Maybe because I’ve always been a fan of a good, old fashioned haunted house and am one of those people who can become unglued by a really scary movie, but Halloween ranks right up there with Christmas as one of my favourite times of year.

I’ve always been slightly envious of people who live in warmer climates during Halloween, because they are almost always guaranteed a nice night for trick or treating and great weather for getting outside and having some scary Halloween fun. But the one great thing about living in a place where the fog and chill sets in around mid-October? You have the opportunity to cook up and really enjoy some delicious hot food to get your Halloween night off to a great start.

Since I became a parent, we’ve invited tons of people over on Halloween for a bonfire and potluck before trick or treating, so I’ve had a rotating menu over the years that everyone loves. Here are a few hot dishes to get your Halloween off to a great start:

Not so spicy chili

The expectation of chili is that it’s spicy, but when you have kids, you have to watch what you put in it. If it’s too spicy, they won’t eat it, but if it’s too bland? No one else will like it either. I cook this chili according to the recipe for the kids, then take out half and stir in a can of spicy Stagg chili and offer a bottle of Frank’s Red Hot to make it a bit hotter for the adults.

This is a family recipe, and it’s a friend favourite. It’s also really easy. Just put it on the stove and let it simmer for a few hours on low. The only kitchen tool you need is a big stock pot like the Paderno Stainless Steel Stock Pot so you can make a big batch. You can double the recipe for a big crowd. It also works well in a crockpot.

Ingredients

One package extra lean ground beef

One large can Bush’s Baked Beans

One can red kidney beans

One can black beans

One can sweet corn, drained

One can diced tomatoes

Pinch of salt

Pinch of pepper

Directions

Brown the ground beef and drain off any excess fat. Add each can to the beef and let simmer on low for 2 hours. Stir frequently.

GRANNY’S 5 HOUR BEEF STEW

Adapted from mysisterscrazyblog.blogspot.com

No matter what time of the year it is, a good beef stew is always a great dish to serve for dinner. For a big crowd with kids, I like to offer a pot of mashed potatoes on the side (yes, even though there are already potatoes in the stew). Top with a dollop of sour cream.

Ingredients

2 lbs. stew meat, cubed
4 potatoes, peeled

4 carrots, peeled and sliced

1 onion, chopped

1 cup celery, sliced or diced
1 can tomato soup, undiluted
1 can beef broth or water
1 T. sugar
2T. Tapioca
1 1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. pepper

Directions
Mix all ingredients in large roasting pan or covered casserole dish. 

Bake covered for 5 hours at 225 degrees in a covered casserole dish like the Cuisinart Chef’s Classic Enameled Cast Iron casserole and add a bag of small frozen corn when finished. Let stand covered for 20 minutes before serving to cook the frozen vegetables.

I love, love, love cast iron casserole dishes, especially for dishes you bake for hours. They cook your dish evenly, and clean up like a dream.

Halloween night, even with kids and a huge crowd of people in your house, is a snap when you have a main course cooking away on the stove long before dusk hits.

And remember, if you eat early, you have a lot more room for candy!

Happy Halloween!