Top 8 Seasonal Texas Brews

Get in the fall spirit with one of these beers.

Joanna O'Leary

If your first reaction to this post is, "Whoa! It is way too early to be thinking of Halloween," then: 1) You are not my friend, 2) Stop reading and 3) Be grateful my editor at the Houston Press prevented me from publishing it in August, which is approximately when I started planning my Halloween festivities. Yes, indeed, I do love Halloween that much. It's my favorite holiday for a number of reasons, but mostly because it centers on chocolate, ghosts, pumpkins and the color orange. This October, I'm happy to guide you in planning your own All Hallow's Eve celebrations. Here, seven spooky foodstuffs I recommend for your spooky bash:

7. Ghostly Pretzel Sticks.There are many recipes for this treat on the interwebs, but all exploit that delicious medley of salt, starch and cocoa that is the chocolate-covered pretzel. Ghostly pretzel sticks are not only amusing treats for kids' parties, but they also can serve as stirrers for Halloween highballs at adult fêtes.

This is not your father's Caesar salad, and that's a good thing.
Brooke Viggiano
This is not your father's Caesar salad, and that's a good thing.

6. Candy Corn Cupcakes.Visually impressive yet shockingly easy to make, candy corn cupcakes double as decoration and dessert. Plus, the garnish provides a great opportunity to get rid of some extra candy corn (turns out you didn't devour those three bags you bought at CVS).

5. Mummy Meatloaf.One of the most inventive Halloween dishes I've seen in a long time, Mummy Meatloaf solves the problem of what to serve that's more "substantial" at an evening Halloween party by combining ground hamburger, thick pasta noodles, cheese and cream of mushroom soup. Like some ketchup with your meatloaf? Perfect: Now you have a bloody Mummy Loaf.

4. Jack-o-Lantern Cheese Ball.Take a picture of this snack early in the party, because the cheese pumpkin quickly loses face as guests arrive. If you enjoy mild Midwestern-style Cheddar cheese balls, go with the standard recipes; those in search of more kick should add cayenne pepper or hot sauce and try jalapeño-flavored cream cheese.

3. Mummy Dogs.A perennial favorite since Pillsbury first introduced them a few years ago, Mummy Dogs are essentially larger versions of pigs in a blanket dressed up for Hallow's Eve. Hot dogs are the most popular filler, but if you're in the mood for a classier, less processed Halloween, I suggest using organic pork or chicken sausages.

2. Brownie Pumpkin Patch/Graveyard Cake.Having made this cake every year for the past decade or so, I can say it is not for people who don't like sweets. Okay, it's rather cloying, but if there's one time of the year people are in the mood to eat a dense brownie covered in icing covered in candy, well, it's Halloween. The newest "pumpkin patch" version of the cake is fine and dandy, but I prefer the retro "cemetery" version because it cleverly uses dyed coconut for the "grass" surrounding the tombstones.

1. A Dip-Barfing Pumpkin.Many nauseated pumpkins seem prone to spewing guacamole, a popular choice, no doubt, for its color and ability to pair well with purple corn dips. Don't underestimate the deliciousness/grossness factor of a squash spewing veggie dip (gotta love those chunks!).

On the Menu

Cheap Eats in Chinatown at Xiong's Cafe
A family-friendly hole-in-the-wall with simple Chinese food.

Mai Pham

If you're looking for cheap eats in the form of dumplings, noodles and rice plates, look no further than Xiong's Cafe, located on Bellaire Boulevard in a strip mall behind the more popular Sinh Sinh Restaurant. The modest hole-in-the-wall, composed of two small rooms, offers no-frills, simple Chinese food via counter service in a family-friendly environment.

I stopped by on a random midweek evening around 6 p.m. to try their pan-fried dumplings. Chef Benjy Mason of Down House, who lived in China when he was younger, had cited it as his go-to place for traditional jiaozi, or dumplings, and I had been meaning to try it ever since. Xiong's was also awarded Best Dumplings by the Houston Press in 2008.

The main dining room was brightly lit with fluorescents, its wooden tables and chairs reminiscent of those in a typical neighborhood restaurant you'd find in China. For decor, the wall was adorned with simply framed, faded portraits of pretty Asian women, presumably old-time Chinese movie stars or models.

A young woman stood behind a small stand topped with a cash register and a sheaf of laminated menus. I grabbed one to read, thankful that it was in English, because the entire wall behind her was a menu in Chinese characters only.

The menu was composed of appetizers and simple day-to-day fare, including dumplings, noodle soups and rice plates. I ordered the pan-fried dumplings (eight dumplings for $5.95), and because they were so inexpensive decided to order a bowl of spicy wontons, too. After paying about $11 and change (cash only), I was given a number and left the counter to find a small table.

Walking into the second room, I saw another, larger counter with another cash register. Part of the same ownership, this second counter was dedicated to drinks such as boba tea and desserts like shaved ice.

I found my table, put my number down and went over to the condiment stand to pick up utensils and make my dumpling sauce. There was a nice spread of premixed dumpling sauce, garlic, vinegar, ginger and other spices for you to concoct a sauce of your own. There was also a big pot of hot millet porridge to self-serve, so I poured myself a small bowl and settled down with my sauces, waiting for my dishes to arrive.

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