If you can't go out, stay in with an unforgettable meal.

By Stacey Ballis
September 29, 2020
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Halloween Skeleton Family Celebrating a Holiday Dinner
Credit: Malisa Nicolau/Getty Images

Halloween is going to be a little different this year. But as we know, different can be amazing. And Halloween doesn't have to just be about the kids. It is actually a great excuse for an intimate, elegantly spooky dinner with your love or a small group of your nearest and dearest, or a fun evening with your older kids.

Elevating Halloween out of camp and cartoons and into the realm of high fashion can make for some really special memories. Here's how to put together a wonderfully eerie evening.

The Menu

When putting together your adult Halloween dinner party menu, think about food and drink that nod to the creepy side of the Holiday without being unappetizing or gory.

Begin with a cocktail or mocktail with a magical flair. Empress 1908 Gin is infused with butterfly pea blossom, so while it starts a deep violet color in the bottle, the addition of an acid like lemon juice or tonic water will instantly turn it a rosy pink — almost like a potion. Serve with spiced roasted pumpkin seeds, or a savory cheesy herbed popcorn

A starter of pumpkin soup with spicy firecrackers, or a salad of roasted beets with goat cheese and a sprinkle of oniony black nigella seeds ($25; Spiceology.com) will nod to the season.

For dinner, think surf and turf, but ratchet it up an eerie notch. Rack of lamb, always fabulously fancy, does double duty here, nodding cheekily to bones, and if you want to up the ante, use dark pumpernickel bread crumbs and add some chopped black garlic to the crust.

Pair it with a risotto, but swap out the truffle oil for squid ink ($15; Amazon.com). Or serve a calamari pasta using squid ink pasta. Either dish will look dark and scary, but the delicate briny flavors will give you just that perfect balance. Add some glazed carrots for a pop of sweetness and color, and you have a black and orange plate that is anything but ghastly.

Halloween is always about sweets, and this one should be no different. Black cocoa powder ($17; Amazon.com) has a deep, intense flavor and super dark color. (Think the chocolate intensity in an Oreo cookie.) So, use it in your favorite cookie, cake or brownie recipe.

Speaking of dark desserts, an over-the-top favorite is a chocolate cookie tart shell filled with black tahini pastry cream and topped with fresh blackberries. Pumpkin cheesecake is another good option.

If you aren't a baker, go for grown-up sundaes with butter pecan ice cream topped with bourbon caramel sauce, or a mango sorbet with black raspberry syrup. With your after-dinner coffee or drinks, serve a bar of dark chocolate and some fresh clementines.

The Table

It's Halloween, so don't be afraid to go a bit over the top with your table decorations. Start with a black or dark gray tablecloth ($17; Amazon.com) or placemats ($14/set of 6; Amazon.com). Skip the flimsy and forgettable “Halloween” black and orange paper napkins in favor of a more upscale dining napkin.

Then, get creative with plates and glasses. Go super fancy with the good china and crystal, but don't be afraid to mix and match for a quirky look. Add tons of candlesticks (real or flameless), since candlelight will be a great spectral choice for your meal, and don't hesitate to add some faux spiderwebs ($11; Amazon.com) and the occasional small plastic spider or two.

My favorite Halloween dinner party centerpiece is one of the easiest to make, about a week before I buy a beautiful bunch of roses, and enjoy them — but then I let them wilt and dry out over the week, then transfer them to a silver vase, with any fallen petals arranged around the base. Dead flowers are always a good Halloween dinner party choice.

The Entertainment

For your cocktail hour, go with classical jazzy numbers like:

  • Louis Armstrong's "Skeleton in the Closet"
  • Jackie McClean's "Frankenstein"
  • Duke Ellington's "Night Creature"
  • Nina Simone's "I Put A Spell on You"
  • Patricia Barber's "Witchcraft"
  • Nancy Wilson's "Masquerade Is Over"
  • Linda Ronstadt's "I Don't Stand the Ghost of a Chance with You"

During dinner, go for some background classical with an unearthly feel, some choices to seek out would be:

  • "Night on Bald Mountain" by Mussorgsky
  • "Dream of the Night of the Sabbath" from Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique
  • "The Water Goblin" by Dvorak
  • "Cortege Macabre" by Grohg
  • "Danse Macabre" from Saint-Saens

After dinner, don't hesitate to get into a viewing party. Try bingeing What We Do in the Shadows for a hilarious satiric vampire tale.

Or get into a Halloween movie. But think about going for less gore. Movies like The Hunger, Let the Right One In, Only Lovers Left Alive, or Rear Window offer some seriously sophisticated scary stuff for a grown-up Halloween.

If you prefer something a bit more camp and less cadaverous, don't hesitate to pull out Witches of Eastwick, Practical Magic, or even Hocus Pocus. And for some animated fun that still has something to offer the adults in the room, Coraline, Coco, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Corpse Bride, or Frankenweenie are all good choices.