RECIPES: Halloween nibbles, drinks and treats to tantalize your big and little goblins

Terrifyingly tasty

Cheese Mice (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)
Cheese Mice (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)

The best Halloween foods walk a fine line between whimsically spooky and gross-out gory. Too much in one direction and the food looks childish, too far in the other and everyone loses their appetite.

These sips and nibbles strike a good balance; they won't gross anybody out, but served in seasonally appropriate wares — black or dark dishes, dark colored table linens and a plastic spider or two — and in the right light, they have just a touch of the macabre.

My friend Erika likes to serve this as a cheese brain, shaping the mixture in a food-safe silicone mold. It's quite terrific in dim light. Here we've taken a slightly more whimsical approach and shaped the mixture into mice. Sliced almonds create the ears while curls of green onion stand in for tails. If you feel inclined to give them eyes, diced pimento or roasted red pepper would be most creepy and tasty.

Cheese Ball Mice

  • 10 slices bacon, divided use
  • 1 cup pecan halves, divided use
  • Small handful fresh parsley leaves
  • 3 tablespoons poppy seeds OR black sesame seeds
  • 1 (8-ounce) block cream cheese, at room temperature
  • ½ pound sharp or extra-sharp orange cheddar, grated
  • 4 green onions (2 chopped; 2 green-portion only thinly sliced lengthwise), divided use
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground red pepper (cayenne), or more to taste
  • 1 (4-ounce) jar diced pimentos, rinsed and patted dry OR ¼ cup diced roasted red bell pepper
  • Sliced almonds

Cook bacon until crisp; reserve 1 tablespoon of the drippings. Crumble bacon into pieces.

In a food processor, combine half of the bacon, half of the pecans and all of the parsley. Process until bacon and pecans are the texture of coarse bread crumbs. Transfer mixture to a plate and add the poppy seeds and mix well; set aside.

To the now-empty food processor, add the cream cheese, cheddar, remaining bacon, the remaining pecans, the reserved tablespoon of bacon fat, chopped green onion, salt and cayenne. Process until mixture comes together. Add the pimentos or red bell pepper and process until smooth, scraping sides as needed.

Chill mixture for 30 minutes to 1 hour — you want it soft enough to shape, but firm enough that it doesn't stick too much to your hands.

To form the mice, using your hands, scoop and roll the cheese mixture into egg-size ovals, squeezing one end to make it pointier than the other. Roll balls in bacon-pecan-parsley-poppy seed mixture. Refrigerate until firm. Insert a slice of almond on each side of the pointed end to form the ears and a curl of green onion on the other end for the tail. Chill.

Makes 20 to 25 "mice."

Recipe adapted from "Pimento Cheese The Cookbook" by Perre Coleman Magness

Sausage Eyeballs (Democrat-Gazette file photo)
Sausage Eyeballs (Democrat-Gazette file photo)

A dollop of sour cream and a slice of green olive turn ordinary sausage cheese balls into edible eyeballs.

Sausage Eyeballs

  • 1 (1-pound) package ground sausage
  • 3 cups baking mix, such as Bisquick
  • 4 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
  • 16 to 20 green olives, sliced

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, combine sausage, baking mix and cheddar cheese. Mix well with your hands. Mixture will be dry and crumbly. Form into bite-size balls, squeezing mixture so it holds together, then rolling it between the palms of your hands to form balls.

Place balls on baking sheet. Bake 20 to 22 minutes or until golden brown.

In a small bowl, combine sour cream and chives. Top each sausage ball with a small dollop of chive-sour cream mixture and a slice of olive. Serve remaining chive-sour cream on the side as a dip.

Makes about 4 dozen "eyeballs."

Hibiscus Mezcal Tea (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant) 10-20-21
Hibiscus Mezcal Tea (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant) 10-20-21

This cocktail gets its blood red color from hibiscus tea.

Hibiscus Mezcal Tea

  • 2 ounces mezcal
  • ½ to ¾ ounce of triple sec or other orange liqueur
  • 6 ounces brewed hibiscus tea, cooled
  • Agave nectar, to taste
  • Ice
  • Rosemary sprigs or mint leaves for garnish

In a cocktail shaker combine the mezcal, triple sec, hibiscus tea and agave to taste. Shake and strain into a glass full of ice, garnish with rosemary or mint.

Makes 1 drink.

Recipe from San Dimas Mezcal

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I admit, this one is rather cartoon-ish, but it's so easy and cute. I couldn't resist including it. I like to make my own hot cocoa, but feel free to use your favorite mix.

Haunted Hot Cocoa

  • 4 cups milk
  • ¼ cup cocoa powder
  • 5 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 jumbo marshmallows
  • Chocolate chips or round candies such as M&M's or Red Hots

In a saucepan over medium heat, bring milk to a simmer.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, stir together cocoa powder, sugar and cinnamon. Stir a little hot milk, a few teaspoons at a time, into sugar-cocoa mixture to form a smooth paste. Scrape paste into remaining hot milk, whisking until smooth; simmer for 2 minutes, but do not boil. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla extract.

Cut each marshmallow in half horizontally. Press a chocolate chip or candy in the center of each half to create eyes. Float marshmallow eyes in hot chocolate. Serve immediately.

Makes 4 servings.

Mexican Hot Chocolate Shortbread (Democrat-Gazette file photo)
Mexican Hot Chocolate Shortbread (Democrat-Gazette file photo)

These cookies are delicious with or without a spiderweb design pressed into them.

Mexican Hot Chocolate Shortbread

  • 1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup almond flour (see note)
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • ½ cup cocoa powder
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon espresso powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground red pepper (cayenne)
  • ½ cup miniature semisweet chocolate chips
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar

Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper; set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine flours; set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or in a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat butter, vanilla and almond extracts until smooth and creamy. Add sugar, cocoa, cinnamon, espresso powder, salt and cayenne and mix on low speed until well blended. Add flour in thirds, mixing well between additions. Stir in the chocolate chips, mixing until combined.

Divide dough into walnut size balls. Roll dough balls in granulated sugar and place on prepared baking sheets, spaced about 1 ½ inches apart.

Using a cookie stamp, or the bottom of a drinking glass, gently flatten the balls. The cookies will crack around the edges. Refrigerate at least 1 hour or up to 5 hours.

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Bake cookies, one sheet at a time, for 8 to 10 minutes. Be careful not to let the cookies burn. Remove cookies from the oven when they are set on the edges and the aroma of chocolate fills the kitchen. Cool on sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

Makes about 36 cookies.

Note: Look for almond flour, sometimes labeled almond meal, with the gluten-free baking blends and specialty flours.

Recipe adapted from "The Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook" by Cheryl Day and Griffith Day

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