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Food & Drink

Sweet, gruesome treats and crafts combine in Halloween party

| Tuesday, Oct. 21, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
Wicked Witch Dippers
Wicked Witch Dippers
Broom Sticks
Broom Sticks
Tangerine Pumpkins and Banana Ghosts
Tangerine Pumpkins and Banana Ghosts

It's a big year for Halloween celebrations.

The National Retail Federation estimates that Americans will spend $2.8 billion on Halloween costumes, including $1.4 billion on adult costumes. Pets will account for only $350 million.

A spooky one in three Americans will either throw or attend a Halloween party, which means more people will dress up in costume than at any time in the survey's 11-year history. A huge contributing factor is the fact that Halloween will fall on a Friday.

Average spending is expected to be around $78 per person, including decor, costumes and candy.

Within the national outlook, real-estate website Zillow cites Pittsburgh as No. 12 in best cities for trick-or-treating. San Francisco ranked No. 1, followed by Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia at No. 4, followed by San Jose, Calif.

In Pittsburgh, Shadyside came in at No. 1 as a top trick-or-treat neighborhood, followed by Regent Square, Squirrel Hill, Point Breeze and Greenfield at No. 5.

If you're planning a Halloween happening, here are some recipes and tricks to make a spooky splash.

Dry ice vapors

Handle dry ice with care, as it can cause frostbite. To make a steaming cauldron of vapor, place the dry ice in a container and add water, which will make a foggy vapor rise. This works great outdoors on Halloween. (A birdbath works well outside as the container.) The liquid will bubble crazily initially, in addition to the smoke, but you'll need to replenish it with more dry ice to keep it going.

If you want the vapor coming out of a pumpkin, place a tall container with dry ice inside a carved jack-o-lantern, then add some water to the dry ice.

To create vapors in a punch bowl, place a smaller bowl to hold the punch inside a large bowl that will hold the dry ice and water. It will appear that the steam is coming from the punch bowl. (This is to avoid having anyone accidentally sipping on dry ice.)

To find a retailer for dry ice, check online. You will need to buy it the day you are using it.

Wicked Witch Dipper

You will need a small paintbrush if you “paint” the fingernail with the egg/food coloring. An alternative is to press a sliced or whole blanched almond at the fingertip.

Frozen bread dough for 12 dinner rolls, thawed but still cold

Butter for greasing baking sheet

14 cup melted butter

Parmesan cheese

Garlic salt

Egg yolk, beaten, for nail color

Food coloring

Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Roll each dinner roll into a 7- to 9-inch pointed rope.

With a sharp knife, define the fingernail on the pointed end and knuckles and lines along the finger.

Place the dinner roll on a greased baking sheet. Pinch the finger thinner on both sides of the knuckle. Brush the finger with butter, avoiding the fingernail. Sprinkle the cheese and garlic salt on the finger but not on the nail.

Make the nail color by combining the egg yolk and food coloring to achieve the desired color. Paint the nail with a small paintbrush. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes.

Makes 12.

Spicy Sweet Mole Pumpkin-Seed Clusters

Think of this recipe as a savory-sweet granola that packs tons of addictive crunch and just a bit of heat (easily adjusted to your taste). It definitely has that potato chip-like, can't-stop-shoving-it-in-your-face quality. Embrace it.

Start to finish: 20 minutes, plus cooling

12 cup almond butter

12 cup honey

12 to 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (more or less, to taste)

12 teaspoon kosher salt

1 tablespoon cocoa powder

1 cup toasted pumpkin seeds

2 cups flaked corn cereal, lightly crushed

Line a rimmed baking sheet with waxed paper.

In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, combine the almond butter, honey, cayenne, salt and cocoa powder. Bring to a simmer and cook for 2 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat and add the pumpkin seeds and cereal. Stir to combine, then transfer the mixture to the prepared pan. Using 2 spoons, separate the mixture into small clusters. Set aside to cool.

Makes 12 servings.

Liquid Mud Punch

This spooky, muddy punch is jammed with chocolate, but it tastes more fruity than sugary. We kept it simple — and nonalcoholic — in case you're willing to share it with the kids. But, after they go to bed, we suggest adding a healthy splash of light rum.

Start to finish: 10 minutes, plus cooling

4 cups grape juice

2 bags (20 ounces each) bittersweet chocolate bits

4 cups blueberry juice, chilled

One 2-liter bottle lemon-lime soda, chilled

Shaved chocolate, to serve

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, bring the grape juice to a simmer. Remove the pan from the from heat and stir in the chocolate bits. Continue stirring until the chips are completely melted and smooth. Whisk in the blueberry juice, then refrigerate the misture until it is completely chilled.

In a large punch bowl, gently stir the chocolate-juice mixture with the lemon-lime soda. Sprinkle with shaved chocolate just before serving.

Makes 24 servings.

Tangerine Pumpkins and Banana Ghosts

4 bananas

8 regular-size chocolate chips, and 16 mini chocolate chips

8 clementines or mandarin oranges

1 rib celery

Peel the bananas and cut them in half. Place the cut side down so the banana halves stand up.

Use the small chocolate chips to make ghost eyes and the large chocolate chips to make ghost mouths.

Peel the clementines or mandarins.

Cut the celery lengthwise into thirds and then across into 12-inch pieces. Insert the celery pieces in the tops of the peeled clementines to resemble pumpkins.

Makes 8 servings.

Broom Sticks

3 sticks of string cheese

6 pretzel sticks

Fresh chives or celery

Using kitchen scissors, cut the ends off each string-cheese stick (about 2 inches long).

Cut one end of the cheese into strips, being careful not to cut all the way to the top. Fan out the cheese strips as best you can.

Take one side of the scissors and gently stick it into the uncut side of the cheese, to make a little hole for the pretzel. Slowly twist the pretzel stick into the hole, being careful not to tear the cheese.

Tie a string of fresh chives or a celery leaf around the top of each cheese piece.

Makes 6 servings.

Rice Krispies Treats With Bourbon Caramel Glaze

For this treat, a batch of favorite caramel sauce was added to the usual butter and marshmallows. It makes all the difference. To improve the recipe even further, a caramel bourbon glaze was added. Because, who says all Halloween treats have to be for the kids? Next, add a sprinkle of coarse sea salt to the caramel topping and candy corns.

Of course, if you feel the need to share these with the kids, you can always leave out the bourbon, or use bourbon extract, instead. And, either way, don't feel you need to limit yourself to the candy corn on top.

Start to finish: 3 hours (20 minutes active)

For the caramel sauce:

1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk

For the bourbon caramel glaze:

12 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened

1 overflowing teaspoon vanilla extract

12 teaspoon kosher salt

2 tablespoons half-and-half

1 tablespoon bourbon, optional

2 34 cups confectioners' sugar

For the bars:

14 cup ( 12 stick) unsalted butter, plus extra for the pan

1 package (10 ounces) marshmallows

5 cups Rice Krispies cereal

Coarse sea salt

1 cup candy corn

Start by making the caramel sauce. Remove the label from the can of sweetened condensed milk, but do not open the can. Place the can in an 8-quart heavy-duty saucepan and add enough water to cover by 2 inches. Bring the water to a boil, then reduce the heat to simmer for 2 12 hours. Check the pan regularly during this process, adding water as needed to maintain the level.

Using tongs and an oven mitt, carefully remove the can from the pan and set it aside to cool for at least 10 minutes. Meanwhile, proceed with the rest of the recipe.

To prepare the glaze: In a large bowl, combine the butter, vanilla, salt, half-and-half and bourbon, if using. Use an electric mixer to beat the micture until it is creamy. Add the confectioners' sugar and beat until the sugar is fully incorporated. When the can of caramel has cooled, carefully open it. Pour half of it into the butter mixture and beat until it is well mixed. Set aside.

To prepare the bars: Coat a 9-inch by 13-inch pan with butter.

In a large, microwave-safe bowl, microwave the 14 cup of butter on high for 30 seconds, or until it is melted. Add the marshmallows and toss to coat them with the butter. Microwave the mixture on high for 1 minute, then stir until the marshmallows are completely melted. Add the remaining half can of caramel and stir until it is smooth. Add the Rice Krispies cereal and stir until they are well coated.

Using wet hands, gently press the cereal mixture evenly into the prepared pan. Spoon the glaze over the cereal mixture, smoothing it as needed. Sprinkle the top with a bit of sea salt, then scatter the candy corn evenly over the surface, gently pressing them into the glaze. Set the pan aside to cool for at least 20 minutes. To serve, cut into 2-inch squares.

Makes 24 bars.

Flexible mummies for Halloween decor

With just a few inexpensive craft materials, you can make a miniature mummy perfect for perching on shelves, bookcases, pumpkins and more this fall. Their flexible frames make them easy to bend in silly poses.

Materials:

Strips of muslin fabric

34-inch round wooden craft beads

2 pipe cleaners, 12 inches

1 cotton ball

Glue, optional

Black permanent marker

Black permanent marker

Cut the muslin into 12-inch-wide strips. Slide a bead to the midpoint of one of the pipe cleaners, and twist the pipe cleaner around the bead to form the head and neck. Continue twisting the pipe cleaner together for about an inch to form the torso.

Using your fingers or a pencil, make a hole through the middle of a cotton ball, hold the ends of the pipe cleaner together, and slide the cotton ball onto the twisted section to add padding to the torso. This step can be skipped if you want an especially skinny mummy, or you can add extra cotton balls to the arms and legs later for a chubbier version.

Spread the ends of the pipe cleaner apart under the torso to form the legs.

Wrap the second pipe cleaner around the body, just under the head, to form the arms, folding each end inward to shorten the arms.

Starting at the head, wrap strips of muslin around the mummy body. A bit of glue is helpful on the rounded surface of the bead, and at the ends of the arms and legs. Two strips should be enough to cover the head, torso and arms, with two more for the legs. Add extra strips of muslin to any areas that look too skimpy or if you want a bulkier mummy.

Use a black marker to make two small dots for eyes.

Light up Halloween night with homemade luminaries

Besides their welcoming glow, luminaries can add sophistication or fun to a sidewalk, staircase, fireplace mantel or front stoop, says Eddie Ross, East Coast design editor for Better Homes and Gardens. Some ideas:

• Drill holes any size into a real or fabricated gourd or pumpkin. Use patterns or lines, or try monogramming your initial. For a pumpkin, cut an access hole at the bottom and clean out the goo from there. Ross recommends using a white or sugar pumpkin. The latter are used for baking; grocery stores sell them.

• Decoupage the outside of any glass jar in orange tissue paper and add a pumpkin face using whatever is on hand — a permanent black marker, stickers or googly eyes.

• For a mummy look, wrap a glass jar with gauze bandages and glue on two googly eyes, or wrap black-paper facial features beneath vellum or masking tape for a similar look.

• Using an orange paper bag, cut out a pumpkin face from one side. Insert a smaller yellow or white paper bag with the votives inside.

• From the blog Family Corner: Paint the outside of a glass jar with white acrylic paint, let it dry completely, and then draw on a ghostly face using a permanent black marker. Fill it in using black acrylic paint. Use different base colors — orange, red, green, purple — to create monsters.

• From iSaveAtoZ blog: Rinse several gallon-size plastic milk jugs. Cut a small opening near the bottom of each jug for inserting individual strings of white holiday lights, or connect three or four jugs with one long string of lights. On a flat, clean side of each jug, draw a ghost face.

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