Tag Archives: food

Dia de los Muertos: Get Your Dead On!

Can’t get enough Halloween? Then celebrate it twice! Here’s the 411 on a famous Spanish-community holiday…and how you can get in on the action, including song, dance, flowers, history, and of course…candy!

What is Dia de los Muertos?

Dia de los Muertos (“day of the dead” or “day of the dead ones”) is actually three days: Oct. 31, Nov. 1 and Nov. 2. However, many celebrants combine the traditions into one day.

Dating back hundreds of years as an official celebration and possibly linked to ancient Aztec culture, Dia de los Muertos honors those who have passed through the veil that separates the world of the living from the world of the dead.

Various Spanish-origin cultures celebrate Dia de los Muertos, but in the United States it is most popular among the Mexican population. Parades are held in major Mexican-populations across the U.S., most famously Los Angeles, San Diego and Tuscon.

Behind the Partying: Why It’s Celebrated

Dia de Los Muertos has a religoius element. Image: Senor Codo

You may not hold to the following beliefs, but taking a bit from tradition can add a fascinating element of honoring one’s past.

  • Oct. 31: All Hallow’s Eve. On this night, altars are erected in the home to honor loved ones who have passed on. Some families officially invite the spirits of their loved ones to the three-day celebration. Children may erect their own mini-altars, inviting the angelitos (dead children) to the household. Grim? Perhaps – but it’s a fascinating and very respectful way to remember one’s own heritage.
  • Nov. 1: All Saint’s Day. On this day, the adult “passed spirits” are believed to enter the celebration.
  • Nov. 2: All Souls’ Day. Families visit the graves of deceased loved ones. They clean the area and decorate it, usually with colorful bouquets of flowers, as well as rosaries, photos and little gifts for the deceased.

These are all Christian calendar dates, but there’s a very pagan element to Dia de los Muertos, and it is believed that some aspects of the three-day celebration tie in to pre-Columbian Central and South America.

Waking the Dead: How to Celebrate

Mmm! Sugar skulls, or “calaveras,” are (almost) too pretty to eat. Image: Danielle

Wow – get ready for a wild ride! Dia de los Muertos is generally a community affair with colorful décor, music and dancing. Here are a few ways that celebrants honor the three-day festival:

  • A parade. The three-day festival often begins with a procession, complete with music. Individuals carry photos of deceased family members, colorful bouquets of flowers and dress up to the nines for what is basically an opening ceremony to the holiday. Start a tradition by having a parade in your neighborhood or by hosting a Dia de los Muertos party.
  • Las calaveras. Literally “the skulls,” these delicious sugar treats – or “sugar skulls” – are too beautiful to eat. Months may go into crafting these sweet creations, but if you’d like to try a sugar skull yourself, there are online vendors who offer them. (In areas that have a large Mexican population, you may be able to purchase them at markets.)
Paint yourself calacas-style. Image: Cody Garcia
  • Decorate with flowers. Orange marigolds are the most popular flower for Dia de los Muertos, but there really are no rules – for this holiday it’s flowers, flowers everywhere! Buy flowers or consider making paper flowers yourself.
  • Bake pan de muerto (literally “bread of the dead”). Share it with family and friends, or take loaves to the cemetery to leave as ofrendas (offerings).
  • Decorate with calacas. Calacas are skeletons painted fancifully, often as a spoof: for example, dancing or singing skeletons, or calacas playing musical instruments.
  • Paint your own face calacas-style! Paint your face white with theater paint, then add flowers, patterns and anything beautiful you can dream up.
Image: mexicansugarskull.com

Whatever you decide to do, make sure there’s plenty of great music – traditional Mexican music is a great pick – and lots of food (and drink, if you’d like).

Though its point seems morbid (and is, in its most literal definition), Dia de los Muertos is actually a celebration of life carrying on, while letting the dead know they’re not forgotten. So get your Spanish on and get partying!

The spooktacular celebration of death (and life) often starts with a no-holds-barred parade. Image: Larry Lamsa

Make Fake Blood (+ Brains and Pus!) in Minutes

Credit: Pinterest, CraftersExChange

Fake blood works great to decorate your haunted house, your Halloween party or even as a game of Dunk Tank (replace water with blood). Every great Halloween setup gets even spookier with a little faux blood tossed around.

Use this non-toxic recipe to make blood, pus (eew!) and more this Halloween. Here’s how to get started.

Step 1:  Prepare Your Ingredients

You will need:

  • 1 c. corn syrup
  • 1/2 c. tap water
  • Food coloring (4 drops +/- as needed)
  • A sprinkling of cornstarch

Step 2: Mix the Ingredients

Credit: ourpastimes.com

Mix the corn syrup, water and food coloring together to create that icky, semi-coagulated consistency you want. (Rubbing hands together with glee…) It’s the cornstarch that gives a “clotted” look, so start off with a minimal amount and add more until you have it just the way you want it.

If you would like to make more blood simple double the ingredients. Example: 1 cup corn syrup to 2 cups corn syrup and ½ cup water to 1 cup water plus corn starch to your desired consistency will do the trick.

Step 3: Enjoy and Have a Very Bloody Halloween!

If prepared under clean conditions, this concoction should be safe to ingest (though precautionary measures mean we can’t technically recommend that). Drip your “blood” onto decor (see below) or splatter it on the walls of your walk-through to terrify visitors. Enjoy!

Make fake blood for Halloween

Other Slimy, Gooey Gross Decorations

Fake pus gooey liquid for HalloweenTo Make Pus:

You will need white hand lotion and water. Mix just a little water into the lotion to make the lotion runny. Add 1-2 drops of yellow or blue + green food coloring and stir well to give a particular sickly look.


Uses: This is a great option for those of you who will be zombies, aliens or deranged hospital escapees this Halloween. Add your basic makeup first, then drip the “pus” over your made-up look.

To Make Slime:

Mix water, 1/2 c. white hand lotion and 1/2 tsp. lime gelatin powder together. Stir very well. Add cornstarch to get a more opaque look. Refrigerate to get a more solid slimy consistency.

Add 1-3 drops of green food coloring if you want a really deep green look.


Uses: This is another good option for Zombie costumes and Alien costumes or for haunted houses featuring these creepy themes.

To Make a Bloody Skull

Credit: Pinterest, My Customize

First, you will need to purchase a novelty skull. If you can’t find one at your local dollar store just yet, try online.

Make cherry or strawberry gelatin according to package directions. Cool slightly but not until it has thoroughly solidified. Mix in some corn syrup. Refrigerate for allotted time on package. For a deeper red, add a few drops of red food coloring before refrigerating.

Once solidified, push pieces of the red gelatin onto the skull. Hang the skull in your haunt and watch as the gelatin slowly melts and slides down the skull.

If you’d rather, you can use the basic blood recipe instead and drip this over your spooky skulls.


Uses: This is a great decoration for any haunted house or outside decorations for your home. Just beware the mess! Don’t hang it over your furniture or anything else that may stain.

Brain Mold:

You will need to purchase a brain cake/pie/gelatin mold. Depending on the colors you want, mix those gelatin flavors together.

Example: If you want a green and purple zombie brain, add green food coloring and mix blue and red food coloring into the gelatin mix.

Prepare gelatin per directions. Refrigerate. Pop out of mold once it’s done and place on a creepy serving platter.

If you want a more string-like look, add cooked spaghetti noodles and add to your gelatin mix with the mix prepared and just slightly cooled, then refrigerate. Add pasta sauce to the noodles for bloody brains.

Note: You may also use this as a cake mold or meat mold (meatloaf). Both work wonderfully for deliciously gross fun!

Uses: A great centerpiece for any Halloween party, a delicious treat for the kids or a great decoration for your Haunted House or walk-through.

Oh yes, and it’s great to eat, especially if you’re a zombie!

Brain mold for Halloween

Add an Italian Twist to Your Halloween Recipes

Halloween has in recent years spread across the Atlantic to the boot shaped peninsula known as Italy.   Although the Italians do not celebrate Halloween per se, they do have their own rituals and festivities which are not all too far off.

One of these festive and colorful holidays is All Souls Day.  It comes on the day after All Saints Day which is November 1st and honors the fallen Saints.   However All Souls Day honors all those who have died.  It is an Italian celebration which is not focused on death, as in a morbid fashion, but on honoring loved ones who have passed on.

Although these two holidays are not the same, there is one major similarity – the use of food.  Just as our Halloween involves the practice of handing out food to children as they come knocking on our door, the Italians also incorporate the practice of food giving to children on All Souls Day.   However, in their ritual, the children leave food and lit candles outside to “guide and feed” the souls of those in purgatory who revisit the home during the night.  In some regions the tradition is for children to leave their shoes outside the front door only to find them stuffed with gifts later.

bones of the dead halloween recipeOne popular cookie sold in bakery stores throughout Italy is called, Bones of the Dead.   Every region in Italy seems to have their own unique version of this cookie.

A very simple Tuscan version of this cookie is as follows:



2 cups flour

1/2 cup hazelnuts chopped

2 cups sugar

2 egg whites

juice of a lemon


Combine the flour, egg whites, sugar and juice in a large bowl.

Next, add in the nuts and mix together until a dough consistency forms.

Roll the dough into the size of 2 inch wide logs and cut in 2-3 inch lengths.

Flatten or shape to resemble bones.

Lay flat on a floured cookie sheet (spray the sheet with cooking spray and then lightly flour)

Bake at 350 degrees F. for 20 minutes.

Let cool.

For a Chocolate Chip Version:


2 egg whites at room temperature

2/3 Cup confectioner’s sugar

1/4 cup fine semolina flour (plus more for later)

2/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

3/4 cup chopped almonds.


Whip egg whites until stiff peaks form.   This can be done with an electric mixer on high speed for about a minute.

Slowly add in half the sugar while beating until whites are stiff.

Fold in the rest of the sugar, flour, chocolate chips and almonds and mix gently.

Line your cookie sheet or pan with parchment paper.  Otherwise grease and lightly flour the surface.

Create bone shaped cookies with the dough, about 3 inches in length and 1 1/2 inches wide.  Place on the cookie sheet.  Remember these will expand so space accordingly.

Bake at 300 degrees F for about 30 minutes until cookies are dry.

Let cool.

Drizzle  with a melted chocolate mixture of chocolate and butter.  Either dip the bottom side in, or drizzle with the chocolate.

Let dry and enjoy!

Other Halloween Ideas Using Italian Food

If you want a more familiar Italian theme food for your Halloween party, try these:


The easiest way to create cannolis is to buy premade shells.

For the filling:

10 oz. ricotta cheese drained

1 1/4 cups powdered sugar

1/4 cup chocolate chips

Orange food coloring

Always fill the cannolis the same day you plan on serving them.  If you make them in advance the shells will become soggy.   You can make your filling the day before, and then simply fill the shells just prior to your party.

Mix all the ingredients except the chips, until it is light and airy.  You can use a mixer or food processor, such as a cuisinart 11 prep or for this.  Or you can just mix it by hand the good old fashioned way.

When finished gently fold in the chips.

Fill the shells with the mixture.  A tip is to pour the mixture into a plastic bag and then snip one of the corners, thus creating a makeshift pastry bag.   Use this to squirt the filling into the shells.

This recipe can also be used during other holidays, such as Christmas and makes a great Italian Christmas gift or contribution for attending parties.  Instead of orange food coloring try green or red.

As with many Italian desserts, remember to serve with coffee or espresso.  Especially dry cookies, like the Bones of the Dead cookies, are great when dipped in a latte.

If you do not make your own espresso using appliances like an Alessi espresso maker, to prepare your espresso, regular coffee should suit your guests just as well.

This article was contributed by Liz T. Krause, publisher of simpleitaliancooking.com.  Although she grew up in an Italian household, it wasn’t until later in her married life with her Italian husband that she began to appreciate the joy of Italian cooking.

Jack-O-Pizza and Jack-O-Brownie Recipes

Want a special Halloween menu for a simple, scrumptious meal to enjoy after Trick or Treating with your clan? Here’s a simple meal that you can make easily that’s totally in the “spirit” of the season! Get your little ones in the Halloween jammies (my favorites? Check CWD Kids) and Hanna Andersson) and munch away. Of course, you’ll have to keep your kids out of their treat bags so they’ll be monstrously ravenous!!!


This special dish will make one and all smile with delight. The crust is made of cooked egg noodles, topped with a savory and hearty meat sauce, and decorated as a happy face.

Ingredients Needed:

  • 8 oz. packaged fine egg noodles
  • 3/4 pound of lean ground beef
  • 16-oz can of tomato puree
  • 1 envelope Onion-Mushroom soup mix
  • 1/2 tsp. oregano
  • 1/4 tsp. garlic powder
  • 3 eggs, beaten well
  • 10 oz. mozzarella cheese, finely shredded
  • Green and/or red pepper


Cook the noodles according to the package directions; drain. Reserve 1/2 cup for the “hair” garnish on your pizza.

Meanwhile, in a medium skillet, brown ground beef and drain. Stir in tomato puree, onion-mushroom soup mix, oregano, and garlic powder. Simmer covered, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes.

In a large bowl, combine the noodles, eggs, and 2 cups of cheese. Press mixture evenly into a greased 12-inch round pizza pan. Bake for 20 minutes at 350 or until lightly browned.

Take out the pizza “crust” and spoon the sauce mixture over. Garnish the pizza to form a happy face: use remaining cheese and pepper pieces for eyes, mouth, and nose. Add reserved noodles for hair. Bake an additional 10 minutes or until heated through. Makes 6 servings.


This is a super simple idea which makes it an example of how little touches can turn the ordinary into extraordinary! You can make this earlier in the day or the day before so you won’t need two pizza pans of the same size. This is also perfect for parties and school functions.

Ingredients needed:jack-o-brownie

  • Your favorite Fudge brownie mix
  • Brown and green M&M candies
  • White frosting
  • Candy Corn
  • Orange slice candy
  • Green gumdrop, if desired
  • Food coloring


Mix your brownie mix as directed on the package. Pour batter into a greased 12” round pizza pan and bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes. Cool completely and carefully remove from the pan onto a large platter.

Next, tint the canned frosting orange using red and yellow food colors. Have your kids come on in for the fun of decorating the Jack-O-Brownie. Using brown M&M candies, form triangles for the eyes. Do the same with green ones for a nose. Make a mouth by standing up more of the brown M&M candies to form a smile. Add a row of candy corn above and below, touching the brown candies.

Finally, add candy orange slices for eyebrows and a large green gumdrop for the stem. (I often just improvise by putting some brown candies up there as I don’t want to buy a whole bag of gumdrops when only one is needed).

Voila! A BOO-TIFUL way to serve up some chocolate brownies!

Banana Brain Cake

Your guests will be delightfully disgusted to see you serving a brain on a platter. Easy fondant icing helps you create a brainy surface that looks realistic. The fun begins, though, when you slice into it and banana pudding oozes out! Bring out your inner cannibal with this tasty idea.


  • 2 boxes white cake mix
  • 8 inch diameter stainless steel bowl
  • 8 inch cake pan (if you’d like to make things even easier, use a brain-shaped mold)
  • spray oil, like Crisco or Pam
  • 2 lbs powdered sugar
  • 1 cup corn syrup
  • 1 cup softened butter
  • 1 drop red food coloring
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 box instant pudding (banana pictured)

Baking the Brain . . . Cake

Preheat the oven as directed on the cake mix package and mix in a mixing bowl according to manufacturer’s instructions.

Spray the stainless steel bowl and the cake pan with oil.

Pour some batter into the stainless steel bowl, leaving 1-2 inches at the top.

Pour the remaining batter into the cake pan (it’s OK if it’s very thin).

Place the bowl and the pan into the oven and bake until done. You’ll have to check the batter in the stainless steal bowl with a clean knife or toothpick. Insert it in the center and if it comes out clean it’s done. It will take longer to cook than the batter in the cake pan, so check every ten minutes until done.

Cool both cakes completely for at least an hour.

Assembling the Cake

Mix the pudding according to the manufacturer’s instructions and let chill.

Use a bread knife to hollow out the cake that was cooked in the bowl, within 2 inches of the edges of the bowl.

Fill the recessed area with pudding.

Carefully place the flat cake from the pan into the bowl on top of the pudding, sealing up the cake with the pudding.

Invert the entire cake onto a plate and remove from the bowl. You should now have a dome cake.

Making the Fondant

In a mixing bowl, cream together the butter, corn syrup and vanilla. Use a drop of red food coloring to give it a fleshy peach color. If it looks to pink to you, add just one drop of yellow. Remember, it will lighten a lot when you add the powdered sugar.

Add up to 2 pounds of powdered sugar until it forms a smooth solid ball that stays together.

Roll out and flatten the fondant using powdered sugar to prevent sticking. When it’s 1/4 inch thick, divide in half and lay the first half over the top of the cake (roll further if it doesn’t quite fit).

Take the other half of the fondant and roll several long “snake” rolls by hand and lay them on top of the cake in a squiggly pattern to create brain matter. Be sure to delineate between the two brain halves. If you used a mold, follow the contours.

When the cake is covered, use a wet paintbrush to polish the top surface and give it a sheen

Cake can be served immediately, or store chilled. Mmmm, chilled brains for Halloween!