Seasonal, spooky, and sophisticated. That’s the theme of my Halloween menu this year. Imagine what an aristocratic Victorian vampire might eat for dinner on All Hallow’s Eve and this is what you might come up with. This year I wanted to the menu to feature upscale party fare and all of the finest fall flavors, but I needed it to be affordable as well. Let’s face it, we’ve all got budgets to stick to, and while dinner parties are fun, it’s no fun to come to your own Halloween party missing half of your costume because you spent your extra cash on a fancy cheese board and prosciutto wrapped asparagus. Throwing an upscale dinner party on a dime doesn’t have to be terrifying though. Check out my Halloween menu below (with tons of cozy fall flavors and local produce) that will have your guests shreiking in delight. And don't miss the 6 tips for coming up with your own menu for any time of the year!
Keep it simple. Choose recipes with 5-10 ingredients and steer clear of anything with exotic ingredients.
Keep it local. Seasonal produce is inexpensive. Often times it is even less expensive at the farmer’s market then at the grocery store. But if you try to purchase asparagus or strawberries in the autumn, you’re going to pay a hefty price tag as it must be shipped in from other states or countries with better growing climates. The same is true for tropical fruits and vegetables like bananas, citrus, and avocados. This isn’t to say that you can’t or shouldn’t use these ingredients, but if you want to keep your costs low and your flavors at peak perfection, don’t make these the star of the show. Use them sparingly to enhance local, seasonal flavors.
Don’t make meat your main. Meat is an expensive ingredient. When you make it the main dish you are automatically upping your price per person. Instead, give it a supporting role, perhaps in a soup or stew, as a topping for pizza or flatbread, or as one of many ingredients in pasta or casseroles. If you come from a family of carnivores and must have meat as the main dish, try buying whole or half animals from a local farmer. It’s one of the most economical and sustainable ways to purchase meat. And if that isn’t an option, choose cheaper cuts, like chicken wings or shoulder roasts, and forego the breasts and steaks.
Splurge on dairy, nuts, and cheeses, but use sparingly. These items will give your menu an upscale feel. They can be pricey, but you’ve got a little extra money left over from shopping for seasonal produce and keeping meat to a minimum, you savvy shopper you. Spending a little more on these items will pack a flavor punch and keep your dinner party feeling high class. Also, when possible, choose cheeses with strong flavors. A little goes a long way, so you can use less. Think Feta, Sharp cheddar, blue cheese, and goat cheese.
Prep during each season. While this isn’t going to be possible if you are planning a party for next week, if you keep seasonal food preservation in mind throughout the year it will save you a pretty penny in the long run. Freeze strawberries in the spring when the price tag is lower; can tomato sauce and soup from low cost “seconds” at the farmers market; pickle cucumber and jalapenos when you can’t possibly eat any more from your garden. If you take the time to preserve and put away seasonal produce throughout the year, you’ll get to serve frozen strawberry margaritas in the dead of winter and smirk proudly as you pass by the $5 pint in grocery store isle.
Re-use supporting ingredients. I hate it when a recipe calls for just half of a can or part of a package of a particular ingredient. That means I'll have leftover ingredients sitting around in my fridge that might not always get used. It also means I had to pay full price for an ingredient that I won't use in full. When possible, try to use supporting ingredients (meat, dairy, nuts, cheeses) in more than one dish. For example, in the menu above, bacon is used as a topping for both the soup and the flatbread, and apples are used on the flatbread and with the brie. The butternut soup recipe also calls for a little bit of goat cheese, which I can re-use on the flatbread in place of the originally called-for blue cheese). This will keep a lovely theme of flavors running through your menu while also saving money since you won't have to buy multiple types of cheeses or meats or waste half-opened products.
Note: If you make this menu, or any part of it, please post your pictures to facebook with the hashtag #seasonalhalloween or post them to the Buy Fresh Buy Local facebook page. We'd love to see what you come up with!