My husband and I say this to each other sometimes, like a mantra.

One of Us: Hey, I just found out that [insert yummy restaurant] has an awesome happy hour. We could eat there for $30!
The Other: *fist pump* I like food.
OoU: Check out this recipe I just found! Goat cheese, honey and strawberry compote. Super easy.
TO: *sly smile* Well, I do like food.
OoU: You want dinner?
TO: *philosophy face* I like food. I’m quite a fan, actually.

So planning a dinner party is heading towards Nirvana for us. We take off work the day before the party to start cooking, and we do everything from scratch – homemade stocks and sauces, home baked bread and pastries, and (of course) my annual batch of pumpkin soup! Of course, you don’t have to do the cooking yourself to have a grand celebration — hey, if a day in the kitchen sounds more like Tartarus than Ellysium, you and your guests will both appreciate a call to a caterer! — but for Scott (my super spouse) and I, there is something spiritual about cooking our Halloween feast that brings us closer as a couple, and we look forward to it every year.

This year, we’re looking at southern cuisine, and man are we excited! Jambalaya, etouffee, sweet potato biscuits, she-crab soup, shrimp and grits, and chocolate pecan pie all hopped to mind immediately. Southern food is tasty and not terribly expensive to prepare (a bonus when cooking for a large group). It lends itself to family style dinners, and while Scott and I have done plating before (where we serve our guests), family style (where guests pass the food around) allows us to spend more time with guests and less time in the kitchen. (And as much as we love cooking, spending time with our friends is the point of the night.)

We have a few extra challenges in addition to the normal assortment of menu planning considerations  – such as cost, serving style (family style, plated, or buffet being the main choices), and what’s in season locally (we make a big effort to stick with locally sourced ingredients or to at least support the many awesome family farms still in operation around the States) – we have a few extra challenges. Scott is mildly allergic to shellfish (so we can’t go too crazy with the bayou cuisine). One of our regular guests is lactose intolerant. And I’m on a gluten-free diet. And GG can’t handle spicy food. Now this doesn’t mean that we can’t have any shellfish, dairy, or wheat flour, but it is important to us that nobody goes away hungry (especially us ‘cause, well, we like food!).

Some of our goals?

  • Plan an affordable four course meal that includes:
    • Appetizer – available on arrival, so it must be able to sit out for half an hour while guests gather
    • Soup – I usually do pumpkin and one other for the less adventurous (though even the unadventurous who try my pumpkin soup usually ask for seconds!)
    • Main dish – meat w/vegetables, but, you know, interesting
    • Kick-ass dessert – meal planning fact: if we get one thing right, it MUST be the dessert; it’s what the meal ends with, so even if everything else falls flat, people will walk away singing our praises if the dessert is killer
  • Learn how to transform my sweet potato biscuit recipe into a gluten-free masterpiece (I refuse to live life without them),
  • Figure out a way to Cajun-ize my pumpkin soup (8 years of pumpkin soup tradition can’t end over a theme!),
  • Pick one can’t-live-without-it shellfish dish (crawfish gumbo maybe?) and create a menu that otherwise avoids,
  • Find alligator meat and include it somewhere on the menu (ever since we decided on Southern Goth as a theme, I’ve been ridiculously excited about cooking alligator. Yes, I am slightly demented.).
Got any menu suggestions for us? Have a southern pumpkin soup recipe? Know how to cook alligator? We’d love your comments!