Summer can't possibly last forever, as much as some of us may wish it would. And although entertaining during the warmer months is fun and carefree (large gatherings can happen in yards and on patios and decks, and it seems everything tasty is in season and available fresh to your table) you shouldn't give up on hosting gatherings once the mercury starts to creep downwards and root vegetables and cabbage seem your only menu option. Instead, welcome the changing of the seasons-and the little known pleasures of the late harvest-with a low-maintenance, high flavour gathering for close friends, family, or both.
To start: Invite guests by phone, or with personalized invitations. (Internet-based invitations work too, but since the theme here is warm and intimate, reaching out directly is a nice touch.) Be sure to ask if there are any food allergies or sensitivities you need to take into consideration.
Plan your menu: Bundle up and hunt down a farmer's market for inspiration-some are still open in late fall or early winter-or head to your favourite indoor market or speciality shop to get the best of what's in season. If you're on a budget, you can still be creative by researching your best late fall and early winter bets (apples, chard, cabbage, parsnips, carrots, red onions, and all types of squash will definitely be on the list) and finding them at your local grocer.
Think of the foods that give you comfort when it's cold outside, or perk you up when you're starting to feel a little seasonally affected, and plan your menu around those. Focus on bright colours and interesting textures, as well as a few flavour surprises sure to lift your guests out of the doldrums.
Here's a great Thanksgiving menu containing a riot of gorgeous late season flavours. Or, create your own menu, with a little inspiration:
During cocktail hour, set out a cheese plate garnished with grapes, figs, and other fruit, as well as thinly sliced artisanal multi-grain or potato flour bread.
Serve robust, spicy red wine (try a shiraz or malbec) and a classic cocktail like a Manhattan, which has a warming whiskey kick. Have warm apple cider on hand as well, for children or those who don't wish to imbibe.
There are many ways to work fall flavours into your first course, including:
Smoky Squash Soup
Late Harvest Poached Pear and Blue Cheese Tart
Artichokes with Roasted Garlic Aioli
In cooler weather, salads can be more substantial, with cooked components and warm dressings.
Pear Ring Salad with Port Dressing
Warm Mushroom and Arugula Salad
Squash and Ricotta Salad
Frisee Salad with Crispy Pancetta, Pistachios and Cranberry Vinaigrette
Main dish ideas:
Hearty is definitely the way to go for your cozy cold weather fete. Check out these main dish recipes:
Pork Tenderloin with Mushroom Stuffing and Pan-seared Onions and Apples
Slow-roasted Ontario Corn-fed Beef Tenderloin with Pumpkin and Sweet Potato Gumbo
Grilled Alberta Bison with Grated Long Pepper and Three-Potato Horseradish Mash
Ravioli with Squash and Marscapone (skip the pancetta and use vegetable stock if you're serving vegetarians)
Sirloin and Gorgonzola Pasta
Plan for these if you're not serving pasta; if you are serving pasta, just go with a salad to start and serve fresh bread with oil and vinegar for dipping with the pasta):
Creme Fraiche Mashed Potatoes
Roast Apples, Fennels and Onion
Acorn Squash and Bacon Wedges
Gratin of Swiss Chard Stems
Serve hot chocolate for non-drinkers and little ones, and hot toddies or mulled wine with dessert.
These dessert recipes include apples and pears, which are especially tasty late season fruits.
Whole-grain Crusted Apple Pie with Maple Yoghurt Topping
Easy Fall Baked Apples and Pears
Setting the Table:
To add colour to your table, pay a visit to your favourite florist, and purchase blooms in rich shades of red, orange, yellow, fuchsia, and more. Create your own arrangements or find centrepiece inspiration here:
Fall Flower Arrangement
And don't stop at the table.Set the mood from the moment your guests approach your home, with these fall porch decor ideas.
Think classic warm voices and mellow, golden tunes, as well as more contemporary voices with a hint of cool longing. Playlist suggestions:
- Nat King Cole
- Ella Fitzgerald
- Chet Baker
- The Temptations
- James Taylor
- Van Morrison (especially Astral Weeks)
- The Buena Vista Social Club
- Ben Harper
- The Decemberists
- City & Colour
- The National
- Fleet Foxes
- Colleen Brown
- Great Lakes Swimmers