Harvest Celebration Dinner Party

by Jennifer Iannolo

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At last, the season of entertaining and gathering indoors is upon us. I like to think of it as the modern version of gathering round the hearth; a shared table gives us common ground, and humans, after all, like to be nurtured.

Now, there are some who can entertain at the drop of a hat. My huge Scottish-Italian family, which includes 25 people for an intimate dinner, is fully stocked with catering equipment and an industrial slicer. But I realize that for some, a dinner party for 8 can cause hives, so I’m here for you.

My favorite menus at this time of year have to include pumpkin, so this Harvest Celebration Dinner Party, from our Gilded Fork: Entertaining at Home cookbook, is resplendent with my beloved orange squash and other autumnal goodness. Easy easy to prepare, this menu is perfect for welcoming the new season.

I pulled together some of our best resources to help ease some of the angst, because our goal is to do as much of the work for you as possible. We’d rather you spend most of your time enjoying yourself and the company you’ve invited into your home. Below you’ll even find beverage pairings to make things supremely easy for you.

If you’re looking for help with some of the broader details, here are a few how-to articles:

Planning 101: The Power of the List — A little Type-A goes a long way
The Magic of Ambience — A how-to for decor, from table displays to music and lighting
The Good Host: Grace Under Fire — How to pull it all together without tearing your hair out

Now all you need to do is get to it! If you want to riff on the menu a bit, feel free to peruse the full list of Gilded Fork recipes for ideas, which includes a great list of cocktails.

If you have questions, please feel free to post them below and I’ll do my best to answer you quickly. This is a great starter kit to get you moving, so get into the kitchen!

FIRST COURSE

Pumpkin Bisque
Suggested pairing: Hard Apple Cider
(see Pairing Notes below for further details)

SECOND COURSE

Red and White Salad with Candied Pecans, Figs and Chèvre
Suggested wine pairing: Pinot Gris

MAIN COURSE

Seared Duck Breast with Figged Port Demi-Glace
Suggested wine pairing:

DESSERT COURSE

Pumpkin Flan with Ancho Chile Brittle
Suggested wine pairing: Late Harvest or Ice Wine

BEVERAGE PAIRING NOTES

Below you’ll find the explanations for beverage suggestions, which have been crafted for our cookbook by Lenn Thompson from LENNDEVOURS.

Pumpkin Bisque
Pairing: Hard Apple Cider

Reasoning: There are a ton of options here, but why not do something a little different at your next dinner party? Nothing says fall like apple cider, and hard cider’s tart apple flavor and bubbles will complement this rich bisque. Shun the supermarket brands and look to local orchards. Many produce hard sparkling cider. Plus, these are lower in alcohol than most wines, making them the perfect opening drink.

Red and White Salad with Candied Pecans, Figs and Chèvre Varietal: Oregon Pinot Gris

Reasoning: Clean, refreshing fruit flavors — think pears, apples and citrus — with hints of vanilla and almond make Pinot Gris a great choice for this salad, which features a variety of flavors and textures. Italian Pinot Grigio is made with the same grape, but they tend to be one dimensional and uninspired. Look for Pinot Gris made in Oregon, which tend to be good values as well.

Seared Duck Breast with Figged Port Demi-Glace
Varietal: Merlot

Reasoning: When we say Merlot, we don’t mean the over-blown California renditions. Look for a balanced Merlot — maybe one that has some Cabernet Sauvignon and/or Cabernet France blended in. That means Bordeaux — or, if you want to drink closer to home — Long Island.

Pumpkin Flan with Ancho Chile Brittle
Varietal: Late Harvest or Ice Wine

Reasoning: A decadent custard desert like this deserves an equally decadent, luscious wine. Late harvest (or ice wines) can be made from any grape, but most often you’ll see them made with Riesling, Semillon or Vidal Blanc in the northeastern U.S. You want one that has intense fruit, decided sweetness but also a zing of acidity. Many of our favorites come out of the Finger Lakes region of New York and these wines tend to be more affordable than those made in Canada.

MISE EN PLACE

For those curious about the meaning of mise en place, it is a French culinary term for “set in place.” If you have ever watched a cooking show, or been inside a restaurant kitchen, you will notice that next to the cooking area, things are set up just so. Ingredients, sauces and critical elements are ready to be used, whether pre-cooked, pre-chopped, or ready as a garnish. This kind of organized setup enables a cook to focus on the actual act of cooking itself without distraction. Our intention with this section is to use the same approach at home, enabling you to host your own special occasions with flair.

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