Halloween is a great time for being creative, including carving pumpkins and crafting homemade costumes. But for some, the best part is making ghoulish snacks.
Local experts and food bloggers say that with the right ingredients and a good dose of imagination, anyone can create fun and healthy Halloween party treats.
Shayna Telesmanic, owner of Young Chef's Academy in Fresno, says one of the favorite items of her cooking class is the green-colored Serpent Sandwich. Food dye, a crescent roll and plenty of lean deli meats help make this dish fun to make and eat.
"Halloween is a great time of year to get crafty with food and to get the younger kids involved, too," Telesmanic says. (The Young Chef's Academy is hosting a kid's Haunted Gingerbread Workshop on Friday, from 6-8 p.m. for ages 4-12.)
And while Halloween is all about delicious candy, you can balance out the craving for sweets with some healthier options.
Molly Siegler, culinary content editor at Whole Foods, says you can easily work fresh fruits, nuts and seeds into Halloween treat recipes.
In her recent blog post, Siegler says nuts and seeds are great for decorating monster faces on cookies or white chocolate-dipped fruit.
To make creepy-looking fingers, cut string cheese sticks into finger-length logs and cut lines for knuckles, then add an oval of green pepper or green olive for finger nails. Arrange the "severed fingers" on a platter for a spooky presentation.
Jab a mini marshmallow on each end of a pretzel stick then dip the whole thing in melted white chocolate to create a bone. Continue making bones in different configurations for a scary pile.
Brownie bites become googly-eye spiders with the addition of chocolate chips and slivered dried apricots, Sielger wrote on her blog.
Fresh grapes and apples — two fruits still in abundance in the central San Joaquin Valley — are also good for making fun Halloween food.
Sunlight International, marketers of the Hobgoblin grapes brand, created a green apple monster that is simple to make.
Slice a green apple lengthwise, generously spread peanut butter on one half, take the other half and squish the two together, making sure the peanut butter oozes out one side. Slice a grape into thin slices, dab some peanut butter on them and attach to the apple to look like creepy eyeballs.
You can add a few slivers of almonds to the peanut butter to resemble teeth, or add a little peanut butter to the top of the apple and stick some pretzel sticks in it for a spiky look.
The folks at the California Raisin Marketing Board have found creative uses for their dried fruit on their website: calraisins.org. They are perfect as eyes or ears on cookies and other baked treats resembling bats, mice or spiders.
J.M. Hirsch, the food editor for the Associated Press, gathered a gaggle of ideas — vampire doughnuts, candied apple skulls, goblet graves and doughnut spiders — from Matthew Mead's new book, "Halloween Spooktacular," for setting a spooky tone for your Halloween table.
Goblet grave: Head to the craft store (or online) and pick up a silicone skull and crossbones ice cube tray. Fill each cavity with plain Greek yogurt, then use an offset spatula to smooth the tops and remove any excess yogurt from the tray. Freeze until solid (overnight is best).
Let the cubes soften at room temperature for several minutes, then remove the ice cubes from the tray. Arrange the cubes in a small bowl set over a larger bowl of crushed ice. Serve alongside goblets of grape juice.
Candied apple craniums: Wash and dry 6 Red Delicious apples. Insert a 6- to 8-inch crab apple twig (cleaned) or a large frozen pop or candy stick. Set aside. Place 12 ounces of white candy melts in a medium heat-safe bowl. Set the bowl over a medium saucepan of simmering water. Stir until the candy has melted.
One at a time, dunk each apple into the candy melts, spooning it up the sides and over the top for an even coating. Set the coated apples upright on a sheet of waxed paper to set.
Meanwhile, use a rolling pin to roll out Tootsie Rolls until flat. Use a paring knife to cut round eyes and a heart-shaped nose from the flattened Tootsie Rolls. "Glue" the eyes and nose (mount the "heart" upside down) to the apples using piping gel or a bit of purchased frosting.
Vampire doughnuts: Make a stack of honey-glazed doughnuts on a large serving tray. Use a bamboo skewer to poke two fang holes in the top of each, then dribble red gel food coloring (sold in tubes in the grocer's baking aisle) coming out of the holes and down the sides of the doughnuts.
Doughnut spider: Set a chocolate glazed doughnut in the center of a large serving platter. Place a chocolate cake doughnut up against it. The glazed doughnut forms the spider's body; the cake doughnut is the head. Place 2 chocolate doughnut holes on top of the cake doughnut to form eyes (use a dab of frosting to hold them in place). Top each doughnut hole with a dab of white or yellow frosting, then gently press a chocolate chip into each.
For the legs, arrange three sets of three chocolate doughnut holes coming off of each side of the "body" doughnut. If desired, additional frosting can be used to keep the leg doughnut holes in place.
Halloween Harvest Mice
3 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks)
3/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup California raisins, chopped fine
48 perfect slices natural almonds (about 1/4 cup sliced)
3 ounce semisweet chocolate mini chips
4 black licorice laces (each about 30 inches long)
Measure flour and salt into small bowl, and whisk together; set aside. In another bowl with electric mixer, beat butter on medium-high until creamy, about 2 minutes. Add sugar, gradually, beating until mixture is pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in vanilla and egg, separately. Reduce speed to low, add flour mixture, one-third at a time, beating after each addition until well blended. Then, knead or stir in chopped raisins. Divide dough into two equal pieces, shape into flat disks, and wrap separately in plastic wrap. Chill for 2 hours.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside. To make 24 mice, shape 1 tablespoon dough into an oval ball and shape oval ball to make nose and eye sockets. Gently press 1 mini chocolate chip into each eye socket and press 1 almond slice into dough on either side behind eyes for ears. Arrange on parchment-lined baking sheets, about 2 inches apart.
Bake at 350 degrees until light golden brown, about 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from baking sheet and cool slightly. Divide each licorice lace into 6 pieces about 5 inches long. Then, with a skewer, make a hole about 1/2-inch deep into round end of each ball and insert piece of licorice lace for tails. Set aside to cool on rack. Store in airtight container.
White Chocolate Ghosts
1 1/2 cup white chocolate chunks, melted
3 dozen pieces dried fruit (such as banana chips, prunes, apricots or pineapple slices)
2 tablespoons dried blueberries or currants
1 tablespoon sunflower seeds
Line two large sheet trays with parchment paper. Transfer chocolate to a small, deep bowl.
Working with one piece of fruit at a time, dip one end into the chocolate, leaving only the last quarter inch or so exposed; shake off excess chocolate and transfer dipped fruit to prepared sheet tray. Drizzle a bit of extra chocolate around the bottom left and right sides to form the shape of a ghost, then use the blueberries, currants or sunflower seeds to make eyes. Repeat process with remaining fruit and chocolate then chill until completely set, about 1 hour.
1 can crescent rolls
Flour, for dusting
4 tablespoons mustard
10 oz. thinly sliced ham
10 oz. thinly slice salami
10 oz. bologna
12 oz. Monterey Jack cheese, grated
3 egg yolks
2 whole cloves
2 small pimiento-stuffed olives
1 (1-inch) strip jarred roasted red peppers
Liquid food coloring
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with foil. Grease the foil and set aside. Dust a flat surface lightly with flour. Spread out the crescent dough — do not separate. Pinch together the seams so that you have one piece of dough. Roll out to make a large rectangle. Make sure the dough is not stuck to the surface at all. Brush the dough with the mustard, leaving a 1-inch border. Layer the meats down the center of the rectangle, leaving a 1-inch border on either end. Top the meats with the cheese. Fold one side of the dough over the filling, lengthwise. Then, fold the other half over and press to seal the filling inside. Take 1 egg yolk and beat lightly with a fork. Brush the egg yolk over the top of the dough. The yolk will act as the glue. Fold the dough in half again lengthwise. Pinch the seam with your fingers to seal.
Press the outside of the dough to make sure everything is sealed tight and to make an even thickness for the body of your serpent. Taper one end of the dough to form a tail shape. Form the other end into a head shape.
Beat the remaining egg yolks together. Transfer to three separate small bowls. Add some food coloring to each bowl — whatever colors you like! Using a clean paintbrush, "paint" the snake with the egg yolk/food coloring mixture.
Transfer the snake to the foil lined sheet. Form into an "s" shape so it looks like a slithering snake. Insert two cloves into the head to look like nostrils and 2 stuffed olives for eyes.
Create a mouth and/or tongue with the roasted red peppers. Bake the snake for 25 minutes or until golden brown and cooked through. Makes 1 serpent or 10 servings.
The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6327, firstname.lastname@example.org or @FresnoBeeBob on Twitter. The Associated Press contributed to this report. California Raisin Marketing Board Whole Foods Young Chefs Academy