This past weekend, we had a dozen people at the house for an overstuffed menu of appetizers and dinner, seasonal ales and Apples to Apples. We love to entertain and it was fun to make a real meal as opposed to just a smattering of appetizers for the bigger open house style parties.
Even before finalizing the menu, we faced the challenge of where to put everybody. Balancing plates of food and bowls of soup on one's lap does not sound fun so we looked to additional seating beyond our four person table. We ended up pushing the couch back against the wall to open up the living room area and dragged in our outdoor table and chairs. Bringing in a few chairs from other parts of the house allowed us to find a seat for everybody at the tables.
Bonus: check out the reflection of my decorative mirror on the other side of the wall that makes bat and moon shadows - cool!
I actually liked how the wood table fit in with the "fall theme." Our centerpiece was made up of real and fake pumpkins and flowers in fall colors. I also added two buckets filled with corks. One of my Martha Stewart projects for the year included painting the insides of jars to give them an opaque look and then adding a jack-o-lantern face to the front. Of course, I wasn't thinking when I decided to make a vase out of one of them - adding water warped the paint job a bit, but it held together for the night! I filled the other jar with tissue paper halfway up and then halloween candies the rest of the way to an overflowing top.
We had to find a way to best last year's soup serving bowl carved out of a pumpkin. This time around we cut the top off of a very rounded pumpkin and hollowed it out to create a cooler. I lined it with a plastic bag before adding ice so that it did not get too water logged over the course of the evening. Bob used an X-acto knife to carve "ICE COLD DRINKS" and embellishments to the cooler.
Food-wise we'll start with the appetizers. I tried to keep these simple since we had a big meal ahead of us.
I know you can make these yourself, but I wanted to go the store bought route to plan one less thing to make the day of the party. Although I first had planned on finding one with fruit on the inside as well, we ended up just going with the original. Even though we got the larger wheel, it still disappeared in record time. Perhaps we'll plan on two varieties next year!
Caramel with Pear and Apple Dippers
Exactly what it sounds like, I picked up store-bought caramel dip and threw it in a small fondue pot to keep it warm. Apple and Pear slices on the tray next to it. Delish.
We received a kids-themed halloween cookbook as a gift this year - leafing through the pagest these homemade crackers sounded easy enough to try! All you have to do is cut pita bread into the shapes you want, brush them with a little olive oil and sprinkle with italian seasoning and grated Parmesan.
Bake for about 10 minutes or until crispy. We set out hummus and marinara sauce for dipping.Drinks
The invitation instructed to "Bring Your Own Seasonal Ale." We had a great supply of Oktoberfest and Fall brews on hand throughout the night. I also couldn't resist buying bottles of Mexican Pepsi at the store that morning - made with real sugar, the Mexican Cokes and Pepsis are amazing. I saved the bottles and am picturing some sort of whimsical flower vase display.
I also stole an idea from a party we were recently at and filled our crockpot with apple cider. I stuck whole cloves in a couple oranges to add some flavor to the cider as it warmed on a low setting throughout the afternoon and evening. Best web site tip I found for these - use a fork to pierce the orange first to have four ready made holes for the cloves. Trying to punch through the orange peel with just the clove tends to break the heads from the pressure. Add a little rum and you've got a tasty cocktail - albeit one that might make you want to curl up on the couch and take a nap.
On to the dinner menu. . .
I try to plan ahead so I don't make myself crazy the day of the party. This meant making the desserts earlier in the week and vowing not to eat them all up before Saturday, and making the soup a day ahead of time and just heating on the stove top as we are preparing to eat.
Butternut Squash and Pear soup
Trying to find a new spin on last year's Curried Squash soup, I landed on this recipe from Food Network that includes pears. After all of the dicing and chopping, it was actually very easy to make.
Personally, I prefer creamy soups as opposed to grainy so I wasn't as won over as some of our guests, but it still had a good taste.
Serves 4-6 (I doubled the recipe and made two batches)
4 Tbs butter
2 medium onions, diced
1 butternut squash peeled, seeded and cut into 1 inch pieces.
4 pears, peeled and chopped into 1 inch pieces
1 quart chicken stock
1 sprig rosemary
Salt and pepper
Cut squash in half length-wise and place facedown on greased baking sheet. Roast in oven at 350 for 30-40 minutes to make dicing easier. Melt butter over medium-high heat in large saucepan. Add the onions and stir for a couple minutes. Add squash and pears, mix. Pour in chicken stock, enough to cover. Add a sprig of rosemary and bring to a simmer about 18 to 20 minutes. Remove rosemary. Puree in blender. Add cream to liking and season to taste.Arugula Salad
Less a recipe and more just a mixture of ingredients, we picked up a couple bins of ready to eat arugula and added goat cheese crumbles, walnuts and a mustard vinaigrette. Great flavors! The next night we made a salad with the same vinaigrette but used blue cheese crumbles and romaine lettuce.
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1 Tbs honey
1 Tbs Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp pepper
2 tsp salt
2 tsp minced garlic
1 cup vegetable oil
Mix all ingredients and chill until serving. Shake before pouring.
Creamy Brussels Sprouts
A Thanksgiving staple at my parents' house, I wrote up the recipe for the Brussels Sprouts dish last year. I still need a try or two to perfect this - I couldn't seem to get the chicken broth or cream to absorb as much as the recipe stated. Maybe I didn't leave it on the stove top long enough? Either way, the grated parmesan in the mixture and on top add a lot to the greens!
Rosemary Lemon Chicken
Bob tackled the chicken on the grill which actually worked out very well - while I was using up the stove top for soup and the oven for Brussels Sprouts he was out on the balcony with the main course.
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup fresh rosemary
3 cloves garlic
1 lemon zested
1/4 cup lemon juice
6 chicken breast halves
Blend butter, rosemary and garlic with lemon zest and juice. Pour 1/3 into bowl. Lightly season chicken with salt and pepper, rub with marinade. Put in fridge for 3 hours. High heat on grill 4 minutes per side. Serve with leftover marinade.
Can't forget about Dessert!
Pumpkin Whoopie Pies
A cross over post with my Pie Month goal. I was all set to whip up a couple pumpkin pies and serve them with homemade whipped cream but as I was searching through allrecipes.com to find a creative pumpkin pie recipe I spied this one. I had heard of whoopie pies but had not had them before. Oh. My. God. They turned out beautifully! I will be writing about these in more detail in my next Pie Month post, so for now will just leave you with a photo and link to recipe.
I have to say this is probably the most appetizing food shot I've ever taken - needless to say they were all gone within an hour of setting out.
Growing up we always seemed to have zucchini bread on hand, and I have a soft spot for the dish. Perfect for breakfasts, snacks or dessert and so easy to make! I had some grated zucchini in the freezer from a few that I had gotten from my parents' garden last month. These are great to freeze - I made them almost a week ahead of time, left one out for Bob and I to enjoy and pulled the other out of the freezer the day before the party.
1 cup vegetable oil
2 cups white sugar
2 cups grated zucchini
2 tsp vanilla
3 cups flour
3 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup flour
1 Tbs butter
1 tsp cinnamon
Preheat oven to 325. Grease and flour loaf pans. In a large bowl, beat eggs until light and frothy. Mix in oil and sugar. Stir in zucchini and vanilla. Combine flour, cinnamon, soda, baking powder and salt. Stir into egg mixture. Divide batter into prepared pan. Mix crust ingredients together and crumble on top of batter. Bake for 60-70 minutes or until done.
Whew! We were all pretty stuffed by the end of the meal and a big game of Apples to Apples. I'd call it a success! Until next year. . .