• deborahreinhardt

These simple decorating and menu ideas will help make your celebration, no matter how large or small, frightfully fun.

Halloween party with woman in witches hat and four kids in costumes. canna.com photo

Recently I was surprised to hear my daughter (now in her mid-20s) say the Halloween party I held for her and the neighborhood kids remains an important memory. I had food and games waiting as the costumed kiddos filed into my house. As I remember it, that may have been the first Halloween in our (then) new house, so like any mom, I wanted to win over the street for my daughter to help her make new friends. I sort of winged it, which is not a recommended strategy. I picked ground-in sticky cold spaghetti (“monkey brains”) out of my carpeting for weeks.

A great Halloween party starts with a plan. According to eLivingToday.com, make lists for your menu, decorations, and guests to have almost everything done in advance so the party runs smoothly. Here are 10 of my favorite tips to make your Halloween blast absolutely boo-tiful.


If you’ve got the budget to shop for wicked Halloween décor, go for it. Most of us, however, will go the DIY method. Remember that lighting plays a role in the party’s décor, eLivingToday experts say. Candles, lanterns and dimmed lights provide a great backdrop to the rest of your decorations.

Guests will see the front of your house first, so pop in purple and orange bulbs in your outdoor sconces. Set out a few carved pumpkins or luminaries simply made with paper lunch bags, sand (I’ve even used clean cat litter in the past) and these LED tea lights from The Dollar Tree.

Trick out your buffet table by filling clear vases with candy corn. Nestle a pillar candle in the middle and voila, instant panache. Line tiny pumpkins from the grocery store down the middle of your table to finish the look.

Here’s another idea using candles: Hot glue first-aid gauze (you know there’s some under your bathroom sink) around clean glass canning jars. Buy google eyes and glue them on front of jar and you’ve made an adorable mummy votive. Place one of these in your guest bathroom and for another creepy trick, drop a plastic bug into the bottle of green hand soap.

Make ghost with helium-filled white latex balloons (Michaels stores should be able to hook you up). Draw a simple face (a la ‘The Scream’) and tape white crepe paper at the bottom around the knot.

The menu

Simplicity is the name of the game. Have a pot of finished chili warming in your slow cooker when guests arrive. My White Chicken Chili would be perfect for this.

The rest of the buffet can be apps, sweets and drinks. Pull Apart Piggies are a fun appetizer and something you can make ahead and have ready when guests arrive. Dress them up for Halloween with a few of these creepy plastic finger favors poking out of the pan.

I made Jack’s Bean Dip last year as part of Three Women in the Kitchen’s Frightfully Fun Fridays Facebook series. Assemble the dip and have ready to bake when your guests start to arrive. Print out the recipe card below and set it next to the dip and chips; guests can snap a photo with their phone if they want to take along the recipe.

And remember, your guests will likely want to contribute by bringing a snack or drinks. Take them up on their offer! You don’t have to do it all, plus this can yield new recipes or ideas you didn’t have in your arsenal of culinary tricks.

lime sherbet punch in two skeleton hand goblets for Halloween party

Here’s a fun drink that works for adults and kiddos. To make Chilled Witches Brew, just add one large scoop of lime sherbet to a champagne flute, 1 ounce lemon vodka, and top with lemon-lime soda. (Obviously, leave out the booze for the little gremlins.)

Whether you'll be entertaining friends or simply want a festive night at home with your family handing out candy, conjure up a few of these tips and make memories this Halloween.

About the blog

Three Women in the Kitchen is an award-winning food blog offering today’s home cooks comforting, hearty recipes with a personal touch. The website also pays tribute to Deborah’s mother, Katie Reinhardt, and paternal grandmother, Dorothy Reinhardt (the “three women” in the kitchen). Whether you’re an experienced or a novice cook, you’ll find inspiration here to feed your families and warm your heart. Subscribe today so you won’t miss a single delicious detail.

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  • deborahreinhardt

You can’t resist these chewy and salty soft pretzel bites for a hearty snack.

pretzel rolls bake together in an iron skillet
Pretzel Monkey Bread

Since the 19th century, St. Louis and beer have had a perfect marriage. When Johann Adam Lemp brewed the first lager in St. Louis (possibly in the country) in the late 1830s or early 1840s from his grocery store, the beginning of his beer empire was timed perfectly with the wave of German immigrants moving west. By 1870, there were 50 breweries in town, although many folded during the Prohibition era. Today, craft brewers are flourishing in St. Louis, and where there’s beer, there will be salty snacks like pretzels.

brick building that was Lemp Brewery in St. Louis
Lemp Brewery on Cherokee Street operated until 1919. (Photo: Emil Boehl/Missouri Historical Society)

The best place to buy pretzels in St. Louis is Gus’ Pretzels located (appropriately) not far from the Anheuser-Busch/InBev factory. Like most family businesses (the pretzel shop has been in business since 1920), Gus’ has an interesting history. Gus Sr. married pretzel baker Frank Ramsperger’s daughter, Marcella, and soon realized there was potential in pretzels.

While the Bavarian-styled twisted pretzels are still made, my favorites are Gus' stick pretzels, which were developed to accommodate the vendors who sold them on street corners in bags. Nothing beats a bag of Gus’ Pretzels with a cold beer.

In Webster Groves, a St. Louis suburb, a small batch brewery and gastropub Perennial on Lockwood makes a wonderful Pretzel Monkey Bread that pairs well with one of the beers made on site, like Tumbling Dice (a pale English pub brew).

I think the trickiest part of pretzel making is in the twist, a shape developed by monks in 610 to resemble arms in prayer. But with Pretzel Monkey Bread, the dough is formed into balls and nestled in a cast iron skillet then brushed with butter and sprinkled with salt. It was much easier to make than I anticipated, and you have got to try this for Oktoberfest. I followed a recipe on King Arthur Baking website for pretzel sandwich buns to make the dough.

To make Pretzel Monkey Bread which yields 8 to 10 servings, you’ll need these ingredients:

(For the dough)

  • 1¾ cups warm water

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter

  • ¾ teaspoon salt

  • 4 ½ cups unbleached bread flour

  • ¼ cup milk powder

  • 2 teaspoons (1 packet) instant yeast

(For the water bath)

  • 2 quarts water

  • 1 tablespoon salt

  • ¼ cup baking soda

(For topping)

4 tablespoons pretzel salt

Pretzel Monkey Bread directions

Add yeast to 1¾ cup warm water and allow it to activate while you measure and mix dry ingredients.

To a large mixing bowl, combine 4 ½ cups flour, ¾ teaspoon salt, the milk powder, and butter. I stirred these ingredients together and transferred to my food processor, but if you have a standing mixer with a bread hook, that’s probably the preferred method.

Add the warm water with yeast and mix to create a sticky dough.

Transfer to a floured surface and knead the dough until it’s smooth and bounces back. Transfer to a greased bowl and cover. Allow it to rest for one hour or until doubled.

Punch the dough to deflate it and transfer to a floured working surface.

Divide dough into 10 pieces and shape into a smooth ball. Place the balls on a sheet lined with parchment and cover so they can rest 15 minutes.

Pretzel Monkey Bread dough balls simmer pot  of  alkaline water
Place pretzel dough balls in an alkaline water bath before baking.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Prepare the water bath by bringing 2 quarts water, 1 tablespoon salt and ¼ cup baking soda to a boil. Don’t skip the water bath step as it creates that crunchy outside to your pretzel.

When the water just comes to a boil, turn down to medium and drop 3 dough balls in at a time and cook for 1 minute, turning them over once in the bath. With a slotted spoon, place the balls in a cast iron skillet that’s been lightly greased with butter.

Brush the tops with a bit of melted butter or milk to help with browning and sprinkle with salt. Bake for 20-25 minutes until tops are golden. Allow skillet to cool about 15 minutes before serving.

A pretzel needs a great dip or two, and St. Louis Beer and Provel Cheese Dip fits the bill.

Mustard and pretzels are best friends, too, and ¼ cup stone ground mustard, ½ cup mayonnaise, and 3 tablespoons honey create another delicious dip for Pretzel Monkey Bread.

This appetizer is best when eaten within hours of being baked.

Salted pretzels turn hard really quick! Although I stored uneaten portions of Pretzel Monkey Bread in an air-tight container, by the next day, they were like rocks! The salt sucks the moisture out of the pretzel, rendering it inedible. So, you really can't make this recipe for one or two people.

Can I just make regular pretzels using this recipe?

Absolutely! Just shape the 10 pieces into ropes and twist. Follow the rest of recipe for the water bath and baking. Do not add salt if you want to freeze the pretzels. Thaw the pretzels on a parchment-lined sheet pan. To add salt for serving, moisten your index finger and follow the shape of the pretzel's twist and sprinkle with salt.

I’m still going to pop into Gus’s for the best pretzels in St. Louis, but Pretzel Monkey Bread is a great dish for your home-based Oktoberfest or game night. You got this, so give the recipe a try and let us know how it turned out in the comments.



Looking for more snack ideas for your October party plans?

Pull Apart Piggies make a fun appetizer. Smoked Chicken and Grape Bruschetta is a perfect way to begin your dinner party.

About the blog

Three Women in the Kitchen is an award-winning food blog offering today’s home cooks comforting, hearty recipes with a personal touch. The website also pays tribute to Deborah’s mother, Katie Reinhardt, and paternal grandmother, Dorothy Reinhardt (the “three women” in the kitchen). Whether you’re an experienced or a novice cook, you’ll find inspiration here to feed your families and warm your heart. Subscribe today so you won’t miss a single delicious detail.

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  • deborahreinhardt

Celebrate Oktoberfest at home with sauerbraten, a comforting and tangy German pot roast.

sauerbraten beef roast on plate with cooked carrots and onions
Authentic German sauerbraten with carrots and onions.

I’m seeing a beefy hunk and it’s positively delicious. I visit “Chuck” every day (sometimes twice daily). We’re building a saucy relationship.

Making an authentic German sauerbraten is not dissimilar to dating a man (in my mind, anyway). Patience will yield desired results. Men and chuck roasts need tenderizing. Putting both to the fire deepens character. But beef won’t argue with you.

All kidding aside, sauerbraten, while a simple recipe, requires commitment and attention. From the German words sauer (sour or pickled) and braten (roast meat), a beef roast marinates for four to seven days submerged in a liquid that usually contains vinegar, peppercorns, and onions. Variations in sauerbraten recipes often are regionally driven. For example, southern Germans often use crushed gingersnap cookies or lebkuchen to flavor and thicken the roast’s gravy. Northern Germans prefer a greater tang in their beef and thicken the cooking juices with corn starch.

Some sources say sauerbraten, Germany’s national dish, originated in the ninth century with Charlemagne, while others say Saint Albertus Magnus of Cologne popularized this way to tenderize leftover meat in the 13th century.

Beef is usually used in making sauerbraten, although venison, pork, mutton—even horse—has been found in some recipes.

My mom, Katie, and dad, Bob, in a photo from the early 1990s.

Because it’s a classic example of German cooking, Dad sometimes requested sauerbraten for his birthday in October, and Grandma, his mother, happily obliged. I remember when she made sauerbraten for Dad, it was an act of love, a gift of food that celebrated our German heritage.

I’m using Grandma’s recipe here, which is included in my family cookbook, with one addition. I perused the internet for sauerbraten recipes in comparison. Some called for juniper berries, but that’s not an ingredient I have on hand. However, I do keep gin on hand, which is made with juniper berries and other botanicals, so how could a ¼ cup of gin hurt Grandma's recipe? She would have approved. It made me think of the time Grandma, when making her baked beef stew, didn’t have any cooking sherry, so she used a cup of Dad’s 12-year-old Scotch. Best damn stew you ever tasted.

To make my gran’s German sauerbraten which yields four to six servings (depending on the weight of your roast), you’ll need these ingredients:

  • 2- or 3-pound chuck roast

  • 1½ teaspoons kosher salt

  • 1 teaspoon pepper

  • 2 garlic cloves, sliced (or 1 teaspoon granulated garlic)

  • 2 cups red wine vinegar

  • 2 cups water

  • ¼ cup gin

  • 1 small onion, whole, stuck with 3 whole cloves

  • 2 bay leaves

  • 1 teaspoon peppercorns

  • 2 teaspoons caraway seeds

  • ¼ cup brown sugar

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil

  • ½ cup sliced onions

  • 1 carrot, chopped

  • 1 celery rib, chopped

chuck roast with vinegar, water and spice marinade inside plastic bag.
Marinate the sauerbraten in a crock or inside a zip top bag. The beef roast marinates for up to seven days.

Directions to make authentic German sauerbraten

Rub the beef roast with salt and pepper. If you’re using granulated garlic, sprinkle the beef now.

Place beef in a deep crock or glass bowl. (I used a plastic zip-top bag and placed that in a bowl.)

Heat (don’t boil) the vinegar, water, gin, and sugar until dissolved. Remove from heat and add the bay leaves, peppercorns, garlic, caraway seeds and whole onion with cloves. Pour warm mixture over beef. More than half the roast should be covered.

Cover (or close plastic bag) and refrigerate for two to seven days. The longer it marinates, the deeper the sour notes will be. Turn the meat in marinade daily.

And used 1 cup water and 1 cup coffee for a richer gravy. I think Grandma would have liked that idea, too. It’s a great way to use up brewed coffee from the morning.

After the meat marinates your desired time, remove the beef and pat dry. Don’t discard marinade. Add 2 tablespoons vegetable oil to a large skillet and brown chuck roast on each side.

Strain the marinade and place in a small saucepan. Bring up to a boil and set aside.

Marinated and browned sauerbraten in a slow cooker surrounded with onions and small carrots
After three days, I cooked the sauerbraten in my slow cooker, set to low, overnight (eight hours). It needs to slowly cook to become tender. Baking the roast in the oven is also recommended.

Transfer to a roasting pan and add sliced onions, carrots, and celery. Cover and bake for 3 to 4 hours at 325 degrees F until meat is fork tender. Cooking the browned roast and vegetables in a slow cooker for 8 hours on the low setting would also work.

Thicken the cooking juices with a corn starch slurry.

Sauerbraten traditionally is served with spaetzle, but egg noodles or mashed potatoes would be acceptable sides to this tangy, tender roast. And if you really want to be authentic, add a side of braised red cabbage.

Dad also made certain to have rye bread on hand to sop up that delicious, rich brown gravy. It's the best gravy you'll have!

What can I do with leftovers?

Use the leftover chuck roast for barbecued beef sandwiches. Slice the cold roast about ½ inch thick. Reheat the beef in your favorite barbecue sauce and serve on a soft sandwich bun. The beef’s tang balances well with sweet barbecue sauce for a completely new meal.

I don’t have red wine vinegar. Can I substitute red wine?

I wouldn’t recommend this. You want that distinctive tang for sauerbraten, but you could swap another vinegar. For instance, apple cider vinegar would work here.

I hope you’ll give my family’s sauerbraten a try. It’s a nice twist on a traditional American pot roast and makes something special from a cheaper cut of beef. That’s good old German know-how for you!


Try these other recipes from my family cookbook to celebrate Oktoberfest! Pork schnitzel with creamy dill sauce and sauerkraut is a satisfying supper for this month. Gashtel soup pairs a rich beef broth with tiny homemade dumplings for a bowl of old world comfort.


About the blog

Three Women in the Kitchen is an award-winning food blog offering today’s home cooks comforting, hearty recipes with a personal touch. The website also pays tribute to Deborah’s mother, Katie Reinhardt, and paternal grandmother, Dorothy Reinhardt (the “three women” in the kitchen). Whether you’re an experienced or a novice cook, you’ll find inspiration here to feed your families and warm your heart. Subscribe today so you won’t miss a single delicious detail.

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