Culinary Sleuth

Best Laid Plans for a
Halloween-Birthday Bash

(Also visit our main Halloween Party and Recipes page)

halloween pumpkin

Even the most accomplished cooks fear hosting a big party. Since I'm far from accomplished the decision to throw a "He's Twenty-One!" birthday bash for my son seemed less appealing than a daily diet of calves' brains.

Where to begin? First a mission statement: The goal of the party? In a word—FUN. Like business, a successful party cries out for a well-laid plan.


Party Plan

1. Decide how much you want to spend. What is your budget for the event? This is important and will help determine your menu, decorations and how many guests you'll invite.

2. Choose a theme. This was easy for me as my son was born the day after Halloween.

3. Create the guest list. Experts say 20 people per room is a good ratio. Since I have three good sized rooms plus a medium sized kitchen I figured I could comfortably invite 60 people—but narrowed it down to 50 and hoped at least 40 came.

4. Create the menu. My only requirement in the daunting task of feeding 40-50 people was to keep it simple. No elaborate dishes. No fancy ingredients. Good and easy food that was also FUN. This was a bit difficult as very few of my cookbooks featured Halloween theme food. I did find a few things scattered across the Internet and got help from friends. See recipes below.

5. Plan the decorations. I chose the usual —bunches of black and orange balloons and plenty of plump, carved pumpkins. A colleague suggested a FUN touch—frozen, floating hands (see instructions below) as punch bowl chillers. Candles are appropriate and elegant during any season (but especially at Halloween) so I bought plenty of chunky orange and black candles.

6. Choose the entertainment, if any. Since I'm inviting a group that ranges in age and interests, I decided to provide a plethora of board games and playing cards for those who wanted to do more than chat. I knew my nephew would make a bee-line for the computer and planned on having handy numerous CD-ROM games. Finally, I decided the Halloween theme was perfect to include one of those guest-interactive Murder Mystery games I've always wanted to try. Finally I thought it might be a good idea to have a few rented videos on hand for the those who plopped themselves down in front of the TV.

7. Go through your house and see what repairs or redo's you want done before the party. I moved into my new house over six months ago and still had a lamp sitting on a large cardboard box. Definitely needed to replace that box with a table. I made a list of things I needed to buy or do and kept it with me every day. I planned one major shopping trip to get those niggling worries out of the way.

8. Go through your house again and make sure you have enough tables, seating and accessories. I planned a casual buffet style party but I didn't have nearly enough seating. I arranged way beforehand to borrow folding chairs. Don't forget to see if you need any other items too. For instance, I wanted to have a large pot of coffee handy but had no pot large enough to accommodate more than eight cups. I needed a punch bowl and more serving platters too. Most items I was able to borrow and a few I bought, like a good set of TV tables, in hopes that the party would be so much fun I'd do it again soon!

9. Create and send invitations. I didn't want to use, boring pre-made invitations. So true to the mission to make the entire event FUN, I created my own. I found pumpkin colored paper at the local office supplier and used a desktop publishing program (MS Publisher) to make a three-panel invitation. The front page of the brochure-like invitation features clip art of a haunted mansion with the title: It's a Haunting Time For Fun 'cause Joe is Twenty-one!

10. Test your selected recipes before the party. This is important. Testing will determine how easy the recipes are and what is more important how good they taste.

11. One to two weeks before the party, buy all the recipe ingredients and any paper goods you'll need. Since the main goal of the party is to have FUN—I chose disposable dinnerware. I don't recommend fine China or washable dishes for any party unless it's a very formal affair or you have servants! The black and orange heavy duty, paper plates, black beverage cups, black and orange plastic utensils and flaming orange napkins helped add to the festive Halloween decor.

12. Two to three days in advance make as much of the food as you can. I plan to make the stromboli a week before, freeze them and when ready just pop them in the oven. Nothing could be simpler than that! I certainly do not want to spend my time in the kitchen while everyone else is having FUN.


The Recipes and Decorations

Ghostly Floating Hands

To make ghostly hands that float, fill surgical gloves (or rubber gloves) with plain or colored water and tie at the opening. Freeze. Cut off gloves from ghost hands and place in filled punch bowl.

Appetizer Suggestions:

Main Dish

Homemade Stromboli

I don't have a formal recipe for stromboli but it's one of the easiest make-ahead main dishes I've ever tried. The beauty of this recipe is it encourages creativity. I start with a loaf of frozen bread dough. After it's thawed, I roll it out fairly thin—about 3/4 of an inch. Then I brush lightly with a good grade olive oil and sprinkle the dough with my favorite Italian seasonings and garlic powder. Generously sprinkle with shredded cheese—I like Cheddar but have also made these wonderful roll-up meals with mozzarella, Colby and Monterey Jack. Crumble either cooked (and drained) sausage, hamburger or pepperoni on top of cheese layer. Roll dough up into a plump, blimp-like shape. At this point you may freeze the stromboli and bake before serving. The day before the party, take from freezer and allow to thaw in the refrigerator. Bake according to bread dough package directions but tack on fifteen to twenty-five minutes more for the meaty/cheesy insides. (I decide it's done when the crust of the stromboli is golden brown and hard to the touch.) Let rest and cool a bit before slicing into 1/2 inch to 1 inch serving slabs. Arrange poetically on a serving platter.

Fun Desserts

Liver Squish Molded Salad

Make Jell-O according to instructions, but only use half of the water required. Pour into a 13x9x2 baking pan and chill until firm. Dip into warm water to loosen Jell-O and invert on wax paper.


Combine in the blender.

Cut Jell-O rectangle in half and slide one half (one lobe of the liver) onto a platter. Spread with the filling. Carefully slide remaining half (other lobe) on top. (This is great fun if served in a metal tray from a hanging scale)


Quick Ghost Cookies

In top of double boiler over simmering water, melt confectionery coating, stirring occasionally. Dip cookies into coating, covering completely. Place on waxed paper to cool. (You may need to brush ends with a pastry brush dipped in coating where your fingers touched the cookies.) While coating is still warm, place 2 chips on each cookie for eyes. Yields about 3 dozen.


Wiggly Pumpkins

Dissolve gelatin in water. Set aside for 30 minutes. Whisk milk and pudding mix until smooth, about 1 minute. Quickly pour into gelatin, whisk until blended. Pour into an oiled 13 inch x 9 inch x 2 inch pan. Chill until set. Cut into circles or use a pumpkin shaped cookie cutter. Just before serving, add candy eyes and mouths. Yields 14-16 servings.


(Also visit our main Halloween Party and Recipes page)


Copyright © 1997, Lynn Kerrigan. No portion of this article may be reproduced for publication without express, written permission of the author.

This page created 1997 and modified February 2007