Sunday, October 18, 2009

Fall In - Harvest Party

Want to throw a party in the fall but not deal with Halloween costume craziness? Host a dinner party or pot luck with a harvest theme! Pumpkins, squash, pears and apples provided some great options for our get together held this past weekend and our friends were extremely helpful with bringing over sides, salad and drinks to stock the fridge.

We set out just a couple appetizers of pretzels and pumpkin butter and prosciutto wrapped asparagus - there was a heavy meal on the way and we wouldn't want folks to fill up!

We did not do harvest themed drinks but there was an impromptu Tatanka served up (experimenting with apple cider instead of apple juice and sprinkled cinnamon in place of a cinnamon stick). I learned about Tatankas last year in Poland and it is one of those dangerous "this doesn't even taste like alcohol" drinks.

Pour Zubrowka "the one with the grass" Bison Brand Vodka over ice in an old-fashioned glass. Add apple juice and a cinnamon stick (some recipes replace the cinnamon with a lemon wedge).

Things started off with an awesome Salad of baby greens mixed with chopped pears, goat cheese, craisins, roasted pumpkin seeds and a vinaigrette from the Barefoot Contessa.

The kick from the curry powder in this Cooking Light Squash Soup gives it a little something extra.

Velvety Squash Soup (10 servings)
published with photo in Cooking Light
1 (3-pound) butternut squash
1 (2-pound) acorn squash
Cooking spray
2 cups coarsely chopped onion
2 tsp canola oil
5 cups fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
2/3 cup apple cider
2 Tbs molasses
1 tsp curry powder
3/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp ground red pepper
2/3 cup half-and-half
Chopped fresh thyme (optional)

Preheat oven to 425.
Cut each squash in half lengthwise; discard seeds and membranes. Place squash, cut sides down, on a jelly-roll pan coated with cooking spray. Combine onion and oil, tossing to coat. Spread onion mixture onto pan around squash. Bake at 425 for 45 minutes or until squash and onion are tender. Cool slightly. Scoop out squash pulp from skins; discard skins.

Place onion and squash pulp in a Dutch oven. Stir in broth and the next 5 ingredients (through pepper); bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer 5 minutes.

Place half of squash mixture in a blender. Remove center piece of blender lid (to allow steam to escape); secure blender lid on blender. Place a clean towel over opening in blender lid (to avoid splatters). Blend until smooth. Pour into a large bowl. Repeat procedure with remaining squash mixture. Return pureed mixture to pan; stir in half-and-half. Cook over medium heat 5 minutes or until thoroughly heated. Garnish with thyme, if desired.

The grand experiment was in the presentation: we served it out of a hollowed out pumpkin that Bob had cut up and carved the night before. More on our pumpkin carving adventures here.
The main course was a pork tenderloin simply rubbed with olive oil, salt, and pepper. I have been bragging about this for a week straight, but we got a $56 piece of pork for only $16 because of a great sale at Dominicks ($1.79 a pound). We are usually Jewel shoppers, but I randomly clicked on my weekly Dominicks ad I get via email and saw the deal front and center on the first page. Definitely worth the extra drive to find the closest store! The tenderloin was huge, so we cut it in half and froze the rest for another day's dinner. I am not really a coupon clipper, but will be looking at the weekly ads from both chains from now on.

After cooking the tenderloin in a skillet for about 5 minutes on each side, it was surrounded on a baking sheet by sliced pears and red onion tossed with some olive oil and sprinkled with thyme, a side idea we got from Real Simple. Bake at 400 degrees for about 40-50 minutes or until your meat thermometer tells you it's ready.
Dessert was warm apple-y goodness topped with vanilla ice cream. And there was just enough left over for breakfast for two the next morning!

Cranberry-Apple Crumble (8 servings)
published in Cooking Light
1/4 cup sweetened dried cranberries
1 Tbs fresh lemon juice
4 Braeburn apples, peeled, cored and chopped (about 4 cups)
Cooking Spray

1/4 cup all-purpose flour
6 Tbs brown sugar
6 Tbs regular oats
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp nutmeg
3 Tbs chilled butter, cut into small pieces

Preheat oven to 350.
To prepare filling, combine the first 3 ingredients, tossing well. Place apple mixture in an 11x7-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray. To prepare topping: combine flour and the next 5 ingredients through nutmeg, stirring with a whisk. Cut in butter with a pastry blender or 2 knives until mixture resembles coarse meal. Sprinkle b utter mixture evenly over apple mixture. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes or until filling is bubbly and golden. Serve with vanilla ice cream.

I did not know what was meant by "cutting in the butter" and found out it is a phrase used for keeping some chunks of butter in your mixture rather than melting or absorbing the butter into the other ingredients. I might need to look into getting a pastry blender. . .

We decided to make it a dinner party/game night and - although it wasn't on purpose - we actually stuck with harvest theme by playing Apples to Apples! Our large group of 11 made this game really fun - each round offered 10 very absurd answers for the judge to choose a winner from and for us to laugh at. We followed that game up with a few rowdy rounds of Catchphrase - original and musical. Things progressed into Boys Vs. Girls and I think you can guess which team won!

Cut to the next morning: a lot of bottles to take to the recycling center, a remote with missing batteries (sacrificed for the Catchphrase timer!), a fridge full of leftovers and this girl laying useless on the couch watching Gilmore Girls Season 3. Gotta Love Fall!

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