Turn Halloween into a family affair with an easy block party No Trick to these Treats

Trick or treating sure has changed since my day. We no longer pass out home-baked cookies and hand-dipped candy apples to the pint-sized witches and goblins who ring our doorbells. Now all treats have to be factory wrapped and hermetically sealed for safety. And even older kids who once raced on their own from house to house are now cautiously chaperoned by parents who stand at a discreet but protective distance at the end of the driveway.

We may have lost some of the innocence of the old days, but there is an upside to this New Age version of Halloween. The holiday that was once strictly for kids has become a real family affair. Adults are out strolling the street with their offspring, meeting each other with conviviality and sharing the evening with a festive common purpose.


What a hauntingly perfect occasion to throw open your doors to friends and neighbors for a good old-fashioned family block party -- the kind where new friendships are struck up and past acquaintances are renewed. And kids and adults alike experience what the true spirit of "neighborhood" used to mean and can mean again.

Because you may not even know some of the neighbors' names to call or mail out invitations, try writing the party particulars on a scroll of orange paper tied with black ribbon. Insert it into a store-bought plastic pumpkin and hang it on each family's doorknob. Or buy miniature 3-inch pumpkins at the market and write the party plans on them with indelible black marker. Leave them like "calling cards" on each neighbor's front steps.


When the guests start pouring in, the kids will no doubt dive into their candy treats, but with a little imagination you can trick them (and the adults) into some delicious real food, too.

Different sized hollowed-out pumpkins make super bowls for serving Halloween-inspired foods -- black olives, black grapes, skewers of grilled black sausage, roasted black walnuts, and slices of black forest ham wrapped around chunks of black pepper cheese are just a few suggestions.

The possibilities for Halloween-oriented theme foods are endless once you start getting into the spirit of it. Pitchers of black cherry soda or orange juice for the kids. Black sangria, black Russians or orange screwdrivers for the over-21 crowd. Angel food and devil's-food cakes for everyone.

Because open-house entertaining has to accommodate a staggered stream of arrivals, buffet is the obvious style for serving. Set out a steaming caldron of Transylvanian ghoulash, a tossed salad with green ghostess dressing, spaghetti squash noodles, loaves of black bread, and let the guests help themselves.

Add some bewitching costumes, spooky lighting and a background of eerie sound effects from the local party shop and you've got yourself an event the neighbors will be cackling about for a long time to come.

Black sangria

Adapted from "The Silver Palate Cookbook."

Makes about 16 servings


4 strips of peel from a whole lemon

1 1/2 cups strongly brewed black tea

3 bottles dry red wine, chilled

2 cups black grapes, frozen cherries and/or berries, thawed

chilled club soda to taste

In a large bowl, pitcher or punch bowl, combine lemon peel, tea, 1 bottle of red wine and fruit. Refrigerate until serving or overnight. Before serving, stir in remaining wine. Add club soda to taste. Serve over ice with some fruit in each glass.


Transylvanian ghoulash

Makes 14 to 16 servings

2 ounces dried mushrooms, such as shiitakes

4 to 6 tablespoons vegetable oil

5 pounds veal stew meat, leg or shoulder, cut into 1 1/2 -inch cubes

2 large onions, chopped


5 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons paprika

salt and pepper to taste

2 tablespoons grated orange peel

2 teaspoons dried thyme leaves, crumbled

2 cans (28 ounces each) whole tomatoes, drained


2 cups dry white wine

2 packages (10 ounces each) frozen peas, thawed slightly

Place the mushrooms in a medium-size bowl, cover with boiling water and let soak for 30 minutes or longer. Drain and chop into small pieces. In a large heavy Dutch oven or saucepan, preferably nonstick, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil. Saute the veal in batches over high heat until golden, turning to brown all sides, adding additional oil as needed. As each batch is browned, remove to a bowl.

Reduce the heat to low and add the onion and garlic. Cook,

stirring frequently, until onions are tender, but not brown, about 10 minutes. Stir in the paprika, salt, pepper, orange peel and thyme. Return meat to pan and add tomatoes, breaking them up with your fingers. Add wine and mushrooms, stir well, cover and simmer over low heat for 1 1/2 hours or until meat is tender, stirring every 10 to 15 minutes. (Ghoulash may be refrigerated up to 2 days or frozen. Before serving, reheat over low heat, stirring often.) Stir in peas and heat until hot, about 10 minutes.

Spaghetti squash noodles


Makes 16 servings

2 medium spaghetti squash (4 to 4 1/2 pounds each)

1/4 pound (1 stick) butter or margarine

1/2 cup chicken or vegetable broth

1/2 to 1 cup Parmesan cheese to taste

salt and pepper to taste


3 green onion tops, thinly sliced

To cook squash in the microwave, pierce each squash in several places with the tines of a large carving fork. Place one squash on a microwave-safe plate. Cover loosely with plastic wrap. Cook on high (100 percent) for 10 minutes. Turn over and cook, covered on high for 8 to 10 more minutes or until soft when pierced with fork. Repeat with second squash.

To cook squash in oven, heat oven to 375 degrees. Place the squash on a large greased baking sheet. Bake for 45 to 60 minutes or until soft when pierced with a fork.

While squash cooks, in a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt butter or margarine. Stir in chicken broth.

When the squash is done, cut it in half lengthwise. With a spoon, scoop out the seeds and loose fibers and discard them. Using a fork, scrape out the spaghetti-like strands of flesh and pile them into a serving bowl. (The squash may be held several hours. Reheat covered in microwave.) Pour hot butter mixture over the squash and toss to coat. Add Parmesan cheese and salt and pepper to taste. Add green onions and toss well.

Green ghostess salad


Makes 16 servings

15 ounces stemmed and torn fresh spinach

1 1/2 pounds Boston or butter lettuce, washed and torn into 1-inch pieces

3/4 cup sliced radishes

1 seedless cucumber, cut into 1-inch chunks

4 tomatoes, chopped



1 clove garlic, peeled

4 anchovy fillets, rinsed

1/4 cup chopped spinach leaves

1/4 cup chopped green onions

1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon or 1 1/2 teaspoons dried tarragon


1 cup regular or light mayonnaise

1/2 cup regular or light sour cream

1/4 cup tarragon vinegar

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Prepare greens and refrigerate until ready to serve or overnight.

To make dressing, in a food processor fitted with the metal blade, process garlic and anchovies until minced. Add spinach, onions and tarragon and process until finely minced. Add mayonnaise, sour cream, vinegar and salt and pepper to taste. ** (Dressing may be refrigerated up to 1 week.)


Before serving, place salad greens, radishes, cucumbers and tomatoes in a very large bowl. Add dressing and toss well.