So you’re having a Halloween party. It was the biggest bash of the year at my house when I was growing up. The street was packed with trick-or-treaters, the house was packed with older kids too cool to dress up, and adults who were too cool to not dress up. It was a real spookfest, and my dad would scare children (often to tears) as he took the task of dressing up very seriously.

Once he was a witch with a cast iron cauldron of some dry ice elixir. Another time he was a very convincing gorilla. The devil mask nearly gave me a heart attack at the age of 3. Frankenstein’s monster was a good one. People came from afar to see what the fellow on North Park had cooked up each year.

My mom still carries the tradition but has taken to creating a family-friendly theme in which the whole street participates. Though the visitors still come from near and far, they aren’t looking to get the pants scared off of them.

Whether it’s a scary affair or a feel-good soiree, passing out candy is the prelude to the feast waiting inside. It’s nothing fancy, but is it ever delicious. I thought it best to share the makings of a good Halloween party.

Basically this is a collection of ideas over the years. If you want strawberries painted as ghosts or grape eyeballs, then get out your fancy handheld supercomputer of a phone and check Pinterest for those ideas. We are tired of the pumpkin vomiting spinach dip.

The kids have plenty of tooth rot to last them until Thanksgiving, so let’s focus on adult ideas.

Always serve a soup
This is even better when we have a Halloween cold snap, but good advice no matter the weather. You could serve it in something festive, even a pot that fits into a hollowed-out pumpkin, but make sure it stays heated.

Chili is always a hit. There are so many choices for toppings and a chance to show off your hot sauce collection. That’s the fun part. I love when someone thinks he/she has what it takes to handle the big boy stuff. They never do. Nor do I, for that matter.

Other options are potato soup, another favorite of mine. There are some savory pumpkin soup recipes out there that have my attention. I’m not sure what I am serving this year but there will be soup!

Finger foods
If you want to put an almond sliver on the end of a hot dog, then go right ahead. That’s not what I mean by finger food. Partygoers need something they can eat on the go without messing up another plate. Let’s start with sandwiches.

Soft dinner rolls are the stars of this show. What comes next is up to you, but I recommend it be hot. An old holiday favorite is to make a big tray of sandwiches with ham or turkey and a combination of peach or apricot marmalade, a dab of honey mustard, Swiss cheese and toasted pecans or walnuts. Brush the tops with butter and cover them in foil on a baking sheet. Bake them until the cheese melts.

We always have meatballs in the slow cooker. You can make your own or just buy the premade Italian meatballs in the frozen food section. Your guests won’t care. Smothered in grape jelly and barbecue sauce, it’s hard to tell the difference. An alternative to the meatball route is the Lil’ Smokies sausages. Either way, you’ll need lots of toothpicks. No need for forks.

My sister makes these little witch-hat “calzones.” It’s an easy fix bordering on the cutesy side of the party I pledged to avoid in this article, but they are good. Each comprises two triangles from a can of crescent rolls. Stuff them with a bit of pepperoni, cheese and tomato sauce. Don’t forget to fold the bottom up so that your hat has a brim! Cuuuuuute!!!!!!

Take a dip
Here’s your chance to put something into a foil-lined pumpkin for “wow” factor. So far everything has been a hot dish. You must serve something cold. Black-eyed pea dip (often called Texas caviar, redneck caviar, etc.) is best made the day before so the dressing works into the peas, onions, corn and tomatoes. I work a lot of cilantro into mine.

The big hit is muffuletta dip. Pronounce it how you like, this is patterned after one of my favorite New Orleans sandwiches. It starts with a good olive salad. Add to that your choice of finely chopped meats including ham, salami, mortadella and capocollo. For smaller amounts go with salami and capocollo. Shredded provolone should sparsely populate this dip. The oil from the olive salad melds it all together. Serve with lightly toasted slices of French bread.

Play the drinking game
First let’s make sure we have drinks for the under-21 crowd. Then let’s make sure we have the bar stocked so those drinks can favor the over-21 crowd. Our first Halloween drink is mulled cider. There are mixes out there that are really good but from scratch it’s nothing more than cinnamon sticks, cloves, allspice and orange slices. Simmer it on the stove or in your other slow cooker. For the adult version, spike your mug with peppermint Schnapps or a fancy pear brandy.

The kids love hot chocolate. So do the adults. Make it without marshmallows but keep some handy on the side. I like to spike it with Maker’s Mark because I won’t mix Woodford Reserve with anything but air.

Here is my favorite simple cold drink: Cranberry juice and Sprite. Go the extra mile and get some good ice from the icehouse and you’ll appreciate this more. I go about 1:2 juice to soda. The way to dress this up is with vodka.

It’s okay to do a few cute things here and there, just don’t lose focus. We mostly want to catch a buzz and get fed. Make sure everything tastes better than it looks. But if you really want to scare me, make a pot of English peas. The horror!

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