Everyone is busy these days, but a Halloween party for kids doesn't have to take a lot of time.
The pecan-popcorn balls and the witch's coated chocolate apples can be made in advance. You can do the spook 'n' cider and the Halloween chicken pizza masks the day of the party.
Children aren't happy with strange flavors, such as allspice, found in traditional mulled cider recipes. Instead, try this child-tested recipe from Better Homes and Gardens' "Kids' Party Cook Book" (Meredith Corp., 1985).
Spook 'n' cider
Makes 16 servings.
10 cups apple cider or apple juice, 5 ounces each
1 package frozen red raspberries (12 ounces), lightly sweetened
5 inches of stick cinnamon
In a large saucepan, combine apple cider or juice, raspberries and cinnamon. Bring to boiling, then reduce heat. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove mixture from heat. Strain berries and cinnamon from mixture through a piece of cheesecloth. Cover until serving time. To serve, heat mixture until warm.
Children may not eat unfamiliar ingredients, but they love foods that are shaped or decorated to look like inedible objects. The following recipe from the National Broiler Council is a quick, fun way to do pizza.
Halloween chicken pizza masks
Makes 12 mini pizzas.
1 pound ground chicken
1/3 cup chopped onion
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 package (6 count) English muffins, split
2 tablespoons soft margarine, divided
1 1/2 cups bottled pizza sauce, divided
1 teaspoon oregano
1 large green pepper
4 ounces shredded Cheddar cheese
4 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese
3 large pitted ripe olives, each sliced into 4 rings
Heat oven to 450 degrees. Heat fry pan to medium-high temperature. Add ground chicken, onion and salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, until all the red is gone, about 6 minutes. Set aside.
With aluminum foil, cover a 10 1/2 -by-15 1/2 -inch baking pan. RTC Spread each muffin half with 1/2 teaspoon margarine and arrange in a single layer on a greased pan. Spread a heaping tablespoon of pizza sauce on each muffin half. Cover generously with ground chicken and onions; sprinkle with oregano.
Cut 12 slivers of green pepper into "smiling" mouth shapes and set aside; chop remaining pepper and sprinkle on pizzas. Mix together Cheddar and mozzarella cheeses; sprinkle generously on mini pizzas.
Bake about 12 minutes. Remove from oven. Make face on each pizza by using 2 ripe olive rings for eyes and pepper slice for mouth. Turn some slices up for smiles and some down for frowns.
These frozen jack-o'-lanterns can be made ahead or you can provide scooped out oranges and allow the children to make their own. If the party guests are too young to be trusted with a cutting implement, give them black making pencils to draw the lantern face. The recipe is from "The Children's Party Handbook" (Barron's, $9.95), by Alison Boteler.
Makes 12 servings.
12 navel oranges
1/2 gallon dark chocolate ice cream or flavor of your choice
12 whole cinnamon sticks
Cut off the tops of oranges. Gently hollow out the pulp (reserve for another use), leaving a thick shell. Hollow the pulp out of the cut out tops. Cut jack-o'-lantern faces out of each orange. Pack scoops of ice cream into shells.
Cut a hole in the top of each orange. Set the tops back on over the ice cream and insert a cinnamon stick through the hole. Place in the freezer for at least 3 hours or until serving time.
Note: If the children are making their own, keep the ice cream in the freezer until they have finished carving. Allow them to scoop their own ice cream.
Makes 2 dozen 3-inch balls.
From "Special Occasions" (Harmony Books, 1988), by John Hadamuscin.
1 cup sugar
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
2/3 cup water
1 pound butter
4 cups pecans
8 cups popcorn
Combine the sugars, corn syrup and water in a heavy pan fitted with a candy thermometer over high heat. Bring the mixture to a boil. Add the butter, stirring until it has melted. Continue cooking for 20 to 30 minutes, until the mixture reaches 300 degrees.
Meanwhile, heat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread the pecans in an even layer on a baking sheet and bake for about 10 minutes, or until lightly browned. Remove the nuts from the oven and toss them with the popcorn in a large, lightly oiled bowl.
Carefully pour the hot syrup over the popcorn-nut mixture. Carefully but quickly toss the mixture with a long-handled spoon to coat the popcorn and nuts completely with syrup.
As soon as the mixture is cool enough to handle, quickly shape into 3-inch balls and place the balls on a lightly oiled baking sheet to cool.
Witch's chocolate-coated apples
Makes 12 servings.
12 wooden ice cream sticks
12 medium apples, stems removed
1 2/3 cups (10-ounce package) peanut butter chips
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2/3 cup cocoa
2/3 cup powdered sugar
1 cup peanut butter chips, chopped by hand or with a food processor
Insert wooden stick into stem end of each washed and thoroughly dried apple. Cover tray or cookie sheet with wax paper.
In medium microwave-safe bowl, place 1 2/3 cups peanut butter chips and oil; stir. Microwave on high 1 minute and stir. If necessary, microwave on high an additional 15 seconds at a time, stirring after each heating, just until chips are melted when stirred.
In a small bowl, stir together the cocoa and powdered sugar; gradually add to chip mixture, stirring until smooth. Microwave on high 1 minute or until very warm. Dip apples in warm mixture, twirling to remove excess coating.
Place coated apples on wax paper 2 to 3 minutes; sprinkle lower half of each apple with chopped chips. Place on greased tray to cool. Refrigerate if desired.