Thursday, October 27, 2011

Happy Halloween!

Tonight is the night the full moon loves most, 
     when ghouls and ghosts and goblins host ...

You too can host an elegant autumn repast to celebrate the holiday.  With the upswing of fall festivals complete with pumpkin picking, cider-sipping and getting lost in corn mazes, the increasingly elaborate haunted house tours and haunted hayrides, and more and more dramatic Halloween decorations popping up on front porches and gardens, everyone is getting into the act these days.  Halloween, it isn't just for children anymore.  While you may no longer pass for that delightfully cute trick-or-treating tot, leave the cheap candies and the bobbing for apples to the kids.  You can still enjoy some tasty treats with a few of your friends to make the holiday special to a grown-up's taste.  Incidentally, a note about the cheap candies: we are all guilty of this so by all means, go ahead, sift your way through the trick-or-treat bowl and fish out the favorites from your own childhood to hoard for yourself!  My guilty pleasures here are Nutrageous, Snickers and peanut or almond M&Ms.

Whether the imagination and creativity of a costume party is your idea of a Halloween celebration of choice, or a sit-down dinner at a festively staged table scape steadfastly remains your comfort zone, preparing a spread worthy of the occasion is as easy as incanting abracadabra over your stove. 

Focus on foods and beverages that reflect the seasonal colors and the flavors of a fall harvest.  Start with some drinks to welcome your guests, the darker in color the better.  A dark malty stout would fit the beer bill perfectly.  A couple of mixed drinks which would be perfect include a dark chocolate-espresso martini - it's as close to black in color as you can get - and the bloody-red pommegranate martini.  For the entree of the meal, I would recommend a roast, such as the pork roast in the recipe below which cooks with fall apples.  Sides can be any of fall's colorful bounty, such as baked acorn squash, roast butternut squash puree, brussels sprouts, purple potatoes, or a combination of roasted root vegetables which will showcase all of the colors of fall.  For dessert, bake up something sinful and decorate it specially for the occasion.  I will be making dark chocolate cupcakes with orange - both in color AND in flavor - frosting; then each will be finished with three candy corns on top.

The setting aids in staging the Halloween mood.  For background sound, sure you could use one of those recordings of scary sound effects, or a mix of Halloween songs; or if you are trying for the more sophisticated gathering I find that the Bach concerto is a perfect accompaniment to the evening.  In areas where guests will tend to congregate, arrange some bowls filled with quality chocolates and good candies in colors of black, orange and white.  A perfect example for this would be the Jelly Belly gourmet jelly beans in the aforementioned colors.  To enhance a mood of eeriness, limit lighting in the dining room and living room to the dancing flames of numerous candles set around.  For the table, I saw a perfect tablecloth in the JC Penney catalog: black with satiny black striping.  I would set out white dishes with that for contrast and elegant flare, and place a white mini pumpkin at each place to follow through the black-and-white theme.  Then for Halloween accent I would top each plate with an orange napkin.  Down the center of the table, try votif candles and pumpkins of varying colors, shapes and sizes.  So easy, lighting, music, table scape and seasonal menu are the makings for a perfect holiday, costumes optional.

Pork Tenderloin with Apples and Fennel
2 pork tenderloins
1/4 cup apple cider
2 tablespoons thyme leaves
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon chipotle chili powder
1 teaspoon salt

3 very firm apples, such as granny smith, cored, cut into thick wedges
2 fennel bulbs, halved, cored, sliced crosswise

Additional extra virgin olive oil for drizzling
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Fresh cracked black pepper

Preheat oven to 450-degrees.  In a small bowl combine cider, thyme, 2 tablespoons olive oil, brown sugar, smoked paprika, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, chipotle chili powder and 1 teaspoon salt. Rub mixture all over the pork, then place pork in the center of a large roasting pan.  Mix together the fennel and apple in a large bowl.  Drizzle with additional olive oil, add 1 teaspoon cinnamon. Toss to coat.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Arrange the fennel and apple around the pork in the roasting pan.  Roast for 30-40 minutes.  Serves four.

One redeeming quality about this dish is that it can be prepared in advanced, as could a couple of side dishes which would also roast at the same time in separate pans.  You could potentially take a sip from your drink, disappear into the kitchen, slip the entire meal into the oven, walk out and nod a response to somebody's conversation without missing a beat.  Plan to sit down late, after the visiting ghoulies and goonies have trickled down so that you aren't engaging in an evening cardio workout as you jump up and down to placate the trick-or-treaters who come a-knockin'.  One more tip for a little added fun to your gathering: rent a couple of horror flicks to watch after dinner over dessert and coffee.  My top picks? 'The Exorcist', 'Carrie', 'Dracula' (either the 1931 Tod Browning version starring Bela Lugosi or the 1992 film by Francis Ford Coppola) and George Romero's 1968 'Night of the Living Dead'.

Happy Halloween!

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