Halloween Treat: The Neighborhood Potluck Family Dinner

This past Halloween, Sarah Stegner followed her daughter, Jaya Nambiar, through their Wilmette neighborhood.

As they made their way through the deepening shadows of early evening, she was struck by the feeling of community engendered by this rite.

“We were trick-or-treating in a group, with Jaya and her friends Maxine Finks, Owen Merrill and Delia Zomaikahead and the moms following behind. We noticed that there were homes where people were gathering for dinner, and it seemed like the perfect occasion to come together, to relate, connect, relax and enjoy,” Stegner says. “And I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice for us all to share a meal at the end of Halloween trick-or-treating?’”

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Being the well-known chef of Prairie Grass Café in Northbrook, Stegner has more than a few ideas of just how that might work out. The kids, all students at Wilmette’s Romona School, love to hang out together, and the parents, including Lisa Finks, Cindy Merrill and Heidi Ziomek, have enjoyed getting to know one another through their children. After a few hours traipsing in costume around the neighborhood collecting treats, what better solution than to gather together for a warming fall meal, rather than to run home and consume all the candy?

Divide and conquer, Stegner suggests. One family can do the beverages, one the entrée, someone else the side dishes, another the dessert. Happily, she has shared her menu for the evening with us.

Beverages: Apple cider for the kids, but the adults might need something stronger after all that trick-or-treating. How about mixologist Daniel Sviland’s Caramel Appletini? Combine 1 quart of apple cider with 1 cup caramel sauce. For each ‘tini, combine 4 ounces of the mix with 2 ounces of vodka. Shake with ice, pour into a martini glass and garnish with an apple slice.

The Main Event: An “Untraditional” Shepherd’s Pie (recipe here) is the perfect entrée for a potluck. Make it earlier in the day and finish it in the oven when you get home. It’s hearty and warming.

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Side Dishes: Stegner suggests a salad with mixed greens, Honeycrisp apples, toasted walnuts and goat cheese in a simple vinaigrette of olive oil and apple cider vinegar. Roasted Pumpkin with Honey Glaze is a lovely fall side dish, also appropriate for Thanksgiving. Peel a pie pumpkin (she uses theNichols’ Farm Luxury Pie varietal, available at the Evanston Farmer’s Market), halve, seed and cut it into chunks. Toss with olive oil and a little salt on a sheet pan and bake at 375 degrees for about 20 minutes, until it starts to soften. Brush with melted butter and honey and return to oven for about 10 minutes more to glaze.

Dessert: An Apple Pie or Apple Crisp (recipe here) for dessert—something warm out of the oven! After such a fun and tasty meal, the kids can have a piece or two of candy and save the rest for November. Don’t worry, it starts the next day!

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“I’m really looking forward to Halloween this year as a chance to connect with people,” Stegner says. And if you decide to try a Halloween Potluck this year, you will too!