Brown Cannon III
Harry Potter has one. So did Hecate, goddess of the underworld. With that kind of pedigree, it's time the owl got some of the spotlight. So forget about ghosts and goblins-this year, throw an owl-themed Halloween party with all-ages appeal.
Before trick-or-treaters head into the night, invite parents and kids over for a casual buffet that's perfect for the season. Offer spinach salad laced with ribbons of raw pumpkin and a bruschetta bar with a trio of savory toppings on crisp toasts. There's hot cider for all (grown-ups can spike the brew with pumpkin- and spice-infused vodka). Set out a platter of owl-shaped cookies with candy-corn beaks. And send guests home with owl goodie bags to start the night on just the right hoot.
Owl masks. Before the kids arrive, use a craft knife to cut out mask pieces from thin foam paper (available from Michaels, www.michaels.com or 800/642-4235 for store locations). While the adults mingle, let the younger set glue the pieces together. Use a large needle to thread thin elastic through the mask, knotting elastic at each end to create a band.
Most of this menu can be prepared in advance. The bruschetta bar serves 12; you'll probably have leftover toppings.
• 4 days ahead (or up to 3 months before Halloween): Start infusing the vodka.
• 2 days before the party: Make the cookies.
• 1 day in advance: Prepare toppings for the bruschetta bar.
• 4 hours before guests arrive: Slice and toast baguettes.
• 1 hour before guests arrive: Set out refrigerated mushroom pâté and sweet onions and peppers (keep chicken-cress salad refrigerated until ready to serve), and prepare spinach and pumpkin salad. Start cider; as it's heating, plate cookies and set out toasted baguettes.
Arrange sweet onions and peppers, chicken-cress salad, and mushroom pâté (recipes follow), plus bowls of peanut butter, whipped cream cheese, and jam, on buffet alongside toasted baguette slices (you'll need about 3 baguettes).
PREP AND COOK TIME:
MAKES: About 2 cups
NOTES: You can make the pâté up to 1 day ahead; cover and chill. Let come to room temperature to serve.
1. Rinse and trim discolored ends from 2 pounds crimini, oyster, or common mushrooms (or a mixture) and coarsely chop.
2. In a 6-quart pan over high heat, melt ½ cup (¼ lb.) butter. Add mushrooms, 1 cup chopped shallots, 4 peeled and minced cloves garlic, and 11⁄2 teaspoons each ground cumin and ground coriander. Cook, stirring often, until liquid has evaporated and mixture is lightly browned, 20 to 30 minutes.
3. In a food processor, whirl mushroom mixture until smooth. Mix in salt and pepper to taste. Mound in a bowl. Sprinkle with chopped parsley.
Per 2 tablespoons: 72 cal., 72% (52 cal.) from fat; 1.7 g protein; 5.8 g fat (3.6 g sat.); 4.2 g carbo (0.4 g fiber); 63 mg sodium; 16 mg chol.
PREP TIME: About 15 minutes
MAKES: About 3½ cups
NOTES: You can make salad up to 1 day ahead; cover and chill.
1. In a bowl, whisk together 3 tablespoons mayonnaise, 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar, 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard, 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves (or 2 teaspoons dried thyme), and ¼ teaspoon fresh-ground pepper.
2. Add 3 cups shredded cold cooked chicken, ¾ cup chopped watercress or Italian parsley, and 2 tablespoons chopped shallots. Stir in salt to taste.
Per 2 tablespoons: 40 cal., 53% (21 cal.) from fat; 4.4 g protein; 2.3 g fat (0.5 g sat.); 0.2 g carbo (0 g fiber); 35 mg sodium; 14 mg chol.
Sweet Onions and Peppers
PREP AND COOK TIME: 1 hour
MAKES: About 3 cups
NOTES: You can make this topping up to 1 day ahead; cover and chill. Let come to room temperature to serve.
1. Peel 4 onions (8 oz. each) and sliver lengthwise. Rinse, stem, and seed 2 red bell peppers (1 lb. total); sliver lengthwise.
2. In a 6-quart pan over medium-high heat, mix 3 tablespoons olive oil and 2 teaspoons caraway seeds with onions, bell peppers, and 3 tablespoons water. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are limp, 12 to 15 minutes.
3. Uncover and stir often over medium heat until liquid has evaporated and vegetables begin to brown and taste sweet, 20 to 25 minutes. Stir in 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar and salt and pepper to taste.
Per 2 tablespoons: 33 cal., 48% (16 cal.) from fat; 0.6 g protein; 1.8 g fat (0.2 g sat.); 4 g carbo (0.9 g fiber); 1.4 mg sodium; 0 mg chol.
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