We've all been there. When we were kids it was trick or treating and sugar highs. Later, we found ourselves at out-of-control Halloween parties where, for some reason, wearing costumes empowered guests to behave erratically.

Now, you fancy the idea of a quiet night in handing out candy to lots of adorably dressed children. But your neighborhood is sadly not exactly trick-or-treat friendly and you usually end up eating that untouched bowl of Jujubes all by yourself. So if you have a “been there, done that” attitude towards the spooky holiday but still want to celebrate in a more relaxed way, there’s always the good old-fashioned dinner party. And what better time of year in Los Angeles than late October for an enchanting fall menu? Don't forget to remind your guests to wear a costume. It's still Halloween, after all.


Apple Cider Champagne Punch; Credit: Heather Platt

Apple Cider Champagne Punch; Credit: Heather Platt

Apple Cider Champagne Punch
Instead of dunking your head into a freezing tub of water, with the hopes of sinking your teeth into your very own apple (Does anyone actually do that, anyway?), how about buying some local apples from your nearby farmers market and letting them do the bobbing in a really easy apple cider champagne punch

To make it, place a block of ice in a large punch bowl. Add three cups fresh apple cider and one-fourth cup cognac and stir. When ready to serve, pour in a bottle of dry champagne and garnish with six small crab apples. Voila!

Butternut Squash and Sage Soup with Maple Toasted Pumpkin Seeds and Gruyère Croutons
Dinner parties can get overwhelming if you don't plan ahead. Making this soup the day before will allow you to spend more time drinking punch with your friends. They will also think it's the most delicious thing they've ever tasted. If you want to be really Halloween-y, you can serve it in carved-out shells of tiny pumpkins. It’s also really beautiful and delicious in a bowl.

  • 1 small pie pumpkin
  • 1 medium butternut squash
  • 1 medium kabocha squash
  •  ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 7 tablespoons unsalted butter
  •  2 yellow onions, thinly sliced
  •  10 whole sage leaves, plus 1 tablespoon chopped
  •  2 arbol chilies
  •  ½ cup sherry
  •  8 cups homemade chicken stock, or store-bought broth
  •  1/3 cup crème fraiche
  •  Kosher salt
  •  Freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1 thin baguette
  • ½ lbs Gruyère, thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  •  ½ teaspoon paprika
  •  ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  •  1 teaspoon Vermont maple syrup

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees, then cut the squash in half. Remove the seeds with a spoon and peel. Cut into 1-inch slices. Toss with olive oil and salt and place in a single layer on a baking sheet. Cut off the top third of the pumpkin. Remove the seeds and reserve for later.

Place the pumpkin in a roasting plan and drizzle with olive oil and salt. Place the squash and pumpkin in the preheated oven and roast until very tender, about one hour. Remove from oven and using a spoon, remove flesh from the pumpkin.

Melt the butter in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the onions, thyme, four whole sage leaves, chopped sage, arbol chilies, a pinch of salt and freshly cracked pepper. Cook for 15 minutes, stirring until onions are very soft. Remove the arbol chili shells and whole sage leaves. Stir in the roasted squash, pumpkin and sherry. Add the chicken stock with a tablespoon of salt and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and let it simmer for 30 to 40 minutes.

Using a slotted spoon, transfer half of the solids in the soup from the Dutch oven to a blender and add ½ cup of soup liquid. Purée until very smooth and transfer to a separate container. You will have to purée the soup in batches and there will be left over liquid. When all of the solids have been puréed, season to taste with salt and pepper.

In a small saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat. Add the reserved pumpkin seeds and stir to coat them in butter. When they begin to brown, stir in the paprika, cinnamon, cayenne and salt. Add the maple syrup and stir to coat. Remove from heat and let cool.

Cut the baguette in to very thin slices. Place on baking sheet. place a thinly sliced pat of 1/2 tablespoon butter on each slice. Cover with sliced Gruyère and one sage leaf. Toast in the oven until the cheese is melted. Serve with soup.

Roast Duck with Potatoes and Grapes; Credit: Heather Platt

Roast Duck with Potatoes and Grapes; Credit: Heather Platt

Roast Duck with Potatoes and Grapes
If you peel the skin off grapes, you can spook your friends by telling them they’re actually eyeballs when they close their eyes and touch them. However, a much better use of the delicious fruit is to roast them with duck. This old-school recipe will make you channel your inner Julia Child (now there's a costume idea). It will also make your house smell like a holiday.

  • 1 5-lb whole duck, rinsed with cold water and dried thoroughly
  • 1 lb small potatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, plus 4 whole sprigs
  • 4 whole save leaves
  • ¼ lb cipollini onions, peeled
  • 1 lemon, cut in half
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly cracked black pepper
  • ½ lb purple grapes, cut into handful-size grape bunches
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 lb carrots, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 lb onions, coarsely chopped
  • 4 tablespoons port wine
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Prepare the duck for roasting by trimming excess fat flaps from the cavity. Remove the wish bone and cut the wings off at the elbow and place in a stock pot along with the neck and gizzards. Add the carrots, chopped onions and 6 cups of water or chicken broth to the stock pot and simmer while you cook the duck.

Rub the skin of the duck with the lemon and then stuff it in the cavity along with the thyme sprigs, half of the onions and sage leaves. Using kitchen string tie the legs together and sprinkle all over with salt and pepper. Scatter the potatoes in an oven-proof pan just large enough to hold the duck and potatoes. Place the prepared duck on top of potatoes and prick the duck skin along the legs and fattiest parts of the breast. Place in the oven and roast for 20 minutes then flip. Toss the potatoes to coat in the duck fat and sprinkle with salt, pepper and thyme leaves. Using a turkey baster remove some of the fat from the pan as the duck cooks. Cook the duck, legs side up, for 20 minutes. Then reduce the heat to 350 and cook breast side up for another 15 minutes or until the duck skin is dark brown and crispy and the potatoes are crispy and soft on the inside. 15 minutes before the duck is finished, toss the grape bunches in olive oil, salt and pepper and add to the pan. Remove from oven and place the duck on a carving board and potatoes and grapes in serving dish while you make the sauce.

Remove all but 2 tablespoons of duck fat from the pan. Strain the simmering duck stock through sieve and add the stock and port to the pan. Bring to a boil while scraping up brown bits and simmer until it has reduced by half. Turn off the heat. Pour through a sieve to remove any chunks. Return to pan and swirl in butter. Taste for balance and seasoning and serve along side the duck and potatoes.

Arugula and Apple Salad with Manchego, Hazelnuts and Cider Dressing.; Credit: Heather Platt

Arugula and Apple Salad with Manchego, Hazelnuts and Cider Dressing.; Credit: Heather Platt

Arugula and Apple Salad with Manchego, Hazelnuts and Cider Dressing.
As much as you'll only want to eat roast duck and potatoes cooked in duck fat all day, throw in this fall salad to lighten up the menu. It's the perfect compliment to the hearty main course.

  • 1/2 lb arugula
  • 2 apples, cut into thin wedges
  • 1/4 lb manchego
  • 1/2 cup hazelnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider
  • 1 teaspoon champagne vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon cider vinegar
  • kosher salt
  • freshly cracked black pepper

Whisk the vinegar and apple cider in a small bowl with salt and pepper. Slowly pour in the olive oil, whisking to combine.  Taste for balance and seasoning. Toss the Apple slices in a few spoonfuls of dressing. Divide the arugula on six small plates. Tuck the apple slices around the arugula. Using a peeler, Shave slices of Manchego on the salad. Toss the hazelnuts in the dressing and spoon on to the salad.

Carrot Cupcakes with Cream Cheese and Crème Fraîche Frosting; Credit: Heather Platt

Carrot Cupcakes with Cream Cheese and Crème Fraîche Frosting; Credit: Heather Platt

Carrot Cupcakes with Cream Cheese and Crème Fraîche Frosting
Yes, Halloween is all about candy. So if you want to finish your beautiful dinner party with a big old bowl of Snickers, well, feel free. But in any case, the meal won't be complete without dessert. So if you've had one-to-many Butterfingers already this October or find the idea of a large round cake frosted to look like giant eyeball, a bit unappetizing, these carrot cupcakes will be a welcome alternative.

  • 4 large carrots, peeled and cut in half
  • 6 egg whites
  • 1/2 cup fresh apple cider
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 8 oz cream cheese
  • 4 oz crème fraîche
  • 1 cup confectioners sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a blender, purée the carrots, egg whites and  apple cider. In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda and pinch of salt. Stir in the oil, 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract and blended carrot mixture. If the batter is too thick, add another tablespoon or two of apple cider.

Line a muffin tin with muffin liners and ladle 1/4 cup of batter into each muffin hole. Bake for 20-25 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean.

While the cupcakes are baking, make the frosting. Using an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese, crème fraîche, confectioners sugar and 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract until fluffy and smooth. When the cupcakes have cooled, frost each one with 2 tablespoons of frosting. 

Heather Platt is a freelance writer and blogger. Follow her blog Three More Big Bites. Want more Squid Ink? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook.

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