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Make-ahead meals finished in time for trick-or-treating

By Maura Wery

When Halloween falls on a weeknight, it can be a horror for families. After work and school, it’s hard to fit in both trick-or-treating and dinner. In my family, we were treated to McDonald’s after a night of traveling to homes to collect our candy loot. It wasn’t nutritious, but it was quick, and it got the job done.

However, some parents don’t want to fill their children with super processed food before they devour 10 pounds of sucrose.

The solution is choosing recipes that are easy and can be made in advance. These recipes fit both of those criteria. The first is my own family’s recipe for goulash.

The next is a quick side dish or appetizer that has fun Halloween flair, and finally, a sweet treat and a cocktail to round out your night of fun.

So if you think you don’t have time to make a hearty meal on a holiday weeknight, think again.

Ghoulish Goulash


This isn’t your traditional recipe for goulash but it definitely worked in my family. This is a jazzed-up version which adds green peppers and fire-roasted tomatoes rather than just a plain diced tomato.


The two additions along with the use of paprika gives this dish a nice kick. Using red-pepper flake gives it some heat in the background but overall the stew is hearty and will fill you up before or after going out.


A great garnish for this dish is just a little dollop of sour cream and some fresh dill.



1 pound of ground beef

1 white onion, chopped

1 green bell pepper, chopped

1 tablespoon paprika, divided

1/2 teaspoon red-pepper flakes (optional)

1 16-ounce can tomato juice

1 can tomato paste

1 16-ounce can fire-roasted tomatoes

1 pound dried macaroni noodles

Approximately 2 cups of water

Salt and pepper to taste



In a large Dutch oven, brown the ground beef with half the paprika until completely cooked.


With a slotted spoon, take the beef out of the pot and leaving the residual fat in the bottom of the pot. Pour out all but about 1 tablespoon of fat.


Add in the onion and peppers and the other half of the paprika. Sautee until the onion is translucent.


Once the peppers and onions are cooked, add in tomato paste and let cook for 1-2 minutes.


Add the can of fire-roasted tomatoes and the can of tomato juice to the pot. Add the ground beef back in and stir. Add salt, pepper and red pepper to the mix and stir.


Pour in the macaroni and 2 cups of water. Let cook until the macaroni is tender, around 20 to 30 minutes.


Savory Pumpkin Puffs


This adapted recipe from Martha Stewart is great either to munch on as a snack or as a side with the goulash.


The real change to this recipe was the kind of cheese used. I went with a five-cheese Italian blend rather than using Gruyere, but you can use almost any kind you like.


Also, don’t limit yourself to just pumpkin cookie cutters to make the shape of the puff. I used a pumpkin and cat cutter for mine.



All-purpose flour, for parchment

1 standard package frozen puff pastry, thawed

1 1/2 teaspoons paprika

One egg, beaten

2 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

1 1/2 cups of Italian blend cheese

Freshly ground pepper



Preheat oven to 375 degrees.


Generously flour two pieces of parchment paper; on each, roll out an unfolded pastry sheet to form a 15-by-13-inch rectangle, about 1/16 inch thick. Refrigerate until firm, about 15 minutes.


Remove pastry from the refrigerator, and brush off excess flour. Spread a rectangle of pastry with mustard; sprinkle with cheese. Season with pepper.


Lay a second pastry rectangle on top.


Place a sheet of parchment on top of the stacked pastry; using a rolling pin, roll until pastry layers are sealed together. Remove parchment, and brush top of pastry with egg wash mixture with paprika. Chill until firm, about 30 minutes.


With a pumpkin-shaped cookie cutter, cut into 18 to 24 shapes. Immediately place the shapes on a parchment-lined baking sheet.


Using a sharp paring knife, score each shape four or five times to make pumpkin ridges. Bake until golden, 15 to 20 minutes.


Transfer puffs to a wire rack; let cool slightly before serving.


Ghost Cookies


These are a great do-ahead for Halloween. I made these three days in advance and as long as they are kept in the refrigerator, they will keep. 



Half a bag of white chocolate chips

1/2 cup of mini chocolate chips

1 package of shortbread cookies



Melt the chocolate chips in the microwave, stirring a few times.


Dip the shortbread cookies one at a time into the chocolate covering about half.


Let the chocolate drip down and then set it on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.  Add the mini chocolate chips on as eyes. This should make at least one package worth of cookies.


Blood Orange Martinis


After a night of fun for the kiddos, you might as well have a little bit of fun yourself — or at least a cocktail.


If you can’t find blood oranges, regular orange juice or pomegranate juice can be used instead.


This recipe is from Southern Living magazine.



1 cup vodka, chilled

1 cup blood orange juice, chilled

1 cup apple juice, chilled

1/2 cup orange liqueur, chilled

Red liquid food coloring (optional)



Combine vodka, blood orange juice, apple juice, orange liqueur, and, if desired, red food coloring. Pour over ice into chilled martini glasses. Makes four cocktails.

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