Between expensive costumes, gobs of candy for trick-or-treaters and all the requisite spooky decorations, the real fright this Halloween could come when you check your wallet on November 1st.
But with a little resourcefulness and some shopping smarts you can host a fine Halloween shindig without sending your budget to the graveyard.
Start by spreading the party planning joy. Autumn is a great time for potluck events. Set out a limited spread of food and perhaps a few seasonal drinks (such as mulled cider and Oktoberfest beer). Then encourage guests to bring their favorite creepy snacks, or suggest a theme and ask them to play along (such as orange foods).
Dishes that can be prepared ahead of time in large pots or slow cookers are well suited to this kind of gathering. A big batch of chili — especially an all-bean vegetarian version — is an inexpensive way to feed a lot of people.
Canned pumpkin — which is often on sale this time of year — can be used to make a sweet and tangy dip that goes well with salty pretzel rods. Beat an 8-ounce package of cream cheese with half a cup of maple syrup or honey until smooth. Then beat in a 15-ounce can of pumpkin, half a cup of plain yogurt and 2 teaspoons of pumpkin pie spice. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
The self-serve olive bar at many grocers is an excellent place to stock up on a wide variety of appetizer items, such as marinated mushrooms, pickled and marinated peppers, bocconcini (miniature mozzarella balls) and, of course, all kinds of olives. The advantage is that you can buy just the amount needed, usually at one price.
Pumpkins can do double duty as both decorations and part of your spread. To make a fun antipasto that's also a centerpiece, buy a medium-sized pumpkin and some bamboo skewers. Cut the top off the pumpkin and remove the seeds (don't throw them away). Skewer items from the olive bar and stick them all over the pumpkin in a decorative manner.
You can either place the top back on the pumpkin or rest a dish of olives, nuts or dip in the hole.
The reserved pumpkin seeds can be rinsed of pulp and roasted at 300 F for 35 to 45 minutes to make another tasty nibble.
The rinsed seeds can simply be tossed with olive oil and sea salt before roasting, or you can try something a bit more sophisticated, such as these five-spice roasted pumpkin seeds. Keep a close eye on the seeds, as they can overcook quickly.