Do your kids love Halloween candy and costumes, but quaver at creepy decorations and horror stories? If so, we've got your back. Try reading these three Halloween books, which will make you laugh, warm your heart, occasionally make you groan in disgust, but never truly scare you. Children can help make the accompanying recipes based on the stories: Vampire Blood Tomato Soup, Jekyll's Sleep Potion and Frosted Sugar Cookie Pumpkins. Psst: If you don't have little ones around, these recipes hold up for adults, too.
Emily Young, Times correspondent
Bunnicula: A Rabbit-Tale of Mystery
by Deborah and James Howe
Is Dracula too scary for your kids? Try Bunnicula — an adorable vampire bunny that sucks juice from vegetables. His new owners have no idea they've rescued a paranormal rabbit, but Harold the dog and Chester the cat suspect something's wrong. After all, "where a rabbit's buck teeth should have been, two little pointed fangs glistened." Animal lovers will especially enjoy the book's quirky humor, as the dog befriends Bunnicula and the cat becomes increasingly paranoid. (In the end, the cat consoles himself with self-help books like Finding Yourself by Screaming a Lot.) This is a chapter book, so feel free to read it aloud to younger kids.
What to make: Bunnicula loves to sink his teeth into tomatoes and drain them dry. In his honor, drink some Vampire Blood Tomato Soup, with a side of Bunnicula Grilled Cheese. (You can even serve the soup in test tube vials to make it look authentically bloody.) Although the recipe calls for red pepper flakes, feel free to keep the soup more mild and kid-friendly by omitting those. Your little ones can help use a bunny cookie cutter to shape the grilled cheese into Bunnicula-themed sandwiches.
Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich
by Adam Rex
This zany picture book makes monsters seem like the rest of us. What scares Dracula's son? The dentist, of course. What does a young mummy refuse to do? Go to bed on time. What drives the Phantom of the Opera crazy? Getting It's a Small World stuck in his head. The illustrations of witches and monsters are humorously gruesome, and stories like "Godzilla Pooped on My Honda" veer toward the gross-out category, but none of the tales are very scary.
What to make: Try Jekyll's Sleep Potion. Your kids may relate to the bedtime-phobic mummy, but you'll appreciate the humorous take on Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. In this witty tale, Dr. Jekyll tries to turn himself into the classic bad boy Hyde. Instead, a mixup with the drink causes him to turn into the most tedious partygoer of all time, nearly boring the guests to death. (This is every adult's fear as holiday parties approach.) You can create your own potion in this nonalcoholic cocktail, which blends gelatin and lemon-lime fizz into a colorful Halloween drink.
It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown
by Charles M. Schulz
In Schulz's classic picture book, young Linus spends his Halloween night in a pumpkin patch, waiting for the mythical Great Pumpkin to appear. His friends dress up in costumes, trick-or treat and munch on caramel apples. They ridicule him for spending his night alone. But Linus' faith in the Great Pumpkin never wavers — even when his only "visitor" turns out to be Snoopy the beagle. This story is one of the sweetest Halloween tales out there.
What to make: Kids will love decorating Frosted Sugar Cookie Pumpkins. Who knows? When he sees your offering, maybe the Great Pumpkin will be honored enough to visit your house this Halloween.
Vampire Blood Tomato Soup
With Bunnicula Grilled Cheese
For the soup:
3 tablespoons olive oil
½ fennel bulb, chopped (about 2 ½ cups)
½ large onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
4 cloves garlic, smashed
1 ¼ teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon fennel seed
⅛ to ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, optional
1 (28-ounce) can plum tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
2 cups homemade vegetable broth or low-sodium canned
2 cups tomato juice
6 basil leaves, torn
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Fresh ground black pepper, to taste
For the grilled cheese:
16 square slices Westphalian Pumpernickel, or other thin black bread
½ cup apple jelly
8 slices Muenster cheese, about 3 ounces
8 slices yellow cheddar cheese, about 3 ounces
Optional garnishes: dill pickle rounds, fennel fronds, Spanish olives with pimentos
Make the soup: Heat olive oil in a medium sauce pot over medium-high heat. Add fennel, onion, garlic, salt, fennel seed and crushed pepper, if using, and cook until vegetables soften and brown slightly, about 5 minutes. Drain and reserve juice from the tomatoes, then crush tomatoes gently with your hands. Add the tomatoes, increase heat to high and cook until they begin to brown slightly, about 5 minutes.
Add the reserved tomato juice, vegetable broth, tomato juice and basil leaves. Bring to a boil, stir, reduce heat to medium-low, cover and cook until vegetables are cooked through and soup reduces and thickens, about 30 minutes.
Remove pot from stove and puree the soup in batches, with an immersion blender, regular blender or food processor. Stir in lemon juice and season with pepper. Divide among 8 bowls.
Make the grilled cheese: Toast bread in toaster or toaster oven until slightly crisp, about 5 minutes (or less if using a toaster.) Spread one side of each slice of bread with apple jelly. Layer cheese over the apple jelly, top with slice of bread. Cut out with bunny-shaped cookie cutter. Garnish as desired.
Source: Adapted from the Food Network
Jekyll's Sleep Potion
2 (3-ounce) packages lime-flavored gelatin
1 (3-ounce) package orange-flavored gelatin
1 (3-ounce) package cherry-flavored gelatin
3 (12-ounce) cans lemon-lime carbonated beverage, chilled
1 (10-ounce) jar red maraschino cherries, drained and stemmed
Prepare each package of gelatin according to package directions, except add only the boiling water called for; stir to dissolve the gelatin. Do not add any additional water.
Prepare lime-flavored gelatin in a 4-cup container; prepare orange- and cherry-flavored gelatins in separate 2-cup containers. Cover the containers and chill at least 2 hours or until set.
Cut gelatin into ½-inch cubes. Place about one-third of each flavor of gelatin in a blender container. Add one can or bottle of lemon-lime carbonated beverage.
Cover and pulse with 2 to 3 on/off turns or until the gelatin has broken up into smaller pieces. Stir in one-third of the cherries. Pour into serving glasses.
Repeat with the remaining gelatin and carbonated beverage.
Source: Better Homes & Gardens
Frosted Sugar Cookie Pumpkins
For the cookies:
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking powder
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 ¼ cups butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla or almond extract
For the frosting:
4 cups powdered sugar
4 tablespoons butter, melted
3 to 5 tablespoons milk, plus more for thinning
1 teaspoon vanilla or almond extract
Orange and green food coloring
Heat oven to 325 degrees. In large bowl, combine salt, baking powder and flour until well combined.
In a separate bowl, using an electric mixer on high speed, beat butter and sugar until smooth and well combined. Beat in the egg, egg yolk and vanilla or almond extract. Add flour mixture to wet mixture and beat until just combined.
Place on lightly floured surface and roll to ¼-inch thickness. Cut into a pumpkin shape using a cookie cutter and place on parchment-lined baking sheets. Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until edges are just lightly golden brown. Cool 5 minutes on cookie sheets. Transfer to wire cooling rack to cool completely.
Meanwhile, prepare the frosting. In a large bowl, combine the powdered sugar, butter and milk until smooth and well combined. Use enough milk to create a frosting that is smooth but firm enough to pipe through a pastry bag.
Place ¼ of the frosting in a small bowl and color with green food coloring. Color remaining frosting in large bowl with orange food color. Place a small amount of the orange and green frostings in pastry bags or zip-top bags with the end snipped off. Use orange frosting in pastry bag to pipe a border around the edge of the pumpkin.
Add an additional 1 to 3 tablespoons milk to the remaining icing until it is slightly softer and runs a little more freely. Spoon a small amount of icing into the center of each lined cookie. Tilt the cookies around so icing in center completely fills the outlined cookie.
Repeat process with the green frosting on the stem. Allow cookies to set, about 30 minutes.
Source: Adapted from Bon Appétit