If you’re a Halloween lover, then you’re planning a big time this weekend, and you may have already tried a couple of last week’s recipes. Today it’s about those last-minute finger foods that make any party a success, maybe with a ghoulish twist.
Don’t let the name of the recipe put you off; likewise the appearance of the little white rice bumps. These are easy and delicious, if a little scary. The beauty is they hold quite nicely in a slow cooker or roaster at your party and are great from piping hot to barely warm. These are also perfect with mashed potatoes for supper, in case you aren’t in a party mood.
1 thick slice hearty white bread
1/4 cup milk or cream
1 lb. lean ground beef
1/4 cup uncooked long-grain rice
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. each chopped fresh thyme and rosemary (or a pinch each of dried)
2 tbsp. bottled chili sauce
1/2 tsp. each salt and pepper
1 cup canned tomato sauce
Break bread into small pieces and soak in milk in a large bowl until it forms a soft pasty mixture. Stir in beef, rice, onion, garlic, thyme, rosemary, chili sauce, salt and pepper. Mix lightly, just until well combined, and form into meatballs about the size of golf balls. Place in a single layer in a baking dish and pour tomato sauce over them. Cover tightly and bake at 350 F for 1 hour.
Swampy Bacon and Bean Dip
There’s nothing inherently scary in this recipe — except maybe the greenish colour — but it’s frighteningly good. Arrange carrot and celery sticks, tortilla chips, melba toast, pita triangles, and crackers around this bowl and you’re ready to party. I know some of you don’t care for the taste of cilantro, and it’s not always easy to get here, so feel free to substitute parsley.
1 14-oz. can white kidney beans
1 14-oz. can barbecue style baked beans
1 4-oz. can green chillies
1 small onion, diced
1 clove garlic, chopped
1/2 cup chopped cilantro (plus a few whole leaves for garnish)
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1/4 tsp. each salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 strips bacon, cooked crisp, drained and crumbled
hot pepper sauce to taste
2 green onions, sliced
Rinse and drain the kidney beans and place in a blender or food processor along with the baked beans (not rinsed, of course), chillies, onion, garlic, cilantro and lemon juice. Whiz until smooth — although a few lumps are actually nice. Stir in bacon bits, salt and pepper then taste and add hot sauce as you like. Spread in a large shallow serving dish and garnish with cilantro leaves and green onions.
Frightening Cheese and Mushroom Fondue
I admit, the only frightening part of this dish is the mushroomy lumpy bits, and maybe the face you draw on the pumpkin, but darned if it’s not fabulous at a party. The pumpkin is not only a serving dish, but also imparts just a hint of fall flavour to the hot cheese filling. You can substitute any cheese you want — like Swiss for its bite and Fontina for its smooth texture and earthy flavour to support the mushrooms. Cheddar would add a little orange colour and that’s also a plus.
1 small pumpkin
2 tbsp. soft butter
1 pinch each ground nutmeg and allspice
3 cups finely chopped fresh mushrooms
1 tbsp. each butter and olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1-1/2 cups dry white wine
1 cup each grated Swiss and fontina cheeses (or your favourite white cheeses)
1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard
pinch nutmeg (freshly grated if possible)
1 tbsp. cornstarch
1 tbsp. brandy
Cut the top of the pumpkin to create a wide-mouthed serving bowl. Scoop out the seeds and pulp and wipe dry with a paper towel. Combine butter, nutmeg and allspice and rub around the inside of the pumpkin. Draw a jack-o-lantern face on the front with a permanent marker — or decorate according to your taste and ability. You can’t cut holes because this is your serving dish. Return the pumpkin “lid” and bake at 350 F for about 30 minutes. For the fondue, fry mushrooms in butter and oil until they release their moisture and it evaporates. Add the onion and cook until mixture starts to turn golden brown. Stir in garlic and cook another minute, just until you can smell it; set aside. In a heavy-bottomed pot, bring wine to a simmer. Reduce heat and stir in cheeses — be careful not to boil, and you must stir continuously until cheese melts and mixture is smooth. Every recipe for fondue I’ve ever tried says to stir in a zigzag rather than a circle; otherwise the cheese will clump. I am not courageous enough to try the circular stir, so I have to pass this along as gospel. Add mustard and nutmeg. Stir together cornstarch and brandy and stir into cheese mixture.
Cook over low heat until mixture is thickened and smooth — just a few minutes. Gently stir in mushroom mixture. Pour hot fondue into hot pumpkin and serve with cubes of hearty bread, chunks of ham or sausage, broccoli or cauliflower florets, small cooked red potatoes, or slices of apple.
Cynthia Stone is a writer, editor and teacher in St. John’s. Questions may be sent to her c-o The Telegram, P.O. Box 86, St. John’s, NL, A1E 4N1.