Halloween!

So I have to apologize for disappearing a bit recently – I felt like I was sort of on a roll with posting regularly and all, but things sort of got off track for awhile.

There are good reasons for this. To begin with, I was sick with some as-yet-undefined infection somewhere in my head for about two weeks, which left me dizzy and light-headed and wanting to do nothing but perform my best imitation of a lump on the couch. The last thing I felt like doing was photographing our meals and then writing about them. Of course this was almost a moot point anyway, because for those same two weeks or so we were basically on a liquid diet, eating nothing but soup, in an attempt to eat a bit more cheaply and healthily for awhile. Everything we made was quite tasty, but little of it felt blog-worthy. (Though our last meal in the Great Soup Extravaganza of 2008 was actually extremely good and quite pretty, so that’s high on my list of to-blog meals right now.)

Then, there was work, which has been kicking my rear for about a month now. My staff and I just launched a major marketing campaign this past week, and the days leading up to D-Day were crazy-busy, to put it lightly. And as I’m sure many of you can understand, after days like that its all I can do to help J with a simple meal and then veg for the rest of the night.

However, I’m finally feeling better, we’re back to a semi-normal cooking routine, and I think I’m through the worst at work, for now anyway, so I’m ready to start posting again. I’ve got a couple of things lined up, and with this month’s Barefoot Bloggers recipes on their way and Thanksgiving just around the corner, I think there will be plenty to talk about in the coming weeks.

Right now, though, I’d like to tell you about our Halloween party.

Throwing parties is something that J and I seem to excel in, if you’ll pardon my boasting. We love to entertain, and have parties at least 4 or 5 times a year for various occasions (holidays, birthdays, etc.) We plan a bunch of finger foods and appetizers to serve, ask our friends to bring beverages (usually beer, and soda for non-drinkers), put together a playlist on iTunes, and voila! Instant party.

Well, not exactly instant – our parties usually require at least a week of gradual prep-work since they are always so food-centric. But its work we enjoy, and its fun seeing a party slowly come together in the days leading up to the event.

Halloween is probably the one occasion that, among our group of friends, absolutely REQUIRES a party. Its a tradition that started five years ago, when I was living in Queens with three friends after my graduation from college. I think it was the first party we threw together, and it was such a phenomenal success that we’ve just kept it going ever since. Its the one party that everyone really loves because they get to dress up in costume and be a little uninhibited for awhile, and I think I can say with some degree of certainty that people especially love coming to our house because of the food.

That being said, although I don’t feel like we made any more food this year than we normally do, we had a LOT of leftovers afterwards. For some reason, people just weren’t eating as much as they normally do. We did try a different layout of our apartment for the party and arranged the food tables a bit differently than normal, so maybe we screwed something up there. Regardless though, we got nothing but compliments on everything.

If you’d like the recipe for any of these munchies, just request it in the comments and I’ll be sure to add it to the post. And my apologies if some of these photos are a bit dark or oddly colored – it being Halloween and all, the lighting in the apartment was rather dim and atmospheric, which may be appropriate for a party but doesn’t make for good photography.

The hot food table. This was a new development for this party, because I finally bit the bullet and bought one of these buffet-style chafing dishes, and we needed to setup an extra table in order to have room for everything.

Test tube soup shooters. Half are butternut squash, and half are roasted red pepper and tomato. I hate to admit that I got the idea for this from Rachel Ray but, well, I did. And its ok, because I thought they were terribly cute (and the soup, though mostly ignored by our guests, was tasty too). Plus, now we have test tubes to use for custom shots at future parties. I’m rather tickled by this possibility.

And yes, thats a big bowl of marinara in the foreground, which was the accompaniment for…

…bloody bones! A.k.a. shaped breadsticks made with herbed pizza dough, and marinara dipping sauce. Got this idea from some random Halloween recipes website, and used some pizza dough I’d kept in the freezer from one of our grilled pizza experiments. J made the marinara because he’s the resident expert. These led to much hilarity as I beatedly realized that once you bite an end off, they end up looking rather more than a little suggestive. Oops!

In front, mummy dogs (pigs-in-a-blanket made by wrapping strips of dough around each cocktail weenie rather than rolling them in crescent rolls) and a handful of herbed pretzels made with the excess dough for the piggies. In back, our famous Asian meatballs with sweet sesame glaze. I think these were one of the first recipes we developed all on our own and served at a party, with J creating the meatballs and me creating the glaze, way back when we first moved in together. We’ve been making them for almost every party ever since because people just go nuts over them. Oddly enough, we ended up having quite a few extra at the end of the party, but since J made almost 5 dozen of them I guess that’s not really that surprising.

Cold food table number 1. There was a simple vodka punch in the cauldron (we fit a punch bowl inside for a pretty neat fakeout effect) made with two 2L bottles of sprite, lemon and mango sorbets, and 2/3 of a bottle of Stoli citrus – this stuff is sweet and hardly tastes alcoholic, so drinkers beware! Its very easy to have a few too many glasses and suddenly realize you cant quite walk a straight line. Needless to say, it disappeared.

In the foreground are some mini pumpkin spice muffins, and my good friend Cristen’s signature dark chocolate truffles, made this time around with caramel ganache and fleur de sel. I always ask her to bring truffles to our parties – she’s brilliant with them and, well, I’m chocolate-challenged and have yet to make anything even resembling a decent batch.

Also on this table, a plate of antipasto – an olive mix and some marinated mushrooms from Iavarone (I absolutely drool over their mushrooms – I buy containers of them on an almost weekly basis just to snack on), some quick-marinated artichoke hearts that I made that day (in the back of the photo where you can’t really see them), store-bought dill cornichons and some of my home-pickled bread and butter slices. Remind me to share the recipe for those at a later date – they are the best I’ve ever made and, according to J and several of our guests, the best they’d ever tasted. In the middle is a bowl of toasted pumpkin seeds, salvaged from the pumpkins I carved the night before. I followed Elise’s method on Simply Recipes and found they came out far better than the ones I remember my mom making as a kid. They disappeared like crazy, so its a good thing I kept some back for myself for later!

Cold food table number 2, offering massive plates of cured sausage and cheese and vegetable crudite, a pate selection, and some sweets (including the requisite dish piled with Halloween candy). The sausage and cheese plate had 4 varieties of each: Iavarone’s sweet soppresetta, hard salami, chorizo picante, and smoked andouille for the sausage; aged gouda, emmenthaler, sharp cheddar, and Prima Donna for the cheese. I made the little signs because the selection was a little unusual and I wanted to be sure people knew what they were eating. The crudite plate included grape tomatoes, broccoli florets, baby carrots, zucchini batons, red pepper slices, and celery sticks, and were paired with an easy homemade dip with lemon, dill, and garlic. We had the most leftovers from these two plates – luckily they were easily put to use in our meals the following week. I guess maybe we just got a little too complicated with them?

A selection of pates that we ordered from D’Artagnan and which, I’m sorry to say, we found a bit disappointing. Our previous experiences with pates have been mind-blowingly delicious, life-changing revelations of savory flavor and aroma, and these seemed bland in comparison. I guess maybe the ones we’ve had the pleasure of sampling in the past were just especially prime specimens, but D’Artagnan has such a good reputation I was really expecting something more. Unsurprisingly, very little of this was eaten, and we still have a lot left which I don’t know how to use. They were paired with some whole grain crackers and crostini made from sourdough baguettes cut into 1/2″ slices on the bias and toasted under the broiler with a generous brushing of olive oil an a sprinkling of kosher salt and fresh-cracked pepper.

Bite-sized sugar cookie cutouts glazed with colored royal icing. I am rather in love with these little cookies, despite the amount of time it took to make them. Have you ever tried to frost 6 dozen tiny cookies? Its a lot of work. We still have some left and I’ve been having a couple for dessert every day – they’re just sugary enough with a fragrant touch of almond extract, and the perfect size for a little sweet ending to a meal.

I know, not food. But, this is the first jack-o-lantern I’ve made in probably 4 years, and I was awfully proud of it. I can’t figure out if he looks cheerful or menacing!

And just for fun, here’s the group before everyone got tired of wearing their costumes and changed into street clothes.

Is it weird that I think this is the best picture taken of me in ages? And fyi, that’s J in the background in the Guy Fawkes mask. He made a good V, but I’m really creeped out by masks so I’m glad he didn’t keep it on long. (And I am still amazed by Cristen’s geisha costume. She looked incredible!)

I hope everyone had a fun and safe Halloween!

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