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Scare up an appetite with monster-worthy fare

McClatchy-Tribune

With frightful little creatures ringing the doorbell all evening, Halloween isn't the best time for a sit-down dinner party.

But with Oct. 31 falling on the weekend again this year, it'd be a shame to call it a night too early. So invite your friends (and their little goblins) to stop in after they make their rounds through the neighborhood.

This comforting soup-and-sandwich supper makes for a simple post-trick-or-treating gathering. Everything can be prepared ahead of time, and it's easy to adjust to your crowd.

Swap out the bread and cheese choices to accommodate picky little palates, or skip the punch in favor of wine for a more grown-up bash (Michaels craft stores have spooky wine labels to turn that cabernet you might normally serve into "Werewolf Drool" or "Demon's Blood").

Just be sure to get started a day ahead so you'll have plenty of time to enjoy all the entertainment anyone needs on Halloween: answering the door.

Wormy lime punch

Serves about 8 to 10

Ingredients:
1 (12-ounce) container frozen limeade concentrate, frozen4 cups white grape juice, chilled4 cups ginger ale, chilledWormy ice ring (see recipe below)

1. Stir limeade and white grape juice in large punch bowl until limeade concentrate melts and is fully incorporated. Stir in ginger ale. Add wormy ice ring and serve.

Nutritional information:
Per serving (punch and ice ring), based on 8: 253 calories, trace fat, 65 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram protein, no cholesterol, 19 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber, 0 percent of calories from fat.

-- Laura Samuel Meyn

Wormy ice ring

This ice ring can be made a few days ahead and left in the freezer until time to serve the punch. It'll keep the punch cold, and as it melts, it'll release creepy worms into the mix. Super Target has a good selection of gummy creatures.

Ingredients:
Nonstick Bundt pan, ice ring mold or medium mixing bowl
Distilled water or tap water
17-ounce bag gummy worms (not the sour kind)
Gummy tarantula or other gummy creatures for garnish (optional)

1. Fill pan, mold or bowl to desired depth with water. Add a handful of gummy worms to water (worms will sink) and arrange them around bottom of pan (reserve remaining gummy worms for garnishing individual servings). Freeze until solid. Leave in freezer until ready to make punch.

To unmold ice ring: Hold pan sideways with hand over the ice to catch it, and run warm water over bottom of pan; the ice ring will loosen quickly. Transfer, worm-side-up, to punch bowl, and garnish ice ring with additional gummy worms, a gummy tarantula, or other gummy creatures, if desired.

per serving, based on 8: 54 calories, trace fat, 13 grams carbohydrates, trace protein, no cholesterol, 12 milligrams sodium, no dietary fiber, 0 percent of calories from fat.

-- Laura Samuel Meyn

Sweet and salty pumpkin seeds

This recipe comes courtesy of Real Simple (www.realsimple.com). Tip: The pumpkin seeds can be made and stored at room temperature in an airtight container up to 3 days in advance.

Serves 8

Nutritional information:
2 cups fresh pumpkin seeds (from 2 medium pumpkins), rinsed and patted dry
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1. Heat oven to 300 degrees. Spread the seeds on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until dry throughout, 50 to 60 minutes.

2. Increase oven temperature to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, toss the seeds with the butter, sugar, salt and cinnamon. Return the seeds to the baking sheet and toast, tossing occasionally, until golden brown, 10 to 15 minutes.

Nutritional analysisPer serving: 109 calories, 6 grams fat, 12 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams protein, 8 milligrams cholesterol, 121 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber, 48 percent of calories from fat.

-- Real Simple

Vampire blood tomato soup with muenster sammies

This recipe is from Food Network Kitchens (www.foodnetwork.com).

8 servings

Nutritional information:
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 fennel bulb, chopped, about 2 1/2 cups
1/2 large onion, chopped, about 1 cup
4 cloves garlic, smashed
1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon fennel seed
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, optional
1 (28-ounce) can plum tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
2 cups homemade vegetable broth or low-sodium canned broth
2 cups tomato juice
6 basil leaves, torn
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Fresh ground black pepper, to taste
Muenster sammies, recipe follows

1. Heat olive oil in a medium sauce pot over medium-high heat. Add fennel, onion, garlic, salt, fennel seed and crushed pepper, if using, and cook until vegetables soften and brown slightly, about 5 minutes. Drain and reserve juice from the tomatoes, then crush tomatoes gently with your hands. Add the tomatoes, increase heat to high, and cook until they begin to brown slightly, about 5 minutes.

2. Add the reserved tomato juice, vegetable broth, tomato juice and basil leaves. Bring to a boil, stir, reduce heat to medium low, cover and cook until vegetables are cooked through and soup reduces and thickens, about 30 minutes.

3. Remove pot from stove and puree the soup in batches, with an immersion or regular blender, or food processor. Stir in lemon juice and season with pepper to taste. Serve. (Can be prepared a day ahead. Cool, cover, and refrigerate. Reheat just before serving.)

Nutritional analysis per serving (soup only): 118 calories, 6 grams fat, 12 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams protein, no cholesterol, 748 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber, 45 percent of calories from fat.

-- Food Network

MUENSTER SAMMIES WITH APPLE JELLY

This recipe also is from Food Network Kitchens (www.foodnetwork.com). You'll need a cookie cutter or two in spooky shapes (such as pumpkins, ghosts, black cat, bats or witches). The recipe calls for small pumpernickel; we used a larger loaf for bigger sandwiches.

Makes 8 sandwiches

Nutritional information:
16 (3 1/2-inch square) slices Westphalian Pumpernickel, or other thin black bread

1/2 cup apple jelly

8 slices Muenster cheese, about 3 ounces

8 slices yellow Cheddar cheese, about 3 ounces

Optional garnishes: Dill pickle rounds, fennel fronds, Spanish olives with pimentos

1. Toast bread in toaster or toaster oven until slightly crisp, about 5 minutes (or less if using a toaster.)

2. Spread one side of each slice of bread with apple jelly. Layer the cheese over the apple jelly, top with remaining slice of bread.

3. Cut out as desired. Garnish as desired.

Nutritional analysis per sandwich: 168 calories, 7 grams fat, 20 grams carbohydrates, 6 grams protein, 21 milligrams cholesterol, 246 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber, 38 percent of calories from fat.

-- Food Network

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SPIDER WEB BROWNIES

While I usually bake from scratch, for party menus it's nice to have a shortcut: You can make these with your favorite brownie recipe or with a mix. For the frosting, adjust the consistency by adding more milk or confectioners' sugar as necessary; it should be easily spreadable, like Nutella.

Makes about 24

Brownies:

1 (19.8-ounce) package brownie mix (such as Duncan Hines Dark Chocolate Fudge brownies)

2 eggs

1/2 cup oil

1/4 cup water

Frosting:

2 tablespoons butter, melted

1/2 cup cocoa powder

1/4 cup (or more) milk

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Pinch of salt

1 1/2 cups (or more) confectioners' sugar

1 tube white decorating icing (such as Wilton) with plain tip

For brownies: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 24-count mini muffin tin with nonstick spray. Prepare brownie mix according to package directions. Divide brownie batter among mini muffin cups, filling each about 3/4 full (you might have some batter left over; bake separately). Bake brownies until tester inserted comes out with moist crumbs attached, about 20 to 22 minutes (do not overbake). Cool 10 minutes in pan, then turn out of muffin cups onto cooling rack and cool completely.

For frosting: Using electric mixer, beat melted butter and cocoa powder until blended. Beat in milk, vanilla and salt. Beat in confectioners' sugar, adding more milk or confectioners' sugar if necessary to achieve a soft, spreadable consistency.

For spider web design: Frost cooled brownies liberally with cocoa frosting. Using plain tip, pipe thin spiral of white frosting atop each brownie. Use a toothpick to drag six lines from center of brownie out, forming spider web design. (Can be prepared a day ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)

Nutritional analysis per brownie: 191 calories, 10 grams fat, 27 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams protein, 20 milligrams cholesterol, 94 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber, 43 percent of calories from fat.

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