You don't have to be a five-year-old to love pumpkin carving. It's one of those fun Halloween parties that doesn't require costumes, but also provides a great activity to incorporate earlier in the evening, before haunted houses are entered and/or heavy drinking commences.
Your party menu should include great cool weather dishes that can be adapted for the costume crowd under their aliases, or served straight up to non-witches, monsters and suicidal big birds. The most important part of the party is the carving, so you provide the libation and the tools, but it's BYO Pumpkin.
To start, designate two surface areas: one for the food, one for the carving. If you have an outdoor area or deck, this would be ideal for the pumpkin action. Make sure to cover your carving table with newspaper or plastic tablecloths -- the pumpkin guts can get messy, and make for a very sticky clean-up.
You'll need the right tools, so have friends chip in a serrated knife or two if you don't have more than one. You'll want to have at least three people at the carving table at one time, but there's no need to have everyone doing it at once -- that's what the food is there for! Cookie cutters make for fun cut-outs, if you have them. You can also download and print stencil ideas if you have some pumpkin artists that need a little inspiration.
As your guests cycle through their pumpkin making, allow them to save their seeds in a separate baggie. You can make some on-site during the party, or send them home with the seeds for a fun Sunday project. Simply boil them for 10 minutes, then drain and toss with olive oil and spices. Roast them in a 400-degree oven for 10 to 20 minutes, until very brown.
The eats can be set up as a buffet, and I'd recommend choosing your dishes from my list of deliciously frightful Halloween dishes. If you're just doing a cocktail party earlier in the evening, skip the meatloaf and mash, and simply serve finger food like cauldron cakes and severed bat wings.
Put the bar in a third area: the kitchen. Serve witch's brew from the stove. The heat should be on low so the alcohol doesn't burn off once the liquid is warm. Make sure you have heatproof cups, and allow your friends to serve themselves straight from the cauldron.
You can take the Halloween theme to a whole other level with the decorating. Cover the food table with bowls of your favorite candies. Better yet, serve them in cap-sized witches hats. A little fake cobweb action never hurts, either.
For more fall recipes and tips about throwing a great pumpkin carving night, check out my party kit on Zokos, or consider hosting your party through their system, where you can invite friends and have them split the cost.
The most important thing is to have fun with it. This is a kid-themed party, so no matter how old you are, embrace the kitsch and go to town in your local Duane Reade aisle. You'll be able to use all this junk again next year, promise.
-- Phoebe Lapine of Feed Me Phoebe.