Halloween, why leave all the fun to the kids?
I loved Halloween as a kid. I dressed up as all manor of things. I think my favourite was a wizard. Of course this was pre Harry Potter. My outfit consisted of a hat made from two coat hangers fashioned into a hoop and a point, with a black pair of tights stretched over. Then a black silky cape with gold and silver stars spray painted on by my beloved uncle Jimmy, and a wand made from a piece of dowel. I was fierce. No doubt there was face paint and numerous spells. What there certainly will have been is a turnip.
Yep, you heard me right. A turnip. Ooop North it was a thing. We carved them into lanterns just like pumpkins. Pumpkins were for posh people This turnip carving was a Celtic thing. It was popular in Ireland and Scotland, and bled down into the North. They were made to look as terrifying as possible and used to ward off spirits. Apparently in the middle ages bands of rowdy children wearing masks roamed the streets carrying them on Halloween, the lanterns were known as 'tumshie heads' which sounds rather cute to me and not terrifying at all. The children however sound dreadful. Imagine that happening these days, they'd have an ASBO before they reached the end of the road. Anyway, all this turnip carving meant we had loads of turnip flesh left over. I despise it mashed. School dinner nightmares. But made into soup - it is delightful. Onto the first of our lucky 13...
All these dish and drink ideas will easily scale up to feed a crowd and are perfect when combined with a bonfire:
Banishes all bad memories of fusty smelling mashed turnips, all you need is a stick blender to make this and hot crusty bread. That’s a must.
Naughty but nice. Not one to tell your dentist about or to have every week, but oh so good. This glaze works on ribs too. I first made this after doing something similar with a whole baked ham. I had some glaze left and I added chillies and some chicken wings, let them sit for an hour and barbecued them. Turned out way better than I could have hoped for. You will love these finger licking delights too I have no doubt.
Nothing says bonfires more to me than a s'more. Proper American classic that needs to jump the pond. All you need is some sweet crackers, Graham ones if you can get them, that would be authentic, but digestives work fine. Also some marshmallows, not the teeny tiny hot chocolate kind and some chocolate. Hershey's works best as it's thin. Just grill your marshmallow in the flame of a bonfire or gas hob by popping it on the end of a long heat proof poking device, till it is all blackened and melty. Place on one biscuit, lay the chocolate on the top and squidge together. Let the hot marshmallow make the chocolate go a little oozy and eat hungrily.
4. Mulled Cider
Apples and Halloween go together like peaches and cream. Leave the kids to their apple bobbing games while you indulge in some hot mulled cider.
5. Pumpkin pie
If carving pumpkins and not turnips is your bag, then turn the flesh into a glorious pumpkin pie. Failing pumpkin carving activities, just buy pumpkin pulp in cans. Libby's is the one you want. In fact this recipe is inspired by the one on the label and my friend Sally, who has been making this recipe for so long she can recite it to you - her mother made it before her.
6. Witches Eggs
A fun little snack to have on a salad or buffet table, just boil medium eggs for six minutes.
Drain the water off and run until cold water till you can handle them comfortably, just a minute or two. Then roll the eggs over a work surface to lightly crack the shell all over, but don't peel them. Plunge them back into cold water that just covers them, and add in a generous dash of green food colouring. Or indeed red, blue, yellow, whatever takes your fancy. Leave for a few hours and then peel the eggs and you'll find they've gone gloriously speckled and like dinosaur eggs with the dye. Mwah ha ha spooky.
A great accompaniment to the Bonfire night jacket potato classic. Goes together like gin and tonic.
Veggies need a heart and hand warming stew at this time of year too, but this one is so good even your meat lovers will be happy. Perfect for filling little tummies up before all the trick or treating sweets do too.
To me Halloween screams camp fire, or at the very least dinner by pumpkin light in the garden. No camp fire is complete without a sausage of some variety. Tis the rules. Team it up with some seasonal kale and some creamy beans for a change from the usual mash. You don't even have to worry about lumps!
10. Grown up witches eggs
Make the witches eggs above to the little Halloween lovers and these scotch eggs with coronation mayo for the grown ups. Noone dislikes a scotch egg. If they say they do, tell them they've just not found the right one yet.
11. Posh cottage pie
Everything is better made posh. Especially old classics like cottage pie. Another great make ahead crowd pleaser and a great dish to take along to a Halloween party at a friends house. Will make for happy Ghouls of any age.
12. Beef Bourgignon
If you want to serve something a little smarter and more refined to the adults after the little witches have worn themselves out, or have a sophisticated alternative to the usual stew based options, a classic Bourgignon is the answer. Make ahead for extra flavour and added convenience. A win win. And it has wine. Wine makes everything wonderful.
13. After dinner: Russian chocolate roulette
A fun little trick or treat game to play with adults and kids alike, it’s super simple and great fun to get the kids involved. For a more sadistic approach, lean towards more disgusting trick flavours, but you can be kinder than us. No small people? Just add shots. I'd use whisky. But I’m bonkers.
All you need is some ice cube trays, some melted dark chocolate and some well-chosen flavours. You want some delicious and some not so much. Think honey, orange, raspberry and mint for the treats, Marmite, anchovies, Worcestershire sauce, onions and my personal favourite - jarred kimchee, for the trick ones.
Chop or blend the ingredients really finely, place in the ice cube trays, pour in melted chocolate and muddle the things together with an old chop stick or something. No finger licking fun here.
Now lay all the chocolates on the squares of a board game, something like snakes and ladders or monopoly (the only good use for a monopoly board in my opinion) and get your guests to roll a dice, whatever square they land on they have to decide whether to take a challenge or eat the chocolate. I like getting people to do silly things like hopping on one leg for thirty seconds, or balancing spaghetti on their noses. Fail the challenge, roll again. Succeed and the die moves on. If you have a trivial pursuit board they could eat the chocolate if they fail a question.
The flavour possibilities are endless! Get dreaming up your combinations now. Your very own Harry Potter style Bertie Botts every flavour beans. Though please don’t recreate his flavours. Ear wax may be a step too far, even for Halloween.