Halloween is supposed to be a scare-yourself-silly kind of holiday — for kids, that is.

It’s adults, however, who have made it really terrifying. Stories of razors in the apples, pins in the chocolate, drug-laced candy, flammable costumes ... these supposed “news” items, many of them urban legends (check out the reliable snopes.com to sort them out), could make one conclude that adults have scared themselves stupid.

True, there are inherent risks in any holiday that involves lighted candles, costumes and going door-to-door.

But the overriding truth is that any adults who exercise even a modicum of common sense can pretty much ensure that their child has a safe, and safely “scary” Halloween.

The Halloween party is a great tradition, one that enables hyper-vigilant parents to keep their eye on their kids. I still remember the party that my older sister’s Girl Scout troop threw one year; the bowls of cold spaghetti (“guts”) and the peeled grapes (“eyeballs”) that were passed around in the dark were so thoroughly terrifying to my Brownie-Scout-self that I still recall it as one of the scariest — and most fun — Halloweens ever.

The skull-shaped, “Day of the Dead” cookies (recipe below) are from Alice Medrich’s new book, “Chocolate Holidays” (Artisan, 2005) and were developed for the Mexican celebration of All Soul’s Day, Nov. 2. They are spooky enough to appear on any Halloween table, but be advised to make them at least a day in advance. Less labor-intensive treats include popcorn, pretzels, candied apples and cider punch. If you want to serve savory stuff (as in “dinner”) select finger food (pun intended): chicken wings, sliced veggies and dip, and the like.

After all, you want to save your energy for the stuff that counts: peeling “eyeballs,” serving up “guts” and generally making Halloween a frightfully good time.



DAY OF THE DEAD

COOKIES

For the vanilla dough:

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened

1 cup sugar

1 large egg

1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

For the chocolate dough:

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/8 teaspoon salt

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup (packed) brown sugar

1 large egg

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Make the vanilla dough: In a bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside. In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes. Beat in the egg and vanilla. On low speed, beat in the flour mixture just until incorporated. Working on a sheet of wax paper, form the dough into a log about 2 inches in diameter and 6 to 7 inches long. Wrap it and place in the freezer to firm up while you make the chocolate dough.

Make the chocolate dough: In a bowl, stir together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Set aside. In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugars with an electric mixer until creamy but not fluffy, 1-1/2 minutes. Beat in the egg and vanilla. On low speed, beat in the flour mixture just until incorporated. Working on a sheet of wax paper, form the dough into a log about 2 inches in diameter and 6 to 7 inches long. Wrap it and place in the freezer to firm up, 5 to 10 minutes.

Reshape each log of dough so that it is skull-shaped rather than round: Make one side of the log narrow for the chin and jaw and leave the other side wide for the cranium. Rewrap the chocolate dough and refrigerate. Form features in the vanilla dough, using the handle of a wooden spoon to poke holes for eyes through the entire length of the log. Form the nose with a thin skewer, poking two holes for nostrils. Form the mouth by inserting a narrow table knife and gently wiggling it back and forth to lengthen and widen the opening. Don’t try for perfection; irregular holes make the best and weirdest skulls. Rewrap and refrigerate the vanilla dough, chilling both doughs at least 2 hours, preferably overnight.

Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Using a sharp, serrated knife, slice the chocolate dough as thinly as possible (aim for 1/8 inch, but it will probably be a bit thicker) and place the slices at least 1-1/2 inches apart on the prepared sheets. Repeat with vanilla dough, place 1 slice on top of each chocolate slice. Bake until pale golden at the edges, 12 minutes, rotating the baking sheets from top to bottom and front to back halfway through. Slide the parchment liners onto cooling racks. Cool completely and store in an airtight container up to 1 week.

Yield: About 3 dozen cookies.

Recipe from “Chocolate Holidays” by Alice Medrich (Artisan, 2005)



SPICY CHICKEN WINGS

1/4 cup Louisiana-style hot sauce, or more or less to taste

1/4 cup honey

1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted

4 teaspoons chili powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 (5 pound) bag frozen chicken wings or drummettes, thawed according to package directions



In a small bowl, whisk together all of the ingredients, except the chicken. Put the chicken pieces in a shallow, nonreactive pan and pour the marinade over the chicken. Turn to coat. The chicken should be just coated, not swimming in marinade. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 2 hours and up to 12 hours.

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 375 F. Using heavy-duty aluminum foil, line two 9-by-13-inch baking pans. Divide the chicken between the pans in a single layer.

Bake until crisp, at least 1 hour and 15 minutes. These are best served shortly after baking, but they can be refrigerated, covered, for up to 24 hours. Serve cold, or reheat in a foil-covered baking dish in a preheated 400-degree oven for 10 to 15 minutes.

Serve plain or with blue cheese dressing.

Makes 10 to 12 servings.

Recipe from “Al Roker’s Hassle-Free Holiday Cookbook,” (Scribner, 2003)



CIDER PUNCH

2 quarts (8 cups) apple cider, well chilled

1 (750 ml) bottle sparkling cider (3-1/2 cups), well chilled

2 cups cranberry juice



Just before serving, mix all ingredients together. Add ice and serve.

Serving idea: For a ghoulish touch, fill a clean clear or white plastic glove with water, tie the end tightly and freeze. Float this ghostly hand in the punch bowl.

Yield: 18 (6-ounce) servings.

Recipe from “Al Roker’s Hassle-Free Holiday Cookbook,” (Scribner, 2003)



DILL DIP

1-1/2 cups sour cream

6 ounces cream cheese, softened (3/4 cup)

3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped

1 tablespoon dried dill

bagel chips and/or sliced carrots, bell peppers, cucumbers, celery sticks, broccoli florets, for serving



In the work bowl of a food processor or in a blender, combine all of the ingredients except the vegetables and puree until smooth. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, to blend the flavors, or for up to 2 days.

Serve with sliced raw vegetables and/or bagel chips for dipping.

Serving idea: Carve out just enough of a small pumpkin to hold a 2-cup serving bowl.

Yield: 2 cups.

Recipe from “Al Roker’s Hassle-Free Holiday Cookbook,” (Scribner, 2003)

Marialisa Calta is the author of “Barbarians at the Plate: Taming and Feeding the American Family” (Perigee, 2005). For more information, go to www.marialisacalta.com.

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