Once we were teens, Halloween feast.
I wake up to the sound of shrieking magpies right outside our bedroom windows. This is not that unusual, we have a whole colony of these living in the tree next door, kept and fed by our neighbour who treats them as pets. They routinely use our roof to dance, court, play and fight in a very vocal fashion which would not bother us if they didn’t leave traces of their passage by way of droppings all over our deck…Should we leave a door or window open, the creatures will venture inside and make themselves at home, until one of us shoo them away.
So imagine my reaction, when I walked down to the kitchen and discover what I thought is one of these buggers inside a bowl of corn chips left on the bench the night before!
It is the morning after our Halloween family gathering, and the house looks very much haunted and decrepit, left to the black birds and the rodents… Just the effect I was after and worked on yesterday, but not so appealing now as I face the prospect of cleaning up before tradesmen arrive for a painting job we arranged days ago ( what a timing! )
This is the third year hosting what seems to have become a ritual Halloween dinner. It also coincides with Mr T’s son, Craig’s, birthday, so the poor guy has no chance of flying under the radar with a quiet celebration. This year’s theme was loaded with nostalgia, with a few of us ( not me ) hooked on shows like Stranger Things or going back to retro style of cooking. So with guests asked to “come as their teen-selves and bring their favourite childhood dishes”, this multi-cultural-generational family gathering of ours was always going to be interesting.
Setting up the house took a few days, mostly clearing up all the junk accumulated during the year and negotiating my way around Mr T’s renovation projects. In the process, I dug out old toys and games which at any other times would have ended up given away but made perfect props for that particular occasion: vintage Barbie dolls found a new life with Hannah and the Monopoly game had the boys enthralled for a while. Old Mexican glassware gifted by Mr T’s sister a few years ago made a great excuse to set up a pina colada station manned by Marc.
When it came to dressing up, Mr T didn’t really try. He was planning to wear board shorts and flip flops, as he would have coming back from a day surfing. The weather was too chilly for him however, so he swapped the beach attire for tracksuit pants and a dark t-shirt instead. I called him a daggy old teen.
Marc and Anne being teenagers, had their work cut out appearing as themselves.
Danielle and I brought the 80s back, her with bright lipstick and neon loop earrings, me wearing a half up half down hairdo and a vintage red jumpsuit that used to fit me much better at 16 than it does at 53! Unbeknownst to me, this looked like the costume worn by the characters in the horror movie US, which caused the younger kids to do a double take, never imagining I could be so on point.
The 90’s were well represented with lots of black grungy clothing and resurrected old band T-shirts.
The best costumes would have to be the younger ones though. Not old enough to know about nostalgia, they embraced the full dress up concept: Cooper and Jesse nailed the Hopper look in Stranger Things with their Hawaiian shirts, while Harry could have been Dustin ( I am not really sure ) and Hannah was the spookiest Annabelle.
As always, the party spread from the kitchen to the verandah. The adults caught up all the gossip ( and boy, did we have a lot of news to share!! ) while the kids slipped out of their costume to jump in the swimming pool for the first swim of the season. Until the sun disappeared and everyone retired inside, squeezing around the dinner table and piling up plates.
Foodwise, the menu covered a few decades with dishes bringing back memories of dinner parties in the 80’s or afterschool snacks in the 90’s.
Our starters ranged from food on sticks, to Twisties,
salmon dip in bread shells
and spinach dip in a cob…
Asked about his favourite childhood food memory, Mr T mentioned a chips sandwich, also known as chip butty.
It is basically a whole lot of french fries stuffed into a buttered bread roll, smothered with tomato sauce and much enjoyed after a long surfing session. It wasn’t just popular in the 60s, the Gen Y amongst us remembered devouring a few of them too! I guess, everyone likes a carb-on-carb treat.
My french version of food in a bread roll, is a Quatre-Heures, a sweet afterschool treat made of a bar of chocolate slipped into a buttered bread roll. The bread roll has to be a french baguette style for it to work, it then kind of tastes like a chocolate croissant and loads you with enough sugar to keep going for hours…
Mains were a mix of old classic ( spaghetti and meatballs ), crowd favourites ( marinated chicken wings and caesar salad),
vegetables must haves ( baked cauliflower )
and a funny take on a fish burger with soft shell crabs instead.
Death by sauce made a surprise guest appearance, leading to some hilarious food tasting.
Dessert nearly didn’t happen: I had 3 guests charged with bringing a sweet each, and unfortunately 2 of them cancelled the night before. This left Carolyn who already said she would bring a cheesecake. She was our last hope, though I didn’t tell her because I was afraid she’d be spooked under pressure. Instead, I embarked on an exercise of making fruity snacks and chocolate truffles, so we would have sweets to nibble on. I needn’t have worried so much, Carolyn’s vanilla cheesecake turned out perfect, dressed with berries and a few candles, it made the daintiest birthday cake!!
Below are recipes for the sweet snacks should you look for inspiration. Happy Halloween!!!
I can’t claim credit for this one, it is all Lorraine’s from Not Quite Nigella. I was after a way to present fruits with a Halloween twist, and saw this recipe on her blog. So here is to simple and easy party food that is healthy too!
12 small sticks of celery
- Peel the mandarins and stick a piece of celery in the middle to make it resemble a pumpkin.
Once again, the inspiration comes from Lorraine, as above, who posted a recipe for Demogorgon Monster strawberries. I set out to make these, then realised I had white chocolate instead of dark, and not enough of it to make the whole recipe. With no time to run to the shops and buy more, I used what I had on hand and improvised. This is the result. Make sure to keep it in the fridge until ready to serve, as the chocolate layer is fairly thin and softens quickly at room temperature.
45 strawberries (3 punnets will do)
360g white chocolate
- Wash and dry the strawberries thoroughly. Hull and halve them horizontally.
- Melt the white chocolate. I used the microwave, 20s at a time, stirring every time.
- Line 3 trays with parchment paper. Spread out 6 circles of melted chocolate on each tray.
- Working quickly, place 5 strawberry halves on each circle to form a star. Plop a blueberry in the centre.
- Refrigerate to set and keep in the fridge until ready to serve.
Chocolate coated skulls
I first wanted to make traditional chocolate truffles, as they were my favourite sweets as a child. Then came up with this Halloween twist, except that the usual soft chocolate ganache would not work in the hull silicone mold. The problem was easily overcome by encasing the ganache in a hard chocolate shell. While it is very easy to do, it takes more time than the ordinary truffle, not the least because my silicone mold only makes 7 pieces at a time which is a hassle when you have to prepare a big batch. Now that I know how delicious they are and how easy it is to make them, I am on the lookout for a bigger mold. Or start a few days ahead, since these keep in the fridge for a while.
Makes 21 skulls/truffles
225g dark chocolate ( 70% or higher) for the casing
200g dark chocolate (70% or higher) for the filling
100ml double/thickened cream
- Melt the chocolate for the casing: Place 90% of the chocolate in a microwave and heat on full power for 30s. It will be sightly melted. Stir with a spoon and return to the microwave for another 20s. Stir again, zap for another 20s. Repeat the process, 20s at a time until melted, add the remaining 10% of the chocolate and stir until all melted.
- Make the chocolate shells: pour about 1 teaspoon of the melted chocolate into each skull. Rotate the mold on various angles until all the indentations are fully coated. You can also use a tiny paintbrush to cover all angles. Use a syringe to “suck”any excess chocolate and put back into the bowl for later. Put the mold in the fridge for 15-20mn until set
- Make the ganache filling: In a small saucepan, heat the thickened cream until it is about to boil. Remove from the heat and add chocolate. Stir constantly until the mixture is smooth. Cool down in the fridge for a few minutes.
- Fill up the skulls: when the chocolate casings are fully set, fill each one with the ganache almost to the top using a teaspoon or a piping bag. Pour the leftover melted chocolate used for the casing over the truffle and scrape with a flat knife or a pastry scraper to achieve a smooth finish. Keep in the fridge to set completely.
- Once set, ease the skulls out of the mold and place in individual cases ( patty pans or muffin cases are ideal ). Keep covered in the fridge until ready to serve.