In the rush and excitement of Halloween night, families sometimes don’t take the time to sit down to a decent dinner. The result is that the kids fill up on nothing but their trick-or-treat candy the whole night.
So it’s nice to have a Halloween-themed meal to lure the kids to the table.
Some people really like Dinner in a Pumpkin — a ground-beef casserole that’s served in a hollowed-out pumpkin. I realize there are a lot of people who love this recipe. But I tried this one year when my kids were still trick-or-treat age, and they were grossed out by the pumpkin. Definitely no Peter Pumpkin Eaters in my family!
While working at a different newspaper, I asked readers to submit stories about their least favorite casserole. One reader wrote that she dutifully gagged down Dinner in a Pumpkin every year because her mother was so excited about making it, and she didn’t want to burst that bubble. (The bubble was burst when her mom saw the column.) But I know there are definitely Dinner in a Pumpkin fans out there, so far be it from me to get between you and your jack ‘o lantern meal.
Another option is to have the kids help make the dinner. There’s the thought that when they help with it, they are more inclined to eat it. Another idea is to have the meals seem more like a snack or appetizer — snacketizer, if you will.
There are a lot of recipes out there for sick-looking Halloween dishes — some that resemble barf, or bloody fingers and so on. I prefer to take the high road and go with things that aren’t so gross. Pasta Pirates and Yummy Mummy Dogs can be assembled by the kids.
I got the idea for the Pasta Pirates when I ate a skewered tortellini and tomato appetizer at a wedding. When I tried making them at home, I added a pepperoni hat and dotted on some eyes with a toothpick dipped in mayo. Kids can choose whether they would rather have olives or tomato pirates, or both. You can add whatever veggies your kids will like, such as green pepper chunks, mushrooms, or thin zucchini or carrot slices. Place little bowls of marinara sauce on each plate for dipping. These little snacketizers offer up veggies, protein, dairy and carbs all on one skewer.
Chicken Noodle Soup will help little ones stave off the winter’s chill when they’re out trick-or-treating. This recipe takes less than 30 minutes from start to table, and it’s easy enough that kids can help with a lot of the preparation. Use rotisserie chicken, or leftover cooked chicken, or frozen cooked chicken chunks. If you use the petite baby carrots and dried onion flakes, you don’t have to peel or chop veggies.
The Yummy Mummy Dogs recipe comes from Rhodes Bake-n-Serv. These dogs come baked in their own mummy-shaped buns.
1 9-ounce package refrigerated cheese tortellini
About 20 cherry or grape tomatoes
About 20 pitted whole olives
4 to 5 sticks of string cheese
About 40 slices pepperoni
1 teaspoon mayonnaise
2 cups marinara sauce
Fill a 3-quart pot halfway with water, and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the tortellini and cook for 5-7 minutes. The pasta should be tender, but firm enough to stay on a toothpick.
Drain the pasta, and rinse with cold water.
To assemble the pirates, cut the string cheese into half-inch slices. Thread a slice of the string cheese onto the toothpick. Fold a slice of pepperoni in half and thread it on the toothpick to make the hat. Next add either a cherry tomato or an olive for the face. Finish with a piece of the tortellini for the pirate’s body. Dip the tip of a toothpick in the mayonnaise to paint.
Place the pirates on a serving platter, or on individual plates. Pour the marinara sauce into bowls for dipping.
— Valerie Phillips
Yummy Mummy Dogs
Frozen dinner rolls, thawed but still cold
Bun-length hot dogs
For each Mummy Dog, cut one dinner roll in half. Roll each half into a 22-24-inch rope. Cut a 1 1/2-inch piece off to wrap around the top. Wrap the remaining rope around hot dog from the bottom up, about 4 1/2 inches. Repeat to make as many as desired.
Place Mummy Dogs on a sprayed baking sheet and bake at 350°F 10-15 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from oven, cool slightly and add mustard eyes. Serve warm with ketchup and mustard.
— Rhodes Bake-n-Serv
Homestyle Chicken Noodle Soup
3 14-ounce cans chicken broth
1 to 1-1/2 cups baby petite carrots
2 tablespoons dried minced onion flakes
2 to 3 cups cooked rotisserie chicken, or 3 cups frozen roasted, cubed chicken breast (such as Tyson Oven-Roasted)
4 to 6 ounces fettuccini pasta, or spaghetti (about 1/4 to 1/3 of a 1-pound package)
1 tablespoon fresh parsley flakes (or 1 teaspoon dried parsley flakes)
1 cup frozen peas
Salt and pepper to taste
Pull the chicken meat from the rotisserie chicken and place on a cutting board. Cut the chicken into bite-size pieces with a chef’s knife and measure to get 2 to 3 cups.
Place the broth, carrots and onion flakes in a 3- or 4-quart pot over high heat. When the broth begins to boil, add the chicken.
Holding both ends of the pasta, break it into thirds and add it to the pot. Cook about 10 minutes, until the pasta and carrots are tender. Add the parsley and peas just before serving so that they stay bright green. Taste and add salt and pepper to taste. Makes 6 servings of 1 1/4 cups each.
— Valerie Phillips
Dinner In A Pumpkin
1 small to medium pumpkin
1 onion, chopped
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 1/2 to 2 pounds ground beef or dark turkey ground
2 tablespoons lite soy sauce
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 (4 ounce) can sliced mushrooms, drained
1 (10 3/4 ounce) can cream of chicken soup
1 1/2 cup cooked rice
1 (8 ounce) can sliced water chestnuts, drained
Cut off the top of the pumpkin and thoroughly clean out seeds and pulp. Paint an appropriate face on the front of the pumpkin with a permanent marking pen or acrylic paint.
Preheat oven to 350° F. In a large skillet, sauté onions in oil until tender. Add meat and brown. Drain drippings form skillet. Add lite soy sauce, brown sugar, mushrooms and soup. Simmer 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add cooked rice and water chestnuts. Now, spoon the mixture into the cleaned pumpkin shell to serve.
If you want to eat the pumpkin itself as a side dish, replace pumpkin top and place entire pumpkin, with filling, on a baking sheet. Bake 1 hour or until inside meat of the pumpkin is tender. Put pumpkin on a plate. Remove pumpkin lid and serve hot. For your vegetable, scoop out cooked pumpkin and serve. Serves 6.
— Dian Thomas, “Holiday Fun Year-Round” (Dian Thomas Company, $14.99)