It’s time to take back Halloween. Or at least borrow it. Sure, the holiday seems to be all about the kids, but why can’t adults embrace All Hallows Eve too? And no, we’re not talking about egging the neighbor’s house or launching toilet paper bombs off your deck into your neighbor’s trees (even if you are annoyed they won’t trim back those branches).
What we’re talking about is the Halloween cocktail party. Something classy, regal. Not too regal, mind you, as we’re still talking about Halloween here. We mean the Halloween party that offers the perfect mix: Something your friends will enjoy without the kids, while maintaining just enough childlike spookiness to retain the spirit of the season.
But how do we get such a blend of classy and spooky? We spoke to a few local experts about how to throw the perfect Halloween bash.
As any good themed-party thrower knows, the first thing people will notice is the décor. Don’t rely on a few gravestones in the front yard and assume you are off the hook—you have to embrace the season, says Debra Antone from Excelsior’s Scusi!
“Rather than a traditional spooky theme, think more about the harvest,” Antone says. This is a good way to avoid going overboard with too many kitschy decorations.
Creating centerpieces with pumpkins, gourds, corns and seasonal herbs is a good way to spruce up the room and inject a feeling of fall into the party. Think of dark, fall tones such as browns, oranges and reds for table settings. If you are looking to avoid too much of the classic Halloween combination of orange and black, try decorating with white pumpkins for a chic black and white motif.
“Children celebrate Halloween; adults celebrate the year-end harvest,” Antone says. “If you go with the tradition of the farmers, that’s when you clean your gardens out and bring in all your squash and gourds for the winter.”
That’s not to say you need to completely avoid Halloween elements. What good is a Halloween party without a few spooks here and there?
For that, Antone has an out-of-the-box suggestion: A Halloween tree. And why not? Who said Christmas has the monopoly on holiday trees? A dark-colored tree, or even one painted black, can add a perfect spooky dark-forest element to the party; try throwing in orange lights for a little more Halloween magic.
Snacks and Desserts
Whether or not you serve a full dinner, you’re going to want some small plates and desserts. A party isn’t a party without some good finger foods.
“It’s nice to have both cold and warm bites,” says Rachael Perron, culinary director at Kowalski’s Markets. “It keeps things interesting and it’s much easier to manage as a host, too.”
She recommends having eight to 10 appetizers per person at the party if you aren’t serving a dinner. That way everyone will be filled up enough to go without a full meal and will also get to experience a variety of treats.
“If you have time to worry about how the food looks, great. If not, focus on flavor. Flavor is king!” Perron says. Some of Perron’s favorites include squash and sweet potato soup shooters and zucchini crostini.
If you want a little more holiday spirit, dessert is the best way to inject some Halloween into your food (not literally, of course). While you may want to be careful not to overdo it with themed cookies and treats, a few can add a little fun and whimsy to the party. Wendy Gamble from Heavenly Hosts Catering suggests a few classic desserts with a Halloween twist: Meringues shaped like ghosts, cupcakes with Milano cookies for tombstones, and whoopee pies with orange frosting are simple, classic desserts that are easy to give a Halloween spin.
Gamble also recommends using serving dishes to create the Halloween feel to avoid making every food feel forced. “Going to the dollar store and grabbing different Halloween buckets the kids use for trick-or-treating and putting chips and dip in there is great for adding decoration,” she says.
Food and Drink
Ultimately, every party is remembered for the food. Sticking with the small plates is an option, but if you want to serve something a little more substantial, think about fall dishes. Again, don’t worry about whether or not the food is Halloween-themed.
Soup and chili are a great place to start. The weather is cooling off and people are more in the mood for hot food. A big portion of chili with a side of cornbread can serve a large group of people, says Gamble.
For Perron, it is all about soups and bread. “I love of hot mug of soup with a piece of artisan toast to dunk in it,” she says. The recipe for sweet potato and squash soup can easily be turned into full portions by taking away the shooters. While soup and chili are (relatively) easy dishes to prepare, places like Kowalski’s can cater for those looking for a little help with food.
Once the menu is in place, the only thing left is drinks.
“You are going into the time for warm drinks like ciders and toddies,” Antone says. “And I love the idea of doing a punch and making it smoke.”
Using dry ice to give punch the feel of a witch’s cauldron is just another way soak in the Halloween spirit.
With all the drink options, Perron cautions not to overdo it. “I’m a big fan of signature cocktails. They’re easier than a whole bar, and you can satisfy just about everyone with a simple selection of two wines, a beer and a single mixed drink.”
The options are limitless when it comes to cocktails, and there is pretty much no way to go wrong, but Perron suggests a mulled wine.
When it comes to your Halloween party, the one thing that’s clear is that you have options. Whether it’s your favorite time of year, or you’d rather skip straight to Thanksgiving, there are party themes and food ideas for everyone. Send the kids out trick-or-treating, get your party planning committee together and put on your witch or wizard brainstorming hat, because it’s time for the adults to take back Halloween.
Squash and Sweet Potato Soup Shooters
Courtesy of Rachael Perron
3 tbsp. unsalted butter
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 lbs. butternut squash, peeled, seeded and diced
1 lb. sweet potato, peeled and diced
1 large yellow onion, chopped
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and chopped
1 tsp. ancho chili powder
1/2 tsp. paprika
1 qt. chicken stock or broth, plus more for thinning the soup
1/2 cup heavy cream
Freshly ground sea salt and black peppercorns, to taste
Garnishes, as desired: fresh pomegranate seeds, pepitas, crème fraîche, sliced fresh sage leaves
In large pot, melt butter and oil over medium heat.
Add squash, sweet potato, onion, apples, chili powder and paprika.
Cook until squash is slightly soft (about 15 minutes), stirring occasionally; add stock.
Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer until squash is soft.
Add cream, and blend the mixture in a blender (or with an immersion blender) until smooth.
Add additional stock or water, if desired, to reach preferred consistency; season to taste with salt and pepper.
Use a spouted pitcher to pour soup into 2- or 3-oz. shot glasses.
Garnish individual servings as desired.Makes about 32 shooters.
Courtesy of Rachael Perron
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 package zucchini spaghetti (usually found in the produce section)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black peppercorns, to taste
3/4 cup herb spread such as Kowalski’s Herb Spread
24 prepared crostini (pick up from the bakery section)
Chopped fresh Italian parsley and finely minced red onion, for garnish
In a medium skillet over medium-high heat, heat oil until shimmering; add zucchini.
Cook, stirring occasionally, until golden-brown and fork-tender (2-4 min.); season with salt and pepper.
Allow to cool 10 min.
Spread herb spread on crostini; spoon vegetable mixture on top.
Garnish with parsley and red onion; serve immediately.
Courtesy of Wendy Gamble
3 large egg whites
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees F.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Beat the egg whites and cream of tartar in a large bowl with a mixer on medium speed until frothy.
Beat in the sugar; increase the mixer speed to high and beat until stiff peaks form, 5 to 6 minutes.
Transfer to a pastry bag fitted with a large round tip.
Pipe 8 to 10 swirls on the prepared baking sheet.
Bake until dry, 1 hour to 1 hour, 15 minutes.
Transfer the baking sheet to a rack and let cool completely.
Put the chocolate chips in a microwave-safe bowl; microwave on 50 percent power until melted (about 1 minute), stirring halfway through.
Transfer the melted chocolate to a zip-top bag and snip a corner. Pipe the chocolate on the meringues to look like eyes.
Heavenly Homestyle Chili
Courtesy of Wendy Gamble
1 1/2 lbs. ground beef
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 can (10.75 oz.) condensed tomato soup
1 can (14.5 oz.) diced tomatoes
1/2 cup water
2 cans pinto beans , rinsed and drained
3 Tbsp. chili powder
2 tsp. ground cumin
Cook the beef in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until well browned, stirring often to separate meat.
Pour off any fat; stir the beef, onion, garlic, soup, tomatoes, water, beans, chili powder and cumin together. Heat on medium heat for 20 minutes
Courtesy of Rachael Perron
3 cups apple cider
2 cups dry red wine
1/2 cup Kowalski’s
Pure Maple Syrup
1 tsp. whole black peppercorns
2-3 whole star anise, plus more for serving, if desired
1 cinnamon stick, plus more for serving, if desired
1 orange, sliced
1/4 inch thick, plus more for serving, if desired
1 apple, sliced 1/4 inch thick, plus more for serving, if desired
In a medium pot, combine all ingredients.
Bring to a boil over high heat; reduce heat to low and simmer 20 min.
Strain wine to remove solids, if desired. Serve warm with sliced fruit and spices, if desired.