Updated: Feb 23, 2022
Early Fall is a glorious season. Heat and humidity have departed to be replaced by crisp, sunny days and hints of the vibrant color to come. As for eating - Prime Time! Most summer fruits and vegetables are still available and Fall’s early harvest is in. A dinner featuring these gifts is always on my agenda in autumn. This year, it was my turn in our round robin to host the Three Fare Ladies and their spouses. As dinner parties are meant to cheer and charm, I insert elements of fun as well as presenting good food. As the dishes in the menu lack an amusing character or component, I labeled the dishes with phrases that I hoped would amuse, starting with the menu’s subtitle, “Fallen or Grounded,” referring to where fall foods are found.
A FETE FOR FALL Fallen or Grounded Appetizers
An Apple a Day Is Not Nuts Almond Butter/Honey/Sour Cream Dip with Apple Chips and Sticks Don’t Be Cheesy, Pear It Up Seckel Pear Stuffed with Stilton No Gripes with Grapes Thyme Roasted Grapes Soup
Root It Out! Roasted Parsnips, Potato and Celery Root with Herbes de Provence Main
Don’t Be Chicken Braised Chicken Thighs and Mushrooms You’ll Get Bogged Down Wild Rice with Cranberries and Walnuts
Get the Most with a Roast Roasted Carrots and Red Onions, Pomegranate Glaze Salad
AOC: Admirably Organically Correct Warm Fig and Arugula, Fig Balsamic Vinaigrette Desserts
From the Trees, Sure to Please Pear and Pecan Cake Salted Caramel Ice Cream
The three appetizers feature three fallen fruits, apples, pears and grapes, in recipes that speak to the sweetness and light-heartedness of summer. Root vegetables, taken from the ground, make a hearty and warming soup to move us toward frosty times. The main course picks up delights from the ground and digs in a bit with carrots and onions. Figs feature in the salad. This sweet, late summer fruit pairs beautifully with peppery arugula. For a nod to fall I poached then in port to provide more robust flavor suitable to the season. A phenomenal foursome make their appearance in the finale, i.e., dessert. Pears and pecans are the pearfect couple for a moist and densely textured cake. Maple frosting makes it a threesome from the trees and caramel ice cream completes the foursome. Because warm flavorings often are as good or better made a day ahead, many dishes qualify. That’s true of the three appetizers, the dip for the apple appetizer, the stilton cheese mixture for the pear appetizer, and the roasted grapes. The soup, as with most soups, can be made a week or more in advance and frozen. Wild rice and the carrot/onion concoction can be made several hours ahead. The chicken thighs are best made shortly before serving. I always make cakes a day ahead and I’ve found that pear and similar cakes are pretty good even after a sojourn in the freezer. Some notes on the recipes: Apple app. Many recipes of this sort use yogurt in the dip. I’ve tried that but this time, I used sour cream. The result was superior. The dip had more substance and a fuller, richer taste. Seckel pear app. Seckel pears are the perfect size for finger food. The secret is to use a good, young blue cheese so that the pungency of the blue cheese does not overwhelm the sweetness of the pear. Michele is ordinarily not fond of blue cheeses but loved the young Stilton I used. Roasted grapes. Originally I had planned to mix the grapes with goat cheese and serve them warm in pastry cups but the grapes were so yummy on their own I opted to serve them warm but without accessories. A bonus - simple, simple, simple to make. Just mix the grapes with chopped thyme and some olive oil. Roast at high temperature until they start to shrivel, about 15 minutes. Soup. Almost any root vegetable soup is a winner. This one uses parsnips for sweetness; celery root (just a little because of its strong flavor) because it is vegetal, earthy and a bit bitter; and potato to thicken. Root vegetable soups are greatly enhanced with herbs. Here, I used lavender (see June 20 and June 27, 2021 blog posts on “Lavender, the Herb Superb”) and sage. Braised chicken thighs. Having never braised chicken, I gave it a try. Not bad, but I prefer the texture of roasted thighs. Wild rice with cranberries and walnuts. These North American bog products, wild rice and cranberries, pair perfectly. Walnuts add crunch. Prepare the wild rice according to package directions. Sauté the cranberries and walnuts together in butter. Carrots/onions. Roasting brings out the sweetness in both vegetables. Top with a pomegranate glaze for an additional layer of sweet and tart. Add jewel-like pomegranate seeds for their taste and beauty. Salad. Use fresh figs or, as here, figs (fresh or dried) poached for 15 minutes in port wine. Place a few on arugula and dress with fig balsamic vinaigrette. Simple and refreshing. Pear cake. I fell in love with pear cakes a number of years ago when Billa served one. They are sweet, but not overly so, have a wonderful texture and are lusciously moist. I use a recipe taken from Gourmet Magazine, but use fewer spices so that the pear flavor, rather than the spices, dominate. Make it as much as two days ahead or even freeze it.