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For Fall: An Elegant and Easy Dinner

By Luci

This Fall has been a beauty with splendid color - deep reds, glowing golds and incandescent oranges. A special dinner needed to complement the season. It was special because two dear friends, Ellen and Phil, are, sadly for us, moving away.from beautiful Staten Island.  

A pretty dinner featuring the fruits of fall would leave these friends with pleasant memories of their old friends and beautiful Staten Island. But it’s the busy season and the busy season calls for easy preparations that, pretty much, can be done ahead. In addition, the dinner was gluten-free, to please several of the guests and as a necessity for one of them.



Mushroom Pâté

Dates Stuffed with Cranberry/Cinnamon Goat Cheese

Cheeses: Kerry Gold Skellig Cheddar and Humboldt Fog


Persimmon and Apple


Bone-In Roast Pork, Pomegranate Sauce & Horseradish Cream

Wild Rice with Cranberries and Pecans

Squash with Caramelized Onions


Brussels Sprouts with Cranberries in Radicchio Cups


Almond Cake, Cherry Topping

Dulce de Leche Ice Cream


All recipes yield 8 servings.


First impressions count. Appetizers must impress as a beautiful and  bountiful beginning. Three good-looking and delicious starters, along with some little dishes of olives, nuts, etc. will do the job.

Mushroom Pâté

 Do-Ahead: Up to 2 days or freeze.


2 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

2 large shallots, minced

8 ounces mushrooms, chopped fine

3 tablespoons dry white wine, preferably a chardonnay

3 slices extra-thick bacon

2 tablespoons heavy cream

2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese, preferably Parmigiano-reggiano


  1. In a heavy skillet, heat on medium the butter and oil. Add the shallots and saute, stirring often, until softened.

  2. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring often, until they give up their juices and become almost dry. Add the white wine and cook, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms have absorbed all the liquid.

  3. In the meantime, slowly cook the bacon on medium low in another skillet. The fat should be rendered almost completely, leaving the fat in the bacon crisp and the meat not crisp but done. Remove the bacon to paper towels and blot, then chop into bits.

  4. Add the bacon, cream and cheese to the skillet and mix well. 

  5. Serve: (1) on crostini to serve warm or at room temperature or (2) as a dip for crackers or (3) in phyllo cups served warm. I chose the last.

Dates Stuffed with Cranberry/Cinnamon Goat Cheese

Do-Ahead: Up to 2 days. Refrigerate.

The dates are sweet but complex with notes of caramel and honey. The texture is soft but chewy and seems to fit the plump, wrinkled appearance. I came across goat cheese coated in a mixture of cranberries and cinnamon. That combination seemed ideal for the season. It was. If you can’t find goat cheese with that combination, it would be easy to mix together chopped dried cranberries and cinnamon.


16 dates, preferably Medjool

6 ounces cranberry/cinnamon goat cheese


Slice the dates almost all the way through. Stuff each date with about 1/2 tablespoon of cheese. Squeeze together. That’s it.


A special dinner calls for soup. When the weather is cold, a hot soup satisfies like almost nothing else. When it’s hot out, a cold soup refreshes and hydrates. As soup is, more often than not, the first course of a meal, making it the second course after an awesome array of appetizers does two things: it signals SPECIAL and allows for a bit of a pause and contrast to the first course.

Persimmon and Apple Soup

Persimmon soup is perfect in Fall. Persimmons are a wonderful fruit that you will find in markets in mid-to-late autumn. Unfamiliar to many Americans, persimmons are highly valued in China and Japan. They have Fall color, bright orange, and are very sweet when ripe, full of rich flavor with a touch of spice. Add herbal tastes for greater complexity. Ask guests to appreciate the soup’s fragrance before the first taste.

Do-Ahead: Up to 3 days in advance or freeze


6 tablespoons butter

3 small leeks, white and light green parts only, chopped

1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage

1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme

1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary

5 cups chicken stock, preferably home-made

1 cup apple cider

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

3 tart apples such as Granny Smith, peeled and chopped

1½ teaspoons salt

1½ teaspoons pepper

6 ripe Fuyu persimmons*, roughly chopped

*Note: Use Fuyu persimmons, rather than Hachiyas. The latter are tricky - incredibly delicious when you use them during the short period when they are ripe. Before ripeness, their tannins are unbearable; when overripe and mushy, they are almost equally inedible.

Garnish: Rosemary sprigs


  1. Make soup. Over medium heat, melt the butter in a large pot. Add leeks and sauté 3 -5 minutes, until soft. 

  2. Add sage, thyme and rosemary and cook for about 1 min. 

  3. Add chicken stock, apple cider, cinnamon, cloves, apples, salt and pepper.   Cover and bring to boil.   Lower heat and simmer for 15 minutes or until leeks are very soft. Add persimmons and simmer for 5 minutes.  Puree in blender. Gently reheat. Do not allow to boil.


The star of the show must have appealing appearance, transmit warmth to the eyes and to the mouth along with terrific taste.


A beautiful roast is always special; it gives off a feeling of abundance, so welcome in the barren times of winter cold, along with pleasing aromas. Pork is favored for many reasons. It is economical compared to alternatives such as a beef roast. Certainly savory, pork’s taste is mild and slightly sweet. Quite versatile, it can be prepared in many ways and enhanced with a variety of flavors. I prepared two sauces to accompany the roast, one a classic horseradish, the other used pomegranates. Both sauces are spicy and tart, to contrast and complement the mild taste of the pork. 

The pork roast came from Pastosa on Forest Ave. They have a heritage brand of pork that is absolutely wonderful. I wish I had recorded the marvelous acclaim for its taste which every guest expressed. I used a bone-in roast simply because meat tastes better when cooked with bone. To gild the lily, Shawn, one of their butchers, prepared it perfectly. He  Frenched the bones, started the cuts between bones and tied the roast for easy serving. Thanks, Shawn.


2 roasts of pork loin, each 4 chops. Using two, rather than a single roast of  8, (1) doubles the number of chops from the ends with their burnished and deep flavor, (2) is easier to achieve even cooking and (3) easier to put in and take out of the oven.

Olive oil, salt and pepper.


  1. Bring the roasts to room temperature. Rub with olive oil, salt and pepper. Place in your roasting pan.

  2. Preheat the oven to 400F. When ready, put the roasts in for 60 minutes, then lower the oven temperature to 325F and continue roasting for about 30-40 minutes.. Roast is done when a meat thermometer shows 145F.

  3. Remove from oven, cover loosely with foil and let rest 10-15 minutes. Serve the sauces separately.

The Sauces

Horseradish Sauce

A favorite for beef roasts, horse radish sauce is equally excellent with pork roasts. It’s got a kick that resonates in the mouth and sinuses - how much depends on the heat of the horseradish used. Some can be mild, some intense. Most of us find it easy to use bottled horseradish which comes in rather mild and hot versions. All that heat is tamed by creamy additions such as sour cream or mayo.

Do-Ahead: Up to 3 days. Refrigerate.


1/2 cup sour cream2 tablespoons bottled horseradish, drained2 tablespoons mayo1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar1/4 teaspoon salt1/8 teaspoon black pepper1 tablespoon Dijon mustard1 tablespoon chives, finely chopped


Mix together all ingredients. Serve at room temperature.

Pomegranate Sauce

Fruit and pork go so well together. I favor a classic Cumberland sauce (red currant and orange are the fruits used) with a pork roast but tried a quintessential fall fruit, pomegranate, for this occasion. Tart, sweet and spicy flavors complement the sweetness of pork.

Do-Ahead: Up to 3 days. Refrigerate.


2 cups pomegranate juice

1/4 cup brown sugar

3 tablespoons sherry vinegar

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon ground cloves

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

2 teaspoons cornstarch

2 teaspoons cold water

1/4 cup pomegranate seeds


  1. Mix together the first 7 ingredients (pomegranate juice - black pepper in a medium sauce pot. Stirring often, bring to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes.

  2. Mix together the cornstarch and cold water. Whisk into the pomegranate mixture and continue whisking until the mixture is just thick enough to coat a spoon.

  3. Take off heat. Stir in the pomegranate seeds. Serve warm.

Wild Rice with Cranberries and Pecans

Wild rice, with its warm and earthy tastes, is great in cold weather. Its fairly uncommon and expensive compared to ordinary rice, thus special. 

Do-Ahead: Up to 1 day. Refrigerate.


4 ounces wild rice

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

3/4 cup dried cranberries

3/4 cup chopped pecans


  1. Cook rice according to package instructions.

  2. In a large skillet, over medium-low heat, melt the butter, add the cranberries and pecans and cook for about 7-8 minutes, until nuts are slightly softened. Add the rice and stir.

Squash with Caramelized Onions

Butternut squash is a pleasing and colorful orange that spells Fall. It’s plenty tasty, too, especially when enhanced with caramelized onions.

Do-Ahead: Up to 2 days or freeze.


Olive oil to grease a rimmed baking pan

1 butternut squash, about 1 1/2 pounds

1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 large yellow onion, peeled and chopped fine

3 tablespoons lemon zest

2 teaspoons cinnamon


  1. Cover the bottom of a rimmed baking pan with foil. Grease it with olive oil. Heat oven to 400F.

  2. Slice the squash in half vertically. Lay the two halves, cut side down, onto the baking pan and bake for 1 hour. The squash should be very soft.

  3. Meanwhile, melt the butter and olive oil over medium heat in a large pan. Add the onion and cook, stirring often, until onions are nicely caramelized, about 20 minutes. 

  4. Cool the squash a bit. Remove the skin (very easy). 

  5. Turn the squash into a large bowl and mash. Add the onions, lemon zest and cinnamon.


Brussels Sprouts with Cranberries

A simple salad after the main course allows both guest and host to pause a bit. Salads at this point in the meal are said to aid digestion and refresh the tastebuds.

Do-Ahead: It’s probably best to make the dressing no more than 4 hours ahead. Also, the sprouts can be shaved or processed 4 hours ahead if they are tightly wrapped and refrigerated. Combine dressing, sprouts and cranberries just before serving.


6 tablespoons white wine vinegar

6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon sugar

1/4 teaspoon grated or minced garlic

1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

Salt and pepper

1 pound Brussels sprouts

1 1/2 cups dried cranberries


  1. Make dressing. Mix well the vinegar, olive oil, sugar, .garlic, mustard, salt and pepper.

  2. Shave or process the sprouts.

  3. Combine the dressing and sprouts. Then add the cranberries.


Endings are almost as important to satisfaction and good memories as beginnings. Nothing will emphasize a special and super dinner as much as ending it with a gorgeous, utterly delicious dessert. I chose an almond cake because almond cakes do not suffer in taste or texture when a gluten-free flour is substituted for regular flour. A cherry topping makes for an alluring appearance and a boost of flavor. Of course, you must make it special with ice cream on the side. Dulce de leche ice cream (Häagen Dazs in this case) provided creamy and caramel tastes.

Almond Cake


3/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature

1 7 or 8-ounce package almond paste, broken into pieces

3 large eggs

1 tablespoon kirsch (clear cherry brandy) or an almond liqueur

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup almond or other gluten-free flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder + 1 teaspoon


  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter an 8-inch-diameter cake pan with 2-inch-high sides. Dust pan with flour; tap out excess. 

  2. Using an electric mixer, beat 3/4 cup sugar and butter in large bowl until light and creamy. Add almond paste, 1 piece at a time, beating until well blended after each addition. 

  3. Beat in eggs 1 at a time. Mix in kirsch or almond liqueur, almond extract and salt. 

  4. Mix flour and baking powder in a small bowl; add to batter. Stir just until blended. Spoon batter into prepared pan; smooth top.

  5. Bake cake until top is golden brown and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 35 minutes. Cool in pan on rack.

Cherry Topping

Many flavors meld well with the mild, but nutty and earthy flavor of almonds: chocolate, of course, spices such as ginger, and many fruits. Cherry is a favorite of mine. It was a no-brainer to boost the taste of cherries with sweet spices for a topping. The result was quite lovely and very, very tasty. To ease the cook’s burden, rather than making a cherry topping from fresh cherries (maybe next summer), I used canned cherry- pie filling.


1 21-ounce can cherry pie filling (I used Comstock)

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander


Remove and discard about 1/3 of the liquid surrounding the cherries, in order to increase the cherry/liquid ratio. Gently heat the cherries and remaining liquid with the cinnamon, cloves and coriander. Simmer for about 5 minutes, then let the mixture cool for at least an hour to be sure all the flavors have developed fully. 

Spread the topping on the cake. Do show off the cake before serving.


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Aileen Brennan
Aileen Brennan
Nov 26, 2023

Luci, Mark and I will happily take my aunt and uncle’s place at your table- everything looks delectable!


For dinners like this I think Ellen and Phil may change their mind and stay.

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