Easy ideas for an on-the-cheap Halloween party

Posted September 26, 2008 10:15 a.m. EDT
Updated September 27, 2008 10:47 p.m. EDT

Between expensive costumes, gobs of candy for trick-or-treaters and all the requisite spooky decorations, the real fright this Halloween could come when you check your wallet on November 1st.

But with a little resourcefulness and some shopping smarts you can host a fine Halloween shindig without sending your budget to the graveyard.

Start by spreading the party planning joy. Autumn is a great time for potluck events. Set out a limited spread of food and perhaps a few seasonal drinks (such as mulled cider and Oktoberfest beer). Then encourage guests to bring their favorite creepy snacks, or suggest a theme and ask them to play along (such as orange foods).

Dishes that can be prepared ahead in large pots or slow cookers are well suited to this kind of gathering. A big batch of chili, especially an all-bean vegetarian version, is an inexpensive way to feed a lot of people.

Canned pumpkin, which often is on sale this time of year, can be used to make a sweet and tangy dip that goes well with salty pretzel rods. Beat an 8-ounce package of cream cheese with half a cup of maple syrup or honey until smooth. Then beat in a 15-ounce can of pumpkin, half a cup of plain yogurt and 2 teaspoons of pumpkin pie spice. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

The self-serve olive bar at many grocers is an excellent place to stock up on a wide variety of appetizer items, such as marinated mushrooms, pickled and marinated peppers, bocconcini (miniature mozzarella balls) and, of course, all kinds of olives. The advantage is that you can buy just the amount needed, usually at one price.

Pumpkins can do double duty as both decorations and part of your spread. To make a fun antipasto that's also a centerpiece, buy a medium-sized pumpkin and some bamboo skewers. Cut the top off the pumpkin and remove the seeds (don't throw them away). Skewer items from the olive bar and stick them all over the pumpkin in a decorative manner.

You can either place the top back on the pumpkin or rest a dish of olives, nuts or dip in the hole.

The reserved pumpkin seeds can be rinsed of pulp and roasted at 300 F for 35 to 45 minutes to make another tasty nibble.

The rinsed seeds can simply be tossed with olive oil and sea salt before roasting, or you can try something a bit more sophisticated, such as these five-spice roasted pumpkin seeds. Keep a close eye on the seeds, as they can overcook quickly.



Start to finish: 60 minutes (10 minutes active)

Makes 2 cups

2 cups raw pumpkin seeds (seeds from 1 medium sweet pumpkin)

3 tablespoons melted butter

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 tablespoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon five-spice powder

Heat the oven to 300 F.

In a colander, rinse the seeds thoroughly under cold water to remove as much of the pulp as possible. Spread the wet seeds on several paper towels to remove excess moisture.

In a small bowl, combine the pumpkin seeds, melted butter, soy sauce, sugar and five-spice powder; stir to coat well.

Spread the seeds on a rimmed baking sheet and roast, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, 35 to 45 minutes. Check the seeds frequently to prevent burning. Cool for at least 20 minutes before serving.