03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

How To Class Up Your Halloween Party

I'm all for blood capsules and fake cobwebs and severed hands in the punchbowl. However, after I booked a wedding with a Halloween theme, I thought it was best for me (and the poor parents whose checkbook was funding this potential monstrosity) to think outside of the pine box.

You must know that normally I am not a fan of this holiday, simply for the color choices alone. Orange and black belongs only in Oklahoma, on a husky lad in tight pants with big... guns.

I am happy to report that by the end of this theme wedding experience, I was surprisingly enamored with the intimacy that the dark and shadowy look created (think gauzy fabrics, stormy grey with bone china, and lots and lots of red wine). Inspired, I've been throwing "Classy Halloween" dinners ever since which are a big hit for those not into stick-on warts or hearing The Monster Mash. Ever again.

Here are some tips, and if you want to know more, you know where to find me:

Spooky Marshmallows
I love serving dark hot chocolate spiked with Frangelico, which I top with homemade marshmallows cut out in spooky shapes. They're super festive and taste way better than store bought. And the cookie cutters can be used again to make, you guessed it, cookies!

Candles, Candles, Candles
This is obvious, but I like to take it to the next level and have candlelight be the only illumination. Make sure to move anything that is easily stumbled over and that all coffee tables are clearly marked. You want minimum shin damage for your guests.

Mood Music
Play only music of dead musicians. The genre is up to you. For my Halloween gatherings, I like to play the music of those who died in the most tragic of circumstances (which hardly limits my choices).

Share A Family Mystery
When sending invites, ask your guests to be ready to share a "family mystery". It could also be a piece of family history. Encourage them to bring a photo or other visual aid to further illustrate their tale. You never know what to expect with this request, and it's guaranteed to entertain.

I also love a rigged Ouija Board. Hold it on your lap and cheat.

Haunted Harvest Menu
Think apple cider to drink (plus or minus vodka-tastes good hot or cold!), black bean or blood orange salad, rich beef stew or chicken mole, and for dessert:

Chocolate Cupcakes with
Shocking Whipped Cream Filling*

(the "shock" comes from food coloring-we like to tint said filling with red, orange or green)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees
12-cup muffin tin, lined with paper liners
Piping bag fitted with a plain tip
Baking sheet, lined with waxed paper

1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3 egg whites
1 cup water
2/3 cup mayonnaise
1/3 cup heavy or whipping (35%) cream
2 tsp vanilla extract

2/3 cup heavy or whipping (35%) cream
1/3 cup confectioner's sugar, sifted
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 cup heavy or whipping (35%) cream
3 1/2 oz dark chocolate, finely chopped
1 tbsp unsalted butter, softened

Cupcakes: In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

In another bowl, using an electric mixer, beat egg whites until frothy. Beat in water, mayonnaise, cream and vanilla until well blended. Pour into flour mixture and beat on low speed until smooth. Pour batter into prepared muffin tin.

Bake in preheated oven for 10 minutes or until a tester inserted in the center of the cupcake comes out clean. Let cool in tin on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove from tin and let cool completely on wire rack, about 30 minutes.

Using a small melon baller, scoop a hole from the top of each cupcake. Reserve this piece to use as a plug. Using your finger, press inside each cupcake to make the hole wider and deeper inside. Set aside.

: In a bowl, using an electric mixer, whip cream until it begins to thicken. Add confectioner's sugar and vanilla; whip until stiff peaks form, about 2 minutes. Add your food color of choice until the perfectly shocking shade is achieved.

Fill piping bag with whipped cream. Pipe cream into cupcake holes. Use reserved cupcake pieces to top the whipped cream centers. Place filled cupcakes on prepared baking sheet.

Ganache: In a small heavy saucepan, heat cream over medium-low heat until it just starts to boil. Remove from heat and add chocolate. Let stand for 3 to 4 minutes or until chocolate is soft and melting. Add butter and stir until chocolate is smooth.

Dip the top of each cupcake in ganache. Return to baking sheet and refrigerate until chocolate is set and firm to the touch.

*Cupcake recipe courtesy of the Entertaining Encyclopedia, Robert Rose Publishing

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