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Host A Halloween Party

Sep 27, 2011 02:27AM ● By Erin Frisch

Enjoy Halloween With Family Fun & Games

We’ve all heard the jokes: you know you live in New Hampshire because . . . among other things, children need to buy extra-large Halloween costumes. Not because they are any bigger or beefier than the rest of the nation—our kids have to fit their costumes over their snowsuits. Let’s face it, trick-or-treating is pretty tricky north of the Massachusetts border. Once in a blue moon we are blessed with one last day of perfect Indian summer weather, but a chilly frost, ice-cold rain, or even snow is a more likely scenario.

In the Halloween Spirit

Instead of taking chances with the weather, why not invite friends over for some old-fashioned family fun. Get in the mood by decorating the house, inside and out, with jack-o-lanterns, cobwebs, and bats. Add to the frivolity with spooky music and sound effects. Or put together a Halloween-inspired playlist with “Monster Mash,” “I Put a Spell on You,” “Witchy Woman,” and more. Start the evening off right by greeting your guests at the door with a mug of hot cider to take off the chill.

Party Time

It’s a party, so by all means insist that everyone dress up, kids and adults alike. Get everyone in the holiday spirit with a costume parade. Reward your guests’ creativity with prizes for the funniest, prettiest, and scariest costumes. You can choose the categories in advance but have a few extra prizes on hand, just in case. You’ll be surprised at some of the incredibly clever disguises your friends create!

After the parade, it’s game time. It wouldn’t be a Halloween party without a few old classics like bobbing for apples or pass the pumpkin. Whether everyone joins in or just the kids, you’ll all have a fun and funny time.

All this frivolity is sure to work up an appetite. Invite everyone to join in a festive autumnal feast. Feed the children first and then let them relax with a Halloween movie while the adults enjoy a leisurely dinner. Have a spook-tacular party!

Family Fun-Time Halloween Buffet

This festive dinner combines a few updated New England classics with some Italian-inspired dishes. Buon Appetito!

Hot Mulled Cider

Welcome your guests with a warm and wonderful mug of cider.

Serves 8

  • 2 quarts fresh apple cider
  • 2 (2-inch) cinnamon sticks
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 2 (4- to 5-inch long) strips of orange peel
  • Juice of 1 orange
  • Apple Jack, Calvados (apple brandy), or rum (optional)
1. Combine the apple cider, cinnamon sticks, cloves, ginger, orange peel, and juice in a saucepan and simmer over low heat for 15 minutes.

2. Strain into mugs. Add a shot of Apple Jack, Calvados, or rum to each mug and serve.

Roasted Tomato Soup Shots

Serve this soup in small mugs or espresso cups for a fun and funky appetizer.

Makes about 4 quarts

  • 2 lb grape tomatoes
  • 2 onions, roughly chopped
  • 1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, roughly chopped
  • 1 red-skinned potato, peeled and quartered
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 tsp (or to taste) cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves
  • 6–8 cups chicken broth
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1–2 Tbsp vodka (optional)
  • Garnish: chives or chive oil
1. Preheat oven to 350º.

2. Put the tomatoes, onions, carrot, celery, potato, and garlic in a roasting pan. Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, sprinkle with cayenne, thyme, salt, and pepper and toss to combine. Roast until the vegetables are soft and caramelized, about 30 minutes. Add the wine and roast for an additional 5 to 10 minutes.

3. Transfer the vegetables in batches to a blender; add basil and a little broth to each batch and process until smooth. Optional: if you want a very smooth soup, run it through a food mill.

4. Return the soup to the kettle and add the cream and vodka. Add more broth if necessary to reach your desired consistency. Heat until steaming, check for seasoning, and add salt and pepper to taste. Serve in small cups garnished with a few snips of chives or a drizzle of chive oil.

Chive Oil

  • 1 bunch chives
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Pinch sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1. Blanch the chives in boiling water for 10 to 15 seconds. Quickly transfer to an ice bath to stop the cooking. Remove the chives from the ice bath, drain well, pat dry, and roughly chop.

2. Put the olive oil, chives, salt, and pepper in a blender and process until very smooth. Transfer to a container, cover, and let sit in the refrigerator overnight. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve. Put the chive oil in a plastic squeeze bottle with a small opening or use a spoon to drizzle it on the soup.

Warm & Cheesy Focaccia

This is a favorite with guests of all ages. Serve it before dinner as an appetizer. But beware; you may need to make an extra batch to go along with dinner. Use your favorite pizza dough recipe or pick up a pound or two at the supermarket.

Serves 8

  • About 1 lb pizza dough
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1–2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
  • Dried Italian herbs
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper or dried chili flakes, to taste
  • Grated Parmesan and/or Fontina cheese
1. Preheat the oven to 450º.

2. Divide the dough into 2 pieces. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface, until it is about 1/2-inch thick. Don’t worry about forming a perfect rectangle or circle, the rustic look is fine.

3. Transfer the dough to a nonstick baking sheet. (If you have one, bake the focaccia on a pizza stone.)

4. Drizzle the dough with a little olive oil, and top with garlic and onion. Lightly sprinkle with herbs, salt, and pepper. Depending on your preference, sprinkle with more or less cheese.

5. Bake at 450º until golden, 8 to 12 minutes. Let cool for about 5 minutes, cut into wedges, and serve.

Hunter’s Chicken Stew with Polenta

Make this delicious stew a day ahead and refrigerate overnight to allow its flavors to mingle.

Serves 8–10

  • 1 lb mushrooms, cleaned, trimmed, and sliced
  • Olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 2 yellow onions, chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and chopped
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, cored, seeded, and chopped
  • 1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/4 tsp (or to taste) dried red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tsp (or to taste) paprika
  • 6 split chicken breasts, bone in and skin on
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 2 cans (28 oz each) crushed plum tomatoes
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Garnish: fresh parsley, chopped
1. Preheat the oven to 450º.

2. Divide the mushrooms onto two rimmed baking sheets, drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and toss to coat. Roast in the oven until the mushrooms are shrunken and browned, about 20 minutes.

3. Put the onions and bell peppers in a large casserole. (Use a cast-iron enamel or stainless steel, nonstick or not, pot. Do not use a ceramic or glass casserole.) Toss the vegetables with a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Roast in the oven for about 10 minutes. Add the garlic, herbs, and spices; continue to roast for an additional 5 minutes.

4. Reduce the oven temperature to 350º.

5. Place the chicken breasts on a rimmed baking sheet; rub with a little olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast for 30 to 35 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through and set aside. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, remove the meat from the bones, discard the skin, and cut into bite-sized pieces.

6. Meanwhile, combine the mushrooms with the onions and peppers in the casserole. Add the wine, tomatoes and bay leaf to the vegetables. Return to the 350º oven and cook, uncovered, for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from the oven and let sit until the chicken is ready to add to the stew.

7. Add to the chicken to the casserole. Let the stew come to room temperature and then store for several hours or overnight in the refrigerator to let the flavors combine.

8. Reheat at 350º until bubbling, about 1 hour. Sprinkle with parsley and serve in shallow bowls with a generous spoonful of Creamy Polenta.

Creamy Polenta

A wonderful alternative to pasta.

Serves 8

  • 1-1/2 cups instant polenta or grits
  • 3 Tbsp butter
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • About 2 oz grated Pecorino Romano
  • About 2 oz grated Parmesan cheese
1. Make the polenta according to package directions. When the polenta is smooth and creamy, add the butter, cream, and grated cheese, and stir until melted and well combined. Serve immediately.

Corn, Tomato, and Arugula Salad

The sweet corn and tomato are a nice contrast to the peppery arugula in this delicious salad.

Serves 8

  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 small red onion, chopped
  • 1 cup corn kernels, fresh or frozen
  • 1 pint grape tomatoes, cut in half
  • 1/2 European cucumber, peeled, seeded, and chopped
  • 1 Tbsp fresh oregano, chopped
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 12–16 oz arugula*
1. Put 6 tablespoons of olive oil in a large bowl with the vinegar, garlic, and onion; whisk to combine and let sit for 15 minutes at room temperature.

2. Meanwhile, heat a little olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the corn kernels and sauté until lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Remove from the pan and let cool.

3. Add the corn, tomato, cucumber, and oregano to the bowl with the vinaigrette. Season with salt and pepper and toss to combine. Store in the refrigerator until you are ready to serve.

4. When you are ready to serve, add the arugula and toss.

* If arugula is a little too spicy for your kids, substitute it with crunchy romaine.

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cupcakes

Start a new Halloween tradition with pumpkin cupcakes!

Makes 24 cupcakes or a 9x13-inch sheet cake

  • 2-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1-1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 can (15 oz) pumpkin purée
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1-1/2 cups mini chocolate chips
  • Garnish: candy corn
1. Preheat oven to 350º. Line muffin tins with paper liners.

2. Sift the flour, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, baking soda, and salt into medium bowl.

3. Using an electric mixer, beat the sugar and oil in large bowl until well combined. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Beat in the pumpkin, maple syrup, milk, sour cream, and vanilla.

4. Stir in flour mixture until just blended. Fold in the chocolate chips.

5. Divide the batter among the prepared muffin cups. Bake until a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean, about 30 minutes (or about one hour for a 9x13-inch cake). Transfer the cupcakes to a rack; cool completely.

6. Frost with orange cream cheese frosting and decorate with candy corn.

If you prefer to make a sheet cake, add a little black food coloring to the frosting and create a RIP tombstone cake. Decorate with a few gummy worms, bugs, and spiders!

Cream Cheese Frosting

  • 8 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) softened butter
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • About 4 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • Red and yellow food coloring
1. Put the cream cheese and butter in a large bowl; beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth, add the vanilla, and combine.

2. Slowly add the confectioners’ sugar and mix until well blended. A drop or two at a time, beat in red and yellow food coloring until you get a nice pumpkin color. Increase mixer speed and continue mixing for 2 to 3 minutes, until the frosting is light and fluffy.

Crowd-Pleasing Party Games

  • Bob for Apples. A Halloween classic! Fill a large tub with water and add several apples. With hands behind their backs, two or three players try to bite and catch hold of an apple. The first to grab an apple with his teeth wins the round. Have lots of towels handy!
  • Doughnut Chomp. Another Halloween party tradition. Use string or ribbon to hang plain doughnuts from a large doorway. Each player (attempts to) chomp away at a doughnut. No hands allowed and the first child (or adult) to finish her doughnut wins!
  • Pass the Pumpkin. Silly fun! Turn orange rubber balls (about the size of a tennis ball) into jack-o-lanterns with a black permanent marker. Divide the group and line everyone up into teams. Give each team a jack-o-lantern and place it under the chin of the first player in each line. Without using any hands, pass the jack-o-lantern to the next player and then to the next and so on. The first team to pass the pumpkin all of the way through the line wins.
  • Mummy Wrap. For a bit of foolish entertainment! Divide everyone into groups of three or four and give each team a roll of toilet paper. Each group chooses a mummy. The first group to wrap their mummy using the entire roll of tissue wins.
  • Create a Halloween Tale. A Scout Camp classic comes home! Everyone works together to tell a spooky, funny, or just plain silly ghost story. Start with a few catchy lines: “It was a dark and stormy night. Heading home after the Halloween party, the Smiths took a wrong turn onto a narrow, winding road. They tried to turn around but their car got stuck in the mud. Nervously they discovered they had no cell phone service! Suddenly up ahead, in the distance, they saw a house . . .” The story is then passed on to the next guest. Each player adds a bit of intrigue or surprise and the story continues until everyone has taken a turn and the story is complete. If you like, turn the lights out and pass a flashlight around as each teller adds his or her bit to the story.

Kid-Friendly Family Movies for Halloween

  • It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown: classic family cartoon with Charlie Brown and friends. Rated G
  • Pooh’s Heffalump Halloween Movie: It’s a haunted Halloween in the Hundred Acre Woods with Tigger, Roo, and Pooh. Rated G
  • Bedknobs & Broomsticks: Magical flying beds, an apprentice witch, and a few plucky kids. Rated G
  • Ghostbusters: Fun and slapstick ensue when three parapsychology professors set up shop to rid the neighborhood of ghosts. Rated PG
  • Hocus Pocus: Three sister witches are resurrected and wreak havoc on Salem, Massachusetts. Rated PG
  • Harry Potter: A true kid favorite, the first six Harry Potter books are available on DVD. Rated PG-13
  • The Addams Family: Based on the New Yorker cartoon and the 1960s television series, the eccentric Addams family has been entertaining families for decades. PG-13
Susan Nye lives in New Hampshire and writes for several New England magazines. She shares some of her favorite recipes and stories about family, friendship, and food online at

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