with crème fraîche.
For her own annual Halloween party, Ridgewells catering CEO Susan Lacz serves easy, make-ahead dishes that are warm and comforting after a night of trick-or-treating and casual enough to be eaten while mingling. “I make a pot of soup during the day,” she said. “Then I can just serve it with a salad, garlic bread, and baguettes.” She makes special dishes that work for kids, too—such as macaroni and cheese with truffle salt or a plate of carrots and celery to balance out the candy binges.
If you’re aiming for a more grown-up party, Drew Lepp of the Catering Company of Washington suggests a more sophisticated finger food: pumpkin crepes topped with avruga caviar (herring roe) and crème fraîche. “The black avruga looks like spiders’ eggs, and the pumpkin in the crepe batter makes for a beautiful orange color,” she says. The make-ahead treat—see the recipe below—is versatile for parties, too: “They can be rolled into bite-size hors d’oeuvres to be passed or set at a small buffet of goodies.”
To serve your spread, Gage suggests laying out disposable holiday tablecloths over your party tables. She also picks up a few inexpensive Halloween serving dishes—she recommends Target—to make even pretzels and fruit plates look festive.
1⁄3 cup pumpkin purée
1 cup flour
1 cup milk
½ teaspoon each of salt, sugar, ginger, and cinnamon
Crème fraîche for garnish
Avruga caviar for garnish
Blend first five ingredients together; add water if needed to thin the batter. Heat a crepe pan or nonstick skillet over a medium flame and lightly grease. Pour enough batter into the pan to make a 4-inch round crepe. Cook until the crepe bubbles, then flip. Cook the second side briefly, about 30 seconds. Remove the crepe from the pan and let cool, then cut in half. Roll the half into a triangle. Top with crème fraîche and a small amount of avruga.
It Was a Dark and Stormy Night—for Drinking
What to drink with all the scary snacks? Gage suggests serving kids punch in a large black kettle, then adding dry ice for a wicked-witch effect. For adults, try serving up a bewitching cocktail—like her “dark and stormy night,” made by blending ginger beer and dark rum. Ladle it into glasses rimmed with black sprinkles and serve.
Scaring Up Sweets
It takes only a few minutes to give crowd-pleasing desserts a fright-night touch. Design Cuisine’s Kathy Valentine suggests baking (or buying) your favorite cheesecake and finishing it off with a frosted spider web. “With black frosting, make several thin spokes like a wheel on the top,” she says. “Then, take a toothpick and pull across the spokes to create a web.”
Another Design Cuisine favorite is meringue-topped brownies, refashioned into ghosts for the holiday. If you’re not having your party catered, try making your own: After baking a batch of your favorite brownies, cut them into one-inch rounds and top each with a dollop of soft meringue (you can use a torch to brown it if you want). Add a pair of silver- or black-frosted eyes for a spirited party treat.
Picking up a holiday pastry or two from a caterer or bakery, even if the party’s not catered, works to supplement a dessert menu, too. Lacz always finishes her meals off with Ridgewells pumpkin-decorated petit fours and chocolate-ganache-topped lady’s kisses.
Of course, there’s bound to be plenty of leftover candy to round out the table. Try supplementing the Snickers with miniature cupcakes frosted in black and orange or some classic popcorn balls (see recipe below).
Caramel Popcorn Balls
1⁄3 cup unsalted butter
1 cup light brown sugar
¼ cup light corn syrup
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup sliced almonds or peanuts, toasted
16 cups popped plain popcorn
Vegetable oil spray as needed
Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Oil two 12-by-18-inch baking sheets.
Combine the butter, sugar, corn syrup, water, and salt in a small pot. Set over medium heat and stir often until it comes to a boil. Without stirring, cook the syrup to 250 degrees. Remove the syrup from the heat and stir in the baking soda and vanilla extract.
Grease or warm a large stainless-steel mixing bowl. Combine the nuts and popcorn in it. Pour the caramelized syrup over the popcorn mixture. Quickly fold it in with a rubber spatula, then spread the popcorn over the baking sheets. Bake for 30 minutes, stirring after 15 minutes. Remove the popcorn from the oven. Wearing disposable food-safe gloves, form 4-inch-diameter balls while the popcorn is still warm. Once the balls have cooled, wrap them individually in plastic wrap or wax paper.
Setting Up the Cobwebs and Jack-o’-Lanterns
The best advice for getting your house in gear for Halloween? Keep it simple, says Lacz. She keeps indoor decorations to a minimum but jazzes up the outside with luminarias lining the walkway, spiders and cobwebs framing the porch, and—of course—a few carved jack-o’-lanterns.