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What's cookin' : Haul out a witch's cauldron; concoct Halloween delights

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I'm quite certain that if you asked most children - even the big ones - which holiday rated right up there at the top, Halloween would be a shoe-in. A day filled with school parties, costumes to bring a smile or a fright and treats, treats and more treat.

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Some of my fondest childhood memories are the times spent planning just the right costume, deciding who the special people were to invite to join me for an evening of trick or treating and then the actual fun of heading out after dark on a cool fall evening. More fun than the actual eating of the treats was the anticipation of discovering whose yards were the most eerily decorated, some homes even having scary music wafting through the night air. An extra bonus was discovering the adults of the house getting into the Halloween spirit, opening their doors dressed up as a witch, a princess or a goblin. The only downside was mistakenly ringing the doorbell of your dentist and having him hand you an apple or a toothbrush.

Although going door-to-door trick or treating isn't nearly as popular as it was when I was growing up, Halloween is still celebrated through community festivals and our local merchants so generously sponsoring daylight trick or treating.

If you're planning a few treats for your own little ghosties and goblins, the recipes below might discourage any thoughts of tricks on their part. Happy Halloween!

Witch Hat Cookies

Keebler Fudge Stripes Cookies

1 pkg. Hershey's Kisses

Orange icing in a tube or can

Take one cookie and flip it to the fudge side. Squeeze the icing in a circle around the center hole of the cookie. (Keep a plate or waxed paper underneath to catch any excess frosting.) Unwrap the Hershey's Kisses and place one on top to serve as the point of the hat. Note: You'll want enough frosting to ooze out under the Kiss to make an orange hat band.

Caramel Apples

6 Granny Smith apples, washed and dried thoroughly

6 popsicle sticks

1 (14-oz.) pkg. of individually wrapped caramels

2 T. water

1/2 t. vanilla extract

Suggested toppings:

Coarsely chopped peanuts or pecans

Mini M & M's

Chopped Peanut Butter Cups

Coarsely chopped pretzels

Toffee bits

Colored sprinkles

Put toppings into individual small bowls. Insert popsicle sticks 3/4 of the way into the stem end of each apple. Cover a cookie sheet with aluminum foil and spray with cooking spray. Place apples on the cookie sheet. Add water and unwrapped caramels in a saucepan over low heat. Cook, stirring often, until caramel melts and is smooth. Stir in the vanilla. Remove from heat. Dip apples into melted caramel and coat apple evenly, using a spoon to coat them if needed. Allow excess caramel to drip off back into the saucepan. Scrape off bottoms of apples with a popsicle stick and roll caramel apples into the topping(s) of choice. Place apples back on the cookie sheet and refrigerate at least 1 hour or until ready to serve. Makes 6 apples.

Halloween Popcorn Balls

1 c. sugar

1 c. white syrup

1 t. baking powder

1 t. butter

1 t. vanilla

5 qts. popped corn

Cook white syrup in a medium saucepan until it comes to a boil. Add sugar and let that come to a boil. Remove from heat and add baking powder and butter. Stir until it foams up. Add vanilla and several drops of orange food coloring and pour over popcorn. Form into balls, buttering hands with a small amount of butter for easier handling of popcorn balls. If you want, decorate your popcorn balls with appropriately colored gumdrops, candy corn, red hots or whatever you desire to make your popcorn balls look like jack'o lanterns. Makes about 2 dozen medium-sized popcorn balls. If you're giving out as treats, wrap balls individually in plastic wrap or drop into a zippered-type sandwich-size plastic bag.

Graveyard Dessert

2 1/4 c. chocolate cookie crumbs

1/2 c. granulated sugar

1/2 c. melted butter

8 oz. cream cheese, softened

1 (12-oz.) container Cool Whip, thawed

2 c. boiling water

1 (6-oz.) pkg. orange flavored gelatin

1/2 c. cold water

Ice cubes

Graveyard decorations:

Rectangular cookies for headstones, such as Pepperidge Farms Milano Cookies, decorator icings, candy corn and candy pumpkins

To make crust, mix 2 c. of the cookie crumbs, 1/4 c. of the sugar and the melted butter in a 13"x9" pan. Press firmly into bottom of the pan. Refrigerate. Beat the cream cheese and remaining 1/4 c. sugar in a medium bowl until smooth. Stir in one half of the Cool Whip. Spread evenly over crust. Add boiling water to orange gelatin in a medium bowl; stir for 2 minutes or until gelatin is completely dissolved. Mix cold water and ice to make 1 1/2 c. Add to the gelatin, stirring until slightly thickened. Remove any remaining ice. Spoon slightly thickened gelatin over cream cheese layer. Refrigerate for 3 to 4 hours or until firm. Spread remaining Cool Whip over gelatin just before serving. Sprinkle remaining 1/4 c. cookie crumbs over Cool Whip to look like the ground. Decorate the cookies with colored icings to make the gravestones. Stand the gravestones on top of dessert to resemble a graveyard. Decorate with assorted candy corn and candy pumpkins. Cut into squares. Cover and refrigerate leftovers. Makes about 15 servings.

Chocolate-Covered Ghost Strawberries

1 pkg. white chocolate chips or white almond bark

1 qt. of fresh strawberries.

Chocolate sprinkles or mini chocolate chips

Line a cookie sheet with waxed paper. Slice the tops off your strawberries. Melt chocolate as directed on package. Dip the pointed end of the strawberries in the white chocolate and lay them, flat end down, on the cookie sheet. Apply sprinkles or mini chocolate chips for the eyes and mouth.

Witches Brew

1 c. blood drops (1 pkg. red hots)

1 c. owl eyes (1 pkg. roasted peanuts)

1 c. chicken toenails (1 pkg. candy corn)

1 c. colored flies (1 pkg. M & M's)

1 c. cats' claws (1 jar sunflower seeds)

1 c. dead ants (1/2 lb. raisins)

1 c. chicken gizzards (1 can shoestring potatoes)

1 c. bat bones (1 bag straight pretzels)

1 c. ghost noses (1 bag miniature marshmallows)

Mix ingredients together and serve in a plastic Halloween pumpkin.

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