Ghosts, goblins and spooky treats

If you're hosting a Halloween party, why not try these fun and tasty treats — or just bake some up for the spooky season

An ancient Celtic harvest festival planted the seed for what we now call Halloween. The Celts called it Samhain and was celebrated Oct. 31, the day the Celts believed the boundary between the living and the dead was at its weakest.

Through the centuries, the Romans, the Irish, the Christians and many more added their little bit to what became our Halloween of today. Pumpkins replaced turnips for carving jack-o-lanterns and by the 20th century Halloween became just another commercial venture.

It may be hard to believe but in 2011 Canadians spent $350 million on candy products just for Halloween. Pretty ridiculous!

Today’s recipes include ideas for a Halloween party or gathering. Have fun with them.

Witch Fingers with Chili Swamp Dip

454g pack of 8 chili pork sausages*

8 rashers of bacon

8 flaked almonds

2 Tbsp. sweet chili sauce

For the chili dip:

4 Tbsp. sweet chili sauce

50g light cream cheese

1/2 x 170g pot 0% Greek yogurt

*If you aren’t a fan of spice, use normal pork sausages

Preheat the oven to 200 C/400 F. Line a baking tray with grease-proof baking paper.

For the witches’ fingers: Wrap each sausage in a rasher of bacon starting 2 cm in from the end of each sausage.

Place on the lined baking tray and spoon over 2 Tbsp. of sweet chili sauce, and bake in the oven for 30 minutes, turning if necessary. Remove and allow to cool for 5 mins.

Meanwhile for the chili dip: Mix the cream cheese, yogurt and 1 Tbsp. of sweet chili sauce and place in a bowl and top with the remaining sweet chili sauce.

Using a sharp knife, cut a small slit, 1 cm in from the end, just under the skin of each sausage where the bacon isn’t wrapped, and slide an almond in to make a fingernail.

Place the sausages at differing heights into the dip, with the fingernails pointing outwards, and serve.

Halloween Cookies on a Stick

1 cup butter or margarine, softened

3/4 cup granulated sugar

3/4 cup light brown sugar

1 tsp. vanilla extract

2 eggs

2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/3 cup HERSHEY’S Cocoa

1 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

18 wooden popsicle sticks

Decorating icing

Heat oven to 350 F (180 C).

Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla in a large bowl on medium speed of mixer until creamy. Add eggs; beat well.

Stir together flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt; gradually add to butter mixture, beating until well-blended. Drop dough by scant 1/4 cupfuls onto ungreased cookie sheet, about 3 inches (7.5 cm) apart. Shape into balls. Insert wooden stick about halfway into centre of each. Flatten slightly.

Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until set. Cool 3 minutes; carefully remove from cookie sheet to wire rack. Cool completely.

Decorate as desired with decorating icing. Makes about 18 3 1/2-inch (8 cm) cookies.

Pecan Caramel Sliders

1- 1/2 cups toasted pecans

1 cup heavy cream

1 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup light corn syrup

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, in pieces

1/4 teaspoon salt

5 ounces thin black licorice strands, cut into 2-inch pieces

6 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped

4 ounces milk chocolate, chopped

Chocolate curls or jimmies, optional

Line 2 baking sheets with waxed paper, and lightly spray with nonstick spray.

Mound 30 small clusters of pecans, about 3 or 4 pecans each, spaced a couple inches apart on the pan.

Make caramel: Warm the cream over low heat and keep warm while you cook the sugar.

Put the sugar and corn syrup in a deep, heavy-bottomed large saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally until the sugar dissolves. Stop stirring, raise heat to medium-high, and simmer until the sugar reaches the hard crack stage, or 305 degrees F on a candy thermometer, about 7 minutes.

Whisk the butter and salt into the sugar mixture. Gradually pour in the cream and vanilla, taking care since the mixture will bubble up. Reduce the heat to medium and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the sugar reaches soft ball stage, 240 degrees F on the thermometer, about 5 minutes more. Immediately remove from the heat and cool for a minute.

Ladle a couple tablespoons of warm caramel over some of the nut clusters, to make the spider bodies. Then press six pieces of licorice into the warm caramel to make the legs. Repeat with the remaining caramel and licorice. (It’s helpful to have an extra hand here, since the caramel can set quickly. If caramel hardens, warm over very low heat.)Let spiders cool 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, put the chocolates in a medium heatproof bowl.

Bring a saucepan filled with 1-inch or so of water to a very slow simmer; set the bowl over, but not touching, the water. Stir the chocolate occasionally until melted and smooth. (Alternatively, put the chocolate in a medium microwave-safe bowl. Melt at 50 per cent power in the microwave until soft, about 1 minute. Stir, and continue heating until completely melted, 2 to 3 minutes more.)

Spoon about 1 tablespoon of melted chocolate on top of each spider. Sprinkle with jimmies or chocolate curls, if desired. Let cool until firm.

Fluffy Caramel Apple Dip

1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

1/4 cup caramel ice cream topping

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup marshmallow creme

3 medium tart apples

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 tablespoons water

In a small bowl, beat the cream cheese, brown sugar, caramel topping and vanilla until smooth; fold in marshmallow creme.

Cut apples vertically into thin slices.

In a small bowl, combine lemon juice and water; toss apples in lemon juice mixture. Drain.

Using Halloween cutters, cut out the centre of each slice. Serve apple slices and cutouts with dip. Yield: 2 cups.

Cathi Litzenberger is The Morning Star’s longtime food columnist, appearing every other Wednesday and one Sunday per month.