Halloween can be fun for those of us who don't have an excuse to go trick-or-treating, so if you don't have kids (or the ones you do have are too cool to be seen with you), take heart -- you can have a great time at home.
Here's how: make an easy no-fuss dinner, pick the perfect spooky movie, and invite up to a dozen of your favorite people. The result? A casual Halloween party that's cool enough to make the little ghouls and ghosts going from door to door green with envy.
Yes, I'm aware that Halloween falls on a Wednesday this year. While preparing dinner for 12 on a weekday might seem like a daunting task, it really can be easy if you cut some corners and plan ahead. For instance, don't bother making an appetizer.
Instead, just put out bowls of purchased snacks such as spiced nuts, popcorn and pretzels that your guests can nibble on while waiting for everyone else to arrive.
October chili: One of the simplest and most satisfying cold-weather dishes is chili, so it makes a terrific choice for a weeknight party this time of year. Plus, it can be prepared in advance and reheated before serving. Go ahead and make the full recipe even for a smaller party -- the leftovers can be frozen and enjoyed later. Allow your guests to dress up their serving of chili just the way they like it: Put out bowls of assorted toppings such as chopped tomatoes, red onions, cilantro, shredded cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese and sour cream.
Round out the meal with a simple salad. Toss fresh greens (baby spinach or spring mix) with any purchased salad dressing, some toasted nuts and thin apple or pear slices, if you like. To complete dinner, bake these delicious corn muffins; they come together in less than five minutes (thanks to a mix), and go perfectly with the chili.
Really strapped for time? No problem -- the chili and corn muffins can be made the weekend ahead, sealed in plastic bags or other airtight containers, and frozen. The day of the party, simply reheat both and toss the salad. Note that beans tend to absorb liquid, so if you prepare the chili ahead of time, you'll need to add some extra broth or water to thin it a little.
And for dessert, there's no need to spend hours baking. Among my favorite indulgences are the delicious pumpkin- and maple-flavored doughnuts from White House Farms in Canfield. Paired with hot apple cider, they make a satisfying finale.
Choose any bakery treat or serve vanilla or butter pecan ice cream topped with a handful of candy corn and drizzled with heated caramel sauce. Whatever you decide, it should be simple enough that you can enjoy your own party instead of spending it in the kitchen.
Spooky movies: The entertainment could be any of a number of spooky movies; the list includes some of my personal picks, but there are many others to choose from. Most Hitchcock movies would fit the bill, as would many of the horror movies of the last couple of decades. Or just select a new release that you and your friends have been too busy to see. If there's any possibility that kids will be around, keep that in mind while choosing. The video store can be a time warp if you don't know what you're looking for, so check ratings and read reviews ahead of time by visiting, or
Before guests arrive, make sure that there's plenty of comfortable seating where you'll be watching the movie, whether that means bringing extra chairs into the living room or putting some cushions on the floor.
Set up the food buffet-style in the kitchen, with trays to save the floor and furniture from spills. Big mugs can double as soup bowls, if necessary. And make the atmosphere extra cozy by building a fire in the fireplace or lighting some candles.
What about trick-or-treaters? Go ahead and answer the door early in the evening if you want to; Everyone at your party will probably enjoy seeing the costumes and passing out candy. If later on you find that the doorbell is interrupting the movie too often, just turn the porch light off to let any straggling trick-or-treaters know that you're closed for business. After all, this is your night too.