Homemade costumes, a pillowcase-turned-candy-holder, friends going door-to-door looking to score the really good stuff: this nostalgia is all part of my love for Halloween. As an adult, my Halloween potluck ideas are an homage to the parties we hit as kids--a haunted dreamscape of makeshift houses in basements, flashing lights, and creepy music. The part I loved the most? The spooky food.
Close your eyes and dip your hand into a ball of eyeballs (aka skinned grapes)! Are those brains or cold spaghetti?? Those monster teeth feel an awful lot like corn kernels.
My grown-up potluck party ideas celebrate ghouls, goblins, and the fact we can afford our own full-sized candy bars. Here are some simple Halloween potluck ideas for your next spooky party.
1. Mushroom Skulls
I love this versatile, quick, easy party dish. Take clean button mushrooms and cut them down their centers, keeping stems intact. (Each mushroom half becomes a skull-in-the-making.) On the mushroom's bulbous side, use a straw to cut out two holes (which become eye sockets). Using a knife, cut a tiny triangle below the eyes to create a nose. Finally, make deep parallel lengthwise cuts in the stem, to give the skull teeth.
Now, saute your skulls in a pan with 3 tablespoons of butter or oil over medium heat. Place them in the pan flat-side down, and gently brown them for 3 to 4 minutes. Once they're lightly browned, finish cooking them by flipping them face-side down. (Don't let them cook for too long on this side or you'll... lose face.)
You can now use these skulls any way you want. I've put them on pizza, in soups and stews (tomato-based broth, for a bloody effect) tossed with spaghetti (I like black noodles) or in a small bowl, with toothpicks alongside. Just be sure to add them after cooking the rest of the dish.
2. A Memorable Punch
Make your favorite party punch and kick it up a creepiness notch: fill a plastic glove three-fourths full with water, close it securely, lay it flat on a cookie sheet, and freeze overnight. To get the icy phalanges out in one piece, run them under warm water and carefully peel back the glove. Voilà! A, ghostly, floating hand "cube."
A couple of notes on this trick; first, be sure the glove is latex-free and food-safe. I've sometimes poached a few free gloves from deli and supermarket employees. Secondly, consider adding a few gummy worms to the glove for a strange effect. Third, remember that tonic water glows under black light! So if you're attending a party with special effects, consider replacing tap water with tonic water (especially if your punch is gin-based).
3. Chocolate Monster Haystacks
Chow mein noodles: tasty, and an essential part of little onyx monster treats. Take a 12 oz bag of chocolate chips and melt them. (This is easy to do in a microwave, just use 30-second increments, stirring in between, to ensure you don't over-melt.) Pour a 5 oz can of chow mein noodles into a bowl, pour in the melted chocolate and mix with a spatula until evenly covered.
On a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet, drop 10 heaping spoonfuls of your noodle-chocolate mix. Be sure they have a little height, and don't flatten them! Then let them firm up in your refrigerator for 45 minutes.
Now it's time to add the eyes. Add two dots of frosting to each of your haystacks. You can stop there, but I would suggest adding some type of candy to amp up the effect. You can use candy eyes, jelly beans, red hots, smarties or any lightweight candy. Pop back in the fridge for 10-15 minutes to set the monsters.
4. Frankenstein Cheesecake Squares
A no-bake solution to satisfy your monstrous sweet tooth: make a batch of your favorite no-bake cheesecake bars. (Don't have one? Here's a great option.) When you're at the point of the recipe where you're whipping your cream cheese mixture to make it smooth and creamy, add green food coloring--just a few drops, then continue to add only a few more at a time until you have your dream Frankenstein Green-- then carry on as the recipe directs. After your bars have had time to set and you've cut them into squares, you can make them into mini-Frankenstein faces.
For facial features, I suggest a trifecta of candy eyes, black decorating gel, and pretzel sticks. Place the eyes, add a black squiggly line for hair, a black line for the mouth, and put a pretzel stick on each side of the square in place of the signature Frankenstein bolt-in-the-neck.
5. Meat Face
You may have seen the internet trend of feetloaf. If you haven't, I warn you, it isn't pretty. But it is a great way to rethink a standard meal and make it suitable for Halloween. The main idea here is to take your favorite recipe for meatloaf and rather than put it in a standard baking dish, get creative and mold it into something strange... like feet.
In years past, I've made a meat baby (as creepy-looking as it sounds), a ghost, and most recently, a pretty terrifying but adorable face. The key is to embellish your meat sculpture with other foods to let your creativity shine. Onions are a great option to bake with the meat-- it not only adds flavor, its shriveled post-baked appearance can double as teeth, eyes or nails.
You also have the option of adding foods after you've cooked your shaped meatloaf. Last year, my meat face accompanied spaghetti hair, cottage-cheese eyes, and acrylic teeth. (Those teeth obviously aren't safe for your teeth. Pine nuts or slivered almonds would be perfect substitutions).
Now get out there and creep it real!