Halloween's allure is more subtle for grownups than for candy-fixated kids. The opportunity to step outside your normal persona for a night is always appealing, especially when it's combined with suitable foods and a hint of campfire ghost-story nostalgia. With a well-equipped kitchen and a bit of imagination, you can conjure up a Halloween party your friends will remember fondly for years.
Any good party starts off with a liberal supply of finger food, and Halloween is definitely the time to treat that term literally. Make up a batch of your favorite shortbread cookie recipe and roll tapered logs of the dough to form fingers. Press a sliced almond onto each one for a fingernail, and use a toothpick to draw creases at the "knuckles."
A Savory Version
If you think a savory version would suit your friends better, make up a rich, buttery cheese-based dough instead. This gives the fingers a disconcertingly yellow hue for a fittingly gruesome touch. Unblanched sliced almonds make the best fingernails, because the thin ring of brown skin makes the "nail" stand out clearly. Bake them in a moderate oven until lightly golden.
Mix Them Up
Make a fun visual contrast by adding a few drops of green food coloring to the sweet version, then set out plates of both varieties of "witch fingers" on your table. For further gruesome tastiness, provide a vividly red salsa for dipping the savory fingers, and red icing or a berry-and-cream-cheese dip for the sweet fingers.
Gravlax is a contraction of the Swedish term "gravad lax," or "salmon from the grave," because in the days before electricity, the salmon was buried in the ground to prevent spoilage while it cured. It's an unusual but sophisticated and perfectly appropriate Halloween treat for the grownups, and relatively easy to make. You'll need a large, thick, rectangular piece of salmon fillet, cut from the thickest part of the fish.
Three Days in the Crypt
Spread the salmon liberally with a mixture of sugar and coarse salt, cover it with chopped fresh dill, and then give it a splash of gin or vodka. Wrap it tightly in plastic wrap, then cover it with a serving tray and a couple of bricks or cans of food, for weight. Stash the salmon in the coolest section of your refrigerator for three days, turning it every day.
Night of the Swimming Dead
On the day of your party, unwrap the salmon, rinse it under cold running water, and pat it carefully dry. Slice the firm-textured fish diagonally into paper-thin sheets, and serve it to your guests on rye bread or crackers. Cream cheese, capers, sprigs of dill or tiny wedges of thin-sliced lemon are all suitable garnishes.
Black and Orange
For something adult-oriented with a more traditional black-and-orange Halloween color scheme, pick up a few of the smallest Sweet Dumpling squashes you can find. You'll need one for every two guests. Split them in half vertically, scoop out the seeds, and bake them in face-down in your range until they're just tender.
While the squashes are baking, prepare a batch of "risotto nero" on your stovetop. It uses Arborio rice, like any other risotto, but it's tinted a deep and vivid black with squid ink. Good fishmongers will have packets of ink in their frozen section, or at worst can order it for you if you ask in advance. Most recipes call for squid as well, which you can use or omit as you prefer.
When the risotto's ready, slide your tiny squashes from the oven and turn them cut-side up. Fill each with a scoop of black risotto, then keep them warm in your warming drawer until it's party time. For an extra-seasonal touch, cut eye and mouth shapes from slices of roasted pumpkin or winter squash, and decorate the risotto to resemble a jack o'lantern in reverse.
The Eyes Have It
Don't forget to give your party cocktails a Halloween twist. For example, any Martini can be made macabre by the addition of an eyeball garnish. For the simplest version, slide a whole clove into the olive's pimento to provide a pupil. You could also stuff the hole in a peeled lychee with a blueberry, or use a small melon baller to make a cavity in a radish and stuff it with a halved cocktail olive.
A Witch's Brew
Give the classic ice-cream float an adult spin, as a suitable finish to your gathering. Scoop vanilla ice cream into tall glasses, then add a shot each of vodka and espresso, and top up the glass—carefully!—with your favorite stout. The rich and sweet drink will roil and bubble as your guests watch in fascination.
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